The Mak­ing Of…

To make a racer this good took AGES

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY CHRIS SCHILLING

How Sumo Dig­i­tal paid trib­ute to a rich gaming her­itage with Sonic & All-Stars Rac­ing Trans­formed

Rogue’s Land­ing is one of Sonic & All-Stars

Rac­ing Trans­formed’s best and most beloved tracks. Pay­ing homage to Over­works’ Dream­cast clas­sic Skies Of

Ar­ca­dia, it’s a nos­tal­gic jaunt that sees you glid­ing past air galleons dur­ing the magic hour. But when the time came to show the track to one of its creators, Sumo Dig­i­tal surely couldn’t have an­tic­i­pated the re­sponse it re­ceived. The RPG’s co-di­rec­tor Shuntaro Tanaka sat in si­lence dur­ing

Steve Lycett’s pre­sen­ta­tion, and re­mained quiet af­ter it had fin­ished. Sud­denly, he be­gan to cry. But he quickly ex­plained these were tears of joy. “He said, ‘It’s bril­liant – you’ve per­fectly cap­tured what the orig­i­nal game was like. You’ve made me re­ally, re­ally happy,’” Lycett re­calls.

It’s a mo­ment that was em­blem­atic of the game’s de­vel­op­ment, a jour­ney of highs and lows that be­gan when Craig Dun­can and Si­mon Woodroffe, both now at Rare, first con­ceived an idea for a fol­low-up to the warmly re­garded

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Rac­ing. “It was ba­si­cally, ‘What if we had ve­hi­cles which trans­formed and [trav­elled across] land, air and sea?’” Lycett says. “That was the ini­tial back-of-a-fag-packet idea that be­came the ba­sis of Trans­formed.”

With Sega pre­pared to pour plenty of money into the game’s bud­get, Sumo was keen to pull out all the stops, adding fea­tures that were miss­ing from the orig­i­nal Sonic & Sega All-Stars

Rac­ing along with char­ac­ters fans had been re­quest­ing, while can­vass­ing fo­rum opin­ion to gauge the most pop­u­lar ideas. “We made ev­ery­thing four­player; we made sure every sin­gle track had its own in­di­vid­ual [style]. In a way, we al­most didn’t care what Sega thought, as long as the fans were happy,” Lycett says. “We said we wanted to de­liver ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing we could, and we never pulled back from that, to the point where we were sneak­ing up­dates and var­i­ous bits and pieces un­der the radar.”

But that orig­i­nal con­cept caused its fair share of prob­lems, as art di­rec­tor Andy Rit­son ex­plains. “It was al­ready be­ing dis­cussed with Sega be­fore they ac­tu­ally put it to the team!” he laughs. “When we found out, it was a very scary propo­si­tion, be­cause it meant hav­ing to cre­ate three lots of land­scapes for every track.” Newly ar­rived de­sign di­rec­tor Gareth

Wil­son, mean­while, found him­self in a sim­i­larly daunt­ing po­si­tion. Hav­ing emerged from the chaos of Bizarre Cre­ations’ clo­sure, he found him­self in­volved in build­ing a rac­ing game of a very dif­fer­ent kind to the Project Gotham games he’d helped to de­sign. “It took me about four or five months to get my head around how to build a track,” he con­cedes. “We had to rub the rough edges off one an­other,” Lycett agrees. “There was a pe­riod of ad­just­ment,” Rit­son diplo­mat­i­cally con­cludes, prompt­ing rau­cous laugh­ter from Wil­son and Lycett.

The team set­tled on a sum­mary that would de­fine the game: roller­coaster, not rac­ing. This helped es­tab­lish a de­sign method­ol­ogy for tracks that was un­like any­thing Wil­son had pre­vi­ously en­coun­tered. Rather than tight hair­pins, tracks would have long, sweep­ing cor­ners with large, recog­nis­able land­marks and plenty of ver­ti­cal­ity. For Rit­son, this meant plac­ing “some­thing fan­tas­tic-look­ing” over the brow of every hill. “It was al­ways about try­ing to cre­ate mem­o­rable mo­ments,” he says. “So when you went around a corner, the next vista would open up in front of you on the straight just af­ter­wards.”

In other words, the tracks would look quite sim­ple from a top-down per­spec­tive, but the com­plex­ity would come from power-ups, boost pads and al­ter­nate routes. Even if all cor­ners could be taken with­out brak­ing, Sumo was keen to en­sure that play­ers would be kept busy at all times. Lycett: “You’re al­ways ei­ther drift­ing, or fir­ing weapons, or dodg­ing. You’re al­ways try­ing to boost or roll or do some­thing. Like on the ra­dio, they have dead air where no­body talks – it was like that: hav­ing the player do­ing noth­ing [but ac­cel­er­ate] was a car­di­nal sin to us.”

Though the han­dling model was tweaked from its pre­de­ces­sor, Sumo found get­ting the land ve­hi­cles up and run­ning com­par­a­tively straight­for­ward. The wa­ter sec­tions were an­other story. The orig­i­nal plan was to make the wa­ter feel as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble, with wave physics that would af­fect the move­ment of each ve­hi­cle’s aquatic form – much like Nin­tendo’s Wave Race games. It didn’t work. “Fun and ac­cu­rate were di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed, re­ally,” Rit­son tells us. “You could make it re­ally ‘sim’-like, but it just wasn’t fun.” Af­ter pro­duc­ing 47 dif­fer­ent pro­to­types, even­tu­ally the team set­tled upon some­thing sim­i­lar to Mid­way’s Hy­dro Thun­der and its XBLA suc­ces­sor, though only af­ter try­ing “pretty much ev­ery­thing” else. “We worked through big waves, small waves, tidal waves, whirlpools, you name it,” Lycett says.

This was, how­ever, noth­ing com­pared to solv­ing the prob­lem of flight. At first, play­ers had the free­dom to fly any­where; nat­u­rally, most would take the short­est pos­si­ble route as the crow flies to the fin­ish line. “We tried forc­ing them into tun­nels, we had them run­ning along a spline, we had a fly-by-wire [sys­tem], but it was just aw­ful,” Wil­son re­calls. “You never felt like you had proper con­trol, so that didn’t work.”

Months of work were about to go to waste. Sumo had built a course based on Sea­side Hill from Sonic He­roes, at­tempt­ing to slot land, sea, and air sec­tions into a cir­cuit where they per­haps weren’t a com­fort­able fit. Even­tu­ally, a de­ci­sion was taken to write it off and start again. “The tricky part was try­ing to make it feel like they were all part of the same ‘fam­ily’,” Wil­son ex­plains. “Be­cause when we started, the car felt like one game, then the boat felt like a com­pletely dif­fer­ent game, and then the planes felt like a com­pletely dif­fer­ent game again.”

Af­ter a great deal of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, the three dis­ci­plines even­tu­ally be­gan to co­a­lesce into a con­sis­tent whole. “We’d been faffing with the con­trols for about a year and a half!” Wil­son laughs. “Ev­ery­one was get­ting re­ally an­noyed be­cause we couldn’t fin­ish it.” In the end, it was a change of lo­ca­tion that saved the day. Hav­ing scrapped Sea­side Hill, the team

“IT TOOK ME ABOUT FOUR OR FIVE MONTHS TO GET MY HEAD AROUND HOW TO BUILD A TRACK”

be­gan to build what would even­tu­ally be­come Dragon Canyon, based on cult favourite Saturn rail shooter Panzer Dra­goon. “The course helped us out,” Lycett says. “The way we solved fly­ing for that one was to put you in a canyon. The road was dead easy, then the wa­ter was in the bot­tom of the canyon, so you could only fol­low the river, and the flight [sec­tion] was within the sides of the canyon, so you couldn’t get out of the bloody canyon, no mat­ter what! Now we had a track that sup­ported [all three], we could ac­tu­ally start to put it all to­gether.”

It had taken a long time, but fi­nally the core de­sign was tak­ing shape. Not that it stopped Wil­son and his de­sign team from tin­ker­ing fur­ther. Now land, sea and air rac­ing were work­ing to­gether, short­cuts, stunts and al­ter­nate routes could be added. Still that wasn’t enough. “You started that project, didn’t you?” Lycett asks him. “What did you call it – Project Uni­corn or some­thing stupid like that?” Wil­son laughs: “It wasn’t Project Uni­corn, but it was some­thing [equally] ridicu­lous. But the idea be­hind it was that you could ace the whole of the track, so you could go through the en­tire track and boost the whole way around.” Hav­ing spent so much time and money build­ing the tracks, this had to be a clan­des­tine op­er­a­tion. “We had to keep it a se­cret, didn’t we?” Lycett re­calls. “We did it on the sly so you could get all this set up and make it re­ally playable with­out any­one catch­ing us out on the se­nior man­age­ment kind of side.”

Even­tu­ally, time ran out on the idea. “It had to be the way it was, be­cause ev­ery­thing was slowly get­ting built around it,” Wil­son says. Rit­son and the art team had, af­ter all, been cre­at­ing tracks around a han­dling model that wasn’t even fully func­tional. “Though we knew where it was go­ing, re­ally, even though we didn’t have any­thing fi­nalised,” he ad­mits. “By that stage I think we’d proved to our­selves we were [on the right track]. Af­ter the first course, which was a bit of a fail­ure, and a real learn­ing process, we re­ally got it right on the sec­ond.” Yet if Sumo was hop­ing to avoid the Mario

Kart com­par­isons the first game had at­tracted, it was out of luck. The team gath­ered to watch Nin­tendo’s E3 2011 brief­ing, hav­ing heard whis­pers that the lat­est Mario Kart would also fea­ture land, sea and air rac­ing. As the footage of Mario Kart 7 was un­veiled, Sumo found its worst fears re­alised. “It de­stroyed us,” Rit­son says. “We were gut­ted,” Wil­son adds. “Of all the ver­sions of Mario Kart to do the land, sea and air thing, they had to do it now!”

But once the ini­tial shock had died down, Sumo re­alised its game held a few ad­van­tages over Nin­tendo’s. Mario Kart 7’ s glid­ing se­quences were not so much about fly­ing as fall­ing with style, and its un­der­wa­ter rac­ing amounted to lit­tle more than sub-aquatic sec­tions of track. “They weren’t do­ing the same thing,” Wil­son says, “but it was a bit of a shame, be­cause ours was com­ing later and it looked like we’d copied them. We never thought they’d do some­thing like that.” And, per­haps, Nin­tendo may have been more in­spired by Sumo’s ef­forts than the re­verse. “I also thought they’d never move away from just Mario IPs,” Lycett notes, “but they did that for the most re­cent Mario Kart.” With a chuckle, he con­tin­ues: “I thought if I ever saw Mario Kart [fea­ture] a lot of dif­fer­ent IPs, they’d be tread­ing on our turf!” With the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of Smash Bros, it’s hard to imag­ine an­other game match­ing Trans­formed’s level of fan ser­vice. Sega needed to make sure it had the right stu­dio for the job, and tested Lycett on each of his vis­its to Ja­pan to see ex­actly how far his knowl­edge of the com­pany ex­tended. “It felt like an exam!” he ad­mits. One cre­ator in par­tic­u­lar liked to keep Sumo on its toes. “The ab­so­lute worst one – and I love him to bits – was Iizuka-san, who’s in charge of Sonic Team,” Lycett says, af­fec­tion­ately. “We were do­ing the Sum­mer Of Sonic [fan con­ven­tion], and we’d fi­nally got the char­ac­ter de­sign for NiGHTS signed off. We’d been through a mil­lion pro­cesses, but he al­ways loved to let me just dan­gle a lit­tle bit. In this case, we’d fi­nally got ve­hi­cle ren­ders done and we were go­ing to show it, and lit­er­ally just be­fore I went on stage I had to get his ap­proval be­cause he’d not seen the fi­nal de­sign. And by god did he make me sweat!”

Stuffed with cameos and hid­den se­crets – the cel­e­bra­tory Race Of AGES track has un­of­fi­cial nods to Se­gata San­shiro and Ecco The Dol­phin – Trans­formed has ev­ery­thing a Sega acolyte could pos­si­bly need, though Sumo thinks there’s plenty of ground still to ex­plore in a po­ten­tial fol­low-up. “We could def­i­nitely do an­other one,” Wil­son says. “For this one we’d just got into our stride in the last cou­ple of months of pro­duc­tion. We re­ally knew ex­actly what the game was; we’d got all the tracks and all the tools.” A re­make for PS4 and Xbox One is, Sumo ad­mits, one of the most pop­u­lar fan re­quests. “We could prob­a­bly run it on the PS4 in 120 frames a sec­ond in 3D,” Lycett says, clearly ex­cited. “Can you imag­ine that?”

Or per­haps some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent might be in or­der. “If we ever do an­other one, we should have a fight­ing game where the char­ac­ters are in­side mechs of them­selves, so you’ve got Sonic pulling Eg­gman’s arm off and beat­ing him to death with it,” Lycett muses. Rit­son con­curs: “Yeah, that way you could do dam­age with­out dam­ag­ing the char­ac­ter.” Wil­son adds, sim­ply, “Ge­nius.” There’s a brief pause as this trio of Sega fans con­sid­ers the wis­dom of such an idea, be­fore Lycett says, “Shall we sack off what we’re do­ing now?” You sense he’s only half-jok­ing.

Sega was de­lighted with the fin­ished game, even­tu­ally ask­ing Sumo to pro­duce a ver­sion for re­lease in Ja­pan. “It was the big­gest honour we could imag­ine,” Lycett says

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