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SEGADriven and Emerald Coast Interview Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Naka

On the 25th of June 2011 myself and Phil “Vger” Sims of Emerald Coast were given the opportunity of a lifetime. In a small room above the main hall in the Camden Centre, Kings Cross while Summer of Sonic was in full swing, we began an interview with 2 of our heroes; Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Naka. That’s right; the developer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog and the man who’s been the director and a major influence on Sonic since Sonic Adventure.

What follows is one of the greatest 20 minutes of our lives. For reference, my questions are marked as SD, Phil’s as EC, Naka-san’s answers as YN and Iizuka-san’s as TI:

SD: Thank you very much for having the time for us. We’ve literally been following your careers since 1991 so this is very surreal!

*We explain to Naka-san and Iizuka-san who we are and what website’s we represent. Myself and Phil exchange looks and I allow Phil to ask the first question. Here we go!*

EC: Naka-san, when you first created Sonic the Hedgehog as the new mascot for SEGA, did you ever think that it would become the success that it has now?

YN: As I mentioned earlier on the stage, Sonic was created to be a hit overseas so we had the confidence. But he has exceeded our expectations and we’re really happy that he has and very proud that he’s been around for 20 years now.

SD: I know you obviously develop games as a career but do you ever get the chance to play video games and what is your favourite video game?

YN: *rubs head in frustration* I used to play games a lot, but these days it’s becoming less and less frequent and over the years and the general flow has been to be playing on the home consoles and then the handheld devices and now onto mobile devices. If I was to pick a game that I really like it would be the original Super Mario Bros. There are elements within other games that I like but Super Mario Bros has left a big impression on me.

TI: Recently I haven’t been able to find the time to really concentrate on playing on my own, but these days I find that I’m playing with my children on Nintendo games such as Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Sonic Colours and New Super Mario Bros Wii.

YN: I really envy that.

*Everyone laughs*

EC: What do you use to get inspiration for ideas for new Sonic games? Is it a group discussion or is it that someone in the team comes up with an idea and then you run with it?

YN: So from Sonic 1 onwards we created the games as a team and that is why whenever you play a Sonic game you see ‘Sonic Team’ on the splash screen. This is the culture that we’ve had from the very beginning. It still goes on now where everyone contributes and there’s discussion and ideas coming together to create a really great product. Iizuka-san knows more about what happens today but I believe its something we’ve always done. Its because of these discussions that allow everyone to get involved that we’ve been able to develop a really great product.

*Iizuka-san begins to respond when someone walks into the room looking for water. I direct them downstairs and after a moment of awkwardness everyone laughs*

TI: To the sell the product it really depends on what level of idea we’re talking about here. For example, the idea that really comes to the forefront and is really obvious to the title like the colour powers in Sonic Colours or with Sonic Generations it’s that whole concept of time and a sense of history; these base ideas are the ones that are built on that I come up with. Then I talk to the team who really help realise this and get it into the code and really shape it into what you would see. This is all done via discussion with myself as director.

SD: This question might be reaching too far into your memory, but for a while now online there’s been a little demo called Sonic Crackers. People have always wondered whether its a demo for Chaotix or something else entirely *shows an image to Naka-san and Iizuka-san. General confusion ensues*

TI: Chaotix on the 32X is not a title I had direct involvement in so I can’t give you any specifics as we weren’t deeply involved with, but I presume this is a prototype for the final game.

SD: Sorry, I didn’t realise you weren’t heavily involved in the development (my bad)!

EC: Sonic Adventure marked the move from 2D to a 3D version of Sonic. Of course this involved a lot of work; what were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome when taking Sonic from 2D to 3D?

TI: At the time there were games around that were 3D and you could run freely but the key point here is that with Sonic traditionally it is a side scrolling game and everyone is aware that you move from left to right to get to the goal. The problem was that if you made it 3D and you could move around freely it wouldn’t be so accessible without the obvious goal as it is key with Sonic that you move from A to B in a certain direction. Making it in 3D we wanted to make sure you had the same experience you had with 2D. My main work on this title at the time was the camera system and how it behaved. Even the staff in the team at the time were a bit dubious as to whether this would be a successful way of implementing it and whether it was going to be obvious as to which direction you were meant to go. But as soon as it was implemented and it was working and the team saw how it was working we instantly realised this was the direction we wanted to go. Obviously it was a success. This was the innovation that Sonic Adventure and the games thereafter built upon to bring Sonic into 3D.

SD: Naka-San, you’re currently developing Rodea: The Sky Soldier for Wii. How is progress coming and is there any discussion about perhaps bringing it to Wii-U?

YN: Aren’t we supposed to be talking about the anniversary? Is it okay for me to talk about Rodea? *laughs* At the moment the game has been submitted for release of Wii so it will not be coming out for Wii-U. What do you think about the Wii-U?

SD: It’s difficult to judge at this moment in time. I think the controller is an amazing idea, but there’s been recent talks about how far you can use it away from the main unit. I think this could be a big barrier for consumers. However, Nintendo definitely have what it takes to be successful again in the next generation.

YN: I’m looking forward to it; exciting!

*We are told our time is up*

A huge thank you to both Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka for giving us the time to do this and an even bigger thank you to Svend Joscelyne for organising it! It really was a dream come true!

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- Dreamcast Live
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- Project Phoenix Productions
- Radio SEGA
- Saturday Morning Sonic
- SEGA Retro
- Sonic HQ
- Sonic Paradise
- The Dreamcast Junkyard
- The Pal Mega-CD Library
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