We caught up with Sonic Team's Yuji Naka recently and had the chance to grill him about the studio's upcoming projects, Sonic Mega Collection and Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II. Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube collects the bulk of the blue hedgehog's exploits from the Genesis games, and Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II presents a new installment of Sonic Team's groundbreaking online console RPG for the Xbox and GameCube. We talked to him about developing both games and about what's in store for both franchises.
Sonic Mega Collection
GameSpot: How did you settle on which Sonic games to include?
Yuji Naka: I wanted to include all the Genesis games. I'd wanted to include Sonic CD, but I couldn't because of space constraints.
GS: Will the game support any kind of connectivity with the Game Boy Advance or e-Reader?
GS: Do those features interest you as a developer?
YN: Yes. We're researching what we can do with them in the future.
GS: How do you think the games hold up over time?
YN: I think they're a good way to teach people about Sonic's history. Although some say it's too much volume. [laughs] One game is big enough for someone to enjoy, but all of them together is a lot.
GS: Which is your favorite Sonic game out of the ones included in the collection?
YN: Probably the original. That was my first one, and it holds a lot of special memories.
GS: Do you have any memories of or interesting stories about working on the various games?
YN: Well not so much about making each of the games. But when we started gathering materials to include in the compilation, we actually had a hard time finding them. It's been 10 years since we made these games, and we really had to dig to find materials because Sega's not that good about keeping history. We really had a sense of accomplishment when we put it all together.
GS: Do you think there was anything else that could have been done with the series in 2D?
YN: Well actually it's easier for you to know what works and what doesn't in 2D. So I'd actually like to make more 2D games, but in terms of the market and people's expectations of graphics technology in a game, the demand is for 3D rather than 2D.
GS: Did you ever think when you were working on the original Sonic game that he would be this popular?
YN: Well I really didn't think so, although I hoped. Every time we made a game we wanted it to sell more than a million copies, but it's hard to expect that such a thing will actually happen.
GS: What have you learned from working on the Sonic games?
YN: Well I think interacting with children has taught me a lot. I talk to the children we bring in to test our games and look at the e-mails and pictures they send. We can't get to every single one, but we all try to look over as many as we can. I think they remind us to keep open minds and to think freely.
GS: What do you think the series has contributed to games and to the platforming genre?
YN: I don't think it contributed that much. I think, in terms of gameplay, we were probably influenced by others.
GS: What are you proudest of about the series?
YN: Well I think the original idea to create this game is something I can be proud of because of the characteristics and the style of the game and because no one has ever really copied what we've done.
Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II
GS: Whose idea was it to include the turrets in Phantasy Star Online Episode II? They're pretty fatal when you're starting out.
YN: [laughs] I think it was one of the members of the team. So you must not have played through Episode I first? You started with Episode II?
YN: [laughs] Well you should at least play through the caves in Episode I before you try Episode II, especially if you're playing as a force. There are many people who will want to try Episode II right away, but we'd like them to try Episode I first for a little while. Since the game does include both episodes, we'd really like people to play Episode I as well.
GS: How much new content will be in Episode II?
YN: The scenario is all new. It takes place after Episode I.
GS: Have there been any additions or enhancements to Episode I?
YN: There haven't been any major changes, although [for the GameCube version] you'll find a special chao [which is a virtual life creature from Sonic Adventure] to import into your Game Boy Advance's tiny chao garden. It's Tails' chao.
GS: Will you be able to upload it into Sonic Adventure 2 Battle ?
YN: Yes, it's something you couldn't find in the game. You can put it into Sonic Advance too.
GS: When playing multiplayer games, why do both players go back to the ship after one dies?
YN: Well one of the main reasons is that we really want to encourage players to talk to each other and cooperate with one another. But also, we wouldn't have been able to maintain the quality of the graphics if we were rendering the planet on one screen and the ship on the other. I really wanted to make a game that people could play together. Online games are fun, but they can be intimidating for people to try because of connection issues and things like that, so I'm hoping they'll see that playing with other people can be fun.
GS: Will there be anything added to the US version?
YN: Not really. Just the Nintendo seal of approval.
GS: Will we see the same kinds of time-specific events in the online game that we saw in the Dreamcast version?
YN: You'll notice the seasonal differences more when you're in the lobby. In terms of enemies, you'll notice some specific changes during certain times. For example, during Halloween your enemies will have pumpkin heads.
GS: Will we see Sonic or any other Sonic Team characters in the game similar to what was done for Sonic's 10th anniversary?
YN: Not exactly, but at the end of the year you'll find Nights in the game. When you find him you'll be able to download an exclusive game to the Game Boy Advance.
GS: When did you decide to bring the GameCube game to the Xbox? Will it be the same game?
YN: Yes, we just revealed this at TGS.
GS: How were you able to get the game on the Xbox so quickly?
YN: [laughs] Everyone almost worked themselves to death. It was very hard, but we wanted to make sure the game was ready for the launch in the United States. Microsoft is in charge of selling it so we're not sure when it's going to ship. Everything is complete now; they have the game. I was hoping they would sell it immediately, but I have a feeling they may be waiting to see what the market situation is to decide the right time to release. Maybe if the fans asked for them to release it right away, they might release it sooner? [smiles]
GS: Will Xbox and GameCube owners be able to play together online?
YN: No, Xbox Live is a closed network.
GS: You mentioned some time ago that there had been even more classes planned for the original Phantasy Star Online. Are the new additions to Episode I & II all of them? Or were there even more you would have liked to include?
YN: If the series is going to have a long life, I think we'll have to make sure we're constantly adding to it. So I think that we'll add more classes in the future.
GS: What do you consider Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II to be? Is it a true sequel to PSO, or is it an add-on?
YN: I'd say it's a true sequel. We could have just released the Episode II scenario, but we didn't want players to feel like they had missed something, so we included both games to make sure they would have the whole experience.
GS: What have you learned from the series? What are you proudest of?
YN: Online games are hard to make! [laughs] I'd say I'm proudest of the fact that a lot of the fans are making their own communities and groups.
GS: Thanks for your time.