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Yuji Naka (中 裕司, Naka Yūji, born September 17, 1965) is a Japanese video game programmer, designer, and producer who was the former head of Sonic Team, where he was the lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog series of games on the Sega Mega Drive. With Sonic Team, Naka also led development on games including Nights into Dreams (1996), Burning Rangers (1998), Sonic Adventure (1998), and Phantasy Star Online (2000). In 2006, he left Sega to found Prope, an independent game company. In January 2018, he joined Square Enix, where he is directing Balan Wonderworld.

Career

Naka learned how to program by replicating and debugging video game code printed in magazines. The experience prompted him to study assemblers and practice writing code during his school classes.[1] After graduating high school, Naka decided to skip university and stay in his home town.[2]

Around 1983, Naka saw that Sega was looking for programming assistants and decided to apply.[3] After a brief interview,[3] he began working for Sega in April 1984.[4] His first task was designing maps and checking floppy disks for a game titled Road Runner for the SF-7000. Naka cannot remember if the game was ever released.[4] His first major project was a game called Girl's Garden, which he and Hiroshi Kawaguchi created together as part of their training process.[3] Their boss was impressed and decided to publish the game, and it earned them notice among their peers and Japanese gamers.[1] Naka's abilities as a programmer were further demonstrated in 1987 for his work on Phantasy Star for the Master System, where he was responsible for the impressive pseudo-3D animation effects present in the game's first-person dungeons.

His true breakthrough, however, came in 1991 when he programmed the original Sonic the Hedgehog game for the Mega Drive, with Naoto Ohshima designing the characters and Hirokazu Yasuhara creating the stages. The origins of Sonic can be traced farther back to a tech demo created by Naka, who had developed an algorithm that allowed a sprite to move smoothly on a curve by determining its position with a dot matrix. Naka's original prototype was a platform game that involved a fast-moving character rolling in a ball through a long winding tube, and this concept was subsequently fleshed out with Oshima's character design and levels conceived by Yasuhara.[5] Following Sonic The Hedgehog's release, Naka moved to Sega's U.S. branch, Sega Technical Institute, where he worked with famed American designer Mark Cerny on the follow-up in conjunction with the original team back in Japan, now known as "Sonic Team". This partnership between the Eastern and Western teams continued through the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, though the bulk of the development duties shifted back to Sonic Team in Japan for those titles, which Naka had also returned to by that time.

After the release of Sonic & Knuckles, Naka was moved up to the role of producer at Sega Enterprises in Japan. During his tenure in that position, he oversaw games including Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers for Sega Saturn; Sonic Adventure and Phantasy Star Online for Dreamcast; Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for Nintendo GameCube; and the "EyeToy" game Sega Superstars for PlayStation 2.

On March 16, 2006, Naka announced that he intended to create his own game studio, Prope, and that he would be leaving Sega to do so.[6] Naka stated that he considered it a benefit to be able to create games other than Sonic the Hedgehog titles.[7] Following Naoto Ohshima's and Hirokazu Yasuhara's departure by 2002, Naka was the final member of the original creative core that created Sonic the Hedgehog to leave Sega. He joined Square Enix in January 2018.[8] In September 2019 Naka stated on his Twitter account that he was working on an original action game for the company.[9]

Naka was awarded on 2016 with the Bizkaia Award at the Fun & Serious Game Festival, which took place at the Spanish city of Bilbao.[10]

Production history

Year Game Role
1984 Girl's Garden Game designer, programmer
1986 Spy vs. Spy (Master System port) Programmer
Black Belt
1987 Phantasy Star
1989 Phantasy Star II
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Genesis port)
1991 Sonic the Hedgehog
1992 Sonic the Hedgehog 2
1994 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Programmer, producer
Sonic & Knuckles
1996 Nights into Dreams
1998 Burning Rangers Producer
Sonic Adventure
1999 ChuChu Rocket! Director, producer
2000 Samba de Amigo Producer
Phantasy Star Online
2001 Sonic Adventure 2
Sonic Advance<

Naka learned how to program by replicating and debugging video game code printed in magazines. The experience prompted him to study assemblers and practice writing code during his school classes.[1] After graduating high school, Naka decided to skip university and stay in his home town.[2]

Around 1983, Naka saw that Sega was looking for programming assistants and decided to apply.[3] After a brief interview,[3] he began working for Sega in April 1984.[4] His first task was designing maps and checking floppy disks for a game titled Road Runner for the SF-7000. Naka cannot remember if the game was ever released.[4] His first major project was a game called Girl's Garden, which he and Hiroshi Kawaguchi created together as part of their training process.[3] Their boss was impressed and decided to publish the game, and it earned them notice among their peers and Japa

Around 1983, Naka saw that Sega was looking for programming assistants and decided to apply.[3] After a brief interview,[3] he began working for Sega in April 1984.[4] His first task was designing maps and checking floppy disks for a game titled Road Runner for the SF-7000. Naka cannot remember if the game was ever released.[4] His first major project was a game called Girl's Garden, which he and Hiroshi Kawaguchi created together as part of their training process.[3] Their boss was impressed and decided to publish the game, and it earned them notice among their peers and Japanese gamers.[1] Naka's abilities as a programmer were further demonstrated in 1987 for his work on Phantasy Star for the Master System, where he was responsible for the impressive pseudo-3D animation effects present in the game's first-person dungeons.

His true breakthrough, however, came in 1991 when he programmed the original Sonic the Hedgehog game for the Mega Drive, with Naoto Ohshima designing the characters and Hirokazu Yasuhara creating the stages. The origins of Sonic can be traced farther back to a tech demo created by Naka, who had developed an algorithm that allowed a sprite to move smoothly on a curve by determining its position with a dot matrix. Naka's original prototype was a platform game that involved a fast-moving character rolling in a ball through a long winding tube, and this concept was subsequently fleshed out with Oshima's character design and levels conceived by Yasuhara.[5] Following Sonic The Hedgehog's release, Naka moved to Sega's U.S. branch, Sega Technical Institute, where he worked with famed American designer Mark Cerny on the follow-up in conjunction with the original team back in Japan, now known as "Sonic Team". This partnership between the Eastern and Western teams continued through the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, though the bulk of the development duties shifted back to Sonic Team in Japan for those titles, which Naka had also returned to by that time.

After the release of Sonic & Knuckles, Naka was moved up to the role of producer at Sega Enterprises in Japan. During his tenure in that position, he oversaw games including Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers for Sega Saturn; Sonic Adventure and Phantasy Star Online for Dreamcast; Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg for Nintendo GameCube; and the "EyeToy" game Sega Superstars for PlayStation 2.

On March 16, 2006, Naka announced that he intended to create his own game studio, Prope, and that he would be leaving Sega to do so.[6] Naka stated that he considered it a benefit to be able to create games other than Sonic the Hedgehog titles.[7] Following Naoto Ohshima's and Hirokazu Yasuhara's departure by 2002, Naka was the final member of the original creative core that created Sonic the Hedgehog to leave Sega. He joined Square Enix in January 2018.[8] In September 2019 Naka stated on his Twitter account that he was working on an original action game for the company.[9]

Naka was awarded on 2016 with the Bizkaia Award at the Fun & Serious Game Festival, which took place at the Spanish city of Bilbao.[10]