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Thread: Yasuyuki Oda - new interview on Neo Geo years/ collecting

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    gozaimas's Avatar
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    Yasuyuki Oda - new interview on Neo Geo years/ collecting

    Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to interview Yasuyuki Oda about his time working as a producer on Neo Geo games for SNK's Game Division Studio 1in the 90s/00s, as well as about the Neo collecting scene today.

    Only a few quotations made it into the project I was working on, but there are some total gems here (particularly on location tests, production numbers and why some carts in particular are so scarce -- EURO Kizuna Encounter!).

    I figured I'd post it here, as it will surely be of interest to some of you.

    .................................................. ...................

    Q: When did you join SNK and how did that come about? What were you doing prior to joining the company?

    Yasuyuki Oda: Before joining the company, I worked a part time job at a super-market while attending a design school to study animation. After graduating I joined SNK as a pixel artist, and was promoted to game designer about 4 years later. In February of 2000, I actually left the company to join another company called SOKIAK (DIMPS). I joined SNK once again in February of 2014.


    Q: What was it like working at SNK in those early years? Can you describe a typical day? Was it exciting, or stressful or something else?

    YO: There was never an end to the workload in that period, so my daily routine looked like this:

      Monday - Saturday
      08:00 Wake-up
      08:30 Clean up my desk
    09:30 Work
      12:00 Lunch
      13:00 Work 
      18:00 Dinner  
      19:00 Work
      22:00 Break (Taking a shower, etc.)
      23:00 Work
      04:00 Sleep

      Sunday
      Return home briefly in the morning (only had time to go home like once a week…)
      Work again from the afternoon. 

    As a young man I didn't think anything of this sort of schedule, but when I think back on it now it was like living the life of a “slave” from thousands of years ago. For location tests we actually helped set up the events and such, so I got even less sleep on those nights. (Modern SNK obviously doesn't have these issues! Please don't worry!)

    Some of the most exciting times were leading up to and during location tests, but it was always stressful to have bugs pop up right in front of you. Sometimes the players would even get angry or make fun of us, which was tough. However, it was always a great experience seeing the players play our game with my own eyes.

    By the time the game was ready for general release in the arcades, I was usually already moving onto a new project so I rarely thought about the previous games I worked on. It may seem weird to the fans, but by the time you were all enjoying the games, for most of the developers the games already felt like the far past.

    Regarding the above location test anecdote, I wanted to give a bit more background information. One example I can remember happened here in Osaka at an arcade that was called NEOGEO LAND #1. In those days, there were actually three different NEOGEO LAND arcades in Osaka alone.

    I don’t remember what game it was exactly, but that doesn’t really matter because it happened almost every time anyway! Basically, the fans would get a little angry anytime they found something like an infinite combo (an issue where players could be stuck in a simple combo with no way of escaping), a change in a character’s design, or a change to a specific move or technique. Sometimes that would mean they would complain to us directly, but more often they would use the surveys and such that we left there to collect feedback as a way to write all of their complaints down. In the past we actually treated some of the super move command inputs as confidential secrets, and I actually had instances where fans would chase me down trying to pull that specific info from me.

    Location tests in that period were almost like a festival, with tons of people lining up in advance of the arcade opening and staying there until midnight that night when the arcade closed. Seeing so many fans enjoy the game over an entire day was a great atmosphere and very fun for me. It was interesting seeing players so dedicated to the event that they would bring their own lunch, or seeing the neighborhood overflowing with cosplayers also attending the event.


    Q: What made NEOGEO games different at that time?

    YO: I believe SNK’s NEOGEO games stood out because of the number of charming characters that were created and still live on in fans’ minds to this day.

    I feel SNK is on a different level in that respect when compared to other companies. As a result, SNK has a large number of popular characters and was able to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. This was the result of each creator paying an incredible level of attention to the designs.

    One of the biggest selling points of the NEGEO was the high specs for the time, which allowed fans to enjoy arcade games at home without any hit in quality. At the time, for most home ports of arcade games there had to be significant sacrifices made before they would run on home consoles. Thanks to the large ROM cartridges the NEOGEO used, it was possible for a fan to enjoy their favorite arcade games at home only a few months after the initial arcade release.

    I also think there is just the simple fact that a lot of people loved the huge and unwieldy cartridges that came with the system, especially the satisfying feeling and sound when inserting them in the system. Also, our systems did not come with what would be considered a normal controller and instead came with a controller similar to arcade sticks. I think that helped us stand out quite a bit. Thinking back, those controllers were definitely a distinguishing aspect and could easily be seen as embodying the soul of SNK.

    Finally, I wanted to touch a little bit on exactly what I mean when I say the artists paid an incredible level of attention to each design.

    During NEOGEO’s prime, SEGA and other companies had started to roll out a ton of games using new high-spec 3D hardware. During that time SNK was still focusing on games featuring 2D sprite work, so we had to make up for being unable to use 3D camerawork to create impactful scenes by putting more work and detail into all of our characters and stages. Below, you can find some specific examples of this sort of effort:

    Geese Howard:

    For his super move, Raging Storm, we re-worked the animations on his fingers specifically in order to make it look as evil as possible. Also, we actually aimed for a Macho Man Randy Savage homage with some parts of his design. Specifically, we based his body type on Macho Man in his later years, trying to nail down a design where he actually looked a bit flabby on the sides.

    Kim Kaphwan:

    In order to get across how much of a serious, stoic character he is with a strong sense of justice, we made it so that in almost every pose or animation he had always featured a closed fist.

    B. Jenet:

    Although she can obviously be seen as a sexy design, she was also supposed to be a young character so we gave her some tomboyish poses and spoken lines in order to push her more as a cute character. We did our best to keep her from being simply a sexy blonde character, which is an all too common trope.

    Miscellaneous:

    In order for our stage graphics to not just look like a world tour of famous locales we came up with the fictional city South Town, and put a lot of work into our character’s backgrounds and settings in order to make them feel like living breathing people.



    Q: Why were the home cartridges so expensive compared to those on rival consoles?


    YO: As the home console cartridges were actually the same specs as the arcade versions, we were dealing with especially large cartridges and ROMs in order to achieve the quality we wanted. As a result, we really couldn't bring the costs down in an easy manner, and even at those costs I don't think there was a high profit margin. For a home system they were obviously priced very high, however I think the overall size and weight of them actually convinced buyers of their worth.


    Q: At what point did you realise that the NEOGEO home console (AES) was becoming a collector’s item?

    YO: I actually only realized the extent of the market a few years ago. I just ran across it while surfing the web one day. Just for reference, an average production run for games on the AES ranged from 10,000 to 50,000 units. Some of the really big hit titles ranged from 100,000 to 150,000 units. Some of the lowest production runs were in the several hundred to 1,000-1,5000 copies. I can’t really give any specific numbers for a particular game unfortunately.


    Why were the production runs on some European versions of SNK games such as Ultimate 11 and Kizuna Encounter so incredibly small?

    YO: For Ultimate 11, it is a pretty basic situation where the Arcade version did not sell well so they didn't produce many home cartridges.

    Regarding Euro Kizuna, it's a much more interesting story. Basically, the previous game Savage Reign didn't sell well so they actually had a ton of cartridges left on hand. Kizuna Encounter was actually created by modifying those cartridges as they could share the same programming chip. So the number sent out was directly related to how many cartridges of Savage Reign were left over...



    Q: When did you first start to notice that the prices on some cartridges were rising? How did you feel about this?


    YO: This was also something that I only realized a few years ago. It is amazing to think that there are people collecting the systems and cartridges to this day. It is interesting to see how the titles with low production runs have continued to rise sharply in value.



    Q: Why do you think prices of AES cartridges have risen so much this year in particular?


    YO: Even though we have ported a lot of our legacy titles to various console archives in recent years, there is obviously something special about playing those games on MVS and AES NEOGEO systems and I think any modern release will probably cause some people to look back and become nostalgic for the games in their original form.

    Thanks to the size and quality, they look great when they are lined up on a bookshelf. It’s quite easy to see why they would be such a sought-after collector’s item.


    Q: Do you anticipate the bubble ever bursting?

    YO: There really isn't a possibility to remanufacture the products, so I think it will continue on this way. I guess they are basically going to be treated similar to other antiques.


    Q: How has the proliferation of bootleg / conversion carts affected the market? Can you personally tell a fake cart from a real one?

    YO: I've never actually seen a pirate version, so I don't know if I could tell a fake cart from the real one. I do really hate the people making these pirate versions though.


    Q: What is your attitude towards people hoarding cartridges in order to drive up demand?

    YO: In some way, reselling is a core principle of capitalism, so I can't really fault them much.
    However, I personally don't like this sort of thing at all. Just the other day I tried to pre-order a high quality GUNDAM figure, but it was already sold out mostly thanks to people buying multiples for the purpose of reselling. There wasn't anything I could do about it, which is the worst part.

    If we are talking about the game content itself, we have always worked on releasing the titles on new hardware, however in this case it is the cartridge and case itself which is so highly valued, so there is no way for us to control it.


    Q: What is your fondest moment of that time, working at SNK?

    YO: The base salary was not very good, but I got a ton of bonuses...

    However, at that time there weren’t really strict rules on how bonuses were handed out, so it felt like we were at the mercy of our bosses’ mood. Unfortunately, since I was basically living at the office for the entire year I rarely had a chance to even put that money to use! Also, I have always enjoyed the moment when I get to see the reactions from users around the world. It is also great meeting fans at game shows and other events. There is also the fact that a lot of NEOGEO fans went on to work in the game industry and I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with them. At the same time, those sorts of conversations do remind me of my own age…


    Q: Do you ever miss working in 2D?

    YO: There is obviously a strong relation in most people's minds connecting SNK to 2D pixel art, however for us developers working on the games at the time we didn't really think about it much. It just felt natural to be making 2D games as we were working on the NEOGEO. Also, I personally feel like the possibility to make 2D games will always be there, so I wouldn't say I miss it yet. However, there is always a moment where we have to evaluate whether it makes business sense or not which makes me think a hobbyist or indie approach might be the best bet.

    .................................................. ..................

    Official SNK biog:

    Fighting game producer (Game Division Studio 1) at SNK Corporation.

    He was born in 1972 in Hyogo prefecture of Japan.

    Oda joined SNK in 1993, and contributed as a director, game designer, and artist to numerous NEOGEO masterpieces including iconic game series such as FATAL FURY, ART OF FIGHTING, THE KING OF FIGHTERS, and more niche titles such as “KIZUNA ENCOUNTER” as well.

    He joined Dimps Corporation in 2000, and participated in the development of numerous titles for BANDAI NAMCO ENTERTAINMENT & CAPCOM.

    He finally returned to SNK in 2014 in order to lead the development of SNK’s flagship (PlayStation 4) title “THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIV”.
    Last edited by gozaimas; 10-13-2017 at 05:08 AM.

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