Electric Gaming Monthly Interview with Takashi Iizuka

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 03 February 2004
  • Interview Topics: Sonic Heroes, Chao, Multi-platform
  • Interview Source: EGM external.png

Electronic Gaming Monthly : Press Start : Afterthoughts: Sonic Heroes (Part 1)

A candid chat with Sonic Team's lord of the rings.

In 2003, Sega's hyperactive mascot was nearly as overexposed as Bennifer: Sonic starred in two GBA games, milked his back catalog with a GameCube rerelease of Sonic Adventure, headlined a hit cartoon on the Fox network, and even hawked McNuggets to tykes via a successful Happy Meal promotion. All that hoopla, however, paled in comparison to this January's triple-console launch of Sonic Heroes — an all-new 3D platformer, and his first on both the Xbox and PlayStation 2.

We spoke with Sonic Heroes director Takashi Iizuka (who's headed up nearly every Sonic game since Sonic 3 on the Genesis) about the hog's latest title.

EGM: Sonic Heroes addresses many of the criticisms people had about the Sonic Adventure games, such as removing the slower-paced Knuckles stages. Did you listen to lots of feedback from users and critics when designing Heroes?
Takashi Iizuka: In the Sonic Adventure series, the whole concept was for the players to enjoy a wide variety of gameplay — the treasure hunt, the high-speed action, and the shooting. But with Heroes, we wanted to concentrate on one style of gameplay: team action. That's how we came about choosing that type of gameplay.

EGM: Heroes also offers some really amazing stages, like the Casino Park and Haunted House levels…these stages seem much more creative and daring than most of the Sonic Adventure levels. Were they difficult to create?
TI: The Sonic Adventure series was much more story-driven, so I was limited to the types of level designs that would make sense within the scope of the game. But with Heroes, I had much more freedom to explore more action-oriented levels, the type that used to be Sonic-only stages. I really wanted to put a 3D pinball stage into the Adventure series somewhere, but due to the limitations of the storyline I just couldn't do it.

EGM: Playing through the game with Team Sonic was much more challenging than we expected. Do you think the average player will have trouble?
TI: Well, players who have experience with the Adventure series can just pick up and play with Team Sonic with no problem. New players, on the other hand, might want to start with the introductory team, Team Rose, to get used to the gameplay. I designed the game so that each team has different difficulty settings. Team Rose's motivations are fairly different from the rest — for Team Sonic, it's all about defeating Eggman, but for the girls, it's more about having fun and exploring. Amy is looking for Sonic, Cream is after her Chao, and Big is looking for Froggy. The storyline itself is a driving element to keep playing with the teams.

EGM: We also lost count of how many times we plummeted to our doom… Do you think the game has too many deaths by falling? Would Sonic's gameplay be too easy if the stages had floors?
TI: In areas where it is most likely for the players to fall, we've created other routes. If you try to make it over a cliff and you fall, there's usually another way to go. In some areas where you're supposed to make a certain jump and return to the save point if you die, we designed it that way on purpose. That way, you're always taken back to a point where you can try out something different.

EGM: From a multiplatform perspective, we found that the GameCube and Xbox versions offered the most breathtaking visuals…was it difficult to get the game running at the same speed on the PS2?
TI: Of course, as you know, the PS2 has the least favorable amount of memory… so, Sonic Team created a basic ideal of how Heroes should play and then arranged it so that it would work on GC, XB, and PS2. So, I had to sacrifice a certain amount of technical performance in order to offer the same experience on PS2.

EGM: Sonic Heroes has identical content between all three platforms. Did you consider doing exclusive content for certain consoles?
TI: I had a conversation with Yuji Naka [head of Sonic Team] at the very beginning about whether to offer different content with each version. However, we came to the conclusion that they should all have identical gameplay because we wanted users to have the same experience, regardless of which console they had. Also, friends who have different versions should be able to compare their performance across platforms in Time Attack and such.

EGM: Our reviewers really enjoyed Sonic Heroes' music, its style felt a little closer to the traditional Sonic tunes from the 16-bit days. Was this a specific decision or just a lucky coincidence?
TI: Just as I was able to create fun, classic-style Sonic levels, I wanted the music to also return to the roots of the Sonic experience. The music should be exciting and fast-paced!

EGM: Team Chaotix's gameplay is quite different than the other three teams'. Why did you decide to bring back these characters and give them fun, silly goals like rounding up hermit crabs?
TI: In my mind, I didn't bring back the Team Chaotix characters from the past — instead, they're new characters who happen to fit into the game. I wanted to create at least one team that was totally different from how Team Sonic talks and acts. Those three characters, Charmy, Espio, and Vector… they're so unique in their actions, personalities, and goals. They add a lot of flavor and variety to the overall picture. There's also the fact that those characters have never been used by Sonic Team — we weren't involved with Knuckles Chaotix; some other internal sega Development team did that. So it's not a matter of bringing up old characters… we recreated those characters from the ground up. We want Sonic to be Sonic, and for the others to be supporting characters. I'm very happy with the way Team Chaotix turned out, so I hope they'll be brought back to another title in the future. You'll see more of them!

EGM: We'd heard rumors that you wanted to include hidden Teams in addition to the four available. Was that ever planned, and if so, why was it scrapped?
TI: Did Mr. Naka talk to you? If time had allowed, we wanted to bring out as many teams as possible. However, when you consider the amount of gameplay that you'd have to work on… Four teams was enough to balance the gameplay.

EGM: Why didn't you include Chao raising in the game?
TI: Well, in Sonic Adventure, the game was more story-driven and full of variety, while Heroes is more team-focused. The Chao raising would have broken up the action too much. In Sonic Adventure, we created the Chao Garden so that new players would be forced to go out, explore the action sections, and find Flickies and things. In Heroes, even if you're completely new to Sonic, you can play Team Rose and learn how the game works. The level-up items are the new motivating factor in Heroes. Also, we removed the Flickies so that users who played Sonic Adventure wouldn't be confused into thinking that there was a Chao Garden somewhere. The Sonic Adventure series has not ended, though, so theoretically the Chao Garden could return sometime. Heroes is its own, new franchise.

EGM: The grading system seems pretty tough… do you think average players will be able to score As? What is the secret to getting As?
TI: I designed this grading system to be very, very challenging to get an A grade with. I made it difficult so that players would challenge the same level over and over again to get the highest grade. Getting As isn't impossible, exactly, but you must practice. The secret is to not die on the levels, collect certain items, and get lots and lots of rings. In Heroes, if you get all As in all the stages with all the teams, you unlock a really cool, surprising feature that will please players looking for even more challenge. Players who just want to play through the game won't have to worry about that, but the hardcore players will want to try for it!


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