Sonic Team legend and Sonic the Hedgehog co-creator, Naoto Ohshima, spoke to Gamasutra about some of his past work, including his time directing Sonic CD and the inspiration for the blue blur’s sneakers.
After discussing NiGHTS Into Dreams, attention turned to Ohshima’s Mega CD project and the reason behind time travel – a theme he has since revisited with Blinx: The Time Sweeper on the Xbox. “I wanted a Sonic where the levels changed on you — where Sonic would go really fast, like in Back to the Future, and bang, wind up in a different place.”
Ohshima also spoke of the time-travelling cutscene, displayed whenever Sonic reaches a speed in Sonic CD that sends him to the Past or Future. The original plan was to have an instant change, following a sonic boom, but apparently it was not technically possible so the loading cutscene stuck.
Ohshima: What I really wanted to do was just have this sonic boom, with a flash, and have the level change on you instantly. We just couldn’t manage it on the hardware, though, so instead there’s that sequence that plays while it’s loading. (laughs) I kept fighting and fighting with the programmers, but they said it just wasn’t possible.
Gamasutra: I bet they probably could have done it.
Ohshima: I know! (laughs) If Naka was doing the programming, I think it could’ve been done.
Speaking of Yuji Naka, the designer also spoke of how his team worked in Japan on Sonic CD in tandem with Naka’s SEGA Technical Institute in the U.S. on Sonic 2.
We exchanged information, of course, talking about the sort of game design each of us was aiming for. But Sonic CD wasn’t Sonic 2; it was really meant to be more of a CD version of the original Sonic. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, if we had more fun making CD than they did making Sonic 2 [because we didn’t have the pressure of making a “numbered sequel”].
Sonic the Hedgehog’s original design came up again, with discussion of how the character was created for the American market leading to questions of Sonic’s iconic blue, red and white colours. Ohshima said that, as we know, the blue was to symbolise SEGA, but what was more interesting was yet another tenuous link between Michael Jackson and the blue blur. Apparently Sonic’s shoes are directly inspired by Jackson’s Bad album cover. “I also thought that red went well for a character who can run really fast, when his legs are spinning.”
Naoto Ohshima left SEGA many years ago to lead Artoon, but now has management duties at sister development studio Cavia, which recently finished Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles and is working on Square Enix’s Nier. But with this change in approach to more Western, adult-oriented games, does Oshima still have time in his life to go back to the mascot platforming gig?
Ah, well, I’m making a game like that right now. (laughs) I can’t quite talk about that yet, though. In more general terms, the game needs to be something that anyone is able to play, and it needs to have one thing or element that is brand new, that hasn’t been done before.
Shine on, you legend. Shine on.