Yoshi Hashimoto interview by Kikizo (November 12, 2008)

From Sonic Retro

This is an interview conducted by Kikizo, with Yoshi Hashimoto.

The Interview

Kikizo: Please can you give us some information on your background as a director at SEGA?

Yoshi Hashimoto: This is my second title I worked on as a director. Previously, I have worked on the PlayStation 2 EyeToy title, Sega Superstars. Before that, I worked on Enemies and AI creatures for Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 as a programmer.

Kikizo: There have been several directors and producers of Sonic games over the years. What do you bring to the series that is important, new, or special?

Yoshi Hashimoto: For efficiency and quality improvement, I started off by reviewing the work flow and the development environment. Since I originally started as a programmer, I can determine the technical limit of each game element from a technical point of view. From that, I was able to 'upgrade' the various game design elements such as level design, smooth action, camera work, visual effects, a beautiful lighting system, precise background graphics, and sound, within a limited amount of time. Moreover, I tried to keep the scenario comprehensible and simple, avoiding complexities. Also, if I were to emphasize one more point, this title enhances Sonic's sense of speed to dash through trackless routes non-stop!

Kikizo: Sonic continues to be popular mainly because of a very young audience, and as much for a character (comics, TV cartoon) as for games. Can Sonic "win back" older gamers?

Yoshi Hashimoto: Yes, I do think so. Because Sonic Unleashed has the game play elements that loyal Sonic fans want. It is not designed to be in the same format as classic Sonic, but we took out the best part of classic Sonic and successfully revived it to be a new Sonic the Hedgehog of the 21st century.

Kikizo: On one hand, some fans wanted a game featuring only Sonic, like in the original Sonic 1. On the other, some now complain that Sonic's friends aren't playable in Unleashed!! How would you respond to this?

Yoshi Hashimoto: It really depends on each individual's preference, so it would be hard to please everyone. However, I believe this new Sonic Unleashed is well balanced for both kinds of player, those who only wish to play as Sonic and the others who also wish to play with the other characters - because in this title you play in the daytime as Sonic the Hedgehog and at night time as Sonic the Werehog, which are both nothing but Sonic. This adds more variation to the gameplay. You can play each of them with a good pace without it getting dull, so I believe it is enjoyable to all kinds of player. Moreover, Unleashed includes the shooting mini game of Tornado aircraft, built by Tails.

Kikizo: How do you address the balance of speed in a platform game (traditional Sonic) versus accuracy (jumping etc)? How can you make it feel like the players are not just "watching" themselves play?

Yoshi Hashimoto: First, in the game design phase, everything was designed to enable "super high speed" - Quick Step, where you control with the L and R triggers, is one example. Also, we prepared obstacles and enemies which functions properly during high speeds. Additionally, there are robots that dash with Sonic as well as giant robots that chase him. We've also spent quite bit of time on the level design to maintain both "super high speed" and "operation performance". For some stages, we even scrapped the whole stage and started over from the beginning. There are many improvements made in the program, which are not visible from outside; you might not realize while playing, but for example, there is code to assist the gameplay which adjusts the speed as you to run on the path along the route.

Kikizo: There has been some criticism about the "night time" gameplay with the new character. Did you consider making this an optional part of the game (eg. playing as Eggman / Amy / etc was "separate" in previous games)?

Yoshi Hashimoto: From the beginning of the production, we proceeded with the production goal to have day time Sonic and night time Sonic being one and the same. During the game, the playable areas and the time are fixed, but can also be selected freely to some degree. In order to complete the main game, you will need to clear both the day and the night level for each mission. However, this system also allows you to play only your favorite sub stage and the side quest.

Kikizo: How would you defend or even promote the "night time" gameplay in Sonic Unleashed?

Yoshi Hashimoto: I would say it is an all-around battle platforming action game. As there are many variations of combos and the attack methods, I believe this title will be the battle game with a whole range of options. And yet, the controls of the wide range of attack methods are very simple. The title offers a system that allows you to play in either a simple or complex manner to give enjoyment to the hardcore gamers, as well as action game newcomers.

Kikizo: Do you think fans are too critical of Sonic games in general? For example, we think that Sonic Heroes and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) have many good points! But the reviews are very mixed.

Yoshi Hashimoto: I think the fans' evaluations are fair. I often read the forums run by Sonic fans on a routine basis. I hardly feel any discomfort from their comments. I often find myself rather agreeable to them. I believe that Sonic Unleashed will be accepted by many of the Sonic fans.

Kikizo: Please can you give us an update on Sonic Team. Over the years it has had divisions and staff in the USA as well as Tokyo. What are your views on this history, and what is its structure today?

Yoshi Hashimoto: The environment has changed after Yuji Naka became independent and established Prope, and also with the return of Sonic Team USA to Japan. Today, Akinori Nishiyama is the manager and Takashi Iizuka, formerly of Sonic Team USA, is the sub-manager and is conducting the organization. However, there is not much change with the development staff. We are the same group of people who have been and will continue developing Sonic games, as well as others, with passion. I have worked together with Mr Iizuka before on the Sonic Adventure series, so it is my pleasure to be able to work with him again.

Kikizo: The latest footage of Sonic and the Black Knight actually looks very comparable to Unleashed. Would you agree?

Yoshi Hashimoto: You may think so at a first glance, but Sonic Unleashed and Black Knight are actually completely different. Unleashed is set in the contemporary world, produced with the colorful pop art-work following through the realistic texture, but Black Knight is set in the Middle Ages and the art work is in a quieter color tone. If you actually play each game, you will find the clear differences between them in terms of direction.

Kikizo: Please have a look at this fan artwork:

Yoshi Hashimoto: It is a very pretty illustration...

Kikizo: Don't you think it would be fun to make a 2D Sonic in HD like this?

'Yoshi Hashimoto: It is a very pretty illustration. If this is a depiction of high resolution 2D hand drawn Sonic, I would find it interesting as a work which has never been made before. If you mean Sonic designed in 2D style expressed in a 3D environment, it definitely ties to part of Sonic Unleasheds concept and gameplay.

Kikizo: Do you think this visual quality would be possible?

Yoshi Hashimoto: It is possible with the use of the Hedgehog Engine!

Kikizo: Have you worked on a technical demo like this?

Yoshi Hashimoto: We have continued technical experiments on a routine basis, so we could say Unleashed is the result of it. We intend to continue various experiments to bring out the best out of Sonic world's fascinations.

Kikizo: Please give fans a final message to look forward to about Sonic Unleashed!

Hashimoto: I believe that Sonic Unleashed has become the Sonic the Hedgehog that Sonic fans have waited a long time for. We expect and hope to hear people say "this is the real Sonic... Sonic has returned!".

Kikizo: Thank you for your time and we look forward to playing the final game.

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