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Specials
 Written by Brian Lelas  on July 21, 2011

Specials: Our epic retrospective on Yu Suzuki, legendary game designer responsible for Shenmue, Virtua Fighter and so much more.




Yu Suzuki is preparing to step down in his major role at Sega Enterprises this September. Although he will remain on the books as a consultant, this month's announcement essentially confirms that he is moving full-time to his own small studio, Ys, which is primarily devoted to modern social network gaming. We thought it was the right time to congratulate Yu-san on his incredible career with the company and share an extensive history of his impact on gaming so far?

Yu Suzuki is the world-renowned game design genius responsible for many of the world's greatest ever arcade games and most famously, the classic Dreamcast game, Shenmue. Since his first programming job at Sega in 1983, he has been the inspiration for many of the current generation of game design's brightest and bravest. From Virtua Fighter to Ferrari F355 Challenge, he pushed the boundaries of what we could conceive as possible and with his AM2 team, single-handedly dominated arcades all over the world.

His early life was largely typical, with mention of a fondness for music dominating his teenage years. Before he was creating legendary arcade machines and console games, Yu Suzuki was a self-proclaimed failure on the guitar. He dreamt of studying dentistry, which thankfully didn't work out either, as he failed all of his entrance exams to medical school. One dream that he did fulfil was to one day own and drive a Ferrari supercar, which thanks to his destined career path, was all too easy to achieve. He studied Computer Programming in Okayama, Chugoku, on the other end of Honshu from his home of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture.

Shortly after graduating, Yu Suzuki found a job at Sega, who at the time were just about ready to get a foothold in the home games console market, testing the water with the SG-1000 before becoming a major force with the Sega Master System. They were calling themselves ?The Arcade Experts? at this time, which began to gather serious credibility when Yu-san was developing his early hits.

His debut in the world of videogames came in the form of Champion Boxing, a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the sport's mechanics, despite its simple 2D plain and joystick controls. Unlike many of the fighting games of the pre-Street Fighter 2 era, Champion Boxing understood the skill and timing involved in blocking and evading attacks as clearly as it delivered knock-out blows. The game was converted to Sega's relatively unknown SG-1000 home console to limited success. A sequel of sorts was commissioned in the form of Champion Pro Wrestling and Yu Suzuki was on hand to deliver once again. Although the game retained an almost identical game control system, it's simpler combat made it more accessible to new players. The SG-1000 version of Champion Pro Wrestling also sold moderately well upon release in 1985.



1985 was a noteworthy year for more of Yu Suzuki's games. It was the year that he directed and oversaw the build for the revolutionary Sega Space Harrier Arcade Hardware System, an early Arcade Cabinet unit that was made to be dynamic and enable features of multiple types of gameplay. Very few successful ?engines? of this type were yet produced, meaning that what Sega had created was a changeable platform for arcade game design. In modern gaming, engines like the Unreal Engine 3 and Valve's Source engine are commonplace, but in the mid-?80s, this was unique and groundbreaking. The hardware was named after the first game made for it, Space Harrier.

Space Harrier was directed and produced by Yu Suzuki and was one of the original third-person shooters. This ?on-rails? game brought a game level towards players as their on-screen hero, the titular Space Harrier, moved freely thanks to his back-mounted jetpack. High speed bullet firing and lightning quick character movement made Space Harrier's gameplay extremely attractive to arcade goers, but the amazing cabinet design the game enjoyed was something the likes of which had never been seen before. At first glance, it seemed like a normal unit, but when you sat into it and popped in a coin, it started to move about in the way you tilted the joystick.



With Space Harrier's massive success in arcades barely becoming news for Sega, Yu Suzuki was already set to release his second arcade hit of 1985, the timeless motorcycle classic, Hang-On. The popularity of this new game eclipsed even Space Harrier, and quickly spawned an update called Super Hang-On. With Super Hang-On, Yu Suzuki redefined arcade gaming all over again, merely a year after his explosive entrance into the industry. What made Super Hang-On so special was its revolutionary arcade cabinet. Players would literally mount a plastic superbike with an embedded screen and drive their on-screen counterpart to victory. At the time, this sense of immersion and reality was unheard of.



With Super Hang-On in the works, Yu-san got working on another piece of hardware, this time to indulge himself in one of his fantasies. He'd always wanted to drive a Ferrari sports car, and so designed and developed Out Run, a game tailor made from scratch on a new engine to give the best experience of Ferrari driving thought possible. Looking back, the arcade gameplay was far from realistic, but Yu Suzuki went completely to the side of over-the-top fantasy and added a pretty passenger and ludicrous top speeds around impossible corners. Despite not having the Ferrari license, the cabinets, available in sit-down car and upright styles, featured heavy likenesses to the Ferrari Testarossa and the Ferrari ?prancing horse? logo. Upon release in 1986, this sort of thing was generally considered to be fine. If tried today, it would be a different story. The game's soundtrack, particularly ?Splash Wave?, is considered by arcade fans throughout the world to be the greatest of all time.

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