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Algol Star System :: Library > Developer Information > Yuji Naka
Library - Developer Information (Yuji Naka)

Biography:

(This section is credited to the now seemingly-defunct Sega Base).

Yuji Naka was born on 17 September 1965 in the old provincial city of Osaka. A bright, energetic young lad, he found himself as a teenager attracted to the music of Riyuchi Sakamoto and his Yellow Magic Orchestra. His love for Sakamoto's synthesized strains were what led him into his lifelong attraction to computers, especially the new phenomena known as videogames. Naka not only played every one on which he could get his hands, but he also analyzed them and tried to figure out how they worked. Shortly thereafter, he began coding his own. The gifted young student could have had his choice of any of the top colleges in Japan, but he passed on enrollment. This was a daring move given Japan's cultural stresses on a good education, but Naka did not feel like wasting four years or so at university when the personal computer revolution was unfolding about him. Four more years of academics did not offer much in the way of opportunities in this rapidly growing field.

In 1983 the newly graduated Naka moved to Tokyo and applied for employment with Namco, the world's leading arcade videogame company at the time. His lack of a college degree hampered any chance he had, and it turned out to be the main reason why Namco did not offer him a job. Undaunted, he shopped his talents around and by 1984 found himself working as an entry-level coder for Sega. The mid-1980s were not good years for Sega, as they were struggling against Nintendo like everybody else, but Naka made the most of it. After all, it was a steady job, and creating videogames was one of the things he truly liked to do. He quickly gained a reputation as a micro-managing perfectionist, and it was not unusual for him to be heard arguing with his co-workers over some seemingly insignificant coding detail. "Not just programming," Naka would comment many years later, "everything ... the graphics, the pictures. I'm really careful about everything." It was a personality profile that fit well with Nakayama's autocratic management style, although Naka was hardly known to Sega's boss until his programming efforts bore fruit.

Naka's very first effort for Sega was Girl's Garden for the SG-1000, its original home console system. Over the next seven years, Naka's programming excellence demonstrated itself in a number of impressive original videogames and console conversions for Sega. His credits during this period include such legendary titles as Space Harrier, OutRun, and the groundbreaking RPG Phantasy Star - widely regarded as the best game ever released for the SMS. In 1988 his team was detailed to begin developing software for the Mega Drive, Sega's new console, and again Naka made his programming presence felt. He was the one responsible for Super Thunder Blade, a port of the arcade original and one of the system's two launch titles, and no one but he could have been called upon to develop the system's first hit RPG, Phantasy Star 2 - the sequel to his earlier 8-bit effort. After that monumental effort, he assisted in the port of Capcom's Dai Makai Mura (aka Ghouls 'n' Ghosts) and spent part of his spare time trying to figure out how to make Nintendo cartridges work with the Mega Drive. His efforts would eventually result in the world's first videogame system emulator, although he knew it could never be released. All this and more gained him the respect of his fellow AM8 team members. They were willing to put up with his idiosyncrasies because he was obviously one helluva good coder.

It was in the opening months of 1990 that AM8 got the directive from Hayao Nakayama to come up with a new company mascot and a game to go with it. Team leader Shinobu Toyoda and his staff bounced around ideas. The first character they came up with was a rabbit-like being with long ears that could extend and pick up objects and then throw them at his enemies, but it proved difficult to execute and the concept eventually went nowhere. Looking at the rough sketches one bright April day, Naka remaked to fellow team member Naoto Oshima that what was needed was something fast. Oshima was intrigued, so Naka continued. Years ago, Naka had conceived of a videogame featuring a character that could roll himself into a ball and then slam into his enemies, knocking them over.

"You're talking about a hedgehog," Oshima replied. 
"Yeah," said Naka, "you're right." Both grinned as the realization dawned upon them. 

The concept for the new character quickly evolved over the next few days. He would be blue because that was the color of Sega's corporate logo. Since a round ball did not offer a lot in the way of graphics and quills could not be easily depicted on screen, the blue hedgehog was given spiked hair. Since he would be a fast character and hedgehogs are not known for speed, he was also given a pair of running shoes. The sneakers might also serve as a good power-up in the game that Naka was by now beginning to code. One day, Naka gave his fellow AM8 team members a demonstration of his earliest efforts on the new game. They watched in amazement as the speedy blue hedgehog zipped around the screen.

"You know, that fellow's supersonic," one of the team members remarked. "Super-sonic." 

Naka never forgot the comment. Sonic would be the hedgehog's name from now on.

These are the known games that Yuji Naka has worked on. His pen names are "Muuuu Yuji", and "Yu2". All of these roles are programmer or producer credits, unless otherwise noted:

Girls Garden - Lead Programmer (SG-1000, 1984)
Great Baseball - Programmer (Mark III, 1985)
F-16 Fighting Falcon - Lead Programmer (Master System, 1985)
Hokuto no Ken [Fist of the North Star] - Programmer (Mark III, 1985)
Spy vs. Spy - Lead Programmer (Master System, 1986)
Space Harrier - Lead Programmer (Master System, 1986)
Outrun - Lead Programmer (Master System, 1987)
Phantasy Star - Lead Programmer (Master System, 1987)
Super Thunderblade - Executive producer (Mega Drive, 1989)
Phantasy Star II - Producer, lead programmer (Mega Drive, 1989)
Dai Makai Mura [Ghouls & Ghosts] - Lead Programmer (Mega Drive, 1989)
Sonic the Hedgehog - Programmer (Mega Drive, 1991)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Lead Programmer (Mega Drive, 1992)
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Producer, lead programmer (Mega Drive, 1993)
Sonic & Knuckles - Producer, lead Programmer (Mega Drive, 1994)
NiGHTS into Dreams - Producer, lead programmer (Saturn, 1996)
Christmas NiGHTS - Producer, programmer (Saturn, 1996)
Sonic 3D Flickies' Island - Advisor (Mega Drive, 1996)
Sonic Jam - Producer (Saturn, 1997)
Sonic R - Producer (Saturn, 1997)
Burning Rangers - Producer (Saturn, 1998)
Sonic Adventure - Producer (Dreamcast, 1998)
ChuChu Rocket! - Producer, director (Dreamcast, 2000)
Samba de Amigo - Producer (Dreamcast, 1999)
Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure - Supervisor (NGPC, 1999)
Samba de Amigo Ver.2000 - Producer (Dreamcast, 2000)
Phantasy Star Online - Producer (Dreamcast, 2000)
ChuChu Rocket! - Producer, director (GBA, 2001)
Phantasy Star Online Ver.2 - Producer (Dreamcast, 2001)
Sonic Adventure 2 - Producer (Dreamcast, 2001)
Minna de Puyo Puyo - Producer (GBA, 2001)
Sonic Adventure 2 Battle - Producer (Gamecube, 2001)
Sonic Advance - Producer (GBA, 2001)


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