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Sonic Frontiers is planning to come out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC this holiday season. But fans have debated whether it should be.
Most are responsive to trailers, but I got a chance to play some of Sonic Frontiers during the Summer Game Fest Play Days event last week. And what I’ve tried is promising. Running around with Sonic in an open environment can feel liberating and fun. I also enjoyed the combat, which manages to mix Sonic’s speed with modern action game basics like combos and dodges.
But there is also cause for concern. While it feels good to run, grind, and dash through the world, the movement becomes more awkward as you slow down. Once I wanted to jump onto the roof of a ruined temple. Maneuvering Sonic on tighter platforms like this can feel rough, especially when objects feel like they have random hit detection.
Speaking of hit detection, I also fell through the floor and died after defeating a boss. These types of bugs are not uncommon for a game still in development, but Sonic has a history of these types of issues. It’s worrying. Basically, what I played was promising but unpolished.
During Summer Game Fest’s Play Days, I also had the opportunity to speak with Takashi Iizuka, Creative Officer and longtime Sonic series custodian of Sonic Frontiers. I asked him if he’d like to lead Sonic in this new direction and if he thinks Frontiers will meet his launch goal for the holidays.
GamesBeat: What was the most difficult thing when it came to translating Sonic into this open world design?
Takashi iizuka: This really speaks to the difficulty in creating these games. But both the classic Sonic games and the more modern Sonic games all had a beginning and a goal. We put Sonic somewhere. We know where he’s going. In between, we fill that space with loads of platforming action. Through this design, we’re able to encapsulate the high-speed action and get Sonic to the goal while you’re having fun.
But the challenge we have now, now that we have this huge 3D open space, the open zone gameplay we need to create has to encapsulate the same high speed platforming action that we’ve found in every Sonic game to date have experienced, but in this vastness, extensive 3D format. It was a lot of work making sure the open zones still contained high speed platforms and action, all in this brand new format.
GamesBeat: Is it hard to judge how fast Sonic should be in this kind of open game?
iizuka: If you slow down Sonic, you miss out on some of the essence of Sonic. We couldn’t really stop him. In fact, we kept him at the same high speed. We even have a boost feature. It’s almost the same speed for Sonic, the feeling of Sonic. We wanted to make sure that stayed in the game. We could only ensure this by expanding the island. That was really where we had the biggest challenge. We had to build this really huge island because Sonic needs to be fast, but he can’t just run super fast around the whole island. So how big could we make the island? That became a challenge.
GamesBeat: We’ve seen this grassy area of the island so far. Will there be other different looking places?
iizuka: Sonic Frontiers is set in the Starfall Islands, this whole world. We are currently showing the first island. On that first island we have these grassy rolling hills. We also have a waterfall area, cliff, mountains and other areas on this island. But yes, on the Starfall Islands, yes there will be other islands. We can’t talk about that right now, but there will be islands that look and feel different.
GamesBeat: Does Sonic Team look at many other open world games for ideas or inspiration?
iizuka: Open world games are very popular. I play a lot of them myself, and a lot of the people on the team do too. But the open zone game we’re developing isn’t really an open world. It comes from a different kind of world design. We wanted to take this linear platform action format and expand it. Rather than being a go-to-goal in a linear format, we wanted to create this massive, sprawling island and allow you to freely roam wherever you want while engaging in action-platforming. Instead of trying to create a world, create people in this world, create all these world details, we wanted to expand the action platforming and create open zones on the island where 3D action platforming could happen.
We know a lot of people watch the videos and think oh this is an open world game, but the whole design element, starting point and idea behind the island that we created was really the linear platform action , not building an open world.
GamesBeat: Some Sonic games have a lot of story elements, others less. Where does Frontier land?
iizuka: In many of the previous games, the storytelling was very direct to the player. It would always be like this, Eggman arrived, Eggman did something wrong, now I have to do something to make Eggman do something. It was that direct storytelling where you would passively accept all of these things and then go out and do something about it.
The storytelling techniques we use for Frontiers are slightly different. We wanted you to experience things the way Sonic would experience them, in a very mysterious format. You show up on the island, but why are you here on the island? What are these islands anyway? That’s the mystery we wanted to set up and let you figure it out as you explore the islands. You go around finding out more of the mysteries. You’ll learn more about what’s going on in the story. Because you get out there and experience it while playing as Sonic. We’re driving storytelling, and I think that’s going to be different with storytelling in Frontiers than in previous Sonic games.
GamesBeat: The music also seems to be different in interesting ways. Typically, sonic music is loud and energetic. It’s almost kinda… soft and pretty? Why the change for this game?
iizuka: It kind of ties into the story. We have Tomoya Ohtani, who has previously been a composer on many Sonic games, and a lot of his music is really hard rock, designed to excite you, pump you up, go out and have fun. He’s done this kind of music before. When he heard about the history and the mysteries and intrigues being conveyed on the islands, he went and made music that went well with that sentiment. When you have that mysterious music alongside the mysterious story, it really fits. We think he did a great job of making sure you can feel that bit of fear, that sense of not being sure what’s going on, that mystery. It’s all part of the music that goes with the game.
GamesBeat: Sonic fans can be pretty intense and pretty passionate. Is it sometimes scary showing off a new game, especially one like this that’s a little different??
iizuka: I’m always interested in how the fans react to the things we announce, the things we show them. They are, as you say, a very passionate group. If we look at the previous games, the first generation was side scrolling, classic Sonic gameplay. The second generation was the more modern gameplay, from Sonic Adventure onwards. What we are doing now is the next step. This is almost the third generation. We know we’re showing fans something new that might not make sense to them yet.
But we really wanted to think about where we need to take Sonic over the next 10 years. What kind of gameplay do we need to develop to get people excited about the future? Sonic Frontiers is the next step for the next 10 years. We hope that the fans believe in us and that they like what we show them. We look forward to them playing it and really understanding what it’s about.
GamesBeat: We’ve seen a lot of gameplay already, and you’re still aiming for this year’s release. Are you still confident about this release window?
iizuka: Everyone is working very hard to get everything moving towards release this year. We’re having a good time sitting here, but the team in Tokyo really puts in a lot of hours to make sure we can bring something great to the fans this year. Game development is always so hard. We want to put more in. We want to do better. We want to make sure the fans are impressed. Everyone in Tokyo is working hard to make this happen.
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