Sonic is coming out shooting at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles this week. Sega is showing off two games with its famous hedgehog, which has generated more than 350 million units sold or app downloads since his debut in 1991.
Sega is showing Sonic Forces, a game with modern 3D graphics, and Sonic Mania, a classic 2D game with blazing-fast speed. The architect behind these titles is Takashi Iizuka, who has headed the Sonic Team since 2010. I played both games at a preview event and interviewed Iizuka afterward. We spoke through a translator, but it was clear that he is on a mission to bring back the reputation of Sonic for a new generation of fans.
Sonic Mania plays at 60 frames per second. Sonic isn’t losing any of his speed, and Iizuka isn’t either. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What are you trying to accomplish with these two new Sonic games? What are they each trying to do differently?
Takashi Iizuka: There are two big things we’re trying to do. With Sonic Mania, we’re making a game that touches on the nostalgia of when you grew up playing the 16-bit Sonic games. We wanted to make a classic game that stayed true to that classic design, classic look and feel, and provided that to fans who enjoyed the Genesis version of Sonic the Hedgehog. But it’s not just a classic game. It’s making something new and exciting that fits in that classic package.
For Sonic Forces, we realized that a lot of people have played a lot of different games over Sonic’s history. Sonic Mania would be a game for people like me who grew up with the Genesis version, but at the same time a lot of people enjoyed playing the 3D modern Sonic games. Sonic Forces is the answer to what those people are looking for — a modern Sonic game with fast, exciting gameplay like Colors and Generations. This is a game for them. For the first time we’re including a customizable character, one that players can design themselves and bring into the world. They get to take that character they made and go on an adventure with Sonic.
GamesBeat: Sonic Forces looks like it has some very different, interesting 3D backdrops. It has a much more complex world.
Iizuka: That’s exactly right. Sonic Team has been working on the game engine for this current generation. It’s Hedgehog Engine 2.0. What we wanted to accomplish is getting a realistic feel – realistic textures, realistic lighting, the shine of reflections off the water. We wanted the engine to give this game a realistic 3D quality to the game.
GamesBeat: Is there a different kind of skill required to master one game compared to the other?
Iizuka: It’ll be two very different skill sets. People who are very good at the classic games will feel right at home playing Sonic Mania. It’s the kind of 2D platform action game that was so popular back in the day. We’re bringing it back to life. All your classic gaming skills will translate to Mania.
Likewise, with Sonic Forces, if you’ve been playing the more modern generation of Sonic games, all of those skills will also translate into that kind of high-speed 3D action platform game. It’s two very different skill sets, but they’re tailored to players who are playing the classic games and the modern games.
GamesBeat: It seems like there’s a division between that older generation of Sonic fans and a younger one.
Iizuka: We realize that some of the older fans really appreciate that style more than younger kids who came in with 3D video games and that more modern 3D aesthetic. It doesn’t meant that younger kids don’t play the classic games, though, and even some of our older fans enjoy Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations.
GamesBeat: It must be interesting to work on both at the same time. Does it get confusing at times, though?
Iizuka: I’ve been working on Sonic the Hedgehog for 24, 25 years. Every time we release a Sonic game, if it’s a 3D action Sonic game, we get the classic fans saying, “We want a 2D action game!” And when we release a 2D game, we get the same thing from the 3D fans. “We want a 3D action game!” So this is a unique chance to develop both at the same time and release them both, so both of these really energetic fan bases get to be excited about the games they want.
GamesBeat: Is one or the other a harder job to design?
Iizuka: Obviously I’ve worked on both kinds, and we have two different teams working separately on each of these titles. It’s not necessarily more or less difficult for them. But I really enjoy making both kinds of games. They have their own challenges, but they also have a lot of fun things you can do with each type of gameplay.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about where the popularity of Sonic is at today and where it’s going?
Iizuka: For the past few years we’ve been exclusively on Nintendo platforms. They make great hardware, but we realized that for the games we’re making now, going multiplatform is what we need to do to get as many people to play Sonic games as possible. We’re looking forward to being on every platform, including PC, and maybe even looking for some new fans and new audiences that haven’t had Nintendo hardware and are now going to be able to play Sonic again. We’re excited to look at the future and hopefully find a new audience of players who like the Sonic games.