Sega is a Japanese company first and foremost, no way around it. As I did in the previous two articles of mine, I will delve into the Japanese side of Sega, and exclusively tailor this to Japanese only Sega games that have not made into the west, as well as how those types of games evolved. Read on for a retrospective look back at some games you likely never heard or about and surely never played!
Good old Tetris, a name that even those not savvy with video games are familiar with, and for good reason. A very simple premise of dropping blocks called Tetrimino to clear lines and get the highest score managed to become a multi-million dollar franchise, with the Game Boy iteration of Tetris alone managing to sell 35 million copies and spawning a lot of competitors in the “Falling Block” genre such as Dr. Mario, Puyo Puyo, and SEGA’s own Columns.
With the announcement of Puyo Puyo Tetris coming to the west on the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4, we’re going to take a quick look at SEGA’s past involvement with the Tetris brand. This will focus on three versions of Tetris released during the 80’s by SEGA, along with the later released Tetris SEGA and Giant Tetris. Also primates.
Between the likes of Marvel vs Capcom, Super Smash Bros and NEO GEO Battle Coliseum, suffice to say that it is characteristic of the crossover fighting game sub-genre to not take yourself so seriously. Put any worries about canon to rest, don’t sweat character balance too much, and just have a good time. SEGA’s one and only foray into the world of crossover fighters dropped twenty years ago today, and if it’s not immediately obvious that they’ve let their hair down, it will be once you unlock Rent-A-Hero.
Fighters Megamix bills itself as a crossover between the Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers franchises, two series which mean considerably less to your average Joe today than they did back in 1996. I remember when Masahiro Sakurai unveiled the Akira and Jacky Mii costumes for Super Smash Bros for Wii U, Twitter blew up with questions along the lines of “what the hell is Virtua Fighter?” Nevertheless, Fighters Megamix has carved its way into the libraries of many fighting and retro game fans in recent years, largely due to its outrageous roster.
Admit it. You know about this game because of the car. I don’t judge you. It’s been twenty years.
As 2016 comes to a close, we wrap up our celebrations of SEGA anniversaries with a look back on a fan favorite 3D arcade beat ’em up. Catch up on past SEGA Retrospective articles, and stay tuned to 2017!
Are you a fan of action movies and always wanted to be the action hero in a video game? Die Hard Arcade, also known as Dynamite Deka in Japan, is where it’s at! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this popular arcade and home console beat ’em up, let’s dive into the game’s history and development in a special SEGA Retrospective. While there isn’t a concrete date for Die Hard Arcade’s release, we thought the Christmas season was fitting. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
Arcade? When you ask the modern western gamer about such a concept, they will likely know about the genre of “arcade” in today’s market of downloadable games on console, PC and smartphone. Home and mobile ports of classic coin operated titles. But twenty years ago, people would visit actual venues to play games they could otherwise not to, offering considerable advantages in graphics, controls and cabinet designs.
Putting a coin into a machine should get you more enjoyment that you expect out of it. That has been the ethos of SEGA’s coin-up division for as long as existed. Immediate, visceral, thrilling; all of that should be encapsulated into the experience. One session should not go longer than 3 minutes. Often times games offer more depth as well, which is best summed up by the phrase “easy to learn hard to master” – which can be said of countless fighting games.
But different cultural perspectives can transform one concept considerably, and this can be applied to arcade games. Back in the glory days of arcades, westerners played in an arcade maybe once a month or even once a week at most. However in Japan, with its density of population, going to an arcade can become simply a part of your everyday routine, similar to how westerners play their games on home and mobile platforms. But what could one keep coming back to the arcade, time and again? Cards. Yes. Magnetic cards.
How did SEGA’s Streets of Rage/Bare Knuckle become the big franchise that it came to be? Many people in the West know Streets of Rage as a defining video game franchise for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive – and they aren’t wrong – it was one of the greatest trilogies to grace the console. Today we will take a look at the early concepts, changes and history of the first title that came out 25 years ago. That is correct, the first Streets of Rage launched just months after Sonic the Hedgehog back in 1991, which was a huge year for SEGA’s 16-bit machine.
So let’s hit the streets and rage on.
Virtua Fighter 5 turned 10 years old on Tuesday, July 12th. Community members Oliver “oneida” Leland, Mikél “BLACKSTAR” Grissett and VFDC co-creator Mike “Myke” Abdow reflect on how the entry fits into the series at large, and how its community ebbed over the course of a decade.
On July 12th 2006, Virtua Fighter 5 was released in Japanese arcades – that’s ten long years ago this past Tuesday. To put that time-frame in perspective, Soul Calibur III had been in arcades for three months. “X-Men: The Last Stand” was in theaters, “The Sopranos” was still on the air, and there was no such thing as an iPhone. SonicFox, fighting game tournament champion, was in the third grade. Put simply, Virtua Fighter 5 was released a long, long time ago.
Ten years ago fighting games were in that period of purported dormancy which spanned from the release of Capcom vs SNK 2 to Street Fighter IV, during which 3D fighters like Dead or Alive and Tekken saw sequels and revisions. And although Dead or Alive 4 technically brought fighters to “next-gen” on the Xbox 360 the previous November, Virtua Fighter 5 shouldered the responsibility of ushering the high-definition era to the arcades, which is where the franchise has flourished since its inception in 1993.
Over the years, video game franchises have come in many styles. Platforming, fighting, puzzle, shooting, the list is never ending. But one thing many franchises have in common is that they have to start somewhere, setting up the foundation for future titles to follow up and improve on. However, on occasion, something happens down the line that causes the franchise to become twisted, causing things to become complicated. Copyright issues might make the prospect of new titles impossible so spiritual successors might be necessary (For example Bayonetta being the successor to Devil May Cry), or the franchise suffers from an identity crisis when localized like with Puyo Puyo, or games having inconsistent releases cause confusion like the infamous Final Fantasy I to VI problem.
By far one of the most curious cases is with a franchise called Wonder Boy (Aka Monster World).
There are typically three things that people associate with SEGA: Sonic the Hedgehog, consoles that never got to shine, and great music. SEGA has undoubtedly housed some of the most creative composers in the industry, making everything from sweeping, pseudo-orchestral soundscapes, to fast-paced, pumped-up techno. But the best composers don’t let their skill and talent end with their music.
Enter Tomoko Sasaki, best known to SEGA fans as the main composer of NiGHTS into Dreams…. Her sound, helped along by Naofumi Hataya and Fumie Kumatani, is what arguably sold NiGHTS‘ surreal dream worlds and energetic gameplay. It’s often considered one of the best soundtracks in SEGA history, let alone on the Saturn, but it was only Sasaki’s third composition. And even then, it wasn’t even the strangest thing she ever did.
A NEW STRUCTURE, A NEW SEGA
The executive team, Hideki Okamura (Left), Hisao Oguchi (Middle) and Takayuki Kawagoe (Right).
In 2005, Sega was back in the black in all areas for the first time in a long time. The Sega Sammy structure was completed, and the next generation home consoles were ahead. Like in the formation of twelve new R&D studios in 1998, executive management had a reset. Long time executives Hideki Sato and Hisashi Suzuki retired from Sega, after their thirty – or even in Suzuki’s case – forty years of service.
As mentioned in Part 3, Hisao Oguchi would atain the highest executive position which he held until 2008 where he received even wider responsibilities as Chief Creative Officer of Sega Sammy.
Then there is Masano Maeda, who joined in 1991. Madea was responsible for building a new Western management team that made crucial partnerships and buyouts of Western companies, like Creative Assembly, Sports Interactive and Secret Level On a side note: the amount of games developed for Xbox 360 amount to roughly forty games, and on PC to about sixty games. On the Dreamcast, the amount comes to fourteen, and old PC releases amount to sixteen.
REUNIFICATION AND TWELVE INNOVATIVE R&D STUDIOS
Playing up an executive managing director and joking about the state of the Dreamcast at the time, says a lot about Sega’s attitude at the time.
In Part 2 we covered Sega’s golden age, but great heights inevitably can bring great lows. Sega had lots of up and downs throughout their history. They also had great games, lots of them! But ultimately Sega did not make that much money from the Saturn. However, in the arcades they did absolute gangbusters. Sega needed to change their approach in regards to development and also their hardware. The solution was to make the Dreamcast and NAOMI arcade hardware the same and have all of the internal studios make games for it,in turn allowing them further grow and prosper. Twelve R&D studios in total were established, and the nine software studios were not split into arcade and console divisions – they made games for everything. Hisashi Suzuki and Yu Suzuki would manage the arcade business, with Hisashi putting in his final stretch at Sega before retirement.
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.
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.
Sega is an interesting company when it comes to their origins. There are companies like Namco, Taito and Konami that started in the 60s with electromechanical games and there are those like Capcom and Square that started in the 80s with video games. Sega is different.
Sega had its roots even earlier with slots and jukeboxes in the 1940s in Hawaii, when they were known as Standard Games. Today, Sega of Japan would rather say that Sega didn’t start until it was moved to Tokyo and renamed to Service Games in 1951. However all that expertise in manufacturing slots and jukeboxes during the Standard Games days really gave Sega the boost they needed when they entered the market to manufacture their very first “Amusement Machine” in 1965, Periscope, which the company still prides itself for as it was their first worldwide commerical success.
As summer winds down, we thought it would be the ideal time to shift the focus of our Year of the Developers feature to third party Japanese developers who have worked with SEGA in the past to bring us countless classics. We are, of course, referring to the legendary developers Compile, Treasure and Westone. While these three developers existed on their own outside of SEGA, their collaborations with our favorite company utilizing beloved SEGA home console and arcade hardware went a long way in cementing their statuses as some of the best third party developers of the 80s and 90s.
This month we will be celebrating the games of Visual Concepts, a western developer that is best known for the creation of the 2K Sports franchise of games. Not only did they have a long history battling EA on the Dreamcast; but they continue to battle against the EA Sports brand video games even after leaving our favorite publisher. What better month than July to focus on this largely overlooked and talented US-based development team. After the break, let’s look back at the games and history of Visual Concepts!