As far as Japanese development gurus go, Toshihiro Nagoshi is not as well known among the popular gaming press as names like Shigeru Miyamoto or Hideo Kojima. However, he has played a major part in key releases from Sega over the past 15 years and remains a refreshing source of creative power in an increasingly cold-hearted industry.
Nagoshi joined Sega in 1989 after graduating from the Tokyo University of Art and Design. He was employed as a CG designer for AM2 under a certain Yu Suzuki, and soon started work on two games that would cement his future success at Sega. Daytona USA, with its sumptuous 3D visuals and innovative cabinet design (allowing eight players on separate, networked machines to race against each other for the first time1), was released 1994 to instant global acclaim. Virtua Striker, released right on the cusp of '95, was another first from Nagoshi (here acting as producer) - a 3D soccer game that would go on to spawn a whole genre.
Fast-forward. In the April-September period of 2000, Sega lost $153 million to apathetic mainstream gamers who failed to see the attraction of the Dreamcast’s arcadey line-up. With a failed console and two multi-million dollar flops too many, Sega succumbed to inevitability and phased out the DC. From now on they were a software-only company, free to produce great games for all formats without the pressure of platform competition. The big first step was Sonic Advance, a Sega game on a Nintendo console – zealots began predicting all sorts of future collaborations. What were Toshihiro Nagoshi’s plans at this critical point?
During a Sega restructuring burst in July 2000, Nagoshi was made president of the newly named Amusement Vision, formerly AM112. With a clear goal in mind ("In any era, people seek 'Amusement' to enrich their lives. If our 'Vision' can fulfil this demand, there is no need for further explanation"), they started work on another Nagoshi idea for the arcades – Monkey Ball, a pseudo-sequel to coin-op classic Marble Madness.
“It started out with rolling a ball” says Nagoshi of the series’ minimalist concept – but did he know it would end with something that is still one the Gamecube’s most playable titles today? When the original game was updated as a launch title for Nintendo’s new machine Super Monkey Ball’s back-to-basics gameplay was lauded as the best of the bunch. A sequel followed in 2002.
In 2003 the much-anticipated dual-release of F-Zero GX and AX finally came. Amusement Vision didn’t disappoint. Under a nervous Nagoshi (“we were collaborating with Nintendo, and we wanted to make a great impression”), the team created the perfect follow-up to the decade-spanning futuristic racing series. The best graphics on Gamecube yet, the brilliant new ship-building feature, the sheer speed (how can something this fast induce such sweet nostalgia?)… one year on from release it is still immensely enjoyable.
In another corporate reshuffle of mid-2003, when Hisao Oguchi became Sega’s current president, Nagoshi was appointed General Manager of the new Creative Center. He hasn’t yet revealed any particular game prospects, but when questioned about a third Monkey Ball iteration, the response was reassuring: “I know that the series has room for three games, but not for the moment”. What could be distracting him? The industry waits with bated breath.
Nagoshi also writes a monthly column for Edge magazine, where he discusses subjects as diverse as level design and the Japanese weather. On more than one occasion, however, the topic has turned to his propensity for alcohol, which has become a bit of a running joke within the magazine. But with a creative output this accomplished, the man deserves his leisure time. Have another drink, Nagoshi-san.
- This wasn’t actually the first case of simultaneous multiplayer arcade action. X-Men, released 1992 by Konami, allowed six players to fight co-operatively across three joined screens (creating a widescreen play area). For all intents and purposes, however, Daytona was the pioneer of the multi-player, separate-screen interface nearly all arcade racers use today.
- Strangely, there seems to be some confusion over the name of AV’s predecessor. Edge magazine mentions Soft R&D #4, whilst IGN and other internet sources refer to AM4. AM11 is the name given by sega.com, which is what I’d like to think is the most accurate. If anyone can elaborate, please drop me a blab!.
The quotes are from sega.com (including its various minisites) and Edge #129, both of which proved invaluable whilst researching this node.