We love SUMO Digital. We love Steve Lycett. And now with NiGHTS returning back to his rightful spot on the character roster for 'Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed', we love Steve and his company even more. With the Don't Forget NiGHTS campaign now successful in its goals, it seemed to be the right time to sit down with Mr. Lycett and talk about everything that's gone on with the character in the last three years, including how the Flagwaver cameo came about and what went into NiGHTS being drafted for this sequel.
Hello, Mr. Lycett.
Thanks for agreeing to have a very NiGHTSy themed Sonic & AllStars Racing Transformed interview with us here at NiGHTSintoDreams.com.
Steve – No problem, it’s a pleasure to take some time out to have a chat!
1 – The first time around when you SUMO's were making a SEGA themed racing game, by our knowledge NiGHTS was absent from the roster. That's when we ignited your email inbox, lol. What was your first reaction to the outcry for NiGHTS? Was you expecting such a fan response for the character?
Steve – Panic! All of a sudden I’d got a huge flurry of emails about a character we’d not planned to include, and at a stage when really it was just too late to add anything major to the game! I think both ourselves and SEGA hadn’t understood how much of a big deal it was that we’d not planned inclusion for ASR, we were certainly corrected on that in a very short space of time!
2 - Naturally, we understand that due to that time in development it would have been impossible to implement NiGHTS as a playable character. However, you didn't want to leave us empty-handed so you incorporated the character in to one of his greatest cameo moments yet, the flagwaver. Who's idea was it to give NiGHTS the checkered flag and how did you go about including it so late in development?
Steve – Yeah, buy that point we were pretty much deep into Alpha, one of the later stages of closing a game down. You’re not really supposed to be adding anything that late in the day! Our first discussion was if we could add a character, but creating a vehicle, building a character and a full set of animations had to be ruled out as we simply didn’t have time available to do it. At the same time though, we were trying to solve how we could add more life to the opening of a race. When we looked at both problems at the same time, we released we could use NiGHTS as the flag man and solve both problems in one go!
However, just having the solution was only the start of it, we then had to take the character model from SST, get it in and working, resolve how he’d enter and leave the scene and discuss it with Iizuka-san to make sure he felt we were using NiGHTS in an appropriate way.
By the time all that was done and approved, we were into Beta, and there you *really* shouldn’t be adding anything. We reached an agreement that if caused any serious bugs or problems that we’d have to let it go. Thankfully though everything went right thanks to the passion of everyone involved to do it, and finally it made the final game. Phew!
3 – Moving on to the sequel that you're currently working on. When you decided you were heading for the Racing genre again was NiGHTS a strong candidate for the roster after all the initial backlash from the first game or did he take a backseat while other characters were decided upon first?
Steve – Well we didn’t dare not include NiGHTS this time! NiGHTS was on the original character shortlist, plus we also wanted to base a level around the original game too. However, that didn’t mean an automatic inclusion! First we needed to make sure we could work out how we could make NiGHTS work as a vehicle on land, air and sea, plus the same needed to be true of the track!
We also had to run initial designs past Iizuka-san again to make sure he was happy we were capturing the spirit of the original game, and it was Iizuka-san who suggested the character actually transforms into a vehicle. Once this clicked into place, we knew it would work!
You still need to test the characters at focus groups though to make sure they appeal to a wide audience, both of SEGA and non-SEGA fans. Here though, what we discovered was that NiGHTS really resonated with a wide audience, especially with the fairer sex.
That all done and out of the way, finally NiGHT’s made the cut!
4 – The first time around, we all asked for NiGHTS as playable. This time you've not only given us NiGHTS but Reala too, as well as an entire race course dedicated to NiGHTS into dreams history and nostalgia. Going from a cameo in the first game to two playable characters and a track, what made you guys suddenly decide to pour on the NiGHTS sauce for this game? Furthermore, what made you guys decide to include Reala as the second NiGHTS related character and not another character, such as one of the dreamers (Elliot, Claris) or Jackle (another fan favourite boss)?
Steve – Track wise, it made sense for this game. We did consider it for ASR, but when you’re track bound, and the original game really didn’t have tracks in that sense, it didn’t make for an automatic fit. Now though, we’ve got land, air and sea. When we looked for classic SEGA games where you fly… Well let’s say it was a shoe in!
Reala came about as when we asked Iizuka-san about how NiGHTS would work, he drew concepts for us showing both NiGHTS and Reala as vehicles. Since they work in a similar way, we decided to include Reala too.
We have set rules for sizes of vehicles in the game though, with Jackle being a boss, this probably wouldn’t have worked as well. Plus for the track we went with the theme of dreams and nightmares. We felt boss characters definitely belonged in the nightmare sections, so we saved those for there. In fact you’ll see Gillwing, Puffy and Wizeman in those sections!
For the drivers, we did consider the dreamers from the original game or Journey into Dreams, but we felt that no matter which set we’d chose, fans would complain we should have used the others! Instead we thought it’d be fun to use the Pians and one of the enemies (the Guardle) to act as drivers instead! Especially as they need to fly sometimes!
5 - NiGHTS and Reala as characters are able to morph and shapeshift. You've incorporated this element in to their design in Transformed, seeing as they become the vehicles themselves. How did you come about this idea and what other designs did you go through before settling on the ones that you have given them? At any point were they considered to drive a vehicle or were you heavily set on making them the vehicles from the get go?
Steve – Well originally we designed a very abstract vehicle that morphed to match the surface. On Land it has Ideya like nodes to make it float, on water it sprouted a fish like tail to move – and in the air it grew wings.
However, once we saw the concepts from Iizuka-san, we dropped this in favour of the transforming characters, which in hind sight were much closer to what the characters did in the original games. Given the transformation aspect of the game, I think this was the right choice to make.
6 – The first time around, SUMO was blasted with the lame overused response "But, why is Sonic in a car?". You all handled the negative flack really well and went on to selling one of the best kart-esque racing games of the last few years, so Sonic in a car actually worked out pretty well, lol. The flack in regards to NiGHTS now is "But, why is NiGHTS the car?" …how are you choosing to deal with this years cliched negativity? Personally, i love what you've done with NiGHTS because i feel it shows that you've paid attention to the characters details and made them stand out from the rest of the roster.
Steve – LOL, you know, the ‘Hedgehog in a car’ statement has become part of the teams vocabulary! For example when we were discussing tracks and what kind of water surfaces we could race on, I put forward the idea that we could race on Lava. There was some dissent to this. ‘But you’ll burn!’ we heard ‘Lava is dangerous!’ they added. I explained that we really could take some liberties as at the end of the day, we had fantasy characters racing in fantastical environments, with the exact words ‘Yes, I see your point, but there is a hedgehog driving a car…’ It was a done deal from that point on!
We also appreciate that NiGHTS being the car, plane and boat are a surprise, and I hope that as fans were hoping to see what kind of vehicle we’d develop as they’d loved the ones from ASR. However, we agreed with Iizuka-san – who created the whole series – that this was the right thing to do. Once you sit and think about it, it’s perfectly natural in the context of the game, I think with time the NiGHTS fans will accept this.
7 - It could be that people are worried they won't get to see NiGHTS or Reala as themselves at all throughout the game. Can you prove those theories incorrect and will we be seeing the characters in their normal forms too?
Steve – You know, people really shouldn’t worry about this. You will see both characters in their natural forms in the game. You’ll also hear them talk, and although it wasn’t shown in the work in progress trailer we revealed at Summer of Sonic and Sonic Boom, they’re very much animated now! So relax, it’s in hand!
8 - As far as NiGHTS goes in Transformed, this is the first time we've seen new content designs for NiGHTS (such as the character never being a plane or a car before). You had NiGHTS and Reala in AllStars Tennis but they were pretty much just as they were, straight from 'Journey of Dreams' and handed a tennis racquet. Regarding Sonic Team, how did you go about getting these new designs and features for NiGHTS approved by them? Was there any moments where the designs weren't working at all? Anything left on the cutting room floor that you can tell us about?
Steve – I guess I’ve already answered this, but really, it was Sonic Team who provided the ‘transforming’ characters angle to us. They’ve been really supportive, not just for this game but for Tennis and ASR too. For example when we were making Tennis, it was as Journey into Dreams was being made. We were provided with assets direct from their game to use how we saw fit, which resulted in the Aqua Garden court. In terms of things cut, there hasn’t really been anything bar the original vehicle concepts, and with hindsight, I think we’ve got the better solution!
9 - The track itself is phenomenal, seeming to be inspired heavily from Spring Valley from 'NiGHTS into Dreams…' then allowing us to head through portals in to various boss levels, such as Gillwings Lair and Wizemans arena. From what i've seen, it's technically 4 courses all mixed in to one race track! What made you decide on such a course for the NiGHTS brand and how did you go about choosing which bosses and levels would appear? Were there any moments where it was designed as just one level without all the extra's included?
Steve – Actually, if anything it was waaaayyyy more complicated before. The design team had this concept that you’d have two Dream Doors to choose from at one point, and depending which route you’d take you’d wind up on sort of a dream river, either on the normal surface, or racing on the surface but from the other side! We had to tone that down a bit.
They also wanted to take a perfect dream like Spring Valley and then make it change it to a nightmare version, but when we discussed this with Iizuka-san, it was clear this wasn’t in the same frame as the original game. There is always a disconnect from Nightopia and Nightmaren basically. It’s fine to transfer between them via a Dream Door- but you can’t mix elements from one with elements from the other.
At this point we decided to do the dream and nightmare sections, so this is what you’ll see in the final game!
10 – Speaking of NiGHTS levels, the character has flown through some pretty amazing places, Soft Museum and Memory Forest are some of my own personal favourites. When choosing a level to focus on what made your team decide on Spring Valley and were other levels considered to be base grounds for the track?
Steve – We always try and find what we consider to be iconic things from the source game, and bring these into our game with some form of twist or change. When we looked at NiGHTS we really wanted to have some nightmare sections and for that, you need contrast. Hence we picked Spring Valley, it provided the contrast we needed, and it was iconically NiGHTS. We also tried to pick elements from the original game – we discussed elements from Journey of Dreams and NiGHTS into Dreams being mixed but again on direction from Iizuka-san that the games were separate, we pulled back to sticking with elements seen in the original.
11 - From your experience in handling the NiGHTS brand for this game and dealing with fans such as ours, what do you think it is about NiGHTS that would make people want to campaign for him? Do you personally see any qualities in the character yourself?
Steve – Really, if you look at the series, it often weaves elements about overcoming doubt and fear and believing in yourself. If you believe you can do things, usually you can. I think that’s resonated with the fans, and certainly, what you tend to find with NiGHTS fans is they’re overwhelming positive – most of the time!
Do I see elements of the character in myself? Not really! I think I have a less than serious frame of mind a lot of the time which could perhaps be compared – but I’m not sure I’d look good in purple!
12 – Now that NiGHTS is too busy racing, who's going to be waving the flag now?
Steve – On this one, you’ll need to wait and see. All I can say is as we start races in the air, it needs to be a character who can fly. Let speculation commence!
13 – Who knows where the future will take SEGA and SUMO, but if the two teams would ever create another entry in to the AllStars series are we going to have to remind you all of NiGHTS again or are we in safe hands from now on? (I know i'm waiting on a SEGA BrawlStars. Would personally love to, as NiGHTS, paraloop Shadow the Hedgehog while fighting on top of a Tem-Jin Virtuaroid, lol) ;D
Steve – You know, we’ve got plenty of ideas for more All-Star games, but we really need to finish this one first! If we did more would we include NiGHTS? Well certainly, if it fits with the game we’re making, but as always I better not make any promises as you never quite know what you’ll be doing next!
A huge thank you to Steve Lycett for his time in answering these questions for us.