Classic Interviews Features

Classic Interview: Sonic Team (NiGHTS)

This Sonic Team interview appeared in August 1996 issue of the Spanish game magazine Hobby Consolas. The discussion mainly focuses on Yuji Naka, though Naoto Oshima chimes in on a few occasions. They share their experiences developing the original Saturn title NiGHTS: Into Dreams and their hopes for how it will do upon release. The overall impression is that Sonic Team was looking to create a game that would provide a new and unique experience that was quite different from Sonic The Hedgehog.

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The members of Sonic Team, with Mr. Yuji Naka at the helm, are Sonic’s “true” parents. Now, they’ve set their favorite son aside and have fully immersed themselves in a new challenge called Nights. Hobby Consolas wanted to know more details about this promising title so we sent our correspondent in Japan to their headquarters at Sega and had an interesting talk in which they told us about the creation process of what will be one of the most spectacular titles for the next generation.

Yuji Naka & Naoto Oshima being interviewed by Hobby Consola’s correspondent in Japan, Nicola Di Costanzo.

Hobby Consolas: How many people make up this programming team?

Yuji Naka: When we started to work on Sonic, we were about seven people. Later, more and more programmers joined, and currently we’re 20.

Hobby Consolas: When did you start to work on Nights?

Yuji Naka: We started right after finishing Sonic & Knuckles. At the time, we returned to Japan from the U.S. and began to develop the first projects. That lasted about six months. The programming work really started in April 1995.

Hobby Consolas: How important is character design in the game?

Yuji Naka: In order to make this game really successful, we were under the impression that we shouldn’t just create a protagonist that most people will like. Our intention was to create something revolutionary within our Japanese culture, something that would move away from the usual concept of games that we know.

Hobby Consolas: Where did the idea for the main character come from?

Naoto Oshima: To create this character, I researched deeply into European and North American cultures and traveled to many countries. In the end, I concluded that I wanted to make a character that resembled an angel, especially in his gestures.

Yuji Naka: Nights has a very elegant “look.” I didn’t travel that much, I just went to the U.S., but I’m sure Nights will appeal to players of any nationality. We are confident of its success.

Hobby Consolas: Is the initial idea you had of the game the same as you have now?

Yuji Naka: First, we wanted to make a game with a slow pace, one which the player could enjoy placidly… but during the programming we gradually increased the speed until we reached the pace that the game has now. Actually, the speed is very close to the Sonic games, although its sensation of gameplay seems much better to us.

Hobby Consolas: The character is flying for much of the game. Why did you decide to give it this quality?

Sonic Team is currently composed of 20 people. Yuji Naka (middle), is the person in charge of all of them.

Yuji Naka: The desire to fly like a bird is a feeling common to everyone. We wanted to turn this dream into reality for users; it is a fundamental aspect in the game. We want players to enjoy themselves, get airborne, and want to play again and again. Additionally, the factor of time as the protagonist’s life constitutes a new gameplay concept.

Hobby Consolas: What are the basic features of the game?

Yuji Naka: One of our premises was to create a world in which players were able to improve their skills after playing a few games. We didn’t want to make a game where after finishing the first level you go directly to the second. We want players to have different options and be able to have fun creating their own levels. We have also made it so that the game is different each time. For example, we have included the “feeling parameter,” which allows the characters in the game to sometimes be with Nights and sometimes hate him. These characters live their own lives throughout the game. We have made Nights with the eyes of a gamer.

Hobby Consolas: Why did you create a new character and not use Sonic?

Yuji Naka: Yes, it would have been a good idea to use Sonic, but we think people are looking for something more, so we created a new character and a new world. We do not want to tire people with it like other companies do. Also, it’s difficult to continue the series with the same type of game.

Hobby Consolas: Do you think you have created a masterpiece?

Yuji Naka: We’re no geniuses! There are better games than ours in Europe and the U.S. We have simply done what we dreamed about. Anyone can make a game… but to make a good game you need a good team. If you have a good idea and a good team, you can make a game like Nights.

We don’t think it’s the best game in all of history (laughs)… but we do believe that we’ve done the best possible, trying to bring our ideas as close to users as possible.

Hobby Consolas: Is Nights played in a true three-dimensional world?

Yuji Naka: The world of our Nights is entirely a “true 3D world.” However, if all the stages took place in 3D space, the gameplay might not be as good. Therefore, we have made the game so that all players can fly without difficulty.

Hobby Consolas: Does Nights use 100% of the Saturn’s power?

Yuji Naka: We are fully satisfied with Saturn. In my opinion, we have not used 100% of the hardware of the machine; we believe it is possible to do much better. Nights is our first Saturn game, so we haven’t gotten the most out of the machine. We have studied a lot of the possibilities of what we could do and we haven’t even tried them. Just the basic manual has three volumes (laughs). This time we have limited our skills.

Hobby Consolas: What has been the most annoying aspect in programming?

Yuji Naka: We can’t speak about the word “annoying.” There were aspects more difficult than others, but we really enjoyed making this game.

Naoto Oshima: Though there were parts that you had to play again several times…

Yuji Naka: True. It took us a while to get to this final version. There are several finalized versions that don’t have much to do with the one that will go on sale.

Hobby Consolas: What kind of hardware did you use?

Yuji Naka: We used SGI (Silicon Graphics workstations) for the design. We also used a PC for the CD-emulator and a Hewlett Packard for programming.

Hobby Consolas: What is Nights’ biggest competitor?

Yuji Naka: its strongest competitor is Sonic.

Hobby Consolas: What could you say about a hypothetical comparison between Nights and Mario 64?

Yuji Naka: There is a big difference in the 3D concept of one game and the other, so it’s hard to compare them. Nights is a unique game, very different from Sonic and Mario.

Hobby Consolas: Do you think that Nights will have the same impact on the Saturn that Sonic had on the Mega Drive?

Yuji Naka: We haven’t set that goal for ourselves, but we believe that Nights will have a huge impact on the Saturn. We fully trust in it.

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