ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Jorg Tittel, the game director for the upcoming VR game C-Smash VRS. Tittel spoke about his longtime passion for Sega and how C-Smash VRS was made.
C-Smash BRS is a “reimagining” of Sega’s 2001 arcade game, which was eventually ported to the Sega Dreamcast. The PS VR2 game is set to release on June 23, 2023.
Tyler Treese: This is a pretty deep pull in Sega’s catalog. What was your relationship with the original Cosmic Smash? Even as a big Dreamcast fan, I wasn’t super knowledgeable about the game. I know it’s notable for being one of the few DVD-released Dreamcast games.
Jorg Tittel: If not the only one! I mean, I guess Segagaga had a cool case. I don’t know if it was a DVD case, but it was a weird one.
I’m not sure I can think of another one. So what was your relationship with the original Cosmic Smash?
I was writing for the Official Dreamcast Magazine at the time, out of New York. I was studying theater at New York University, so that’s how I was paying for my exuberant New York lifestyle — oh, wait, no, I didn’t have one. So I loved the Dreamcast and I met a lot of great developers at the time, so I would interview people like Tetsuya Mizuguchi and I also, during that process, met people like Fumito Ueda and others who were, at time, working on Ico and other stuff. So it was a really amazing time for me. I really was breaking into theater and film, but I didn’t want to admit to myself [that] the thing that I really, really loved the most was games.
Then as the Dreamcast was dying, essentially, or had been announced dead by Sega — I believe it was May, 2001 — it was a sad time, because Official Dreamcast Magazine was shutting down. I loved writing for them. Then, suddenly, I picked up an issue of Famitsu magazine, for which I’d written an article … I think I interviewed Yoshitaka Amano for that one — actually I still have his drawing for me.
So they finally published it in December 2000. Famitsu DC, which was the Dreamcast version of Famitsu, they printed this screenshot of a game called Cosmic Smash. I looked at that screenshot, and I was like, “Fuck, this is so cool.” And it said, “NAOMI” and it also said — I couldn’t read proper Japanese — and it said Dreamcast. I immediately fell in love with the visuals. When the game finally came out in 2001 and I saw that incredible DVD case and that orange disc shimmering through, I said, “This is the swan song of the Dreamcast.” And a month later, Rez came out.
So there was these two seminal, super design-driven, minimalist, pure gameplay-driven, dreamlike synesthetic games that came out at the same time from friends. So once I started diving into who was behind Cosmic Smash, it was Sega Rosso, and Sega Rosso had been founded by Kenji Sasaki, who’s now a friend. Sasaki-san was the director of Sega Rally, which Tetsuya Mizuguchi had produced. So those two absolute legends of the arcade made the two greatest final send offs to the Dreamcast. So that’s how I fell in love with it. To me, my connection to Sega goes back to 1986 when I first sat down in an OutRun cabinet in Brussels — I grew up in Brussels in Belgium.
I could barely reach the pedals with my feet at the time, I was so small. The thing was moving left and right and up and down, and the hydraulics were moving on the whole thing, and the sound was coming out. It was VR, I mean, it was a freaking VR experience. As far as I’m concerned, they really invented it with their super immersive arcade experiences. So to me, Sega and VR were always very much going hand-in-hand. Then in 1993, when I was about 15 or something, they announced their VR headset at CES, and it was going to cost $200 and it was going to be amazing. You look at photos of it now and it looks the way VR headsets look today. It was super slick and had that little turn wheel in the back to tighten the thing — it was way ahead of its time. Sega of America killed it off because some kid probably vomited and they said, “We’re going to get sued,” or something [Laugh].
I like that you mentioned Rez because that game has also found not just new life in VR, it’s been improved by VR. So what about Cosmic Smash? Obviously the aesthetic clearly lends itself and will look so cool in VR but what made that make sense for bringing it to the VR space?
With Cosmic Smash, I wanted to be inside of it — which sounds really wrong [Laugh]. But the visuals of that were both stimulating, but also relaxing. Now when you play games, so much of it is like … what would it call it? It is a bit of a toxic relationship with games because we go into worlds so we can get shot at or killed instantly and threatened. There was something about it … it felt cerebral and also pensive and also physical, at the same time.
But I wanted to be physical within this. I wanted to be physical within a puzzle game. This felt, to me, like Tron. Except in Tron, you’re trapped against your own will as Jeff Bridges was in the Tron movie. You enjoy being in this space. So for me, all this stuff really lent itself to it. I’m just sick of all the realism, so to speak, that we keep getting bombarded with in games because, ultimately, a lot of game developers feel obliged to make tech demos for Unreal or whatever. The more realistic you style a game, the more you’ll need to update it every two years with a new HD remake, because that stuff ages incredibly quickly.
With Rez … Rez is timeless. Even the original Cosmic Smash that I just loaded up on the cabinet here looks fucking fresh now. Then there are games that outlast: Ico still looks amazing to this day. Slightly pixelated due to the resolution, but the graphics don’t need any improvement. They don’t need updating and they never will. Inside will never need updating, you know? Out of This World will never need updating. Those games will forever look great because they have proper style. So I thought, “I want to make the game that will always look great in VR.” And hopefully that’s what we’re doing.
I fully agree. I find the realism is even more off-putting in VR since it is so realistic because everything that doesn’t really line up just becomes more jarring in VR, for me at least.
Yeah, because suspension of disbelief, right? To me, it’s theater. When you see people standing on a static stage that pretends to be a house, a room, a landscape, or whatever, you believe it, you know? How is it possible that theater and musicals have been able to exist for hundreds upon hundreds of years — thousands even — and we still believe in them because we don’t actually need to be spoon-fed reality. We have that shit in real life and it sucks [Laugh]. I don’t want to be reminded. So that was the thing I wanted. I wanted to make people dream, and I wanted to make people feel good, and I wanted to make them feel good not just within the world, but also within their body because I hate working out — it’s boring.
But here, you actually move your body and people start sweating pretty rapidly when they do a one-on-one game, but they don’t feel it. They feel like they’ve been on the dance floor. They feel like they’ve been partying, because the music’s so fucking good and dynamic, etc. It’s a new thing, and to me, that’s what VR should be. It should be a new thing. That’s what we’re making.
VR obviously has a big fitness world attached to it. It makes so much sense for it to be VR, but how was getting in touch with Sega? At first, I’m sure they were surprised anybody remembered Cosmic Smash, but how was it, getting this IP and being able to use it?
It was a bit of a journey. To be honest, like a couple of the people that I first spoke to at Sega had never heard of the thing, even within Sega, I mean, I don’t blame them — it’s been 23 years now. They have big names and big characters and big franchises that they’re reviving very well, a lot of them, so they have bigger fish to fry. But yeah, it was a process. So first of all, I’m sure that even for them to make it worth their while for them to even dig up whatever that thing was must have been a pain, originally. But I’m pretty relentless and I’m also very passionate and I think, as my now-friends at Sega all gradually realized where I came from, what my knowledge of their company is, how old my love for it is, and also my understanding for what makes a Sega game a Sega game.
I was really chuffed when one of their seniors, who’s been with the company for 30 years, at the end of a meeting a few months ago said to me, “Thank you so much for bringing back the spirit of Sega.” And I was like, “Alright, I can live with that. This is good.” Because they do, as a company — for me at least — sort of embody a spirit of joy and of travel, actually. I feel like when I play their games, I’m traveling somewhere. I feel like I’m escaping. I feel like I’m traveling. We have Yu Suzuki to thank for that because I think it was really him who took the competitive bullshit out of games and made you feel like you had your fate in your own hands, such as OutRun.
You’re racing yourself. That’s it. And how thrilling is that? You can load that game up on a 3DS or on Switch — that beautiful port that M2 did for Switch — and that fricking game, man … it’s just perfect, to this day. Because you’re dreaming. Those Sega blue skies … that feeling, to me, is unmatched. No other company has as consistently pursued that as they have. What made the Dreamcast so special is that it wasn’t a company doing it, it was a bunch of indie developers working under Sega’s roof. So United Game Artists, which was Mizuguchi’s team, Sega Rosso, Amusement Vision — all those teams were acting like de facto indies and they were allowed to do whatever the hell they want to do as long as they love it.
That was their approach. And sure enough, maybe the Dreamcast didn’t work out as a commercial enterprise, and maybe they didn’t market it properly, or who knows what the hell the mistakes might have been. Also PlayStation was formidable and also really quite intense in their methods to market the PS2 at the time. But darn it, those games … Dreamcast invented indie games the way we know them today. It really did. We wouldn’t have games like Stray and Hi-Fi Rush.
Hi-Fi Rush, to me, feels like a Dreamcast game. It’s Jet Set Radio. It has that sort of spirit of, “Oh, let’s mash together these crazy things in a cool way. Let’s be anti-authoritative, but at the same time, let’s have fun with it. Let’s not be too serious. Let’s be slick and cool.” It’s brilliant. It’s punk, you know? Sega rocks. C-Smash VRS is not a Sega-published game. I’m publishing it myself through RapidEyeMovers. But despite this being a license-based relationship, it is a very close one nevertheless. I hope that it’ll make people in Japan and America and Europe, etc., very proud of what we’re making.
Multiplayer will make total sense with this. We’ve seen some VR sports games be very compelling in that one-on-one experience in VR. So what kind of solo modes will C-Smash VRS have? Multiplayer is pretty self-explanatory, but how will the solo modes work?
So there’s going to be a solo journey mode, which will take you on a pretty epic trip through to the edge of space and time [Laugh]. We’ve built on the original single-player mode, which took you on this … they had the cosmic bus going through some weird bus tunnel system thing, which was very abstract and really cool, but we took it a bit further. Since it’s called Cosmic Smash, or C-Smash, in our case, we wanted you to explore the star system a bit. So we’re going to make you travel to some pretty crazy distant, gorgeous places. Things will happen. There’s no story per se, but there is a world and there’s a philosophy and there’s a spirit behind the game that, as you play, will start unfolding around your eyes, or around your whole body for that matter. It’s pretty thrilling.
I’ve been so impressed with the PlayStation VR2 headset. I love all the feedback, which has really made a difference. I love the actual headset having some feedback to it along with the controllers. So how will C-Smash VRS take advantage of everything that PS VR2 has to offer?
We’re taking advantage of pretty much everything except for eye-tracking, which is unnecessary for our game. Other than that, consider everything supported in a really cool, subtle, and non-annoying way.
What lessons have the team learned from other multiplayer VR experiences that you’ve been able to address here? A lot of times, it’s more difficult than it should be to find other players and we see the lifespan drop really, really quickly. So what has been your approach to making the online accessible? I know there’s co-op and competitive play.
So with Ryan Bousfield, the creative director of Wolf & Wood Interactive Limited, who are the amazing developers behind the game … and we’re working with Cory Schmitz and Archetype on the graphic design and UI with Art Director Rob Davis. These amazing musicians with Ken Ishii and with Danalogue from “The Comet is Coming” and “Soccer 96.” I mean, the music is incredible. You’ll see — the music is insane. It’s insane. I’ve been wanting to make a soundtrack for a game that feels as as great as R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 did back in the day, you know? Music that you would actually listen to in your car, roll the windows down, and not feel like a nerd, you know? [Laugh]. “I’m listening to my Fortnite theme song.” You couldn’t do that.
We wanted to have a meaningful online exchange with people, and that is one-on-one, first of all. Also, while while a lot of companies build things based on growth, and that’s their most important thing, we wanted to make sure that everything just feels good. If, indeed, playing this game with another person feels meaningful and fun and personal and joyful, whether you’re playing versus or co-op — because you’ll be able to play various modes in co-op as well — then you have a game that can organically either stay the same scale or grow as the numbers of players grow with it.
So we want to keep it real. The other thing that distinguishes us from a lot of games that have, unfortunately, fallen prey to empty servers or whatever is that our game has a profound single-player element to it. So even if in the completely impossible chance of people not wanting to play our game against or with another player in the future, there will be a gorgeous single-player mode and a variety of gorgeous single-player modes, including an infinity mode, which is like a fitness mode, which you can play forever and ever and ever and ever. Where the music is dynamically changing and the environment’s changing around you dynamically as you do it. So that’s how we’ve prepared for that. We just want to keep things real. We’re going to keep things personal, we’re going to keep things beautiful, and not be some sort of service game.