When people tell the short version of the development of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, there are usually two names dropped: Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima. The former, though starting out as a programmer, soon became the figurehead of Sonic Team, his smiling mug plastered all over any material regarding the behind-the-scene events. The latter, of course, being the man who designed the characters including the star. However, there was a third man who, one could argue, shaped the title into the addictive game that people still play to this day. That man’s name is Hirokazu Yasuhara, who was the lead Game Planner of the original Mega Drive quartet, as well as the Director to Sonic 3 & Knuckles. While the designs to the characters were amazing, and there was a solid engine being built around it, the actual layout of the game would have been very, very different had Yasuhara not been there to design those level maps that have been burned into our minds over the last two decades. Who knows how things would have gone if he had flown to the United States when he originally planned instead of being delayed to shape one of the biggest video game franchises of all time?
That is why this news, for anyone who was there during the height of the Mega Drive’s success, is a bit crazy to take in. As of today, reported on Gamasutra and confirmed by his own LinkedIn page, Hirokazu Yasuhara is now employed at Nintendo Software Technology, a subsidiary of Nintendo of America. Best known for their work on the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, nothing has been said of what plans Nintendo has in store for the former Sega employee. Since he’s still in the United States, its very unlikely that he’ll have any role in one of the main Super Mario titles, but still. If you were to tell any 90’s kid that the man responsible for the layout of everything from the Green Hill Zone to Death Egg would one day be working at the house Mario built, would they have believed it?
Of course, this isn’t the first time our 90’s sensibilities have been shaken. The three Mario & Sonic titles are a testament to that. Even the first time Sonic Advance was fired up on the Game Boy Advance was something surreal in 2002. And who can forget that the man who designed Sonic the Hedgehog had a role in the development of Yoshi’s Island DS? Even still, it’s always one of those weird things to hear if your childhood was filled with days fighting over which was better, the Genesis or the Super Nintendo.
Regardless what title he is working on, rest assured that the game will be in good hands. Though the last Sonic game Yasuhara worked on was Sonic R, after leaving Sega the man joined up with Naughty Dog, where he once again took the role of Game Designer, being the mastermind behind Jax 2, Jax 3, Jax X: Combat Racing, and the first Uncharted game. After Uncharted was released, Yasuhara ended up working at Namco-Bandai, where he also became the designer of Pac-Man Party. This is certainly a man who is no stranger to high profile titles, because even if Party was simply a minigame collection…it’s still Pac-Man.
Even if he never touches another Sonic the Hedgehog title, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the latest from Yasuhara. Because, really, who knows just what the future may hold?