Whether you’re getting your first Sonic game signed or you’re privileged enough to be playing on stage with Jun Senoue, one of the great things about Summer of Sonic is that it’s a chance for fans to connect with the people making the games we care about. Last year I was one of the lucky ones, as I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka for this very site.
My luck continued this year. While I might have managed to scare the president and CEO of Prope away from the UK for good (though I’ll fervently deny that in court), Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka returned to Summer of Sonic and numbered amongst those who gracefully agreed to face a bout of questions from Sonic Retro. So, on with the show!
Retro: How did you first become involved in the video game industry? Did you work on any games before Sonic 3?
Iizuka: The university I went to was the kind of university where you learned about electronics. Most of the students will have worked with electronics companies like Toshiba and Sony after graduating. The difference was that I wanted to find a fun job, so the only company I went for was Sega! If I didn’t get that, I would have ended up going to a normal electronics company. Sonic 3 was the project that I started in my first year at Sega, but as practice I was involved with Golden Axe 3.
Retro: Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations have received the best reaction of any Sonic games since Sonic Adventure 2, both from critics and fans. What changes do you think explain the positive reactions that have been achieved?
Iizuka: Before Sonic 4 and and Sonic Colours where I was the producer, it seemed that the whole direction wasn’t really in tune. There wasn’t really an idea of how to portray Sonic. When I became producer, I was able to portray Sonic in the way that he really should be portrayed. This may have had an impact on the way the new games have been received.
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Retro: Was there anything that you had hoped to include in Sonic Generations that didn’t make it into the final game?
Iizuka: Being the 20th anniversary, there was a lot that we had wanted to put in Sonic Generations from the previous 20 years worth of games. But, due to the development schedule there was a lot we couldn’t include, though nothing in specific.
Retro: This week, NiGHTS into Dreams was announced for download services such as Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Lots of fans are really excited to see the game given a fresh treatment. Are there any Sega games or series that you would be interested in working on in the future?
Iizuka: There are a lot of games that can’t be played on modern consoles because they aren’t available, really good games from the past that a lot of the new generation of players don’t have access to. It would be really nice to see these popular games released on new platforms one day, so that they can be accessed.
Retro: Do you see any interesting possibilities with new hardware in the gaming world, such as with the Wii U, or the Playstation WonderBook?
Iizuka: [In English] It is hard to say! [Everyone laughs]
David Corless (Sonic Brand Director, Sega Europe): I think there’s always good opportunities with new hardware. The team is always looking for new ways, they always come up with new ways, like with Secret Rings on the Wii, or the 3DS with Generations. They always find new ways to exploit the technology, so I would think with new machines they will do that.
Retro: When you’re not working on video games, what are your outside interests and hobbies? Have they ever effected the way you approach a game title?
Iizuka: Not so much hobbies, but I have a home theatre with a projector and I watch 2-3 movies a week, so maybe there are elements of that which impact on making games. I do play with my kids, and when I see the kids having fun I try to incorporate those elements that will capture the fun into the game.
Retro: What is your role on non-Sonic games produced by Sonic Team, such as the Puyo Puyo and Phantasy Star series?
Iizuka: It’s almost a different team, so there’s nearly no interaction.
Retro: Would you be open to having Sonic Team work in conjunction with any other game studios to develop a game, be they other studios within Sega or external companies?
Iizuka: Internally within Sega, although it’s not quite the same as working with other teams, we do have people who change between the different teams. Although it’s not technically the same as what you asked, we experience a lot of different ways of working. Also, with Generations and other products we have worked with a lot of outside teams.
Many thanks to Takashi Iizuka and the Summer of Sonic team. Please check back later this week for Summer of Sonic interviews with Jun Senoue and Sumo Digital.
He doesn’t really say anything, to be honest. I think that depends on the questions, which were quite tame, but it also looked like he isn’t a very extraverted person with vivid answers. Still, I look forward to the other interviews!
There isn’t too much new information here, no. Don’t blame the questions for this – having interviewed Iizuka for two years in a row and having seen him at the Q&A sessions, I’ve noticed that he tends to favour reserved answers.
As far as the questions go, various factors are at play here. You’ll note, for example, that the Sonic brand director was in the room. Technical complexities are easily lost when working through an interpreter, which imposes some constraints on what can be asked. Also, on at least one occasion when I asked about a specific thing, Iizuka was completely unfamiliar with it.
The other interviews have some more concrete answers, so please do check back for them!