Mario and Sonic are back, and this time they?re taking on the Olympic challenges of 2012?s London Games. Being the athletic chaps they are, it makes sense for the two once-rival mascots to stretch their legs a third time on Nintendo platforms.
L to R: Kohji Shindo, Nobuya Ohashi, Eigo Kasahara
But, ignoring all of the hyperbole, the party series has been a big money spinner for SEGA, with the Mario & Sonic
Beijing and Vancouver Winter Olympic games selling over 19 million copies. With that success, the risk of getting complacent and throwing in incremental improvements grows stronger - and that?s a challenge that SEGA?s Japanese development team is more than aware of.
I sat down with the men tasked with keeping the Mario & Sonic
experience fresh for London 2012 - chief producer Osamu Ohashi, producer Nobuya Ohashi, Wii version director Eigo Kasahara and the 3DS version director Kohji Shindo. Read on for their thoughts on the multiplayer party genre, why the Olympics made sense in the first place and how one artist on the team got the shock of his life.
SPOnG: This is the third entry to the Mario & Sonic Olympic Games series. Are you surprised at the success you?ve had with this tie-up?
We are surprised by the success, and we also very happy and honoured that many people enjoy this series. At the same time, as this is the third instalment, we have quite a lot of pressure in meeting the expectations that people have from previous titles.
SPOnG: Going back to the first game in the series, when you decided that Mario and Sonic?s collaboration should be in the style of a sports party game... Why did that scenario make sense to you as opposed to a traditional platformer?
Prior to this project there has always been a discussion between Nintendo and Sega about bringing Sonic and Mario together somehow. But every time we talked about it, there was an issue as to exactly how we could achieve that.
These characters come from two totally different backgrounds, and have completely different worlds. If you do any kind of collaboration, you can?t just get them to run on one of the Sonic stages or vice versa. You have to create something from scratch, a neutral location. Nintendo and SEGA never managed to agree on just where or what kind of universe we could set a Mario and Sonic adventure in.
Then, some time ago, SEGA secured a license to create games based on the Olympics. At that point I came up with the idea of having Mario and Sonic compete with each other in the Olympic games setting. We proposed that idea to Nintendo and they were really positive and interested in the idea, so that is where we started building it into a concrete game proposal.
SPOnG: With this particular edition of the game, what have been the challenges you faced on the Wii and 3DS version in terms of trying to keep the series fresh and more interesting for those who have played the past games?
For the Wii version, we have added new events - since the location is going to be London we included the sports that are popular in Western Europe, such as Football and Equestrian. There will also be a lot of other new events like Canoeing and Badminton.
We are recreating the Dream Events - stages based on either Mario or Sonic themed worlds - to make a more fun multiplayer experience. There?ll be an extra mode too, a Party mode, which is again focused on reinventing multiplayer. So we are renewing all aspects of gaming mechanics.
On the 3DS version we are trying to create Mario and Sonic Olympic experiences that no-one?s ever played before. That?s the goal that we have within our dev team. One obvious point is that we creating the game for a brand new console, and we spent a lot of time in research to make new game mechanics that work well with the 3DS.
SPOnG: How do you guys feel about the multiplayer party genre at the moment? Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is one game in a sea of similar titles such as Carnival Games, and because of the volume of games in that market a lot of people, including fans, may consider these games to be shovelware. Is that a concern for you at all?
We actually aren?t really worried about the industry or market of so-called multiplayer party games, because we have quite a solid established franchise. We have the brand power of Mario, Sonic and the Olympic Games, as well as the past titles that have been quite well received. So we haven?t really worried about whether this game will be buried under the noises of other titles.
Our concern is really more to do with the fact that this is the third instalment in the series, and some users might get bored of the franchise. We think of this as a challenge to keep it fresh so the users who have played the previous games can still find something new.
SPOnG: You?ve obviously done some research in and around London for the game - any fond memories? Any landmarks or food that have become your favourite since you arrived?
(All three starts talking amongst themselves, laughing, chatting to the translator)
We have had some great experiences. Obviously we saw all the venues where the Olympic Games will take place. One of those venues was set in an open-air field... I think it was Wimbledon, I?m not sure, but it was one of those fields covered with grass.
Outside this field was an electrified fence to prevent wild animals to come in. One of our artists was really eager to take a lot of photos of the field from different angles, and he didn?t notice the fence. Unfortunately, he stepped on it without knowing and he got burned quite badly! (Laughs) He was alright at the end but, he said it was quite painful.
Also, at the London Bridge, the last time we came here for the research, we took a lot of pictures and we tried to recreate the colours - especially at night, when the lights all come on. We tried to recreate that based on our research trip, but last night we were on a night cruise around the Thames and we noticed that the colours have totally changed now! It?s too late to change it now (laughs)!
SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.