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[PAX East] EGM Interview:
Jet Set Radio Brand Manager Ben Harborne

Posted on April 10, 2012 AT 11:52pm

While it may have been Sega’s final home console, the Dreamcast played host to one of the most creative eras the Japanese publisher has ever seen. From those efforts came Jet Set Radio—a hip, stylish, genre-bending game about young Japanese punks on powered rollerblades battling rival street gangs and tagging graffiti around the city.

At PAX East 2012, I got the chance to get a very brief hands-on with the game. I had loved the game’s original release on the Dreamcast—back when it was re-named Jet Grind Radio—and I had always hoped that Sega would attempt to bring it back as part of their efforts to resurrect the best games the Dreamcast had to offer.

How is it shaping up? So far, so good. What Sega had to show was still unfinished—and my time with it quick—but it feels like another sign of Sega’s recent efforts to kick their emulation and re-release efforts into overdrive.

After giving Gum a quick spin in the game, I spoke to Sega’s Ben Harborne, Brand Manager for Jet Set Radio.

EGM: So, I was a big Dreamcast person back in the day. Were you a big Dreamcast fan at all? I see you’re wearing a Dreamcast hoodie here.

Harborne: This hoodie is actually from last year, when we started releasing our first four Dreamcast re-releases. We had Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5 Part 2, and Sega Bass Fishing. Jet Set Radio is the fifth in our line-up, and it’s going to be coming out this Summer. We’re pretty excited about it here at Sega.

EGM: As much as I loved the Dreamcast, and as much as I respect all of those other games that you mentioned—for me, this was the Dreamcast game that I was really waiting for. I know a lot of Sega fans felt the same way, and there was huge excitement when the game was announced for re-release. How did the plans to bring back Jet Set Radio start, and how was it decided to do it now?

Harborne: It was a combination of factors. Once we first started announcing the Dreamcast re-releases—I think it was at E3 in 2010—we began receiving a lot of requests even at that point for Jet Set Radio, along with a few other games. So, we took that advice, and internally, a lot of people were really behind the game. We were able to find the source code and the right development team, and I guess all of the stars aligned. Now, it’s Jet Set Radio‘s time to shine.

EGM: Lately, Sega has really been kicking ass in terms of bringing back their own games. You had Sonic CD—and how fantastic that turned out—and coming up you have the Monster World collection, and some other things that have been officially or unofficially announced. For Jet Set Radio, the first thing I noticed was that the game is now widescreen—which many of us weren’t expecting at all. Can you speak at all to the efforts going on technically in bringing this game back?

Harborne: I’m not too familiar with the technical side, but I do know that we’ve got a very talented group of people who were able to crack open the source code. So this widescreen is actually true widescreen—there’s no cropping. We’ve actually expanded the camera in order to fill up the entire screen. They’ve been able to up-res some of the visuals, clear it up, and because of the visual style—it was one of the first cell-shaded games, in fact the first announced and shown at E3 in 1999—it’s very easy to make the transition into modern-day HD graphics.

EGM:  When Jet Set Radio  originally came to America, it had two levels added to it beyond the Japanese release. Are those stages in this new version?

Harborne: Hell yeah. We’ve got Grind City, so you can play the Bantam Street and Grind Square levels.

EGM: So then, of course, there is the question of music. I believe you said that there’s 70% of the Japanese music in the game. How important do you feel music is to the game, and how important was it to get as much of that original soundtrack as you could?

Harborne: Oh, music is one of the most important aspects of this game. I think if you make comparisons, Steven Spielberg said that music is 50% of a movie. So, we know that’s very important. We haven’t added any new songs, and we’re working very hard. We already have 70% of the Japanese soundtrack, and we’re trying to get more—which includes Jurassic 5, Rob Zombie, as well as the remainder of the Japanese soundtrack and the European soundtrack as well. Right now, we can only confirm that 70% of the Japanese soundtrack. It’s a little hard sometimes to get some of these older tracks—either the artist isn’t active anymore, or the studios or record labels no longer exist. So, it’s a bit of a wild goose chase sometimes when it comes to licensing some of these older songs.

EGM: One of the big parts of the original release of Jet Set Radio was the option for making your own graffiti. Some people have just assumed that that would be gone in the re-release, but there are still some options for making custom graffiti. Can you talk a bit about the editor that’s in place here?

Harborne: Yeah, so I think there’s a bit of confusion stemming from a few different aspects to the original graffiti editor. There is a graffiti editor in the game, where you can write your own text, paint over it, do your own freehand drawing—that is all still there. You can make graffiti that way and save it, create it in all three sizes, and then use it in the game. Some of the options we weren’t able to bring back due to platform limitations were things like downloading graffiti from the internet, or sharing it with your friends.

EGM: It’s no doubt way, way too late in the game’s development for my requesting this to do any good, but one of the things I always wanted in the original Dreamcast release of Jet Set Radio  was to somehow have a leaderboard for tracking the length of your grind. Friends and I used to have contests to see who could do the longest grind, and I’d love to see a way to bring that back with the power of leaderboards. But, that request aside, can you speak to the achievements or leaderboard options that Jet Set Radio will have?

Harborne: I can’t talk about specifics of the leaderboards just yet, but we do have leaderboards, we have achievements on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, we’ll have avatar awards and trophy awards—so yeah, we’ve got all of those things that you’ve come to expect from a modern, downloadable game.

EGM: In your time working with Jet Set Radio, what is it about the game that you think makes it continue to be as popular as it is, and why does it still have such a big cult following?

Harborne: If you think about the gaming landscape when this game first came out, there was a lot of fantasy games, war games—nothing that was really that different. So, the team that made Jet Set Radio—Smilebit—actually came up with one of the first wildly different games. It was heavily inspired by everything that was going on in Japan around the 1999~2000 period, so you’ve got a lot of vibrant colors, lots of cool music—and the music’s not just from one genre. There’s a lot of genre-bending going on, so you’ve got funk mixed with rap mixed with rock all in one song, so all of that combined with the bright visual elements just go on to make this one of the most popular games there ever was.

EGM: Then, finally, release date? Price? What can you tell us?

Harborne: We haven’t announced a specific release date yet, or a price, but we are saying that Jet Set Radio is coming out this summer. So, not too long to wait.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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