Sumo Digital must be the happiest campers on the planet right now. The charismatic British studio is a melting pot of creative talent that happens to contain massive fans of SEGAís back catalogue.
Over the last decade, it has been trusted with many of the Japanese publisherís licenses. From its Xbox and PS2 ports of OutRun 2
to SEGA Superstars Tennis
, it has proven that it can offer spinoff experiences that last.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
was a smash hit when it was released on Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS back in 2010 - so much so that just two years on weíre going to be seeing a sequel in the form of Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed
. For design director Gareth Wilson - who previously worked with Bizarre Creations on Blur
and Project Gotham
- itís a dream come true.
Before my interview with Gareth even begins, weíre talking about a certain headlining blue hedgehog. A rather deep conversation ensues about the reach of Sonic the Hedgehog as a character, and whether interest in the fanbase is shrinking or growing. Perhaps itís not so surprising that a sequel to All-Stars Racing
has come so soon - Gareth tells me that his five-year-old daughter knew Sonic before he even showed her the games. And it was thanks to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
ďKids of a certain age always tend to have (SEGA Superstars
or All-Stars Racing
kicking about in their game collections, but not so much the core Sonic
titles,Ē Gareth explained. It seems that there is a pretty substantial benefit to allow the blue blur - and indeed, other SEGA properties - to freely explore other genres of games.
From here, we officially kicked off the interview, and spoke of broad-ranging topics such as the process in securing characters for the All-Stars Racing
games, the burden of being compared to Mario Kart
, and the creative freedom that Sumo has in working with the SEGA licenses. Read on...
SPOnG: Did you expect that you guys were going to be making a sequel to Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing at all?
Iíve not been at Sumo Digital for very long, so I didnít work on the original title. This is my first project at the studio. I was at Bizarre Creations before this, so I worked on Blur
and Project Gotham Racing 2
... then Bizarre died, and I went to Sumo as they were looking for a Design Director. This is my first retail game so I donít really have that much knowledge into how the process went before.
I think what happened though, was that the studio wasnít expecting to make a sequel to All-Stars Racing
this quickly. But the game sold extremely well, and SEGA was like, ĎHuh. Maybe we can make another version in this generation then.í I think they always planned to do a sequel, but maybe on the next generation of consoles.
So we ended up doing some other bits and pieces for them. We did SEGA Rally
, some XBLA games and the iPhone version of ASR
, which did really really well. I was really pleased with that, actually.
SPOnG: I heard a lot of good things about that version of the game.
I was just pleased with the fact that the handling - the actual controls - were alright. My pet hate with iPhone racing games is that theyíre just crap to handle. Whereas I felt we did a pretty good job with the gyroscopic controls - at least, as best as I thought we could with tilt controls.
SPOnG: Was it difficult, for that particular version?
Yeah. It was really hard to get those controls just right.
SPOnG: Itís just that you see so many apps out there that are happy to provide wonky car handling because the tilt controls are considered enough when it comes to immersion.
What we had to do, was we had to use the AI information to help us program the steering correctly, basically.
SPOnG: You mean as a test bed? To see how the AI got to grips with the controls?
No - when youíre driving around in that game, when you tilt left and right, we look at where the AI spline is and we go ĎOh, what he means is, he wants this much steering.í So we assist the playerís steering using the AI data. Because you just canít be precise with that tilting thing, like you can with a thumbstick. It took a lot of fannying around to get right, basically. But yeah, we were really pleased with that. That was my first game with Sumo.
And then we did the arcade version of ASR
. Iím not sure if youíve been able to play that at all...
SPOnG: I did, but in Japan.
I'm well pleased with that! It was a badass conversion. We didnít really do that much on it, to be honest with you, but just having the cabinets and hardware there was brilliant.
SPOnG: Do you know if the arcade version of ASR did particularly well? Thereís a stigma about arcade games performing pretty poorly in terms of sales, at least outside of Japan.
Not at SEGA. Their arcade division is very profitable.
SPOnG: Oh, fantastic. Would you be able to tell if ASR was among one of the big sellers in SEGAís lineup of arcade cabinets?
I donít know, but weíve only heard good things. Iím not really privy to how much weíve sold, but they were very pleased with it. And itís gone into loads of shopping malls, cinemas and outlets all over the place.
SPOnG: Do you think youíd do an arcade version of All-Stars Racing: Transformed?
Iíd love to, but I donít know if we ever will do. But yeah, itíd be great.