- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

Rieko Kodama has become one of the most prominent female video-game developers in the history of the medium. The Japanese native has been dubbed the "first lady of RPGs (role-playing games)" for her extensive work in the genre, which involves characters interacting in massive landscapes while living and learning through their adventures.
Beginning her career at Sega Enterprises as a graphic designer in 1984, she helped develop several popular titles, including Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog and Deep Fear, and eventually was promoted to become a director and then producer. Miss Kodama took some time to discuss her life and the magic behind the role-playing game and Sega's latest title, Skies of Arcadia Legends, which recently shipped for Nintendo's GameCube.
Q: How did you get involved in creating video games?
A: I studied advertising design, but when I finished school, I wanted to create something of my own instead of ads for other people's projects. Although I wasn't determined to work specifically in video games, the industry was still at an early stage, and I felt that it would give me an opportunity to try out new projects and ideas. At the time, home consoles had just gone on the market, and one of the first titles I worked on was a boxing game for Sega's home-video console SG1000. I also worked on the character design for a Ninja action video game for arcades.
Q: What has been your favorite title to work on over the years?
A: It's difficult to choose just one title from all of my work. I cherish all of the titles I've developed, regardless of whether a product has sold well or not, or whether it was highly evaluated or not. At the moment, though, I would say I like the latest title, Skies of Arcadia Legends, best.
Q: How would you define a role-playing game to someone who has never played one?
A: I usually don't give an exact definition of what an RPG is because it can limit my imagination if I get caught up in the definition of the game.
When I create an RPG, I want to make sure the character being played will develop through having battles with the enemy or by achieving certain goals. As the character grows, the player becomes more capable of solving mysteries and achieving different goals. I also feel that RPGs allow gamers to enjoy different worlds that have been created specifically for them to explore.
Q: What elements do you feel make for the best gaming experience?
A: I believe it's different for each game and genre. With RPGs, it's important for the gamer not to feel like a bystander, but instead share some of the feelings with the character being played (in most cases, the main character). A game can be best enjoyed when you begin to feel that you are actually on an adventure in the game's world.
Q: Explain the role of the producer in creating a game.
A: I exchange opinions with creators and, in many cases, with supervisors throughout game development. We discuss every aspect of the game, including setting up a product plan, financial negotiation, business planning, PR planning, etc. I also conduct negotiations with, for example, publishers or the external staff.
Because I have worked as both a game designer and a game supervisor, I feel that I'm in more of a supervisor's role, rather than filling the role of a typical producer.
Q: How has technology changed since you first began developing games?
A: If you're referring to home consoles, I think it's best to describe the visible changes, because improvements in programming can be very difficult to explain. Graphics that used to be depicted in 2-D have come to be expressed with 3-D graphics. With arrival of media that can hold high-capacity data, such as CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, we are now able to offer games at moderate prices that feature complex systems that can express code that uses a huge amount of data, large volumes of movies, and sounds without much mechanical compression processing.
Q: How far can the video-game experience go in terms of immersing a player in a simulation?
A: Because advancements in video-game play are closely related to advancements in movie-development techniques, data-processing power and other technological advancements, it's difficult to predict exactly how the video-game industry will evolve. I'm sure the industry will continue to take advantage of new methods of expression as they become available.
Personally, I think it would be interesting for someone to develop a method of turning a room into the actual game world by using not the TV screen but, for instance, holography.
This is what I think of now, but when I was asked a similar question about 10 years ago, I answered that games taking advantage of the network connectivity would be the most successful games in the future. Now it seems that these games have not progressed as much as I expected.
Q: Explain the origins of the game Skies of Arcadia Legends.
A: I started to work on Skies of Arcadia because I wanted to create an RPG with the theme of longing for adventures and exploring. There have been a lot of RPGs dealing with current social situations or warnings about the future, but I wanted to create an RPG based purely on the themes of adventures, not focusing on such reality-related subjects.
As we developed the scenes for the adventures in the game, we prepared a stage called "Sky" to fulfill the dreams that everyone has at least once in a lifetime, such as: "to fly through the skies on your own" or "to see the unknown world that exists beyond the endless sky."
In this world, players have meetings with strangers, become friends with them and embark on an adventurous journey. This might be a very orthodox theme, but I believe it will be universally received.
Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).


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