The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 2: The 90s Golden Age

THE NUMBER ONE ARCADE ENTERPRISE

The Model series of arcade hardware by Yu Suzuki in co-operation with Lockhead Martin, where the next step in the Sega arcade world. Virtua Fighter sold Sega Saturns in Japan.

The Model series of arcade hardware by Yu Suzuki in co-operation with Lockhead Martin, where the next step in the Sega arcade world. Virtua Fighter sold Sega Saturns in Japan.

In Part 1, we looked at Sega’s origins and their Japanese game development during the 80s. In Part 2 we turn our attention to the golden age, when Sega was fought in the console wars and arcades were in full-force globally. Throughout the 90s, Sega would really grow up and mature and have individual divisions, splitting into arcade and consumer software and product development. Many of the programmers, designers and planners of the 80s and earlier would become managers and producers of their own divisions.
Let’s start Part 2 off with the growth of their AM studios, which is short for Amusement Machine Research and Development.

Headed again by Hisashi Suzuki (who had by now almost 30 years of experience under his belt), AM1 was established by Rikiya Nakagawa, who joined in 1983, and worked on the arcade versions of Choplifter, Sega Ninja, Thunder Blade, and also led the Team Shinobi mantel with Makoto Uchida (mentioned in Part 1).

AM1 would grow and prosper in the 90s, producing quite a few arcade games including Bonanza Bros., Columns, the actual true Golden Axe sequel Golden Axe: The Revenge of the Death Adder, Motor RaidStadium Cross, OutRunners, Alien 3: The Gun, Motor Raid, the arcade version of Puyo Puyo (a hit in Japan), Holloseum and the Puzzle & Action series.

However, as you can see much of this was not particulary iconic or gave the studio an identity. AM1 contributed to Sega’s arcade line-up certainly, but it wasn’t until The House of the Dead and the Dynamite Deka games where the studio really got some popularity. These were also the only games that actually received console ports.

AM1 had three game directors. The aforementioned Makoto Uchida was one, continuing his Beat ‘Em Up heritage with Dynamite Deka. Takashi Oda would join in 1992, and three years later his first known contribution would be a fortune telling theme park related attraction. Oda made himself known within Sega and with fans with the hit The House of the Dead on the Sega Model 2 platform. The third game director was Kazunari Tsukamoto, an oddity because he didn’t start in arcade development, but rather producing and programming the high profile RPG Phantasy Star III. He would then switch to arcade development, with OutRunners, Cool Riders and The Ocean Hunter.

Between arguably Sega's most memorable Sega arcade boards, System 16 and Model 1/2, Sega still had quite a few games on it's System series of arcade hardware. Many were not ported to home consoles.

Between arguably Sega’s most memorable Sega arcade boards, System 16 and Model 1/2, Sega still had quite a few games on it’s System series of arcade hardware. Many were not ported to home consoles.

And then there was the famous AM2 headed by Yu Suzuki. The next breakthrough for Sega’s arcade world would be the Model 1,2 and 3 arcade boards, each launching with their representative Virtua Fighter game. I don’t think I need to get into how strong AM2 line up was, as it is common knowledge with most every Sega and classic gaming fan. AM2 games not only attracted people to arcades with advanced graphics, but also sold consoles in Japan with their fighters and racers.

Under the AM2 outfit, lots of talent were cultivated. Second in command after Yu Suzuki was Toshihiro Nagoshi, who earned respect at Sega through his massive success with Daytona USA. As for the producers, Yu Suzuki was active and long time assistant Mifune Satoshi was as well, who worked on Space Harrier, Dynamite Dux, F1 Exhaust Note, Turbo Outrun and finally had his own chance at 3D games with Virtua Striker.

Directors were cultivated within AM2 as well. Makoto Osaki got his first shot at directing with Virtua Fighter Kids and Daytona USA 2, as well as Hiroshi Kataoka who would direct Desert Tank, Fighting Vipers and Fighters Megamix.

[Learn More: SEGAbits AM2 Retrospective]

Nagoshi in the middle, and Makoto Osaki on the very left in the development of Daytona USA.

Nagoshi in the middle, and Makoto Osaki on the very left in the development of Daytona USA.

AM3 was headed by Hisao Oguchi (mentioned in Part 1). AM3 was a fairly large division, with five producers and nine game directors alone. Let’s go through what each one of them did, and you’ll see the breadth of work that AM3 produced.

Hisao Oguchi – despite managing his own department – had a few pet projects of his own. The mostly analog medal games, Royal Ascot and Bingo Party, are Oguchis titles. He also seemed to be obsessed with card technology in arcades since the early 90s, as this resulted into a very successful game later on… but more on that in Part 3! As a whole, his engineering degree might indicate what his interests were, which were probably not hands on software development but rather the engineering side. In fact, before AM2 made Virtua Cop and AM1 made The House of the Dead, Oguchi made Sega’s very first rail shooter game Rail Chase on the Y Board of arcade hardware.

For directors and producers that worked under Hisao Oguchi, there was Mie Kumagai who joined in 1992 and worked on Rail Chase alongside Oguchi. She worked further along on rail-shooters, which became an AM3 trademark. She also worked on sports games starting with Decathlete in 1996.

Yoshiro Akate produce Last Bronx and Baku Baku Animal. Juro Watari got his start in rail shooters and eventually produced the Virtual-On series. And lastly there was Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who had a unique path within Sega. Joining in 1990, Mizuguchi worked not on video games, but rather on an AS-1 interactive ride simulator for theme parks. He even had his own Emotion Engine R&D lab during this period. His breaktrough would come with racing games where he produced Sega Rally in 1995, Manx TT in 1996, and Sega Touringcar Championship in 1997.

Just a cool picture I had to share (again with MJ!), young Mizuguchi, with General Manager Hisashi Suzuki.
Just a cool picture I had to share (again with MJ!), young Mizuguchi, with General Manager Hisashi Suzuki.

As for AM3 directors there was Chusika Tsuchida, who orginally joined in 1985 and originally assisted Yu Suzuki on Space Harrier. He then worked on System 24 games such as Rough Racer and Hot Rod. He then would work on Rail Chase 2Kenji Kanno joined in 1993 and would direct some pretty out there games such as the Jurrasic Park rail shooters, Top Skater, and Funky Head Boxers.

A fellow colleague of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Kenji Sasaki, actually worked for Namco on Ridge Racer before he came to Sega. He worked as a director for the Mizuguchi produced racing titles. He also has been enrolled in theme park attractions like Mizuguchi. Masamu Oshino directed Virtual-On and Le Mans 24 and most likely he did more, but there is not much to find out there.

That’s quite alot of people isn’t it? It is also interesting what kind of structure each studio took to develop the large amount of arcade games that they did.

AM1 had one Manager, and basicilly let his three directors do the work. For AM2, I am assuming hierarchy was flat, because even tough Yu Suzuki was managing his own department, he would still direct his own games including the Virtua Fighter games and of course his pet project which we will get into later. AM3 basicilly had Oguchi hiring a bunch of directors and producers to make a lot of games – setting a precedent for the position later on.

But these three studios aren’t the only things going on within Sega’s arcade division. The oldest division at Sega, the Production and Engineering Department, became it’s own division known as AM4. An important division within Sega as the aforementioned AM studios might only do half of the work. AM1, 2 and 3 only did the video game software while AM4 produced the physically arcade hardware.

Machine manufacturing got more and more ambitious, from VR, Motion sensing and big scale attractions. Oh, and Print Club got popular in Japan as well.

Machine manufacturing got more and more ambitious, from VR, Motion sensing, linked cabinets and big scale attractions.  At some point, Sega had to open it’s own indoor theme parks (Joypolis) for their giant attractions. Print Club got popular in Japan as well.  Sega gained more and more popularity in Japan through casual attractions.

AM4’s work in the mechatronics, technology and housing of these games are very important. Think of any classic Sega arcade game from this era and inevitably the cabinet itself plays a prominent role. Not only did AM4 work in the physical, but software that wasn’t necessarily “video games” was also made by AM4. This included the aforementioned medal games by Oguchi, and also a new arcade hit which was called Print Club which started the whole Purikara trend in Japan. Once again, showcasing the non-videogame software capabilities of Sega.

Lastly there was a AM5, which focused on medium scale attractions that you can see in the picture above. The aforementioned Mizuguchi and other talented arcade developers got their start here. But thats enough arcade. Yes, Sega did make alot of money in this area, but the consumer console market was the future…

CONSOLE EFFORTS

Sonic, Shinobi, Phantasy Star, Disney games and Streets of Rage solidified Sega's footing in western console market.

Sonic, Shinobi, Phantasy Star, Disney games and Streets of Rage solidified Sega’s footing in western console market.

In compiling this series on Sega of Japan development, the arcade teams and their growth were pretty easy to track, but for the console teams were not as easy. It would be logical to assume that Hideki Sato’s attention on arcade hardware would switch to home hardware exclusively with the Mega Drive/Genesis, as Yu Suzuki took care of the arcade-based Model series of hardware. However he had a right hand man named Takami Tomio who would do managerial work, including work on the Mega CD hardware.

For software management of consoles, Yoji Ishii would presumably be still be the one at the top of it all. However many more people would be added to the mix, including Makoto Oshitani, Mamoru Shigeta, Takami Tomio and Hiroshi Aso. None of them worked on particulary iconic games, but have been with the company for a good while either since the mid 80s or early 90s.

Let’s go back how the console teams grew during the Mega Drive era. At first you would see a lot arcade ports. But then there was Alex Kidd: Enchanted in the Castle, the Phantasy Star games, Shinobi, Streets of Rage, the Golden Axe sequels and the Disney licensed games. This is when the console side of Sega earned its own identity. In addition there were more obscure titles like The Hybrid Front, Bahamut Senki, Bio-Hazard Battle, other licensed games, sports games (for Japan and the west) and internet download games like Sega Game Toshukan in Japan. Of course Sonic the Hedgehog would become the most prominent of the era, and Ristar was perhaps the last effort of Sega of Japan for the Mega Drive.

The amount of games developed for the Genesis/Mega Drive in Western terretories by Sega is worth a mention, as there were roughly 60 in total. All of this is thanks to SEGA of America President and CEO Tom Kalinske’s efforts to push the Genesis in the West. All of this is very well documented, appearing in recent books and soon to be told in an upcoming documentary and movie. [Listen to our interview with Tom Kalinske] These efforts even drove some Japanese talent to work overseas, such as the people that I mentioned in the 80s hires. Famous Sonic the Hedgehog level designer Hirokazu Yasuhara stayed overseas to work on games rather than return to Japan. Yuji Naka went overseas to develop Sonic titles as well, however didn’t stay.

The Mega CD and 32X line-up wasn't the most iconic

The Mega CD and 32X line-up wasn’t the most iconic.

A small Mega CD studio was formed, headed by aformentioned Takami Tomio. The Mega CD line up had Sonic CD, Dark Wizard, Formula One World Championship: Beyond the Limit, Panic! and some obscure arcade ports and Japanese licensed RPGs. Koichi Nagata was attached to the AM2 Rent-A-Hero. The success AM2 had in arcades got them some leeway to produce console titles like Sword of Vermillion and Rent-A-Hero, something the other arcade studios weren’t able to do. Nagata was in charge of Rent-A-Hero, so it is possible that his Sega roots are in AM2. Nagata also managed the small studio that was formed in 1994 to create 32X software. The 32X games that Sega developed were Knuckles Chaotix, Metal Head and Shadow Squadron and arcade ports like After Burner and Space Harrier.

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New IP like Panzer Dragoon, Clockwork Knight and NiGHTS didn’t catch on worldwide, however anime RPG’s like Sakura Taisen and the lauch of the Let’s Make sport sims series solidified Sega’s footing in the Japanese console market.

During the Saturn era and its launch in 1994, the consumer teams really gained their own identities. CS1 – C stands for Consumer – was headed by aforementioned Yoji Oshii, there were also the Shinobi veterans Tomohiro Kondo and Noriyoshi Ohba as producers that I mentioned in Part 1. Ohba gained this position due to his great work on on the Super Shinobi games and Streets of Rage games, and he also created the Clockwork Knights games.

CS1’s major games were the Panzer Dragoon titles directed by Yukio Futatsagi under his Team Andromeda outfit, which is really the only thing at Sega that he has done before leaving. CS1 would also gain major success in Japan with their Sports sim games and also doing the Sega Worldwide Soccer games.

[Learn More: SEGAbits Team Andromeda Retrospective]

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CS2 was headed by Noriyoshi Ohba, with directors Rieko Kodama and Atsushi Seimiya under his wing. Rieko Kodama went on to do directional work starting with Phantasy Star IV and the licensed Magic Knight Rayearth, but then went on to work on the externally developed Deep Fear as a producer. Atsushi Seimiya was a designer on the Mega Drive game E-SWAT, the Streets of Rage games, and would direct Dark Wizard and Advanced World War: The Last Millenium. A development collaboration with Red Entertainment, resulting into the Sakura Taisen series, also became a huge hit for CS2.

CS3 was what is now known as the famous Sonic Team, originally headed by Yuji Naka. Sonic Team became united again after Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 were developed in America and Sonic CD was developed in Japan. When the two leads and founders of Sonic Team, Yuji Naka and Naota Oshima, came together  they would come up with two new IPs: NiGHTS Into Dreams and Burning Rangers.

With uncertainity of the legimaticy of the Saturn overseas, Sega ported many games such as Virtua Fighter 2 or Sonic CD, mainly for European markets.

With uncertainty of the legimaticy of the Saturn overseas, Sega ported many games such as Virtua Fighter 2 and Sonic CD to PC, mainly for European markets.

Then there was the PC division, developing ports of games to PC. It was headed by Shun Arai who actually joined in 1985, but I have no idea what he actually did specifically. All I could find is that he was involved in educational software and then technical support on the Saturn.

And lastly the Game Gear was a thing too. Katsuhiro Hasegawa and Hiroshi Aso would produce and manage many of these handheld titles, often externally developed, often ports of Master System games (Sega actually continued to make quite a few Master System games for the European market), and even some orginal titles seemingly aimed at a Japanese audience.

Overall the consumer division had rigious growth, especially in externally developed games. From 1990 to 1998, 55 games were produced internally and 40 games externally for the Mega Drive/Genesis. For the Master System, 38 games were produced with 3 external ones. For the Game Gear, 63 games were produced internally and 53 externally. 12 games were produced internally and 5 externally for the Sega CD. 7 games were produced interally and 4 externally for the Sega 32X. 45 games were produced internally and 30 externally produced for the Saturn. And lastly on PC, about 15 ports of games were produced.

In arcades the following amount of games were produced: 7 games on System 14, 10 games on the System 24 platform, 18 games on the System32 platform, 4 final games on the Super Scaler hardware, 16 games on Saturn based ST-V Arcade hardware and 41 games on the Model series of arcade hardware.

In Part 3, we take a look at the insides of Sega from the launch of the Dreamcast to the Sammy buyout in 2004!

Read the full History of Sega Japan R&D retrospective:
The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 1: The Origins and the 80s
The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 2: The 90s Golden Age
The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 3: Innovative Heights and the End of an Era
The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 4: The Current Sega

4 responses to “The History of Sega Japan R&D, Part 2: The 90s Golden Age

  1. Hitrax says:

    Splendid article, especially the effort to provide the links. When Sega was truly in its prime, this was certainly the real Sega.

  2. Typo Police says:

    Isn’t it “Lockheed Martin” ratherr than “Lockhead Martin”? Also, you have “where” rather than “were” in the intro 🙂

    • EnternalHope says:

      Lockheed Martin was a Defense Contractor who developed 3D technology for NASA in 1988.

      SEGA/CSK chose them in 1991-1992 for their 32-bit CPU line of Arcades and Consoles for that sole reason.

  3. Damon says:

    Tut tut, terrible literacy, seems to be getting noticeably worse here.

    Yes it’s ‘Lockheed Martin’.

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