Sonic co-creator erases other Sonic co-creator from old photo

An altered photograph of Sonic Team.
(Image credit: Yuji Naka)

In a bizarre move Sonic co-creator and former head of Sonic Team Yuji Naka has shared an old photograph in which his former colleague Naoto Ohshima has been blocked-out. Ohshima is regarded as the co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, having come up with the character's visual design based on a Naka-programmed tech demo featuring a ball.

Naka had posted the picture to celebrate the 26th anniversary of NiGHTS being announced, a beloved Sonic Team game that Ohshima both designed and directed. As can be seen, Ohshima has been inexpertly blocked-out of the picture, leaving only a black silhouette.

The reason is that Naka and Ohshima have had a big bust-up over the situation with Square Enix and Balan Wonderworld. Yuji Naka had taken action against the publisher, and posted an extraordinary condemnation of Square Enix following the legal settlement. Most recently he'd accused those involved of taking advantage of his illness to remove him from the production.

Ohshima comes in here because he's the head of Arzest, which co-developed Balan Wonderworld with Square Enix. And Naka blames Ohshima, along with Square Enix producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto, for sidelining him from the project by colluding together.

"How would you feel if you were suddenly removed from a game that you had worked hard on for over two years," Naka wrote yesterday, "and when you went to court, you found out that they had been talking about me behind my back in court documents and that is why I was removed from the game?"

To briefly give the context of the game itself, Balan Wonderworld was actually marketed as a game that was getting the old gang back together: after all, between them Naka and Ohshima have worked together on many landmark titles. However it launched in 2021 to very bad reviews (38% on Metacritic), and Naka left Square Enix shortly after release.

There's also the necessary history that Naka has not always been one to give credit where it's due. He has in the past minimised the role of Hirokazu Yasuhara, who designed the levels for the original Sonic games, and after Ohshima left Sega to found Artoon he was unceremoniously stripped from the Sonic Adventure DX credits.

Square Enix refused to comment on Naka's latest outburst. The longer this goes on, the less Sonic's co-creator looks like a victim, and more like a bit of a pain to work with: which is apparently what Ohshima said in the court documents, alleging Naka had "ruined" the working relationship with Arzest.

When the recriminations are flying as thick-and-fast as this, and people are stooping to the pettiest of levels like editing photographs, objective truth may be hard to find. One thing is for sure, which is it is sad to see two creators that did so much great work together now at loggerheads.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."