He's Back: Yuji Naka Prope Interview

The former Sonic Team president discusses leaving (and returning to) Sega, founding Prope, his upcoming character-based action game, and ancient, unanswered Sonic secrets.

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It's a good few years since we've sat down with Yuji Naka, although it's not been for lack of trying. In fact, you can count the number of interviews he's done since leaving Sega and forming Prope in 2006 on a single, thumbless hand. Until today, the most recent was when one journalist parried the PRs and seized the opportunity at TGS 2008, talking freely to Naka-san on the showfloor. Prior to that, there had only been one brief magazine chat, a one briefer still online, clarifying his Sega departure.

The former president of Sonic Team, who is credited with programming and producing the original 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog, has been hard to track down, obviously. But now that Let's Tap - Yuji Naka's first game developed under the Prope banner - has been announced for North America and Europe, he's been let out of his cage. The publisher, it seems, always wears the trousers in a gaming relationship (unless you're Valve or id Software), and in this case the publisher is his old employer, Sega.

Things have moved on a fair bit since we last spoke with him ourselves, twice back in 2003 and again in 2004, when the company's exit from the hardware business we still relatively fresh in mind. Yesterday, Naka-san was in London to speak to a handful of games media including Kikizo. Time with Naka-san was once again pretty limited, so for now, the following chat addresses some of our more pressing questions, including his upcoming character-based action game, and ancient, unanswered Sonic Team secrets.

We've also got an interview with Sega's Tetsu Katano as well, focusing on Sonic and the Black Knight for the Wii as well as other current Sonic Team topics.

Find out the secrets of Naka's orange socks on the next page.

Kikizo: I think people were surprised when it was announced that you'd end up working with Sega after all, having left Sega to set up Prope. By contrast, Mizuguchi-san has only worked with other publishers since leaving Sega. Why did you take this direction?

Naka: I'm not sure how it is in the western games industry, but Japanese games development is very small. So as a creator, once you've reached a certain point, you take on more of a managerial position and don't get to make the games any more, and I think that's why people like Mizuguchi-san and I go independent and set up a new company. And so far, it's often been the case that when these people go independent and set up their own company, the creators sort of act 'against' the old employer - almost like a rivalry. But I didn't have that intention - I didn't have that kind of relationship with Sega - so it came quite naturally for me to maintain that strong relationship with them. And I always knew that these [Prope] titles would be published by Sega.

Kikizo: At TGS, and you mentioned that you are working on a character-based action title in the style of Sonic. When do you think we may learn more about this title?

Naka: Well, before Let's Tap came about, there had been two action-adventure games in development - one of which was originally due to be released last year, but in the end that title was cancelled. And there was another one, which was in development for a couple of months. Meanwhile, Let's Tap was in development, and that's been released in Japan now. So this kind of character-based action game is always something that's on my mind, but this is an ongoing negotiation with Sega, so I don't know when it might be released, and there's no guarantee that it will actually be approved. So I can't really comment further on that. But once the time comes, when there is a guarantee that it's going to come out, then I'll be able to start talking about it.

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