From a Strategic Point of View, OutRun is a Puzzle Game!? We Ask Former Sega AM2 Member Daichi Katagiri About the Best Days of His Life Spent in Arcades + Secret Development Stories of Virtua Fighter [Game Memories Lounge – Night 5]
Written by Tomomi Yamamura
A gathering place for all who want to talk about their memories of the games they love, it’s called the Game Memories Lounge “Hello my friend”.
Those who come in and out of this lounge are only prominent figures who have worked in the games industry. We ask these personalities and figures what kind of games they like, and what kind of memories they have of them. What kind of influence did these games have on thhis person’s current reality? This is a game love lounge where we simply talk to our heart’s content about profoundly memorable games.
On this fifth night, we’ll be discussing OutRun. Released in 1986, it was an arcade racing game from Sega.
Tonight’s Topic: OutRun
Racing through beautiful European scenery in a sports car while listening to wonderful music, this is the original driving game. With a beautiful blond companion in the passenger seat of your bright red sports car, you’re going the distance through 15 possible branching courses. The allure here is the sensation of enjoying the beautiful scenery in such a way as to seem more like you’re just driving through it, as opposed to actually racing.
Able to choose from many branching paths, enjoyment comes from being able to try out many different courses. Stages range broadly from deserts with giant stone gates, to old city streets, to windmills. A huge selling point was being able to choose from three different songs in the original version, and the vinyl soundtrack was a huge seller at the time.
The Strategy of OutRun is Like That of a Puzzle Game! Time Spent Driving on the Shuto Expressway at Night With Yu Suzuki at AM2
(Katagiri) Good evening, I’m Katagiri from Sega.
We’ve been waiting for you, please take a seat.
(Katagiri) I’d heard this was a place I could come to reminisce about old games, so I’d like to talk about OutRun. It’s the game that inspired me to join Sega.
OutRun, I see. When I think of the games you’ve worked on, I think of your work at Sega AM2 on the Virtua Fighter series, Daytona USA, and OutRun 2. So this is very interesting.
(Regular Customer) (Sits down next to Mr. Katagiri silently with a glass in hand)
Excuse me! Please at least ask before just sitting there!
(Regular Customer) Huh!? But you’re asking Mr. Katagiri about games that came out before he joined Sega, right? And specifically OutRun, right? I have to get in on this!
You have to get in on this…I’m sorry Mr. Katagiri, out regular here really loves game music. If it’s alright with you, could they be involved in this conversation as well?
(Katagiri) (Laughs) Please, please.
A specialist with Sega’s AM2 division. Born in 1968, he joined Sega Enterprises (now Sega) in 1992 and worked in AM2, specializing in arcade games. His most notable works include Daytona USA, the Virtua Fighter series, the Fighting Vipers series, Sonic The Fighters, Fighters Megamix, Outtrigger, OutRun2, etc.
A Regular Customer Who Likes Game Music
Someone who’s been active in the game industry for around 30 years. Possessing both a burning passion and deep knowledge of game music, this regular customer of the lounge has a drink in their hand, and can’t stop once they’ve started talking about their passion. Due to loving game music so much that they have an uncountable number of CDs and sound sources, they are so into it that you could almost feel sorry for them. It’s all for love of game music though, and game music comes from love. And their identity…is a secret.
It’s very moving to be discussing OutRun with you, Mr. Katagiri, since you’re known for working on so many arcade games with Sega’s AM2.
(Katagiri) I’ve been going to arcades ever since the Space Invaders boom, and I’ve regularly played arcade and PC games since then. I also played games on the Famicom since Xevious, and on the Mega Drive since Sonic the Hedgehog.
I’m surprised that you only played games on the Mega Drive since Sonic. That was fairly late.
(Katagiri) That’s true. And I played games on the Super Famicom right from the launch title F-Zero. Arcades were where I did most of my gaming, I was big into them since I often went for high scores. I was the kind of person who wasn’t happy until I could clear a loop of a game on one credit! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) What kind of games did you like to play? Since you were into OutRun, I’m guessing racing games?
(Katagiri) Yeah, I think I got into racing games around when I was in college? Probably because that’s when I got my license and started actually driving. I’d played a bunch of them up until then though too. This is leaving the topic of racing games, but to me OutRun is more of a puzzle game.
OutRun is a puzzle game!?
(Katagiri) It’s easier for me to explain why I feel this way from a strategic point of view: I think of it as a real-time puzzle game. At first of course I played it as a driving game. But as I got more consistent with fast times, I’d look at the behavior of the enemy cars and start realizing things like “Oh, if I do this, this car will come from this position, so I need to go over to this side”. And then from there I incorporated gear shifting into my play, figuring out what I had to shift into depending on the course layout. If I make it here at this time, enemy cars will appear…so it turned into a game that I always played that way.
I see. The more you optimize your play, the more the puzzle game-like qualities come out.
(Katagiri) That’s right. So if I think about it in terms of strategy, it’s a real-time puzzle game. Space Harrier is the same as OutRun in that way, I think.
It’s not a racing game just because you’re driving in a car, it feels like a puzzle game if you look at the actual essence of the game itself. I see.
(Katagiri) I grew to like racing games when I started racing around in the mountains myself. Really from Namco’s Winning Run onward. But of course that game was pretty amazing when you look at it as a realistic racing game with wall turns and such, since they tried to make it the ultimate time-attack racing game! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) That’s true. So was there no one particular genre of games that you liked up until that point?
(Katagiri) Right, I played pretty much everything: Action, shooting, whatever. But I couldn’t really cut it as a top-class high scorer in shooting games, so I went back to being a second-class one.
(Regular Customer) But you generally played them until you could clear them in one credit, right?
(Katagiri) Yeah, I guess that’s true. But it took me several months to reach the 10,000,000 point level of top-class players in Xevious, so I was really lagging behind. The high scoring wall in shooters was very high! (Laughs)
Where did you live back then?
(Katagiri) When Xevious came out I was living with my parents in Nagoya. In college I was living in Kanazawa. There were a lot of players who were good at Sega games in Kanazawa, that’s where I met Kurita.
You mean Oyakata Kurita, who win a national Virtua Fighter 3 tournament with Taka-Arashi?
(Katagiri) Yeah. I knew him before I joined Sega. When he won that Virtua Fighter 3 tournament, it was our first time seeing each other in awhile. He was like “Oh, you worked on this!?” (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) Where did you live before Kanazawa? Like where did you grow up?
(Katagiri) I mentioned it earlier, but Nagoya. I usually went to the arcades that were near where I lived, but when I wanted to check high scores I also often went to Yellow Hat near Nagoya Station and Carrot House in Hoshigaoka.
Carrot House in Nagoya’s Hoshigaoka was a big arcade for high score chasers in the 80s, wasn’t it?
(Katagiri) There were so many great players there. I was competing so fiercely with them when I first started visiting arcades, but soon enough we started talking and became friends.
At that time you would have been in middle and high school. So you really did have great places to go to see high level play.
(Katagiri) Right? Street Fighter II came out when I was in college and was a huge game. Of course I played that one to death, and entered tournaments all over the place. I rarely ever lost around the Kanazawa area, to the point where people would say “It’s really going to suck if he shows up for this tournament”! (Laughs)
They’d always hope you didn’t show up! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) Given that era of arcade games hit when you were in college, you must have been totally addicted.
(Katagiri) I absolutely was. Arcades were open 24 hours back then, so I basically lived in them! (Laughs) I was totally absorbed in games…games and cars. That kept up for a little while after I joined Sega.
You mentioned racing around the mountains earlier. Did you mean in an Initial D kind of way?
(Katagiri) No I wasn’t that good, I was maybe second or third rate. There was a team that raced around the mountains of Toyama, so I went out with them several times.
(Regular Customer) He’s the real deal! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) But I wasn’t super serious about it, it was just fun. I needed to cross over the mountains to get from Kanazawa’s arcades to Toyama’s, so I’d just race in order to do that.
It was good to have conversations with other people who loved cars.
(Katagiri) Yeah, exactly. We all loved cars and games, so we got along well. It felt like we were competing to see who could arrive at the arcade first.
Incidentally, what kind of car were you driving at the time?
(Katagiri) A supercharged Toyota Chaser.
(Regular Customer) Did you modify it and add parts to it?
(Katagiri) Not when I was in college…I started doing that after I joined Sega! (Laughs)
After you joined Sega?! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) I got rid of my car around when I joined Sega, but after a bit I really started getting the itch to have one again…so I bought a 1980 Toyota Supra. I just drove it around normally at first. But before I knew it, I’d changed out the suspension, and when I changed out the brakes I had to put on bigger wheels. Then the ECU, the muffler…you get the idea. I put enough money into that car to have bought 1-2 more 1980 Supras! (Laughs)
Driving around in a modified car like that as a Sega employee, you must have become known within the company as being the car guy.
(Katagiri) No…when it came to liking cars, I had nothing on Yu Suzuki! (Laughs)
Ahh that’s right, Yu Suzuki.
(Katagiri) He drove a Ferrari 348, a 355, then next he bought a Lamborghini Diablo 6.0. He gave me a ride in one of his Ferraris, but I don’t think I got to ride in his Lamborghini. He gave me a ride in a Jaguar or something too.
(Katagiri) When I rode with him, I remember driving down the Shuto Expressway while he blasted Namie Amuro songs (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) (Laughs)
(Katagiri) We called it the Daikoku Parking Area (a popular rest area for car enthusiasts in Yokohama) Battle or something, but me, Yu Suzuki, and the main programmer for Virtua Fighter all three raced there from Haneda. I swore that I wouldn’t lose to him.
The Shuto Expressway Battle (Laughs)
(Katagiri) It was all for research! (Laughs)
Most people remember AM2 for their 3D fighting and racing games, so that’s probably why you had so many people there who loved cars.
(Katagiri) There were also other people who’d loved cars for quite some time, and bought one after joining Sega.
(Regular Customer) You were a bad influence! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Back then there was a real “Just go on and buy a car already!” atmosphere in that department! (Laughs)
How frightening! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) There’s one thing that was very memorable from when we were working on Daytona USA: We had to go to an F1 race as a part of research, in Suzuka. I’d seen them on TV, but had never actually been to one before. We got to sit in the Williams Racing pit.
Wow! You weren’t in the regular seats, but in a staff area?!
(Katagiri) Right, we were in the pit directly behind everything. We could really feel the vibrations and engine noise from the cars. But after the race was done, I was told to give Damon Hill a ride back. I guess they were looking for someone who could drive him since he wanted to get back right away, and I was told to do it. Someone else ended up doing it instead, but right up until the time that I happened I was just thinking “I can’t really speak English, so what should I talk about during the drive? Is there going to be a security person riding along with us?”. (Laughs)
Wow, that all happened, how crazy! By the way, about when was this?
(Katagiri) It was about a year before Daytona USA was finished, so maybe 93?
In the F1 world that would have been the era of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. As a fan, it was the best era.
(Katagiri) Yeah, I was lucky enough to have gone during a really good time for F1. I may have gotten to see a bit more if I’d had just a regular ticket. Since I was in the pit pretty much the entire time, it was a bit of a waste. At least that’s how I feel now.
But getting to go into the pit is like being a VIP. That’s really amazing…
(Regular Customer) AM2 was really amazing at the time. All sorts of famous people were coming by there.
(Katagiri) Right? Michael Jackson and Spielberg both came by. I even got to shake Spielberg’s hand! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Spielberg came to visit when I was working on Sonic the Fighters, and he told me it was a good game when he shook my hand.
Wow…but since this is the world famous Spielberg we’re talking about, he must have come to AM2 because they were the most cutting edge place for game development in the world.
(Regular Guest) That’s true!
(Katagiri) That’s probably why so many people from all over the world came by.
An Important Sound Element That Creates the Rhythm of Play: This Distinctive AM2 Technique Plays BGM Without Resetting Partway Through
Getting back to how you were really into OutRun, you weren’t driving at that point yet, right?
(Katagiri) Right, that was before I was driving. One day I heard there was a cabinet that moved at one of the arcades, so I went to have a look. There were other full-body games before this one, but they didn’t get any of those at my local arcades. And I’d played ones like Space Harrier that just had the seat, but didn’t actually move. So OutRun was the first moving cabinet that I saw, and as I was playing it for the first time I just kept thinking “Oh my god, this is so cool! It’s MOVING!”.
So what hooked you is that it was a moving cabinet.
(Katagiri) Yeah, and I was so excited while playing it. But I was pretty bad at the game at first, so 100 yen would last me about 2 to 3 minutes. As I result I didn’t get too sucked in right away. But there were people doing time attacks on it, and when I saw that I realized that their play was on a whole different level than mine. I was so shocked, and I got so into it that it felt like I was doing research.
So you were pulled in by the high score chasers around Nagoya! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) At first I thought OutRun just had the feeling of being a game in a moving cabinet where you racing with a sports car on a beautiful screen. But being as shocked as I was from seeing the high scorers play, I learned their gear shifting techniques and practiced. And just when I thought I was putting up respectable scores, they were getting times that were 5 seconds faster! (Laughs)
The pioneers just keep moving forward! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) But you couldn’t get by on just gear shifting alone, there’s an inside and outside to each track. There are tricks you can use on parts of the outside tracks to shave off time, right? I implemented those things one by one, “Oh if I do this here, it’s faster…” and “here I have to go on the outside track…”, and developed a really puzzle-game like strategy. And that’s how I got so into the game.
Is expert level OutRun play basically learning all of the fastest patterns and executing them perfectly?
(Katagiri) It’s really only the case when you’re at the highest levels, but it’s a series of changing between these patterns. If you do something to shorten your time by 0.5-1 second, everything changes from the point where the enemy car patterns get faster. And that being the case, if you’re even slightly off then the patterns will change. So if you reduce your time, you have to re-learn all new patterns.
Wow, that sounds really rough!
(Katagiri) It is! But it’s also really fun, and I was very devoted to it.
(Regular Customer) And the patterns are different in the Japanese and international versions, right? (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Right! My regular arcade had two cabinets out, and it was the moving Japanese version. And it was 100 yen per play. But the next arcade over later got an upright overseas version, and charged 50 yen per play. I was so happy that it was only 50 yen, but since it was the foreign version the routes were totally different! (Laughs)
Do you think they got a different version since the other arcade had two machines? (Laughs)
(Katagiri) I wonder if that was why? (Laughs) I learned all the score attack patterns for the overseas version too, from the very beginning. And so for two different versions of OutRun, I learned those puzzle game-like patterns. Concentrating on doing that really satisfied my intellectual desires, and it was a lot of fun.
So then you’re saying that OutRun is such a good game that it fulfilled your ambition for improvement and intellectual desires.
(Katagiri) That’s right. There’s a fundamental strategy to the game, but despite that I still worked on it for a long time. And it’s very memorable to me because I came up with all of the patterns on my own. I later came up with some strategies with other high score chasers, but before that I put in effort all on my own to catch up to everyone else’s times.
I see, it’s very memorable to you because you put in so much effort. Nowadays the amount of people who play it have increased because you can look up information and strategies online, and of course even back then you had the famous arcade notebook that you could use to share information with other people. But there’s a special value in having to figure it out yourself, without any of that information.
(Katagiri) That’s true. It was a lot of fun, and I think of it as important life experience.
Speaking of OutRun, there are a lot of people who talk about how good the driving feels or how good the music is, but it’s quite novel to hear someone talking about it from a strategy point of view! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Of course those are the reasons I got into it at first: The blue sky, a sports car, and an attractive lady in the passenger seat. I started playing it because it felt stylish. I asked a lot of people about OutRun later on when I joined AM2, and the basic concept was that of a driving game. It wasn’t really made with that idea of enjoying it through strategy in mind. But I think that in of itself is great too. It was definitely worth playing so exhaustively because it was such a miraculous game.
It’s more than something that was developed in a calculated way, it occurred naturally.
(Katagiri) Exactly, and that’s why it’s a miraculous game.
Do you remember the process that led up to you playing more than just casually?
(Katagiri) Yeah, let’s see…I was just fumbling around at first, but before I knew it I’d figured out some hidden things that were fun. For example, if you just don’t accelerate then some guy gestures “Hurry up!”. And if you hold down the start button when the track splits, you’ll get a hidden message. Knowing these things made me like the game even more. And once I reached the point where I could more or less clear the game, I focused on being able to clear ever single different track. And by the time I did that, I’d gotten better at it than any of my friends. So then when I started wondering what competing at the national level looked like, I was astonished to find out what a completely different level those people were on when I saw their high scores! (Laughs) From there I got serious about it by learning about gear shifting. At first I started at 293 km, but after awhile I was starting at 294 km. It got to the point where if I messed up my start, I just turned off the power to reset! (Laughs)
High score chasers for racing games are like that. Playing a game where you can lose it all in just one corner can be terrifying. Even so, getting that into a game and that feeling of becoming a player that’s aiming to compete on a national level must have been very important for your later game development too.
(Katagiri) That’s true. I worked on OutRun 2 after joining Sega, and I immediately put in a command to interrupt play because I had that experience of turning the power off after starting badly in the first OutRun. In OutRun 2 if you press brake, gear shift and the button to change view points all at the same time, it will ask you if you want to quit the game (Laughs)
Because it’s an experience you actually had yourself! (Laughs) There aren’t often on/off switches on boards, after all.
(Katagiri) Yeah. And that made mad! (Laughs)
Often people talk about the music when it comes to OutRun, but what did you think about it?
(Katagiri) I think I rarely ever picked a song that wasn’t Magical Sound Shower…
(Regular Customer) I knew it! Everyone always says Magical Sound Shower is their favorite!
(Katagiri) (Laughs) But I mean…I think it’s the coolest song on there! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) It’s not like I’m denying that. Magical Sound Shower is definitely cool, and feels like the star of the soundtrack. But the default song is Passing Breeze!
(Katagiri) I know, I know! (Laughs) I think Passing Breeze is the best choice from the point of view of it being a driving game.
(Regular Customer) I’m more partial to Passing Breeze myself. I love that melancholic feeling that it has.
(Katagiri) Passing Breeze is great for enjoying the scenery, but it’s a bit tough when you’re going for score. It’s better for enjoying the drive! (Laughs)
Ahh, I see.
(Katagiri) I think it was always Magical Sound Shower when going for score. It’s the easiest one to remember the cornering and timings to. Once you get used to it, it gets to the point where you just can’t change the song.
(Regular Customer) That’s very true, it syncs up well with the play.
(Katagiri) Of course they’re all good songs! (Laughs) I was listening to OutRun music even after I could actually drive a car.
So it looks like the standard for high score chasers is Magical Sound Shower, right? Are there any who prefer the other songs?
(Katagiri) Oh definitely. There are high score chasers that prefer Passing Breeze and Splash Wave.
(Regular Customer) Yeah, I think you can play to the rhythm of those songs too.
That’s what I thought. I’d love to ask the people who play for score on the Sega Ages port of OutRun which song they prefer.
(Katagiri) I feel like there’s a rhythm to pretty much every game that goes along to the music.
(Regular Customer) They call it “chan chan yoke” in side-scrolling shooters, but it can be important to know positioning based on what part of the song is playing.
(Katagiri) That’s definitely true, I absolutely agree with that.
(Regular Customer) And that’s why sometimes they can feel off when they get home ports! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Right! They can be really hard to play! (Laughs)
Music is important.
(Regular Customer) It really is.
This is a bit of a diversion, but I’d like to ask since we have you here Mr. Katagiri. I really love the music in Akira’s stage for Virtua Fighter 2. Whenever I’d be playing against someone and Akira’s stage would come up, I’d think “I can win this!” (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) I know the feeling! The music in Virtua Fighter 2 is really cool, isn’t it? When it comes to music in fighting games, “Ride the Tiger” from Akira’s stage in Virtua 2 is definitely one of the best!
(Katagiri) VF 2’s music is really cool, and I hear pretty often how much people like it. They’re absolutely right about it, but honestly there’s something about it that just doesn’t quite hit home for me (Laughs) I’d love to know what it is that you two love about it so much. What’s so good about “Ride the Tiger”?
It starts out in a really serious low tone. But once you start playing, the first match ends right around when the heavy rhythmic part starts repeating, right before the chorus. Then it starts to swell up gradually, going into the chorus. Suddenly when it gets there it just goes crazy, acting as the climax for the second and third matches. Of course it’s very cool just as a piece of music, but I can’t get enough of just how well it syncs up with the play.
(Regular Customer) Right, almost all fighting games reset the music when a round ends. But Virtua’s songs don’t do that. The tension of play and the song match perfectly.
(Katagiri) Ahh, I see.
(Regular Customer) I think this applies to OutRun too though. A single playthrough is typically about 5 minutes long, and the music takes a lot of turns during that time. It loops twice and the tone completely changes when it goes into the solo part. Then you go back to the first verse again, and repeat the final chorus.
(Katagiri) That’s definitely true. I remembered hearing you say it just now, but it really feels like you’re listening to music more in OutRun than in most other games. A single playthrough is like listening to a full song.
(Regular Customer) Game music plays for different time periods depending on the length of the play session, so many of them loop short phrases to account for that. But OutRun plays a complete song from start to finish. That sort of thing was very rare back then, and I’m glad that’s how it was done.
(Katagiri) At the time OutRun a was really viewed as a game that was a big hit based on its design of really making you listen to the music. I think it really changed things up in that way.
It’s also really cool that they used an actual car stereo as the way you choose your song when you begin.
(Katagiri) The atmosphere is perfect and even though it’s designed this way, it’s perfectly tuned to make you listen to the music.
(Regular Customer) One of the fun parts about actually driving in a car is picking what to listen to, after all. Making that into a game is such a Yu Suzuki thing to do.
(Katagiri) I think that bringing so many real world elements into a game like this is a real sign of perfection.
It’s part of the trend of virtual experiences, at least as far as they could take them at the time. Mr. Katagiri, what are your thoughts on Yu Suzuki?
(Katagiri) I mean, he’s a genius. His everyday sensibilities and sense of imagination just come together on a whole different level. He’s certainly said some things that were more lacking in common sense before, given that he’s such a genius. But that’s part of what makes him the real deal, and his ideas were always filling me with excitement. He may not always have communicated them in the most polite way, but they were all very fun and interesting. Exciting may be a better way of putting it.
I see! (Laughs) Did you talk to him about your time playing OutRun after you joined Sega?
(Katagiri) Not too much, though I talked about it to a lot of other people. When I was talking to some of the programmers and saying “The gear shifting trick is so cool!”, they said “That was a bug!”. That left me with an unpleasant look on my face! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) But it’s because of that bug that those strategies were discovered, and the game had such a long tail! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) And that’s another way in which it’s such a miraculous game.
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You got deep into games starting with OutRun and would later join Sega, but what was the reason that you ended up wanting to work there?
(Katagiri) Sega’s full-body experience games were particularly interesting, and I played them all. I thought that there wasn’t quite enough of a sense of speed in them around the time G-Loc: Air Battle came out. But how amazed I was in playing it on the R360 for 360 degree rotation really made me re-think that opinion. I just thought Sega was a really amazing company, to the point where I’d say the things they did were so unprecedented that they’d make me say “Why did they make something like this?!”. If I was going to join a game company, particularly an arcade-focused one, to me it had to be Sega.
You were also very into Street Fighter II, so didn’t you ever think about joining Capcom?
(Katagiri) I played a lot of Capcom games during the time when they were releasing shooting games like 1942 and Vulgus, but I wasn’t sure they needed someone like me…at least that’s how I felt at this point. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess what I’m talking about is exhaustive game knowledge. I thought of them as a company that made games that had the feeling of making people that were properly studying them say “Oh, they were going for this and they used these kinds of methods”.
(Regular Customer) it feels like you’re saying Sega was more lienient when it comes to that! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) (Laughs) To me Sega was a bit more rough back then, but they released amazing things. I thought of them as a company that released a lot of games for which you could say “With just a little more adjustment, this could have been one of the best games ever”.
Did you think about what changes you would make to them if you had been involved?
(Katagiri) I did, and so I thought I might be able to do fairly well at Sega.
Around when did you start thinking that you wanted to work in the game industry?
(Katagiri) I was keying in and writing programs in BASIC on the PC-8001 or PC-8800 when I was in my first year of middle school. I’d key in the programs found in PC magazines like Mycom BASIC or I/O, and make tweaks to them myself. I wasn’t really thinking about my future at this point, it was just something that was a lot of fun to do. When I was in college and it came time to start looking for a job, someone recommended CSK to me before I’d started looking. CSK was Sega’s parent company at the time, which made me think that if I got into CSK then I’d be able to get into Sega! And as I mentioned earlier, I really loved Sega games. It felt like I’d decided to do something that I loved.
Were you still going to arcades after you joined Sega?
(Katagiri) Of course I was! Sega’s headquarters was in Ootorii at the time, and there also used to be arcades there too. There are a lot of really old buildings along Kanpachi Ave., and there was one arcade that had a few of the big cabinets, and another one on the corner.
(Regular Customer) Ahh, that’s the arcade down that narrow path next to that bike shop called SPT and Ramen 8. There were was never any attendant there! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) That’s right! (Laughs) There were never many people at either of them though, so I normally went to arcades in Kamata or Kawasaki. I’d gotten into Street Fighter II right around when I was finishing up college, then I went to Tokyo and joined Sega. I was going around to different arcades looking for SFII matches, but I often went to one in Kamata which was only 50 yen per play.
(Regular Customer) There were a lot of arcades in Kamata. There was one right outside of the train station, “178” was a short walk away, and there was another one called “Superman”. There was even another on the JR side of the station called “Silk Hat”.
(Katagiri) There was! (Laughs) At first I was playing SFII at the one right outside of the station. But I wasn’t familiar with the local rules yet, so I used a lot of throws.
The regulars at that arcade had a rule to not throw, but you weren’t aware of that.
(Katagiri) That’s right, I tended to use a lot of throws when it looked like I was going to lose a match! (Laughs) And that would result in the next person starting to use throws too. And so I just assumed that everyone used them the same as me.
(Regular Customer) I’ve seen people punch cabinets because I threw them! (Laughs)
It was a pretty common sight back then! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) (Laughs) I got quite a few people worked up at that Kamata arcade as well (Laughs) But before long I started talking to the regulars there, and we all went to tournaments together! (Laughs)
Friends made from rivalries! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) I made a lot of friends playing at the arcades in the Kamata area. There was a really big arcade in Kawasaki too, so I went there a lot for new games and locations tests.
What about when Virtua Fighter was released?
(Katagiri) When Virtua Fighter was first released, I’d heard there were some pretty good people who went to a below-ground arcade in Kawasaki’s shopping district and one near Yokohama station, so I went to those. Famitsu also published that there was a really good Jacky player who went to a Shinjuku arcade, so I went there too.
You mean Spot 21, right? That’s Shinjuku Jacky.
(Katagiri) Right, and of course I went in thinking there was no way I could lose, even if they were good. But I got the crap beat out of me! (Laughs) And that’s what I realized I had to get a lot more serious if I was going to play Virtua Fighter. I started regularly going to Spot 21, and around to other arcades in Shinjuku as well.
I see. Were you on the development staff from the very first Virtua Fighter game?
(Katagiri) No, I wasn’t officially on the staff for Virtua Fighter 1. I was working on a different game with another team at the time. But we had a SFII cabinet in the office at the time, and everyone would play matches during lunch breaks or whatever. A lot of people would challenge me to matches, since they’d heard I was good. And I never lost to anyone at Sega.
So you were Sega’s SFII champion?
(Katagiri) No one could beat me, no matter which character I used! (Laughs) I guess Yu Suzuki caught wind of the rumors about me, and one day he called me into his office and asked me to tell him what I found so interesting about fighting games. So I talked to him about fundamentals like high and low attacks, throws during high/low blocking, etc. From the fundamentals I learned from SFII, I told him about jumping in to make your opponent standing block and then continuing your offense. Because without that, you could just crouch block all the time. But in the development stages of Virtua Fighter you’d do these floaty jumps and come down very slowly…and I knew that just wasn’t going to work.
So you couldn’t play VF the same way you play SFII.
(Katagiri) That’s right. When I talked about how a jumping attack had to be able to beat a crouching guard, Yu Suzuki said “A kick would hit a crouching opponent in actual martial rights, right?”. And then one day he came to me and asked me to come play some matches while it was still in development: He used Sarah, and I used an Arab character that was in the development build called Siba. I was thinking “You can’t break crouching guard in this game, you’re basically invincible while crouching!”, but he kept using Sarah’s elbow technique called Double Joint Butt and beat the crap out of me with it! (Laughs) So then when I said “Hold on a second! What’s up with this move!? Why am I taking damage from it while I’m crouching guarding!?”, he told me “I was thinking maybe knees and front kicks should be able to hit a crouching opponent”. And I…definitely agreed with him! (Laughs) I was really surprised! (Laughs) And that’s where the idea of mid attacks came about.
So mid attacks came about from SFII know-how that you taught Yu Suzuki?!
(Katagiri) I’d be happy if he got it from me, but he didn’t have much to do with SF II. I think he came up with mid attacks from thinking about moves in real martial arts.
It ended up being a genius idea though.
(Katagiri) Making new things is what he does. He also said that it was weird to not be able to attack opponents when they were down, so he came up with down attacks…I was really impressed by the idea of there being attack and defense while downed. Exactly like real martial arts!
I see. You got to see one creative thing after another appear before your very eyes.
(Katagiri) It was very motivating, so I’d often come by to play Virtua even when I wasn’t asked to. I thought that Virtua Racing looked really fun when they were working on that too. Toshihiro Nagoshi had a cabinet in front of his desk, and he let me play it when I asked him if I could. And since I regularly came over to do that, I was deemed as really liking games and being good at them. However at the same time I was also deemed as not having any common sense! (Laughs)
At the same time! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) The speed and difficulty of the enemy cars in Virtua Racing were tuned based on my own play. I felt like it was adjusted to the point to where I could just barely get first place.
So you became something of a tester.
(Katagiri) Yu Suzuki would call me over and tell me “Now speed up here”, and I’d play the game for awhile. Just when I was about to say it was really easy, the difficulty would go up the next time I played.
I think it was quite challenging to get first place in Virtua Racing, but I guess that’s your fault! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Yeah, I guess it is (Laughs)
It feels like that’s the reason why you were on the official development team for Daytona USA.
(Katagiri) I wonder…I was put on the team when my boss told me “Be on the team who works on racing games!”, though I don’t know the details as to why. But the enemy car movements were created from a sample of me playing the courses.
I see. I heard that Virtua Fighter was being worked on right alongside of Daytona USA, so that’s when you would have been working with Yu Suzuki on what you were talking about before.
(Katagiri) That’s right. There were a lot of other projects being researched when Virtua Fighter was being worked on. Like what would Virtua Racing be like with three screens, or what would Virtua Racing be like if you were flying. There was a programmer who was working on a project where he wanted to see what it would be like to put the pit crew from Virtua Racing into a fighting game. He joined the company around the same time I did and we were friends, so I tested that game out for him. And before I knew it, I was working with Yu Suzuki. It felt like because of those interactions on Virtua Fighter and having touched the Model 2 from working on Daytona USA, I was included on the official development team for Virtua Fighter 2.
You contributed quite a bit to the first Virtua Fighter game, even though you were assigned to a different team.
On the Official Dev Team For Virtua Fighter 2, the Birth of Akira’s Special Move Hogekiunshinsokosho by Means of Katagiri’s Enthusiasm
(Katagiri) I remember very well that the very first thing I was told to do on Virtua Fighter 2 was to make a CPU opponent that no one could win against. Play time was very important for arcade games back then, and there was a sense of forcing a player to game over after a certain amount of time. So the first wall for beginners was the third fight, then let them get to the fifth, and that sort of thing. And for that reason I created a very difficult CPU, and tuned it from there.
When it comes to Virtua Fighter 2 CPU battles, I feel like beginners will lose somewhere around Jeffry.
(Katagiri) There was this Virtua expert named Kashiwa Jeffry, and he’d go for a throw when his opponent’s high attacks missed even just a little bit. And I thought that was so cool. He brought that technique back for Virtua Fighter 2 as well.
Come to think of it, CPU Jeffry definitely does that.
(Katagiri) Yeah, that’s right! That was to pay tribute to Kashiwa Jeffry. When a human player does it it’s amazing, but when a CPU player does it it’s seen as a ridiculously superhuman reaction! (Laughs)
That’s true! (Laughs) Since the CPU Jeffry will absolutely throw you if you use a punch right after the start of the round, I get ready to tech that throw.
(Katagiri) The AI is made to to do a normal throw if your health bars are about even, a more powerful one if they’re losing, and they barely throw at all when they’re winning.
So that’s why you can always make Jeffry normal throw at the start of a round.
(Katagiri) That’s right. A lot of players thought to win using the PPP or PPK attack patterns, but we didn’t predict that. We actually wanted people to go for a win using counters, but no one really went for that more difficult style of play. We learned a lot from that.
(Regular Customer) Akira has a special move in Virtua Fighter 2, what’s the story behind how that was made?
By that you mean Akira’s Hogekiunshinsokosho, right?
(Katagiri) At first there was just a move called “Ponken”. And one day the motion designer asked me what I thought about it, but I said I thought it wasn’t quite right. Then I threw out the ideas of “Wolf has a throw that does 100 damage, so why don’t we just give one to Akira too” or “Wolf’s counter damage is scaled up from 100, but when he does a 3rd dan attack it seems like we can differentiate that from the scaling found only in a 1st dan one”! (Laughs)
Why not just give it to him! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Then when that same person asked me “What about this version of Ponken?”, I said “How about if after that he goes behind the opponent, and just boom!”. When they asked me what I meant by “boom”, I said “Just use a Byakko, that would look cool!” (Laughs) Akira’s Hakkyokuken fighting style doesn’t always put what’s cool first like I did, but I’m glad that turned into his representative move.
(Regular Customer) You didn’t put it in secretly or anything like that, it was intentional.
(Katagiri) That’s right. If you want to talk about something that wasn’t put in intentionally, there were plenty of things in the first VF: Jab combos (-> -> P+K, and having a punch come out), Akira’s “doppou choushitsu” knee strike, and Wolf’s Splash Mountain.
Both Wolf and Jeffry could do a Splash Mountain with the same motion in VF1, right?
(Katagiri) Right. That wasn’t purposeful, but for 2 we talked about how we pretty much had to make it an official move. So we gave Wolf the SSD (Steiner Screwdriver).
As far as unique moves go, the input for Akira’s knee strike that you were mentioning pressing K+G at the same time and releasing G within one frame of that input. It was quite a unique input, but what was the story behind that one?
(Katagiri) The input for it was something that I had talked about together with the game’s main programmer. It started out as a move that would be done by pressing K+G and releasing G within two frames, but that programmer told me if we made it within two frames then people wouldn’t want to use it because the input detection would be too slow. The original VF was 30 frames per second, so dragging it out to two frames would be too long. So wanting to make the window only one frame, that’s what they ended up doing. So when I was testing the game I was asked if I could do it in one frame, to which I replied “It’ll be tough…but yes”, and I think I laughed a bit bitterly. As a result it ended up being releasing the button within one frame, make it a move that was oddly difficult to input! (Laughs)
If you’d said that you couldn’t have done it, maybe they would have made the input easier! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Maybe so! (Laughs) In VF2 there were a lot more moves that we purposefully hid. That was the case with Akira’s special move that we just mentioned, and there’s Kage-Maru’s Shinsodan move. The idea came up that wouldn’t it be cool if he had an attack where he spun around, and so I said “Well if he’s going to be spinning, let’s put in a Sonic sound effect!”. I had a lot of fun doing that one.
Putting something in the game because it’s fun is a great approach! (Laughs)
(Katagiri) Right, right! (Laughs)
So you kept the existence of those special moves hidden from the beginning?
(Katagiri) That’s right, we kept them secret.
In 94 when VF 2 came out, I remember you winning like 100 matches in a row. I feel like the first time I saw Akira’s special move was when you used it.
(Katagiri) Really!? Huh. That time that I got 103 consecutive wins was at Shinjuku Sports Land, outside the east exit of the station! (Laughs) I played right up until they closed, and I was playing Lau at that time. Things like that Akira special move were kept secret, so developers weren’t allowed to use them at arcades and such. The first time I saw it in the wild was at 50 yen arcade called Shibuya Nomitoya. I was there one night and a player asked me “There are moves like this in the game, right?” And I remember replying “Ahh, people have already found them?” (Laughs) And from there the amount of people who knew about them increased, so the ban on us using them was lifted. That may have also been around when you started seeing them used.
I see. I remember a ton of people being crowded around the two Megalo cabinets that were out on the first floor of what’s now the Sega Building 1 arcade in Akihabara. So I may have actually seen it there. The crowds of people there to play VF2 were really crazy.
(Katagiri) They really were back then, weren’t they. People figured out strategies so quickly, and the moves we kept secret came out so much more quickly than we thought they would.
(Regular Customer) There were a lot of people who bought cabinets themselves too.
(Katagiri) That really surprised me!
I wouldn’t be writing about games right now if not for Virtua Fighter. Which means you also probably wouldn’t be here in this place right now! (Laughs)
(Regular Customer) It had a huge influence on the lives of so many! (Laughs)
Soon to be 30 Years at Sega, “It Set My Life On a Great Path”
(Regular Customer) Wow…I got to hear so many great conversations today! The Sega sound of that era was definitely as good as it gets! I can’t get enough of those three OutRun songs, no matter how many times I listen to them! Even just listening to the rhythm part is so much fun! I was so surprised the first time I heard Splash Wave. Just listening to game music in stereo sound back then was so impactful! Since mono sound was still pretty common on most arcade machines. The JAMMA harness was mono, after all! Listening to Passing Breeze on my Walkman as I ran back then just felt so good! Even though by “ran” I mean I was riding on a bicycle. (Laughs) Barkeep, one more!
Sure, here you go.
(Regular Customer) Thinking about it, I don’t believe it would be exaggerating to say that Sega’s full-body experience games expanded the framework of game music at this time. Both in terms of sound sources and in terms of song composition: They weren’t simply just looping songs, they had interlude and solo parts to them. You could say that the music heightened the experience of playing the game, and there were plenty of people who put their 100 yen in just to hear the songs themselves. Game music would often loop after 1 minute, but Sega’s would go for somewhere around 15 minutes. And that was one of the big alluring qualities of those games. Whenever a new full-body experience game came out, I would get excited while listening to it and think “I wonder what sounds they’re going to sample this time?”. Also… (they go on to talk about very intently about the sound of various games)
Ahh…well our regular here has entered endless drunken conversation mode I see…Neverthless, you’ve been with Sega for quite a long time, Mr. Katagiri. About how many years has it been now?
(Katagiri) I joined Sega in 1992, so it’ll be 30 years soon.
How does looking back at almost 30 years of game design feel?
(Katagiri) I’m lucky to have been able to do all sorts of things at a game company despite not having known anything of the world but games, computers, and cars. I really do feel lucky, and I’ve been involved in so many hit games…If not for this, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. From having gone through both successes and failures and having gained a lot of experience along the way, I’ve changed into the person you see in front of you. I started as the kind of person who thought “I’m the best there is at games, so all we have to do is just make games the way I say!”. But before long I came to understand that wasn’t how making a game works at all. I learned that they were things not made by a single person, but by everyone working together. Whenever someone would say “It’s because we all worked together!”, I’d always think bitterly “They don’t ACTUALLY mean that, right?!”. But those are their true feelings, and I realized how important that is shortly after joining Sega! (Laughs) I think I would have had setbacks and quit if I’d ended up working for just a normal company. But since I was blessed by talented people around me and was able to do things I was good at and grow at Sega, I learned to think about these setbacks as something to be overcome. And this is why I really and truly feel that these things are possible because of those around me. I believe that joining Sega set my life on a great path.
Because you got to work on things that you loved.
(Katagiri) Yes, and I feel very grateful. I’m in my 50s now, so I’d like to start giving back.
Thank you very much for your time today.