Interview with Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 16 May 2003
  • Interview Topics: Sonic Heroes, Year of Sonic
  • Interview Source: external.png - E3 Interview:
Sonic Heroes: An Interview with the Creators

By Ben Barker

"We want to make this year the year of Sonic," says Yuji Naka, the legendary game designer who created Sega's classic console character for the Genesis game Sonic the Hedgehog over a decade ago. Currently he is president of SONICTEAM, LTD., the SEGA development studio that produces exciting, action-packed console hits featuring Sonic and other cool original characters.

Sonic will be everywhere in the coming year (and beyond) as SEGA and SONICTEAM celebrate the blazing blue Hedgehog's twelfth anniversary with the most ambitious Sonic game yet, the multiplatform release Sonic Heroes™—an all-new 3-D platform adventure that brings Sonic to Xbox for the first time ever. Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka, the director of SONIC TEAM USA and leader of the group working directly on Sonic Heroes, kindly granted an interview on the final day of E3 2003.


Sonic Director Takashi Iizuka (left) and Creator Yuji Naka (right).

"For Sonic's twelfth anniversary, we've decided to release an animated series and a new game," Naka explained, "We really want to extend our audience for Sonic to the Xbox and multiple platforms." Sonic Heroes should have no trouble winning over both fans of the classic character and newcomers to the Sonic universe. "Through 12 years of Sonic history, our themes have been speed and cool gameplay," said Iizuka, "The Xbox is a very high-performance console. I would like Xbox users who have never experienced Sonic to experience two things: the speed, and the cool comfortable feeling you get when you really catch [how to play] the game."

The simultaneous use of three characters presents perhaps the most stunning new development in Sonic Heroes: team gameplay. Players can switch between team leaders at the touch of a button, tailoring play style to fit any situation. For example, the Sonic Heroes E3 demo featured Team Sonic. With Sonic in the lead position, the team relies on speed, barreling ahead in a fast-moving single-file formation; Knuckles leads with his fists, giving the team a powerful arrowhead formation; and the aerobatic Tails leads the team in a tall, light formation good for clearing long jumps and avoiding enemies on the ground.

But, that's just the tip of the iceberg, Iizuka told us. "Collaborative, group play really enhances speed, power, and freedom. At E3, we just wanted to present team action and intentionally introduced Team Sonic alone," he explained, "But, we have three more teams, 12 characters altogether. Team Rose is designed for beginners and is very easy for anyone to access. Team Dark is for those who really want to break something and knock back the enemies—the power makes gameplay feel really cool. Team Chaotix is incredibly unique: Depending on the stage, you have different objectives and play styles. You might need to take time and search for something, get somewhere very quickly, or even use stealth and hide." Multiple teams add great replay and multiplayer value, since the teams have separate starting points, exclusive levels, and plot lines. "Each team has an independent story, but they can merge very subtly at certain points," said Iizuka. "You can enjoy great complexity of interaction between the teams."


The heroes of Sonic Heroes team up for action!

The choice of teams (and choices within teams) makes Sonic Heroes a game for every gamer. "The style of play depends on the team and the user. Some people might want to slowly fly, evading the enemies; some will want to aggressively fight," said Iizuka. "In the beginning, you can pick the basic style to play; as you advance, you will figure out what kind of play is the best style for you and how to take advantage of it. For example, you'll learn that if you're in the air, you can change formation as you land and hit the ground running, to keep things fast."

As the year of Sonic builds up to breakneck speed, what does the future hold for the famous blue hedgehog and the powerful green Xbox? "I think Sonic will keep going," said Naka, Sonic's creator. "I hope we can release the next Sonic game on multiple platforms, too." He added, "Sonic has been running for 12 years, and we've kept creating speedy, action-oriented games. But, we could only do this because the users love Sonic. I hope we will obtain a lot of fans."

From my experience playing Sonic Heroes at E3, I can say, without a doubt, this game has made a fan out of this old Genesis user and current Xbox gamer. Watch for Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and nine more teamed-up characters to spin their way onto Xbox in early 2004!


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