[Exclusive] Classic SEGA Interview: Smilebit’s Takayuki Kawagoe talks Jet Set Radio Future with Xbox Nation Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the premiere issue of Xbox Nation Magazine. Stay tuned for scans of the magazine itself later this week!

Takayuki Kawagoe – Smilebit
Past projects: General development, project manager for various 16-bit titles, and head of the Saturn software lineup. Sega Rally 2 and JGR (Dreamcast), along with many others.
Xbox projects: Gunvalkyrie, JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon.
Favorite food: Any fish, Korean BBQ, and Italian food
Favorite movie: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and any kung fu movie starring Jet Li.
Favorite music: Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Peter Gabriel, Joe Strummer/The Clash, Jim Foetus, Malcolm Mclaren, The Smiths, Nay Nays, Kyoko Koizumi, Robert Wyatt, Elvis Costello, Serge Gainsbourg, electro pop, hip hop, Latin beats, reggae, punk, and ’80s music in general.

XBN: Please describe your role in the development of Jet Set Radio Future?

Takayuki Kawagoe: As the producer for JSRF, I motivate my staff, consult with them, decide which direction the project should take, balance the budget, promote the title, etc.. Regarding the content in the game: because this is the second title, I trust Mr. Kikuchi (director) and Mr. Ueda (art director) with most of the finer details of the game. That said, I get my words in their works…I’m their “nagging father”…

XBN: What are your top five games of all-time?

TK: Dragon Quest, Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong and the Metroid series.

XBN: The control setup and sensitivity in the original JSR was a hotly-debated issue; some loved it while others never got the hang of it. Were you
ultimately happy with the final controls?

TK: I feel satisfied with the settings, but I cannot say I was very pleased with the Dreamcast controller…

XBN: Have you guys played much of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series? What do you think of it?

TK: I’ve played the game for only a few minutes but I watched other people play it numerous times, I can say that it is a well-developed game and I understand why it is a hit.

XNB: If you were stranded on a desert island with only only one form of snackfood, what would it be?

TK: Bonchi Age” (a Japanese traditional snack made from rice, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar).

XBN: In terms of pop culture, what were your most direct inspirations in the development of JSRF?

TK: JSRF comes from punk, hip-hop and manga.

XBN: What is your own personal process in designing a game? How does the conceptualization process begin, and how does it come to fruition?

TK: In short, this is how the concept is born and how you would realize it. It depends on each person I guess, but in my case I imagine how users are playing games (e.g. laughing, struggling, lying down, enjoying games with their girl/boyfriend, etc.) and the various environments or situations the games are played (for example, is it played in a living room or his/her own room?). The mixture of these and the visuals on the monitor becomes a project concept at the early stage. Then, it is the passion and love that will embody the idea.

XBN: The original Jet Set Radio was-in terms of design, illustration and animation-one of the most groundbreaking, innovative and beautiful games of all time. And yet, JSR was not a commercial success in either Japan or the US. Which leads us to two questions: (a) Why do you think this is, and (b) do you care?

TK: (a) In one word: “regrettable.” I remember that I said in an interview shortly after the release of the previous title, “It would be a success if it can become a part of the memory of the users rather than set a record for sales.” I feel like I achieved this, so I’m satisfied about that part. (b) No. There is no reason to feel shame about it.

XBN: Have you made any creative changes to make the sequel more commercially viable?

TK: I’ve partly catered to the wishes of the previous title users, but I tried not to lose the uniqueness of Jet Set Radio. “JSRF” has further come to focus on puffed up characters like Beat.

XBN: How do you feel about the fact that dozens of developers all over the world are now completely ripping your cel-shading technique? Does it both you at all?

TK: If the direction of games-which seem to have reached its end these days-will be varied, I think it is good. Even if games introduce almost the same technology, especially with interactive games and unlike computer graphics thus far, it will make each game different from the other. Also, “power play” developments have been shrinking the game industry, so I hope that the developers are going to use this technology much more.

XBN: If JSRF were a kitchen appliance, what would it be?

TK: A whisk.

XBN: Right…erm…If you could start life all over again from day one-but know everything you know now-would you do it?

TK: I want to go back to my high-school days. And l want to participate in the World Cup.

XBN: What kind of music do you listen to?

TK: I listen to hip-hop and rock, and I recently started collecting CDs from the ’80s.

XBN: If you could meet one person from any time period and ask them only one question, who would it be and what would you ask them?

TK: I would want to meet Frank Zappa and ask, “Did you really eat shit on stage?”

XBN: In twenty words or less, describe the videogame you dream of making.

TK: The game that makes you forget the existence of your controller.


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