We got the honorable chance to do an interview with the father of the unreleased Bound High, Hideyuki “Nuka” Nakanishi. He did not only design the gameplay concept, but also was lead programmer of the Virtual Boy game, we all probably cried the most tears for for being cancelled. Read on to learn everything about Bound High and the man behind the game!
HN: “Nice to meet you. You can call me Hideyuki.”
PVB: “Could you introduce yourself to our readers?”
HN: “Now, I am a faculty member of university. While I was a graduate student, I worked for a small videogame company. My first task was to help an engineer to translate the original Z80 program of Pacman to Playstation. My second task was the development of the VB game. And my last task was the development of Nintendo64 games. Despite I was a mere part-time worker, I had opportunities to develop my original ideas into consumer games luckily”
PVB: “So you developed the game concepts behind Bound High or Chameleon Twist?”
HN: “I created the original concepts of both games. I was also a programmer. As you know, such situation is nearly impossible in a large company. The company I worked for was very small and had nobody creative enough to develop an original concept.”
PVB: “I must say, very nice work Hideyuki, both original, but simple and looking like a lot of fun! Did your company, Japan System Supply, have any other concepts for a Virtual Boy game before yours?”
HN: “When nobody was in the office at midnight, I could find several plans on the desk of the company president. These plans were orthodox and seemed boring. So, I summarized the idea of Bound High on a paper and put up it on the wall of the office. I expected the president would find it the next day. Actually, he found it and started the project to develop my idea.
Programming is fun but I dislike to make a program based on the ideas of others. I am interested in designing software rather than developing it. I started programming in my high school days because I wanted to make an original videogame.”
PVB: “That’s the right spirit! Do you remember any details of JSS’s original Virtual Boy game design?”
HN: “I remember that one of the designed is a mixture of the squash game and the Atari breakout. A player hit a ball bouncing inside a cube to destroy blocks. I forget others.”
PVB: “Oh, so there were even several game designs. Well, the one you remember doesn’t sound too boring. Not as good as Bound High of course, but that would have made very good use of the Virtual Boy’s 3D capabilities, too. Was Bound High the only Virtual Boy game by Japan System Supply or were others in the works or planned while Bound High was being developed?”
HN: “Bound High was the only one. But, the president tried to start making a software for correcting eyesight. Many developers had a similar idea in that time. The stereoscopic capability of Virtual Boy is effective in trainig the muscle of eyeballs actually. However, most people believed that Virtual Boy is bad for eyes.
Because the display system of Virtual Boy is compatible with PAL and not with NTSC, I forced myself to peek into Virtual Boy screens during the whole development. The company did not provided me a PAL monitor. Although I continued to peek into the screens, my eyes did not get worse.”
PVB: “Now that’s an interesting topic, I never heard of something like that. How would it have been possible to train the eyes? It would have been revolutionary if people could have get rid of their glasses with some VB software, and hardware sales would have been much better, I guess…”
HN: “I don’t know the details. It is well known that muscle training is effective for some sort of shortsightedness but not almighty.
Another well-known shortcoming of Virtual Boy is ‘stiff shoulders’. A continuous peeking posture seems bad for health. But, I also disagree with this rumor.
Anyway, these stupid rumors had considerable negative effects on the bad sales of Virtual Boy in Japan.”
PVB: “Sadly, they surly had, and not only in Japan. After all, what do you think about the Virtual Boy in general?”
HN: “That’s excellently designed for programming games. It is very easy to control stereoscopic graphics. And the CPU is fast enough to develop 2D games. I guess Virtual Boy is the last non-portable videogame platform without any operating systems. Operating systems are sometimes obstructive to videogame programming.”
PVB: “Let’s go back to your JSS days. How did you come to JSS and their Virtual Boy project?”
HN: “When I found a graduate student of the same group was working at a game
company, I asked him to introduce myself to it. Just after I joined, the project started. Nintendo might be seeking a third party because major companies were still seeing how things were going and did not intend to participate in Virtual Boy platform.”
PVB: “Do you remember other people who worked with you on the game? How many were they and what were their tasks?”
HN: “At first, my friend did sound programming and I did all the others. I started programming the basic part of the game and designing the tile patterns of stages. After a while, one programmer joined and developed a simple graphics editor tailored for Virtual Boy and one graphics designer joined and used it to draw the tiles and enemies. After that,
my another friend joined as a music composer. So, the final team formation is two programmer, one graphics designer, and two sound engineers. And another friend helped me a little to program the affine transformation of the enemies’ crushing animation.”
PVB: “In which state was the game when it was stopped? Has it been finished? Or has the production even started? Were box, cart, and manual designs done already?”
HN: “We completed the development and also the manual design. Some packages were produced for only North America because the situation was better there. I do not know the exact number. But, no one was released before Nintendo shut down Virtual Boy platform. I was disappointed very much. But, the company got plenty of money and the good connection with Nintendo. Nintendo bought the licence of Bound High during the development. I got only a tiny money because I was just a part-time worker (ten dollar per hour).”
PVB: “I see how disappointing it must be to have completed a great game and not seeing it released. Very sad for us gamers as well. Were all the produced games destroyed or is there a slight chance that we will see one someday?”
HN: “I do not know. Maybe thrown away. I started the development just before Virtual Boy was released and it was dead when I completed the development.”
PVB: “While Bound High was still in development, were you present at a show such as Shoshinkai 1995 or E3 1996 to show your game?”
HN: “Bound High was exhibited in Shoshinkai (Famicon Space World) 1995. That was before Nintendo bought the licence. I believe Bound High was the best title under the development then. Bound High was exhibited in the ‘Symbolic Zone’ which was a special exhibition area for outstanding titles. Bound High was demonstrated by about ten Virtual Boy units. Furthermore, Yamauchi, who was the president of Nintendo, mentioned Bound High as the most promising title in his keynote speech.”
PVB: “Impressing! Did you happen to have the honor to meet Gunpei Yokoi on the show or or at some other time?”
HN: “After the show, I and some people of JSS visited the Nintendo headquarter to discuss the direction of the rest of the development. Yokoi was there because he was the head of VB platform. Nintendo had developed a famicon title ‘Sound Fantasy’ that is a music game including a sub game based on the featuring action similar to Bound High. Yokoi suggested that title as a good material to polish Bound High. This meeting is the only time I met with him.”
PVB: “As far as I know Sound Fantasy is an unreleased Super Famicon game? Too bad, but there still is another game closely related to Bound High, called Chalvo 55 for the Game Boy, which was released not long after BH was cancelled and looks like a 2D version of it. Have you been involved in the development of Chalvo 55 somehow?”
HN: “Exactly. I thought Sound Fantasy is very fun and should be released.
I was not involved in Chalvo 55 at all. The graphics designer and the programmer I mentioned played a main role in the development. Actually, that was the first original released title of the company. That was a interesting game but I felt nothing new and was not interested in.”
PVB: “Can you tell us something about how the actual development of Virtual Boy software worked?”
HN: “The most impressive (annoying) episode is about the bug I spend more than a week to found the cause. That is a common stochastic freezing bug. As you know, usually, incorrect overwriting causes that kind of bug. I checked and checked my program many times but I could not find any flaw. Finally, I found the bug was caused by the assembler code that handles multiplex interruptions. Some registers were not stored correctly and could be overwrited. I believed the code was correct and did not checked for a long time because the code was completely the same as that included in the sample program provided by Nintendo. The sample program was accidentally constructed to run correctly even if the register was overwritten. I supposed that many programmer of third parties faced a similar trouble and got angry.”
PVB: “I know, such things can drive you mad. It amazes me that Nintendo’s sample code was faulty in that way. Can you tell our readers how programming for the Virtual Boy worked in general? I mean, what steps were there between the first conception to the final evaluation by Nintendo? And how were the Development Kits used?”
HN: “At first, I programmed the core part, which is the bouncing and hitting action, very quickly to show how my concept is excellent. That is very important because such elder commanding person as the president usually appreciates a visible proof rather than an idea and a plan.
I liked the VB platform because there is no library and OS. Some sample programs were sufficient. As you know, the SDK was a simple combination of C compiler, assembler, and linker. A PC was fast enough to compile VB programs.
The final evaluation was done by the Mario Club. I thought their criteria were very orthodox. They requested more contents, e.g. stages, enemies, and actions. That’s a hard request for a small company.”
PVB: “While you were developing BH, did you know it that it might not ever get released? And what was the reason that Nintendo gave you for not releasing BH?”
HN: “Until we had finished the development, BH was planned to be released. Suddenly, Nintendo decided to close the platform after we produced the master rom. That might be a correct decision. Now, the same things happen. Some companies released HMDs for the comsumer market but did not succeeded.”
PVB: “Alright, thank you very much for this interview. Thanks for answering all our questions so patiently, Hideyuki!”
HN: “Good interview, thanks.”