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Ray Nakazato has had his fair share of jobs, from the early days of programming PC games in Japan, to his time at Broderbund, then EA Japan, Capcom, and Microsoft Game Studios, all the way through to his current position as president of FeelPlus studio, working on Lost Odyssey with Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Nakazato was a speaker at GDC Prime this year, and Gamasutra took the opportunity to interview him extensively about his past and present experience. He offers a refreshingly honest perspective on all aspects of the Japanese industry, speaking plainly about subjects most developers shy away from, diminish the importance of, or dodge entirely. These subjects range from the Japanese perception of the PS3 and 360 and the future of game technology in the region, to the status of notable industry figures such as Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), Yukio Futatsugi (Panzer Dragoon), and Yasumi Matsuno (Final Fantasy XII).
We also spoke at length about Lost Odyssey, including a few new gameplay details, the problems with Ninety-Nine Nights, and, in brief, a canceled 360 project from Game Republic’s Yoshiki Okamoto.
GS: Can you talk about your personal background in games?
Ray Nakazato: When I was in junior high, I started coding games. Back then, in the mid-70s, there was nothing. I was into coin-ops at the time, and you’d really only see a couple of new games at a time. And one day I heard of this thing called a personal computer, and you could actually make your own games. So I got a PC, and studied how to program. Then I started making games, but just for fun. The first commercial game I made was in 1983. It was an 8-bit PC game called Chobin. It was only distributed in Japan.
GS: What platform was that for?
RN: The PC-88.
GS: Ah, an NEC.
RN: Yes – so that was the start of my professional career. Then I started making games for this small PC publisher, BOTHTEC.
GS: Aren’t they still sort of around?
RN: They were…I think they are, but in a different form. They once became a company called Quest. They did Ogre Battle, among other games.
GS: And Magical Chase?
RN: Right. Anyway, I started making games for this company, and back then, the biggest game I made was called Relics. It was only released in Japan, and it sold about 100,000 units. As a PC game in Japan, it was a big hit. Then, in 1988, I came to the States, and was hired by Broderbund to bring those Japanese PC games to North American platforms. Back then, PC games were spread across many platforms, all of which were incompatible with each other, so we picked some of the best Japanese PC games and ported them over to Apple, Commodore, and IBM PC-XT.
I did that for a few years, but it didn't go well, so Broderbund decided to stop that business. After that, I was at Maxis, doing some SimCity stuff, but they moved to Canada after they were hired by EA. Back then it wasn't even EA, it was a company called Distinctive Software. The day I got hired by DSI was the day they were bought by EA, so it became EA Canada. That was 1990 or 1991.
Back then, EA Canada got big funding from a Japanese firm, to make an RPG for some console, and on PC as well. So I got hired by EAC to participate in the project. Then, EA decided to get into the Japanese market, so I helped out with bringing out Japanese versions of EA games. When I came back to Japan, it was to help out 3DO, actually. 3DO at the time was half EA and half Panasonic, project-wise.
GS: Hardware, or software?
RN: 3DO is really a technology. The hardware was by Matsushita, and first-party products were done by EA – something like that. After that, I went back to EA Japan, and just started publishing EA games in Japan. We also started making games specifically for the Japanese market. I think there was only one game I did while in Japan that was published globally. It was called CrossFire, but in the States it was called X-Squad. That's one of the very early PS2 games.
Then I went to Capcom after that. At Capcom, I was asked to start up a Tokyo studio, since Capcom's headed in Osaka. I was hired by Yoshiki Okamoto, who later left Capcom. I started hiring people from Tokyo, and did some online projects as well as some games that were being done outside of Japan like Maximo, which was done in the States. I was in charge of Maximo. We were also making a game called Red Dead Revolver - a Western shooting game - which was being done by a studio called Angel Studios, in San Diego. They got bought by Rockstar.