Sonic Unleashed: Yoshi Hashimoto Interview
The promising new Sonic title is out soon. We find out more and get an update on Sonic Team from the game's director.
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Poor old Sonic. The timeless Sega mascot has rarely, if ever, been able to match the sheer glory of his two dimensional, 16-BIT heyday. But if you ask us, that's not to say Sonic is past it. For one thing, we think a lot of the comparisons about his modern-era games versus the old Mega Drive classics are often just irrelevant, and are typically more about nostalgia and retro chic than an argument about whether his newer games have a place in their own right.
We think the Dreamcast Sonic games - the Sonic Adventure series - were fantastic, incidentally. And while there's no denying that both Sonic Heroes and particularly the Sonic the Hedgehog (of 2006) had their share of problems, both still had a lot going for them and offered a significant new adventure. Meanwhile, even Sonic's harder critics recognise his finer moments like the Sonic Rush games on DS, and of course, all of Sonic's endeavours are usually very successful regardless of reviews.
Which brings us on to Sonic Unleashed. You can't say they're not trying here. You can't say they are not listening. Sonic Team is figuring out what the divided Sonic fan base of young children versus misty-eyed twentysomethings want and trying to put it into one cohesive title, offering a game the combines Sonic's trademark speed with both 2D and 3D style gameplay and some variety in the form of new night action sections. Some bits we're more convinced about than others, and the jury's out on whether the game comes together as planned until our final review.
But in the meantime we wanted to catch up with Sonic Team, so here's our latest Sega interview with the studio's Director on the game, Yoshihisa Hashimoto.
Kikizo: Please can you give us some information on your background as a director at SEGA?
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?
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?
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?
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 Warehog, 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?
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)?
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.