Sometimes, even the creators of a game don’t know what’s been shown of it.
A little over thirty-one years ago, the Japanese magazine Famicon Tsushin printed screenshots of Sonic 1, taken from the game’s Tokyo Toy Show 1990 build. A few days ago, those screens resurfaced on Twitter, shortly after the magazine was posted to Archive.org, thanks to @VGDensetsu. The screenshots featured a clear look at an unused Sonic 1 beta enemy, from before badniks were created. While this technically wasn’t the first time a decent screenshot of this enemy was found (and blurry screenshots were around in the mid-2000s), it did mark the first time it garnered widespread attention from the Sonic community…and Yuji Naka!
Naka’s reaction was one of surprise: he had no memory of screenshots of the enemy ever being taken. In a tweet, roughly translated by Google, Naka said “I don’t have much memory of putting this enemy on the screen, so it may be a screen I made, but I feel like I couldn’t do that at that time, so it’s a mystery.” Obviously, the usual caveats of relying on flawed Google translations apply here.
You can check out the VGDensetsu tweet here, and you can find the scan below:
Yuji Naka was traveling between America and Japan constantly to oversee Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s development. All that time spent in the air made him want to make a game about flight. Though the idea had its roots in 1992, it wouldn’t be until after Sonic & Knuckles’ completion in late 1994 that they were able to begin development for it on SEGA’s newly released SEGA Saturn.
Sonic Team’s primary goal with NiGHTS was to get away from Sonic. They wanted a long break from the character, and desired to create something new that “contradicted” what Sonic was. Early in development, they explored military themes, before eventually setting the game in a dream world.
NiGHTS into Dreams had various influences. Its character design pulled from circus characters, and was inspired by Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystére” show in particular, which Naka saw multiple times during his many trips to America. Sonic Team also did a lot of research into dream studies, as well as the work of psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Friedrich Holtz. Jung in particular was an influence, with ideas such as his “dream archetypes” and “animus and anima” becoming central to the game. Jung’s ideas are too large for the scope of this article, but Naka does briefly touch on these elements in an interview with TRiPPY, owner of the fan site nightsintodreams.com.
NiGHTS into Dreams released in Japan on July 5, 1996, with releases following in the US on August 20 and in Europe on October 7. In the US, its release was accompanied by a $10 million advertising campaign, with the usual ads one might expect from SEGA in the 90s. Many copies of the game were sold with the SEGA Saturn 3D controller, which was developed alongside the game because Sonic Team felt the standard Saturn controller with its digital pad wasn’t accurate enough for the game. Some US copies also came with a free pillow as a pre-order bonus!
Overall, the game was a success, at least by the standards of the SEGA Saturn. It was the system’s best selling game in Japan for 1996, selling 392,000 units. In the US, it was the system’s second best selling game of all time (in terms of dollar sales), second only to Madden ’97. The game was well received by critics, and currently holds an 89% average on GameRankings. It received praise for its visuals, soundtrack, and fluid flight game play, though did receive some criticism for its graphical pop-in and not being “full 3D” like Super Mario 64.
So, we’ve gone over the game’s development and release, but the question remains for anyone unfamiliar with the game: what exactly is NiGHTS? Let’s go over that!
The title character, NiGHTS, is an androgynous being created by the game’s villain, Wizeman the Wicked. Wizeman rules the dimension known as Nightmare. He wishes to destroy Nightopia, the world of dreams, and steal the ideya (human dream energy) of dreamers in order to gather energy and open a portal to the waking world. To carry this out, he created the Nightmarens, with NiGHTS and Reala being his most powerful. But while Reala served dutifully, NiGHTS was mischievous and didn’t like taking orders or agree with Wizeman’s plans, so they rebelled. Wizeman captured NiGHTS, and imprisoned them in a structure called an ideya palace.
Notably, NiGHTS was created specifically by Sonic Team to be genderless, though he/him pronouns have historically been used. The game’s director, Takashi Iizuka, says NiGHTS’ gender is up to the player to interpret, so we’ll be using they/them for this article.
In addition to NIGHTS, the game also stars two children, Claris and Elliot. They’re having nightmares over recent real life fears, and suddenly find themselves in Nightopia, where all their ideya, save for their red ideya of courage, are stolen. This is when they meet NiGHTS, trapped inside the ideya palace. Thanks to the red ideya, which only Claris and Elliot possess, they are able to enter the ideya palace and merge with NiGHTS, freeing them for a limited time. The two children then work with NiGHTS to get their ideya back and defeat the nightmaren boss of each world.
I’ve seen people call NiGHTS everything from a platformer to a flight game, but anyone going in with those expectations will probably be confused. NIGHTS into Dreams is a essentially a side-scrolling score-attack collectathon. Each level in NiGHTS has four courses (or “mares”), each of which have an ideya to collect from something called an “ideya capture.”
To get the ideya, NiGHTS must collect 20 blue chips, fly into the ideya capture to destroy it, and then bring the ideya back to the ideya palace, which serves as the start and end of each course. Each ideya must be collected within two minutes. If the player runs out of time, NiGHTS is sent back to the ideya palace and the kid must make it back there on their own. If they are caught by the alarm egg, a large floating clock, they get a game over. Once each ideya is collected, NiGHTS then faces the level boss, which also has a two minute timer. To deal with bosses as well as smaller enemies, NiGHTS has two attacks: the drill dash and the paraloop. The drill dash sends NiGHTS drilling into enemies, while the paraloop has NiGHTS flying around an enemy and forming a “loop” with the sparkles that trail them, destroying any smaller enemies caught inside and damaging bosses.
But there’s more to this game than just gathering the ideya and killing enemies. As I said before, NiGHTS is also a score attack game. Doing the bare minimum won’t even be enough to complete the game, since players need a grade of C in all six levels to unlock the seventh level. To do that, one must understand the game’s scoring system.
Nearly everything in this game contributes to player score. Collecting blue chips, flying through rings, killing enemies, and pulling off trick combos after flying through a power ring will all get you points. You can start “links” by linking the collecting of blue chips and rings together, though you have to be fast as links are broken if NiGHTS goes a few seconds without collecting either. Destroying ideya captures quickly also nets NiGHTS a heap of points, though it is after this that the real scoring starts.
To get high scores in this game, players need to lap a course repeatedly after getting the ideya, netting every point possible until the very last second. Run out of time, and players not only lose NiGHTS, but all of their points, typically leaving them with an F grade for the course. This lends the system a certain risk/reward quality. For people like myself, this is where the game really shines.
Alongside all of this, the game also features an “a-life” system, which is essentially a precursor to chao. All of the levels in NiGHTS are populated by friendly Nightopians, who can be interacted with in limited ways. Both NiGHTS and the kids can hatch them from eggs, and NiGHTS can also hurt them with a drill dash or kill them with a paraloop. Obviously, hurting or killing them will make them fearful or angry with NiGHTS. Meanwhile, killing Nightmarens and hatching eggs will make them happy, causing them to reproduce and increase their population. Aside from giving them different behaviors, this system also changes the in-game music, which changes based on their mood. There are also some special kinds of Nightopians.
Nightopian/Nightmaren hybrids called “Mepians” can also be created when Nightmarens are knocked into Nightopians by NiGHTS. This is very hard to do on purpose, so the couple I’ve created over the years (one of which is in the above gallery) were created by accident. These Mepians will also breed, creating other Mepians as well as, eventually, King Pians (pictured above). King Pians appear purely by chance, and will construct a permanent castle within the level once created. They’ll also attack Nightmarens and any Mepians that attack Nightopians. Overall, a fairly complex system for what can effectively just be background creatures!
After its release, NiGHTS did stick around as a SEGA IP for a time. The franchise received a now-rare line of plushies, which were distributed exclusively in SEGA’s UFO Catchers, as well as a line of keychain plushies. In December of 1996, a NiGHTS story book was published exclusively in Japan, and in late 1997 the game received a six-issue series from Archie Comics featuring art from Patrick Spaziente.
The most notable NiGHTS thing to come in this period, however, was Christmas NiGHTS. Given away for free as a “sampler,” it’s probably one of the most elaborate demo discs ever made. The demo implemented a cut idea from the main game: time activated events. During most of the year, the game is just a vanilla demo of a single level, Spring Valley, but come November 26 it transforms into a Christmas-themed sequel to the original game.
Christmas NiGHTS has narrated opening and closing cutscenes, fully reskins Spring Valley into a Christmas level, introduces brand new courses in that level, and is full of presents that can be unlocked throughout the Christmas season. Everything from playable Sonic to a score attack mode to karaoke can be unlocked, as well as loads of game art and photos of merchandise. Outside of the Christmas season, it also includes winter skins for Claris and Elliot from November through to February, playable Reala on April 1, and other minor differences in the level for certain holidays.
Despite its success, Sonic Team did not immediately begin working on a sequel. Instead, they began work on another game that utilized a more advanced version of the NiGHTS engine: Burning Rangers. After finishing that game, Sonic Team would also begin developing what would eventually become Sonic Adventure. At one point, they did begin work on “Air NiGHTS,” a potential NiGHTS sequel for the Dreamcast that would have utilized motion controls, but nothing ever came of it.
Unfortunately, Balan Wonderworld didn’t have the success that Square Enix hoped for. And unfortunately for Yuji Naka, the game’s director and the former head of Sonic Team, the result has been that he is no longer working at Square Enix.
If you want to try Balan Wonderworld, the latest game from Sonic creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima, it now has a demo out on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and Steam! If you don’t have the time or just want a second opinion, we’ll have our own impressions article up later today.
Balan Wonderworld will be out on all platforms March 26. It is being published by Square Enix and co-developed by Balan Company and Arzest.
To celebrate SEGA’s 60th anniversary, the game company hosted a special public exam to test fans’ knowledge of its history. We missed it too, we’re upset about that as well. But spare a thought for Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka, who revealed that he actually had trouble knowing the answer to one particular question relating to his blue creation. And, as most things, it all comes down to a decades-old case of mistranslation.
What’s that? You want Sonic the Hedgehog news, sonny? Well, it just so happens that we’ve got a whole LIBRARY’S worth of news stories and features covering the last twenty years! We could tell you when Archie Sonic #117 hit comic store shelves… or we could tell you something interesting instead. How about the biggest Sonic stories to hit the internet since The Sonic Stadium opened its doors in 2000?
Today’s Nintendo Direct gave us some new info on Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima’s upcoming game, Balan Wonderworld. The game will be launching on March 26, 2021, and will include 12 worlds, each with their own boss fight. You progress through the game by collecting hidden trophies, which you can do with a friend through the game’s co-op mode.
You can check out the game’s new trailer for its Nintendo Switch version below:
Over the past week, the internet has been all a buzz over the first trailer for the upcoming Sonic movie. Well three people in particular have offered some words regarding the film, all of which Sonic fans should recognize.
Sonic 2 Prototypes and Betas have become the stuff of legend and folklore, with numerous tales of lost and stolen versions circulating amongst the community for years alongside of nearly 10 versions which have been discovered to date.
Even now – 27 years after the game’s debut – new and unseen development material is still surfacing, and this time courtascy of a chance meeting at a garage sale!
A few days ago, Yuji Naka tweeted pictures of himself and his kids giving a fond farewell to SEGA’s old headquarters in Otorii, Tokyo. The company moved out of the building last year, relocating to a building in Ousaki, Tokyo. According to Silconera (via Gamebiz) the building was recently sold for 5.2 billion yen. It was this that prompted Yuji Naka to visit the building. He told his kids that he developed Sonic the Hedgehog on the building’s seventh floor.
Sonic Adventure celebrates it’s 20th anniversary today after hitting screens in Japan way back in 1998.
We take a look back at what made this game one of the most enduring Sonic the Hedgehog titles, and why SA1 was such a trailblazing title in not only the series, but in video game history.
SEGA of the 90’s certainly knew how to pull out all of the stops when it came to generating a buzz around the next Sonic game, and the anticipation of what was in store brought kids and grown-ups alike to fever pitch…and the announcement of Sonic Adventure was no different.
On the 22nd of August 1998, a few thousand lucky punters were invited to attend the first presentation of Sonic Adventure at the Tokyo International Forum – an event that was luckily recorded for posterity (which you can watch below). The first foray into the world of 128-bit high speed action was introduced by Yuji Naka, entering the stage in Rock star fashion by emerging from a balloon to a face-melting guitar riff.
The event also showcased a “Making of Sonic Adventure” semi-documentary presented in a light-hearted manor, in which Sonic Team embarked on a fact-finding trip to central America to visit the Tulum Ruins, the Caribbean Sea, the Tikal Ruins of Guatemala, and Machu Pichu amongst other locations – all of which influenced stages in the game.
Some members of the Team even became ill on their research trip from altitude sickness – talk about dedication to the cause!
Sonic has undergone several redesigns in his 27 ½ year history (we won’t mention the most recent!), but most fans regard the Sonic Adventure iteration of the neon protagonists to be one of the most successful. Characters traded their pot-bellies in for coloured irises and longer limbs, allowing for some incredibly elastic posturing that would become Yuji Uekawa’s instantly recognisable stylisation which remains the norm for modern Sonic artwork to this day. While the classic design of Sonic has since been translated to 3D, the modern Sonic style allowed for a much easier transition to the medium.
Dr Eggman was given a particularly significant redesign, along with both western and eastern franchises aligning on the Japanese name (although Robotnik would be kept as the name for his grandfather in the sequel).
The story mode
Story was not an element that featured heavily in Sonic the Hedgehog games until Sonic Adventure; in fact, one of the initial ideas while the game was on the development bench was to in fact create a Sonic RPG. For Sonic Adventure to include cut scenes and a narrative was a significant change to the game, and novel in that it in itself was derived from the intertwining stories of six different protagonists (one in fact executed in very few other video games at the time).
The seventh and final story in the game, and the true conclusion only accessible once all six main stories were completed, crescendos in the final showdown with Chaos with the player taking the controls of Super Sonic – something undoubtedly cemented as one of the most memorable video game conclusions for many Sonic fans.
Sonic Adventure was also the first Sonic the hedgehog game to include voice acting (besides SEGASonic Arcade) – and while the jury might still be out on the quality of the dialogue, SA1 is definitely one of the most quotable!
Hum the Green Hill Zone theme and just about any video game fan will tell you that its from a Sonic game – indeed, the soundtrack has always been a core component of what makes a Sonic game so, well, Sonical!
While Sonic Adventure is not the first video game to include vocal tracks (Sonic CD was doing that five years before) it is one of the first to have a fully-fledged album-like feel, complete with a swathe of character themes and a main anthem Open Your Heart, performed Crush 40, that is unparalleled in magnitude. The intro FMV undoubtedly still brings goose bumps to many!
The shift to a rock-centric soundtrack, a decision made by first-time Sonic Sound Director Jun Senoue, was a bold move; the music for the original trinity of Sonic games were after all composed by Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True (and most likely Michael Jackson), resulting in a prolific pop influence. However, the move would prove highly successful and would be followed up with the equally popular Live & Learn in the sequel.
The magic of the soundtrack however derives from a brilliant use of multiple genres – rock, pop, rap, electronic, and jazz to name a few all feature throughout.
The game’s soundtrack has endured long enough that it has been celebrated since with the Sonic Adventure Music Experience, which saw Senoue-san and company re-record and perform key songs from the game and its sequel.
The Dreamcast was the very first games console to provide a connection to the internet as standard, and as such, Sonic Adventure is the very first game in history to include downloadable content! This came in the form of the Sonic Adventure Christmas download, which was only available for the first few days of release (it was no longer available after Christmas day). While this content only included Christmas trees in station square which played played music and gave a seasonal message when interacted with, it was another example of how SEGA and Sonic games were well ahead of the curb.
Happy birthday Sonic Adventure!
What makes Sonic Adventure special to you? Let us know in the comments!
A reprint of a critically-acclaimed art book covering the history of the Sega Mega Drive is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Read Only Memory’s ‘Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works’ was originally released in 2014 and included interviews with Sonic creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, along with illustrations and concept drawings of the 16-bit console’s best titles. Continue reading Sega Mega Drive: Collected Works Art Book Guns for Second Print Run
Just recently, Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima spoke with the Japanese magazine Famitsu, and commented on the origins of the Mario & Sonic series, as well as Sonic joining Super Smash Bros. Brawl. But Yuji Naka also said that he wishes to give another presentation to Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka about a potential Mario & Sonic action game. See the quote below.
Yesterday, I sat down in a quiet location of E3 with the master of memes himself, Aaron Webber. We discussed a little bit of Sonic Revolution, Sonic in Lego Dimensions, but mostly Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice. You’ll hear about improvements made due to the delay, the trailer cutscene, the length of the game and much, more! So please watch and enjoy. Continue reading E3 2016: Interview With Aaron Webber
Yuji Naka, the master coder that was responsible for programming the original Sonic the Hedgehog, turned 50 years old yesterday. Doesn’t time fly!?
The former SEGA developer – left the company in 2006 to start his own independent studio, Prope – received a wave of well wishes on his social media channels. Naka-san spent the week enjoying Tokyo Games Show, where he has taken pictures of Sonic and SEGA merchandise available for sale at the event.
Although he has not been associated with the Sonic franchise for quite some time, he is regarded as one of the main ‘fathers’ of the blue blur, deftly creating a game engine in the early 1990s that allowed a character to use curved environments to reward players with bursts of speed. He became a spokesperson for the franchise during his time at SEGA, eventually leading the Sonic Team division during the Dreamcast era. For Sonic’s 20th Anniversary in 2011, he attended SEGA’s Sonic Boom event as well as the fan-organised Summer of Sonic convention.
His latest game, Rodea the Sky Soldier, is seeing a release on the Wii U later this year.
“Thank you very much for all the birthday messages,” he wrote in a message to fans. “I can feel all the love and support from my fans! I decided to be even a cool man in my 50s. I’ll do my best.”
With a seemingly undying love for Ferraris, we’re pretty sure Naka-san will continue to be cool for many years to come!
To be honest, if it wasn’t for Barry’s Weekly five list on Segabits, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to do my own Sonic List column. Seeing how people comment and react to my opinions gives me a great feeling of pride (and sometimes shame). The first time I did one of these columns and saw all the replies, good or bad, it was one of my favorite Sonic related moments. That’s what today’s column is all about. My favorite moments in Sonic-dom. Weather it’s from a game, a cartoon or just part of my life. These are the moments that I remember back with great fondness. Click below and enjoy! Continue reading The Sonic List: My favorite Sonic related moments
The popularity of crowdsourcing to fund projects has gained much momentum recently, and only a few months ago, we featured a news article for the Not Enough Rings parody comic book, which was successfully funded.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the release of the SEGA Mega Drive (or Genesis, depending on where you live), a new kickstarter project has been launched by Read-Only Memory (creators of the Sensible Software book) which will be of interest to many of you: SEGA Megadrive / Genesis: Collected Works. This project looks to be nothing short of amazing, describing itself as a compendium of production artwork, interviews and development sketches.
The book will of course showcase a host of Sonic the Hedgehog material, but will also contain much from other loved franchises such as Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star and Golden Axe to name a few; it also aims to feature images and illustrations that have seldom been seen by the public across its 300 pages.
In addition to this, the creators of the book have already secured interviews with an incredibly impressive line-up of SEGA staff, past and present, including Naoto Oshima, Kazuyuki Hoshino, Yuji Naka, Yuzo Koshiro and Yu Suzuki.
For a pledge of £30 (about $45), you can secure yourself a copy of what is set to be the ultimate coffee table history book. If you’ve got the cash to splash, £250 will not only get you a copy of the book, but an exclusive limited edition print (1 of 100), created by Naoto Oshima, especially for the campaign.
At time of writing, the campaign has already doubled its initial funding goal, so you can pledge in confidence. This is surely one book you don’t want to miss out on!
[P.S. If you love your kick-starters, you might want to check out Far From Faith, a comic set to be animated by the very talented Lynne Triplet, known to many of you at TRiPPY of NiGHTS fame!]
A few years back, a wineglass emblazoned with the Sonic 10th Anniversary emblem cropped up for sale on eBay. While most seasoned merch-hogs were aware of the trinity of 10th anniversary items that had been offered by the Sonic Factory in 2001 (the statue, the crystal cube and the pewter ring), this was the first time most had seen this item; its authenticity and origin (along with that of the 10th anniversary lighter) has been much debated amongst Sonic collectors.
Luckily, one fan account reveals the origin of these items, and details the happenings of the “Sonic 10th Anniversary Birthday Party in Japan” which took place a day after Sonic’s 10th birthday on the 24th of June, 2001.
SEGA Japan has recently put up a new website archiving all of its digital download games, and thanks to the keen eyes of Woun over at Sonic Scene, we’ve got some interesting news to report. If you take a look underneath Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, you can see not only SEGA listed as a copyright holder, but PROPE, too. PROPE, as a lot of you will know, is the developer founded by Sonic the Hedgehog’s original creator, Yuji Naka. Could this mean Yuji Naka’s development studio had a part in Sonic the Hedgehog 4‘s development, or is it just an error?
Looking for a real piece of Sonic the Hedgehog history to add to your collection? Then look no further! Currently up for auction on ebay are a couple of really unique items that will make any Sonic merch-mad fanatic salivate!
“Modern Sonic isn’t as good as the classics! and here is my fifty billion reasons explaining why!” We’ve all seen threads like this, we’ll all seen youtube videos like this. It’s an old argument and even when the dislike is aimed at classic Sonic, usually the best reply is to ignore the random person…
However when a one Yuji Naka allegedly agrees with a journalist who put it to him that ‘Modern Sonic games are not as fun as past Sonic games.’ Suddenly, you take an interest in that discussion again.
Both Sonic Wrecks and TSSZ News recently reported that Yuji Naka may have spilled the beans on an upcoming Sonic movie. On his latest Facebook and Twitter posts, he mentions visiting the Marza Animation Studios (Night of The Werehog, and most Sonic game CGI) and that they are in the process of making a Sonic movie. Whether it’s just more CGI for an upcoming Sonic Game or a full blown movie is yet to be known. Until we get more confirmation, treat this as rumor.
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.
This year’s Summer of Sonic convention had so much going on…competitions, Sonic Generations, music performances, guests and loads more – even if you attended, you no doubt missed some parts of the day.
One of the most frequent questions we get asked every year is whether or not Summer of Sonic would ever be held in the United States, but due to many reasons “SoSUS” never come to fruition. Unsurprisingly though there has been a huge demand for a Sonic convention state-side, and it was really only a matter of time before one materialised.
With the Sonic’s 20th anniversary around the corner, SEGA of America spearheaded plans to create their own official convention, the appropriately named Sonic Boom. Aaron Webber, the newly appointed Sonic Brand Manager took on the role of chief coordinator for Sonic Boom and got in touch with Dreadknux and myself a few weeks back, and cordially invited us both to the event.
We didn’t need to be asked twice!
The convention had been carefully timed to coincide with the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles’ downtown convention centre venue. Sonic Boom was scheduled to take place in the moody and ambient environment of Club Nokia, a versatile bar come night club within walking distance of E3; a perfect site to celebrate twenty years of Sonic the Hedgehog.
I arrived at the venue early in the afternoon with Aaron, and before we’d even made our way upstairs we were greeted by fans queuing outside Club Nokia; some of them had been camped out since 6am that morning in order to score a place inside the venue as they had not been able to acquire a ticket. If that’s not dedication, I really don’t know what is! Kellie and Julian from the American community team (who you will know from the Free Stuff Friday videos!) were running around upstairs in the venue coordinating the setup of stands, pods and making sure everything was in place – a familiar scene to anyone who has been involved in the organisation of Summer of Sonic!
Even more familiar faces were up on stage as Jun Senoue, Johnny Gioeli and Alex Makhlouf (from Cash Cash, the band involved with the Sonic Colors soundtrack) were performing a dry run of the tracks they were going to be playing later on that evening. After a warm reunion with the guys I sat back to take some snaps and enjoy the privileged position of being an invited guest backstage at an event. I must have looked pretty dumb, but nevertheless I could not get rid of the huge grin on my face as the guys blistered through their fresh new set list, which included a brand new version of Sonic CD’s “Sonic Boom” and Sonic R’s “Super Sonic Racing”. What’s more, Alex’s accompaniment on synthesiser added another layer of ecstasy to the already monstrous set, and took the lead on the funky fresh new version of “Escape from the City” which will be gracing the in-game soundtrack for Sonic Generations!
I got an opportunity to briefly catch up with Johnny after rehearsals, and as always was up for a bit of laugh, as you can see from the picture (although I don’t think SEGA will be taking him on as their new mascot – stick to your day job, Johnny!). Another act rehearsing on stage before the doors opened was the cast of Needlemouse the musical. American fans will remember this bunch as the winners of the 19th anniversary competition last year, and were the lucky recipients of a trip to Japan to play Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode One. These guys were fantastic and incredibly animated on stage, so much so most of us assisting set up had to pause to watch and laugh at the jokes they were cracking. AJ and the bunch came to talk to me after their run-through, and were even kind enough to let me have my picture taken with them – an absolutely great bunch of guys and gals and well-deserving of the incredible ovation they received later in the evening (watch their performance here!).
By 5 o’clock the venue was taking shape, with the merchandise stands set up (each entrant received a Sonic hat, a special edition Sonic Generations T-Shirt and badge set) and nearly twenty gaming stations were primed and ready to give the throng of rabid Sonic fans outside a chance to play the demo of Sonic Generations. A number of photo booths had also been established to allow fans to record photographic postcards and video messages for Sonic’s birthday (you can check out Aaron and my postcard here, Dread’s postcard here and Yuji Naka’s here). Outside a huge queue of fans had formed, eagerly awaiting entry into the venue. Aaron and I went outside to rattle the crowd up a bit, and got to shake the hands of a few fans that had recognised Aaron and me.
At 6 o’clock sharp the doors opened and the mass of fans piled in. I took a brief trip upstairs to the VIP lounge, where the likes of Iizuka-san, Oshima-san and Naka-san were meeting other industry members at an exclusive VIP event. Unfortunately I was not introduced to Naka-san, but I was reintroduced to Iizuka-san, who smiled courteously as we had already met that week! Dreadknux appeared at the venue after his busy day at E3 (and was fashionably late as always!) and we proceeded downstairs to the main event floor.
A heap of guys came to greet Dread and I (there are far too many of you to mention!) and it really made our day – so if you came up and said hi, thanks loads; it really a pleasure to meet you all! TSS staffer, Sonic Retro writer and Sonic Show star Brad Flick was down on the time trial competition station hastily jotting down top scores on Green Hill Zone – you will have to keep an eye out for some hilarious pictures of Brad and Dreadknux in their bronik poses! Similarly to Summer of Sonic, there were a massive variety of cosplayers at the event too, including SSMB’s own mikeblastdude who came in an awesome Metal Sonic getup, and an excellent Charmy the Bee cosplayer. We also caught up with Scarred Sun from Retro and Shayne representing TSSZ news. I’ve never met either in reality before so we got to have a good chinwag and posed for a few photos for posterity – both are fantastic people and I certainly hope we get to all meet again in the near future.
Aaron appeared on stage to welcome all of the guests to Sonic Boom, and it wasn’t long before Jun, Johnny and Alex were on stage blowing the socks off all those in attendance. A lucky few spotted Naka-san on the event floor and managed to grab his autograph and a photo before he disappeared backstage once more. Jun, not one for passing up the opportunity to meet fans, came down off stage with the legendary Sonic guitar to sign autos and pose for pictures with a handful of fortunate fans.
Following Needlemouse: the Musical, the best of the cosplayers were invited on stage to participate in the cosplay contest, and Iizuka-san, Miyamoto-san and Senoue-san were all invited up to wish Sonic a happy birthday and to sing him a happy birthday song…and of course, Sonic was present too, along with his birthday cake! It wasn’t long before Dread and I found ourselves up on stage, telling the Los Angeles crowd all about Summer of Sonic. I had been really nervous beforehand about how the crowd would receive us on stage (especially considering the acts we were following!) but the audience were really receptive, and cheered us on – thank you all for letting us talk to you briefly, and hopefully we’ve enticed some of you to come to Summer of Sonic!
Naka-san and Miyamoto-san, along with Oshima-san joined the cast on stage at the end of the show once again and were presented with the graffiti artist’s drawing of classic and modern Sonic which had been created over the course of the evening. I’m sure most will agree the evening past all too quickly, and before long it was time to close up the evenings proceedings.
Dread and I pitched in to assist with the clean up, and ended up collapsing in the dressing room to have a chin-wag with Alex (who is also a massive Sonic nerd by the way!) After moving a precious cargo of guitars, we emerged on the street next to the Nokia theatre and ran into our good friend Richard Jacques, who was just as surprised to see us as we were to see him! Exhausted, we crashed for a few drinks at a local bar as well as a few last photographs of the day, and toasted the success of Sonic Boom.
I’d like to end by applauding the fantastic job Aaron and the team at SoA did putting together an event of this magnitude in such a short period of time, and all those involved in the stage entertainment over the course of the evening. America has now had a taste of a Sonic convention, and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of Sonic Boom. I’d also like to thank Aaron on behalf of Dread and myself for sponsoring our trip to Sonic Boom; I’m sure I also speak for both of us by saying we are both honoured and flattered to have been considered during the creation of this event to represent Summer of Sonic; we’ve had the time of our lives, and I’m sure I speak for hundreds of other fans when I say…
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