Sonic the Hedgehog devs explain how competing with Mario influenced development
"The goal, to put it simply, was to beat you-know-who."
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 art director Yashushi Yamaguchi explains how the origins of Sonic involve Super Mario Bros.
Shmuplations has shared another translated article from its archives, this time featuring a collection of developer interviews about the creation of the original Sonic the Hedgehog.
The compilation collects conversations with a number of Sonic developers, including programmer and team leader Yuji Naka, designer and art director Naoto Oshima, planner Hirokazu Yasuhara, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 art director Yasushi Yamaguchi and touches on how the idea for Sonic came to be, as well as how the game’s development progressed.
In one interview, Yuji Naka explains that he had actually wanted to make a racing game and that the idea for Sonic had been fairly low on the list of games he wanted to create, but Sega was eager for a game that could challenge Nintendo’s mustached plumber mascot.
“I wrote up a memo that was basically a ‘next game I want to make’ list, and showed it to my boss. But the one that caught his attention was the very last entry on the list, which said ‘an action game to challenge Mario,’” recalled Naka, laughing. “I tried to object, saying ‘Actually, I wrote them in order of which ones I want to do…’ but he didn’t listen to me at all. (laughs) So we got started on the Sonic the Hedgehog development, with 3 or 4 members.”
Sega’s urge to compete with Mario pops up a few other times in the interview collection. In one instance, Naka explains that Sonic’s speed was an answer to the repetitive nature of starting a game like Super Mario Bros. from scratch. He explains that he wanted Sonic’s speed to be used as a way for experienced players to run through the earlier levels every time they booted up the game, unlike with Super Mario Bros. where each playthrough required players to progress slowly through the basic, early stages.
However, playtesters had other plans and would just sprint full-speed from beginning to end. In response, Naka implemented Sonic’s ring system, “where as long as you had even one ring, you could still play recklessly and get through ok.”