GZ Interview: Sonic Heroes Zooms, Spins and Dashes To a Console Near You

Sonic Heroes Zooms,
Spins and Dashes To a Console Near You

by

Louis Bedigian

 

“Sonic Team made this
entire game to capture that essence of Sonic – speed.”

 

 

When the moon is cloudy and
trouble is nigh, a signal in the sky can save the day.  If a man in a bat suit
doesn’t arrive, someone in a yellow cape will.

 

 

You might get saved by a
jockey. 


 

Or a boy in a chicken suit.

 


 

No matter who saves you,
there is only one superhero who can save the world, grab some dinner, and
still make it to the theater in time to see the day’s last showing of The
Return of the King
.  He is so quick that, if put to the test, he could
move faster than the man who moves faster than a speeding bullet!  He is no
other than Sonic the Hedgehog.

 

Being fast isn’t always
enough to save the world though.  To conquer the evil that plagues the world,
Sonic has teamed up with his animal pals for his latest adventure, Sonic
Heroes
.  In stores now for GameCube and due out on Xbox and PS2 on
January 27th, Sonic Heroes is Sega’s first multi-platform Sonic game. 

 

Sonic’s people wanted to make sure that
everyone knew that they are there for us when we need them, so they
commissioned Sega, a world-renowned game developer, to get the word out.  Sega
started their campaign by holding a conference call for Sonic Heroes.

 

Overview

 

Noah Musler, Product Manager for Sonic
Heroes, started things off by giving us a quick synopsis of the game.

 

"Sonic Heroes adds new gameplay twists
through team gameplay, but then puts the whole game back in the context of the
Sonic that you grew up with on the Genesis:

 

  • Top-notch speed

  • Hair standing up on the back of your neck

  • Huge levels

  • Lots of twists and turns

  • Multi-layers within the levels so that there’s room for exploration if you
    want to slow down

 

"At the same time it’s got this extra
dimension of team play that no other platform game has done."

 

 

I haven’t played the game yet but I’m
already in love with the first level.

 

 

After the overview, Noah answered our
questions in a spin-dashing Q&A.

 

Sonic has always been about speed, right? 
There were a few side games, but other than that the series’ main draw has
been its lightning-fast gameplay.  So it was no surprise that the first
question asked was about Sonic Heroes’ speed.

 

Noah comments, "The GameCube version and
the Xbox version run at 60 frames per second (fps).  The PS2 version runs at
30fps.  You might ask why that decision was made.  We wanted to have the PS2
version to be consistent, as opposed to try to force it to do 60fps and then
sacrificing the graphics, [causing] slowdown, or an inconsistent frame rate.

 

"That said, all the content in the PS2
version is exactly the same as the Xbox and GameCube versions.  So if you have
only a PS2 you’re still getting a pretty great game."

 

Noah wanted to make it clear to everyone
that even with all of the exciting changes, Sonic Heroes is still a true Sonic
game.  "[Sonic Heroes] is more like the classic Genesis titles where you zip
through the levels as fast as you can.  That’s what your goal is.  You hop on
the enemies of course, or avoid them as necessary.  And there is also that
depth of exploration that you can get by stopping and taking a look around you
and zooming off in another direction."

 

 

If three characters jump simultaneously,
is it comparable to Mario’s triple-jump?

 

 

Hoping to make the game better, Noah
assured us that Sonic Team listened carefully to what gamers had to say about
their previous titles.  "They get tons of mail everyday.  They’ve heard that
people didn’t like the Chaos emeralds.  They heard that people weren’t overly
into the shooting game, or fishing for that matter.

 

"You know some people really liked ’em and
it’s cool that Sonic Team tried to do something new, but they knew that what
people really loved was racing down a hill on a snowboard as Sonic.  Or going
through those first two levels [in Sonic Adventure] where you get to adventure
and you’re actually zooming through the world, and that killer whale is
chasing you, and the boards are breaking up — that’s the kind of thing that
people really enjoyed about the game.  So they made this entire game to
capture that essence of Sonic, that speed.  And taking Sonic into an entirely
different direction to make Sonic Heroes new and fresh is this idea of team
gameplay."

 

Noah tells us that younger gamers looking
for some multiplayer action will be intrigued by what Sonic Heroes has to
offer.  "The multiplayer features are games for two players.  There are seven
different games that you can unlock.  There’s a racing game where you can ride
on the karts that have been introduced in Sonic Heroes.  There’s a
collect-all-the-rings game.  You battle against another team, and the goal of
course is to end up with the most rings at the end of the game."

 

Regarding the visuals, Noah says that
Sonic Heroes was developed using RenderWare in order to achieve similar
graphic quality across all three platforms.  "The original Sonic Adventure and
Sonic Adventure 2 were built using proprietary tools that Sonic Team
developed.  There are some textures and some character modeling that they were
able to use from the original Sonic Adventure game, but for the most part they
had to build it from scratch.

 

"What I think it has given the game is a
more consistent tone, and they’ve been able to optimize the speed and pace of
the game.  It’s faster than the previous Sonic games [and] the levels are
larger.  On average they’re about five times larger than any of the stages in
Sonic Adventure 1 or Sonic Adventure 2, so the scope of the game is much
bigger.  The color palette on all of these game systems is much wider than
what we had available on the Dreamcast."

 

Announcement Note:  Noah tells us
to look for a new game announcement from Sega by the end of the month!

 

 

As you can see, Sonic Heroes isn’t just
about Sonic.

 

 

In addition to the information
provided, GameZone asked Noah some questions to learn more about
Sonic
Heroes
.

 

Could you go into detail about the
controls and how players will control three characters simultaneously through
each of the worlds?

 

NM: Like all Sonic games Sonic
Heroes was designed to be friendly to hardcore gamers and casual gamers
alike.  It’s relatively simple but offers depth, and the depth comes from the
switching of the characters.  Switching characters is really easy — it’s just
like toggling two buttons.  So in this case you use the X and the Y buttons on
GameCube controller; X will switch to the one character and Y will switch to
the other.  It’s as easy as that, and you can do it on-the-fly.

 

Since it’s just one simple button press,
if you see an obstacle coming at you and you know you’re going to need to
switch to your power character (when you’re using your flight character), you
can instinctively switch.

 

In the early stages there are helpers
scattered throughout the stage.  If you get to a point on the path of the
stage that definitely requires the use of a power character, Sonic Team has
included these triggers that will switch the player automatically.  You can
switch out of the formation and go back to the previous character, but these
triggers are designed to help the player along.

 

How do the levels compare to Sonic
Adventure?  Are they tropical like Sonic Adventure, or are they more
traditional like the original Sonic games?

 

NM: I think there’s a real mix
there.  I wouldn’t say it’s tropical like Sonic Adventure, although the first
stage would be the equivalent of Green Hill Zone.  It definitely has that
tropical vibe — there’s a beach there, there’s water that you zoom across and
over — but the levels are really diverse.

 

When you get the game and you start
playing you’re going to find that there’s the Green Hill Zone-style level, but
there’s also a huge cityscape-style level.  There’s a very classic and
old-school Sonic casino level where you’re bouncing around the sides of what
looks like a giant pinball machine.  That’s a really fun advanced level. 
There’s a level that’s soaring over what looks like a Grand Canyon setting
where characters are skating on rails.  It’s kind of what we did in Sonic
Adventure 2 but it’s taken to a whole other level.  One of my favorite levels
is a very cool haunted house that you get to much later in the game.  There’s
also a really fun and funky jungle level.  I wouldn’t say it’s tropical but
there are crazy creatures that you haven’t seen in any other Sonic game. 

 

Another thing that was brought back for
Sonic Heroes is the idea of the Special Stage.  That was a real key component
of the Genesis games, finding whatever items were necessary to unlock the
special stage at the end of the course.  It kind of simulated this 3D
experience on the Genesis in 2D.

 

Now you can actually play the special
stages by gathering keys in each of the levels and holding onto them till the
end without losing a life.  That will unlock a special stage.  It’s kind of
like when you were playing the Genesis games back when you were a kid.  You’d
get there and it’d be this intense 3D rush of experience, but in your mind you
were always imagining something else.  Now you can really experience what your
imagination was holding there for you in Sonic Heroes.

 

Robotic battling.

 

 

How are the levels set up?  Is the main
goal to get from point A to point B?  Are there important items that must be
collected before new levels can be accessed?

 

NM: Like most of the Sonic games in
the past there are multiple goals.  There are Sonic emblems that you collect. 
This is something that has stayed true through all of the 3D Sonic games.  You
can go through the stage as fast as you can, and if you get the best time or
complete a certain goal, then you’re gonna unlock that goal or get a ranking
for it.  But then you can also go through and try to collect as many rings as
possible.  As I mentioned there are keys hidden throughout the stages, and
those keys will unlock the special stages for you.  So there are multiple
goals within each stage.

 

Another thing that I want to emphasize is
because it’s a team-based game, if you play through with any of the other
teams, each team has their own individual goal.  In particular Team Chaotic is
mission-driven.  They still maintain that sense of speed that you’d expect
from a Sonic game, but their goals are a little bit quirkier, the gameplay is
a little bit different, and the levels are set up in a way that gives that
impression if you play as Team Chaotic as opposed to Team Sonic.

 

How does the story play out?  Are there
any voices-overs and were they done by the same actors who worked on the
previous games?

 

NM: All of the voices are from the
previous games as far as the characters that were in the previous games.  Some
characters, like the ones on Team Chaotic, haven’t been in the game since the
Genesis era, and they didn’t really speak in the 16-bit days.

 

The story plays out through cut scenes
interspersed through the stages.  Each team has their own set of cut scenes,
and each story links together, so if you play through with all of the teams,
then you’re going to see the whole story.

 

How does Sonic Battle (for Game Boy
Advance) differ from Sonic Heroes or any of the other Sonic games?

 

NM: Sonic Battle is a fighting
game.  I’d actually put it closer to Sonic Fighters, which was released in
Japan.  Basically you can go head-to-head against a friend or against a
computer opponent and engage in a battle.

 

Thanks to everyone at Sega for having a
wonderful conference call.