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EGM Interviews PSU Visionary Yuji Naka

EGM: Could you briefly explain the history of the PSU project?

Yuji Naka: The PSO series has now entered its fifth year, and this is the right time for a new start. Online RPG games are basically limited, but I want to move on and make a difference in the genre. I spent a very long time on the Phantasy Star series, and we’ve spent many years gathering a lot of feedback from the users. So, we certainly have a lot of stuff to include in the game.

EGM: Did Sony’s decision to drop the PS2’s HDD support affect your plans?

YN: I’m not going to change my mind, and Sony will still support our network game, even without support for the HDD. Actually, I haven’t even shown this game to Sony yet...you’re the first people outside the company to see it.

EGM: It’s rather late in the PS2’s life cycle...any chance of porting this to other systems?

YN: I’m not quite sure yet. The PS2 is the hardware with the biggest market [share] right now, and the next-generation platforms won’t have a very large installed base at first. It would be fairly risky to launch an online game like PSU for these brand-new systems too early.

EGM: What will Sega do to combat cheaters in PSU?

YN: We have experienced the cheaters for the last five years, and we’ve amassed a lot of info on how to deal with them. The PSU security will be like that of the PC version of PSO—all character and item info will be kept on servers.

EGM: Do you think a game like PSU would work on a handheld?

YN:I literally don’t think it’s possible to put PSU on PSP, as we’re using the full power of the PS2. But if the PSP network is stable enough, we could conceive of porting PSO to PSP. It’s an interesting concept, but we don’t have enough people to do that at this point.

EGM: Are you excited about the next-gen consoles debuting this year?

YN: I think it is too early. The PS2 and GameCube are still both very good platforms. Personally, I don’t want the next-generation hardware to come out this early, because they will be very difficult and expensive to develop for. Seriously, it might take three times the effort to make one game. With next-generation platforms, players will expect games to look as good as CG movies—it will be very difficult. It will be cool when you can play a game that looks like a movie, but there’s no way a company will be able to make a game in one year like that.

If fans of a franchise have to wait three years for the next game, that will be a shock to them. People who like games want to play them more often these days. Like Half-Life 2—it took five years to come out! What’s next? Will gamers be willing to wait 15 years for a game? [Laughs] The father will start programming a game, [and] he’ll have to pass it on to his son to finish it after he dies. On PC right now, there aren’t a lot of games being released like [there] used to be. I think the same thing will happen to consoles: It’ll take a lot of time to develop a top-quality game.

EGM: Which game that you’ve worked on is your favorite?

YN: Sonic the Hedgehog. If I hadn’t worked on Sonic, I probably wouldn’t be working in the game industry now. That’s how important Sonic is to me. And although it’s been 18 years since I first started Phantasy Star, I’ve released more Sonic titles, so it’s the most important. Sonic has anime and lots of toys, so the Sonic franchise is so big...I have a lot of good memories of it. There was talk of an anime based on PSO two years ago, and it might still happen in the future.

EGM: Have you recently played any games from other publishers that you’ve liked?

YN: Other publishers? [Laughs] Well, in the past year I’ve been playing a lot of Nintendo games, including all of the DS games. I really enjoyed WarioWare Touched! I also played a lot of Gran Turismo 4, and I even bought the steering wheel. The wheel is so great, with its force feedback. I go to the circuit and race real cars, and while the wheel isn’t quite realistic, I do enjoy playing the game with it. In the future, I’d love to make a game that uses force feedback extensively. When you play a game, there are three important factors: It used to just be looking and hearing, but now it’s also touching. It took Nintendo 20 years to create a game that you can control via touching, and that’s a really big innovation. That GT4 steering wheel costs $200, though, so kids can’t buy that...only adults with a lot of money can. If there was a controller for around $30 that gave you feedback, [that] would be amazing.

The game industry should focus more on touching and interacting with games, rather than just focusing on churning out games. I want somebody to create a controller that actually looks good...a controller that you hold that actually makes you look good. When you hold a normal controller, you bend over and don’t look very cool. I want a controller that makes you look cool like when you’re playing a guitar. That kind of factor could push games beyond movies in the entertainment industry. P

“I really want to make a difference in the [online RPG] genre.” —PSU Creator Yuji Naka

Naka owes his continued success to this small mammal.

Phantasy Star Online on your PSP? Naka seems to think it’s a pretty keen idea....

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.





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