Hiroyuki Takahashi (President of Camelot)
After working on the Dragon Quest series, he went independent and developed Shining in the Darkness. Afterward he established the company as being named “Sonic” and worked on the Shining series, which was incredibly influential to strategy RPGs going forward.
Shugo Takahashi (Co-President of Camelot)
Hiroyuki Takahashi’s younger brother. He previously worked at a business software company, but then went over to the games industry at his brother’s invitation, when he helped established Sonic. Together they worked on the Shining Force series.
Before Developing Any Software, They Started By Creating Tools
First of all, please tell us the details about how you arrived at Shining in the Darkness.
(Hiroyuki) I was previously with Enix, and worked on the Dragon Quest series. I was sent overseas at that time, and I saw the game market there for the first time, with my own eyes. The Japanese game market was getting noticed overseas at that point, but I felt that entertainment was consumed in a different way. They were taking notice of Japanese games, but Japanese developers saying things like “Let’s surprise foreign gamers even more” felt lacking in spirit to me. The Dragon Quest games were very refined titles, but I didn’t think they could compete worldwide as they were.
And so you thought to try and shift into having more of a world view?
(Hiroyuki) That’s right. I left Enix after that and was going to begin planning and developing Shining in the Darkness, but…I very clearly said from the start that I wasn’t interested in making a game that was just going to be a big hit domestically, like Dragon Quest. I wanted to make a game that would make people in the west think “Japan is amazing!”.
I see. So that was accepted, and development began on Shining in the Darkness. By the way, what were your impressions of the development environment for the Mega Drive at the time?
(Hiroyuki) To be honest…it was horrible (Laughs bitterly). Sega and the other third parties just didn’t have the basic know-how when it came to making home console games. That’s why we decided to start with creating a development environment ourselves. So actually the first thing we created on the Mega Drive wasn’t Shining in the Darkness, but a graphics tool used for game development.
Oh really!? Was it something that other companies went on to use afterward?
(Hiroyuki) Yes, it was. The Dragon Quest development team was considered to be at the top level of the industry at that time, so comparing ourselves to them may have been a little unfair. But keep in mind that the Mega Drive had a pretty awful development environment. With the tools that we prepared, the quality of games made going forward should have really improved.
What are your thoughts on the performance of the Mega Drive hardware itself?
(Shugo) The hardware performance itself was actually pretty good. I think that’s what made us go with it despite the bad development environment, in those early days.
(Hiroyuki) Of course the Famicom was 8 bit, and the Mega Drive was 16 bit. It won out overwhelmingly in terms of power, so there’s no way it was going to lose out to the Famicom. But…
The hardware’s full power wasn’t being utilized, right?
(Hiroyuki) That’s right. That’s why when we were making Shining in the Darkness, other developers were blown away by it. They couldn’t believe that we were able to use such large graphics.
(Shugo) It was very surprising.
(Hiroyuki) As I mentioned earlier, the Dragon Quest team had a very high level of skill when it came to development on the Famicom, and we were able to put that to use in software development for the Mega Drive. To give an easy example, the best development team at your basic major game company wasn’t able to get 8 monsters lined up on a single screen in their RPG titles. But we were able to do that in Dragon Quest IV, a game I was involved with. This was the difference between our technological prowess and everyone else’s. We were pouring all of that technological prowess fully into Shining in the Darkness.
Much like how everyone else used the graphics tool that you created, did you ever pass along that superior level of prowess to others?
(Hiroyuki) This happened much later on, but when Sega-AM2 (Sega’s second development division at that time) was working on Shenmue, we had a brainstorming session.
You had connections to AM2?
(Shugo) Actually our company was in a predicament that threatened its continued operation. And Hisashi Suzuki from AM2 reached out to us to help, at that time.
I had no idea…Roughly when was it that this happened?
(Shugo) Toward the end of the Mega Drive era. Long story short, a contract got rescinded on us. And Mr. Suzuki kindly got fired up on our behalf, saying “These sorts of things can’t happen!”. And so then the arcade-focused AM2 division contracted us. I think this was such a rare case that it hasn’t happened before or since! (Laughs)
(Hiroyuki) If not for that, we wouldn’t be here today. We’re really grateful to Mr. Suzuki.
Assisting In The Birth Of Masterpieces, The Takahashi Brothers Are Too Dependable!
As fellow developers, are there any Mega Drive titles that you respect in particular?
(Hiroyuki) If I were to pick only one, it would probably be Gunstar Heroes. The multi-jointed characters have very complex movement, and technically speaking I think they’re just wonderful. But the thing I really should take the most notice of, is the fact that something like this was created in the same development environment that we prepared. And I think Treasure continues to live on in their later works too. As you might expect from an ace creator like Masato Maegawa (who developed the game), I think he understood something about game creation that none of the rest of us did.
(Shugo) Speaking of Mr. Maegawa, one day we randomly got called in by Naoki Aoki, a department head at Sega. We were introduced to Mr. Maegawa, and for some reason we were taken along with them to Famitsu’s editorial department. As we were wondering what was happening, Mr. Maegawa started playing a demo of Gunstar Heroes right there in front of Mr. Hamamura (Hirokazu Hamamura, the Editor in Chief of Famitsu at the time). The presentation and the game itself were both gorgeous, and made me think “Wow, this game is amazing!”.
(Hiroyuki) Mr. Aoki brought us along as sort of a cheering squad to convince Mr. Hanamura. (Laughs) And since what he showed off was so amazing, we attacked by saying “Give it a page! It’s your mission to show a game like this to the world!”.
So in the end, you both played a role in Gunstar Heroes being a hit, right? (Laughs)
(Hiroyuki) I’d like to think so, but… (Laughs) And speaking of Mr. Aoki, he introduced us to Masamitsu Niitani, the creator of Puyo Puyo. Mr. Aoki once again brought Mr. Niitani along and asked “Would you show them the game”. And what he pulled out was Puyo Puyo. After we played through it Mr. Aoki asked “Will you call up Sega and give them your seal of approval?”
(Shugo) Even though Mr. Aoki himself was a Sega employee in the first place (Laughs). I guess he just wanted the endorsement to come directly from us.
(Hiroyuki) When I played it I thought “This is really going to sell!”, and so I called up and gave my endorsement by saying “You should absolutely sell this game!”. And Puyo Puyo would go on to become a big arcade hit. From that point on Mr. Niitani and I became good friends.
To think that you had these kinds of stories about such notable Mega Drive titles…!
(Hiroyuki) But naturally, we haven’t even told you our best ones (Laughs)
(Shugo) Is it alright that we didn’t tell them, even though you asked us here for an interview? (Laughs)
You told us plenty of surprising stories! Thank you very much.
The Takashi Brothers’ Top 5 Mega Drive Titles
Shining in the Darkness
Not only a Mega Drive game, but the debut entry in the Shining series. Naturally we can’t leave this one off the list (Hiroyuki)
It’s a title that a great many creators respect and have said that they’ve been greatly influenced by, after all (Hiroyuki)
It’s left a strong impression on us, including when we got to meet Mr. Maegawa. The game itself is wonderful, it’s a staple. (Hiroyuki)
A character action game with a very good reputation. I loved it so that much that I played it over and over again. (Shugo)
It’s my theory that Sega just can’t miss when it comes to Disney games. I liked that it had a high level of difficulty, and didn’t baby the player at all. (Shugo)