Sonic Generations: Sonic Team Interview
Sonic Generations isn’t just a celebration of one of the games industry’s most iconic characters – it’s also a peace-offering – a way for Sega and Sonic Team to appease fans of 2D and 3D Sonic titles in one fell swoop.
It’s also shaping up rather nicely from what we’ve played so far. To get further insight into Sonic Generations and how it links with Sonic’s past, we sat down with Sonic Team’s producer Takashi Iisuka to learn more.
Before launching in the UK in 1991, how did you conceptualise the character of Sonic? How many revisions did the character and game world undergo?
The project started with the intention of researching a new type of action game rather than the character itself. At the time, the 2D platform action game was about precision so players progressed carefully through the stages.
We were thinking that if we can turn action games to become more dynamic and exhilarating, and this is when we started experimenting with curved geometry and loops.
As a result, stomping or shooting to defeat enemies did not go well with fast-running action game, and came up with the hedgehog character who can attack enemies by just jumping.
We were first thinking of a human-like character; there are many characters which were turned down.
Sonic wasn’t always a hedgehog, although his scrapped guises remain a mystery.
In 1991, how much easier was it to launch a new character and franchise like Sonic compared to today and why?
The videogame industry was still small and there weren’t as many games or genres, so I think there was more opportunity for a title to be picked up by the gaming audience. In recent years, a good game can go unnoticed if released without advertising budget.
You then launched Sonic 2 a year later, which many believe to be the greatest game in the series. What are your thoughts on the game today looking back? What did you want to achieve with the sequel at the time?
Sonic 2 had a very short development period, but was able to accomplish the 2x player feature, both co-op and battle, which was a huge hook. It wasn’t your typical sequel. Providing a series with new gameplay and new characteristic is a philosophy inherited to the current Sonic series today.
Following on from those 16-bit titles, Sonic went through many changes, the biggest being the switch to 3D. When making the original Sonic Adventure, just how difficult was it to take the action from 2D and 3D, and were you ever concerned that it might not work?
Before we started the Sonic Adventure project, there were several development teams in SEGA who have tried 3D Sonic, like the quarter-view “Sonic 3D”, and projects which were turned down.
Turning Sonic into 3D wasn’t that difficult. When we started “Sonic Adventure”, our goal was to come up with a 3D game which had the same feel as 2D Sonic game – comfortably speeding through the field by holding down the directional pad – which involved a lot trial and error.
I also remember recreating stage models. When we were able to have Sonic run through the loop for the first time in Speed Highway, everyone thought, “we now have Sonic in 3D”.
In Sonic Generations, Green Hill Zone is back and comes complete with its iconic loops.
The Sonic series had a reboot in 2006, and it was a game that certainly split opinions at launch. What was your reaction to the – at times – quite harsh critical response, and what did you learn as a developer from the way it was received?
I was in the American studio at the time and not involved in the 2006 Sonic, but I have heard that there were many difficulties because the project started before hardware’s spec was set.
The project was also not given enough development period and adjustment period, so we‘d like to take time and release high-quality games moving on.
Given the end result of the 2006 title, in what ways does Sonic Generations address the divide between fans of classic 2D Sonic and his 3D iteration?
I’m open to the fact that there are two types of fans – fans who favour the classic 2D action, and fans who favour the recent 3D action. I think it’s natural as they are two different types of action games.
In Sonic Generations, we have created a game to enjoy the history of Sonic as part of his 20th Anniversary, and we hope both the 2D fans and 3D fans would enjoy how good both gameplay styles are.
The game also takes Sonic back to classic zones from throughout the series such as Green Hill and City Escape. Can you give us an insight into other zones in the game? With so many to choose from, how did you finalise which zones would appear in the game?
Our goal was to create a game which condenses the mainstream Sonic titles of the 20 years into one title, that everyone can enjoy. We have re-imagined stages which many people have seen before – like the side scrolling Green Hill and Chemical Plant from Mega Drive, 3D action stage City Escape from the DreamCast days – with modern day graphics.
In terms of how we selected the stages, we’ve obviously conducted surveys within SEGA but also took internet poll from the audiences and researched their favourite stages.
Stages for PS3, Xbox 360 and 3DS versions are different, so it’s highly likely that your favourite stage is included in one of the versions of the game.
Ah, but does City Escape Zone still feature crappy J-pop?
What challenges do you face when creating new Sonic games when the fans who helped the franchise succeed many years ago demand 2D gaming, while younger fans want 3D? Is it as simple as just giving them both options in Generations?
2D action and 3D action are completely different genres, so I think it’s difficult to please both fans in one game. For this reason, we have released 2D-type Sonic 4: Episode 1 and the 3D type Sonic Colours last year. We will keep working to create games which both fans will be satisfied with.
Can you sum up what it is about Sonic that has appealed over the years? What can you foresee for the next 20 years of Sonic’s future, and are there any Sonic games you’ve wanted to make that you simply didn’t have time for?
I think there are multiple reasons, like the universe, gameplay, characteristics, as to why Sonic has been supported for so long. We believe that it is our mission to continue the “Sonic-way” of creating games, to meet the fans’ expectations in all aspects.
Also, we hope to develop Sonic into a character that will be loved by old and young and not just as a video game character, for 40 and 50 years. Sonic has appeared in multiple media like comics and animation series, and we hope he can expand that further.