Sega's Masayoshi Yokoyama is the producer of the upcoming Yakuza 5 and has contributed scriptwriting and production work to every other game in the sandbox mobster series. How he got in this position probably has a lot to do with the incredibly spoiled video-game life he led as a kid.
"Now that I look back," he told Famitsu magazine in an interview published this week, "I think the groundwork for games was laid pretty early in my life. Some of your readers would consider this a dream environment, but when I was a kid, we had something like 500 games in the house."
How did this happen? "My dad was the manager of the toy section of a department store," Yokoyama explained, "so it was pretty easy for us to get our hands on games. I probably sound pretty spoiled, but I was pretty much able to pick and choose whatever game I wanted to. That, plus I was really sick for a year or two in elementary school so I could engage in any strenuous physical activity. I had a lot of opportunity to get involved with games back then."
With a library like that at his fingertips, you'd probably expect Yokoyama to be some kind of hardcore RPG addict. Not quite. "I got completely addicted to Excitebike," Yokoyama told Famitsu. "I mean, I played it to the point that I've still got calluses on my fingers from it. I pretty much always took it out before going to bed at night and I kept that up until my senior year in high school, so I probably played it for something like 2000 days in a row."
One of the original Nintendo Entertainment System releases, Excitebike is a pretty simple race game on the surface. Push A for the gas, push B for the turbo, don't crash. But Yokoyama saw a far greater depth to it. "The only thing I ever did was race against the clock on track 1," he said. "I'd tape a piece of paper with my best record next to the TV, and I'd write a new one every time I broke it. The really crazy thing was that I was still breaking this record on regular occasions by my senior year of high school. I mean, that course looks really simple on the surface, so you'd think you'd master the best route pretty much immediately, right? But that's just not how it works. You keep on trying new things, and you really just never touch the bottom of it."
It's a philosophy that, believe it or not, still drives a lot of Yokoyama's design decisions in Yakuza. "It still makes me think to this day," he explained, "because I often wonder if I can make a game that really feels bottomless like that. One of the core concepts I carry around is that I make games you can play with just one or two buttons. I'm a big believer in button mashing. I think one of the really core ways of having fun with games is pushing buttons and seeing what kind of cool stuff happens. The combat in Yakuza really retains some of that, I think. In that respect, being in a place where I could play all the NES games I wanted wound up being my connection to game development. I really have to thank my parents for spoiling me like that."