A Space Harrier interview originally featured in a 30th Anniversary book for the game has been translated by Shmuplations. In it, designer Yu Suzuki talked about some of the speed bumps hit during the game’s development, why the player ended up controlling a human character, and more.
Here are the highlights:
On the original “Harrier” referred to in the title:
Yu Suzuki, designer: “Originally, the “Harrier” in the title was going to be a French VTOL-capable fighter jet, and the planning docs indicated a game where that jet would fly around blowing up land and air targets. That’s what was handed to me when we first started. Actually, thinking back on it now, I feel like that planning doc was over 100 pages…”
“I think the person who created it was very passionate about the idea, but the problem was, the sprite functions (zooming, scaling etc) and the graphics memory were very limited back then. He wanted to do complex stuff with smoke, fire, and explosions, but the current level of hardware technology, while not awful, wasn’t capable of all he wanted. No matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t see a way to realize his plans.”
“I should reiterate: I’m not saying the planning doc was bad, it just wasn’t possible in that era.”
On using a human protagonist:
Suzuki: “So I came around in my thinking and decided I would revise the entire planning document. And the solution I found, which would allow for a nice big sprite but also minimize the number of frames required to animate it, was a human protagonist.”
“It would only take 5-6 sprite frames to animate a flying human. Then it was pointed out to me that, if the player is a flying human, then a normal/realistic world wouldn’t work. It would have to be fantastic.”
On encountering resistance from Sega, thanks to the genre:
Suzuki: “In any event, 3D shooting games were something of a taboo then. Up until Space Harrier, they had all been failures.”
“But they all crashed and burned. That’s why, when I told Sega I wanted to make a 3D shooting game, there was a lot of resistance. The reason why they were all failures, is that in a 3D game, distant objects are very small, and small objects are hard to hit.
“The biggest feature of 3D is that things in the distance look small, and things closer to you look large. We solved that problem, which is why I think Space Harrier was the first hit 3D shooting game. The way we solved it was the homing shot.
Traditional collision detection (on a pixel level) was also very difficult for the weaker CPUs of that era. Those calculations imposed a heavy burden on the CPU, so I set about trying to write a new algorithm that would calculate the hit detection as fast as possible, but I ultimately ended up coming to a different conclusion: to not calculate it at all.”
You can read the full translated interview here.
The Sega Ages version of Space Harrier will be released on Nintendo Switch.