Takashi Iizuka - Producer of Sonic Lost World

Gone are the days when Sonic and Mario were in bitter opposition, smack-talking each other in adverts and fighting for the affections of millions of gamers. Now we have cross-overs and Nintendo-system exclusives, with Sonic Lost World arriving on the Wii U and 3DS to continue the rather cosy relationship and provide a welcome third-party exclusive during this most competitive of release windows. Fans of the SEGA mascot are rightly optimistic, as recent years have delivered some solid and reasonably well-regarded adventures that have, if not taken the blue blur back to his glory days, at the very least restored faith and confidence.

What Sonic Lost World does deliver is an evolution of sorts, adopting the mechanics seen in previous titles while incorporating some parkour moves and tubular environments, in the process adding even more variety to the gameplay. There's also impressive ambition with the 3DS release too, which in many ways strives to match up to its HD console compatriot.

Ahead of the arrival of both games in Europe this week (29th October in North America), we were fortunate enough to talk to Takashi Iizuka, the producer of Sonic Lost World and Head of the Sonic Team. We took the opportunity to learn more about the game, design philosophies behind it and broader issues with the Sonic franchise.

NL: Thank you for joining us. First of all, can you give us a background on the team working on Sonic Lost World for the Wii U?

Takashi Iizuka: After the development of “Sonic Colors” ended, a few core members started the experiments for “Sonic Lost World”. And after development of “Sonic Generations” ended, all the members got together and development for “Sonic Lost World” fully started.

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NL: And can you give confirm the team that’s working on Sonic Lost World for the 3DS?

Takashi Iizuka: We’ve co-developed the game with Dimps, which we have been cooperating in handheld Sonic titles for long time.

NL: While we’ll move onto specific details, how would you summarise both versions of Sonic Lost World to prospective consumers?

Takashi Iizuka: This game is like going into the rabbit hole in “Alice in the Wonderland”, an action game where you can experience many strange and fun experiences.

On 3DS this is the 1st 3D type action game in the history of Sonic’s handheld game. The twisted platforms and color powers are implemented very well and is a very good title which allows a great experience of 3D Sonic.

NL: The design choices of Sonic Lost World are immediately eye-catching. We’ve seen a mix of circular 3D levels and 2D sidescrolling levels; can you tell us more about how this game is structured between these styles on each system?

Takashi Iizuka: In 2011’s “Sonic Generations”, we have made a title which reviewed the 20 years history of Sonic, so for the next title, we wanted to create and deliver a new experience in the gameplay which we never had in this 20 years. So we challenged to drastically change the structure of the “environment”, which we didn’t change so much in the past.

Also in the 3DS version, we wanted to challenge the 3D action and not just 2D style.

NL: What were the primary sources of inspiration for these 3D levels and the rotating stages?

Takashi Iizuka: To the 3D levels which you move forward, we only had a gameplay style featuring speed. So the 1st thing we thought was to add more gameplay feature of platform action. During the term of thinking the idea for it, we came up with an idea of having a twisted tube type level like “Jack and the Beanstalk” which may achieve this fun gameplay, so we started the experiment.

NL: To clarify for our readers, is the 3DS version a recreation of the Wii U game or a different, unique experience?

Takashi Iizuka: Story and universe of the game is common with Wii U, but all levels are newly designed for 3DS. So for players who played the Wii U version can also enjoy the game in a fresh feeling.

NL: Was it challenging creating these kinds of 3D stages on the 3DS hardware?

Takashi Iizuka: In the 3DS console, simply because of the processing power, restructuring the 3D world was very difficult. Specially in Lost World we had to design the twisted environments which is one big feature of this game, the calculation of the polygon collisions are a lot more complicated, so we are doing various things to solve this.

We came up with an idea of having a twisted tube type level like “Jack and the Beanstalk” which may achieve this fun gameplay, so we started the experiment.

NL: The portable iterations of major Sonic releases have often followed a different style to home console equivalents, with the hardware’s capabilities no doubt important. How closely does this 3DS version match the design and style of its Wii U equivalent?

Takashi Iizuka: One feature in Sonic Lost World is 360 degrees action, so the challenge on 3DS was to apply this 3D action game in 360 degrees action like in Wii U. Of course we couldn’t make it exactly the same, but by using the same texture as Wii U, applying the twisted levels, how you see and feel should be very close to the experience you get from Wii U version.

NL: We’d suggest that, in their early days, 3D Sonic games perhaps struggled to find the right gameplay balance, but that Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations delivered stronger experiences. Do you agree with that assessment, first of all, and can you outline whether you feel development lessons, the power of the available hardware or perhaps a mix of both help with improving the formula?

Takashi Iizuka: Yes there was a struggle in 3D Sonic games. From the 1st 3D type Sonic game Sonic Adventure, we tried various levels and environment in 3D. This is because we felt there is more possibility for improvement in 3D type Sonic. So in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, we added new gameplay on top of the existing Sonic titles to make a high quality game.

NL: There are 2D side-on stages included as well, of course, but how much content in the final game is made up of these stages and, on the other hand, 3D stages?

Takashi Iizuka: Well… I think you will feel the 3D and 2D stages included are almost half and half. Although you say 3D, there are many stages which are not tube type, and even in 2D stages, there are some which are partly 3D so I think you can’t just separate the types into just 2.

On 3DS you will also have some levels which you need to clear the requirement to move forward.

NL: At what point was it agreed that Sonic Lost World would be a Wii U and 3DS exclusive, and when did development start?

Takashi Iizuka: I think the timing we started thinking about Wii U was when Nintendo presented 3rd parties their prototype. Before then, we didn’t confirm the platform. And when Nintendo showed Wii U for the 1st time at E3 (2 years ago) we were developing the game on Wii U.

The development of Wii U was moving on first, but the console was not confirmed yet in the beginning and the development was based on PC first. The platform was confirmed after several levels in the beginning were made. 3DS development started after we already had the basic stage structure and main story of the Wii U version had been confirmed.

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NL: How much did the feature-set of the Wii U and its GamePad influence design, and can you give an example if it did shake up or give birth to any new ideas not possible before?

Takashi Iizuka: As we started the development before we knew about Wii U, basic action and story weren't influenced. But as the touch panel and gyro-sensor on the GamePad was a very interesting feature, we decided to use them in Color Power.

Also, as Wii U has 2 monitors to use, 2P VS and 2P co-op was a feature we thought we must have too.

NL: How much did the feature-set of the 3DS influence design, meanwhile, and are there any stand-out concepts that we won’t have seen before in Sonic Generations or the various DS games?

Takashi Iizuka: When we developed Sonic Generations, it was our 1st time of development on 3DS, so it was very difficult. But this time, we were able to develop knowing about what we can do on 3DS, so from the beginning of the 3DS development, we planned a game which fully utilizes the 3DS console. Challenging to 3D action is 1 reason, but we also use the gyro feature in Boss battle and special stages too.

NL: Do you feel this is a game that makes exciting use of stereoscopic 3D, or do you feel that playing in 2D is as enjoyable?

Takashi Iizuka: Of course we recommend stereoscopic 3D play, but you can enjoy the game itself fully on Nintendo 2DS too. The action game itself is 3D but we also have cut scenes of the story in 3D movie, so if you have 3DS please enjoy this game on stereoscopic 3D.

NL: We understand that there’ll be item sharing on the Wii U that utilises Miiverse, can you explain how that’ll work?

Takashi Iizuka: Miiverse is a feature which you communicate using a message, so it may feel a strange explanation of item sharing. As this feature was a feature of sharing message and picture, we thought sharing data of item can be achieved too. No need to think difficult, you just “share” your item in the internet, and then players worldwide will use your item and depending on the people who used your item, the item comes back with improved power. Players who shared will be happy having your item coming back with improvement, and player besides that will be happy having different items getting shared every day.

We wanted to bring this “connectivity” between the players worldwide.

NL: Two player co-op is included on Wii U, but can you shed light on how this will work and how involved in the action player two will be?

Takashi Iizuka: In 2P co-op the second player will be a support to 1P (Sonic) in the game. Using the Wii remote controller, 2P will control the RC Gadget which flies around Sonic.

The 1st RC gadget you can use is helicopter and has ability to bomb, but there are other various RC gadgets with various features.

When we developed Sonic Generations, it was our 1st time of development on 3DS, so it was very difficult. But this time, we were able to develop knowing about what we can do on 3DS.

NL: Is co-op possible in any way on the 3DS, and was there ever consideration for a form of cross-play with the Wii U?

Takashi Iizuka: No we don’t have co-op on 3DS. In 3DS, you will need the same amount of console for whom players you want to co-op with, and we thought that is a rare case. So instead, we applied the versus game play which you simply can enjoy with many players. As the game design is different to Wii U version, we are not thinking of cross-play.

NL: With the abilities to send Tail’s remote control vehicles from the 3DS version to the Wii U, can you confirm whether this is an online function or limited to local wi-fi only? Is there also a reverse, where Wii U players can assist 3DS gamers?

Takashi Iizuka: Transferring RC gadget from 3DS to Wii U is only for near Wi-Fi connection. In Wii U you can only use helicopter in the beginning so you can create RC gadgets in 3DS and transfer them to Wii U. There is no feature for transferring RC from Wii U to 3DS.

But please don’t worry that you may have to buy 3DS to get a new RC gadget on Wii U. In Wii U we have the item sharing using Miiverse so you can get the RC gadget even without 3DS.

NL: The competitive racing seems to make natural use of the GamePad screen on Wii U. Can you confirm how many players this supports at one time, and whether it’s both online and offline play?

Takashi Iizuka: You have 2 monitors using TV and GamePad so VS play is up to 2 players too.

We didn’t wanted to use the split screen in the versus play, so we limited only to 2 players. Wii U version is limited to local play.

Versus play in 3DS can be played by maximum of 4 players. Of course applied to online and offline both, and also applied to Download Play which allows versus play with those who don’t have the game too. So if you can introduce Sonic Lost World to players who don’t have the game with this versus mode, we are very happy.

Please enjoy the versus battle between worldwide players on 3DS.

NL: This title sees the return of some Wisp powers from Sonic Colours, so can you outline how they’re used and which powers are included?

Takashi Iizuka: From Sonic Colors, Laser, Drill, Rocket, and Hover are used again, but we also have new powers for this title too.

In the Wii U version, we applied the control using GamePad so you can use Eagle where you tilt the GamePad to fly, and Rhythm which you touch the panel taking a rhythm to hop in air, and etc.

Also in 3DS we have new color powers too, for example, Quake which you tilt the console to control like rolling a ball, and Lightning which you move by zapping between enemies and objects.. Also there is Asteroid which you destruct the platform and move on will allow you to glide in the air if you get bigger. This floating is very fun so please try this out.

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NL: How integral are these Wisp powers to the level design?

Takashi Iizuka: In Wii U version you won’t see them constantly, and will be used in some stages as an additional tool to complete the level.

In 3DS, the color powers are more essential to the level design than Wii U version. After you clear 1 world, you will be able to use a new color power, and in the next world, there are many opportunities prepared to use them.

NL: In terms of the longevity of this title, how many stages are included, and will there be plenty of hidden collectibles and tasks beyond the core game?

Takashi Iizuka: If we reply exactly, we may give away the enjoyment of whom will be playing, so we won’t. But we have more than 30 levels, so it’s large compared to the previous titles,. We also have Extra stages which we couldn’t include in the main story, so please enjoy.

NL: If this can perhaps be seen as a continuation of the Sonic Colours part of the series, are you confident that future releases will also be on Wii U, after Sonic Generations missed out the Wii?

Takashi Iizuka: Wii wasn’t a HD console so we weren’t able to release Sonic Generations. But even though, we knew that there are many platform action game fans in Nintendo console, so we are willing to have these fans to enjoy our titles in the future too.

NL: With Sonic Generations seeing a 3DS release, and now Sonic Lost World, are you confident that the 3DS will remain part of the plans for new Sonic games?

Takashi Iizuka: We can’t confirm the future, but personally, I feel 3DS is a best console for kids to enjoy a game, and to those consumers, we hope to deliver Sonic titles in the future too.

NL: We’ve seen more classic and new Sonic games released on smartphone platforms, so does this have any potential impact — in your view — on the future of the series on devices such as the 3DS?

Takashi Iizuka: Smartphones are the best device to enjoy simple control and shortburst gameplay. But to enjoy a full sized game like Sonic Lost World, smartphones which don't have buttons are not the best. So in the future, I feel that games that are best for each platform will be provided.

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NL: Overall, what are your thoughts on the capabilities of the Wii U, in terms of features and the processing power that it offers development teams?

Takashi Iizuka: From Sonic Colors, Sonic Generation and to Sonic Lost World, as we release the titles, spec of console has been improved. Thanks to the improvements of the processing power, in Lost World we were able to apply 60fps even in 3D action, which we weren’t able to achieve recently in Sonic.

NL: How happy are you with the current reputation and standing of the Sonic franchise with long-term and new fans?

Takashi Iizuka: Recently, in Japan, US, and UK, we have events held for Sonic Fans, and every year I attend the events also, we have fans that are very young to adults who are even older than me, and they are all coming to the event for Sonic which I’m very happy about. But we want to make Sonic known to those people who don’t play the games, so this is our next challenge!

NL: What’s the most important message about Sonic Lost World that you want to share with Wii U and/or 3DS gamers?

Takashi Iizuka: I feel that after buying the Wii U console, there may be certain amount of consumers whom didn’t have the chance to fully enjoy this great console yet. Sonic Lost World contains the feature and the convenience of GamePad, new enjoyment and potential using Miiverse, which allows this title to let player fully enjoy Wii U.

Not just for Sonic fan, but it is a title that has the volume and gameplay which all platform action fans would enjoy, so for players who already have Wii U, please try and enjoy this game. And please brag that you played this Wii U version.

With the 3DS, If you want to play a 3D action game, this is what I really recommend. Not just the 3D action but great cut scenes and plenty of volume, I feel this title is a “must buy” title for 3DS user.

Please enjoy this Sonic Lost World, the strange world made in 3D.

NL: Thank you very much for your time.

Takashi Iizuka: Thank you.

We'd like to once again thank Iizuka-san for his time.