Danny Russell Sits Down with Sonic Team Director
Tristan note: Surprise! Friday in Tokyo, TSSZ News reporter Danny Russell sat down with Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka. He did so for us and for gaming blog Ready Up, where this interview is also published. In the interview, Iizuka speaks about Sonic 4, Sonic Colors, the team’s relationship with Dimps and with other once big contributors to Sonic games of old, and what a new future holds for the team and himself.
Stay with TSSZ News as more coverage direct from the Tokyo Game Show will follow this weekend.
Danny: With the successes of Capcom’s recent Mega Man 9 and 10 as well as Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros., has Sonic Team considered making new Sonic games in the style of the old Mega Drive series (using the original graphics, sounds and core gameplay mechanics)?
Iizuka-san: Sonic 4: Episode 1 is probably going to fit into that mould. While the graphics are obviously greatly improved upon the original Mega Drive version they try to implement the original controls and much of the original feel.
Danny: You mentioned the iPhone version of Sonic 4: Episode 1… are there any plans to release the game on other handheld platforms like the Nintendo DS or PSP?
Iizuka-san: Currently there are no plans for that.
Danny: A Sonic game is listed to come out for the Nintendo 3DS – can you tell us anything more about it? Is it going to be a 2D side-scrolling game, for example?
Iizuka-san: Unfortunately we can’t say too much about the Sonic 3DS game. What we can say for now is that we’re trying to release this game as soon as possible.
Danny: When you decide to add a new play mechanic to a Sonic game, what is the thought process that goes into that?
Iizuka-san: It’s quite dependent on what kind of Sonic product it’s going to be. It depends on the content of each product. What’s common for all these titles is that the team tries to implement something surprising and new every time they come up with a new title. In the case of Sonic Colours, this new experience is obviously coming from Sonic’s new colour powers, so its dependent on the product. The concept and the high-speed nature of Sonic also improve the gameplay but the surprise that you want to give to the users is what drives the team to create new ideas.
Danny: Are there any plans for Sonic Team to work on any new or old franchises?
Iizuka-san: Obviously because the development team have just recently finished the development of Sonic Colours and Sonic 4, they are still in the process of thinking of what they want to move on to, but the team wants to try for some new ideas, gameplay and products. It’s still pretty much up in the air.
Danny: Would you like to?
Iizuka-san: Yeah, we want to create something new – that’s the bottom line!
Danny: Considering the upgraded port of NiGHTS to the PS2 in Japan a couple of years ago, are there any plans to re-release NiGHTS to XBLA or PSN?
Iizuka-san: Unfortunately there are not any plans for that.
Danny: Are there any plans to get Masato Nakamura back to do more music for the Sonic series?
Iizuka-san: It’s probably quite difficult because Mr. Nakamura has become a huge artist in Japan so he’s probably really hard to get hold of.
Danny: How about Richard Jacques?
Iizuka-san: Richard still has a relatively close relationship with Sega’s Music Studios. The team would like to keep their relationship with him and possibly work on future projects as well.
Danny: In the past ten years, most of the 2D Sonic games have been worked on, at least partially, by Dimps. Could you explain what the special relationship is between Sonic Team and Dimps?
Iizuka-san: We have an interesting relationship with Dimps. It obviously started with the Sonic Advance series and we have been working with them specifically on 2D Sonic titles – mostly for handhelds. Sonic Team believes that they are very good at that genre. We really respect their game design experience, their technology and the methods they use. So we would like to maintain a relationship and potentially also work on future titles as well.
Danny: What do you consider your greatest achievement during your time at Sonic Team?
Iizuka-san: It’s very difficult for me to come up with one title that I’m most proud of because I have a long history with Sonic Team starting from Sonic 3. Now I’m in a position where I’m the producer of Sonic titles, the new one being Sonic Colours. I’ve experienced different positions and different difficulties but, you know, looking at the entire Sonic franchise I’m proud of, probably, everything.
Danny: After the recent announcement of ChuChu Rocket! coming to the iPad and iPhone, can you confirm that a version for XBLA or PSN will follow?
Iizuka-san: No, other than the things we have announced we can’t say anything about it.
Danny: Can you elaborate on Sonic Colours’ “Sonic Simulator” stages? There are some elements of classic layouts in existing videos such as Green Hill and Marble Zone. How far will these touches of nostalgia extend to the other Simulator stages?
Iizuka-san: In terms of the “Sonic Simulator”, the multiplayer side of Sonic Colours, there are a few classic Sonic moments spread throughout the stages. We can’t really say which one is which yet or how many there are to find as this is something that the users would want to find out themselves when the game is released. It’s something that they’ll have to keep their eyes out for!
Danny: Thanks very much for your time, we really appreciate it!