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Interview: Talkin' Sonic Boom with Big Red Button's Bob Rafei

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Posted by: Joe Donato

After Sonic Boom’s reveal a few weeks ago, we had a chance to get in touch with Bob Rafei, co-founder and CEO of Big Red Button Entertainment, the studio behind the Wii U version of the game. We picked his brain about some of the game’s unique features, their inspirations, and what a new Sonic game means in 2014.

GameZone: How does Sonic Boom make use of the four characters? The game features co-op. Is that the focus of the game, or do you swap through characters in single player?

Bob Rafei: The game does feature co-op, which we will go into further detail at E3.

GZ: Combat appeared to be quite a bit more involved than previous Sonic games. What can we expect in terms of the combat gameplay?

BR: In combat, our goal was to allow player expression via character selection and ability to engage enemies. We wanted to enhance how players can engage enemies through different character abilities. These are some really fun characters! We’re excited to allow all four, not just Sonic, more center stage in combat and navigation.

GZ: What are the uses for the energy tether, and was Knuckles Chaotix an inspiration for that idea?

BR: We looked at a lot canon titles including Knuckles Chaotix as inspiration of what would work best to establish this action adventure experience. We ultimately decided to go in a different direction for Boom. The energy tether, or “Enerbeam”, can be used in quite a few ways. Some examples are, in locomotion, such as the zip lines, to pull things like shields off of enemies and to interact with elements of the game world. Basically, it is used to some degree in all major pillars of the game and is an important character ability. It will also show up in the animation when appropriate.

Sonic Boom

GZ: Will the game take advantage of the Wii U in any unique ways?

BR: We’re using some of the unique features but you will have to wait until E3 for specific details.

GZ: This is Big Red Button's first game, correct? It looks like the studio was founded in 2008. Can you tell a bit about how you got from 2008 to Sonic Boom in 2014?

BR: Correct. BRB was founded in 2008 and the current BRB leadership assembled in late 2009. We developed three prototypes, selling two original IPs in the process, with publishers that were in decline, unfortunately. SEGA approached us with their bold guidelines for a different Sonic title. It was great fit, so we gladly took the challenge. I’m very pleased to have one of the most iconic characters in gaming history be our coming out title.

GZ: The extra layer of color, character redesigns, and adventure is reminiscent of Naughty Dog's games. Do you feel that that's a matter of coincidence or your own legacy shining through?

BR: I’ll take that as highest form of compliment. Having served as Naughty Dog’s art director from inception of Crash through co-art direction of Uncharted 1, it’s fair to say I’ve gravitated towards some staple character action elements through my career which make sense not only to me and other creative teammates at BRB, but also to SEGA. These staples are the hallmarks of any great character action titles. For Boom, SEGA has been very instrumental in evolving its objectives with us. In turn we approached this huge opportunity with the balance to try something different, but not stray too far too far from what makes a great Sonic title.

Sonic Boom

GZ: The presentation in NYC made much of Sonic's popularity, but from my perspective as a guy who played the old 2D Sonic games through to a few of the modern games, I have a hard time seeing who the modern Sonic audience is. Who is the modern Sonic audience in your eyes? Who do you hope to grab most with this new game?

BR: You and I grew up on classic Sonic or Mario games, and have also played great modern descendants like Limbo, Guacamelee! or Journey to name a few as vastly different experiences. My kids, ages 9 and 11, play everything from accessible mobile games to sit-down experiences like family console titles. Character action and platforming have morphed quite a bit as well as the way the current generation of gamers experience games. The easy answer for me, having witnessed my kids and their friend’s gaming choices, is to consider what they look for a in a premium console experience. For BRB it was important to make Boom simply fun by finding the right balance of accessibility for new fans similar to my kid’s age group, yet have enough challenge, depth and player expression for established fans or more seasoned gamers.

GZ: Thanks for your time!

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Tags: Sonic Boom, Wii U, Big Red Button

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