Summer of Sonic 2011: Sonic Team on Stage

The Summer of Sonic may have taken place three weeks ago now but that’s not the end of my coverage of the event. Quite a lot happened on the day after the Stadium’s exclusive interview with Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka. If by some small chance you missed it click here and drink it in. if you’re already familiar with that then I suppose you should read on. A lot happened on the Summer of Sonic stage but few things could live up to Naka-sand and Iizuka-san appearing on stage for a rather lengthy chat with one Mr Joscelyne. Well if didn’t feel very long listening to it on the show floor but let me tell you it felt a hell of a long longer writing this up for you all! But enough of my moaning, here is the first stage interview transcribed in full.

Svend Joscelyne: Can you briefly describe how you both got into the games industry and what it was that really got you excited about working with video games?

Yuji Naka: I joined the games industry when I was 18 years old and the reason I joined was probably the same as everybody else; I really liked games! At the time I used to go to game centres (arcades) a lot and I really wanted to create the games I saw in them. I happened to take an interview with SEGA and they accepted my interview. I’ve now been in the industry 27 years and I’ve really enjoyed my time.

Takashi Iizuka: From a young age as a child I really enjoyed drawing and I used to draw Manga and staple the pages together and create my own little Manga book. So I really enjoyed coming up with new stories and the whole process of creating a Manga. I actually moved away from this for a time and during University I thought to myself I want to be in a job where I’m creating something and a story. That’s why I joined the games industry.

SJ: So Takashi Iizuka, how would you say it’s different to create games between modern and classic Sonic titles given that you’ve been involved in level design in Sonic 3 & Knuckles and also that you’ve been in charge of the modern games.

TI: Classic Sonic was first on Megadrive and we saw Sonic 1,2 and 3 in the Classic Sonic style. With that you just used the d-pad and a single button so it was very accessible and simple to pick up and play and get a taste of what Sonic is all about. With modern Sonic it’s all about the high speed action and the level design is created in such a way to allow the smooth and speedy sensation you are intended to get from the modern style Sonic. I think this is really Unique to Sonic, it’s the only game in the world where you can get that sort of sensation of speed in platform action. I think this is something we’ve built upon for the past 20 years.

SJ: So for Mr Yuji Naka, you worked closely with a US development team for Sonic The Hedgehog 2. Given that Sonic was designed for a western audience what was your experience working with SEGA Technical Institute as opposed to a domestic development team?

YN: In Sonic 1 we were a purely Japanese development team so all the staff were Japanese. In Sonic 2 we saw a mix of this, so we had some foreign staff and some Japanese staff working together. The difference I experienced was the overseas staff had a very different way in using colour and level design. So in Sonic 2 I think you see some very unique levels and these are really good levels. They tended to be created by the overseas staff. At the moment I’m here speaking in Japanese and I’m really sorry that I’m not speaking to you in English but as you may notice my English is not native! So we had some communication issues working with the overseas staff. In Sonic 3 we saw the arrival of Iizuka-san and the return of an all Japanese development team. This was due to the issues I mentioned earlier regarding communication. If the opportunity arises and if we have the time we would really like to work with overseas staff again on a Sonic title.

SJ: It’s a good thing you mentioned Sonic The Hedgehog 3 because I was just about to get onto that. Iizuka-san you were the level designer for Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and lot of kids remember that game for one specific thing; the Carnival Nights Zone Barrel (Queue laughter from Iizuka-san and the crowd) where the only way to proceed through the level was to press up, down, up, down many times to proceed through the stage. Were you involved in that part of the level design process and do you look back on that now and think “How many kids lives did I ruin by implementing that barrel?”.

TI: The short answer is no, that wasn’t me (The crowd laughs and applauds)! The person responsible for that level is the lead level designer for Sonic 1, 2 and 3. His name is Yasuhara.

YN: I presume people found that level quite difficult to understand and I would actually be the person responsible for programming it. I am so sorry! Thank you (The crowd laughs and applauds again)!

SJ: This next question really goes to the both of you. What was the feeling within the Sonic Team that made you decide to dramatically change Sonic’s appearance back in 1998. Was there a feeling that Sonic was becoming unpopular? What was the feeling there?

YN: This change came about when the game moved on from 2D to 3D. At this time the intention was for Sonic to be a loved character for many years like Micky Mouse. Micky Mouse has been loved over the many years he’s been in existence and he’s been completely redesigned around five times. So when we regarded it like that we wanted to change Sonic to continue his appeal. I think being here after 20 years of Sonic being around makes me extremely happy that people have continued to love and support Sonic.

TI: Those are the reasons that Naka-san mentioned earlier but from a technical point of view classic Sonic’s design was created so that he’d be seen from the side in 2D. So when we created the game in 3D we had to have the camera angle from behind Sonic. If we carried along with the old design his arms and legs would have been very difficult to see because the old design was only created to be seen from the side in 2D. So that is a technical reason why we decided to change the design.

SJ: and for Naka-san, when Sonic The Hedgehog 1 was released for the SEGA Megadrive, SEGA Japan and SEGA America and even SEGA Europe had their own different back-story for the reason for Sonic The Hedgehogs existence. Do you know much about the western storyline that SEGA created and what do you think about it?

YN: To be honest I’m quite surprised to hear this. I didn’t know there was such a big gap in the storyline between the Japanese Sonic The Hedgehog and the Western Sonic The Hedgehog. Were they that different?

SJ: There was a whole storyline that SEGA created on the American side that involved how Sonic went from a brown hedgehog to a blue hedgehog and involved a scientist called Dr Ovi Kintobor transforming into what we know as Dr Robotnik using the power of the chaos emeralds to turn him into a negative character. I believe it was slightly different to the Japanese back-story.

YN: I’m very surprised to hear this story, where is this written?

(The crowd laughs)

SJ: SEGA of America and SEGA Europe wrote it back in 1991! It’s not in game, it’s within comics, marketing, press and PR materials.

(Svend addresses the crowd)

SJ: You guys have heard the back story, right?

(The crowd replies with a unified “Yeah!”)

SJ: It exists, I didn’t make it up.

YN: Aaaaah! Back in the early days we didn’t have the internet or e-mail so communicating globally was extremely difficult. we were having to communicate over the telephone and with faxes so it was really hard to control what was going on globally and to keep a unified direction. Looking back now hearing this after 20 years I can laugh about it and think it’s great that this has happened. I think if I’d heard about it at the time I would have been very angry!

(The crowd laughs and applauds)

SJ: I’m glad I brought it up now and not back then! So Iizuka-san, it’s the 20th anniversary of Sonic The Hedgehog but it’s also the 10th anniversary of Shadow The Hedgehog (Queue cheering from the crowd!). We have some fans here! Clearly when you directed Sonic Adventure 2 he was only intended for that one game but were you surprised as to how popular he’d become?

TI: The Shadow character idea was something that we all had in our minds in the dev team when we were creating the first Sonic Adventure. When creating that game we had the intention of creating a rival character for Sonic Adventure 2 and we didn’t really talk about it that much but we were all thinking about it. When we were working on Sonic Adventure 2 we all did a bit of brainstorming and we brought this to the table and prepared the storyline for the Dark side and the Hero side. As you know in the story Shadow was only meant to appear in that single title. But because of the reaction of the fans we decided to bring him back in Sonic Heroes and eventually you saw him in his own title.

(The crowd responds with a mix of cheers and boos)

SJ: Don’t boo Shadow, he deserves some love too! That’s why he’s so angry. In some ways, well actually in many ways, Sonic has inspired a generation of, shall we say copycat animal mascots; Bubsy the Bobcat, Crash Bandicoot, Aero the Acrobat. Have you guys ever played any of those games and what do you think of them?

(As the translator repeats the question in Japanese Yuji Naka looks confused and asks for the names of the characters a second time. The crowd is amused).

YN: Of the those games I’ve only actually played Crash Bandicoot. When I was creating Sonic 2, my boss was called Mark Cerny and this person moved on from the team half way into development. He’s actually the guy responsible for creating Crash Bandicoot. As he worked really closely with us he could see the flow of how we created Sonic and what Sonic was all about so you may draw some similarities between these games. For example as he saw us placing rings and really putting a lot of effort and creativity in placing them in their locations I heard from him that he was putting a lot of effort into placing apples all over his levels as well.

And with that both Naka-san and Iizuka-san would exit the stage to a round of applause. Come back later though for the second stage interview where they would both field questions submitted by the fans, with the added bonus of Jun Senoue joining them.

TSS Exclusive Interviews: Yuji Naka & Takashi Iizuka

Meeting your heroes is a surreal thing indeed. It’s even more surreal if it’s at an event celebrating their main character’s 20th anniversary. And to think a few weeks ago I didn’t know any of this would happen at all… Continue reading TSS Exclusive Interviews: Yuji Naka & Takashi Iizuka

At SOS 2011 Get Ready To Rock… With JULIEN-K!

Consider me T-Bird in disguise for this one…

Summer of Sonic is delighted to announce alternative electronic rock act Julien-K will be appearing as part of the amazing line up at this year’s Summer of Sonic convention! Julien-K defined the sound of Team Dark with their fan-favourite track “This Machine” for Sonic Heroes, and returned a few years later to perform the song “Waking Up” which was featured on the soundtrack to 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog title. The band have since worked on a whole host of projects including the soundtrack to the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen video game, released their first album Death to Analogue and have collaborated with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington on his solo project Dead by Sunrise.

Ryan Shuck, Amir Derakh, Elias Andra and and Anthony “Fu” Valcic will be joining us during their current European tour to perform a music set as part of the afternoon’s entertainment on the main stage. The band will also be appearing later in the afternoon for a meet and greet session to give all you boys and girls the opportunity to meet the band in person as well as grab a few autographs if you wish.

The band will also be playing the London Borderline on the 22nd of June to promote their upcoming album We’re Here With You, so if you’re in the neighborhood go and check them out!

Get ready to rock at this month – Summer of Sonic is going to be a scorcher!

Nigel Kitching to Return to Summer of Sonic

The Summer of Sonic convention has always been an awesome place to chill out with the legendary writers and artists behind the Sonic the Comic series, and this year is no exception. Nigel Kitching will be attending SoS this year to help celebrate the blue blur’s 20th Anniversary in style.

From the Summer of Sonic website:

Licensed by SEGA and published by Egmont Fleetway, Sonic the Comic was the perfect (and cheap!) way for British fans of the blue blur to get their dose of hedgehog antics. While initial issues back in 1993 played it safe with the license and offered one-issue strips, Kitching was responsible for spicing up the comic’s plot and giving the book its own unique flavour.

The result was a two-part story (Dr. Robotnik sending Sonic the Hedgehog into the near-future and taking over Mobius in his absence) that would set the foundations for an incredible alternate Sonic universe – one that wasn’t shy to veer from the convention set by the official games, but was also intimately respectful of its source material.

Nigel will be present at The Summer of Sonic 2011 to meet with fans and feature in a panel discussing his comic career and his time on Sonic the Comic.

The fun part is, so far The Summer of Sonic has exclusively announced comic stars as special guests. Could there be yet more guests in other areas that we don’t know about yet, or is this going to be an all-out Comic fest? I certainly wouldn’t place bets on the latter, if I were you…

Summer of Sonic Guest Announcement: Archie Writer Ian Flynn!

Wow! Summer of Sonic sure is shaping up to have a huge Archie comics presence this year! Quick in the wake of the announcement of Archie Sonic Comic artist Tracy Yardley on Monday, Summer of Sonic is extremely proud to announce our second Archie comics guest this year, Ian Flynn!

Flynn has been head writer for the American based comic since way back in 2005 (issue 160 to be precise!) and has rapidly gained fan popularity with his finger firmly on the pulse of the Sonic the Hedgehog community.

We look forward to seeing both Ian and Tracy at this year’s convention – in fact we can hardly maintain our excitement!

More guest news will be available very soon, so do keep checking the Summer of Sonic website!

Sonic Fans Organise Unofficial Pre-SoS Party

Looking forward to the Summer of Sonic 2011? We sure are, especially as we’re setting it all up (and we know what’s coming)! But Summer of Sonic only happens for one day – what if you want something to do before the official proceedings kick off? Well, that’s where a group of plucky fans have stepped in, as they have kick-started an unofficial pre-SoS gathering of their own.

Fellow Brits Ben and Rebecca have booked the Jetlag Sports Bar and Restaurant in London’s Marylebone district on Friday 24th June at 6pm, and anyone who might be travelling from afar to see the delights of the Summer of Sonic convention is more than welcome to attend.

At this juncture it’s worth pointing out that this event is not associated with the Summer of Sonic 2011 Convention, taking place on Saturday 25th June at Camden Centre. This event is fan-run and organised by a third party – The Sonic Stadium is simply spreading the word to all who might wish to attend.

Got that? Good. If you’re interested, check out the Facebook page here and register your interest. There’s an entry fee of £7 to get in and a minimum spend of £12.50 per guest, so have some wonga ready and enjoy a relaxed night out with some Sonic friends before the big party kicks off on Saturday.

I’m afraid you won’t see the likes of myself, T-Bird or AAUK there – we’ll be having pre-SoS parties of our own (well, I will, everyone else may be sleeping) – so we’ll see you all on the Saturday instead! Have fun!

Summer of Sonic 2011 Guest Announcement: Tracy Yardley!

With Summer of Sonic 2011’s date rapidly approaching (Less than two-and-a-half months to go now!), expect to see a whole host of announcements over on the Summer of Sonic website with regards to guests and events at this year’s convention.

To start us off, we at the Summer of Sonic can proudly announce that Archie Comic artist Tracy Yardley! will be attending this year’s convention! As many of you know Tracy has been involved with the franchise since 2005 and has become one of the most recognised artists in the comic series. We hope you are all looking forward to meeting Tracy at this year’s convention!

If you are considering coming to Summer of Sonic and this is your first convention (particularly if you are travelling from overseas), don’t forget to check out the travel guide on the SoS site for handy hints and tips on getting to the Camden Centre venue and on places to stay.

Don’t forget to keep track of guest and event anonuncements on the SoS website!