Interviews: Steve Lycett - Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Sumo Digital's executive producer talks karts and characters

Since the release of OutRun 2 back in 2004, Sumo Digital has gone on to become somewhat of a bedfellow with SEGA, having produced several games based on key IP. Following on from the release on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, we caught up with Steve Lycett, Sumo Digital's executive producer, to chat about the latest game developed for the Tokyo giant.

Nintendo Life: Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing is the latest in a number of Sumo Digital games based on SEGA IP - have Sumo Digital developed a strong bond with SEGA?

Steve Lycett: We’d like to think so! This is our 8th game now with SEGA, and hopefully our best to date! I think we’ve reached the point now that they know we respect and love their characters, not to mention we’re pretty much a bunch of SEGA fans anyway. The SEGA games tend to be the more well known Sumo titles too, we’re always honoured to work with them, and we hope this shows in the games!

How involved were SEGA in the development process?

Very! Throughout the game we’ve worked very closely with Sonic Team, as well as with the designers and creators of the other games we’ve referenced. We’ve had concept art provided, we’ve worked together on animation, and they’ve provided lots of insight and guidance. It’s important to us to make sure we get the look, sounds and feel as close to the original visions as we can.

Did you fit everything into the game that was wanted?

Pretty much, as with all games, there are more characters and games we wanted to represent, there always is! Personally I really wanted to get Space Harrier in there for example. There are also more modes we’d like to have included, but as with all games, you’ve got a set amount of time, only so much money, and you have to draw a line somewhere!

How did you approach simultaneous development for the Wii and DS?

Well, the first thing is that you have to build everything specifically for the DS. You can’t re-use art as its too high poly; you also generally can’t re-use code, as you’re looking at a big processing power difference between the two. So the DS was built from the ground up, specific code and art just for that version of the game. In some ways it’s like making two games!

Why do some tracks in the DS version differ to the those on the Wii?

This is purely down to technical reasons. We can’t offer large open environments on the DS, you have a limited number of polygons you can draw, it’s pretty much 2048 per frame! So once you’ve drawn 6 characters, enemies, weapons and more, that doesn’t leave you lots left for the tracks themselves. We always try to ensure all versions of the game feature the same content as the systems allow. However some tracks have to differ in terms of routes due to how many polygons you can draw, you can’t quite offer the same detail on the DS due to this.That said, I think the art team did an amazing job getting as close as they did!

Did you consider using Sonic without a kart at any point?

We actually tried it when we were prototyping. We had Sonic on foot, Tails in the biplane from Sonic 2, Eggman in a robotic walker and Gilius from Golden Axe riding Chicken leg, the parrot faced lizard. What we found was it wasn’t much fun to play, as smaller characters had a distinct advantage of cutting corners the larger characters couldn’t, and it’s really, really hard to make a lizard or a robot drift! So we opted to put all characters into vehicles and so solve the size difference issue. Besides, we really, really didn’t want to encourage people to run over Sonic!

Did Sumo Digital have any say on which characters were included?

We created a shortlist of characters and some concept art for them, and then SEGA took this, modified it and gave us the final list. I’d say it’s a joint call really, probably about 50/50 overall. Of course we also did check all the forums for feedback on characters after SST, so that helped us define the final roster!

How did you feel about the uproar caused by the exclusion of NiGHTS?

We genuinely didn’t want to upset anyone! In fact when DiGi and TRiPPY did their live video, we were watching it. At that point we didn’t have a flagman in game, so I got the guys to work on getting NiGHT’s in as a major cameo. It actually worked out really nice that, we got to include the character, and it adds something extra to the game. End of the day, we put in as many characters as we can, but we’re never going to be able to include every character from SEGA history, it would be a mammoth task!

SEGA say Mario was considered - what lengths were taken to secure Mario's appearance?

I’m not aware of this, but this would have been a conversation between SEGA and Nintendo if it happened! It would have been nice to also work with Mario though, we’re big fans of his work too!

Is there any potential for a crossover in the future?

At this point, who can say? We’d certainly love to do it. As I’m getting on a bit, I still find it strange to see Sonic and Mario starring in the same game!

Were any inspirations drawn from the Mario Kart series?

Well, the odd thing is that ASR actually started off as a pure racer, there were no weapons or All-Star moves. We added the All-Star moves first, as a means of helping trailing players to get back into the race, but people were enjoying those so much, we also then added the weapons to spice things up. I know we’ve drawn a lot of comparisons as a result, but I like to think we’ve done a very SEGA game. It’s a lot faster, much more animated, and we’ve really pulled in the DNA of games like OutRun through the drifts and handling. Whilst yes, we do have some similar concepts for weapons, when you actually look at the mechanics of what you can do with weapons within a racing game, I think we’ve carved our own path.

Did you see anything in Mario Kart Wii that you didn't like and tried to fix?

The dreaded Blue Shell… It’s their mechanic for pulling back a player who's got really out in front, but as it’s virtually un-dodgeable, it can sometimes feel unfair. Especially when you get hit by two or three in a row… We opted to boost the trailing players via the All-Star moves, and also control the positions through weapons fire, but always allow there to be some means of defence from any move, be it simply dodging an attack, to boosting or countering with other items.

Do you think the Wii is a system capable of supporting a non-character based racer?

Absolutely, character based games do well as they’re the kind of game the whole family can play, but certainly the Wii has plenty of power to do more conventional racing games!

Both F1 2009 and Sonic & SEGA-All Stars Racing show the Wii Remote works as a steering wheel, but have you found any limitations with the controller?

The only thing you generally have to work around is ensuring you have enough of a neutral ‘dead zone’ where the player can move with the controller roughly centred, but without it affecting the steering. Otherwise you get the tendency for players to weave down the track as they attempt to find the wheel's central position. You also need to look at clamping the range once the Wii Remote goes through vertical; otherwise you can end up with the steering suddenly thinking you’ve steered completely the other way. Generally though, it offers nice precise analog steering in a natural way!

Have Sumo Digital tested MotionPlus for use in any future racing games?

We’ve looked into it, after all we have MotionPlus experience from VT2009. However, for most of the time we don’t need the extra accuracy or positioning over the top of the standard motion sensor, the Wii Remote offers all the things you need by default. If we did something say, where you controlled a motorbike, with one hand revving, and you could pull back to do wheelies, then potentially there it would add more accuracy and better control, but we wanted to keep the control interface nice and simple so new gamers could pick up ASR and be driving in no time!

Are Sumo Digital working on any Wii or DS games yet to be announced?

Now that would be telling – you’ll have to wait see!