A Sit-Down with the Creator
of SONIC the Hedgehog
INTERVIEW WITH HIROKAZU YASUHARA
By Bob Glouberman
What is your full name?
Where did you grow up?
When did you decide that you wanted to be a game developer?
After I joined SEGA, I decided that I wanted to be a developer. I'd been a sort of theme park engineer where I designed roller coasters and all sorts of theme park rides. I was hired as an arcade ride engineer by Sega, but the company sent me to the consumer product division. So I quickly changed course and have been a game developer ever since that time.
What is your history with playing video games?
I played "Pong" and "Break Out" when I was 10 years-old at a game arcade center in Tokyo. My father bought Nintendo's tennis game “Pong" console when I was 12. I often played Apple Ⅱ and Commodore games at computer retail shops in the towns of Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and in Tokyo, when I was in high school. I bought my first computer when I was 17 years old and played PC games. At that time, games were loaded in cassette tapes… When I entered University, Nintendo released NES (which is called "Family Computer" in Japan). I was very busy studying and enjoying the "school life" (lol), so I didn't purchase the system. But I often watched people playing those NES games in our school Lab room. I'd also visited an arcade game alley near the University, and played Sega's ride-game machines, “Hang-On” and “Space Harrier.” I felt Sega was such a cool company because they had developed real time 3D rendering technologies… Interestingly, I recognized that those games utilized 2D sprites shortly after I joined Sega.
What companies have you worked for?
SEGA Enterprises, NaughtyDog, NamcoBandai, and Nintendo of America.
What games have you designed?
My released titles are the entire Sonic the Hedgehog series, Jak Ⅱ, 3, Pac Man Party, and some Mario Puzzle games.
What games are you the most proud of?
I can't choose one. All of them, but Sonic is the best.
Because so many people are still supporting the game and the characters… And I designed almost the entire thing single-handedly. All the gimmicks and worlds were developed with my thought and efforts.
Can you talk about your current video game teaching position?
I've opened my game design method lectures for the public and my game school workshop when I was in NamcoBandai. My method is built-up from my long experience of designing games. When Unity, the game engine, was out for consumer game developers, I felt that it would be a good tool for teaching "game creation". So, I made my game-design textbook which people can learn my method with Unity. I carried it to Japan and started my lectures, and it received good reviews from game school students. And after I started my series of "Design of Play" at Unity, the Tokyo University of Technology offered me a position for teaching my game design method.
What games have you created and/or designed recently?
Recently I have not designed full size games. I have developed teaching materials by using Unity.
What are you currently playing now?
Voodoo's game. And also on a daily basis I download at least one game for my smart phone. I usually finish the game and delete it in a day.
What are your personal favorite games?
I love everything about it. I don't play first person shooters. I don't enjoy shooting human characters with a gun. But I do enjoy shooting water guns and drenching opponents. It’s "play", not "killing".
Who is your video game hero and why?
Um, honestly, I don't have any particular one. Maybe I like Sonic the best. The reason is because I designed Sonic's personality with my sense of what is cool. Sonic's attitude and behavior attracts young people to this very day.
Where do you see video games going in the future?
I think that all game business is going to be streaming. People will pay a subscription fee to play games. And an F2P style business model (advertising based model) will continue to populate the smart-phone market. "e-sport" is going to be very popular. Though "e-sport" is already popular, once the game streaming business begins, I predict all games will have an "e-sport" feature in them.