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[In an extended version of a Game Developer magazine article, EIC Brandon Sheffield presents a rare interview with Sonic The Hedgehog co-creator Yuji Naka, discussing why he left Sega, his new studio Prope and the innovative Let's Tap.]
Yuji Naka is best known for his role in the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog. His programming skill allowed for Sonic's iconic speed, as well as the multitude of ring sprites he got the Genesis console to push in its early days -- alongside the impressive-for-the-time parallax scrolling.
After also helping to create classic titles such as Nights and Chu Chu Rocket, Naka more recently left Sega to form his own studio called Prope, and is now developing two games, Let's Tap and Let's Catch, for the Wii. Sega remains publisher and partial owner of his company.
Let's Tap is unique in that it's played without touching the controller -- the Wii remote sits on top of the provided box, and you actually tap the box to make characters move and jump and run, or complete other actions.
Lately, I feel that Naka has been overly marginalized by press and developers alike. He is often described as unfriendly and reclusive, and overly-controlling of projects with which he's associated.
I would like to provide a counterpoint here. The only times I've met him, he was walking around the show floor of the Tokyo Game Show, seeing how people liked his games, or at E3 social events. Without a translator, without anyone to curb his speech, he's approachable, candid, and well-spoken.
There is an unconfirmed anecdote that circulated around the Western press which states that when he left to build Prope, he offered any Sonic Team member the opportunity to go with him, and almost no one did. This was used to prove his lack of relevance in the current industry. I could see this anecdote being true -- but I would see it from another perspective.
He left to do his own thing, in a regional industry that is very reluctant to change, or to challenge the status-quo. Further, Naka's reasons for trying to control projects related to Sonic become clear once you read just a few paragraphs into this interview.
Sega/Prope's Let's Tap
Though the article is brief, I find Yuji Naka to be thoughtful and driven, not arrogant, and he left Sega because he still wanted to make games, not just manage them. It's my hope that this interview will increase understanding both of Naka, and the constraints of the Japanese industry.