Q&A: BioWare on Sonic Chronicles

We chat with BioWare about the experience of translating the blue hedgehog to a handheld format, slowing things down for an RPG, combat systems, and much more.

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Video game icon Sonic the Hedgehog speeds into role-playing game territory in the upcoming Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood for the Nintendo DS, with BioWare, the developer behind other RPG hits such as Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic, taking the reins of the anticipated game. We spoke to BioWare art director Joel MacMillan about translating Sonic's pace onto a handheld, the combat system, and how much gameplay we can expect when the game ships later this month.

GameSpot AU: This is BioWare's first stab at an RPG for a handheld device. What are the specific challenges for designing that type of game on the DS?

Joel MacMillan: One of the interesting challenges from an art standpoint was trying to develop a visual style that celebrated the DS's hardware capabilities, rather than falter with them. In the end, even after setting a visual direction that fit the console, we still fought to wring every last drop of processing power out of the DS.

GS AU: Sonic has traditionally been about speed. How do you translate that into an RPG experience?

JM: This was a big challenge for us, and we were well aware of it before we even started. Gameplay-wise, we tried to condense a lot of the action into little vignettes that would play out continuously, such as using the "round-based" combat. This at least "looked" fast, even if the player isn't "playing" fast.

GS AU: What can you tell us about the plot?

JM: I think this is obviously best left for the audience's first play-through to find out. I will say that the overall story is broken up into two acts, the first taking place in a very familiar Sonic world, and the second branching out into something we haven't seen yet, something a little darker (not just visually). I'm confident that what has been done with the story in Sonic Chronicles will be something that fans will remember for a while, and will hopefully be expanded in the future.

GS AU: How many of the Sonic universe's characters will be in the game? How many can you have in your party at once?

JM: Again, I'd like to leave some of this for the audience to discover when they play through the game. Rest assured we've revived a really good handful of Sonic's chums to keep him company on his adventures. The way it plays out is that you'll have four party members with you at most times, but there'll be a stronghold of 11 total. Part of the fun will be finding out just who will be fighting alongside you.

GS AU: Tell us about the combat system. From what we've seen so far, it's a mix of turn-based with some real-time action.

JM: That's correct. Combat's been engineered to play out as rounds, to help illustrate a feeling of speed. To accentuate that, there's a Realtime Button Input system we have that coincides with combat. During the team's power moves, the player will have to successfully accomplish a small button-and-stylus sequence in order to deliver a maximum damage attack. It's actually a lot of fun; as the player levels up their power moves, the Realtime Button Input gets more difficult. It's a good way to keep the player on their toes.

GS AU: How do characters level up, gain new abilities, and weapons in the game?

JM: This is mostly done through experience points and fighting. As the player levels up, they'll unlock new power moves to use. Some of the more complex moves really help convey the fun, cartoony direction we've chosen to go with the feel of the game. We definitely have a few favourites here in the studio--Blue Bomber and Triple Tornado are pretty popular.

GS AU: How long will the single-player experience last? Do you have any plans for multiplayer?

JM: There will be some multiplayer "trading" to take advantage of. For the full single-player gameplay experience, you can expect about 20-25 hours.

GS AU: Joel MacMillan, thanks for your time.

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