Takashi Iizuka Wants to ‘Connect’ the Sonic Universes and Create a ‘Unified Sonic Experience’ – Sonic Stadium Interview

Sonic Frontiers looks to be the most ambitious entry in the game series yet – and not just in the gameplay department. While Sonic’s latest adventure does aim to reinvent the tried-and-tested format with its free-roaming ‘open zone’ concept, SEGA is also keen to use the game as a stepping stone to connect the multiple entertainment universes of Sonic the Hedgehog together in a unified way. And it all starts with Sonic Frontiers’ story, itself a collaboration between Sonic Team and IDW Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn.

We were given an opportunity to sit down with Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team, for a brief five minutes, to discuss the implications of Flynn’s involvement with the game and what it could mean for other Sonic universes. We also asked about those darn cute Koco as well, don’t worry.

Sonic Stadium: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with the Sonic community at Gamescom, Iizuka-san. I wanted to ask you about some of the things Sonic Team has revealed over the last week — first of all, the Kocos. They’re very cute! What’s their role in Sonic Frontiers, and do you see them as limited to the Starfall Islands? Or are they a bit like Wisps, where they may return in future Sonic titles?

Takashi Iizuka: The Koco are kind of a mysterious creature that exist all on the Starfall Islands and… well, they play into the story quite a bit so I’m afraid I can’t really talk about what they are too much [laughs]. We definitely don’t want to spoil the mystery.

Sonic Stadium: That’s understandable. I’ll just totally throw away my follow up question then [laughs]! But just for argument’s sake..! You know, the fanbase has taken one look at the Koco and the first thing they’ve collectively said is, ‘hey, they kind of look like the new Chao’. And as you know, a lot of fans are always asking about Chao in future Sonic games… so! I was going to ask; are Koco really the new Chao?

Takashi Iizuka: [Laughs] Well, the Chao and Koco are of course separate beings, really… in Sonic Frontiers you’re going to find a lot of these Koco all around the different islands. And as you’re picking them up, there’s going to be ways you can power up Sonic’s abilities [depending on how many you collect]. So I guess if we were to really compare them… it’s not like Chao, which are creatures you grow and nurture and play around with. The Koco’s unique feature is that they are tied to your actual progression and the fun things you can do on the islands.

Sonic Stadium: So there’s been a lot of excitement about Ian Flynn’s involvement in crafting the story beats with Sonic Team for Sonic Frontiers. What does it mean for the direction of the Sonic game series, to have people involved with the licensed comic book series contribute to the stories of mainline games?

Takashi Iizuka: We’ve had lots of different writers involved with the Sonic series for the longest time, but in this day and age it’s really interesting as we now have Sonic in games, Sonic in comic books, Sonic in movies… we have lots of different Sonics all throughout the different entertainment mediums for fans to see. And one of the things I really wanted to do is solidify everything, get it all a little tighter in terms of a unified Sonic experience.

So what I wanted to do [with Sonic Frontiers] was make sure that, while the past comic books were its own separate thing, by having Ian Flynn – who’s doing the IDW comics – also work with us on the game… it’s kind of bringing the comics and the games a little bit closer together, in this unified Sonic experience. It’s really all about that unification, to me, and making sure we’re putting a very unified version of Sonic out there.

Sonic Stadium: That’s very interesting! Then… should we expect to see more crossovers or collaborations between the games, comics – maybe even the movies – in the future? Or do you see each of those things as very much different universes in your mind, despite collaborations like in Sonic Frontiers?

Takashi Iizuka: Well I think that… even with the [Sonic] Netflix TV show that’s going to be on air soon and the [IDW] comic series… it’s always best having one universe [to connect them]. For the movies though, it’s a little too hard to reasonably incorporate this realistic-looking Sonic, with real human being friends and real planet Earth… all of those things are a bit difficult to put into the games [laughs]! But if we’re talking about the comics, the Netflix series and the games? Moving forward, the idea of trying to get all of them into the same universe – or even if it’s not exactly the same universe, at least having them feel like they’re part of a connected universe – is something that’s very important to us.

Sonic Stadium: Talking about the new trailer you guys showed this past week at Gamescom… there was the reveal of some new biomes, like a desert landscape and a tropical island. All of the open zones that we’ve seen so far seem more realistic in visual design than you’d expect to see in traditional Sonic games. Is that an intentional design choice? And do you see the Cyberspace stages as a way of perhaps being a little more expressive, with some more unrealistic stages environments like you’d see in say, Green Hill Zone?

Takashi Iizuka: The Starfall Islands is this mysterious new location that neither Sonic or Eggman have ever been to, so the team really wanted to go and build a mysterious new environment for them to explore, and introduce players to this new kind of world. When we talk about Cyberspace, these are environments that are created from Sonic’s memories, which have been put together in this digital format. So, these stages are all places Sonic has been to before, that he does have some memory of – but it’s being constructed in this, I guess you could say, ‘unreal’ way… through this digital recreation of his memories. That’s really the difference between the real world and the Cyberspace as you see it in Sonic Frontiers.

Sonic Stadium: One last question before I go – I recently watched the livestream for SEGA Japan’s Mega Drive Mini II console, and one of the announcements was that M2 had fully completed a game called ‘Devi & Pii’…

Takashi Iizuka: Oh, Devi and Pii [laughs]!

Sonic Stadium: I understand that – correct me if I’m wrong – this was a game that you designed? And I don’t think it ever got released. How does it make you feel that this game is finally completed and is able to be played by fans?

Takashi Iizuka: When I first heard that they were going to put the game in, I was like, “Wait, you can’t… are you kidding me? Do you guys even have the game data!?” This is going back 30 years ago! So I didn’t even believe it was real at first, I thought they were pulling a prank on me! But the team said, ‘No, we actually do still have the data at SEGA, and we are going to have it put into the final product’.

So… it’s kind of a mixed feeling, because obviously I’m very pleased that this game I created is finally going to see the light of day. But at the same time, it’s something I did when I first joined SEGA over 30 years ago.

Sonic Stadium: Before even Sonic 3!

Takashi Iizuka: [Laughs] Before even Sonic 3! And you know, it never saw the light of day back then, so you gotta wonder… But now it’s going to actually be played by consumers! How are they going to feel and react about this game I created 30 years ago..? So, it’s kind of this mixed bag of emotions for me – I’m really happy, but also a little curious and maybe a bit worried about how people are going to take to it!

Sonic Stadium: I guess you didn’t have much in the way of input with this completed version? M2 just put it all together based on untouched 30 year old data?

Takashi Iizuka: Yeah, I haven’t done anything to it, they just took the old data and now it’s playable. You know… that game was only created by two people, including myself!

Sonic Stadium: Really? Wow!

Takashi Iizuka: Yeah! I was the game designer, and also the graphic designer! The other person did all the programming.

Sonic Stadium: Well, I’m sure the fans will really love Devi & Pii when they finally get their hands on a Mega Drive Mini II. Thank you for talking to us about your memories and for giving us some more insight into Sonic Frontiers, Iizuka-san. We really appreciate your time!

Takashi Iizuka: Thank you!

Our preview of Sonic Frontiers from the Gamescom 2022 show will be published on Sonic Stadium soon.

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Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.

6 Comments

  1. Amazing interview guys, while limited you managed to get quite a few significant things out of Iizuka.

    Glad to know the reused level design thing was 100% intentional and people can stop calling Sonic Team lazy now.

  2. Did… did you think people thought they reused levels accidentally? Like they just mistyped some code and Green Hill Zone showed up even when they were trying to make something else and they just couldn’t remove it?

    No one thought that reusing levels and assets was “unintentional”, people are just tired of it at this point. Chemical Plant has shown up in nearly every Sonic game released since Generations came out over 10 years ago for example. I think the last time Green Hill was exciting to see and not groan inducing from how overused it is was when it was unlockable in SA2. If they absolutely must recycle old levels for some plot reason (which they don’t have to, they are in charge of the plot too and could just make everything new), then they should at least start changing up what levels appear. We haven’t seen Mystic Cave in 3D or any level from Sonic CD except a small highway from Stardust Speedway. SA1 & 2 are straight up retro at this point but you basically never see the levels from those getting reused. I’d love a new take on Windy Valley or Pumpkin Hill. And then you also have all the Game Gear games, 3D Blast, Chaotix, even Spinball and SegaSonic Arcade seem to be back in canon if Mania and Origins are anything to go by, but none of the levels in those games have ever gotten remade in any capacity.

  3. ‘m honestly not completely for that. There’s pros and cons to this, but when I see that’s what they want to do all I can think about is the blandness that is the Mario franchise. Yes the games are good, but you don’t get much more than that.

    The Boom cartoon was so fun because it got to do its own thing and develop.

    Comic books need their own room to breathe or they just become stale; that’s why there’s been so many new characters put into the IDW series because they don’t have the restrictions the main cast does. I just really want to see this franchise move in a positive direction and capitalize on the success the movies are bringing in.

  4. I don’t think Iizuka means that they are going to make all the other continuities (IDW, Prime and possibly earlier Sonic media such as Boom) canon or something like that. More like that they are trying to make them all feel (emphasis on feel) connected, as in they will all be in the same universe but still be different continuities.

  5. Some universes just need to be their own thing.

    You wouldn’t put Sonic in the same universe with Tom, Scratch, Grounder, Sally, Snively, Chris Thorndyke, Julie-Su (despite Penders), Anton Verucca, Caliburn, Wes Weasley, Bartleby, Relic, Razor, Lyric, Comedy Chimp, Tangle, Whisper, Old Man Owl, Shade, and Mephiles.

    At this point, I just want this year to end, before Iizuka launches even more frustrating directions at us that can never work.

    As for me, I’ve been busy these past few years trying to fix nearly every game in the Sonic series with nothing but Notepad, Powerpoint, and Excel at my disposal (you know, the work of one guy who has no experience in game development or connections with actual developers, but has ideas for significant improvement and the desire to actually fix these games).

    It’s extremely hard to keep up with Iizuka and his BS, whatever Flynn decides to do, AND my demanding/sucky day job as a cart attendant, while trying to figure out how to fix these games.

    Seriously though, I really hope this statement is just baseless fluff on his end.

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