Am I correct in believing that many "Sonic" fans have grown tired of Sonic's friends?
That they are sick of Shadow and Rouge and the human characters he hung out with in his latest game?
I sure hope I read the situation right, because that's what I grilled BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk about during part of Game Developers Conference interview with them last month. But don't worry, they could handle it....
The reason for this line of questioning, of course, is because BioWare is developing "Sonic Chronicles," a Sonic role-playing game for the DS that will feature Sonic and, yes, Sonic's friends.
Here's the back and forth:
Multiplayer: I think people pretty uniformly love the games you guys make. And I think people pretty uniformly are getting tired of Sonic having so many friends in all of his games. I think that puts you guys and your team in kind of a funny spot. Do you think …
Ray Muzyka, General Manager, BioWare: Which people?
Multiplayer: Which characters?
Muzyka: No, which types of people complain about them?
Multiplayer: It seems like the "Sonic" series, which was beloved when it came out on the Genesis…
Muzyka: [smiling] I still have my signed Genesis, signed by Yuji Naka-san plugged into my TV and it still works and I still play it. It's fantastic.
Multiplayer: As the series has gone on, people loved it, loved it, loved it, and, when it went to 3D, there was some grumbling. The games have been somewhat maligned by the critics since then. And one of the things you hear is "Oh, every time they make a new 'Sonic' game, they're adding this character or that character. Now there's Shadow and he's got a gun… And then [Sonic]'s in love with human women who are bringing him back to life"…
People are like, "Can't we just have a game with just Sonic in it? A straight platformer like on the Genesis, maybe with Tails, maybe with Knuckles?" That's what I feel like I read in reviews. I'm not a hardcore Sonic fan myself, but that's what I sense…
So I'm wondering if you consider yourselves in that bind and if that's given any extra motivation to figuring out: "How do we make sure these characters don't drive people crazy this time?"
Muzyka: I think it's a huge opportunity when you have an IP that has reverence and weight and it means something to a lot of people and it's also got a ton of backstory and thought that's gone into that. "Sonic" is a great example. That's why we're excited to develop with Sega to make "Sonic Chronicles," the first RPG. It is a great IP. There's all these interesting characters.
We're really excited with how you combine narrative flow in a way that's appropriate to the DS platform and aimed at little younger audience -- but really, all ages. We're trying to make a game that is going to appeal to a lot of people. But also to use the best things about the "Sonic" IP, like speed. It is really about speed for Sonic, but for the other characters it's about other things. They have their own unique abilities.
I think when you combine those two things, the intersection of the narrative and the IP, that's where the sweet spot is. And if you're a little bit off, people know that. They recognize it's not quite aligned. We're making sure it's well-aligned and in tune with what the IP is actually about.
Multiplayer: Were you guys aware, though, that Sonic's friends were at all unpopular?
Greg Zeschuk, General Manager, BioWare: I think one of the interesting things about the way we look at the "Sonic" franchise is that they are kind of an opportunity for us.
We’ve literally concluded this: we believe that all our games make so much sense to have multiple characters involved because effectively they are the reflections of your actions in the world. We've tried it a few times without them, but we've always put the other characters back I because it just made sense. So [we believe in] using them as a strength.
I think maybe the challenge there, if people are not as excited about having the friends, is making them worthwhile, making them a good part of the game. They're not going to be gimmicky. They're not going to be side things. It is actually a core part of the gameplay mechanic. It's actually, we think, going to revitalize the love of the Sonic friends, especially Big the Cat. [laughing]
Muzyka: One other thing that's very cool about all of our games is we try to allow choice. And the choice is moment to moment; it's in the story; it's within your exploration. It's also within your choice of companion characters and sidekicks. And you're going to have a different experience in BioWare games depending on who you bring with you. That was true in "Knights of the Old Republic," it's true in "Mass Effect," and it's true in all of our games. If you like certain characters that's an opportunity and you get to travel with them.
Frankly, we also look at it as an art form. One of the things we're trying to do is make people feel something, an emotional attachment. And it could be dislike. Dislike is an emotion. If you provoke that kind of emotion and you're trying to provoke that, it's a good thing. Provided you allow players to enjoy the experience throughout. Hopefully they like some characters. Hopefully they dislike some characters. And if we can bring that and maximize that, it'll be really fun.