Unseen Naka, Iizuka, Maekawa interviews

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by crystallize, Dec 4, 2014.

  1. The following interviews were published in Russian GameLand magazine (gameland.ru) in issue 1-2011 and were probably taken around TGS2010. I've translated them myself, so result can be rough.
    http://www.gameland.ru/magstorage/si/317/si_317.pdf, page 82

    Takashi Iizuka interview
    What Sonic Team lives by in these days? What games it orients oneself to, making new "Sonic" releases? How frequent does it listen to fans' opinion? I've met with studio's head Takashi Iizuka to question him about how series' destiny forms after it lost Yuji Naka's guardianship.

    "What do you imagine modern Sonic to be? In the 90's he was critters' protector, fighter for ecology. And now what? "

    Actually, he hasn't changed too much. He's still forced to save an earth from schemes of mad scientists. (laugh)

    "Did you seem to think that gifting Sonic with complex, contradictory personality is too much?"

    Series had various issues: for some of them we choose dramatic narrative style, scenario writers were trying to twist plot intrigue as much as possible. But in case of Sonic Colors for example, we were trying to make a game, attracting (people) with action in the first place. And in my opinion, simple plots match this type of gameplay the best way.

    "This year Sega have released several Sonic games almost simultaneously. Was there any kind of interaction between teams that was making those games?"

    Previously Sonic Team had two divisions - Japanese and American one (American division also consisted of Japanese people, it was just physically located in USA - magazine). These teams used to act independent back then, and could work on absolutely different Sonic games in parallel. But now (since 2008 - magazine) American division was combined with Japanese one, and I'm setting general course to an entire series. That's why erstwhile lack of coordination has disappeared: teams are working in the same direction.

    "And how great is your own input in projects? Do you just look after them, or develop concepts?"

    In case of Sonic Colors and Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 for example I act as a producer, but development guidance was handed out to different people. And with each of them I discuss his own project: in which direction it should be developed. Future image of a game is a thing determined by director and producer.

    "Are teams trying to rival each other?"

    If two projects had not only different heads, but also different producers, then of course, such situation could appear. But since it's different in our case, nothing similar happens. Actually, as I see it, lack of second producer enures us because I coordinate teams' actions and follow a situation to avoid conflict of interest and for games to not intersect in their content accidentally.

    "There was very many platformers in the past, this genre was blooming. But now one's having an impression that there's Sonic, there's Mario-and this list is over after them. How favorable is this situation for you?"

    Personally I'm very afflicted that less and less platformers released with every next year. But new "Sonics" have enough competitors anyway: the thing is that starting new issue we consider all the previous ones as its competitors. In this sense it's not that important how things are going for similar games of other publishers. It's not they who motivates us to work harder, but we trying to surpass our own hits.

    "And what other platformers would you call genre masterpieces?"

    I'd say that invaluable input in genre development have given not only by Mario games, but also with Donkey Kong issues, and with Kirby platformers. People working at Nintendo are very talented, they have my big respect.
    But personally I define Sonic's genre as "action at high speeds". And this is why, from my point of view, it have no direct analogues. At the same time, we can't borrow anything from other platformers - because they're about different things. Sonic is always on his own. So it's logical that his competitor remains to be Sonic from previous issues.

    "I've got an impression that Sonic is more popular in the west, than in his homeland. And what do you think?"

    Firstly, there are simply more western gamers than there are Japanese people. Secondly, foreign Sonic fans are far more active than my compatriots. This is why when I engage on new Sonic, I always listen to their opinion; learn what they would like to see. That doesn't mean I'm ignoring Japanese people: it's the opposite, every time I hope that my homeland will have more Sonic fans, but western audience is extremely important for us.

    "But aren't you afraid that Sonic will become too American, and his games will become "less Japanese" ? "

    As I've already said a bit earlier, I'm trying to meet the expectations of western fans, widen series' audience at the expense of western players, but at the same time I follow various innovations, so they won't be rejected by Japanese gamers. For example, in my opinion, Japanese people will like "color power" in Sonic Colors.

    "And doesn't it happen that fans insist on changes that will turn a game into a similarity of some western hit? How do you react in such cases?"

    Sonic Team has got a clear idea about what Sonic should be like and what Sonic game should be like. We doesn't change such fundamental things under the influence of outside feedback, be it comments of western gamers or comments of our compatriots. And the case is not even the comments themselves, but that Sonic Team is striving to preserve Sonic - and at the same time gladden the ones who like games starring this character. Though may be not the way they assume, whey they say: "Sonic should be like that".

    "By the way, does it happen that western and Japanese fans' opinions differ on some question - about optimal number of characters in a game, for example?"

    Actually, Sonic fans understand the soul of "Sonic" very well, so there isn't any dramatic differences between opinions of gamers from different countries. Usually they all advocate some general/generic/shared idea. But there is a detail - to increase Sonic's popularity in Japan, team have to conquer the hearts of the ones who haven't played previous issues of the series. And when we receive such users' poll results, we see a very wide range of opinions.

    "As I get it, Sonic Unleashed and Shadow The Hedgehog haven't been able to live up to the hopes they were anchored on in Sega. What did you learn from this experience?"

    Shadow The Hedgehog had shooter elements, and Sonic Unleashed introduced "night stages", where player was expected mainly to fight. So, in both cases it was about experiments with traditional Sonic formula. Beginning to work on Sonic Colors, we have decided that it's better not to be carried away with such genre mixes, and make classic "action on high speeds", from start to finish of which you'll be playing as Sonic.

    "You know, I always wondered where action of Sonic games unfolds. Are there any issues sharing the same world?"

    Of course, situation changes from one game to another. Usually we've got a planet where Sonic and ones similar to him live, and peopled planet. In Sonic Colors action unfolds in Sonic's world, in space to be precise, where doctor Eggman have built interstellar amusement park.

    "How would you characterize the basic idea of today's Sonic games? "Protect the environment"? Or may be "enjoy the feeling of speed" ? "

    Actually, key message changes depending on the issue. But to speak about our hero in general, the following pattern can be traced: Sonic is spending not that much time thinking and he's easy-going - to act is more interesting for him, than to think. And this is an idea we're trying to express in every game.

    "And what do you think; do modern gamers recognize a hedgehog in Sonic?"

    I think they do! And for them not being misled with titles like Sonic Free Riders and Sonic Colors that lack a mention of a hedgehog, we've released Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. You won't be able to mix up anything here!

    Yuji Naka interview
    Interview: Yuji Naka

    Together with Jenya, the translator girl, we're waiting for Yuji Naka nearby a Japanese game publishers' stand. Sonic's creator isn't late: we've just decided to arrive at venue ahead of time. Representatives of local cyber sport community are touting their guests nearby with might and main. So we're offered to learn more about service features as well. "Sorry, but we've got interview now, may be next time" - we answer. "With who?" - guys ask. And learning that, they say: "Wow! You're lucky!”. One doesn't need to tell them about Naka's merits: eminent game designer compatriots know who has came up with supersonic hedgehog and now leads independent "Prope" studio even without our clarifications.

    "In the beginning of your career you were a programmer. How did this happen that you've engaged himself in game design and has begun to lead projects’ creation?"

    Even though I'm really a programmer by specialty, but from the very beginning I've been dedicated to all the features of game creation - I was engaged in music, managed to have a hand in scripts.

    "Was giving programmers a chance to try themselves in everything a usual practice in Sega back then?"

    I don't know, may be circumstances just have matched that way in my case. But I can't not to mention that in our firm games were created together from the very beginning. And since I was a programmer, I could work on game design as well - it was simpler and clearer to me than to other people.

    "And how much have orders changed in Japanese gaming industry during past years? I've heard game designers kept sleeping bags in offices before, for the case of crunches?..."

    Oh, I think nothing changed during twenty years: as soon as deadline is starting to near, people begin to work overtime. Sometimes they even spend the night in the office.

    "List of your works impresses, but it's not very clear into which of those games you've contributed the most, which do you consider the most "your". Won't you tell us?"

    Considering how much I worked on "Sonics", programmed them, then yes, of course, these are "Sonic" issues.

    "In first games Sonic were saving critters from robots. Have topic of ecology remained the basic for the series while you were engaged in its issues?

    Yes, it was this way all the time.

    "And why?"

    Because we've determined topic from the very beginning and haven't deviated from it ever since.

    "And haven't you had a desire to reveal Sonic's personality for example?"

    They frequently do that in movies - making prequels, in which they tell that hero had a difficult childhood, for example. I think, one shouldn't do that. Character will become uninteresting if you'll uncover all the mysteries. Better let there always remain a mystery.

    "Sonic initially had critters and robots but Sonic Adventure have introduced humans suddenly. Why have you decided to add them?"

    Action in Sonic's universe unfolded on Christmas Island from the very beginning, and accidentally things have happened the way there were only animals and robots in there. And later when Sonic made it to usual mega polis in Adventure, that's where he met humans.

    "But is this island located on Earth or this is some kind of another planet anyway?"

    On Earth. It actually exists, Americans (and also Englishmen - magazine) are having nuclear weapon testing there. Actually, this is exactly why we've populated it with robots and strange animals. *laughs*

    "A question, abstracted from Sonic - in the case of Phantasy Star series, in its time, why not Phantasy Star 4, but Phantasy Star Online was made?"

    My boss, Isao Okawa (Sega's president from 1984 to 2001 - magazine) said in 1998, that new era's going to start now - era of Internet, and we need to release some online game. We didn't think it will be Phantasy Star at first, but in the end we've come to this variant.

    "Japanese games dominated the market several years ago, and now western novelties are popular more and more frequently. Why did this happen, what do you think?"

    I think twenty years ago people who got involved in games, still were kids, this is why back then they were interested in Japanese projects. And now they grew up already, and American and European games happen to match them better in terms of age category. I think this is the main cause.

    "So Japanese people have no games designed for adults?"

    For me it seems so. From the very beginning Japanese people were making games, designed for more childish audience, but Americans went the other way, not being afraid of showing violence etc. in games. Of course Japan is trying to catch up with them, but we are very kind in character, it's hard for us to create such things.

    "For me it seemed the opposite, that it's actually Japanese games that are designed for people of all ages."

    When Japanese people are creating games, they actually think about interesting everyone, and western game designers, as I see it, have just choose an adult audience for them and are working for it. Sometimes children happen to get involved in these games as well, but we are trying not to allow this anyway (he means not to make very violent games - magazine).

    "You had to approve designs of game characters more than once for sure: somebody was passing your check, somebody was ending up left out. What features hero must have for you to consider him interesting?"

    I'm creating characters for many years already and think that this is very difficult - to make an interesting hero. Outside appearance is one thing, but you also have to vest him with various features. Pick Sonic for example - he wasn't even talking at the beginning, but it happened the way that we succeeded to express his inner world nicely even without words. That's why he was such a successful character.

    "And what do you think, how many gamers now understand that Sonic is a hedgehog?"

    No, not all of them. In Japan he's taken for a cat very frequently. It's easier for Americans - reference to hedgehogs exists right in the title of a game, so "hedgehogness" of Sonic is a given for them. But Frenchmen or Germans for example are trying to see some other animals in him as well.

    "I've heard that Japan prefer to make games about guys. Tell me, is this really true?"

    In a first game I've made girl have actually got a main role, and I sympathize very much to such characters myself. But I frequently stumble upon Americans and Europeans wanting to see heroes as guys namely - they say that if girl gets the main role then this is some kind of frivolous thing. But I'm interested in composing games about girls myself, may be this is not that commercially profitable though. *laugh*

    "And by the way, why did you twist an intrigue so much in that first game? Like, the girl has to take her guy back from her friend that took him previously. Because in similar games one just has offered to twist romances with "unowned" suitors."

    Right after I've got to Sega, I've been told: "Come up with a game that girls will like." And then we've came up with this story: allegedly, girl needs to pick flowers for a boy to come back to her in the end. There was very little number of games designed for girls exactly back then, and we've decided to fill a niche.

    "You've already made several games for an iPhone - the platform that now tries to compete with Nintendo consoles. What do you think, how much is it suitable for traditional games and can it really compete even with DS, for example?"

    iPhone's most forte that we (in Prope) liked immediately is Apple's distribution system. When you release a game, it takes several months to localize it. And game for iPhone is released in 80 countries immediately; this was very comfortable for us.

    "But as far as I know, PSN and Xbox Live work according to the same principle. Or does approval process take more time there?"

    There is a certain platform holder - I won't tell what exactly - that have got different content rules for every country. There is always much confusion with such projects and system like that isn't very comfortable for us. What Apple offers - to publish very same game immediately for everyone - is more suitable for us.

    "People argue frequently about should we consider games to be an art or not. And what do you think?"

    Same arguments were there about cinema, must one consider it an art or not... If you ask me, cinema is a cinema, art is an art, and games are games... But pick Mario games for example - they aren't ceasing making them for about 25 years already, and such a long time period gives you an excuse to call them classics, classify as an art.

    "And what do you engage in in you spare time when you're not coming up with games?"

    I'm playing with my son, and also I'm get involved in racing for 11 years already, go to track and drive a sports car.

    "Wow! And what car have you got?"

    Lotus Elise.

    "What do you think about TGS2010?"

    I don't think something have changed much. Well, may be exposition goes a bit more modest than in previous years because of economical situation. But Level 5's stand, for example, have fascinated me - may be this is because such games match my tastes, but I always look on novelties and rejoice that they continue to release things I like.

    And last but not least, Shiro Maekawa interview, taken in 2006, and translated in 2014.
  2. Billy


    RIP Oderus Urungus Member
    Colorado, USA
    Indie games
    Interesting! Thank you for posting these. They are pretty rough around the edges, like you said, but the information still comes across.