Kikizo: Nishiyama-san, thank you very much for your time today to talk about Sonic Rush. This is the first major, traditional 2D Sonic game in some time. How has it felt to work on a classic-style Sonic title?
Akinori Nishiyama: These days, the platforms are obviously becoming stronger all the time, and on the PS2 it's pretty much all about 3D games. But I think there's still space for 2D - especially on the portable systems like DS. I want to keep this tradition going as much as I can for our videogames.
Kikizo: Obviously Nintendo DS is recognised as an innovative platform. How did you allow Sonic Rush take advantage of its features?
Akinori Nishiyama: Because Sonic gameplay is already well established, back when I considered the innovative functions of DS, I thought that if I started using every function of the DS, it would be a totally unrecognisable game. So, I just considered how a Sonic game should best be implemented for the DS, and for that, I knew I wanted to use the two screens for Rush, and keep the focus on how to best use the two screens.
Kikizo: Sonic level design has always been very clever and precise to be as fun as possible; Yasahara-san [the designer of the original 16-BIT Sonic levels] left Sega a long time ago, and I am wondering how these 2D levels are still designed in with that 'genius touch' it always had before?
Akinori Nishiyama: Well, I think that if you always have the same kind of levels, it won't be as fresh or have the same kind of impact for the users anymore. You always have to be more innovative, and try to make the action more dynamic. You are right; it is very hard for us to keep it this way, and it is challenging to maintain the user's attention.
Kikizo: How have you differentiated things in terms of the level themes for this game?
Akinori Nishiyama: Obviously, each level always has to have some sort of personality. But, during the development of Rush, there was a problem because of the capability of the DS. Because it's new hardware, naturally you'd think it's much easier, offering much more capability - but we had quite a lot of problems! So, to make it even better looking, we had to come up with different ideas and be original with the sprites we were using, like for example leaves falling, and so on. So, it was quite a struggle.
Kikizo: Some of the original Sonic 16-BIT titles has scrapped levels hidden in the code, due to development time constraints, things like Hidden Palace in Sonic 2. Are there any unfinished levels like that in Sonic Rush that are secretly in the final game somewhere?
Akinori Nishiyama: Haha... that happened back then, because when we showed it in the US, we were using something like a 300bps modem, so there wasn't much security, and it [Sonic 2 BETA] was leaked! These days, obviously there's more security and there weren't many unfinished stages nowadays.
Kikizo: Are there any unapparent gameplay aspects regarding the two screens players need to consider, apart from just more vertical space?
Akinori Nishiyama: Apart from Sonic moving around and his new abilities, well, you know if there's an enemy in the top screen you have to think about how it will fall to the bottom screen, not just Sonic... the user has to look at both his own movement and the enemy's. You also have to consider how fast you are moving down and then drop into the screen below.
Kikizo: There are quite a lot of good games to choose on DS right now. How long does it take to complete Sonic Rush and what's the replay value like?
Akinori Nishiyama: The playtime is going to be really dependent on the user. But, in Japan, within the company, there were some discussions about how difficult the game should be, and actually our management thought that it was too difficult to begin with, so we had to consider the difficulty quite carefully! But when you play the game, there are always special stages to get Chaos Emeralds, and you have to get them to go to the real game endings. And, the special stages themselves are difficult!
Kikizo: Many fans are very pleased to see another proper 2D Sonic game. The original selling point of Sonic was that it's really fast. Some have complained that the 3D versions of Sonic don't really convey that feeling of speed. Where do you see the future for the Sonic series in terms of 2D and 3D? Which do you think is going to be best overall?
Akinori Nishiyama: Personally speaking, I think 2D games would be preferable for many users. I believe that in 2D games, say for example shooting games, you have to be careful of the slightest space on the screen, and think in terms of how many pixels of space you have to manoeuvre. 3D games are never going to be like that; they are often very much about more fluid action. I think 2D games are more fun a lot of the time. However, from the graphical point of view, more than anything else, gamers will usually go for 3D, and only occasionally be interested in 2D, so it depends on what the user sees. Our best hope is to have both coexisting.
Kikizo: So, in that case, do you hope to be able to make a Sonic Rush 2?
Akinori Nishiyama: Hopefully! I think users will expect it, so if there's demand they can make it happen.
Kikizo: So moving on to Yuda-san. Thank you for talking with us about Sonic Riders. This is the first Sonic racing game since Sonic R on the Sega Saturn. Why did Sega choose to go back to doing a Sonic racing game?
Takashi Yuda: Well, as you know, Sonic Riders is not exactly a sequel to Sonic R. Sonic R was developed kind of externally (by Travellers' Tales), although Sega did provide the basic idea. I thought it was a good racing game, but that it would be really nice if the Sonic Team, who knows Sonic best, developed another racing game, and made a better one. Also, Sonic fans have been asking us to make a racing game for about ten years, so by public demand we thought it was a good idea.
Kikizo: What about this decision to go with the airboard style of racing?
Takashi Yuda: First of all, I was not interested in making a conventional racing game. I wanted to make something different and dynamic, to have tricks and stuff. To do that, you can't really be in a car, so inevitably, we came up with other ideas. We thought things like surfing and snowboarding have more flexibility to allow you to do tricks.
Kikizo: We've only seen a few different levels so far, what else can we expect? Stuff themed on previous Sonic games?
Takashi Yuda: Each track has at least one thing that reminds you of previous titles and familiar sites, yes...
Kikizo: So we'll get Eggman-themed levels in outer space and such?
Takashi Yuda: Of course.
Kikizo: Cool. Can you tell us a bit more about gameplay - there's this battle element where you attack other racers?
Takashi Yuda: Sure, we've included attacks. Depending on how well you do the tricks, you go 'up' a level; and the higher your attack level, the more damage you can inflict on your enemy when you attack, to gain an advantage. Also, you recover from enemy attacks faster, if your level is higher.
Takashi Yuda: I can't really say anything, other than yes, there will be secret characters, and it will be quite a surprise. As you go along the storyline, you'll encounter new characters.
Takashi Yuda: There's this storyline element to Sonic Riders, and they were just chosen in terms of the storyline... so, whoever is suitable for a particular part of the storyline is going to be in there.
Kikizo: What kind of user do you hope that Sonic Riders will appeal to?
Takashi Yuda: We made the game so that it would please the core Sonic fans. That's the most important thing. But we put lots of multiplayer games in as well, because we want as many people to enjoy the game as possible, and to really get into Sonic.
Kikizo: How many different departments there are inside Sonic Team right now? After Next-gen Sonic, we have Shadow the Hedgehog, PSU, things like Project Rub 2, and so on. It seems like a lot going on. Also, what's your opinion the team's other products, like Shadow?
Takashi Yuda: There aren't exactly different departments within Sonic Team - it's just one Sonic Team! But currently, we are working with [counts...] seven different titles! I think that Shadow was a really good idea. It's certainly a challenge for the team. There's actually one theory that Shadow might become more popular than Sonic.
Kikizo: Right. I also wondered about Yojiro Ogawa; he told us at TGS that he's on a secret new project... does he have any involvement in Riders? Have you been working with him on anything else?
Takashi Yuda: Well, Ogawa-san is now actually the manager, so he's involved in assigning people to projects - people management - so he's not really involved in a particular project more than any other, per-se.
Kikizo: Cool. How much input does (Yuji Naka) have with Sonic Riders - does he just let you get on with it?
Takashi Yuda: Well, there is no title in Sega that Naka-san is not involved with. He would never net a team get on with things with no supervision at all. With Sonic Riders, I can't remember exactly what bits he give advice for, but there definitely was some input from him in places and at the beginning.
Kikizo: Also, we understand that (Toshihiro Nagoshi) has been further promoted recently and now has even more responsibility overseeing all Sega software, while also maintaining his own team. So what's is happening with people like Yu Suzuki who have held similar roles previously?
Takashi Yuda: Well basically, both Nagoshi-san and Suzuki-san are reporting to Naka-san. Nagoshi-san is actually responsible for the whole New Entertainment department. And Suzuki-san, is in charge of his own stuff - in his own game development. So, basically Nagoshi-san is still working under Naka-san, but then again, Suzuki-san has his own authority as well.
Kikizo: That clears that up. So, there are a lot of different Sonic titles right now, what are your personal hopes for the future of the Sonic franchise? Will you be working on the Sonic the Hedgehog 15th Anniversary game?
Takashi Yuda: I'm not actually involved with the 15th Anniversary title. I'm involved in something quite big, so I can't really say what. As for the whole Sonic franchise's future, of course the regular Sonic action games will continue and have more sequels. Sonic Riders is also going to have some sequels, which will appear on next generation consoles. We don't know which ones yet. We're are also trying to see if we can come up with more Sonic franchises - not just racing games like Riders - but other ideas as well, something suitable for Sonic's fans. So, I don't think there will be a Sonic Golf for example; that's not going to work! But we do want to come up with new ideas.
Kikizo: Thank you both again for your time today and good luck with all your Sonic Team titles.