"Yu was the director, of course!" laughs Youji Ishii when it's implied he doesn't get enough credit for helping create Sega's arcade classic, OutRun. "You know at that time, I think I did various aspects of production and project management, but I mostly left things up to Suzuki. So it's correct actually to say Yu Suzuki was the one who deserves credit."
Rewind to around a decade ago, and your humble reporter is at the Arzest offices in Yokohama, Japan, speaking with four former Sega luminaries: Naoto Ohshima (Sonic the Hedgehog), Manabu Kusunoki (Panzer Dragoon), Yutaka Sugano (Shinobi), and the company president, Youji Ishii. The Out Run anecdote actually started with a gift we handed Ishii, something distinctly British but with special meaning for him. It's Out Run for the Commodore 64, with two cassette tapes - one for the game data, the other for the soundtrack. Ishii's surprise at just how far his game spread is apparent.
What follows is an account of the research Ishii and Suzuki did for OutRun, driving around Europe at over 200 kilometres an hour and filming it.
Youji Ishii: Amazing! I feel very nostalgic. Thank you very much. Do you know, when making OutRun, we were driving around Europe? At this time Sega was trying to make a car-driving game. They thought the Cannonball Run movie was very popular, so decided maybe we should go to New York and drive a car across America to the West coast. But the head of Sega was Hayao Nakayama, and he said, 'America is too dangerous! But Europe should be safe, so why don't you go to Europe?' So we flew into Frankfurt and we just got a car, and the only other arrangement was to come back via Rome. But basically we said, 'OK, now we can just run around - for about three weeks - wherever we like, to get our sources, to get our inspiration.' There was a road called Romantic Road, and we drove all the way to Monaco, and we had this huge video camera just filming. I still have the tapes, but don't have anything to play them on.
John Szczepaniak: Do you have a secret vault of archive items?
Next door is my room for my collection; I just gathered a lot of things.
Can I film inside the vault?
Uh-uh! <shakes head to say no - whispers> Secret!
What else is inside?
<very long pause> Nothing much.
Cassette tape biodegrades.
Yes, I will check!
<Youji Ishii leaves the room, returns with a box containing videotapes from his research trip with Yu Suzuki>
This was from 1986! <upturns box - tapes cascade onto the table> This is Monte Carlo!
Incredible - these tapes contain unseen research for OutRun, filmed with Yu Suzuki!
Yes, that's right, the two of us. Chamonix and Nice and... <reading titles> This is Europe Number 2. And this one is also in Europe, Monte Carlo, and then Monaco... Again another tape on Monaco. I think the dates are April and May. Monte Carlo again, then Chamonix...
Was it a red convertible?
<laughs> You know, we rented a BMW 3 series and we were running on the autobahn in Germany, and running at 200 kilometres per hour, and it's actually on the tape. Both of us shouting really excitedly: oh look at the odometer, it's more than 200km/h!
This is a fantastic historical record. You must back them up.
<laughs> I will try! You know, of course, I don't really remember all that we were shooting, so maybe there's some... <long pause> I have to check if there's anything that's too embarrassing. <laughs> I will try to look into this.
The sudden realisation and pause, mid-sentence, gave the impression that Youji Ishii was recalling certain things that were perhaps best not made public. After all, two young men on an all-expenses paid trip around Europe, driving as fast as possible, are bound to have gotten up to amusing shenanigans at some point.
Yu Suzuki was interviewed in both issue 54 and 156 of Retro Gamer magazine, mentioning the road trip which Youji Ishii describes - interestingly, he describes the story differently!
In RG #54 Suzuki said:
The main impetus behind OutRun's creation was my love of The Cannonball Run. The film crosses America, but I realised the scenery along a pan-America course actually doesn't change much, so I decided to collect data in Europe instead - collecting information with a video camera, a still camera, and other equipment. I started out from Frankfurt, where I rented a car. I drove around Monaco and Monte Carlo, along the mountain roads of Switzerland, stopping in hotels in Milan, Venice, and Rome, for a fortnight. I have many happy memories of that trip. The next step was to talk with local people in the places I visited, and later to make those discussions and other episodes reflected in the game.
Although Suzuki never once mentioned Ishii in any of his interviews, he did allude to him when discussing his "superior" during a fountain incident in RG issue #156:
Doing research for the game we drove the Romantic Road, the French Riviera, through the Swiss Alps, Florence, and Rome to name a few stops along the way. We stopped at Trevi Fountain along the way, where my superior says, 'Face away from the fountain, and we are going to throw our coins in at the same time. Got it?' So, okay, we did. I am guessing he saw it done in a movie one time, so he said we had to do it. I come to find out later on, when two people face away from the fountain and throw coins in at the same time, they are to be wed.
As for the tapes, it's been nearly 10 years since they were first revealed to the world. What's happened to them? Well, it seems in 2019 they were made use of by Yosuke Okunari of Sega, for a CEDEC presentation on the creation of OutRun. The CEDEC link he gave no longer works, but his original tweet and photo of the tapes is still online. We can only hope the footage itself is someday made more widely available - if only to see just how fast Yu Suzuki was actually driving!
And if you're wondering about the Swan Lake speech bubble in the comic, that relates to a long-held desire of Suzuki's, and is another story altogether.
Interview quotes and photos taken from The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 3.
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