My first paying gig! My job at Anchor Inc. was a last-minute bullet-dodge that kept me from getting deported after my first job in Japan fell through.
Out for dinner with Anchor in May of 2000. Left to right: Onoguchi-san, the Morishitas (Makoto and Tetz,), Waseda-san (???), myself, Seino-san
The original introduction came from an animator friend who had been working on Ultimate Fighting Championship for the Dreamcast, which was developed by Anchor and published by the now-defunct Crave. I had popped into the office a few times, doing debug work and polishing up the English script.
Shortly after I graduated, Anchor director Hiroshi Inukai (who’s now doing delightful eSports stuff and games for kids) hired me on as his assistant. It turned out that Microsoft was working on a top-secret games console called the Xbox, and they Anchor was making a pro wrestling game for THQ. My animator friend had moved back to Canada, and they were desperately in need of a native English speaker to do random stuff for them.
Now, this is back when almost all pro wrestling games were developed in Japan. Though they’d be published by American companies with US-based producers calling the shots, there was always a slightly goofy Japanese cultural creep into these games , which gave them a unique flavor all their own. I didn’t do much to actually curb this — rather, I’d influence it, saying stuff like “THAT LOOKS AWESOME. You should totally make more animal masks for the create-a-wrestler mode.”
Left to right: Lead designer Arai-san, Director Inukai-san, UI designer Tazaki-san. Note the CRTs everywhere! We didn’t have flatscreens in 2001. I think the game is running off a proper green Xbox devkit; I don’t have many memories of the original kit in the PC case.
So I did a ton of random design work on this game. There’s a lot that goes into pro wrestling titles, and you’ve got a very voracious fanbase interested in the most minute details (and being a fan, that stuff was super critical to me).
Lead Animator, the incomparable Onoguchi-san. Note the Dreamcast playing “Get Bass” attached via VGA switchbox. I don’t think I still have my fishing rod controller.
I don’t ever remember operating on a set schedule for this game; everything was freeform. I’d come up with something, pitch it to Inukai, and he’d be like “Sure, that sounds great!” or “No, it’s impossible!” For example, I thought our menu screens looked a little boring, and Gran Turismo 3 had just shipped on the PlayStation 2, which featured really amazing DVD-style menus with cars zooming around in the backgrounds. I wanted to recreate that, only with wrestlers piledriving each other. Inukai was like “GREAT!”, so I went to work. With team sizes being what they are these days, I can’t imagine making a game like this anymore.
Here I am in the VHS tape capture room. I spent a lot of time in here digitizing tapes and watching the weekly shipments of wrestling tapes out of Stamford.
After shipping this game, I moved onto Pride FC for the PlayStation 2. This game was based on the Pride fighting league that was tearing up Japan during the early 2000s. Moving to PS2 was definitely a step back after working on Xbox; I never felt the dev tools were quite as good, and I had more limitations to work within (for example, to save space I had to reduce my textures from 16.7 million colors down to a slightly more restricted palette of 256 or even 16 colors; my low-palette skills from my Apple IIgs days came into play). From a creative perspective, we couldn’t go quite as wild with this one as we had with the pro wrestling games, so I wound up doing some UI work and bucketloads of FMV, burning discs for every build we made. We also got lots of free tickets to go see the PRIDE shows, so that was pretty much the ultimate perk.
After a year and a half, and a bit more work on the sequel WWE RAW 2, I got a call from a guy at Square in Tokyo…but that’s another story entirely.