Earlier this summer, the Sonic the Hedgehog series turned 30. Sega hosted a Sonic Central livestream in May, teasing three new projects (Sonic Colors: Ultimate, Sonic Origins, and an untitled Sonic mainline game), followed by a special 30th anniversary concert featuring the orchestra Play classic Sonic music.
For most of the festivities in the rearview mirror, we interviewed five longtime developers from Team Sonic. From directors and producers to composers and artists, we cover every field to understand each person’s unique experience in the franchise and what 30 years of Sonic mean to them.
What are your first memories of working on the Sonic the Hedgehog series?
Takashi Iizuka, Creative Officer, Sonic Team Leader: Moving to the US and living there for a year and a half to develop Sonic 3 is my first memory. It was an exciting and fresh experience for someone like me who has never been to a foreign country.
Art Director Hiroshi Nishiyama: Responsible for creating the 3D Sonic World in Sonic Jam. Texturing with new shapes and models was really hard work, but because of that, I was able to really get the Sonic Adventure stuff to shine, so it was a fond memory.
Creative Director Kazuyuki Hoshino: I joined Sega in 1991 and my first memory is going to a game show [co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog Naoto] Ohshima-san and was introduced to the show [co-creator Yuji] Zhong Sang who just returned from the United States. Everything starts there.
Yuji Uekawa, character designer: Sonic Jam was the first Sonic game I made, and the first game in the series to use 3D polygons for characters and environments, so everything felt fresh and seemed like anything was possible.
Jun Senoue, Sound Director, Guitarist, Crush 40: My first memory is of the process of choosing music on the Sonic 3 while developing in the US.On the Japanese side, we would make a demo tape of all the tracks we created, and then ship that tape to the U.S., and after the U.S. team reviews the tape, the comments we receive are all from fax!
Do you remember a particular moment when you realized how big the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise and character was?
Iizuka: I’ve had many moments over the years just how big the Sonic the Hedgehog series is. The first was at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1993, and then in 1998, we had over 10,000 people at the big event where Sonic Adventure was first announced, even just last year when the 2020 Hollywood movie came out .
West Hill: To me, it’s the big Sonic Adventure title reveal event in 1998 and the release of the Hollywood movie in 2020. Even to this day, I will never forget how excited it was to see the fans.
Hoshino: Well, I get that feeling every time I meet all of our fans, but if I rule it out, I’d say some characters that looked a lot like Sonic and Knuckles a few years ago were on the internet as viral memes Up has the upper hand, maybe?
Kamikawa: It’s not surprising when it happens in the games industry, but once we start working with other strong IPs in comics and movies and across different mediums, it’s definitely a moment and the reality of where we are now, we have It’s going to be another moment for me with a mass-licensed Sonic product being sold all over the world.
Senue: I was moved by the fact that he was widely recognized by so many people. Whenever you say the name “Sonic,” whether the person is young or old or male or female, they always say “Oh yes, I know Sonic!” A blue hedgehog pops up in in their minds. Of course, 2020 has a Hollywood blockbuster coming out, and really expanding the franchise is another big reason why so many people know him.
What’s your favorite Sonic game?
Iizuka: It was Sonic Adventure 2, and we moved all the development teams to the US. It’s a small development team, so we were able to condense all the great elements from previous games and deliver a story and game that will delight players around the world.
West Hill: That’s when we moved to the US to develop Sonic Adventure 2. I have a lot of new ideas for this game because of all the new thrills and experiences I’ve had living in America and being able to make a really great moment with the other members.
Hoshino: In Shadow of the Hedgehog, I had a lot of fun as a character designer. Not only the droids created by Dr. Eggman, but human soldiers, and weapons and vehicles from alien civilizations – I’m really throwing myself back into making a game that’s completely different from the game’s normal conventions. Did you enjoy it?
Kamikawa: It was Sonic Adventure and I was the character designer and had to model and animate the characters. I also made all the artwork for the title promotion, so it’s a game that means a lot to me personally.
Senue: It’s making Sonic Adventure 2 in the US with a small local development team. Everyone on the team has created a very exciting experience in this new environment, so we had a lot of fun developing the game at the same time.
What’s your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game to play?
Iizuka: The first game I recommend is Sonic Mania, as it condenses all the fun of classic Sonic games into one experience. For those who like 3D Sonic games, I would recommend Sonic Colors: Ultimate because of the variety of game styles.
West Hill: Sonic Heroes is a game I made that has a lot of variety in the world and requires strategic use of each character’s unique skills to play the game with a high level of teamwork, so I really like it.
Hoshino: Sonic Heroes is a game that my friends and I have a lot of fun playing because we strategize as a team as we play. Each team has its own finishing moves, so it’s always fun to match each member’s unique abilities.
Kamikawa: I would say the original Sonic the Hedgehog. It has simple controls, vivid graphics and very pure gameplay.
Senue: Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I loved playing the first Sonic the Hedgehog, but in such a short period of time we got this new game, which has launched and added all kinds of new things, and it’s a really fun gaming experience. As a fan, this is one of the games that I really like and am impressed with.
Besides Sonic, who is your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog character?
Iizuka: Should be shadow. One reason I have that affinity is probably because I helped create and shape the character, but I also love his backstory as a dark hero.
West Hill: Before I joined Sega and played Sonic games, I had to say Knuckles in Sonic 3. I love the mysterious background how he guards the Emerald Master all by himself. I helped create Shadow when I joined the team, so he’s another character that I really like.
Hoshino: I think Dr. Eggman’s passion for constantly creating things is amazing, no matter the challenges he faces. I really want to know how many hours a day he works to make all this stuff?
Kamikawa: I’m one of those people who really loves big cats. I appreciate his casual and relaxed approach to slow life, which is a stark contrast to the always busy Sonic.
Senue: shadow. Part of it is because I was part of the team that created him, but I also love his dialogue (especially in Japanese), and the black and red color combination.
When you started making the series, did you think it would be 30 years old and still going strong?
Iizuka: I first started making this series when I was 21, so I never even thought about the next 30 years. But at the time I did have that desire to make Sonic games forever.
West Hill: I’m just focused on doing my best to do what I have to do in the moment, so I’m not really thinking about the future. I do remember having a very strong impression that Sonic was cool and the gameplay was really fun when we were developing things.
Hoshino: After the real expansion of the world of Sonic characters in Sonic Adventures, I really feel like the series still has a lot of story to tell and a lot of challenges to face. As long as that’s true, Sonic will continue.
Kamikawa: Honestly, I didn’t even imagine what the next few years would be like. Part of it is that we just keep making games and licensing more, and Sonic IP never seems to stop. It feels like, because we’ve been moving forward, as a result, we’re here 30 years later.
Senue: In my early 20s, I couldn’t even imagine myself in my 50s, so similarly, I can’t even imagine what Sonic will be like 30 years from now. From the beginning, Sonic set us on this fantastic adventure, and 30 years later, we reach this milestone.
What does the franchise’s 30th anniversary mean to you?
Iizuka: I’m excited to bring fun and excitement to people around the world through our team’s 30 years of hard work. I’m also glad that Sonic has received so much support from our fans over the past 30 years.
West Hill: I’m glad to know that after 30 years of joy, Sonic has left an indelible mark on the lives of our fans. I’m also looking forward to offering people more fun games in the near future.
Hoshino: My career in this industry also reaches 30 years. Turning around and looking back at things made me realize how far we’ve come. I look forward to coming up with new ways to entertain our fans for the next 30 years!
Planting House: 30 years is a long time, but I think it’s no exaggeration to say the support for Sonic is a testament to all the members of the team. Looking forward to sharing NOW with fans, and looking forward to sharing future happy times with fans.
Senue: I believe the last 30 years have been built with our fans, so I really want to celebrate with you all for making this happen. Happy 30th Anniversary Sonic! !
For more on Sonic the Hedgehog’s 30th anniversary, check out our interview with Takashi Iizuka for all the announcements the team made during the May Sonic Central presentation. You can also watch the full Sonic Symphony show here (end of Jun Senoue and Crush 40). Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the history of the Sonic franchise, including why the series experienced such a slump, why Sonic 2 was a huge hope for Sega, and how Sonic made the leap to Nintendo platforms after the Dreamcast was discontinued, check out Articles listed below: