Yuji Naka seems again at Sega’s Dreamcast motion RPG Phantasy Star Online, 20 years later

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Yuji Naka looks back at Sega’s Dreamcast action RPG Phantasy Star Online, 20 years later

Phantasy Star Online wasn’t the primary Internet-connected multiplayer sport on Dreamcast. That distinction belongs to ChuChu Rocket!, which Sega and developer Sonic Team made as an information streaming take a look at case in preparation for PSO.

But Phantasy Star Online was the primary console-based on-line motion sport to collect 1000’s of gamers from around the globe on the identical servers, permitting communication no matter area, utilizing a language-agnostic icon-based system.

While Sega had experimented with on-line providers and tech for years prior, with the Dreamcast it included a modem in each console, that means that each Dreamcast proprietor could possibly be, in principle, related. For a quick second, it appeared as if the expertise for consumer-focused on-line gaming had lastly caught up with Sega’s console ambitions.

As Sonic Team chief and PSO producer Yuji Naka would later lament, although, his staff ended up finishing this pioneering sport simply in time to see the corporate abandon the {hardware} enterprise. Although the collection would dwell on, ultimately discovering success on GameDice, Xbox, and PC, Naka initially hoped PSO would revive the Dreamcast’s fading fortunes. Unfortunately, the console’s destiny was sealed effectively earlier than PSO’s arrival.

This yr marks the 20th anniversary of Sega’s groundbreaking franchise, which spawned quite a few successors like Phantasy Star Universe, Phantasy Star Zero, Phantasy Star Portable, and, in the end, Phantasy Star Online 2 (which, regardless of launching in Japan in 2012, has solely not too long ago reached English-speaking gamers).

To commemorate this anniversary, we not too long ago tracked down eight members of Sonic Team’s unique PSO growth employees to look again on the 20 years which have handed for the reason that sport’s debut, share insights on the challenges they confronted, and reminisce about how PSO gathered 1000’s of gamers around the globe every day to play collectively.

We’ll be working these conversations as a collection of interviews over the approaching weeks, beginning with the under translated electronic mail dialog with producer Yuji Naka.


Yuji Naka wants little introduction to Phantasy Star Online followers. As the onetime head of Sonic Team, Naka was both straight answerable for or oversaw the creation of many iconic video games and franchises: Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights Into Dreams, the unique Phantasy Star, Burning Rangers, Sonic Adventure, ChuChu Rocket!, Samba de Amigo, and naturally Phantasy Star Online.

Naka left Sega in 2006 to type his personal studio, Prope, the place he launched video games like Ivy the Kiwi? and Rodea the Sky Soldier. In January 2018, he joined Square Enix to work on a brand new motion sport, which was revealed after we carried out this interview as 3D platformer Balan Wonderful.

A photo of Yuji Naka standing in an office

Yuji Naka
Image: Square Enix

Polygon: As the producer for Phantasy Star Online, primarily based on the work you’d finished in video video games main as much as that time — Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights Into Dreams, and many others. — it was not like something you’d ever taken on. What had been the most important challenges?

Yuji Naka: I recall that the best hurdle was attempting to determine easy methods to get folks from around the globe to play on-line in an age the place the web was nonetheless not available in all places. When we discovered that even with the usage of optical fiber, data solely travelled at seven and a half occasions around the globe per second, we knew that we couldn’t construct video games the conventional means. So, we needed to know this atmosphere higher and developed ChuChu Rocket! first, then we took what we discovered to develop Phantasy Star Online.

Other members of the staff have stated that you simply had varied concepts that you simply had been adamant about having within the sport. What do you recall saying had been absolutely the must-haves?

I do not forget that former Sega chairman Isao Okawa stated “The internet is the future!” and we strived to create a sport which might enable folks to have enjoyable taking part in on-line. The methodology of communication was going to be key to the success of the sport so, along with common chat, the help for Symbol Chat and Word Select was very excessive on my checklist of priorities.

In a means it made loads of sense for Sonic Team to deal with the problem of growing PSO, primarily based in your previous expertise on the unique Phantasy Star collection on the Master System. PSO didn’t actually depend on previous collection lore or count on followers to have prior publicity to the collection, however what did you need to preserve from previous video games?

I felt it was vital to include the fantasy parts into the sci-fi world, so the very first thing we did was create the most effective illustration we may of a dragon on Dreamcast. We additionally included references to prior video games for Phantasy Star followers so I feel we had been in a position to please each new gamers and followers of the unique collection.

How did the event of ChuChu Rocket! show you how to with the event of PSO? Likewise, what did Sonic Adventure do to assist the event of PSO?

ChuChu Rocket! was developed as a puzzle sport, however it was additionally constructed to assist us work out easy methods to use latency in battles to our benefit, in addition to to know potential gameplay parts in on-line video games. I feel the expertise that helped probably the most from engaged on Sonic Adventure was breaking the sport into elements and perfecting every half earlier than bringing them collectively.

PSO was developed at a time when networked video games didn’t exist on consoles, as a result of lack of arduous drives, secure and speedy sufficient web connections, and strategies of communication like voice chat and keyboards. Which of these items was the toughest to beat, and the way did you handle it?

I feel the shortage of arduous drives was the most important impediment. This problem was the rationale we needed to ask customers to buy a brand new disc [Phantasy Star Online Version 2] with the intention to repair some bugs within the system. It was an unlucky scenario however I used to be grateful that the customers nonetheless appeared to benefit from the sport regardless of the problem.

The PSO icon chat system was ingenious, versatile, and enjoyable to make use of. You may achieve this a lot with the editor and solely a few buttons. What had been the design periods wish to develop this technique?

When we had been making [the icon chat system], we felt that there was one thing missing when chatting in simply textual content and had been hoping to transcend simply emojis. The entire growth staff was very stunned with how enthusiastic gamers had been about it. We had been anticipating some surprises however we had been actually blown away by the creativity we noticed from gamers.

Phantasy Star Online characters stand side-by-side

Phantasy Star Online paintings
Image: Sega

Symbol Chat, Word Select, and the power to take screenshots had been all options that made PSO an progressive sport. Why had been you adamant about together with these options within the sport?

It stemmed from eager to make the most of being on-line and supply quite a lot of communication strategies. The screenshot seize function was one thing that I got here up with two weeks earlier than the grasp submission. We had been solely in a position to save one screenshot on the VMU [memory card] however I figured it was higher to have one than none, so we included it as a hidden command. I’m actually glad we did, too. Ideally, I might have provide you with it earlier in growth however it was one thing that got here to me as soon as growth was beginning to wind down and I used to be searching for methods to make the sport extra enjoyable. This is one thing that occurs so much within the second half of sport growth and the essential factor to contemplate is which concepts to include and the quantity of danger that’s concerned [by trying to incorporate new ideas into the game at that late stage].

Many widespread Japanese multiplayer action-RPG franchises have emerged within the wake of PSO — Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Monster Hunter, God Eater, and many others. — and whereas a few of these have gone on to nice success, it seems like no sport has correctly taken PSO’s baton. PSO even ultimately gained the sport of the yr award from the Japan Game Awards. How do you’re feeling about it in hindsight in comparison with the time while you had been growing it?

I used to be extraordinarily completely satisfied to obtain the sport of the yr award. I used to be completely satisfied we had been in a position to materialize chairman Okawa’s imaginative and prescient and to be acknowledged as pioneers of on-line video games [by the industry]. There are many variations between MMOs and multiplayer on-line video games, so it’s arduous to check, however I feel that Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV, and Monster Hunter are nice video games and I hope that these video games will proceed to take us additional within the realms of on-line video games.

What main compromises did you need to make to the sport that you’d have preferred to have included, however couldn’t for price range, console spec, or scheduling causes?

What we had been unable to incorporate in PSO, we included it in Version 2 on Dreamcast and the GameDice variations of Episode I & II. [The GameCube] variations of the sport got here with added options, so it was a satisfying expertise to have the ability to make a sport the place we had been in a position to accomplish all the things that we got down to do.

One of probably the most progressive issues concerning the sport was the MAG system, the place gamers had dynamic pets. Raising them to their potential was virtually a sport in itself. This looks like it was a really sophisticated system to introduce to an already-complicated, pioneering sport like PSO. Who got here up with this concept and what was the inner response like?

The MAG system was initially speculated to contain a totally fleshed-out, animated pet-like creature, however because of varied causes, we needed to restrict this pet to an object floating over your shoulder. In early idea shows of PSO, we had a monster-like creature that advanced over the development of the sport. If that concept had been greenlit, we would have seen a special kind of PSO sport.

PSO gained many awards. Considering what number of challenges your staff confronted, was it a reduction to see that PSO’s accomplishments had been totally acknowledged by the gaming media and the gamers?

Yes, I do not forget that we acquired loads of recognition from the abroad media and I used to be very completely satisfied to see that.

Shortly after the discharge of PSO, Sega introduced the tip of Dreamcast and I hoped that the gross sales of PSO would assist to maintain the console alive. PSO was attainable solely due to the existence of the Dreamcast {hardware}. It was regrettable that we actually created a sport with the imaginative and prescient of broadcasting a “Dream” and launched the sport solely a month earlier than the announcement of the {hardware}’s cancellation.

The sport has such a singular type and the character designs had been so widespread that it’s not unusual to see gamers in different video games, like Final Fantasy XIV, identify their characters after PSO lessons, like “RAcaseal.” Besides the sport high quality, how essential do you’re feeling the character designs had been to the success of PSO?

I feel the attraction of characters is a mirrored image of the standard of the gameplay so I feel that the followers of the sport grew to like the characters as a consequence of having fun with the sport. I’m very grateful for that.

Looking again, PSO is now practically 20 years outdated. How do you’re feeling concerning the sport in hindsight, and what do you assume its legacy is?

I feel the most important affect we had is that we proved that we may make a networked sport on a house console. I’ve had many individuals inform me that they used PSO as a reference to check networked video games. I feel that’s one thing we had been in a position to contribute to the gaming business.

You had so many landmark hits with Sonic Team, and likewise many critically acclaimed however maybe underappreciated video games, like Nights, Burning Rangers, and Billy Hatcher. Where would you rank PSO amongst Sonic Team’s catalog?

I don’t need to rank the titles I’ve labored on since they’re all expensive to my coronary heart however PSO would in all probability come after Sonic and Nights.

Lastly, clearly you don’t work for Sega now, however lots of people want they might nonetheless play this sport. What would you say to those followers who’ve liked PSO for thus lengthy?

I presently work at Square Enix so please inquire with Sega a few PSO reboot. Also, please look ahead to the subsequent sport I’m engaged on at Square Enix.

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