Interview:Hitoshi Akashi

From Game Developer Research Institute
Share/Save/Bookmark
Jump to: navigation, search

< Interviews

Another LinkedIn find, Hitoshi Akashi is the CEO of game development company Beyond Interactive. He has previously worked for Communicate, Sonata, Zap, and Electronic Arts Victor. If you don't know about those companies, you'll find out more in this interview.

GDRI: Could you tell us about your background and how you got involved with video games?

HA: I don't mention this on LinkedIn, but Sonata was a video game development company that was the result of a merger between two companies in 1987. One of them was Communicate, Inc., which mainly developed products for Japanese NEC PCs and the Sharp X1; the other was TRY (pronounced alphabetically T-R-Y) Corporation, which mainly developed for the Famicom.

I joined Communicate in 1986. 80% of the employees were amateur musicians including the president. They developed some games for the PC, but their main target was to develop music sequencer software. I play and compose music, and I like art and games. That's why I joined the company. Unfortunately, Communicate was not doing very well, so it merged with TRY.

GDRI: What games were developed at Sonata?

HA: Sonata developed games for the Famicom, arcade, and PC. After I left, it became the publisher Human Corporation.

Sonata developed:

  • SD Gundam World: Gachapon Senshi: Scramble Wars (Famicom)
  • Exciting Boxing (Famicom + inflatable)
  • Top Rider (Famicom + inflatable)
  • Tatakae!! Ramen Man: Sakuretsu Choujin 102 Gei (Famicom)
  • Family Trainer 6: Manhattan Police / Street Cop (Famicom/NES)

I was involved with the following titles:

  • Family Trainer 5: Meiro Daisakusen (Famicom)
  • Family Trainer 7: Famitre Daiundoukai / Super Team Games (Famicom/NES)
  • Family Trainer 8: Totsugeki! Fuun Takeshijou (Famicom)
  • Kamen Rider Black: Taiketsu Shadow Moon (Famicom Disk System)

GDRI: Is there any reason to write it "SoNaTa" instead of "Sonata?" [asked after Akashi began writing it the former way]

HA: The name Sonata is a combination of the family names of the three board members at the time. The president, Mr. Suzuki[1], wanted each board member to cooperate with each other.

GDRI: What was Zap Corporation, and what specific titles were done there?

HA: Zap was a small video game developer. Yuichiro Itakura was the president. He later established HyperNet, which received many business prizes. He established Zap when he was 19 years old.

When I was working at Zap, the following titles were done:

  • Summer Games (Master System) (game director and programmer)
  • Super Rugby (Famicom) (main programmer, some music arrangement)
  • Chuugoku Janshi Story: Tonpuu (Famicom) (sound programming, music arrangement and recording for TV commercial)
  • Others

Before I joined, Taiyou no Shinden: Aztec II (MSX2) was just finished.

GDRI: The Famicom version of Ankoku Shinwa contains the following strings. Can you comment on that at all?

1988ANOTHERltd.
Another Ltd. 1988/7/13x

HA: Zap made a contract with Tokyo Shoseki to develop Ankoku Shinwa for the Famicom and MSX2. When I joined Zap, the development team just broke up, so we had to put together a new one. When we started on Ankoku Shinwa, we were short programmers, so we outsourced the Famicom version to a programmer named Mr. Morishima, who ran an independent company called Another.

GDRI: Did Another only do SOME programming on FC Ankoku Shinwa?

Another (Mr. Morishima) did all programming work for the FC version of Ankoku Shinwa except sound programming.

GDRI: I asked about Another because neither the FC or MSX2 versions of Ankoku Shinwa seem to mention a programmer, just a "data" person named "Tessue Man."

HA: He was an assistant programmer at Zap.

GDRI: This Morishima-san you mentioned - Is that Naoki Morishima, who I see on some Toshiba EMI games?

HA: Yes, he was invited over to Toshiba EMI after he worked with them on a Mega Drive product. I don't remember the name.[2]

GDRI: Was TSS[3] a Natsume brand?

HA: Yes.

GDRI: I was not expecting to see Summer Games for the Master System. Did Sega give you a copy of the original to look at? Was the sound done internally?

HA: It was created for Sega of America for the Sega Master System.[4] I just remember that source code and assets were not provided.

Sound programming and data were provided by Sega of Japan. The person who did the sound on Columns was in charge.

GDRI: Tokuhiko Uwabo?

HA: Correct!

GDRI: If you were NOT provided source code or assets, what did you look at? Design documents?

HA: We looked at Summer Games on another platform. I don't remember which one; it might have been the PC-8801, PC-9801, or Sharp X1. I tried to search for it on the web, but I couldn't find it. I think it was running on one of those computers because it was developed by Communicate. When I was hired there, Summer Games was in the final tuning stage. I was not involved with the development team because I was just a new employee. It was just a coincidence. Goonies for the PC-8801 and X1 was also in the final tuning stage.

GDRI: Even though Summer Games was for Sega of America, was Zap's contract with Sega of Japan?

HA: I think Kaga Electronics was between SOJ and Zap in the contract. I was not looking at the contract. I suppose Zap made a contract with Kaga Denshi, and Kaga Denshi made a contract with Sega of Japan.

GDRI: Is this the version of Summer Games you looked at? [1]

HA: Yes, I confirmed it with the person who was the main programmer at that time. The development team also referred to the Commodore 64 version.

GDRI: Why was Summer Games' sound not done at Zap?

HA: It may have been offered by Sega. Might it have been a budget matter?

GDRI: Was the number of events in SMS Summer Games (some are missing) due to memory?

HA: I suppose so. We also had a problem with the development period. We were supposed to complete it in just about a couple of months.

GDRI: Were any games done at Beyond during that 1989-1992 period?

HA:

  • Cyber Dodge (PC Engine)
  • Big Striker (Arcade)
  • Raiden Densetsu (background graphics)
  • Others

GDRI: Are you referring to the original arcade version of Raiden?

HA: Raiden Densetsu was a conversion of the arcade version to the Mega Drive (Genesis). All source code, graphic images, and data were provided to a development company. I don’t remember the name of the company or programmer.

GDRI: Micronet?

HA: It was not Micronet. It was a small independent programming company.

Modification of the character generator was necessary because the original arcade version used a very large one. Beyond did that.

GDRI: We have Compile listed as the developer for Cyber Dodge and CP Brain for Big Striker.

HA: Beyond contracted with Tokyo Shoseki (Tonkin House) for programming work on Cyber Dodge. Compile contracted with Tokyo Shoseki for the graphics, sound, and direction work. The game was designed by Tokyo Shoseki.

It was an interesting team. The publisher was located in Tokyo, Compile's office was in Hiroshima, and Beyond was in Yokosuka. Cyber Dodge was being developed in all three places. We exchanged file images by BBS. We had just a meeting before starting the project.

C.P. Brain made a contract with Jaleco for all development of Big Striker. The game design, graphics, and sound were created by C.P. Brain. Beyond made a contract with C.P. Brain for programming work.

GDRI: You mentioned "others" in your lists for Zap and Beyond. Can you name any other titles? We would like to be as complete and thorough as possible.

HA: "Others" refers to other jobs I did. My main job was managing the development team and working as title director and product manager. As I said, we didn't have enough human resources, so I provided the sound programming for Famicom titles (Ankoku Shinwa, Tonpuu) and programmed the opening and ending scenes for MSX Ankoku Shinwa.

Before I left Zap, two projects, Dead Moon and Barunba for PC Engine, had started, but I wasn't involved with those.

Beyond:

  • Ultimate Soccer (NES)

Beyond made a contract with Aicom (client), a video game development company. The base game design was created by Aicom. We developed the program, graphics, and music. Product development was completed, but Aicom was bought by Sammy at almost the same time we submitted the master version.

  • Tondemo Crisis! (PlayStation)

Technical adviser and adviser for product scheduling one month before project deadline

  • Mawatte Mucho! (PlayStation)

Rescheduled all work and made all enemy logic one month before project deadline

Other assistance work:

  • Daichi-kun Crisis (PC Engine)
  • Consulting work for M&M

The owner of M&M was famous manga writer Hiroshi Motomiya. This company was a publisher of Famicom games that was setting up an internal development team.

My job included training a lead programmer, advising the setup of some Famicom development equipment, and providing some source code for Famicom development. I don’t know what titles they developed. I don't think Otaku no Seiza, their first released product, was one of them.[5]

GDRI: Was the "other assistance work" you listed (Daichi-kun Crisis, et al.) done on behalf of Beyond?

HA: I worked on Daichi-kun Crisis while establishing Beyond, so I should say it was my personal assistance work. Please do not list it for Beyond.

GDRI: Is Ultimate Soccer gone forever, or is there a copy of it somewhere?

HA: The ROM image is on an old floppy disk for PC-9801 (1.2M) if I haven't lost it. I don't know if I can find it.

GDRI: Do you recall your roles on Ultimate Soccer and those Sonata games?

HA:

  • Ultimate Soccer

I did all the programming, composed the sound effects and BGM, and generated the sound data.

  • Family Trainer 5: Meiro Daisakusen

Enemy AI program

  • Family Trainer 7: Famitre Daiundoukai

Main game application

  • Family Trainer 8: Totsugeki! Fuun Takeshijou

This title was developed by three or four programmers that worked as main game programmers in a very short period of time (about a month). Each one took charge of some of the games. I don't remember everything, but I did "Ryuujin'ike."

  • Kamen Rider Black: Taiketsu Shadow Moon

I don’t remember everything on this, either: All enemy AI, background control program, 2D collision, opening and ending.

Do you know the opening screen where the hero transforms and the screen is flashing? The transformation belt that was sold at the time reacts to it.

GDRI: [about the FC Takeshi game] Do you mean each programmer took a month to program their part, or do you mean the total development period was only a month?

HA: The total development (programming) period was only a month. However, I think the other team members (graphics, etc.) had started this project a couple of weeks before. I do not remember clearly.

Family Trainer debugging interface

GDRI: Did you have to test out those Family Trainer games on an actual Family Trainer/Power Pad?

HA: We only used an actual Family Trainer during the final stage of development. We usually used a small interface controlled by our fingers. It would have made us very tired if we had actually been running while working.

GDRI: Was Ultimate Soccer supposed to be published by Aicom in Japan?

HA: I don't think so.

GDRI: How did you become involved with Electronic Arts Victor?

HA: Electronic Arts was looking for Japanese managers to head the various divisions in their joint venture with JVC, which was started in 1992. Someone recommended me to be the head of the Japanese development studio. I hesitated a little because I was running my own company. However, I became interested in making the EA brand accepted in Japan. It was a very big challenge. The second big reason I joined EAV was the first president, Mr. Honda, for whom I had a lot of respect. Working with him was an attractive proposition. My first job at EAV was to interview 100 potential new employees to start up the company.

GDRI: Was anything internally developed at EAV?

HA: Building a smooth localization system was the most important work for our development team. To achieve this, there was a cooperative relationship between the Japanese branch, the head office, and other Western branches. This allowed EAV to release many localized products in Japan.

In addition to a lot of localization work, EAV developed products for the Japanese market:

  • Zico Soccer (Super Famicom)
  • Fantastic Night Dreams: Cotton (X68000)
  • Mahou Daisakusen (X68000, FM Towns)
  • Dungeon Creator (PlayStation)

Moreover, the architecture was different between Japanese PCs (NEC) and Western PCs at that time. We not only localized, but also converted some products such as Strike Commander, Ultima Underworld, and others.

Titles such as J.League Virtual Stadium for the 3DO were customized for the Japanese market. The professional soccer organization J.League had just started, and FIFA was not well known in Japan yet.[6]

GDRI: Pro Yakyuu Virtual Stadium (baseball) for 3DO was only released in Japan. Was that developed by EAV?

HA: EAV did the planning; Electronic Arts Canada did the development.

GDRI: Why did you leave EAV?

HA: My main objective working for EAV was to make the EA brand name known in Japan and to achieve the sales objective. It was necessary to build the internal studio in order to have a smooth localization system in which as many EA products as possible could be localized and released in the short term. My mission at EAV was pretty much completed after 3 years, but I didn't manage this without the help of many other people. I still love Electronic Arts and people at the head office, worldwide branch, and EAV.

I left EAV to do the following:

  • Build independent productions
I re-established Beyond.
  • Start a meeting place where any kind of artist and creator could exchange information and stimulate each other
I built an art gallery and event space called Saishuu Perbet Albite.

I still appreciate EA and EAV. Working there was a very exciting experience for me. I still meet and exchange information with people who worked for the EA family.

GDRI: Can you talk about any development tools you've used over the years?

HA: I haven't developed software recently, so I don't remember everything.

For programming:

  • PC-9801 with MIFES text editor and any cross compiler (for 68000, 6502, Z80...)
  • Pros80F with CPM OS for NES
  • Macintosh with MPW shell
  • Windows with Hidemaru text editor and Visual Studio

For music:
Sound tools:

  • Common Music for PC-9801
  • Studio Vision for Mac
  • Cubase VST for Windows

Other sound tools:

  • CoolEdit

Other applications:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Premiere (movie editing)
  • Canopus DVREX (DV movie editing)

GDRI: For those not familiar with Beyond Interactive, could you talk about what the company does?

HA: Our company Beyond interactive is a video game development company established in 1989. Since we started the company, we've had a small in-house development team that cooperates with outside video game developers and artists who work for other industries. I have many connections with creative people.

Titles developed:

  • Egg (PlayStation)
  • Zutto Issho (PlayStation)
  • Hasha Oorai! Gatan Goton (PlayStation, Windows 98)
  • E-Jump Shonen Jump (special edition including two PlayStation CDs)
  • Another Life (built the Unix server and CGI for web)
  • Muzzle Flash (Xbox)

Non-games:

  • Let's Sing in English (karaoke for Windows 98)
  • Hair Make Magic (customization product for Windows 98)

We localized many educational and edutainment products for Creative Wonders and The Learning Company on PC and Mac.

Games we also localized:

  • Blue Heat (Windows 95)
  • Deus EX (Windows 98, 2000)
  • Galerians (PlayStation for North America and Europe)
  • Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (Xbox)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Xbox for China and Korea)

Programming conversion work:

  • Quiz $ Millionaire (PC version to Plus-E system [touch panel and billing system])

Since 2006, the number of Nintendo DS products has increased.

  • Tenohira Gakushuu: Chikyuu no Narabe Kata DS
  • Tenohira Gakushuu: Zettai Onkan Training DS
  • Hissatsu Kung Fu: Kanji Dragon
  • Enpitsu de Oku no Hosomichi DS

We also developed the following games:

  • Otoshi Deka: Keiji-san, Watashi ga Yarimashita
  • Chotto-Aima no Colpile DS
  • Breath: Toiki wa Akaneiro
  • Saga no Gabai Baachan DS

Since 2006, we've expanded our internal development team to develop various big and small titles. A project for PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 is under development. We also started designing some projects for iPhone.

Beyond Interactive has networked with overseas companies and people in various industries like entertainment and art. For example, the France-Japan Video Game Industry Business Convention in 2007. It was held in order to promote the French video game industry in Japan.

We cooperated with PMC Co., Ltd. to arrange the meeting between French and Japanese companies. We also presented the Japanese video game market to French companies.

GDRI: For what platform was "Another Life?"

HA: I have to explain this project to talk about the platform. Another Life was a text adventure game that ran in a web browser on PC, Mac, and other OSes. This project was developed for Daiichi Life, an insurance company. The main target player (customer) was office ladies who could play it during lunch in their office, so it had to be easy to play, have no applications to download, and an automatic save function was necessary. We developed this game using HTML, Java, Javascript, and CGI.

The project team was as follows:

  • Basic product design: AOI Promotion (advertising company), Comixwave
  • Text adventure game's scenario: Siesta
  • Building the system including the server, CGI, Javascript, and Java mini games: Beyond Interactive

The URL was http://www.ano-life.com/, but the site is now closed.

GDRI: What's coming up next for Beyond Interactive?

HA: Some unique products for handheld platforms such as Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and iPhone. We are also involved with a project for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I believe it would be a wonderful product for the worldwide market. We will be able to announce it in 2010.

Thanks to Akashi-san for all his time and patience. Thanks also to Mr. James Wragg, from whom Akashi-san received some English advice.

Footnotes

1) Choshiro Suzuki, who was later the president of Human

2) Most likely Master of Monsters [2]

3) TSS published Super Rugby and Dead Moon

4) Summer Games for the Master System was not released in the United States, but it was released in Europe in 1991 and in Brazil. Interestingly, the title screen has a 1988 Sega copyright, which is when Akashi would have still been working at Zap.

5) Otaku no Seiza (FC) appears to have been developed by Advance Communication

6) J.League Virtual Stadium was the Japanese version of FIFA International Soccer