March 23, 2011
Japan Week Day 3: Sega
SEGA! The marketing industry was not very talented back in the early 90’s, not that today’s is any better, but that was Sega’s slogan for their commercials and was effective. Everyone knows Sega because of a blue mammal and a relentless obsession with added peripherals to hardware. Once a proud industry changer and hardware manufacturer, Sega’s days are not so proud anymore; with recent layoffs and growing library of cruddy titles, this once king of the 16-bit era is slowly dying. Though having modern troubles, Sega has a rich history based in home consoles and king of the arcade. Two of those people were are going to remember today, one for being a visionary in the arcade scene, and the other for creating great games and a mascot only second to Nintendo’s Mario.
Yu Suzuki is a name every Sega and arcade junkie should know. The lead of Sega’s AM2 dev studio, he would go on to develop such titles as Virtua Fighter, Outrun, and Space Harrier. His arcade cabinets would always be the most advanced and extravagant. Outrun was the first time I was able to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari at age 8 and has been one of my favorite arcade games of all time. His creation to make a more realistic fighting game became Virtua Fighter, the first 3D polygonal fighter. I still remember walking into the one of the local arcades, Pocket Change, and seeing this cabinet and wondering what is this? Where was Street Fighter? Where was Mortal Kombat? Who are these goofy square people? Well it turns out this game would become a beloved franchise and the top game on the Sega Saturn. Virtua Fighter still lives on today with the 5th iteration that graced the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, in 2007. Virtua Fighter was different; there were no flashy moves or blood and gore, it was straight martial arts and went more on technique than combination. Once the Dreamcast hit the market Yu Suzuki dreamed of a larger game that would be a departure from his arcade scene with Shenmue. Shenmue was an adventure game that was to be broken up into 16 chapters, the Dreamcast game being the first. This would be the second most expensive game to develop costing 70 million USD only second to Grand Theft Auto 4 at 100 USD. It was revolutionary implementing an open world, day/night cycles, working vending machines, NPC’s that would go about their daily routines, and gave birth to quick time event that would become a staple of modern gaming. It was well received by critics but was a financial disaster for Sega. Shenmue would continue to be on several publications top video games of all time and would spawn a sequel on the Xbox. Yu Suzuki is still at Sega with a much smaller role, with Sega losing its licensing rights with Ferrari, the XBLA version of Outrun has been delisted. He was Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Miyamoto, and in a lot of ways he has pioneered gaming in a much bigger light than Miyamoto. He was a game changer, out doing other arcade games either with technology or extravagant cabinets. His console offerings sold hardware and paved the way for future games. He may have never created recognizable characters but pushed style and substance, with the outcome of pushing the industry forward.
Sonic The Hedgehog, one of the industries mascots and know by all. He is only second in the industry to Mario. The little blue speed demon was the creation of Yuji Naka. Naka has had a hand in several Sega titles normally console defining. Sonic has competed to grab gamer’s attention away from the Italian plumber since the 16-bit era. The speeding mammal would give the Genesis what it needed to edge out the SNES, attitude. Naka, in 1996, would make one of my favorite games on the Saturn, Nights into Dreams. Getting to lay hands and eyes on the game was a wonderful experience (especially since it was in a Sears, nothing special ever happens there). The interactive glowed with delight and the 3D controller that it was packaged with was large and intimidating but the game made getting a Saturn all the more sweet (which I still have by the way). The 2D game play flowed with the 3D environments and models and was a sight to behold. In 2006 Yuji Naka left Sega to pursue his own development studio Prope.
Sega has had a strong heritage in the arcade and at home. The Dreamcast was ill fated by the PlayStation 2 and we have not seen the same Sega since then. Publishing games by Platinum Games has help make Sega a contender again, but more is needed. Will we ever see Sega back in the game or left to sell out their beloved hedgehog to the highest bidder? Hopefully history repeats itself.