Interview:Tsunetomo Sugawara

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Hertz logo

Tsunetomo Sugawara is a former employee of Hertz.

Interview conducted via private message by CRV December 2008-February 2009. Answers originally in Japanese. English translation by Dimitri and Derboo. Edited by CRV.

GDRI: What was Hertz?

TS: Hertz was a game production subsidiary of Hertz Engineering, a company involved with acoustical engineering. Psycho World for the MSX2 was our debut work, followed by Hydefos and Lenam. I was responsible for character design and graphics there.

After these titles, the company's focus shifted to development of ports for home systems. A few years later, the company closed, and the staff went their separate ways.

GDRI: Is there a reason Hertz stopped making original games?

TS: The three original titles we produced weren't particularly popular, and the company was in the red. To help cover our production costs, it was decided that we would take work porting other companies' games.

GDRI: Did only Hertz close, or did all of Hertz Engineering close?

TS: Hertz was unable to continue operation because we ran out of money for development. I can't elaborate on the details, but this was one of the reasons.

Hertz Engineering seemed to stay in operation after that. I don't know if they actually did continue, though.

GDRI: Do you know what years Hertz was started and closed?

TS: It was established in 1987 and closed in 1993 as far as I'm aware.

GDRI: Did Hertz have a relationship with Sanritsu/SIMS?

TS: Hertz was a third-party developer for the Mega Drive through SIMS. One of the programmers at SIMS was a fan of Psycho World; he wanted permission to port the game to the Master System and Game Gear, which is how that came to be.

GDRI: SIMS used to have Dynamite Duke and Out Run pictured on its website. [1] Even if Hertz's contract was with Sega, was SIMS in charge of production of those titles?

TS: SIMS was an affiliate company of Sega. They were an intermediary, taking the job information from Sega, and passing it on to Hertz. So Hertz was contracted by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) by way of a third party.

SIMS then took the completed titles and, if there were no issues, presented them to Sega; once Sega approved them, they went to market. Apart from our own company's releases, all the ports Hertz did were produced for an OEM.

GDRI: MSX Psycho World credits "Tsuneyoshi Sugawara" and "Tsunetomo Sugawara." Are these the same person?

TS: They are my younger brother and myself; we worked on the same projects. He mostly did story and storyboard work as well as graphics, while I worked on character and monster design as well as stage design.

[Considering there are other games where the same person is credited under different names, that's not a weird question to ask. -CRV]

GDRI: What is your opinion of the SMS/GG versions of Psycho World (Psychic World)?

TS: Due to capacity limits, the number of stages had to be reduced, which unfortunately made the story feel very forced. I felt the redesigned stages were unpleasant and made the game into too much of a maze.

I found it unfortunate that the game would pause when you switched ESP powers. In the original game, time kept moving while you were choosing, which helped elevate the tension.

Even though you could adjust your speed like in the original, the lack of places where you could reach full speed removed one of the refreshing elements of the game.

Finally, the climactic scene, a two-on-one showdown with Knavik, was changed to a one-on-one fight, giving the whole scene a very lonely feeling.

GDRI: Did Hertz staff ever meet with SIMS staff regarding Psychic World?

TS: There was an occasion when SIMS staff visited our company in person to discuss the game's content. When they had a ROM ready, we did playtesting and checked for bugs.

GDRI: Was there anything that inspired your character designs on Psycho World or your art style in general?

TS: I didn't want Lucia's (the player character) design to be symmetrical; it's subtle, but the part in her hair stays on the same side either way she faces.

[This is only in the MSX version, not the SMS/GG versions. -Dimitri]

GDRI: I believe you posted elsewhere about the order in which the different versions of Lenam were done. Could you talk about that?

TS: As you know, Lenam was produced on three different platforms. The X68000 version was the first one to be produced. The game's planner directed the entire production, but due to disagreements within the staff, he ended up leaving for another company after the game was completed.

After that, the PC-9801 and MSX2 ports were produced concurrently. That doesn't mean the planner gave up authorship rights to the game, though, which I'm guessing is why we weren't able to get the rights to it.

[More about rights is discussed later. -CRV]

GDRI: What is "C.P.U?" [2]

TS: "C.P.U" was a nickname for someone on the staff, but I don't know the meaning. It's probably similar to my own handle "B.T.S."

GDRI: How did Hertz end up doing both the X68000 and Mega Drive versions of Dynamite Duke?

TS: Management signed a deal with Sega to produce Mega Drive ports, and Dynamite Duke was the first project in that deal. After we completed the Mega Drive version, someone suggested doing an X68000 version as well since it was the main platform for arcade ports at the time. We weren't really expecting it, and it was produced in a very short time.

Dynamite Duke wasn't really a big game in Japan, so the production staff weren't expecting a lot of sales. We were right, and that's exactly what ended up happening.

Hertz logo as seen in MD Out Run

GDRI: Were you responsible for the Hertz sign in MD Out Run?

TS: I was in charge of the player and rival cars as well as the data for all the stages. I drew most of the graphics for the start area. I put in the Hertz sign for the team that made the game, not really thinking about it much. I didn't think many people would notice it, so I'm surprised at how many people did. The lead programmer, a friend of mine since I was a student, was a huge fan of the game, so we had a lot of fun making it.

GDRI: Was T's Music (MD Out Run) contracted to Hertz?

TS: T's Music was contracted by Sega, not by Hertz, though we did do some adjustment of the BGM when it arrived.

GDRI: As far as program code is concerned, do you know if Out Run 2019 was based on MD Out Run?

TS: Yes, it was based on Out Run's code. We added stuff like the crossroads, gaps, and jumps. We used the same effect as the jump for getting onto the iceberg in the ice stage, too.

GDRI: Can you confirm that it was originally going to be Cyber Road for the Mega CD?

TS: It was. Another working title for the game was Junker's High, but there were unfortunate connotations to this name elsewhere, so we were leaning more towards Cyber Road. It was SIMS that decided to change the name to Out Run 2019.

GDRI: You are credited as "Visual Director" and "Director of Photography." Does that just mean you were in charge of graphics?

TS: I was in charge of the car graphics apart from the player's car. I also supervised the obstacles and roadmap backgrounds as well as the title logo and font design.

The backgrounds and some of the obstacles were handled by the people under me, and I managed that as well.

GDRI: Did only Hertz work on Vay? I see people I have not seen on other games (but that might just be me).

TS: The game was produced entirely by Hertz, though it was SIMS that published it. The animations were produced by a professional animation studio, but the pixel work was done at Hertz. The character voices for the animated sequences were provided by professional voice actors. Apart from that, SIMS solicited enemy character designs from readers of a game magazine, so the readers who sent ideas and fan letters were also included in the staff roll.

Vay was the last game produced at Hertz that saw release. After that, the main staff left and went to other companies, and finally the company ran out of money and closed. If I had to give another reason, it was that management didn't really do their research regarding games. The production staff, myself included, were quite angry about that.

GDRI: So did you have anything to do with the US localization, or was the company closed by then?

TS: After Vay was completed, SIMS acquired the rights to the game. Since our company was closed by then, the overseas version was most likely their work.

GDRI: Was there any difference between developing for computers and developing for consoles?

TS: When Psycho World was ported from the MSX2 to home systems, the Master System's hardware limitations meant that stages and story scenes had to be removed. Stages 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 were chosen as the core stages for the story.

For both computers and home systems, the problem was storage capacity. For a computer game, you could compress the main code to make it smaller, otherwise you might end up with a game that uses too many disks.

As for consoles, the games came on cartridges. If you were limited to, say, one megabit, you had to plan carefully so the entire game would fit within capacity. The programmer had to work with the art team to make sure the size and number of pictures stayed within the limits.

I suppose that now, since they both commonly use CDs, there's so much space that it's not really a problem anymore.

GDRI: Was there an actual preference at Hertz towards the MSX over the other home computers around at that time?

TS: Starting with the MSX2, there were a lot of things you could do with the hardware like scrolling, but by that point fewer and fewer companies were making MSX games.

When we started doing ports for Sega, we'd given up on the MSX. We did our best in hopes of being able to produce sequels, but we were never able to because of the company's closure.

GDRI: Can I assume Hertz had no internal sound staff?

TS: On the MSX, PC, and Out Run, sound was produced by outside creators. For Out Run 2019 and Vay, the sound was created by sound staff within the company.

GDRI: Do you remember any specific tools or software you used in development?

TS: With the MSX, we used a graphics tool written by one of our programmers, but with the X68000 and PC-9801 we used a program called Z's Staff by a company called Zeit. We used the PC-9801 version of Z's Staff for Megadrive development as well.

GDRI: Did you have access to the original source code for Out Run, Dynamite Duke, or Tecmo World Cup?

TS: As use for reference in porting the game, Tecmo actually lent us the arcade machine to place in our office. We used the game's own character test patterns as reference while we were drawing the character graphics for the Mega Drive version.

[One might assume Sugawara-san was referring to Tecmo World Cup, but Dynamite Duke was also sold in Japan by Tecmo. He later clarified that both games were sent. -CRV]

GDRI: Do you know who owns the rights to the Hertz games?

TS: Out of Hertz's games, the rights to Psycho World and Hydefos specifically are owned between myself, my brother, the director D.F, and the main programmer Y. Koba.

The planner for Lenam was someone else in the company, so we weren't able to get the rights to that title.

The rights to the ported titles are owned by the original makers, and the rights to Out Run 2019 and Vay are owned by SIMS.

GDRI: Is Hertz the only game company for which you worked?

TS: Yes, that's correct. After I left Hertz, I became a lecturer on game design at an art school.

GDRI: What does "B.T.S" mean?

TS: "B.T.S" was a pen name from my student days. The "B" stands for "black," which is my favorite color, followed by my initials. I used this name on every game I worked on from Hydefos onward.

GDRI: Did you work on any unpublished games?

TS: I worked on a golf game that never saw release.

GDRI: Was it Polygon Golf? [3]

TS: Yes, I believe that's the game. The company closed while it was in development.

GDRI: How far along was it?

TS: Sorry, I left that project during development, so I don't know the details.

GDRI: It wasn't Dynamic Country Club, was it? [4]

TS: I don't believe it was the same game.

GDRI: Any games we're missing? [5]

TS: There was a version of Out Run for the X68000 that was never announced. Management cancelled the project while it was still in development.

GDRI: Do you have any favorite games (non-Hertz)?

TS: I'm quite fond of Taito's games. Fairyland Story is my favorite. I also like Rastan Saga, Cadash, and Dungeon Magic.

GDRI: Would you say Psycho World was the favorite game you did?

TS: It is. Psycho World was my first game.

It was a particularly memorable project for me, as it was my first opportunity to work professionally on a game.

GDRI: Do you play modern games? What ones?

TS: Of course I play modern games. Mostly action games, but I find 2D games more "active," so I prefer them over 3D games. I also play quiz and brain training games on Nintendo DS.

GDRI: Was development work grueling? Were you working on multiple games at once?

TS: When I was working on the MSX2, I didn't get much sleep; there were fun times, but it was also quite intense.

I never worked on multiple projects at once. As each job was completed, we moved on to the next one.

GDRI: Did you prefer doing original games or ports?

TS: I think there are good things in both types of work. As an author, it's great when a work gets ported, as then more people get to see it.

GDRI: Would you ever return to the game industry?

TS: I would like to return, I think, but my time is spent with my siblings, caring for my parents. I was able to take a character CG request from a friend, though, working from home. Returning at this point would be difficult, though I have discussed doing an indie remake with a programmer from back then, doing things we weren't able to do on the MSX. I don't know when that might happen, though.

Since leaving the game industry, I've found an interest in the cute characters you see toys of. Someday, I wonder if i might be able to get a plush or something made with a cute character of my own.

Thanks to Sugawara-san for his time.

Japanese customers can purchase Hydefos and Psycho World through Project EGG.




BONUS: Psycho World character design sketches, posted with Sugawara-san's permission for non-commercial use only!