With Binary Domain set to be released next week, SEGAbits was given an exclusive interview with one of SEGA’s finest developers, Toshihiro Nagoshi. Having joined SEGA in the late 1980s with a degree in media, Nagoshi has been involved in several high profile games for SEGA early in his career, from working on Virtua Racing to having worked on the biggest arcade game in the industry, Daytona USA. Moving up the ranks, Nagoshi soon found himself leaving his job at AM2 to head up Amusement Vision in the late 90s during the Dreamcast era. There his teams made two of SEGA’s most well loved series in the modern era, Super Monkey Ball and Yakuza.
Now heading the newly formed Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, we get a chance to talk to Nagoshi after the release of his new studio’s first title, Binary Domain.
What were Binary Domain‘s influences? Are there any science fiction movies that the development team was inspired by?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: I’m a major movie fan and know many movies, but with Binary Domain I wasn’t particularly inspired by any specific movies.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku series has featured cameos from other SEGA games, like Aiai in the UFO Catcher. Can we expect other SEGA franchises to appear in Binary Domain?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: With the Japanese version, a few of the main characters from the Yakuza series will appear as playable characters for the online mode.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku series is known for its variety of mini-games. Are mini-games featured similarly in Binary Domain?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: One of the key points of the Yakuza series is that you can play in the game like how you can play in the real-world towns, so we devote a lot of our development work on that feature. However, that isn’t our key focus for Binary Domain. Instead, we spent a lot of our time on improving the quality of the AI and combining the action with the drama.
Binary Domain has a very strong focus on the dynamics of the team, which goes a long way from setting it apart from other third-person shooters. Why exactly did you choose to put so much emphasis on your teammates’ AI and how they react to your actions?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: My goal was to depict a deep human drama and to add communication elements to real-time action scenes. In order to have the players see how high that quality is, the game needed highly developed NPC movements more than anything else, so we put as much emphasis as we can on designing the AI.
The team’s prior work, Ryu Ga Gotoku, features extravagant action scenes that you rarely see in video games. What sort of inspiration do you look for when it comes to developing the action setpieces that are found in the team’s titles, such as the jetski section in Binary Domain or Kiryu fighting tigers in Yakuza 2?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: Each creator has a different way of interpreting “appealing features” and I think that’s a good thing. In my way, I’m never satisfied when I see an appealing feature. Instead, I think of ways to make that feature even more appealing, and I try to implement them as much as possible in each game world.
This was your team’s first official game for the Xbox 360. What advantages, if any, did you find on the console over the PlayStation 3, and did it surprise you in any form? What were the unexpected challenges with developing for two concurrent platforms?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: I have some staff members that are quite skilled with X360, so it worked out quite smoothly. There wasn’t any particular difficulty in the differences between PS3.
Lately, many Western games have sadly abandoned concepts such as bosses in favor of narrative, but Binary Domain seems to have managed not only action sections such as car chases but a good variety of bosses. How has the team managed that with a heavy story, and do you feel bosses are essential to action games such as Binary Domain?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: I personally feel bosses are essential to action games but story is also very important, because games become more exciting when unique bosses appear in an interesting story. When we were working on Binary Domain, we had some of the boss ideas in mind from the beginning, but some of the bosses were elaborately developed through the development of the game. In the end, I think they both worked out very well.
With Binary Domain, you are about to embark on your first online multiplayer game for the current generation of consoles. Having worked previously on titles such as Daytona and Super Monkey Ball, what do you personally think makes for a great multiplayer element, and how do you hope Binary Domain‘s multiplayer can fare against other major multiplayer shooters such as Call of Duty or Battlefield?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: I’ve been creating games for 23 years but I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to online elements in the shooter genre. So frankly, I stumbled around when we were creating the online multiplayer part of the game. I had a lot of discussions with the staff that were familiar with online development. As result, I think we got an online multiplayer mode well comparable to existing shooters. After all, good balance makes for great online features, so we just repeated a lot of trial and errors as long as time permitted.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has been known for some of the best characterization in video games, such as Kazuma Kiryu, Goro Majima, Ryuji Goda or Haruka Sawamura. But all of these characters have come from your native Japan, so how did your team find the process in creating the Rust Crew that are made of characters born outside of Japan?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: Binary Domain’s motion actors and motion directors were Western staff members, so it was hard to tell them what we had in mind, like what the game world’s atmosphere is like, or what sort of characters we were picturing. Despite such difficulties, we were able to create great characters in the end. I don’t think we could have managed that if we were only working with Japanese staff members.
With Ryu Ga Gotoku 5 being announced some time back, the Ryu Ga Gotoku series will now have 9 games under the whole series including spinoffs. Did you ever envisage such success with the Ryu Ga Gotoku series and are you hoping Binary Domain can grow just as fast?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: At first, no one expected Yakuza would be a success…except for me. This was the same for Daytona USA and Super Monkey Ball. That’s always how it is with my work. And now with Binary Domain, I surely have good expectations for this one.
Before SEGA teamed up with Nintendo for their Mario & Sonic Olympic games, your team at Amusement Vision helped develop the excellent F-Zero GX for GameCube. Have you been in talks to bring the F-Zero franchise back, or maybe doing another game in that style?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: I’d like that if I ever have the chance. Racing games are not so popular lately, so it would be fun if I could suggest some ideas from different angles. Whether I’ve consider it in details…now that’s a secret.
Recently, SEGA re-released Daytona USA. Of all the games you’ve been involved with, which one would you most like to see re-released on current systems?
Toshihiro Nagoshi: Well, it’s surely an honorable thing to hear how people like my past titles, but to be honest it makes me feel a little melancholic at the same time. I’m sure those past titles are being re-released because they were good games, but I’m quite confident that I can make better games than what I could do in the past. So personally, there is no particular title that I’d want to see re-released. That’s just my personal thought, and I definitely appreciate all the fans that still love my past work!
Thank you Mr. Nagoshi for taking the time out to answer the question and everyone at SEGA that made it possible.Ad: