Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed arrived in Australia last week, and will alongside the Wii U on November 30.
We had a chat with Executive Producer at Sumo Digital, Steve Lycett, taking particular interest in the Wii U launch game.
MMGN: Transformed follows the original Sonic & All-Stars Racing from 2010. Why did you decide to do a sequel now? What’s the aim with Transformed?
Steve Lycett: Well mostly as we had a load of ideas after finishing the first game and we felt we could improve on it in many areas. Call it unfinished business! It also helped the first game was so well received. It’s nice when people consider it a viable alternative to that plumbers game!
For those that played Sonic & All-Stars Racing, can you explain the Transformation element and how this changes the gameplay?
Sure, it’s one of the things we’re most proud of! As you race, you do so in vehicles that can transform from a car to a boat to a plane! This all happens in the course of a race too, so the track itself changes surface types and route. All tracks have at least two surfaces to race on as it’s a key part of the game. We wanted all three handling types to mesh together seamlessly, so you’re constantly busy racing and battling whilst also using each surface to your advantage. Trust me, it’s a lot of fun!
I’m hoping Nintendo will now have to take a leaf from our game for their next Mario Kart.
Have you made any changes to how karts handle?
Well this is it, we don’t really consider it a Kart racer, you’re in proper cars, boats and planes. It’s much closer to OutRun, especially as when you dial the difficulty up, the speed also dramatically increases too. We’ve also tried to build in more depth to our drift system, plus we’ve greatly expanded the stunts too. So you’re always trying to chain all this together to keep up a rhythm of boosts whilst using each surface to your advantage. I think players will find it a real fresh arcade experience and one that’s true to the SEGA heritage of the game.
Who’s new in the “All-Stars” lineup? Are there any non-SEGA characters?
Wow, we’ve got a huge selection of SEGA characters from past to present, so we’ve pulled in classic characters like Gilius from Golden Axe, Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and Joe Musashi from Shinobi. They join all the Sonic characters we’ve pulled in too, so there is Sonic, Eggman, Amy, Tails, Knuckles and Shadow. Plus Metal Sonic if you get the game at release too. Add in Samba characters, Jet Set Radio characters and some surprises we’re keeping to ourselves and we’ve got monkeys, pirates, ninjas and more!
We’re joined by some guest stars too. Danica Patrick of NASCAR fame brings her racing skills to the track, plus Wreck It Ralph popped in as he visits new games to find his new role.
And then we’ve got Avatars on 360, Mii’s on 3DS and Wii U so there is a lot of variety and choice.
Who would you say the game is targeted towards? The SEGA fans of old are now 30-somethings, but kart racers are generally very popular with children. Can it appeal to both?
We tried to build it so that any can pick it up, set the difficulty to what they like and have fun. At the lower ends it’s easy for kids to pick up and learn, but at the top difficulty it’s actually a very core experience. Plus as the whole game can be played in 4 player splitscreen, including taking your splitscreen players online, it’s a great game for everyone to get round. We even have co-op weapons slots for our World Tour game mode so you can pass weapons to each other. So kids can help their mums and dads from being stuck at the back of the pack!
The game is spread out across a number of very different platforms, with the PS3, Xbox 360, Vita, 3DS and now Wii U all having very different strengths and capabilities. How do you go about optimising the game on each platform?
Lots of hard work! We wrote a brand new game engine that scales from Vita up to Wii U, plus it’s ready for the next generation of consoles too. That’s been invaluable. Then we make optimised art for each platform, making sure it runs as best as it can.
On 3DS, we’ve had to use a completely different engine and build this from the ground up to take best advantage of the system. It’s need a lot of clever people to get the game together and done!
As a launch title, did you put any extra attention into the Wii U version? Is there any pressure associated with launching with new hardware?
It’s possible to have a ten player game on two Wii U systems over the Nintendo Network. We hope players are going to love it!
Yes, the Wii U has had a dedicated team working on it since we got the first work in progress hardware. We had a few wobbles at first as the initial kits weren’t running at full speed, but Nintendo have given us lots of support and the kits were constantly upgraded and got faster and faster. That’s allowed us to do elements like 5 player splitscreen support, Wii U specific modes as well as reduce the compression on textures since we have a huge amount of memory to play with. It’s been tough to get the game ready in time for launch, but we’re getting used to breaking in new consoles, especially as we did the same for PSP and PS3!
How does it make use of the Wii U gamepad? Will we be able to use the Wii Remote and Pro Controller as well?
Well the Gamepad has allowed us to include asymmetric modes exclusive to Wii U, so one player on the Gamepad and 4 on the TV. We’ve also got the aforementioned 5 player splitscreen in virtually every mode in the game. Plus you can swipe the game to be player purely on the Gamepad, freeing up the TV.
Then… You can use any mixture of Wii Remotes, Nunchucks, Classic Controller (the Wii version) and the Classic Controller Pro. We did this so if you already had a Wii, you can use any controller on the Wii U. We do want to get players around the TV and having fun!
The obvious comparison is Mario Kart, which could be years away on Wii U. Even though Sonic has become an iconic multiplatform character, Nintendo fans are still loyal to their mascot. How do you convince Nintendo gamers to play a game like Sonic & All-Stars Racing instead of waiting for Mario Kart?
Well I’d say that we’re a very different experience. Not only does the multi-surface play have make it very fresh, but we’re also exploring lots of different SEGA games which really varies the levels you’ll play on. Mario Kart tends to stick to the Mario universe instead.
On top of that the split-screen everywhere mantra means that you can take 5 players all the way through the game, and online, which is a big step up from what’s been before.
What I’m hoping is Nintendo will now have to take a leaf from our game for their next Mario Kart. I think we’ve pushed the genre forward with this game – that and it’s really good honest fun and real gamers games. Try it, I think you’ll love it!
Are there any different gameplay features or modes in the Wii U version?
There are, for example the asymmetric play modes. We’ve got this game where the Gamepad player is a Monkey Ball and they’re rolling around trying to squash the other players who are busily stealing bananas! Each time you squash one the ball gets even bigger and harder to avoid, so it ends with really hilariously tense panic as you home in on that last player!
Then we’ve got a tag inspired Shinobi mode, when you as Joe have to convert the other players to you team. So they all have to run away. When you collect someone they switch sides and then start hunting the other players together. That’s also a lot of fun.
That’s just some examples, there are other features, like you can swipe the main screen down onto the Gamepad to play the whole game there so the TV is free up for those so important soaps. No arguments about waiting to save again! Plus you can use the Gamepad in motion control mode like a big old steering wheel. We’ve tried to support it thoroughly through the whole game.
Can you tell us about the online mode specifically in the Wii U version? Is it comparable to the online offerings on PS3 and Xbox 360?
All versions of the game, Wii U included, have much improved online support from the previous game. There are two core modes, Matchmaking where you pick from Race, Battle or Lucky Dip playlists to well… Race, Battle and key game modes online with a rolling lobby system.
Or you can create an offline or online Custom Game. Here this is more traditional lobby system where the host can pick which game modes to play on which tracks, and you can invite friends in whilst the game keeps a running score of who is winning.
Again, both modes support split-screen players on any console joined, so it’s possible to have a ten player game on two Wii U systems over the Nintendo Network. We hope players are going to love it!
Finally, there has been a lot of talk as to where the Wii U fits in technically compared to other current generation consoles. Would you say the Wii U version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is superior to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions?
I’m always fascinated by the technical talk and I understand why players like to compare who’s console is the king of them all. They all have their strengths and weaknesses though. In the Wii U’s case, bear in mind we’ve got a launch title that is every bit as good as the same game on systems we know inside out. Given time, when we know how to make the hardware really sing, you’ll see games that make those launch titles look primitive. Compare a 360 launch title to Halo 4, you wouldn’t believe they were on the same machine.
But at the end of the day, the games are what is important.
We’ve done our very best to make sure the game is equally good regardless of the system, so whilst the WiiU may have slightly nicer textures, I wouldn’t really want to pick one over another. Though… You can’t play 5 player splitscreen though on 360 or PS3… !
Thanks for your time!
By Ben Salter