#10: Mie Kumagai
"That moment was the biggest challenge for us, but it also led to our biggest achievement."
We begin this list with a woman and while she isn't the most remarkable woman in Sega's history, she's the first to lead a development studio within the company. The woman is Mie Kumagai, creator of the ever-so-popular and fun Virtua Tennis series. First joining Sega in 1993, she joined Sega's development team, AM3, where she has remained for twenty years. After initially being involved in the development of an array of games put out by AM3, her first game where she was lead developer was Winter Heat, the super fun and rather well done winter sports game for arcades and the Saturn.
Fast forward three years later and Mie Kumagai creates Virtua Tennis, a game series that is arguably the best tennis series in video game history; naturally, this is her claim to fame and the title that really put her on the map. Fast forward one more year to 2001 and AM3's (now known as Hitmaker) studio head, Hisao Oguchi, left to run Sega of Japan as its president. With the head of the studio seat now vacant, Kumagai assumed the role, making her the first woman at Sega to head a studio, a role she still has to this day. Yes her impact may not be that of a Yu Suzuki, but Mie Kumagai's impact at Sega is large indeed.
Not Just Tennis!: While her claim to fame, as stated above, is indeed the Virtua Tennis series, Mie Kumagai has also been the creative mind behind the Virtual-On series, from the NAOMI Oratorio Tangram, to the most recent Marz.
Sounds are a major part of any game, as we all are aware of, however when there is a certain talent that performs the sounds rather than just creating sounds, one can see that this is an important individual indeed. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi was hired by Sega in 1990 and quickly began working on sound creation for games, beginning with the arcade aircraft games, Strike Fighter and G-LOC: Air Battle, before creating the sounds for the first racing game he did in the game OutRunners. His next game would be the game that would make him famous, another racing game that is arguably the best arcade racer ever; Daytona USA.
What was different about Daytona USA was that Takenobu Mitsuyoshi took up the microphone and sang the in-game tunes, with his iconic voice, usually remembered for his funny-sounding English (borderline Engrish) rather than his brilliance. Still, his belting out of "Daytona," is remembered by video game fans all over the world to this day, though Takenobu Mitsuyoshi did a lot more than just the Daytona series. He has also done a ton of sound creation and composing for other AM2 titles, such as Virtua Fighters 2 and 3 (he had done all of the sounds and composing for Virtua Fighter 2 and the spinoffs), Virtua Racing, Rent-A-Hero and Shenmue, as well as a multitude of other titles from the other Sega development studios. Finally, he has also released albums that have him doing real-instrument versions of classic Sega tunes, such as a vocal rendition of the Alex Kidd theme, as well as touring with the Sega Sound Team band, performing tunes at concerts. Speaking of concerts, his work on Shenmue has been played at Play! A Video Game Symphony, throughout their touring schedule. Mitsuyoshi is still creating and composing content to this day, so look out for his music wherever you can!
Born on a special day, or not?: Hard to say, as none of them have any evidence of the truth, but numerous sites list Mitsuyoshi's birthday as either the 12 of December or Christmas day, 1967.
#8: Peter Moore
"We had a tremendous 18 months. Dreamcast was on fire – we really thought that we could do it."
The inclusion of Peter Moore on this list may be a bit controversial, however no head of Sega, be it in the East or the West, arguably did more to try and put Sega at the forefront than Moore himself. Born in England in 1955, Moore rose to prominence in the business world by becoming the head of Reebok for many years. After the unusual move to the electronics world with Sega, many doubted Moore's ability to run the company, however Sega appeared to be just fine at the beginning of the Dreamcast's run, which was hampered at first due to previous president, Bernie Stolar's, mishandling of operations (depending on who you ask).
And so Moore was tasked with leading the Dreamcast 3 months after its record-breaking launch, which could have been disastrous with the Playstation 2 looming, however the situation wasn't bad at all, with the Dreamcast continually selling games and moving consoles at a rate that only the Genesis had achieved in Sega's history. Regardless though, Moore made the call to discontinue hardware production (to which he stated he had no idea why he had to make the call, as Sega of Japan always made decisions such as these), which, at the time seemed like a poor decision, as well as pissing off many fans who were behind the Dreamcast 100%. In hindsight however, Moore made the right decision far and away, as the past failures of the 32X, Sega CD and (in North America) the Saturn had left Sega in a dangerous position business-wise, threatening to be swallowed up by a stronger company; it was Moore's decision (at least, initially) that has allowed Sega to still survive to this day. Moore then went on to Microsoft to help gain attention and steam for the 360, which it did. After that, he moved on to Electronic Arts where he is currently president and COO, a position he last held at, you guessed it, Sega.
Ugh, Uwe Boll...: Moore played one of the zombies in the live-action, 2003 film, House of the Dead, directed by Uwe Boll. The film, as many know, was panned by almost any breathing creature on the planet and it currently sits at 32 on the imdb bottom 100.
#7: Rieko Kodama
"It ended up being an incredible experience and we were able to make a great game. The game was Alex Kidd."
Rieko Kodama is the second woman on the list and she is the first of the "big guns." Born in 1963, Kodama came to Sega in 1984, fresh off of a degree in advertising from a trade school and immediately started in character design for Champion Boxing (also Yu Suzuki's debut title). From there, she was an environment designer on Alex Kidd in Miracle World and her work caused her to vault into the large projects Sega had undertaken at the time, such as Fantasy Zone II and Sega's port of the first Japanese RPG, the Black Onyx, followed by a title that would place her among Sega's elite.
Phantasy Star started out as a "ho-hum," release, until the many gamers saw just how great a game it was. Praised by many, Kodama (who also created the series with Yuji Naka) was proud of her creation, which led her to become a lead on many future titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth and Phantasy Star IV, considered the pinnacle of the series, as well as being involved in other high-profile titles such as the Sonic the Hedgehog games (as a level designer), until her next grand creation, Skies of Arcadia. Arguably (I keep using this word a lot) the greatest RPG ever crafted, Kodama ensured that the game would be made as perfect as possible and it came awfully close! It goes without saying that Rieko Kodama is an important figure in Sega's history.
Gotta love those ancients!: Kodama had originally wanted to pursue a career in art or archaeology. The art aspect is clear, as she was a designer on many titles and the archaeology aspect can be seen in the Phantasy Star series and Skies of Arcadia, where it is required to discover information about certain ancient civilisations.
#6: Hideki Sato
“The most important thing is the attractiveness of the contents we will supply. Game hardware is just a box to deliver those contents."
Sega had been a prominent arcade and amusement machine manufacturer for decades before they released their first console however since they joined the market, all of their consoles were created by one man, Hideki Sato. Sato began at Sega in 1971, working various jobs in research and development, including being part of a team that first brought commercial video games to Japan. 1983 hit and Sega released their first console, the SG-1000 to a lukewarm reception. Designed by Sato, it was Sega's answer to the Famicom as it was released on the same date in 1983, albeit to markedly less fanfare than Nintendo's console. 2 years later came the follow-up console, also designed by Sato, the Master System, which was clearly the best console on the market in terms of specifications and ability upon release. This too did not sell as well as expected, though it did give Sega enough momentum for Sato in order for him to release the biggest thing in gaming at the time, the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.
Sato's third console seemed to be the charm as the Genesis helped Sega become the first dominant player in the video game market for the first time since Nintendo had assumed the position in 1983. After two well-designed by Sato but horridly marketed and implemented add-ons to the Genesis, Sato came up with another console that made waves, the Sega Saturn. While the Saturn won the console war in Japan for that generation, it was dead in the water in North America, prompting Sato to design his final console and quite possibly his greatest achievement thus far, the Dreamcast, whose discontinuation was a feeling of great loss for Sato. Ever the tower of the company line, he still is loyal to Sega, working for them in any capacity that he can, even now in 2013.
The Handy Man: Not only has Hideki Sato been the creator of all of the Sega home hardware, he is also the creator of all of the Arcade hardware (at the very least, until the Lindbergh as no sources have claimed otherwise). If you need Sega hardware, he's your man.
#5: Naoto Oshima
NOTE** I realise the accent in the "o" isn't there. For some reason, gfaqs formats it to the numcode.
"Well, he's a character that I think is suited to America -- or, at least, the image I had of America at the time."
When one thinks of the "Sonic the Hedgehog," franchise, Yuji Naka is usually the only name that comes to mind, even though there were actually two men behind the series' creation. Naoto Oshima began his studios at Tokyo University, before being hired by Sega in 1987 as a designer. He began to work with Yuji Naka and Rieko Kodama on the first Phantasy Star, before working on its sequel, doing more design work. When a new team was created known as AM8 (Sonic Team), Oshima was asked to be one of the team who was assigned the task of creating a mascot for Sega; someone to put up a fight against Nintendo and Mario. Not only did Oshima create someone to put up a fight, he created someone who was bigger and better, Sonic the Hedgehog.
While Naka was the brain behind the team and the series as a whole, Oshima was the brain behind the characters of the series, having created all of them until his departure from Sega. While Naka took part of AM8 to work on Sonic 2 with the Sega Technical Institute in the United States, Oshima remained in Japan to create Sonic CD, a game that was rather different than Sonic the Hedgehog in many ways, while still retaining the same look and feel. After some more Sonic-related titles in Knuckles Chaotix and 3D Blast, Oshima flexed his creative talents yet again, creating the characters for NiGHTS Into Dreams... for the Saturn. Being the lead developer on Burning Rangers as well, he enjoyed more success with the two Sonic titles for the Saturn, Sonic R and Sonic Jam, where he was an advisor on both, culminating with his final effort for Sega, Sonic Adventure, where he worked more of his magic before leaving the company to work on titles such as the Silent Hill series. Naoto Oshima may not have the star power that his good friend Yuji Naka has, he is a leading Sega personality indeed, one of the greats.
No man is an island, except for Naoto Oshima: Oshima has been credited at times as "Big Island," or "BigIsland," (Sega had a policy in the late 80's that required all team members to use code or nicknames) as that is the literal translation of his last name.
"If there's nothing unique about video games, then what's the point in playing? I want to help get the industry out of the pinch it's getting itself into, and the only way is to be brave. You have to be bold."
Taking a slightly more modern approach, the figure on this list at #4 is none other than Sega's current, "Superman," Toshihiro Nagoshi. While not much younger than the prior people on this list (outside of Moore and Sato), Nagoshi can been seen as the, "newer blood," of Sega, with all of the former department heads and designers having moved on to other companies and projects. Coming to Sega in 1992 as one of the chief designers of Virtua Racing, he worked on various titles until he joined AM4 (Amusement Vision) and he was the studio's supervisor for Shenmue. Following that, he headed his first title, Monkey Ball (more prominently known as Super Monkey Ball), which was mega popular in arcades and in the home market.
Following the big success of the Monkey Ball titles, Nagoshi teamed with Shigeru Miyamoto to create F-Zero GX (another title he was head on), which was a great title on the Gamecube. After supervising Sonic titles as well as Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Nagoshi wanted to start a grand project, his own, "Shenmue," with the end result being the fantastic Ryu Ga Gotoku series (Yakuza here in the West). With the continued success of this series, supervising more Sonic titles and heading some great titles such as Vanquish and Binary Domain, Nagoshi has become Chief Creative Officer at Sega as well as a member of the board of directors, while still being involved in the Ryu Ga Gotoku series. Things are looking to go nowhere but up for Toshihiro Nagoshi.
Birthdays: Toshihiro Nagoshi's birthday is June 17th 1965, the same as the lead character in the Ryu Ga Gotoku series, Kiryu Kazuma. Coincidence? Obviously not!
#3: David Rosen
"Sega has tremendous engineering and technology capability. It's an interesting situation that really comes out of our coin op business. Basically, due to the coin op business we have this ability to translate and transpose the engineering know how into consumer product, consumer oriented product."
At one point, every company on this Earth, whether a mom 'n pop corner store or a national conglomerate, began with a person (or persons) and a dream; Sega is no different. Sega's humble beginning can be seen in two different companies. The first, Nihon Guraku Bussan Limited (AKA Service Games) was a company that created jukeboxes and various other amusement machines right after World War II, on army bases and throughout Japan. The second company was a company that began as a portrait painting studio, then a photomat machine-making company, then a pachinko machine manufacturer before finally ending off as an amusement machine manufacturer in its own right. The name of the company was Rosen Enterprises and the owner was a tall, private military man named David Rosen.
David Rosen is considered the father of Sega as he was the man that was the head of the company known as Sega Enterprises in the 1960s, when arcades consisted of electro-mechanical and other amusement machines such as Periscope, Sega's first game ever. When Pong was first created in 1972, Rosen was the man in charge of bringing it to Japan under Sega's name, which he did in the form of Pong Tron, Sega's first arcade video game ever. Rosen then saw his business become a subsidiary of Gulf-Western for over a decade, however in 1984 he headed a team of investors (led by Rosen, Hayao Nakayama and Isao Okawa) to buy Sega back, in order to once again become its own company.
Rosen remained as chairman of the company as a whole (he was chairman of both Sega of Japan and Sega of America) and the president of Sega of America, until he appointed Tom Kalinske as president in 1990. He continued to be a member of the board of directors until 1996, when he retired to his home in Los Angeles. Little is known about Rosen nowadays, as he is (as mentioned above) a very private man, rarely doing interviews and seemingly just enjoying life. Without this man, Sega may not have existed as they did and he is arguably the most important figure in the history of Sega.
Not that Rosen!: There are many David Rosens in the world, especially prevalent in the past decade or so. Others include the political fundraiser that went to court a few years ago, the head Rabbi of Ireland and another video game man, the CEO of Wolfire Games.
#2: Yu Suzuki
"Personally, I always want to make games that go hand-in-hand with new technology. Let's say there was some calculation that used to take two hours or so to finish. Then, suddenly, you find a new way to do it in software and hardware. That, in itself, opens up new doors and opportunities for games -- I think it can inherently lead to better games."
Many video game developers have come and gone throughout the years; some have a handful of good hits, some have a handful of bad hits, some work on only a couple of games while others work on a multitude. Few though not only create fantastic titles, but they also innovate the industry with their work: Shigeru Miyamoto is one, Shinji Mikami is another, Yuji Naka is up there with these two men and the same can be said for Sega's top creative man, Yu Suzuki. Hit after hit, innovation after innovation, award-winning title after award-winning title, Yu Suzuki is one of the most accomplished men in the video game industry.
Born to two elementary school teachers, Suzuki always had a passion for music and for construction, as he played the piano at a young age and built many models of structures and vehicles. He attended Okayama University and graduated with a degree in computer programming. In 1983, he joined Sega as a designer, though he quickly began creating his own titles, creating Champion Boxing (along with Rieko Kodama) in just his first year with the company. Year 2 however proved to be much more productive, as he created the legendary arcade racer, Hang-On, which rewrote the book on how arcade games controlled; no longer was there a control stick and buttons, as you controlled by riding on a replica motorcycle. That's right, you lean, the bike turns. You rev, the bike revs. It was the first cabinet of its kind, but there was plenty more to come from Yu Suzuki.
Skipping the great arcade titles in Space Harrier and OutRun, After Burner was the next big innovator and yet again it was in the arcade cabinet (though the game's speed and scaling was never before seen in an arcade). The cabinet required you to strap yourself in, almost in the vein of a mini-amusement park ride, as the area you sat in rotated along with your movements on the screen. His next 2 titles, Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter, reached the unknown waters of 3D, showcasing to the world what 3D gaming looked like in all of its glory; Virtua Fighter in particular was honoured at the Smithsonian for its contribution to art. After more big hits in the arcade such as Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop, Suzuki released his greatest achievement to date on the Dreamcast.
Shenmue hit in 1999 on the Dreamcast, however it was actually in development for 14 years as the amount of time, research and all-out effort put in was insurmountable; Yu Suzuki is a very ambitious man, no doubt. After the great reception of both Shenmues (2 in particular), Sega packed up in the console department and Suzuki had to now create games for other platforms. Virtua Fighter 4 was a hit, Virtua Cop 3 and OutRun 2 are still played at many arcades today and the mobile games that Suzuki has developed have been well-received as well. Suzuki now is focused on his own company, YS.net, creating and releasing games for mobile platforms. He is still an advisor at Sega, though he is no longer involved with AM2 or any other development teams. Suzuki has also expressed his wishes to release the third Shenmue title as soon as possible, in order for the saga to be completed and, of course, to satisfy all of the fans worldwide. Still, whether the game is released or not, one cannot deny the impact, innovation and outright gamer joy Yu Suzuki has brought to the video game industry.
Birthdays pt. 2: Yu Suzuki is one of 3 Gemini's on this list (June 10th), along with Toshihiro Nagoshi (June 17th) and Rieko Kodama (May 23rd), unlike the figure in the first spot on this list, who is a Virgo...
#1: Yuji Naka
"I want to make interesting games. I want to show my dreams and visions to kids. But most important, I want to create something that will make the player happy. I want the player to be surprised and have fun. Everything I do in my daily life, I think about how it would fit into a game."
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the greatest characters in video game history, from the games he starred in, to the backstory, to the character himself, his existence transcends gaming; after all, it took 3 men to create him! With Yu Suzuki's brilliance, success and how much he is revered by the gaming industry and public alike, someone really grandiose who has just as many credentials would have to be higher than Suzuki on this list; Yuji Naka, one of the three aforementioned men, more than fits the bill. Born on September 17th, 1965, he became interested in video games from looking at code in magazines and debugging it on his own. It paid off, as Yuji Naka is widely considered to be the greatest man in Sega's existence. Coming to the company in 1984 after being rejected by Namco, like Suzuki, Naka quickly vaulted himself to be one of the head designers in the company.
Also as Suzuki did, Naka's debut game was published immediately and was met with satisfaction from the Sega brass, as Girl's Garden, which was originally just supposed to be a demo of Naka's talents, became one of the best titles on the SG-1000. Unlike Suzuki however, rather than running his own development studio, Naka instead was the chief converter of arcade ports to the Master System, handling the conversions of OutRun and Space Harrier (among others) before embarking on his first big title.
Phantasy Star, as mentioned earlier, was the brainchild of Rieko Kodama, however she created the title with a lot of help from Yuji Naka. Naka was the chief programmer of the game and also had help from Naoto Oshima. The trio would soon build up a lot of steam, creating Phantasy Star II (where Naka was the head of the project) and accidentally creating the very first emulator program, which he created when trying to play NES games on the Genesis. It was soon after, when he, Oshima and a team of 13 others would come up with the game (and character) that would change the video game industry forever.
As stated, Sonic the Hedgehog was created from the brain of three men; Oshima designed the character, Naka designed the backstory and movement of the characters in addition to coding the game and Hirokazu Yasuhara created the stages of the game, while all of the other work was done by the rest of the team. While the game exploded and made the company a lot of well-deserved money, Naka temporarily quit the company due to a payment dispute, signing on with the American-based Sega Technical Institute, where he brought some of the team with him, while he left Oshima in Japan. With STI, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was created and even more money was made; Yuji Naka was on his way to the top of the Sega ladder. Naka returned to Japan and created Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as well as Sonic and Knuckles, which introduced a new "lock-on," technology for cartridges. The title sold super well as the prequels did, giving AM8 (Sonic Team) a ton of firepower at Sega, as well Naka was promoted to the head of AM8, just in time for the Sega Saturn to appear.
With the Saturn's arrival, so too did more great games from AM8, such as the highly underrated Burning Rangers, the fun Sonic racing title, SonicR and easily the most beloved Sega title on the Saturn, NiGHTS Into Dreams... Acting as head on the project again, Naka also did a bit of programming for the fantastic title, which introduced the analog controller to the Sega world. The move to the Dreamcast for Sonic Team (no longer called AM8) was also smooth, as Sonic Adventure was a hit title headed by Naka that helped move Dreamcasts at the North American launch. Chu Chu Rocket, a pioneering game in online gaming as well as Samba de Amigo, a rhythm game with a twist, were two more projects headed by Naka, before Sonic Team released its final game for the console, Sonic Adventure 2, which also was a fantastic game headed by Naka.
Life after Sega left the hardware realm was still good to Yuji Naka, as he was behind the superb titles of Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg as well as Phantasy Star Universe. Then in 2006, Naka decided to move on from Sega and quit the company, forming his own, new company, Prope. Like Suzuki, Naka is still an advisor of sorts, though he is no longer affiliated with the company in any creative way. Still, Yuji Naka's legacy is one that few in the video game industry have ever come close to replicating; Sega will assuredly be ever grateful to one, Yuji Naka.
Birthdays pt. 3 and Nicknames pt. 2: The date for Yuji Naka's birthday was used for the level select code in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (play sounds 19, 65, 09, 17). As well, since he was seen as a slightly younger protégé of Yu Suzuki, Yuji Naka's nickname at Sega was "YU2."
There you have it, the top 10 real-life figures in Sega's history comes to a close. As always, thanks should be given out, however this time to my parents, who's mentioning of the head of a team my mother works with got me to thinking about making this list. Truly, Yuji Naka or Yu Suzuki could have been #1 on the list and in my book, there is no one, Sega or otherwise that could touch Suzuki in terms of innovation and quality. Naka however helped create a character that is so iconic, few if any characters have ever come close to the iconic status Sonic the Hedgehog has attained. It was a tossup indeed!
Going through the hundreds of names that I did when researching this list, there truly are some phenomenally talented individuals who worked at Sega, past or present, in every capacity. You have David Rosen, the staunch businessman who helped create a major industry in Japan and the West, Rieko Kodama who blazed a trail for women in the video game industry, Yuji Naka who creates characters and games that stand the test of time and Yu Suzuki who has constantly innovated and changed the landscape of the industry. The newer, "young blood," of Sega continues this tradition, with Rie Kumagai continuing on that trail that Kodama began at Sega and Toshihiro Nagoshi showing the qualities that Naka and Suzuki possessed when they were in his role in the company; Sega may no longer be in the hardware race, but their titles still stack up well indeed. Comments? Questions? Nitpicks? Praises? If you have any of those, head on over to the top 10 board and let your opinion be known! As always, be nice though, please? Peace!
List by FRIEDSTRUCK (06/24/2013)
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