With Sonic turning 30 this year, there’s a lot of history to look back on. Just like his contemporary, Mario, Sonic has had a broad career- going from side-scroller to 3D adventure game to even the silver screen, alongside James “Cyclops” Marsden.
We spoke to Takashi Iizuka, Executive producer of the Sonic series. about all things Sonic- from the beloved classic games to even his own personal experiences with the Fastest Thing Alive.
How do you feel about the Sonic Series reaching its 30th anniversary this year?
Iizuka: I felt like time flew by, in the blink of an eye and it is Sonic 30th anniversary. I’ve been involved in the making of Sonic’s games since Sonic 3 in 1993, it’s been 27 years since I was involved in the making of the games.
When I first joined the making of Sonic games, I never thought it would last this long, but games are like this, there’s always sequels to release, and I always want to make sure that we do better in the next Sonic games. And just like that, we’ve reached the 30th anniversary of Sonic.
I think the support from the fans of the series, of the character is the reason why Sonic can last as long as it is now. I’m really thankful to the fans, and hope you can continue to support Sonic in the future.
Are there any plans for the Sonic 30th anniversary? Also, any more anniversary events on the horizon?
Iizuka: Every time Sonic has their big anniversary like 20th and 25th anniversary, we have a place for the fans to gather around and have fun together, or some concerts.
But now , because it’s a little… special this year, there’s no way for us to have an offline event like that. Earlier, during Sonic’s birthday, we had a virtual online concert, and we have invited a symphony orchestra to play some of the BGM for this 30-year journey. With this, people from all around the world can enjoy the events simultaneously. Although it’s not the same as previous years, but we’ve found a new way to do it, and I hope we can keep this new way in future events
Sonic’s 30th anniversary has just begun, we have some unannounced projects and events, and I hope that we can enjoy the fun of anniversary events together with the fans.
We’ve seen Sonic collaborate with non-SEGA games for the 30th anniversary, like Fall Guys and Minecraft. How do you decide on which games to collaborate with? Are there any new collaborations in the future?
Iizuka: In April and June, we collaborated with Minecraft and released DLC events for them. And from what I’ve heard from the people working in Minecraft, the events are getting a lot of positive reviews. So in the future, to let more people know about Sonic, and enjoy more about Sonic, we will continue to collaborate with other games as well.
As for how we decide which games to collaborate with, we are hoping to collaborate with games that have a huge and independent player base, that are outside of the player base of Sonic’s games.
On the 30th anniversary, other than the collaboration with Minecraft, we have prepared some other collaborations with games from other companies as well, please stay tuned for more information in the future.
Are you also involved in the new Sonic title by SONIC TEAM? Can you share anything with us about how that’s coming along?
Iizuka: Yes, I’m involved in the making of the new Sonic game that was announced, that is made in Japan.
Regarding the new information, there isn’t anything for us to talk about, mainly because the SONIC TEAM in Japan, after the release of Sonic Forces, have gone a little quiet on the new game. Sometimes we can see people saying ‘Why is the SONIC TEAM in Japan not working on anything’, so we announced the new game on its 30th anniversary to tell everyone that they are working on making a better game. I hope people will get excited for the new game.
Regarding the new Sonic game, we estimated that the time taken to make the game will be longer than the ‘usual’ project. Because the new game is different from Sonic Forces and Sonic Colors Ultimate, we are no longer following the traditional action game scheme, but we are embracing some new challenges, so it would take longer for us to make the game.
But we believe that the end product will make people enjoy a new Sonic experience, so I hope people can look forward to the release of the game.
With 30 years of Sonic history, which would you say is the most famous? What about the most difficult or memorable projects?
Iizuka: I think the Sonic Classic Series is still the most famous of the Sonic games, that is, the Sonic 1, 2, and 3 on the Mega Drive (SEGA Genesis). It’s a 30 year-old game, but people are still using mobile phones or different platforms to play the games. Sonic Origins in 2022 will allow Sonic Classic Series to appear again, and we’re grateful to everyone who’s been playing the games.
For me, the most difficult Sonic game to make and the most memorable one are one and the same- it’s Sonic Adventure that was released on Dreamcast. It was mainly a question of ‘How do we make 2D Sonic become 3D, and make a new fun experience based on the new 3D Sonic?’. The team at that time tried different things in different ways, we also made a lot of mistakes at that time, and it was just the most energy consuming Sonic game ever.
Aside from Sonic The Hedgehog, Who’s Your Favorite Character In The Series?
Iizuka: About this, I think I like Shadow the Hedgehog the most. He’s a new character that we made during the time when I was the director of Sonic Adventure 2, mainly because during that time, we wanted to create a dark hero that has the power that rivals Sonic. I am also kind of into this dark hero type of character, so I still feel strongly about him, and still like Shadow the Hedgehog a lot.
So do you prefer 2D or 3D Sonic?
Iizuka: Well I like both 2D and 3D Sonic. The first Sonic game I made is in 2D, but my most memorable Sonic game is the 3D Sonic Adventure. I’ve joined the making of both 2D and 3D Sonic games, so I really like both of them.
But the thing about 2D is that it’s nostalgic. The pixel graphics and things like that, really bring out the feeling of ‘traditional’ Sonic. I also think to myself, ‘do people still want things like that now’? We released Sonic Mania in 2017, and surprisingly we received a lot of positive reviews from our fans, saying that they enjoyed the release of a 2D Sonic , and they are glad that we made the game. And that’s when I stop worrying about if 2D graphics are outdated and things like that.
The main thing about Sonic as a brand, is that we hope that we can share the focus on 2D and 3D equally, and make the games even better in the future.
What do you think a Sonic game absolutely needs to have?
Iizuka: Of course, it’s speed. When we are making the game, the main focus of us is how to present the speedy feeling of Sonic. No matter if it’s 2D, 3D or a racing game, our team is most focused on presenting the speed of Sonic to the players.
Are there any memorable experiences from the 30 years of Sonic that you want to share with everyone?
Iizuka: This is kind of a hard question, because if we want to talk about memories and stuff like that, it’s gonna be quite personal. When I joined SEGA to make Sonic 3, I went to America and lived there for a year and a half, and that’s the first time I left Japan to live overseas, it’s all because of Sonic.
And after I went back to Japan, for the sake of making Sonic Adventure 2, I again went off to America and lived there for 9 years. After a few years, I went to Los Angeles for Sonic again, and lived there for a while.
In the 30 years of Sonic history, I went and lived in America for 3 times just for Sonic, and it made a huge impact on my lifestyle. I met a lot of foreigners, and improved my English at the same time.
Because of Sonic, I improved in a lot of different things, and gained a lot of experience, and it is the most memorable moment of my life.
Sonic games have some of the the highest standards for game control and mechanical designs among platformers, what do you guys have to do to push the limit this far ahead?
Iizuka: First of all, thank you for giving Sonic games such an impressive review. As for how we push the limit, we just step by step fixing what’s wrong and keep on improving on the not so good stuff, and further improve on the things that are already impressive.
We still think that we haven’t reached the highest standard, there’s not a single game that we think has reached the highest standard. We just have to keep on improving and gathering new experiences.
As for how we reach the standard, after the release of a game, we will look into the review and feedback from our fans very carefully, and improve on things that the fans think is less fun or too difficult in the next game. The most important thing here is to study the mistakes and experience of the current game, and make sure we improve on the experience in the next game.
Sonic games have a lot of gimmicks on the landscape that will affect your movement speed, the angle where you jump and stay in the air and such, quite a lot of them are very similar to pinball machines or a pachinko machine. Do you guys planned these things ahead and refer to those elements, or you guys just spontaneously thought of it while making the game?
Iizuka: The elements of pinball or pachinko machines appeared as early as Sonic 1, where in one of the stages we have featured things like that. The main idea is to make Sonic bouncing around like pinball. The idea came from when Sonic runs he turns into a ball, so the team thought that we can make it act like a pinball bouncing around hitting stuff.
During the time of Sonic Adventure 2, we then have kind of an ‘official’ pinball and pachinko machine mechanics, and we also used stuff like springboard to make the level.
After that, we slowly integrate all these elements into different games and different levels, just to make the game feel more fun.
Could You tell us what’s new with Sonic Colors Ultimate?
Iizuka: This is a remastered game based on Sonic Colors that was released back in 2010. It is a remastered game that used a new way to put it onto new consoles and platforms. One of the major improvements that we have is about the frame rate and graphical stuff, those are improved based on the newest platforms that we have now.
At the same time, to let the new and old player enjoy the fun experience of Sonic, we also make some improvement on the overall aspect of the game.
When exactly did you decide to remaster Sonic Colors?
Iizuka: We decided to remaster Sonic Colors back when the Sonic movie was announced, it was part of the plan for the announcement. Our idea is that the Sonic movie will make more people know about Sonic. And to let people know that Sonic is a game that is easy to play and it’s fun, we then decide to remaster Sonic Colors to let people enjoy the Sonic experience.
Considering you were porting games from the Wii/Nintendo DS to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and PC, did you face any problems?
Iizuka: I think one of the difficult and time consuming parts of it is that the newer games are already getting used to releasing on multiple platforms at once, but back in the day of Sonic Colors, it’s one game for one platform, so Sonic Colors is like a Wii exclusive game.
So, in order to release Sonic Colors Ultimate on other platforms, we have to delete some Wii exclusive features, and redesign the game from there. That is the energy consuming part of it.
Is there a chance for us to get a new Sonic Colors Series game in the future?
Sonic games have a lot of different gameplay, from platformers like the mainline Sonic games to racing games like Team Sonic Racing. Could you tell us a little bit about the direction of the next Sonic title?
Iizuka: So we will be releasing the new Sonic game in 2022, in terms of the game system, the team has made a new challenge, and it is different from Sonic Colors and all the previous games. I hope everyone will be looking forward to the new game.
Considering the popularity of characters like Knuckles, are there any chances for them to get their own spinoffs?
Iizuka: Currently, the only spinoff game is about Shadow the Hedgehog, but I do want to try to make spinoff games based on other characters. However, we are already going full force for making and publishing Sonic main series games, so we are currently not available for making spinoff games.
So any chance of a Sonic Adventure remake?
Iizuka: We actually notice that the fans actually want a remake of Sonic Adventure, but in terms of remaking past games, Sonic Colors is our first challenge. We’ve never had the experience of re-releasing old games on new platforms, so We’ll have to think about [Remaking Sonic Adventure] based on the reviews and feedback for Sonic Colors Ultimate.
What are your thoughts on the Sonic racing spinoffs?
Iizuka: Other than the action games, the racing genre is actually one of the most famous and the most needed genres in Sonic games. We have released Team Sonic Racing back in 2019.
If there are chances in the future, the team and I really want to take up the challenge of making a racing game again.
From Sonic Mania to Sonic Forces and then to Team Sonic Racing, we can see that the Sonic IP can be integrated into different genres of games. Are there any genres that SONIC TEAM haven’t tried, but wanted to try making a game of that genre?
Iizuka: I think that action games are more towards single player type of games. I really wanted to make something like Sonic Mania where everyone can enjoy the game at the same time or play it together.
What are plans for the Sonic IP going forward?
Iizuka: Well, it might not be as official as Sonic IP Strategic Planning, but other than games, we hope to use other forms of media to further promote Sonic, and to let people across all ages know more about Sonic as a brand.
So other than games, we also have movies, and we are also releasing animation on Netflix. So we hope that we can let more people know about Sonic from all other forms of media other than games, like animation or movies and such.
What do you think of the Sonic The Hedgehog movie? Is there a clear plan on expanding Sonic into different media?
Iizuka: We always have the wish/hope that Sonic can become a Hollywood movie, where the movie can promote Sonic globally to different types of people, and let them know about Sonic. The huge success of the first Sonic movie is actually a surprise for SEGA.
About the expansion of Sonic into different forms of media, it’s mainly to let the fans enjoy more about the fun of Sonic. And if this can lead to more people knowing Sonic, we are positive to make the expansion into different media.
In Lost Judgment (the sequel) we have the Sonic fighting game arcade machine, and regarding the Sonic fighting game, are there any plans on releasing a new game, or releasing it as an independent game? Why choose Sonic as the game to include in the Lost Judgment?
Iizuka: Putting Sonic Fighters into Lost Judgment is actually part of the plan for the 30th anniversary, other than that we also think about this as a way to let people who don’t know about Sonic to know about it, and make them feel interested about Sonic.
As for releasing it as an independent game, it’s a little bit difficult as we released it in Smash Bros. before, so releasing it as an independent game for now is a little bit hard for us.
Do you have any special messages for the fans for Sonic’s 30th anniversary?
Iizuka: Every time when Sonic hits like 10th or 20th anniversary, I always think about the same thing, which is the fact that Sonic can continuously release that many products. It’s not just because we continue to make Sonic products, it’s also because of our games can make people happy and their willingness to support the games, and that is why we can continue down this road.
If nobody likes it, we couldn’t make it happen anymore, so I really appreciate the support coming from fans. This makes it feels like our relationship with fans is us continuously supporting one another.
Other than that, in 2022, other than the movie getting a sequel, we will also be releasing an animated series on Netflix, to let people who are not that familiar with Sonic games can understand more about the IP. At the same time, this also can let our player enjoy Sonic in a different way.
About this year, we will be releasing Sonic Colors Ultimate, and for next year we have Sonic Origin and the brand new Sonic games. I hope everyone can get excited about the games, we will continue to make more products and expansion about Sonic, hope everyone can continue supporting us.