INTERVIEW: Nights Watchman
We catch up with Takeshi Iizuka, the man who sold Sonic, to find out a little more about Nights: Journey Of Dreams, a sequel 11 years in the making, and to discuss massmarket appeal, as well as critical and fan acclaim.
Iizuka is a Sonic Team stalwart. He worked as a designer on Nights Into Dreams and the first Sonic Adventure, before heading to San Francisco in 1999 to head up Sonic Team USA, later renamed Sega Studio USA. There he has acted as director and lead designer of the controversial (but successful) Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes and Shadow The Hedgehog.
What was Sega’s thinking behind setting up a Sonic Team studio in the US?
I wanted to move there! I thought Sonic was very suitable for the US market, so I wanted to develop the character and the games in the US. I think it’s easier to understand the market if you live there.
What have you changed about Nights to make it appeal to western audiences?
For example, the child characters have more suitable names. And also the voice-acting – we recorded the character voices in British English. I tried to make the gameplay as simple as possible, so you could play for a long time; easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. That’s the global standard.
Had you ever experimented with motion-sensing control before the Wii came along?
Yes, more than a decade ago. After we launched the original Nights on Saturn, we produced a prototype motion-sensing controller, and tried to develop a Nights sequel for it. But in the end it didn’t happen.
You’ve got several different control methods in the game – why did you opt to do that?
Because I hate to see that warning screen that tells you you have to connect or disconnect the Nunchuk, or connect some other controller before the game can start. I wanted to create it so you can pick up and play it whenever you want; you can just put the disc in. For example, I love Wii Sports’ tennis and baseball and bowling, but I never play boxing because it requires the Nunchuk.
You’ve made games at the US studio that have sold very well, but haven’t been well received by critics or hardcore fans. Why do you think that is?
I felt that if I kept developing Sonic Adventure sequels, only core gamers would pick them up. I wanted to develop Sonic for more general users as well, so that’s why I changed the name each time. With Nights: Journey of Dreams, we didn’t call it Nights 2 because I wanted to create it for a mass market, not necessarily for fanatics who’ve waited 11 years. To make it appeal to that market, I needed to introduce the story from the beginning. There’s still the original gameplay the hardcore loves, but we’ve combined it with things that kids love – like rollercoasters, or simple action-platforming with the children.