We’re less than two weeks away until Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice launches on the Nintendo 3DS, and new information and footage from the game is dropping nearly by the day. That said, there is still an air of uncertainty and apprehension surrounding the new Sonic Boom-branded game, despite its one year-delay and SEGA’s promise to uphold a higher standard of quality in all of their games.
This scrutiny isn’t without grounds and neither is it be unexpected, considering the disastrous launch of Big Red Button’s Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric on Wii U, which was received poorly by critics, and Sanzaru Games’ Shattered Crystal on 3DS, which didn’t live up to fans’ expectations for a 2D Sonic game. With Sanzaru once again at the helm, however, the team aimed to improve on Fire & Ice where Shattered Crystal went wrong, as the game’s creative director Mat Kraemer explains in an interview with GameSpot.
GameSpot: Could you speak a little about what you changed from the first Sonic Boom?
Mat Kraemer: One of the biggest changes is the level design. It’s a lot more streamlined, it’s a lot more made for speed. A lot of the stages that you see here are built for combo-ing. You can literally combo stages from the start all the way to the end. It was something that we didn’t have in the first game, it was more maze-like where you had progression where you would get to a dead-end and then you would have to go back and go at a different pace.
And there’s no progression blockers in the game. In the original game, you would play a stage, and then you couldn’t move forward because you had to collect these badges. We removed those gates so you can freely move forward at your will.
GS: What were some other main points of feedback you got from the last game that you really took to heart?
Kraemer: The backtracking people really didn’t like; and just generally the sense of speed, the sense of combo-ing. The last game–I would [compare] it more to a Sonic game that has more of a maze-style layout. Like a labyrinth, you get to a dead-end and then you turn back. [in Fire and Ice], the path from A to B is a lot more straightforward.
GS: What was it like working on a series as storied and popular as Sonic?
Kraemer: It’s been fantastic… To get the opportunity to work on Sonic, I mean, we grew up with Sonic, and it’s really an honor.
The first game kind of fell onto our lap. We’re not going to pass it up, it’s Sonic. I don’t care what time frame or situation we have, it’s Sonic, we have to do it. But I wish we had a lot more time to give that game the love that it needed. But I feel that we did that here with this [new game], and the team is really proud of it.
GS: So this is making good on a lot of the stuff you wanted to do with the last one?
Kraemer: Yeah, and that’s something we always do, especially me. I read every single comment–I go on all the forums, I go on NeoGAF… but you have to take things with a grain of salt, especially with Sonic. Everyone’s going to hate on Sonic and have something to say, but you look at those comments constructively. I take all the information and granularly break it down, and [say], “People really didn’t like that feature, or they really wanted this,” and those are the things you focus on.
Most times when you finish a game, you don’t have much time when the game is completely together to keep playing it and [think about what needs to be improved]. With this game, we had that extra time, and we did a lot of play tests… and we could see people literally play the game as a whole and see where people got stuck and rectify those.
GS: You mentioned that you wanted to make this accessible to everyone. Were there instances that you ran into where you were developing something and you had to tone it back?
Kraemer: Oh yeah. The original races when you’re racing against bots were way too hard. We toned those back a lot and did a lot of rubber-banding.
And the boss fights–some of those we had to tone back. And it’s surprising when you go into those playlists because you always try to get a really wide [demographic]. And you know who’s the better players? The younger kids. And the old dudes over there are saying, “Man, this is too hard for me!”
I think that a lot of the really difficult things are best left as optional. You don’t have to do them, but for the players that like the challenge, that’s there for them.
I think making it easier is better.
GS: Are there some other ways you’re tying this into the classic games, as well as the animated series?
Kraemer: A lot of the motion, a lot of the combo-ing, the designs of the enemies, the characters—some of those were directly designed by Sega Japan. We went back and forth on character sketches and what they look like. I would go through my Sonic Bible and say, “Oh this guy is like a rhino…” and then we’d go back and forth.
GS: Do you actually have a Sonic Bible?
Kraemer: We do have a Sonic Bible. There is a Sonic Bible. And it’s very helpful, because you want it to be close to the animated series, but you want it to be recognizable to those fans [of classic games] as well.
GS: What are some little things about Fire and Ice that people might not recognize immediately, but would appreciate?
Kraemer: Definitely the attention to the props, the textures, character motion, character animations, poses at the end of the scenes, how [Sonic] stands, how their eyelids are, where their faces are positioned, all those things are little details that we work on to make it feel like Sonic. You want him to be in the right pose, you want him to act a certain way.
In the interview, Mat Kraemer also spoke on Sanzaru Games’ history with the Sly Cooper series and his take on the rise of virtual reality gaming. You can read more on that here!
Stay tuned for our TSS review of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice once it launches in North America on September 27th, and Europe on September 30th. Did Kraemer’s words help dispel some of your doubts, or are you remaining cautious? Sound off in the comments below!