For a generation of arcade fans, some names are synonymous with spearheading scores of the greatest video games to grace their grounds. The likes of Yu Suzuki, Toru Iwatani, and Tetsuya Mizuguchi in particular are perceived as pioneering artists – in the minds of many, they have left a lasting impact on the medium through the beloved works they made. But there are lots more who have been making invaluable contributions to the stories of companies like Sega… and one of those is Shinichi Ogasawara.

Shinichi Ogasawara, upon joining Sega in 1994.

Oga-san back then (1994)…

For those unaware, Shinichi Ogasawara (also known as Oga-Shi) is one of today’s longest-standing and prolific arcade developers. He has been involved one way or another for 30 years now (!). First an assistant on Rail Chase 2 (1994), Oga quickly forged a storied career at Sega’s famed AM3 department. He became a planner, director and senior game designer on esteemed titles such as Gunblade N.Y. (1995), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), and personal favorite Jambo! Safari (1999). After making a variety of unconventional projects for different platforms in the early 2000s at AM3 successor Hitmaker, he successfully returned to shooters with Let’s Go Jungle (2006). Oga then directed its sequel Let’s Go Island (2011), and Transformers: Human Alliance (2013).

Shinichi Ogasawara, Senior Game Designer at Sega Amusements and 3MindWave.

… and Oga-san now

Being one of Sega’s arcade game developers most skewed towards overseas-friendly experiences, it was logical that Oga would become close with their burgeoning Western research and development efforts at what was then known as Sega Amusements Europe. Just before its rebrand to Sega Amusements International, he transferred from Japan to their Cardiff, Wales base in 2014. Oga became an integral part of its in-house R&D team alongside head founder Patrick Michael; he has since been involved in nearly all of its video releases, directing development and design efforts between Japan, China, and the UK on releases like Mission: Impossible Arcade (2021). Currently, Oga holds his Senior Game Designer position both at SAI and Hong Kong-based 3MindWave, who since ATV Slam (2019) have been collaboratively responsible for some of their output.

As a long-time friend of the site, Oga-Shi has granted us this new Q&A interview centered around his career and the latest title to come out of SAI and 3MindWave, Apex Rebels. Though only conducted online (he has been busy working with 3MW), Oga fielded questions asked by myself and Ted. As part of the process, he suggested we also involve Pang Shu – 3MW’s founder and CEO – as he would provide further insight on the development and design of Apex. Both gave some very interesting tidbits that you can find below…

Interview: Shinichi Ogasawara & Pang Shu (Sega Amusements, 3MindWave)

Arcade Heroes (AH): Oga-san, you have been overseeing game design at both Sega Amusements and 3MindWave since 2021. What does this entail?

Shinichi Ogasawara (Oga): I work closely with 3MindWave team, led by Pang and also supervised by Patrick Michael from SAI, in ensuring high quality result on time.

AH: Our readers will likely be familiar with Oga and his works. Pang, can you please briefly introduce your own career in the arcade industry and the 3MindWave story?

Pang Shu (PS): My career in the field began after studying game development and graduating at university in the UK. It was during my time there that I first delved into the realm of beginner game development for the PlayStation, crafting games that ignited my own passion for the industry.

Pang Shu, co-founder and current CEO of 3MindWave (Source: 3MW)

Seeking further growth and new horizons, I moved to Japan, where I resided for five formative years. Initially starting as an intern, I had an invaluable opportunity to work as a programmer and gained crucial insights. Those transformational years allowed me to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of the Japanese development environment, absorbing culture, technique and craftsmanship that made it a global powerhouse in the gaming industries.

Returning to Hong Kong, I joined Wahlap Technology. This was a pivotal moment for my career, as I was entrusted with the responsibility of building their HK arcade development team from the ground up. I also supervised multiple third party studios from Japan and Korea in this role. My experience with them broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding of diverse gaming cultures, enabling me to fuse various elements into my own creative endeavors.

3MindWave showing off VR Agent at AWE 2023 in Europe (Source: 3MW)

Driven by a relentless pursuit of innovation and excellence, I took the leap and founded 3MindWave in Hong Kong six years ago. 3MindWave is a game development studio that strives to create new arcade experiences and dimensions of gameplay for players. 3MW’s team is composed of passionate individuals that are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of games that can be developed in the arcade industry.

Our ultimate goal at 3MindWave is to keep making high-quality video games for arcades. As the arcade industry continues to evolve, we are genuinely committed to being a part of the forefront in its ingenuity, creating thrilling and immersive worlds that can captivate people of all ages. I and 3MW hope to greatly shape the future of arcade video game design, leaving an indelible mark on the gaming landscape in the process.

AH: Your newest arcade game, Apex Rebels, has just been released exclusively by Sega Amusements in Europe and the US. How did its development begin? 

PS: The development of Apex Rebels began with Paul Williams (CEO of Sega Amusements International) approaching 3MindWave and asking to co-develop a racing game. It was to be based on a basic concept provided by Sega Amusements themselves, off the back of our previous successes with them. With the core mindsets of Sega Amusements and 3MindWave, we aimed to create an arcade racer that would be easy to play but challenging to master, ensuring an enjoyable experience for children and parents alike.

To kickstart the game development process with Ogasawara-san and Sega Amusements, we embarked on an extensive review of over 100 tracks from various classic titles. This allowed us to gather inspiration and identify key elements that would resonate with many players. Next, we moved on to the creative phase, sketching and trying out approximately 40+ tracks. Through rigorous testing and iterations, we carefully narrowed down the selection to the best 4 tracks that offered the most exciting and dynamic gameplay.

AH: What were the primary inspirations for the game’s style and design?

PS: For Apex Rebels, we took inspiration from the following titles in different aspects:

Game design: Hades, PUBG, Marvel Snap (mobile).

We enjoy roguelike game design for its replayability and strategic thinking. So, we tried to bring these elements into Apex Rebels. There is no single predetermined path or ultimate way to win a race. Players need to choose their strategy through race line selection. Each presents unique advantages and disadvantages. The varied decision-making in these would ensure that no two playthroughs are alike.

Racing games: Daytona USA, Rage Racer, OutRun 2 SP, Storm Racer G, Asphalt 9 (both mobile & PC) and OnRush (console).

We were also inspired by game design philosophies demonstrated in videos by YouTube channels, like those from Masahiro Sakurai.

AH: Where did the idea to feature visual references towards classic 90s arcade racers come from?

PS: While developing Apex Rebels, we worked very closely with SAI personnel like Patrick Michael and Ogasawara-san. From them, we were inspired to put in some classic elements of 90s titles into the game.Apex Rebels - AC7B car.

AH: One of the mechanics incorporated in the game to create some core player appeal is the unique “Aero Drift” technique. Could you explain this, Pang, and is it an intentional callback to a similar Back To The Future Part II-style easter egg, briefly featured in Indy 500 (1995) during development and testing and later revived for Daytona USA: Circuit Edition (1997) on the Saturn?

Oga: Those were not influences, but that is interesting coincidence!

PS: The original inspiration for this actually came more from the Japanese anime Future GPX Cyber Formula. Our team has always been fascinated by the similar boosting concepts featured in that series, and desired to incorporate them into the game in some way.

Aero Drift is an advanced risk-and-return technique that adds an element of high risk and return to the gameplay. By taking a shortcut using it, players have the chance to gain a significant advantage. However, if they fail to execute this properly, they risk losing a substantial amount of speed. The mechanic adds an exciting dynamic to the game, rewarding skilled players who are willing to take calculated risks.

Initially we only intended to design Aero Drift in a way that only dedicated areas could trigger it (similar to anti-gravity in Mario Kart). But as we continued to develop the game, we introduced advanced features such as steering assistance and camera adjustments, which empower players with more control and improved the accessibility of the technique.

AH: Can either of you reveal or hint if there are any secrets or hidden easter eggs that one might find in Apex Rebels? 

Oga: If you can, look closely at sponsorship boards!

PS: Please check out the AI Cars 😉

AH: As well as more conventional racetracks, Apex Rebels’ courses include Motorland Sakura, modelled after famous shrines in Japan. Was this track your idea, Oga, or Pang’s?

Oga: Though I like it, this was more Pang idea after consideration.

Pang: Yes. Initially we were only budgeted to develop a smaller game with three tracks. But after having many sketched out and performing numerous tests, we concluded that we could have one extra track with the great combinations of turns and straight route, which could give perfect balance for drifting and boosting. Hence, we decided to pull in more resources to produce four.

The four tracks ended up being Slam Circuit (Autumn theme with yellow and brown leaves), Akina Ring (Summer theme with sun-baked brown grass and beige sand), Bàak Speedway (Spring theme with green forest) and Motorland Sakura (Spring theme with pink sakura and red torii).

We wanted to have distinctive themes and seasons for the tracks, so we picked spring Sakura in Japan.
Apex Rebels, Sakura Motorland, sent to Arcade Heroes

Shinichi Ogasawara's latest work Apex Rebels, on test at Gravity MAX Wandsworth, late 2023.

Apex Rebels on location test at Gravity Max Wandsworth in late 2023 (Source: QuickSlickem)

AH: Currently, Apex Rebels is available as a Deluxe cabinet. Is there likely to be a cheaper Standard for smaller arcades down the road? 

PS: I would leave it to SAI to introduce the future plans for Apex.

AH: Could a ‘special attraction’ Super Deluxe version also appear? A certain Tokyo amusement theme park’s long-standing R&D manager notably said he enjoyed the game at IAAPA 2023…

PS: We have always wanted to do a special attraction Super Deluxe version of our works. And it’s definitely great to hear that the R&D manager enjoyed our game at IAAPA 2023!

Part of the Mission: Impossible Arcade development team

Oga-san with Mission: Impossible Arcade’s development team in early 2021 (Source: Patrick Michael)

AH: Oga, how have you been finding the development process in Hong Kong with 3MindWave, compared to Wales and Japan? 

Oga: Completely different…

Japan: Working together with fighting. Plenty time for basic R&D.

Wales (developed with Sega Shanghai): Working as the Sensei. But, I’m not a master…

3MindWave: Inspiring and brainstorming with the team, need to show/decide results quickly. It’s like a start-up company style.

AH: You have also worked alongside independent Sega veterans on a few recent occasions, such as Hiroki Nunokawa of Nuno Design on the Super Deluxe cabinet concept for Mission: Impossible Arcade (2021), and fellow former AM3 alumni Kenji Sasaki of Bitster for the game design of Drone Racing Genesis (2023). Are we likely to see more projects made in collaboration with these developers and other Sega indies?

Oga: They have been good, but I would want to focus on work with 3MindWave currently. 3MW have their own software/cabinet/production division. Their quality is excellent and innovative, and the studio has experience in the arcade industry.

AH: Besides those in development at 3MindWave and SAI, are there any games you have been spending time on playing of late?

Oga: Battlefield 2042, Nintendo NES Pinball. I gave up playing Starfield and Cyberpunk 2077 as the latter title doesn’t have Japanese in Hong Kong region…

Transformers – Oga-san’s favorite of his Sega Amusements works.

AH: Of your previous game concepts, are there any you would like to revisit most?

Jambo! Safari… I was still too young to develop an open-world game.

Let’s Go Jungle!… I would like to develop ‘Romantic comedy-action’ style further.

Target Bravo (Operation Ghost)… if possible, version up to AAA graphics for the G.H.O.S.T. team!

AH: Out of all your titles made for and with Sega Amusements since the 2010s, which is your overall favorite?

Oga: Transformers: Human Alliance.

AH: Any indication of what the future holds for you, SAI and 3MW in arcade video games? And what would you like as part of that?

Oga: Personally, I would like to ship Sega Japan titles to the Western market, and sell SAI products in Japan. I am keen on new generation products from us and others like Adrenaline Amusements. Apex Rebels and Drakons: Realm Keepers have had a significant impact on me.

SAI themselves, currently chasing “play for fun” in game development. SAI H.Q. always share location trends in Western regions, which look exciting. They know the important role of video games at amusement and entertainment facilities.

3MindWave I think will be among the best current studios of arcade R&D. I feel that they have a passion like Sega’s 1990s arcade “golden era” R&D, and together with SAI are creating a new generation for the arcade software and cabinets.

We at Arcade Heroes look forward to covering these developments to come. Thank you for your time and answers, Oga-san and Pang!

Sega Amusements and 3MindWave’s latest work, Apex Rebels, is available for locations now. Which of their games are your favorites?

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