After playing Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Siliconera spoke with Bob Rafei, Creative Director and CEO of Big Red Button which is developing the Wii U game. Rafei and his studio have been working with Sega and Sonic Team to make a new type Sonic the Hedgehog game tied to the upcoming TV show of the same name.
What was the biggest takeaway you got from fans after Sonic Boom was announced?
Bob Rafei, CEO of Big Red Button: That’s easy. What a strong fanbase and a vocal fanbase this franchise has.
The most important feedback was from Sega and Sonic Team. This is something they are exploring in terms of a different approach for Sonic. That was the most important guidance to us.
In terms of your first question, having that strong reaction to me validates we were on the right track. The majority of it was strong and positive so we know we are hitting the right chord. Also from my personal perspective is if we didn’t foster such a strong reaction we wouldn’t be giving Sega their run for their money by having us really explore a different approach with the franchise. We ultimately believe we are on the right track and we are happy and comfortable with the direction that Sonic Boom is going in.
What part of Sonic Boom surprised Sonic Team the most when you showed it to them?
I would say combat. That was a bit of a head scratcher for Sonic Team, but the more they saw what we were doing the more they helped us hone it. We knew it had to have speed elements because it is a Sonic game. That sense of exploration is going back to a Sonic Adventure feel.
[Feedback from Sonic Team] was really in terms of balancing and tuning. Part of the mission mandate at Big Red Button was to expand on Sonic. I would say that is something we brought to the table and Sega really digested and agreed it was a good approach.
Sonic is an interesting series since there are kids that grew up with 2D Sonic and there are kids that grew up with and prefer 3D Sonic. And now, there are going to be kids that will grow up with Sonic Boom. There are three different kinds of games with one starring character. When you look at your style in Sonic Boom what are the tenets of this kind of Sonic game?
Primarily, it is a character action exploration. It’s an epic adventure story. It’s all about exploration. We introduced combat in a way that is kind of new to the franchise so it was very important that we do that right because it is such a different approach. And certainly speed is part of the equation. The speed component for us is tapping into joyous movement, the sense of rollercoaster and exhilaration of movement.
In terms of the main project pillar, it was cooperative play. We wanted to have an experience where friends and family sit down on a couch and are able to play the game together. That kind of relationship people will bring to it, we wanted to have the characters display that in their banter. Personality was another big important part of it, in terms of how the characters emote and how it reflects into the mechanics as well.
For example, Sonic is all about speed. His navigation and combat are centered around fast rapid movements. Knuckles is a big bruiser, he’s a power character. Tails is the inventor on the team and Amy has agility. She has a triple jump. Knuckles has burrow and wall climbing. Tails has a buddy bot, which he can release onto enemies or unlock gates for him. That kind of characteristic that comes out in their persona also come out in how they speak to each other in the story. These guys known each other for a long time that means we can have some fun since they don’t always agree with each other.
Is it hard to do joyous movement in 3D space compared to the 2D Sonic games where Sonic had one less plane to worry about?
I think Sonic Boom has found a good formula for that. We tried to make a subtle variation by having lane changing and the obstacle course. There are a lot of different paths too. Classic Sonic has the main path and for the more skilled players you can access the higher levels. That is also something we wanted to tap into as well.
In terms of navigating in 3D space, yeah it is more difficult because spatially you have to understand what is happening. That’s the challenge of any driving game has or flying game has. That is something we were also very aware of when we developing the course in Sonic Boom.
How did you solve the problem?
It’s the progression of challenge and that’s through introduction and mastery of a mechanic. There will be cases when we’re introducing it will be a lot more straight forward and you are just mastering lane changing or obstacle avoidance. Later on, it becomes pretty fast and frantic. It was very important for us to get the right balance into the game. Right now, you’re seeing one of the levels and later on we’ll give you more feedback about what the full game has.
Sonic is known for having an attitude and in the old cartoons he made a lot of one liner wisecracks. When you were writing the story, what are some of the jokes and catchphrases he has in Sonic Boom?
There are so many. We wanted to find a balance between making the character appealing and not being so repetitive by saying the same one liners. What we love about his personality is we wanted to build on his attitude of rushing into action sometimes without thinking about it. Tails, a lot of times, is telling him, “We got to check this out” or the other team members will say, “I don’t know if we need to go there.” That’s the fun aspect of having Sonic rush into action and then have to backtrack to see if he got into trouble or not. That plays a big part in the story which will we reveal more at E3.
What about Amy? It seems like she’s changed the most.
We wanted to have a strong, able-bodied female character. We didn’t want her to be fawning after Sonic. The goal was to have her be appealing on her own. She is very agile, she is very acrobatic, and very graceful. She’s the only character, from a pure mechanics perspective, that has a triple jump. There are some places that only she can get to.
He’s the most fun character to write for because he’s a little slow on the uptake. A lot of times, the things he is saying tend to be funny because he is trying to process what is happening. He’s our go to guy for the punch line and I think the show does that as well. In collaboration with the TV writers, we wanted to have a consistent approach with their personalities and the show really plays up on that.
How does Eggman fit into this since Sonic Boom has a new main villain?
We wanted him to pass down the torch in terms of introducing a new villain. That’s a very fun dynamic that was very cool to create, these two guys have an uneasy partnership and we’ll be talking about that more at E3.
We will still see a decent amount of Eggman in the game?
Oh yeah, absolutely. We wanted to tap into the best parts of canon and build on top of that. Eggman is in the game and there is a boss round with him here. Part of the narrative arc is being stronger with friends, which is what are team represents and that kind of discord the antagonist team goes through. They can ultimately never be able to work together, so that becomes their undoing. Versus the team, which learns to mesh together and use their individual skills to their best advantage.
It seems like there are more collectables in Sonic Boom like all of those robot parts in the demo.
Because we chose to do a character adventure, part of the genre is the ability to explore and to find these rare items. That’s where that comes from, to be true to the genre blending, taking those parts of Sonic that we love and putting a twist on it by giving it a classic character adventure feel. You go to the hubs, you meet NPCs, there are unlockables there, there are missions that they give you. There are home improvement missions you’ll see at the hubs and those are satisfied by collecting robot parts.
Are we going to see any other characters from the Sonic universe? Maybe Metal Sonic, Shadow or Fang?
That’s to be determined later.