This questionnaire-style interview was originally featured in the 10/90 edition of BEEP! Megadrive magazine. It’s both a fascinating cultural snapshot of the early video game industry in Japan, as well as a nice introduction to some of the “unknown soldiers” of game design, including women involved in Alisia Dragoon and Battle of Olympus.

There are also two profiles of women working in sales/advertising (for Irem and Asmik). Also, for some reason Capcom decided to go co-ed and ignore the interview structure…!

The Women of Game Design – 1990 Developer Interview

originally featured in the 10/90 edition of BEEP! Megadrive magazine

Yuki Ikeda and Hisako Takizawa

NCS/Masaya (Designer)
Known for: Sol Bianca (PC Engine),
Langrisser (Megadrive), and others

—What kind of work do you do?

Takizawa: I’ve only been at NCS for a year now, so I’m still doing sprite graphics.

Ikeda: Same for me, but I also did the maps for Langrisser, which comes out on the Megadrive at the end of the year.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Takizawa: After I finished a character design course at my Art Design school, I got hired by a computer software developer, and from there I went to NCS.

Ikeda: I saw a recruitment ad and thought, “this looks like fun!” So I joined up!

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Hisako Takizawa (with glasses)
and Yuki Ikeda of NCS/Masaya.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Takizawa: Hah, well, at first I was really disoriented by the… “unique” atmosphere of a company full of software developers, but now I’ve pretty much gotten used to it. (laughs)

Ikeda: Yeah… that’s about right. It took me awhile to get used to it.

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Takizawa: I’m a huge Ranma 1/2 fan, so when we were making the PC Engine CD-ROM2 Ranma game, I begged the programmer to let me draw a picture of male Ranma for it, and he let me!

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Takizawa: I’m not very good, but I love exciting, flashy STG games. Those are my favorite. At work, I put on my stereo headphones and crank it up, blasting everything away! Let me tell you, it feels GREAT!

Ikeda: I know it’s cliche, but all I play is Tetris on my Gameboy.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Takizawa: If you really love games, then that’s one thing… but it’s not the kind of job you should take if you want time to be in a relationship! They haven’t gone so far as to make the women pull consecutive overnighters during crunch time, but you should be prepared for overtime and working on holidays.

Ikeda: It’s harder than being a typical OL. A lot of the work requires a great deal of perseverance to see through. But knowing that, if you really love games, why not give it a shot?

Reiko Oshida

Freelance (Designer)
Known for: Battle of Olympus (NES), Ultima II (Pony Canyon),
AD&D (Fujitsu FM-Towns), Populous (PC-98 and SFC)

—What kind of work do you do?

Oshida: Character design, programming, and graphics.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Oshida: My primary work used to be as a traditional illustrator, and one of the advertising agencies who used to give me work ended up switching their business over to game development, and asked me if I’d like to try doing stuff for games. That was how I got started.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Oshida: Working with computers is really fun. Right now I’m working on the SFC port of Populous, and I had really wanted to work on this series for awhile, so it’s a dream come true for me! That said, most of the work I’ve done up to this point has been ports, and in the future, I’d really love to create more original works of my own.

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Oshida: One funny thing is that, despite having worked in the game industry for 4 years now, I’ve almost never met the publishers who I’m working for. And when a game launches, the only people who get any attention are the original designers, not the porters. (laughs) So for a long time, I’ve just been under the impression that the real software developers are somewhat like stagehands in a play… they’re supposed to stay there in the background, out of sight. (laughs)

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Oshida: I play every game on the Famicom that I can get my hands on. As in my work, the majority of what I’ve played have been RPGs. I just finally beat Final Fantasy III.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Oshida: If you really love games, you should definitely consider this as a career!! Any job has its challenges and downsides, of course—but if you can put food on your table doing something you love, I think that’s ideal. I don’t really know the proper way to get started in this industry, but if you’ve got the motivation and put your mind to it, you’ll break through. And once you’re in, the rest is easy. I’ll be cheering you on!

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Reiko Oshida, freelance designer and co-creator
of Battle of Olympus, as detailed in this excellent interview.

Yuko Tataka and Sanae Nito

Toaplan (Designers)
Known for: Same! Same! Same! (Arcade, MD),
Tatsujin (MD), Hellfire (MD, PC Engine)
Daisenpuu (MD, PC Engine), Zero Wing (Arcade)

—What kind of work do you do?

Nito: Character design. We work together with the programmers as a single team, so we have a lot of freedom.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Tataka: I didn’t have an interest in video games originally, but when I was at art school, I saw a job ad and I thought it looked interesting.

Nito: I went to design school, but at my previous job, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to draw, so I switched to the game industry.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Nito: There’s this image of Toaplan’s games as being really “hardcore”, so I was worried that, when it came to being a graphic designer for them, being a woman might give me a certain handicap. But I dug in, realizing there are probably mecha that only a woman can draw…!

Tataka: Getting started was difficult, but it’s always fun when you draw something and people are like, “whoa, that character was drawn by a woman? I didn’t know!”

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Tataka: Porting games from the arcade to the Megadrive is very challenging—the Megadrive can’t output as many colors on a single screen, and you end up having to use the same palette for explosions, the player, bullets, and everything. I get help from my senior colleagues.

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Nito: I go to the game center a lot, yeah. Lately I’ve been loving all the big taikan games, like Final Lap 2…

Tataka: Recently I’ve been going to the game center a lot, and playing STG and puzzle games. But unfortunately, a lot of the time it ends up feeling like work.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Tataka: If you love games, I think you should give this career a shot. I think you should also be aware of recent games and trends, to an extent.

Nito: In game design, you’re constantly being confronted with new challenges to solve, no matter what kind of game you’re making. There’s always a hint somewhere, if you know where to look—so be sure to study up as much as you can if you want to do this as a job.

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Yuko Tataka and Sanae Nito of Toaplan. Tataka would
go on to be designer and producer of famous shmup Batsugun.

Kanae Saeda

Irem (Sales)
Worked on: Meikyuujima (FC), Legend of Hero Tonma (FC),
Paaman (FC), R-Type II (SFC), and more.

—What kind of work do you do?

Saeda: My main job is working with wholesalers, introducing, selling, and distributing our games to them. I also help develop our sales promotions for our various games and franchises, which is very important.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Saeda: I did the usual job searching while I was in school, but didn’t come up with anything. Then an older friend introduced me to a company, which was Irem. I didn’t know anything about Irem or games, though… during the interview, about the only thing I could talk about was Space Invaders.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Saeda: The interesting thing about sales is, simply, that it results directly in money for the company. My efforts are directly reflected in the numbers each quarter. Being able to meet and interact with people from a broad range of ages and demographics is another fun part of my job. It helps you grow as a human being, too.

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Saeda: I work the region west of Nagoya, so I’m always excited about getting to experience the mastery of okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. At first, I thought the wholesalers I’d be working with would be intimidating, but it’s not like that at all. One thing, though, is that working for a game developer, it’s easy to be too narrowly focused and honed in on your own games and sales—but the wholesalers deal with dozens of other companies as well, so I’ve learned that you can’t approach it with too narrow a mindset of only selling your own games.

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Saeda: I play a lot of Irem’s games. And I can carry my Gameboy with me wherever I go, so I play that a lot.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Saeda: It’s rare to see women working in sales like this. There are merits: our demeanor is softer, and we’re good listeners—in an interaction that might normally last only 10 minutes, we can stretch that out to an hour… but we also have to constantly stay vigilant about keeping those encounters as business-only, and not give those we work with the idea that we’re romantically interested. That being said, the job isn’t all “talk”—if you aren’t good at planning, you won’t be able to make sales. If you’ve got the stamina, and you love the products your company is making, I think it would be a fun job for you.

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Kanae Saeda of Irem.

Kaori Ikeda

Asmik (Public Promoter)
Worked on: D-Force (SFC), Verytex (SFC),
Teketeke! Asmik-kun World (GB),
Super Hydlide (Megadrive), Air Diver (Megadrive),
Deep Dungeon IV (FC), and more.

—What kind of work do you do?

Ikeda: I work in sales and promotion. More specifically, that includes how our products are presented in magazines, what kind of ads we run, etc.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Ikeda: When I first joined Asmik, they weren’t developing games yet. As for how I got involved, to put it bluntly: I was assigned.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Ikeda: There still aren’t a lot of women in this line of work, so I think there’s a lot of room for growth, and opportunity for a woman to bring her sensibilities to this job. For example, in advertising, in games for children, they’re often wanting to use cute imagery. I’m especially interested in things like that.

Also, one of the things I find interesting about this industry is that it’s the business of selling dreams to children. At first, I was kind of resistant to the whole idea, because it felt like we were swindling children out of a large part of their precious pocket money. However, if you put out a good game, I think it’s appreciated. The children are thinking on their own about what kind of game they want to buy, selecting it, and using their own actual money; I want to make sure our efforts are equal to their passion.

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Ikeda: During the Christmas holiday sale season, I put on my green jumper and go visit video game stores. Last year I went down to the big retail stores in Shinjuku. Lots of children came by, and it was fun talking with them.

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Ikeda: I used to, but I’m not very good, and whenever I start one I get tunnel vision and I neglect everything in my life, so lately I’ve not been playing much.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Ikeda: If I had to guess, this industry is probably considered by most to be a “men’s only” industry, but women certainly have a right to enjoy it too, and I think there’s plenty of opportunities for that.

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Kaori Ikeda of Asmik.

Meiko Wada

Game Arts (Character Designer)
Known for: Alisia Dragoon (MD), Lunar: Eternal Blue (MD),
Lunar: The Silver Star (MD), Famista 90 (PC-88)

—What kind of work do you do?

Wada: I’m a character designer, but the actual overall design is done by another person. When they’re done, they send me fairly detailed instructions, and I take their work and render it into pixel art. Lately I’ve been working on enemy sprites for our new Megadrive games.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Wada: I went to design school, and when it came time to look for work I saw an ad for Game Arts, and applied.

—Do you think your work is fun?

Wada: I like how the work I’ve done is visible right before my eyes, for all to see. It’s very satisfying, as you could imagine. And I love to read the feedback and letters we get from players. They can sometimes be very critical, but I know it’s because they’ve taken the time to play the game, and that makes me happy. I also like that we start work later in the morning. (laughs)

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Wada: Before joining Game Arts, I worked at a different video game company for about a year. At that time, I didn’t know how to draw mecha stuff, and I remember going to an employee with tears in my eyes, saying “I can’t do this…” They helped me, and stayed up all night teaching me. Today, I don’t have any special struggles like that. The people I work with are good people, and I think I’m probably rather lucky.

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Wada: I don’t play many games outside of my job, but I like puzzle games like Sokoban and Tetris.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Wada: When there’s a lot of women on a development, I usually think it’s really fun. We’re all there to do the same job, so you don’t get a lot of grief because you’re a woman, either. If you want to do this kind of work, I think you should just try coming down to a company and applying directly. As for qualities, I think you should be the kind of person who can learn and memorize things easily. Even though this is the video game industry, I think it’s an easy environment for women to fit into.

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Meiko Wada of Game Arts.

Manami Matsumae, Mari Yamaguchi, Yoko Shimomura,
Minae Fujii, Yasuaki Fujita, Toshio Kajino
Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, Masaki Izumiya, Isao Abe

Capcom Sound Team

—What kind of work do you do?

Sakaguchi: Generally speaking, we do the music and sound effects for Capcom’s games. We’ve got a centralized recording system setup on a PC-98, so that even if we’re writing music for different hardware, we can compose without needing to be able to program.

—How did you get started in the game industry?

Matsumae: In my 4th year of college, I was thinking I was going to become a piano teacher, but I had my doubts about whether that was going to be able to support me financially, so I started looking at wanted ads at my school, and there was Capcom. They were running their commercials for Senjou no Okami (Commando) at the time. It looked like a fun place to work, and I applied.

Shimomura: I also studied piano in college, but I loved the Famicom, and would often stay up all night playing it. Then the next day my shoulders would be all stiff, and my piano teacher would scold me, and my Mom even said “I don’t remember raising a daughter like this.” (laughs) I decided that when I graduated, I would go work at a place where I could play both music and Famicom all day without complaints!

Abe: I’d been playing in bands for a long time, and thought I could make a living that way, but in my last year of college I suddenly started to think realistically, and did the usual job search thing.

—Do you have any insider secrets or interesting anecdotes to share about this industry?

Matsumae: Lately I’ve been obsessed with gambling, and I’ve started going to the horse racetrack. At first I was winning big, and it was like, “Yes! I’m doing it!”, but lately….. Also, everyday the Capcom Sound Team plays these big mahjong games, but I keep losing and it just makes me more stressed out.

Fujii: I don’t like using my head, I like doing physical labor more. (laughs) So I’ve started doing more outdoors stuff in my free time. But I was tricked by some delinquents here and now I’ve started going to the racetrack and playing mahjong, too!

Izumiya: My big hobby is motorcycles. Not touring though—I like to drive short distances at super-high speeds!

Kajino: I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t gamble either. I just go home and go to bed.

Yamaguchi: I am a wholesome lass, so I do not partake of gambling or mahjong. I like to zone out and go window shopping, things that just let the stress just fall away.

Fujita: I’m the one who lit this fire for horse racing. I love it! I’m up compared to last year too. (laughs)

—Do you also play games in your personal time?

Matsumae: A lot, yeah. Mostly Famicom. I play both Capcom games and other companies.

Sakaguchi: I’m surrounded by games at work, so I don’t play at home. When I get home and think I’ll try playing for a bit, I just don’t feel very fired up about it.

—Do you have any advice for women wanting to get into the game industry?

Sakaguchi: We get a lot of people at interviews who say they want to compose music. But the reason can’t just be that you want to write your own songs. When it comes to writing music for a real commercial product, it’s got to be a song that matches the game. You need to be able to compose in a variety of styles.

Fujita: In any event, you need to be tuned in to the sounds themselves.

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The Capcom Sound team. L-R: Yoko Shimomura, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, Manami Matsumae, Masaki Izumiya, Yasuaki Fujita, Mari Yamaguchi, Minae Fujii, Toshio Kajino, Isao Abe.