Ahead of the launch of Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, I got a chance to interview Executive Producer at SUMO Digital, Steve Lycett. We discussed all manner of things such as the game itself, SUMO Digital the company behind it, their thoughts on the current console gaming landscape and much much more.
Q. Let’s get straight into it shall we? Sumo Digital is responsible for the Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing games. How do you approach handling such an iconic IP, especially when creating something in a different genre to that in which most are accustomed to with these characters?
A. Wow! Tough opener! Once we’ve picked the genre, we consider what ground rules we’ll need to lay to make it all hang together.
First the kind of game helps dictate the levels. We knew we’d want locations with land, air and sea, so we looked at classic SEGA games that fulfilled it. That’s why this game has a Panzer Dragoon track. Last time, with you effectively ground based, it didn’t make much sense as you’d not get to see all the cool things you’d expect to see once up in the air. Now we can fly, makes a lot more sense, plus with Panzer track having a sort of Grand Canyon feel, also allowed water sections in that track.
The same goes with the characters too. We had to be sure we could pick characters that allowed us to come up with cool vehicles designs which referenced not only the character, but also the original game too. Plus we’ve got to bear in mind that characters need to be desirable to new players and not just established fans.
For the gameplay itself, we also try and make it feel very SEGA-like. Hence the OutRun like drifting and speed, the AfterBurner feel to the flight, though finding a water game to reference was tricky, we’ve only really got the tech in the last few generations to have water be a reality!
So through all these elements, it helps ties the game into one cohesive whole. It should look and feel seamless and believable, but a lot of effort goes into making that the case!
Q. With the upcoming release of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, what new additions to the series can we expect to see with this title?
A. Where to start! First the whole Transformation aspect opens a lot of new doors, and when we say land, air and sea, we could equally say rollercoaster, space and volcanoes! You’ll be visiting lots of classic SEGA universes and we take every opportunity to pack the game with variety as we can.
Then we have made it so you can play pretty much everything in the game with 4 (or 5 on WiiU!) split-screen multiplayer, including taking your split-screen party online. I think this is a real first for the genre and it’s been great fun testing that out and bringing it to life.
Whilst I’m talking online, we’ve really expanded it this time. You can opt to compete to increase your racer score via competitive online play, or kick back and play with your friends in a Party Play mode where you can pick which tracks and game modes to play.
That’s before we talk about World Tour, a mode where you journey through a series of chapters, working together to unlock new characters and face some stiff challenges.
Plus we’ve tried to make it all super accessible with 4 different difficulties throughout everything – allowing everyone to have a play, no matter their ability. Or if you’re hardcore, notch it right up, it’s a real challenge at the deep end!
Q. The Sonic and All-Stars Racing series seems to be influenced by games like Mario Kart. Is this a conscious influence? Are there other influences behind the games?
A. You know, nobody has ever mentioned this before… I could argue of course that Mario Kart was inspired by Power Drift!
Really, whilst on the face of it you could say both games feature characters racing, I see our game about racing first and weapons second. This comes from the SEGA DNA we run through the game as a side effect of referencing OutRun’s handling. When it’s come to the flight and water, we wanted to have a best of breed arcade feel, so we’ve looked at lots of games that do this well, so games like Wave Race and Sky Drift were some of the games we’ve taken inspiration from.
I also think it helps that we’ve really tried to do something fresh and new by having the transformation and the three handling models. We did have a jolly good old swear when they announced Mario Kart 7 with gliding and driving underwater – especially as we were a year into the making of our game, but we have proper flying and boating, so again, we’re quite different!
We all stand on the shoulders of giants of course, but we are trying to drive the genre forwards too!
Q. Sonic is known for his speed, how does speed incorporate into Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed? Is it as big a component of the game as it is with the Sonic the Hedgehog series?
A. Speed remains the core component of the game. Specifically everything you do is to maintain speed or increase it. We’re brought the drift system over from ASR, and basically the more you drift, perform stunts and chain boost pads together, the faster you go. This works whether you are a car, boat or plane, plus we have some hidden advanced techniques to do even more.
On top of this, the higher you push the difficulty, the faster the vehicles accelerate and travel. So at higher speeds this actually opens new opportunities to take certain routes and work out the new best lines to take. It’s got the same kind of immediate pick-up and play, but we’ve worked hard to make sure there is depth in the handling, not least as it’s running under some proper physics this time round too!
Q. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed is being developed for a wide range of platforms, one of which is the Wii U. What was it like developing for Nintendo’s newest console the Wii U?
A. It’s so nice to have some new hardware! You look at both the Xbox360 and PS3, and they’re both getting on for 7 years old! So not only do we get to play with a lot more memory and an up to date GPU, but we also have the GamePad to try new things out with too.
When we first received hardware, we had the game up and running pretty quickly, and then we basically got new SDK’s and hardware revisions and it just kept getting faster.
So really the challenge has been working out from a gameplay point of view what we wanted to do. There’s some really cool party games in there where it’s one player VS a team, I think these will be enjoyed, plus of course we’ve got 5 player splitscreen and more. I don’t want to ruin all the surprises, so I’ll stop there!
Q. What does Sumo Digital think of Nintendo’s Wii U console? Are you interested in developing more titles for it in the future?
A. I think we’ve likely touched on the tip of the iceburg of things that can be done, so there is a definite desire there to really dig into that. Of course, it all depends on the project, if Nintendo knocked on the door and asked for a WiiU F-Zero or something, I’m sure we’d be interested!
Q. Racing Games seem to be a genre that Sumo Digital is accustomed to. But that is not all that you are known for. How different is the experience of creating a Racing Game like Sonic and All-Stars Racing compared to an adventure game like the Doctor Who: Adventure Games?
A. Yeah, we don’t really see ourselves as a racing game developer as we’ve tackled all manner of genres! In fact as I think about our current set of titles, there is only really Transformed that is a racing game, and even then, not really a traditional one!
Each game brings its own challenges, we don’t necessarily have to worry about conveying a wide range of emotions in the All-Stars games, they’re all about high action arcade fun, but an adventure game is different story. There the writing, locations, camera shots and more are designed to pull the player into the story and make them effectively role play the character. Here I am in a dire situation and I’m the Doctor, how would I deal with it?
So yes, you have to approach each game differently, and really, that’s why it’s great to work here. We have such a variety of projects that it makes each one different and special.
Q. The Doctor Who: Adventure Games received a great deal of fanfare from gamers and Doctor Who fans alike. Can we expect more adventure games like the Doctor Who: Adventure Games from Sumo Digital?
A. Right now, I don’t think we got plans in the short term, but you know that can change at any given moment. I had a mail from the BBC the other day as a side effect of doing Games Brittania which was an educational event we were involved in, and they’re keen to look at what the future holds. So who can say!
Q. OutRun is one of SEGA and Sumo’s longest running franchises, dating back to 1986. It has been several years since the last OutRun game was released. Is there any future plans to continue the series, or has OutRun run out of steam?
A. You know, we’ve got plenty of ideas of where we could take a new OutRun game, indeed when we were doing the arcade version of All-Stars Racing, I was invited to put a pitch in for an arcade OutRun sequel. So it might happen, I know it would be nice to get back into a Ferrari and go on that journey!
Q. Sumo Digital is known for a lot of titles that are based upon already existent IPs. Would Sumo Digital ever consider creating their own IP?
A. It something we talk about a lot, but I really feel our core strength is taking someone elses IP, treating it with respect and bringing out what makes that IP special. Anyone here can submit a pitch of a design, and we do a review on these periodically to see if it gets us all excited, so again, whilst it hasn’t really happened to date, it certainly not something we’ve consciously said we’ll never do.
Q. Finally, would you like to say anything to all of your Sumo Digital fans that have supported your games over the years?
A. I spend a lot of time on forums interacting with the players of our games, and I hope they see all the love and effort we pour into everything. All I can say is thanks for all the feedback and support, hopefully you see that we always think of the player first and foremost in all our projects!
That concludes our interview with Executive Producer at SUMO Digital, Steve Lycett. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed will be hitting consoles late November 2012. As always be sure to let us know what you think in the comments section below.