Saturday, June 25th. A thousand-strong horde of Sonic fans descends upon the Camden Centre in London, to celebrate a video gaming icon with music, games, laughs and chilli dogs. So far, so Summer of Sonic, but this was the 20th anniversary show so there had to be something just a bit special going on, and blimey did they ever deliver on that. How? By getting Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka to drop by London to enjoy the festivities, do some signings and some Q&A sessions. That is pretty hard to top, ladies and gents, especially when fans were able to quiz the pair on Madonna, the joint American/Japanese development of Sonic 2, and dat barrel. However, Sonic Retro was also able to get a little more into the bargain and snag an interview slot with Naka and Iizuka. Exciting? I thought so.
Now if you will, allow me to set the scene. Things are behind schedule and everyone is hot and totally knackered, a fact that fellow attendees will attest to. We’re now down to the last interview slot of the day, and another site needs to cram into the session too. We finally get to head in as Jun Senoue takes to the stage to wow everyone downstairs. Still, I know things are going to be at least a little bit good when we’re asked what sites we came from – the mention of our site causes an “Ah, Sonic Retro!” from Iizuka, as he tilts his head back and smiles with a mixture of recognition and amusement. If you were ever in doubt of Retro’s reach, dear reader, that should give you a rough idea of our place in the grand scheme of things.
Then, with little time to spare and more questions than I can possibly ask, we get down to business.
Retro: Naka-san, you joined Sega around the time of its first real console releases, having worked on the SG-1000 and Sega My Card series back in the mid-80s. What was it like to see Sega become a video game publisher that was known all over the world?
Naka: At the beginning, Sega’s real catalyst for success was the arcade, and Sonic pulled it along and really built upon that. Also, the fact that we had hardware and were a first party helped to give us that status in the market, as a global name. So, I feel really happy to be able to be involved, really lucky. It’s really amazing that something created in Haneda, which is not at the centre of Tokyo, sold worldwide.
Hit the post break for the rest of the interview!
Retro: Iizuka-san, we’ve heard how you pushed for a “Sonic RPG” concept during the early development of Sonic Adventure. What was your vision of Sonic back then, and how did this play into the final product?
Iizuka: I did push for the RPG concept, but it wasn’t a full concept. [Iizuka starts gesturing with his hands, mimicing drawing] After we finished NiGHTS, I produced a one-page concept, just a sketch. On the page was a map, a key, some doors – it was really just a rough draft, it wasn’t an official proposal. I took this to Naka and said “This is going to be Sonic Adventure, how do you like this concept?”, and he looked at it and said “Actually, it looks really good, let’s keep working on this” and that grew into the Sonic Adventure that we know today.
Retro: Naka-san, one of the biggest questions Sonic researchers have had involves a scrapped zone from Sonic 2. How were Sonic and Tails supposed to access the Hidden Palace Zone, and what was supposed to happen there?
Naka: [Nods in recognition of the zone] We were actually working on Hidden Palace, and it was in the plan to develop it, but due to the situation we ended up cutting it. A ROM was leaked by someone, it wasn’t us that let that out, and we’re really sorry that it was leaked. So now it’s turned out to be a real Hidden Palace. The intention was that you were meant to access Hidden Palace Zone to get a Chaos Emerald, but it didn’t merge very well with the special stage – it didn’t work – so it didn’t go into the game. Because of the reaction that we had from the fans, we decided that we should make a Hidden Palace Zone, and we put that into Sonic & Knuckles. That zone should give you a good idea of how it was intended to be.
Retro: With Sonic Generations representing 20 years of Sonic, many classic concepts are being revisited in the game. What’s your favourite inclusion in the game, and what do you think players will enjoy the most?
Iizuka: Because Sonic has had such a long history, everyone would have a different opinion. The older fans will probably have been really excited when they saw Green Hill Zone, and fans from the Dreamcast days would probably have been really excited when they saw City Escape. So I think everybody will have a different stance on which stage or game title is quintessential to Sonic. With Sonic Generations, have tried to include everything that we think everyone will really like, so fans from old and new can start a discussion between themselves, and they can even talk about game titles they haven’t played. Someone might say “Hey, isn’t Green Hill Zone great!” and the guys who might have been too young to play the game at the time can say “Yeah, I really like Green Hill Zone!”, so they can share the happiness and excitement, and that’s the ethos behind Sonic Generations.
And with that, time was up. Many thanks to Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka, who were as accommodating to me as they were to the fans all day long (seriously, both are bros), and thanks also to the Summer of Sonic team for working with us to bring you this interview.