The following is a translation of an interview with Sonic creator Yuji Naka from the February 1995 issue of Sega Saturn Magazine. The original scans can be found at the bottom.
Sonic the Hedgehog Staff Interview
We Ask Yuji Naka about the Possibility of a Saturn Sonic
Yuji Naka, the programming prodigy from Sega, is the father of Sonic. After finishing his three years of service at SOA, he is back in Japan to work on the Sega Saturn! In this exclusive, we ask him about the future of the Sonic series and hear some development secrets from Sonic & Knuckles!
To Help Sonic Grow Even More, a Recharge Period is Necessary
Q: Sonic has now become world-famous. As his creator, what do you think of this?
Naka: I’m very happy. Every time I see him, I think, “Ah, Sonic, you’ve grown up!”
Q: How was the character of Sonic created?
Naka: We designed the game system first, and from there we looked for a character that would fit the game. That’s our way of doing things. The reason we chose a hedgehog is that we thought it would be interesting to have a character that defeated enemies by rolling in a ball, and that would be more convincing if he had spines on his back.
Q: How about Miles (Tails) from Sonic 2?
Naka: For Sonic 2, my first idea was to have a simultaneous 2-player mode, which I had wanted to do for the first game. As development proceeded, it changed from 2-player to more like 1.5-player. I wanted the system to be one where the second player could grab the controller and jump right in or, conversely, quit without messing up the tempo of the game. So the character we thought of wasn’t an equal to Sonic, but rather was a bit young — someone who admired and followed Sonic.
Q: And the new character Knuckles?
Naka: In designing Knuckles, we did some research with American children. We started with eight candidates, and the most popular among them was the dreadlocked Knuckles. He was very popular with junior high and high school students, but in the early stages he had a harsher, more reptilian or dinosaur-like design. He’s much more refined now, but he still has a long dinosaur-like tail.
Q: How do American children perceive the Sonic family?
Naka: Sonic is cool and popular with everyone, and Tails is cute and very popular with children. Knuckles is the most popular now. He’s cool but has a bit more of a “bad boy” image to him compared to Sonic. One interesting thing is that the character designer for each game has been different: Ohshima for the first, Yamaguchi for the second, and Yuda for the third. Because the last two have based their designs on Ohshima’s original vision, the feeling of the series has stayed properly uniform.
Revealing the Development Secrets of Sonic 3
Q: Because we’re being joined by two other members of Sonic Team for the first time, I was wondering if both of you would be able to share some difficulties you ran into when developing Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.
Iizuka: I worked on the game design under the main designer of the Sonic series, Yasuhara (currently working at SOA). This time, it was challenging to find a good balance for the characters, since each character has quite a different strategy for the best route on each map.
Yuda: As in the previous entries in the series, it was standard to draw the characters, but actually, at the beginning of development, there was talk that Sonic 3 was likely going to be Sonic 3D. So overall, I added more shading and such to the characters to give the feeling of three-dimensionality. You can see traces of the original plan in the title screen.
Q: Sonic 3D? What is that!?
Naka: At first, I wanted to make a Sonic game using an isometric layout, so development began with the plan to use the SVP (the high-speed processor chip used in the Mega Drive version of Virtua Racing).
Q: So 3D means you were making polygons?
Naka: It was still in the experimental stages, but I made a zooming screen and a polygon Sonic using development tools. In the end, we were unable to use the SVP due to cost issues, so all of the programming I had done for the SVP since the beginning of development became useless. However, in the spring of the year before last, there was a partnership with McDonald’s in America, and we had to release Sonic 3 by a certain time for that. I remember fighting against the clock to get it released. However, since this would be the final Sonic game on the Mega Drive, nobody on the team wanted to end it with a partially completed game. That’s when we came up with the idea of using a lock-on system. Well, the plan came about more out of self-indulgence than anything. At first, we were more focused on our own strong desires to make a satisfactory game than selling it or anything like that. To tell them apart, we called Sonic 3 “3A” and Sonic & Knuckles “3B.” I guess if you put A and B together you get one complete game. I apologize to the users that we were unable to provide both at the same time, but we tried to add as much value as we could, and we put so much effort into Sonic & Knuckles that we truly left nothing out. Please play it as a set with Sonic 3. Thankfully, it seems to be doing quite well overseas.
What’s Happening with Sonic on the Saturn?
Q: At present, Sonic is the mascot of Sega, but what’s going to happen on the Saturn? We’ve heard from users who ask, “Why isn’t Sonic in the early lineup of Sega’s flagship console?”
Naka: Well, I think that a Sonic game will eventually be released. However, to be honest, since we just released Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles in succession, we would like to have a recharge period in order to come up with some fresh ideas. Of course I want to help the character of Sonic grow even bigger, but I guess you could say we’re on vacation for now. I hope to be able to present something new this year aside from Sonic.
Q: Why did you return to Sega of Japan?
Naka: Because I wanted to work with the new Saturn hardware. I decided for now to leave America, where I had been for three years, in order to gain more knowledge about Saturn development, which is already advancing.
Q: How does the Saturn feel to you?
Naka: I’ve said this a lot, but at any rate, it’s an amazing console. The processing speed is incredibly fast, and it has none of the limits that held back games up to now. But it’s not only about increased processing speed. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the greater creative freedom that it allows. It might be my disposition as a developer, but I want to push the hardware to its limits. Those limits are still very high, but conversely, I can’t help but feel excited about playing around with them.
Q: What kind of new game are you thinking of?
Naka: We’ve started working on a new action game. Iizuka is the main planner. The details are still secret, but all of the staff are excited to work on the game that we think will become the face of the Saturn. It’s not going to be finished for a while yet, but I want it to be a game that represents a big turning point for action games. In addition, we’ve assembled the five top members of Sonic Team, including Ohshima, for this, so I think it will be a game that Sonic fans can really appreciate.
Q: That means it’s going to be a character-based game?
Naka: That’s still a secret (laughs).