Puyo Puyo Fever – 2016 Developer Interview

Puyo Puyo Fever - 2016 Interview

Conducted in commemoration of Puyo Puyo's 25th anniversary, this Famitsu interview saw former Sonic Team boss Yuji Naka trading insider info with current series producer Mizuki Hosoyamada on the creation of Puyo Puyo Fever, the first mainline Puyo Puyo title developed by Sega after acquiring the series from original developer Compile, and their attempts to soft-reboot the series for new audiences.

Yuji Naka – President of Prope; left Sega in 2006
Mizuki HosoyamadaPuyo Puyo series producer at Sega

―When did you first get involved with the Puyo Puyo series?

Naka: Sonic Team was managing an i-mode site called Sonic Cafe, so I'm pretty sure it was when we released an i-appli version via that service. Given the circumstances around Sega making a new Puyo Puyo game, we set the stage in various ways to ensure it'd be as successful as possible. This was around 2002, I think.

―Before you became involved, what were your impressions of Puyo Puyo?

Naka: If anything, that I wasn't any good at it (laughs). I don't remember which specific version I'd played but I was familiar with it, of course, but my limit was around a 3-chain, and I couldn't construct chaining forms. The moment I had that realization, I thought, oh, I suck at this game. I'm generally relatively good at games, but this game was something of a weak spot for me. (to Hosoyamada) What were your impressions of Puyo Puyo?

Yuji Naka (2016)

Hosoyamada: Back in the day, I played games like Puyo Puyo and Puyo Puyo Tsu as a rank-and-file player. There were no game centers nearby, however, so I used to play in small gaming corners at hotels and hot springs (laughs).

Naka: Were you competitive?

Hosoyamada Not at all (laughs). Naka-san's not alone ― none of Sega's former producers were particular good at it, so the same goes for [Takashi "Thomas"] Yuda-san and [Akinori] Nishiyama-san. In fact, because I'm not good at it, it can be like, what should I be doing? (laughs)

―Speaking of Puyo Puyo, it's a game with an exciting competitive component, and there are very skilled players out there like Kumachom. What do you think when you watch players of their caliber?

Naka: I rarely get to see intermediate-to-advanced-level players in the flesh, but when I'd watch skilled developers playing, I'd be like, "Wow! How do they do it?" Actually, when I was working on Puyo Puyo Fever, I put in a lot of practice and, even though I wasn't good at it, I was able to build chain setups… but, when once you've put in all that work, you realize that people who can come up with these big chains in the midst of battle are geniuses (laughs).

―It's certainly true that the more you play, the more you'll come to appreciate just how good the top players are.

Naka: Right. Elite-level play like that is super engaging, and being able to create huge chains is obviously the way to go, but I also thought there are a lot of players at my level, who don't actually like chaining. Based on this assumption, Puyo Puyo Fever was conceived as an attempt to make a version of Puyo Puyo with chaining that was accessible to everyone. In bringing back Puyo Puyo, we wanted to turn it into something that everyone could enjoy: not only the existing fanbase, but also people who didn't like the previous versions.

―Puyo Puyo Fever introduced several major changes, both in the game system with the introduction of Fever Mode, but also the character designs and so on. Were there any conflicts when it came to introducing new elements to the series?

Naka: Well, in terms of main-line, numbered titles, the games up to Puyo Puyo~n were created by Compile, and Puyo Puyo Fever was to be the fifth; if you look at the games that preceded it, each game has offered its own changes, like Taiyo Puyo in Puyo Puyo Sun, so the ever-present question was, "what will the fifth change be?". Accordingly, the addition of Fever Mode was decided relatively early on, but that wasn't enough for me, and I wanted to push things further. At that point, I decided to introduce L-shaped, three-piece puyos, and when we actually tested it, we found that it allowed the player to stack quickly, and if you were sufficiently skilled, you could make efficient use of them and fill the well very quickly, and I felt like it'd create a new way of playing outside of the usual stacking methods. Incidentally, one of our aims was for players to take one glance at the game screen and immediately think, "This is a new Puyo Puyo!". As we worked towards that goal, we added one more puyo set ― the 4-piece block ― and the basic form of Puyo Puyo Fever was complete.

―I see! Those were visually obvious changes, certainly.

Naka: That said, part of me thinks it may have been better to exclude the new puyo pieces. When I looks at the response from players after the game was released, I felt like we'd maybe pushed things a little too far. There were some players who were enjoying the new game, but almost all of the returning fans of the original games only played as Arle.

―If you play as Arle, you'll only get the traditional two-piece puyo.

Naka: Puyo Puyo Fever released first in arcades, and I went to the arcades several times to see how it was being received, including at the location tests, and the only character being used was Arle ― we even held an arcade tournament, but even then, it was dominated by Arle. Honestly, it was disappointing to witness… sure, you can pick Arle, but what about the new protagonist Amitie, and the completely new character designs? Even though the gameplay and design were new, I had a strong desire for people to play and think, Puyo Puyo has evolved.

Hosoyamada: When Puyo Puyo Fever was first release, some people naturally thought it'd be difficult to assemble chains without the traditional two-piece puyo, and this was especially true among veterans and hardcore players. However, as time has passed, players now say Amitie's 3-piece dropset or Carbuncle's 4-piece dropset are better. The color of Carbuncle's one-color 4-piece blocks can be freely changed at will, and if you place them down flat on their own they're guaranteed to disappear, so it was extremely influential on the various variety modes that have been introduced in later games. That's why Kumachom, the player mentioned earlier, uses Amitie ― he realized that if his opponent's sticking to the traditional two-piece, then the L-piece set, which lets you place three puyo at a time, would allow him to simply build faster than his opponent.

Naka: Yes, that's what we developers had in mind when we created it: "once they get it down, skilled players should be able to place a ton of puyo at once!"

Hosoyamada: It took a while to catch on, it seems (laughs).

Naka: I see! Before I was able to see it take root, I was no longer working on Puyo Puyo (laughs).

Hosoyamada: Right, you'd moved on from Sega. I ended up following in your footsteps, so I've witnessed it. Today's high-level players are using newer characters like Amitie, and they're very strong.

Naka: Well then, I'm glad we went out on a limb with Puyo Puyo Fever.

Hosoyamada: Indeed. I think the results were extremely good!

Archival footage of one of Kumachom's many classic matches, played via the online-enabled Puyo Puyo Fever PC port in the mid-'00s.

Naka: I don't think it would've changed all that much if Compile had made it on their own. In fact, when we were making Puyo Puyo Fever, the producer Yuda wasn't very good at it, nor was I, and as you can imagine, that was cause for concern, right? So, we went and tracked down some of the people who'd been making Puyo Puyo at Compile and asked for their assistance. We received a lot of advice from those people, and when we presented them with our own new ideas, they were able to absorb them and naturally integrate them into Puyo Puyo in a balanced way. I think Puyo Puyo Fever turned out so well because we were able to develop it in this manner, and the only areas where we really stormed on ahead were the peripheral aspects like the visual style and marketing. The game was made within Sega while still maintaining the essence of Compile's Puyo Puyo, so it's an authentic inheritor of the Puyo Puyo bloodline.

Hosoyamada: It was borne from a combination of Compile's experience and Naka-san and Yuda-san's fresh ideas.

Naka: Well, when Puyo Puyo came to Sega, it morphed into Puyo Puyo Fever, but I believe we evolved the series in a good way. Like I said, at the time, long-time fans may have been taken aback (laughs). That was around 2003~2004, right? My memory's hazy, but I remember that we decided to work on a new Puyo Puyo because 2004 was the "Puyo Year" (laughs).

Hosoyamada: That sounds about right (laughs).

Naka: While we were chatting about the year, we also started discussing whether we should formally establish a "Puyo Puyo Day" (laughs). So, to that end, we released a version of the game on a different platform on the 24th of every month. The arcade version came out in 2003, a little earlier than the rest.

Hosoyamada: At that time, my desk was seated next to Yuda-san's, and I can remember seeing him sitting there with his head cradled in his hands (laughs). He was busy around the clock, testing and developing various ports. There was a Palm version, a Pocket PC version…

Naka: We did well to crank them all out (laughs). By the way, I wonder which single game was released for the most platforms? I wonder if Puyo Puyo Fever might qualify for a Guinness Record or something (laughs).

Hosoyamada: There are also the overseas SKUs, so it might just scrape over the line (laughs).

Naka: Were we aiming to set a record in the "year of Puyo", I wonder? I think we just thought it'd be a strong idea to make a game that could be released every month (laughs). I've had other things going on since then, but I think it's about time someone looked into it.

Hosoyamada: You're right (laughs).

―I think it worked out great that, once the appropriate adjustments were made, you could deliver the game across many platforms and allow more people to play.

Hosoyamada: Sonic Team, the developer at the time, had adopted a multi-platform strategy: for example, the latest Sonic game during that period, Sonic Heroes, launched simultaneously on three platforms. We wanted as many people as possible to play our games, so we definitely wanted to give it a shot. However, for us game makers, it's still very difficult. Each platform and hardware set has its own quirks… come to think of it, the Dreamcast version of Puyo Puyo Fever was the last Dreamcast game published by Sega.

Naka: I wish they'd release it on Dreamcast again…

Hosoyamada:…wait, you mean now?!

Naka: Yeah, right now! (laughs) It's Puyo Puyo's 25th anniversary! Enough said! (laughs)

Hosoyamada: Wow, I don't know that I can comment (laughs).

In addition to ports to all the consoles and handheld game machines of the day, Puyo Puyo Fever also came to PC, Macintosh, a wide variety of mobile devices and as embedded apps in non-gaming devices. Incidentally, the Macintosh port pictured above was allegedly produced in response to a direct request from Macintosh aficionado and Seaman creator Yoot Saito.

―You mentioned the releasing new versions across 12 consecutive months, but do you have any particular memories from that time regarding the promotion of the game?

Naka: What I remember most is meeting Aya Matsuura.

Hosoyamada: That is extremely self-indulgent (laughs).

Naka: She's someone I was really into at the time, so when I was asked, "who'd you like to use for the TV commercial?", I said, "oh, Aya Matsuura! She's the best!", and that was that. I still have the photo of our meeting in my office (laughs). I'd made Sonic and various other games, but I'd never worked with a celebrity for promotional purposes. Afterwards, you went with Yuri Ebihara for Puyo Puyo! 15th Anniversary. Recently, you've been woring with Erika Todo, right?

Hosoyamada: That's right.

Naka: You even appeared in the commercial for Puyo Puyo 7, didn't you? I was watching TV when all of a sudden, "what the heck, Hosoyamada-san's in a commercial!" I thought about calling him (laughs).

Hosoyamada: I wasn't aware of their plans until around a week before the shoot, and it wasn't originally on the schedule!

Naka: I guess Ebihara-san and Todo-san were personal picks on the part of Hosoyamada, huh?

Hosoyamada: No, that's not the case (awkward smile). That decision was made via a proper meeting. Even so, wasn't it Naka-san who started us in this direction to begin with?

Naka: For sure (laughs).

Hosoyamada: Ebihara-san and Todo-san had both mentioned a while back that they liked Puyo Puyo.

Naka: I'm jealous. I would've liked to go to the photo shoot is all. Why didn't you call me?! (laughs)

Hosoyamada: More recently, we've been collaborating with AAA on Puyo Puyo!! Quest, and that's because their member Nishijima also likes Puyo Puyo.

Naka: At the time, it was something of a bold move on Sega's part to hire mid-level talent; it's difficult to justify such a big promotional campaign for a puzzle game, so it turned into a huge campaign that encompassed the "Year of Puyo", the monthly releases and everything in between.

Hosoyamada: Come to think of it, Puyo Puyo's the same age as Sonic.

Naka: That's right. Sonic is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and producer [Takashi] Iizuka-san has asked me to participate in various promotional activities, and Puyo Puyo also happens to be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Even though it's 25 years old, I was only involved with it for around 4 years. Even so, I was around to witness the big transition we discussed earlier.

Hosoyamada: The series has existed for 25 years, but the people making it are not set in stone: there are many different people involved, including occasional advice from Naka-san. As for what those people were doing beforehand, there are people who've worked on Sonic, as well as people who work on Phantasy Star Online. There's a healthy blend of people entering the team who've accumulated a good amount of experience working on various other games, as well as people with a long history with Puyo Puyo watching from the wings. I think that's why we were able to so smoothly expand to smartphones and arcades. Of course, each game requires a lot of work, but once development finishes, people forget about all the hardships and only remember the good times, and how glad they were to have worked on it.

One of the many Japanese TV commercials produced for Puyo Puyo Fever, starring idol/actress Aya Matsuura.

Naka: What are you doing for the 25th anniversary? Will there be a new game?

Hosoyamada: …well, I'll do my best (laughs).

Naka: Can't you tell me what's happening? You're making something, right?

Hosoyamada: The games I'm currently overseeing include Puyo Puyo!! Touch, Puyo Puyo!! Quest and Puyo Puyo!! Quest Arcade. Puyo Puyo Tetris is also available now!

Naka: You know that's not what I meant! (laughs)

Hosoyamada: Well, I can't tell you when it'll be released, but we're always working on something!

Naka: Will it look anything like Puyo Puyo! and Puyo Puyo!!, the 15th & 20th-anniversary games?

Hosoyamada: Hmm, I wonder. (laughs) Last year was the 24th anniversary, and we're giving our all on smartphones and in arcades. Incidentally, Puyo Puyo Tetris was a 24th-anniversary project.

Naka: You'll end up releasing on PS4, right? Doesn't it feel right for Puyo?

Hosoyamada: Ah, that's not in the plans.

Naka: No way! (laughs)

Hosoyamada: Puyo Puyo Tetris wasn't initially planned for PS4 or Xbox One, but we ended up releasing it there.

―Puyo Puyo also made its transition to the stage last year.

Naka: I wanted to go… I was invited, but because it was scheduled for Golden Week, I was holidaying oversees and couldn't make it. I'm bummed that I won't get a chance to catch it.

Hosoyamada: It's okay, the performance was released on cell DVD!

Naka: Ah, there's a DVD! Even so, the fact that it even became a stage play just goes to show how popular Puyo Puyo really is.

Hosoyamada: We can definitely trace that back to Puyo Puyo Fever.

Naka: That may have played a part. Whatever the case, I'm glad the series made it to its 25th anniversary. If Puyo Puyo Fever didn't exist, Puyo Puyo may have ceased to be.

Mizuki Hosoyamada

Hosoyamada: That's true.

Naka: There may have been a few ups and downs (laughs), but it's not often that even series made by a single company are able to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Sonic's finally made it, too. Sega makes a lot of games, but even Virtua Fighter didn't quite reach it. Considering the circumstances, Puyo Puyo's really gone the distance.

Hosoyamada: When it comes down to it, it's a fun game (laughs).

―Will the 50th anniversary be the next milestone?

Naka: The 30th, probably (laughs). 2024 will come soon after, so there'll probably be something done around then, too. Eight years from now, I expect Hosoyamada will still be in charge (laughs).

Hosoyamada: Well, it's certainly possible that I'll still be in charge in eight years (laughs).

Naka: Back in the day, Sega wasn't really a company that liked to commemorate anniversaries, but I'm into that sort of thing. Recently, the users have begun to point them out to us ― "today's the Dreamcast's birthday", "today is NiGHTS' anniversary", stuff like that. People send us messages on social media, and I get loads of them every day (laughs).

Hosoyamada: Uh-huh! (laughs) On top of that, there are also the release dates for the overseas versions.

Naka: Ultimately, when people those kinds of messages, it shows that they really loves those games, so they make me very happy. Come to think of it, you haven't been commemorating "Puyo dates" like February 4 or the 24th recently, have you?

Hosoyamada: We're running a "Puyo Day Campaign" starting February 4!

Naka: A campaign is all well and good, but we need a new game!

Hosoyamada: It would be a great time to release a game… (laughs) Puyo Puyo Tetris is coming on February 6.

Naka: Nope! Unacceptable! I'm writing off the 25th anniversary as a no-show. Please sell it on the 24th! The specifics don't matter ― sell it on the 24th, February 24, 02:04, whatever (laughs).

Hosoyamada: I'll do my best (laughs).

―I'd like to take this opportunity to ask Naka-san about Hi☆sCool! Sega Hard Girls.

Naka: Ah, this might be the first time I've spoken about SeHa Girls in the media.

Hosoyamada: Oh, really?

Naka: I've only spoken about it at the SeHa Girls live event.

Hosoyamada: You appeared in the anime as a voice actor, didn't you?

Naka: The original intention was that I'd only make one appearance: the director told me that he had a plan for me to appear silhouetted and speak with voice modulation, and then later reveal my face and speak with my natural voice, but I told him, "If I'm going to do this, then give me something I can tell people about!"

(everybody laughs)

Naka: Due to the voice modulation, I don't think you can really tell it's me speaking, but I did want to experience being a voice actor at least once. That was already two years ago… ah, memories.

―Naka-san, you voiced the character "Center-sensei", correct?

Naka: Yeah, but it seems that few people noticed. During the broadcast run, I was surprised that nobody picked up on it until the very end. The name "Center-Sensei" was taken from the National Center Test. I'd been checking Twitter since the first day it aired, and I was surprised that nobody understood it, so I wish a few more people had made the connection (laughs). Even so, it was fun.

―The character looks a little like Professor Asobin.

Naka: Well, he's a familiar character from old instruction manuals (laughs).

Hosoyamada: The fifth episode was themed around Puyo Puyo, so when they sent us the pitch, I asked who'd be doing the voices, they mentioned that Naka-san would also be involved, and I was like, "ohhhhh!"

Naka: Ah, so you knew from that point.

Hosoyamada: Yeah, it was fun.

Naka: The anime featured a "Puyo Puyo Waterslide", right?

Hosoyamada: It did, yeah.

Naka: Please go ahead and build one. It's the 25th anniversary!

Hosoyamada: That was a facility 1000M above ground! (laughs)

―How about recreating it in VR?

Naka: Nah, you have to build a Sega Land amusement part: within the park, there's be a Sonic Land, and a Puyo Puyo Land... and that's where the Puyo Waterslide would be! I'm sure everyone's itching to ride it!

Hosoyamada: It's not the waterslide, but we recently produced a 120cm Puyo plush as part of the Puyo Day campaign ― that was an initiative inspired by SeHa! Girls.

Naka: Oh, that's nice. SeHa! Girls was great, and made me feel all sorts of nostalgia. It featured all sorts of things ― Virtua Fighter, Sonic, Puyo Puyo ― and I felt warm memories for each one.

―Puyo Puyo got mixed with various other games, right?

Hosoyamada: Yeah, stuff like Fantasy Zone.

Naka: Oh yeah, "Puyo Puyo Fantasy Zone"…

Hosoyamada: That kind of self-celebratory vibe felt very Sega. Oh, and you can currently buy SeHa! Girls on DVD! (laughs)

Naka: Everyone, please buy it! I won't receive a single yen in royalties! (laughs) Apparently, they want to make a sequel if the DVD sells well.

"Center-sensei", the character voiced by Yuji Naka in the anime adaptation of Sega Hard Girls, a cross-media property themed around anthropomorphized girls based on various Sega consoles.

―We've gone slightly off-topic (laughs), but could you each give a final message to the fans for the 25th anniversary?

Naka: I'm glad the series has prospered. As for how far it can continue to go, I think that'll depend on the staff, including Hosoyamada-san, but most of all, the fans. I hope work hard enough that, in 50 or 100 years, someone might excavate the ruins of Puyo Puyo… "hmm, it seems like a Puyo Puyo Temple once stood in this spot, ages ago…" (laughs)

Hosoyamada: I'm not exactly sure what constitutes a "Puyo Puyo Temple" (laughs) What's more, if you build four of them side-by-side, they'll disappear (laughs).

Naka: Good one! (laughs) Also, I'm not really involved with the series anymore, but I hope it persists for a long time. I think adding new rules is a big ask, but please take advantage of all the good things Puyo Puyo has accumulated until now, and keep finding ways to make it fun.

Hosoyamada: The underlying appeal of Puyo Puyo has been passed down from the Compile era; beyond that point, we've paid attention to the voices of our fans and continued to make tweaks and changes. Actually, when I first got involved with Puyo Puyo, I thought it'd be a one-and-done for me, but before I knew it, a whole decade had passed. I hope that, along with Sonic, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary, they can can continue to run together for 50 or 100 years.

Naka: It'd be a shame if either one of them stalled out.

Hosoyamada: Yes, we have to continue working hard on both fronts. We have passionate fans in both camps, so I think they can be maintained.

Naka: I wonder if I'll still be alive for the 50th anniversary… it'll be 25 years from now, after all.

Hosoyamada: The 2024 milestone you mentioned earlier is not that far away! I don't know if I'll still be in charge of the series by then (laughs). Whatever the case, if we continue to create things that everyone can enjoy, I'm sure we'll be able to reach the next anniversary. Thankyou for your continued support of Puyo Puyo, everyone.

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