Taken from social media posts spurred by a popular hashtag in late 2019, this article contains the recollections of dozens of Japanese game developers and their very first jobs as professional game developers. From the trivial to the momentous and the mainstream to the obscure, these memories offer fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits on many beloved games and insight into the humble beginnings of some of today’s most accomplished (or unsung) creatives.

 

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Hiroshi “Hiro.” Kawaguchi – veteran Sega composer responsible for the music for Space Harrier, Out Run, Afterburner II, Fantasy Zone and more

Creating Girl’s Garden with Yuji Naka. It was intended as a training exercise, but once the decision was made to commercialize it, it became my first job. (laughs)

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fqv_YgWnRQ[/embedyt]

Hiroshi Kawaguchi’s debut, the SG-1000 game Girl’s Garden. Interestingly, Kawaguchi worked on this game as a programmer alongside Yuji Naka, with the music handled by Katsuhiro “Funky K.H.” Hayashi.

“Itokatsu” – SNK designer from 199x-200x, Shirogane no Nina mangaka

Right after finishing pixel art training, I was assigned to the Real Bout Fatal Fury team and given this instruction: “try to come up with a pre-fight intro screen for the three CPU fighters that reuses graphic data from Fatal Fury 3”. This is what I came up with, and I want to say I also drew the original left-side character sprites for Real Bout’s new characters, Kim Kaphwan, Billy Kane and Duck King.

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As it happened, I also sketched several illustrations for Geese’s cinematics in Real Bout Fatal Fury, but by the time the design chief S-san had drafted them as pixel art, he’d had to alter them to such a degree that there weren’t many traces of my handiwork left. “This muscular structure makes no sense!”, “don’t sketch with such rough lines!”, and on and on… sorry to be such a pain.

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Of all the cinematics, this one most directly captures the line work and overall vibe of my original illustration, I think. I just drew the original sketches; the images seen in-game were constructed by several dot artists, and for a while I wasn’t very fond of them due to how little of my own work I saw in their reinterpretations, ### ケレン味 ###

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Kotori Yoshimura – programmer and former member of Technosoft and Arsys Software whose works include Thunder Force, Star Cruiser and Omega Boost

Here’s my first game. We weren’t all that fussed about copyrights back then… By the way, this was made in 1979, around five years after I first touched a computer (or more accurately, a gate array).

Masahito Wakimura – former artist/designer for Square on games including Final Fantasy XI, Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 REmix, Samurai Legend Musashi and Mario Hoops 3 v 3; currently freelance

After leaving my career as a CAD/CG engineer in the construction industry, my first job was on Einhander, making the 3D models and textures for the Endymion fighter ship, the gun pods and various enemy ships. A big thinks to all the sempai who dragged me from the depths of ignorance! Here are some rare development sketches drawn with colored ink:

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Rock and Terry, drawn by Tonko for a MOW promotional postcard.

Ryoichi Hasegawa – translator and localization producer since 199x

Shinichi Kameoka – illustrator, designer and producer whose works include the Seiken Densetsu series, Mother 3 and Magical Starsign; currently president of Brownies

[Hironobu] Sakaguchi-san told me, “go out and buy 20 Super Famicom consoles for debugging!”, so I borrowed a workmate’s car and drove to Akihabara (^-^)

Yasumi Matsuno – director, designer and scenario writer known for his work on Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Ogre Battle and Vagrant Story

My first game job was debugging the PC-98 Japanese-language version of The King of Chicago. However, I was so green that my reaction to being assigned debugging was “what’s ‘debugging’? Is it tasty?”, so my first task was to learn what ‘bugs’ were. (laughs)

Yoko Taro – husband of Mizuiro Blood designer Yukiko Yoko

I modeled the aircraft carrier boss and some generic explosion effects (I think!) for Fire Bull, a sit-down, HMD-equipped arcade attraction that was installed at Namco Namjatown in Ikebukuro.

[embedyt] https://youtu.be/tCcr6dm8rog?t=567[/embedyt]

Historical footage from Namco Namjatown, with a brief glimpse of Fire Bull at 9:47. Fire Bull combined a head-mounted display with a green-screen setup to approximate a primitive kind of virtual reality.

Yusuke Naora – former Square-Enix art director whose works include Final Fantasy VII, VIII, X, Type-O and XV

My career started with the shooting game developer Toaplan, where a bunch of newcomers and I talked our way into making our own game. We were a rowdy lot and the company had a fraternity-like atmosphere, with lots of drinking (and vomiting!) and people always being pushed into rivers and pools at every outing… honestly, I have so many memories I dare not share. (laugh)

Yuzo Koshiro – composer whose works include Ys I&II, Actraiser, Streets of Rage, Wangan Midnight, Etrian Odyssey and Protect me Knight; president of Ancient

As I’m sure you all know, my first work was Xanada: Scenario 2; the original composer was Takahito Abe, and I joined halfway and contributed several tunes. I still have the original floppy disks from 1986, and they still work.

Kazuya Niinou – director/designer of games including Etrian Odyssey, Trauma Center, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and Dragon Quest Builders; currently heads Type-Moon Studio BB

My first job was churning out dot art for the Game Boy Hamtaro game, published by Nintendo… I worked on dot animation for ol’ Ham-chan up until game #3…

Koichiro Tamura – 3D artist on Panzer Dragoon Orta, Yakuza 1 & 2, Ollie King, Rez Infinite & more; currently of Studio Bros.

My first job was physical labor: hauling off a ton of Dreamcast development hardware, left over after the switch to third-party multi-platform development, to the dump. Honestly, I wanted to swipe one since they were just throwing them away, but I did as I was told.

My first actual job was a promotional illustration for the game Panzer Dragoon Orta.

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Yujirou Hayami – current Capcom and former SNK animator whose works include The King of Fighters ’94 through ’96, Devil May Cry, Sengoku Basara and REmake

Moving the president’s golf clubs from his car to the storeroom. There were boxes in there labelled “disposal” that contained control panels for Ikari and Dogosoken (Victory Road), as well as Athena cassette tapes, and I remember asking the president if I could keep a few things… there was a Shin Nihon Kikaku helmet in there that I regret not taking.

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The control panels salvaged from SNK’s storerooms, still undrilled.

Ryo Hirata – former Intelligent Systems artist and character designer, currently working as a freelance mangaka

The first thing I worked on that was actually released was probably Super Famicom Wars (BS Fire Emblem may have released earlier). Based on the dot art drawn by the in-house artist H-san, I helped draw the units for the game’s four armies by swapping out their weapons. At that point, I was working on dot art as a part-timer while on leave from Kyoto Seika University.

Tadayuki Iwa – former 3D designer at Sega on games including The House of the Dead III and 2Spicy, current working as a model kit maker

I should try a career change into 3D modeling, I thought… “am I okay to handle motion (animation)?”, they asked. Even though I was thinking to myself, what is “motion”?, I answered “yep!” and ran point on lil’ sis here, one of the main characters from a big action game. Looking back on it now, I think I did okay.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tn9qCy0QE_0[/embedyt]

Tadayuki Iwa’s debut work: Linda Rotta from the 1999 arcade/Dreamcast game Zombie Revenge.

Kazuyuki Shindo – game designer at Square-Enix whose works include the SaGa series, The Bouncer, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Saga Frontier 2’s dungeon design. I also designed the final dungeon, but the first ones I worked on were the Fossil Caves and the cave at Jade. The artists were fantastic, so the dungeons turned out great, but my blueprints are cringeworthy… I drew these about two months after joining the company, back when I didn’t know right from left. Of course, the designs were constantly revised and reworked in consultation with the artists, and the in-game maps were altered to end up as they appear in the final game.

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Hiroki Kikuta – former Square composer and Sacnoth president whose works include Seiken Densetsu 2 & 3, Koudelka and Indivisible; currently freelance

My first job was debugging Final Fantasy 4. I got a shock when I came to work in a suit and nobody else was wearing one — I thought everyone would be suited up, but [SaGa series creator Akitoshi] Kawazu-san was the only other person in a suit. (laughs)

Takashi Tokita – artist, director and producer at Square-Enix whose works include Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Live-a-Live and Parasite Eve

Before joining Square, I worked at a game company called ZAP for two years, with the ASCII-published MSX game Fairy being the first thing I drew dot art for as a part-timer. I used a PC88mkII for development, with an external 8-inch floppy disk drive for storage.

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Anohito Maeda – freelance game designer whose works include Dragon Ball Z Battle of Z, El Shaddai, Style Savvy Trendsetters and Octopath Travelers

I wanted to join the industry and make fighting games, but when I joined a certain company1 under the promise of working on Samurai Shodown, I was instead made the director of an online mahjong game. That was sixteen years ago, and I’ve yet to work on a fighting game. (laughs)

Ko Hayashi – former Compile and Milestone sound designer whose works include Zanac x Zanac, Chaos Field, Radirgy, Karous and Illvelo

[My first job was] selling manju at the Puyoman Honpo in Hondouri..

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Compile’s Puyo Puyo-themed “Puyoman” sweet buns were a popular snack in the mid-to-late ’90s; initially made in collaboration with a local confectioner in Hiroshima, Compile eventually brought the production and sales entirely in-house, with their Puyoman business being one of their few still-profitable ventures during the twilight of the company. Nowadays, the recipe, trademark and likeness of the “Puyoman” are all separately owned, so this once-popular treat is very unlikely to ever return.

Senri Kita – illustrator and designer formerly of SNK, best known for her work on the Samurai Shodown and Fire Emblem series

I was thrown head-first into working on the original Samurai Shodown, lending my assistance to various sempai… from memory, the first thing they let me work on was Kuroko’s backflip animation. In the end, I was just happy to be able to draw the portraits on the character select screen. I drew the line art and the artists assigned to each character brought them to life with their dot art; I remember trying to impart the sense of perspective you’d see in the composition of manga panels or anime stills.

Katsuya Akitomo – former artist, writer and adviser at Capcom whose works included The Punisher, X-Men: Children of the Atom, Alien vs. Predator and Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand; currently works as a comics translator

The first game I was formally assigned to was The Punisher, but my first job was on Street Fighter II: Champion Edition’s China stage, bashing out in-between dot animations for the cyclists that pass by in the background. There was a sudden push to polish up SFIICE, so even newbies like me were brought aboard.

Shigeyuki Itoh – artist on Eternal Filena (SFC), Aconcagua (PS) and Devil Dice (PS), current representative director of Zeronium

Around 27 years ago, I drew these pixel art images as part of a pitch to Hayao Miyazaki for a Super Famicom adaptation of My Neighbor Totoro. (This was while I was at Tokuma Shoten, and the pitch was shelved.) Scanners weren’t commonplace back then, so I referenced a picture book adaptation of the anime and reproduced the stills myself, dot by dot. Back then, the color blending caused by the CRT screen made it look really close to the anime. Since the image were being produced strictly for the pitch document, I think I used more than 16 colors, but the overall color count was still very restrained.

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Shigeyuki Itoh’s mockup screens for a proposed Super Famicom adaptation of My Neighbor Totoro. (Click to expand)

I wasn’t told why it didn’t go ahead, but I got the sense that Miyazaki wasn’t particularly impressed. I think the pitch I put together had a decent shot at success, but perhaps he didn’t see the necessity for an adventure-style game that hewed so close to the anime. I would’ve liked to ignore the pitch entirely and make a racing game with the Catbus. (laughs)

hiroaki hishinuma square ninty

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This is it! The tempo change on the second loop is my “handiwork”… I was asked if I wanted to go hands-on with some actual game data, so I was told to input the sound data for the slime race song. This was just supposed to be a training exercise and not an official production, but I

Masakazu Sugimori – former Capcom composer whose works include Ace Attorney, Viewtiful Joe, Ghost Trick, Vanquish and Murder by Numbers

It must have been writing music for a redemption machine. I’m sure I did that before debugging Breath of Fire 4… ah, this is what I was talking about! (I looked it up!) I wasn’t sure whether anyone would’ve uploaded this music… I’m so happy. (laughs)

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq_L3KiCmgE[/embedyt]

Yasuyuki Honne – former Square and current Monolith art director whose works include Xenogears, Xenosaga, Chrono Cross and Baten Kaitos

During the time that Final Fantasy VII was being envisioned for Super Famicom, I was producing sketches and materials for those planning meetings, working on Front Mission’s ending graphics and producing Chrono Trigger’s map graphics more or less simultaneously.

Yosuke Saito – producer at Square-Enix whose works include Dragon Quest X & XI, Nier and Nier Automata

My first task after transferring from Enix’s toy department was writing up a licensing contract for the strategy guides for the North American version of Actraiser (in English). I wanted to die.

Yukie Yamaguchi – former game and engine programmer for Microsoft Game Studios, Nvidia and more whose works include Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon and Lips

I worked on the world’s first in-game implementation of skeletal meshes. The programming chief in charge of Tekken told me he was looking for a better way to handle joints; being that I was a computer graphics major, I was able to suggest some ideas right then and there, which they decided to put to the test. Huge success!

It was used in Tekken 3 and Dancing Eyes. Bushido Blade and Tobal no.1, other 3D games from that era, were made by former Tekken and Soul (Blade) programmers, so they also used skeletal meshes.

When I discussed the idea with other programmers, they told me it’d be too computationally expensive to implement, which really got my goat, so ###GTE解析### and I was able to get them working.

My second job in the game industry was another world first: allowing for the direct implementation of motion-capture data in-game.

First off, the capture data couldn’t be edited or tweaked as-is by the animators, so I made a plugin to convert the data to a format the animators could work with. It used to take ten minutes to export data from Softimage, so I made a plugin that cut that time down to just a few seconds. On top of that, I came up with a cross-project metadata system while reviewing the animation format, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that Bandai-Namco continued to use it for over ten years.

The first model we used when testing the skeletal mesh was made by me, based on my own body and measurements. Actually, the model I made back then used physics routines to calculate the undulation of the sternum and other bones.

Daisuke Shiiba – former Nintendo composer whose works include Swapnote, MaBoShi’s Arcade, Style Savvy: Trendsetters and Tomodachi Collection; currently freelance

In terms of commercially-released software, my first works were four songs written for the sample game “III” included within RPG Maker 2000. This tune, “Theme of Caress”, is still a favorite of mine.

Masami Yamamoto – Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan producer whose works include Bloodborne, Soul Sacrifice, Tokyo Jungle and Rain

Making copies of the Super Famicom spec documents for all the staff and dealing with angry office workers who want to use the photocopier. (This was in the days before PDF…)

Yumiko Miyabe – former Sega artist, character and art director on the Space Channel 5 series

My first job was the opening video for the Sega Saturn game Greatest Nine. It was fun working under Segawa-san, who’s currently an executive officer at Sega (laughs). Actually, I first got my bearing working directly under [Sonic the Hedgehog designer] Ohshima-san… right off the bat, I remember plucking up the courage to ask him to draw me a picture of Sonic, and that treasured heirloom is still hung in my alcove.

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[]https://twitter.com/Sousuke_Koyama/status/1121028978523795457

Soshi Hosoi – former Video System composer, best known for his work on the Aero Fighters/Sonic Wings series

Immediately after joining Video System, I was tasked with arranging the music for the first Aero Fighters, which was written by an outsourced composer and delivered as musical notation via fax, and inputting the data to the actual arcade board. Around the same time, I was entrusted with the sound duties for Miyasu Nonki no Quiz 18-kin.

Yusuke Kan – former Capcom, Clover & Platinum Games concept artist and designer whose works include Dino Crisis, Resident Evil 4, Okami, Madworld and Vanquish; currently freelance

I started off making 3D environments for Dino Crisis. I’d never touched a PC or worked with a mouse before then, at the same time, I was struggling to come to terms with polygons… thinking back on it, it was like multiplying zero by zero, so to speak, so I have no idea how I managed to turn that equation into a 1 or a 2. To my bosses and colleagues, I have nothing but gratitude. (gkbr

Takamasa “Tarabar” Hori – programmer, director and producer whose works include Metal Black, Super Street Fighter II, X-MEN: Children of the Atom, Street Fighter EX and Tetris: The Grand Master 3

My very first job was extracting the character data from Aqua Jack from an 8-inch floppy disk and burning it to ROM. I screwed up and accidentally erased the data, so my first all-nighter was spent trying to retrieve it. (laughs)

Takeshi Miura – composer whose works include Resident Evil Code Veronica & Revelations and Time Crisis 3 & 4

I joined a PC game developer and wrote music for eroge that they were secretly making under another brand (sweat). When the PC88 & PC98 were at their commercial peak, I wrote around 120 tunes in six months… I gave it my all and, through good fortune, was able to go on to make music for big games like Resident Evil.

Yoshihiro Nakanishi – former SNK designers whose works include The Last Blade, Kizuna Encounter, Art of Fighting 3 and Ganbare Neo Poke-kun

My first job was a Famicom game called Cosmic Epsilon: I designed and dotted the enemy characters, and handled the dot art and production for the ending sequence. I’m still tap-tap-tapping out pixel art at work today (laughs).

Shinichiro Obata – representative director of Byking and former Capcom planner whose works include JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Gundam Extreme VS. and Gunslinger Stratos

I was assigned to the pachinko department and asked to stare at a LCD for an hour to “test whether looking at a certain reel screen for extended periods caused eye fatigue”, which would never fly nowadays (laughs). My first role on a game was designing stages for Pang! 3, and I’m glad they allowed an out-of-nowhere rookie the opportunity to pitch in.

Junichi Fujisaku – director, producer game designer and screenwriter for Production I.G. whose works include Blood and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Designing enemy characters and animations for the monkey-based game JUJU Densetsu (Toki), and bashing out dot art. Designing the backgrounds came next.

Nobuyuki Shioda – former KID composer whose works include G.I.Joe, Kick Master, Trolls in Crazyland and Summer Carnival ’92 Recca

Composing the opening jingle to Isolated Warrior. Right after I started, my musical equipment wasn’t set up, so I walked around the company humming to myself and input the musical data directly via PC. (My real first job was scrubbing the toilet, but anyway…)

Rumiko Shinoda – longtime Hot Shots Golf illustrator and character designer

I designed, modeled and dotted NPC characters for SaGa Frontier 2. This book contains a bunch of staff portraits I drew back in the day—I just looked it up and it commands around 10-20,000 yen nowadays. [SaGa Frontier II Perfect Works]

Kaz Ayabe – creator of the Boku no Natsuyasumi series

I programmed the ranking screen and opening demo for the arcade version of Psychic 5. Naturally, it was programmed in assembly language. I came in not knowing how to program, so it’s amazing I was able to pull this off after just a month, but it’s more amazing that anybody expected me to do it (laughs). This was around 1986.

Rieko Kodama – designer, director and producer whose works include Phantasy Star, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Deep Fear, Skies of Arcadia and 7th Dragon

Umm… what was it? Colored how-to-play inlays for a cocktail cabinet? But they didn’t end up using them… (laughs) My first dot art was the enemy character from Champion Boxing… maybe.

Yasuhiko Nomura – former Data East programmer whose works include Heavy Smash, Wolf Fang and Suiko Enbu; currently producer of the Corpse Party series at 5pb/mages

Programming the second arcade game based around a certain robotic police officer. Thinking back on it, I’m sure I was writing some pretty dubious code… I have vivid memories of my sempai instructing me to sync the ED-209’s movement to its animation, so that it didn’t look as if its feet were slipping across the floor.

Masahiko Ishida – former Irem sound designer whose works include R-Type II, Ninja Spirit, Image Fight and Holy Diver

Sound production for Mr.Heli… but before that, I put together a one-loop clear of the just-released R-Type (if that even counts as work).