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Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara's Largely Unrecognized Contribution to Sonic

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Gryson, Aug 22, 2022.

  1. Gryson


    I've compiled the quotes I could find about Jina Ishiwatari Tsukahara's work on Sonic the Hedgehog. I think this info is mostly unknown in English.

    She spent an entire year drawing and re-drawing the graphics for Green Hill Zone until they satisfied Ohshima and his vision.

    Tsukahara: I joined Sega out of a desire to see my own art appearing on the TV screen. Being involved in game development is a way to realize that desire. I hate losing and I also hate the words “I can’t do it.” For me, giving up is the same as losing all hope.

    Naka: Ishiwatari [Tsukahara] was a fresh university graduate who joined us partway through as a designer. She spent an entire year making Green Hill Zone. After that, she spent half a year making the remaining stages.

    Ohshima: I drew all of the concept art for the stages… but it was difficult to convey my vision. I asked the background designer [Tsukahara] to re-draw the graphics countless times until they were finally complete.

    Naka: Ishiwatari [Tsukahara] would work until midnight and then come back the next morning at 6:00am. She worked longer hours than those of us who were sleeping overnight at the office.

    Tsukahara: The Sonic music was constantly floating around in my head. But oddly enough, I never felt like the work was too difficult. I knew I was making something interesting, and I had confidence in myself because I was making the game I wanted to make.


    Yuji Naka interview, Beep21
    Naoto Ohshima interview, Beep21
    Harmony, vol. 131
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  2. Snowbound


    Thanks for such an informative post! I’d be very interested to gain specific insight on how Ishiwatari finally bridged the gap between Ohshima’s vision for GHZ and her pixel art.
  3. Gryson


    Ohshima did offer a bit more of an explanation: "I drew all of the concept art for the stages. I really wanted it to be like this image I had. I was going for a unified worldview based on "CG-like solid things", but when it came to realizing this in the game's art, it was difficult to convey my vision. I asked the background designer [Tsukahara] to re-draw the graphics countless times until they were finally complete."

    One of the crazy things about spending a whole year on Green Hill Zone is that, prior to that, the entire development cycle for other Mega Drive / Sega consumer games had been ~5 months.
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  4. Overlord


    Now playable in Smash Bros Ultimate Moderator
    Long-term happiness
    In fairness, they've sure got the usage out of it! =P
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  5. OKei


    OKeijiDragon Member
    Tsukahara-san may very well have been responsible for the most famous level in not just the Sonic franchise, but probably in all of Sega's lineage. Green Hill is likely that one level you think of when you think of Sega in more modern times. She really did made a more significant impact on gaming culture than we give her credit for.

    This anecdote is the reason why we should value every developer's contributions in video games, and not just the select few who made Sonic 1 that have been on the media's spotlight for decades (I'm looking at you, Naka). Making games have always been a team effort. Because you know... that was the point of the team's namesake.

    Last edited: Aug 22, 2022
  6. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Looking at her online, she worked on Sonic 2 and Chaotix. I've never heard of her! But she's clearly had an impact on Sonic's legacy.

    I see Rieko Kodama also worked on Sonic 1 and 2.

    I find it pretty funny that the two women of Sonic Team vanished from the games' history, even if they were junior.
  7. Gryson


    Could you imagine being assigned to workaholic Yuji Naka's team right after joining the company?

    I've been reading Naka's interviews recently and some of the stuff is just crazy.

    During Ghouls 'N Ghosts development, he and the other four developers got their own private room, and they basically camped in there for five months straight. There was a nap room next door, but they just dragged the futons from there into their own room to sleep. They basically never went home.

    He and Yu Suzuki also used to compare their overtime hours (with Suzuki usually coming out on top):
    Naka: "I've got 320 hours overtime this month." Suzuki: "Oh yeah? I've got 340."

    But Naka infers this kind of extreme work was what it took to make Sega successful, especially early on when they didn't have many developers.
  8. The KKM

    The KKM

    Welcome to the nExt level Member
    IDW's Sonic the Hedgehog comic books
    Rieko Kodama is well remembered by dedicated fans at least, even if probably primarily by her pseudonym of Phoenix Rie.

    Naka and Suzuki's workaholic culture just reminds me of that comic manga author Shigeru Mizuki wrote about meeting Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori one time and them boasting of how little they slept- and how both of them died decades before him. (spoiled for size)
  9. Gryson


    Does anyone know what Rieko Kodama's contributions to Sonic were?

    Naka said that Tsukahara was in charge of the backgrounds.

    Here's a quote from Kodama:

    “Mr. Ohshima [lead character designer] designed everything, from the setting to the concept art. I helped express his designs as pixel art.”

    I wonder if she was acting as a general assistant, helping with backgrounds and/or characters as needed. She's credited with working on several other games at the time, unlike other members of the team.
  10. Prototype


    I would be interested in hearing more from Tsukahara. Seems like a fascinating person who'd have fascinating dev stories! Did she also do background art on S2/Chaotix?

    I'd like to think that a lot of that year in GHZ's BG development probably went to figuring out the mathematics for curves and trying to make it all function in 128x128 blocks. If it was anything like modern art development, the 128x128 templates would have been made first and then prettied up and finalized, with the rest of the level work being easier to do now that the templates have been figured out.