Friday, July 7, 2017

Takashi Iizuka: Endless Sonic Experiments



http://www.gameinformer.com/games/sonic_forces/b/playstation4/archive/2017/06/13/head-of-sonic-team-talks-bringing-custom-characters.aspx

http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/04/sonic-mania-and-sonic-forces-hands-on-preview-and-interview-the-focus-is-on-old-school-fans-6753357/

For 2 blog posts here I have been discussing the topic of Sonic Forces, the newest Main Sonic Series game that will come out in the fall of this year. I have already put it out there that while I believe this game will sell well because of the feature it offers, the Create-a-Character option, I don't believe that Forces will serve as the long-term solution to what needs to be done for the franchise moving forward. I don't feel like I need to go too much more in depth when it comes to Forces at this point, at least until after Forces comes out.

What I want to discuss here, though, is the head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka. Personally he sounds like a guy who would be okay to chat with at dinner, a guy you can approach and shoot the breeze with. What I'm about to say shouldn't be taken as a personal attack or anything. That's not what I do here on this blog.

I'm saying this; Takashi Iizuka simply isn't as professional as he should be.

Let's consider the 2 links to separate interviews above. Now I caution my blog readers to carefully tread through the 2nd interview because quite frankly the interviewer comes across as an arrogant jerk who shoves his opinion down people's throats. The interviewer is obviously super duper unprofessional and he has no business conducting interviews.

Back to Iizuka, pay close attention to the answers he gives in these interviews, and consider where he's going with these answers. If you ask me, I have no idea at this point what he's trying to say because it seems to me that the meaning behind his answers have multiple meanings... more like 15 or more meanings wrapped inside 1 answer.

Probably the most glaring example of Iizuka's answers having too many meanings behind them would be his comment on how he and Sonic Team thought that Sonic Mania wouldn't be received too well by gaming communities. That alone would have to bother any gamer because an answer like that shows how oblivious Iizuka and the current Sonic Team are to the ever changing climate of the Sonic Fan Base and gamers in general. The trendy thing to do right now is to play games that have a retro-like vibe to them, as in play some games that are wrapped inside 2D technology which are new but give off the feeling of old school games that we enjoyed in years past.

I believe that the more you read into interviews with Iizuka, the more you will realize that he has no clue as to which pressing issues need to be addressed in the Sonic franchise. Consider the games that he and Sonic Team have developed in these last 11 years. Let me run them down for you.

  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic Colors
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Boom (supervised Big Red Button to make this)
  • Sonic 4 Episodes I and II
  • Mario & Sonic at the [insert trendy location here] Olympic Games

To get it out of the way, the game Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a disaster not only because of how Big Red Button Entertainment developed the game, but really how Sega and Sonic Team monitored their development process. We cannot excuse how lazy BRB were in implementing Boom's gameplay controls for all playable characters, but we also cannot excuse Sega and Sonic Team for how they restricted BRB in certain fundamental aspects, specifically concerning creative freedom.

These games that feature Mario and Sonic going to the Olympics sell well. There's no denying that. The Mario & Sonic Olympic Games even control well for the most part. However, when we get down to the bottom of this, what did these spinoff games really accomplish? Yes, the appeal of Mario and Sonic actually getting together to do something cool in a single game was there, but Sega and Sonic Team misinterpreted that appeal. Are the Olympic Games all we ever want to see from Mario characters and Sonic characters together? Is it really as difficult as they say to make an actual adventure game featuring both Mario's and Sonic's staple gameplay mechanics?

Sonic 4 Episodes I and II were not really Sonic 4. Let's be honest about that. Sega and Sonic Team once again misinterpreted what gamers were wanting when they asked for something that was loyal and true to the original Genesis games that put Sonic on the map. While these games were not terrible and do have a couple redeemable qualities to them, these games simply missed the mark because in no way did they ever feel like true continuations of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. If anything, from what we're seeing now, Sonic Mania will blow Sonic 4 out of the water when it comes to this.

The group of siblings known as Unleashed, Colors, Generations, and Lost World... I might as well bunch these games together as a family because they all equally represent my next point. Inconsistency. That's the first word that comes to my mind when I review these 4 games together.

Unleashed separated gameplay mechanics between night and day. During the day you were simply Sonic the Hedgehog. At night, however, you were this "Werehog". Just cringeworthy. Colors introduced power-ups that I absolutely despise to this day because these things represent part of the main reason why we don't have Sonic's friends back as playable characters. The Wisps... Serving as just a band-aid to a wound that's not getting any better.

Generations was a celebration of Sonic's 20th Anniversary as a game franchise, and yes, this game paid tribute to some of Sonic's most iconic levels. However, it's just too bad that Sega and Sonic Team managed to highlight their main problems with this series in this game as Sonic's friends were treated like helpless cheerleaders and Classic Sonic became the Gimmick of the Year. Lost World introduced Parkour gameplay mechanics which wasn't all that bad, but the level designs were lacking, loading screens were not up to par, and once again, the writing of the game's story was ridiculously bad.

Now Iizuka believes he has something good in Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic and the Created Character named "Hero" teaming up to take down Dr. Eggman and company. That's all well and good if you don't mind sitting through a story that will most likely not make any sense. The Create-a-Character feature itself in Sonic Forces isn't a bad idea. In fact, it is clever when it comes to marketing the game; you're attracting new gamers to the product that way. However, (how many howevers is that?) what is Forces going to accomplish at the end of the day?

"Let's throw something at the wall and hope it sticks!"

"Let's keep experimenting with new gameplay mechanics until we find the right one!"

"We can't bring back Sonic's friends as playable characters until we figure out Sonic."

These endless Sonic experiments need to have some sort of climax to them. Ultimately you have to have some sort of idea where you want to take a game franchise. You have to know after so many experiments what works and what isn't working. You have to understand your gaming audience. You have to understand how the "gaming climate" is changing. You have to know just who is antagonizing you (such as this 2nd interviewer linked above), and who is trying to give you sound advice.

My greatest concern is that these Sonic experiments are going to continue for another 10-15 years, and that ultimately Sega and Sonic Team still won't figure anything out, meaning that all of us will have time wasted.

If Iizuka can't get himself and his team to figure out what makes true Sonic gameplay in 3D, then I believe he and most of his teammates at Sonic Team need to step down. They need to go. If this current Sonic Team can't advance us forward in the Sonic series, then we need a new team of game devs to come in with fresh new ideas, and a solid vision for what needs to be done to Sonic in 3D games. That's what needs to happen.

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