Interview with Sonoda Yoshihiro - the main programmer of VOOT

Build, Moderate, and Rebuild Over and Over again

It is a programmers' task to integrate all the ideas and finalize the shape of a videogame. Here is the story of the difficulties and enjoyments he (Scott: Sonoda) had in development.

Interviewer: So, you did the programming part this time. I'm afraid, however, it is hard to have a concrete image of what you do as a programmer, so tell me your idea about a programmer's job thoughout the development.
Sonada: We were assigned all the tasks except graphic design.
Interviewer: So, it largely depends on a programmer's technique to give form to Watari's concept?
Sonoda: Because his concept was a little bit amorphous, there were several stages set to give it a shape. It is designer's job to decide the graphical look of a videogame. On the other hand, it is the programmer's to have to deal with the actual gaming part, and we also have to deal with the specification of a videogame in detail as well as to add modifications to it when needed.
Interviewer: So, could you tell me what was the toughest issue you had when you developed this game?
Sonoda: This was the first project AM3 developed using Model 3 board, and we started from building libraries and tools that were usable in all AM devs' projects. Even though we finished the job, we also had to support these libraries and tools. Because I had to do the support in parallel with the development of VOOT, we had a tough time. But luckily, because of this, I happened to have an opportunity to get my name in the credits of "Jurrasic Park" (Satoru: :))
Interviewer: So, you had a hard time even before development of the game?
Sonoda: Yes, and in the actual coding part, the construction of game system itself was a major job. Because no videogame employed "twin sticks" before OMG and , though it was not so hard this time, because what we did was, more or less, only the expansion of gaming system, and the quantity of work is, say, the kinds of weapon and motion, it all kept increasing. Speaking of the controlling system, we stuck everything in it with all kinds of actions that correspond to various kinds of combinations of the inputs from two sticks and states of the four buttons, and we had to tackle it.

"It didn't take much time to develop the system, but we spent more time on moderation."

Sonoda: In terms of the number of weapons, when we doubled the kinds, and later had to quadruple the number of the kinds of cancellation between weapon. (Satoru: such as a ST's missile cancelled by Raiden's mine.) The number of things to do increased exponentially. Also, because a lot of people complained about the loose collision detection in OMG, we made the engine in VOOT more precise along all parts of VRs. (Satoru: like the hands of Temjin has its own collision detection.) But, this made the game too precise, I mean, too many missiles easily hit, I felt. Players would not complain even if a missile happens to miss, but they would care more about unexpected damage, so we enlarged the collision detection, then made it small, and made it bigger again... We spent a lot of time on it.
Interviewer: So, you fixed the game many times?
Sonoda: We have no way to find out the fun part of a videogame until we complete it, so yes, we repeated it countless times. The gaming system of VOOT was completed one year before the its release. What was left was only to rebuild it. Basically, it doesn't take the time to create, but it does to fix the problems.
Interviewer: The moderation is one of the most important things?
Sonoda: Yes, whether a game is sucky or not is significantly up to its moderation. Especially game interface, it is very critical because it is the part players directly touch, so we took a lot of care with it. This can be seen, say, with the recognition of crouching actions of VRs or the timing of motion complementation, and we have to think of what players "feel" most importantly.
Interviewer: I heard the release version of OMG was 3.3 because you made three versions of it, so did you make two versions before the release of 5.2? (Scott: Wouldn't that make it 3.4 or 5.3?)
Sonoda: Yes. We made a version where the game only had stages like the Tangram stage; because we wanted to do something new. However, even though we finished making that version, it turned out to be too different in terms of gameplay, and was almost unplayable. Consequently, we just left the stage like that for Tangram in the release version.

All the Essence Is Concentrated in the 3 Minutes of Gameplay in Arcade Games

Interviewer: By the way, currenly you belong to the development section of arcade (Satoru: instead of consumer videogames), but what do you think is good about arcade games?
Sonoda: Basically, we create an arcade game thinking of "100 yen for three minutes (Satoru: play)." Sometimes our game development can't go along with this idea, but really good videogames are the ones that succeed to pack every fun factor within three minutes after a player begins to play. So, it is interesting to design a videogame with this in mind.
Interviewer: For example, how did you do so in VOOT?
Sonoda: In "Virtual-On", players are allowed to create a game's highlight themselves. So, the time limit is set at the beginning and a player is allowed to form a strategy, and he or she can make a scenario on a game's highlight scene. Of course, they do this for 100 yen spent for some fun, so they naturally get serious about a game, but I think this is an interesting point.
Interviewer: Do you sometimes go downtown to see how VOOT is played?
Sonoda: I often go to Shinjuku.
Interviewer: Do you have something in mind that surprised you there?
Sonoda: Not much, because we basically tried to make every action possible.
Interviewer: But how about special techniques like chain tongfer? (Satoru: chain tongfer is BT's technique discovered in ver 5.2 allowing players to throw tongfer rings without spending any energy for the center weapons. The interviewer implied that this technique was not an authorized action.)
Sonoda: Basically, I'm thrilled to see those unexpected motions, and I'm OK with them as long as they do not change the game balance significantly.
Interviewer: Lastly, give us a comment to the eager players of "Virtual-On."
Sonoda: I'm glad to see people are enjoying SEGA's videogames. I'm rather worried that some people take it so seriouslu, like a life-altering experience... We present you, VOOT players, with an unlimited field. Just like OMG, we want you to play this game long (Scott: and often). I'm also glad to have a lot of critics about our products, though, I'm afraid some people like to criticize more than to play... Please don't tease us too much.
Interviewer: Thank you for joining us today.

Translation By: Satoru on May 17th, 2001.
HTML Conversion & Cleanup: Scott on May 23rd, 2001.