Yoshihisa Hashimoto on Sonic Channel Creators Interview:
For the 27th Creators Interview, we will introduce Yoshihisa Hashimoto who worked as Director of Sonic Unleashed of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions!
Sonic Unleashed, on sale on December 18, 2008 for Wii version and on February 19, 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions. This time, we would like to ask some questions to Mr. Hashimoto who worked as Director of Sonic Unleashed of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions.
First of all, could you tell us about your role and job contents in the title this time?
Yes, I carried out the whole draft, production of basic specification, and others, the direction of the common parts (for example, movies, sound, cutscenes, and others) of all platforms, and the direction of the whole game of PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Sonic Unleashed. In addition to these, I also worked as Development Director of the game integrated development environment called Hedgehog Engine for use in PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Well, maybe it is a little complicated somehow, isn’t it? Saying, “I carried out the direction except the parts of the game of Wii version,” might be easier to understand. By Director, I mean that the things like judging, “That’s OK and that’s no good,” among others, and managing the progress of production are my main tasks. Actually, a variety of chores are also sometimes more, though.
I wonder from around when you had the idea itself of Sonic Unleashed. And could you tell us the details and the like turning out that you work on this title?
First, at the point in time of 2005, the mission from Producer Nishiyama “Let’s make a Sonic game,” was handed down. But before that, if we did not systematically prepare a development environment for the high-end consoles (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360), we could not make games, so before we started creating the main part of the game, we began to make the game integrated development environment called Hedgehog Engine with several people. That was the middle of 2005. From there, we carried out the preparation of trial and error of technical rendering, development libraries, and so forth in just about one year while also sometimes helping other projects and from around the second half of 2006, the game production of Sonic Unleashed gradually started.
As for the idea of Sonic Unleashed itself, actually, when I undertook the project, I almost finished thinking about it. It is because from the start, my idea “Sonic should be like this,” took shape. Especially, Sonic’s part of the day does not change at all from the draft brought up in the beginning. I spent time on the idea pictured inside my mind at that time and it is an impression that output as a real thing.
And Sonic World Adventure, which is the title of this game in Japan, did not change from the stage of draft document, either. It is something in which the idea “Let’s make a game that utilizes the expressive power of the pictures and seems to be able to become the mood of doing the world travel of one day and 5 minutes,” which was one of the concepts, appeared.
The appearance of Sonic the Werehog was shocking! Could you tell us Werehog’s secret story and others? Please tell us the name’s origin and the like, too!
Earlier, I said that in Sonic Unleashed, the contents were almost set in the beginning, but Werehog is an exception. At first, the focus in the proper evolution on how to purely and nicely make it as a Sonic game was applicable for the most part, but once the draft began to be set, it became the order “Let’s insert a content that has another impact,” and when I was thinking about the content that has the most effect as a connection of the brave change, the idea “All right, make Sonic transform!” came to appear.
If Sonic is a character who uses his feet and runs extremely fast, we had decided on the appearance of Werehog that Sonic has transformed into, to be a character who uses his arms and performs powerful actions, and when we tried to have the symmetrical being, the story continued to be finished with an interesting feeling. I think the meanings of shocking were presented in their own ways.
The name Werehog was called as Evil Sonic among the developers in the beginning due to the feeling that Sonic looks a little evil. But in overseas, it seemed that the word “evil” ends up being understood with an extremely terrible image and it became “Well, let’s think about a name anew.”
It is something that all of the Japan developers, international SEGA officials, and others were quite concerned about, but from the many choices, finally, the name Werehog that a staff of SEGA of America suggested was decided. “Werehog” is a new word that combined “werewolf” and “hedgehog.”
In the story of this time, the existence of Chip also becomes an important element, doesn’t it? Could you also tell us its origin of birth regarding the born, new face Chip of this time?
Hmm … this time regarding the story, the fact “Let’s make it a story that is very simply, easy to understand!” was one of the themes, but with the simplicity that will make the story deep, empathic, and others, and also carry the role of navigating the game even in its own way, the character called Chip who always travels with Sonic together was created. By Sonic, I mean that basically, he is a cool and attractive character—if anything, I think it is the personality that does not show his feelings on his face much, but we had an objective that it would be nice if we could express the elements called friendship, bond, and others that also exist firmly within Sonic through Chip.
Usually, it is the Chip whose personality is wildly senile and comical, but together with Art Director Kawamura who was doing things like thinking about the essentials of character settings, story, and others, I was also talking about the objective like “This time, when the game ended, I want to make it touching, OK?”, and I think we had been able to achieve it with good standard regarding that. I want the players to enjoy the adventure with Chip until the end by all means.
Art Director Kawamura herself who designed Chip is also saying it, but anyway, Chip is a character who has values in moving. Its appearance of moving around in rich facial expressions inside the cutscenes of the game is “Cute!”, it is popular even among the developers and although they are males, the developers who became Chip’s fans are in great number. (Laughs) As the cutscenes are flooded by Chip’s charm, checking them out is a must!
This time, I think the game became a fairly large-scale project. How were the situations and the like of all of the staff? I think that as a Director, continuing to finish the project was also tough, but what kind of difficulties were there?
For Sonic, it was the largest-scale project of the class ever. Anyway, I think I had given troubles to all of the development members. At the final stage of the project, they all became exhausted because of staying overnight.
This time, from the fact that assembling a development environment from scratch, developing simultaneously for multiple platforms, and having large amount of game contents, the actual scene of development was really tough. However, as I was blessed with the staff who was overflowed by the passion “We want to make a good game!”, I think we had been able to bring it until a very good standard. I am really grateful to all of the staff.
There are a variety of difficulties of development, but mainly, we had the two big ones.
The first one is the preparation of development environment. The development of the aforementioned Hedgehog Engine was very difficult. The difficulty level of developing the libraries, tools, and others that possibly perform the high-level pictures rendering simultaneously toward the high-end consoles PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 really had something beyond our imagination. Especially, this time, because we tested a new approach concerning the rendering of light and shadow called Global Illumination, it pressed our development difficulty several times even more. But I think it was worth the trouble and we had been able to achieve a very attractive pictures rendering.
Another difficulty is the level design. I am saying this because it is an operation that thinks about the layout of the arrangement of shapes, mechanism, and others of the action stages, but in order to pursue the way of becoming the interesting and exhilarating action stages as Sonic the Hedgehog, we repeated the trials and errors. For a Sonic stage of this time, its overall length reaches as far as 6–20km and it is an extremely huge thing, but some interiors of that huge stage also performed things like reconstructing the layout from the start. I think the people in charge of level design, the artists who construct the stages truly beautifully, and others were really tired. I think that this is also, again, as the results of many trials and errors, the wonderful action stages, where the enjoyment of intensity, exhilarating feeling, speed sensation, and gameplay was packed, were completed.
About the Hedgehog Engine
It is an integrated environment for making games that we developed for producing games on the high-end consoles (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) and is made with various tools, libraries, and others.
Its biggest characteristic is the part where it adopts the lighting technology called Global Illumination. This is the technology for bringing the rendering of light and shadow near the real objects all at once. We perform the calculation of light and shadow—massive calculation—in advance with PC, change it to data, and use it in the game. For the calculation of light and shadow, the result was big because of the algorithm that we uniquely formulated, but ending up becoming an unbelievable calculation amount was the difficulty.
If we calculated it with one PC, it would end up taking about half a year from several months in one stage. Therefore, we gradually distributed the calculation amount of PC that each development member is using and with the method called distributed computing that calculates simultaneously with the PCs of everyone, we made sure that we could make the calculation that takes half a year from several months to finish in one night to a few days.
Even apart from that, it is also performing a course of action in a variety of areas of technology for reading data from the disc so that it would catch up with Sonic who runs past with ultra-high speed, and so on. The programming schemes that come up to as many as hundreds of items, which are invisible from the outside, are performed by Hedgehog Engine, but depending on that, beautiful and real-time CG pictures are realized.
From the name, there are times when we are asked, “Is it a development environment for Sonic?”, but I think it could make games of wide range of action game, RPG, sports, racing, FPS, puzzle, and so forth for the target of production. I think that an action game, especially the game known as Sonic who runs extremely fast, demands strict requirements in the development environment, so naturally, other works could have a production method that had time to spare.
As the beauty of the CG pictures is one of the selling points of Sonic Unleashed (PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 versions), please enjoy it by all means. I think the players could certainly be satisfied at its reality and intensity.
As for the highlights of the work this time?!
Well, I will try to talk about them briefly, all right…?
First, after all, I think they are the speed sensation, intensity, and exhilarating feeling of Sonic’s part. I think it could present the Sonicism that the meaning of Sonicness is like this. It is a very important part that becomes the center of this work.
And it had also been touched some time ago, but the beautiful and real-time CG pictures that depend on Hedgehog Engine are a big highlight, too. The action stages and cutscenes are also done very beautifully. I think it has become a game that is fun even just by looking at it.
Besides, Werehog’s part, which is the brave change of this time is also a highlight. When it gets night, Sonic will end up becoming a hairy and powerful monster, but I think he brings out his charm, which has distinct athletic actions of fighting, that is different from Sonic of the day.
And still going on, villages’ part is also a section that I want the players to enjoy carefully by all means. In Sonic Unleashed, about 100 villagers would come to appear in all the countries of the world and it has detailed character settings to each of them as well as rich and pleasant conversations are prepared. I think that going around the world and talking to the villagers would become an enjoyment.
Further highlights are the opening CG movie and real-time cutscenes. As the opening CG movie is produced by VE Animation Studio that SEGA is proud of, directed by Shinji Aramaki who is famous for CG anime movies like Appleseed, Appleseed Ex Machina, and so on, it was finished as an incredible and dramatic movie with action features. It is really cool!
And the real-time cutscenes are also a wonderful workmanship that does not lose to and is not inferior to the opening CG. Under the beautiful lighting environment that depends on Hedgehog Engine, I think that various characters that are supposed to start with Sonic, Chip, and others would charm the story expressively and it would be a situation of being forced by the feeling like we are watching a high-quality CG animation.
And, and, the soundtrack is a must-listen, too! Suitable for the World Adventure name, we skillfully completed the compositions that bear a close resemblance to the folk music of all the countries of the world with various genres of dance, techno that have nice tempos.
…. Well, I am not briefly talking about them at all. (Sarcastic laughs) I want to talk about various others, too, but anyway, I would be happy if the fact that a game has so much that I cannot talk about every highlight I want to talk about would spread.
It seems that you had a lot of overseas business trips, too. I wonder what kind of places you went to and what kind of things you did. And how were the impressions and the like abroad?
Yes, this time, we adopted the opinions of foreigners actively and advanced the development while also communicating closely with international SEGA. For business trips, going to SEGA of America in San Francisco where it becomes America’s base and SEGA Europe in London of United Kingdom where it becomes Europe’s base were frequent. Both are very beautiful districts and at night, the local staff could treat me delicious food at restaurants, so going on business trips was an enjoyment every time. (Laughs)
In the business trips, I did a variety of things like presenting game contents and discussing about them, and speaking of focus test, collecting feedback after the general game users touched the game under development.
And for a part of Hedgehog Engine, I obtained the cooperation of engineers of United Kingdom, and what’s more, the production of a part of background, object model data, and others was undertaken at SEGA Shanghai in China. The Sonic of this time had the cooperation of SEGA from around the world and the production was advanced like this. I think I was very excited that various national characteristics not only came to appear in the ways of thinking, perceiving, and others respectively but were also greatly helpful to the quality improvement.
These are the overseas impressions, but especially the day parts of Sonic are extremely popular. I feel grateful to receive many comments that say, “I have been waiting for such Sonic!”
If you have your future plan of development, ambition, and others, could you tell us about them?
Hmm … I want to continue to do my best further so that everyone in the world could know about Sonic’s goodness more and more.
Could you please tell us the triggers, motives, and the like of joining SEGA?
Because SEGA was creating tons of things and more than anything, was Sonic’s company, I had already been looking for jobs with the intention of joining SEGA quickly during my student days. I was nervous, could not sit still, did things like calling the human resources department of the company a few times and asking something like, “From when will you have a company information session?”, and I think I was quite an annoying student. (Laughs)
Although I said so, at the time, even apart from that, the attractive company employed me and also there were situations where I doubted just a little, but finally, I was excited just by watching the footage of SEGA Saturn’s NiGHTS, which was announced for the first time at a game show where I visited as my field trip, “Ah, I shall carry out my original intention after all,” I had made the decision. That had quite an impact, right?
What kind of tasks did you want to do after joining SEGA?
Frankly, I wanted to make Sonic games. Subsequent to joining SEGA, after I was assigned to the development project of a Sonic game called Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast in the beginning, there were also many tasks concerning Sonic and this time, as I have become a Director as well, I think I have been able to realize many things that I want to do. However, the things that I want to challenge still remain, so I will go on burning even from now on!
During your student days, what kind of tasks had you put your effort into? And how did you pass your time?
I am just about wanting to say that it was my concentration in the studies of computer, CG, and others … but if I remember, I was only playing tennis. I was a typical hopeless university student. (Sarcastic laughs)
But speaking of tennis, it is a very interesting sport. My mental side suddenly appears in results. Even if I could occasionally hit the shots like “Wow, I’m a genius!”, that does not mean that I could do it always and when I am sometimes upset and sometimes tired, they would immediately become failed shots.
Later, I could greatly realize the ease of understanding the conformity of the theory part like “If I swing the racket to the end like this, the spinning like this would start in the ball and then the ball would go on flying with traces like this…” and the reality part, and (becoming the feeling like) mastering it as well as being able to fight are interesting, aren’t they? Well, it does not mean that I am good at it, so the fact of not being self-destructive because of the mistakes is the amateur level known as my greatest strategy, though. (Sarcastic laughs)
While I am at it, to the current on-and-off university students and the people who would become one after this, what I want to tell by all means in advance is the importance of studying hard beforehand during your position as a university student in which you could freely use your plenty of time. You would really deeply understand this importance after you go out into the society, so please do your best at your studies by all means while you are a university student.
I think it would be good if you also studied a variety of things other than your major. I think there would be a lot of situations, where they would really become your weapons after going out into the society with your hard work in advance. Of course, experiencing various things like playing and challenging a lot beforehand is also very important, so please do your best often at balancing the respective things.
May we also ask about your hobbies and the like other than your job?
I like board games very much. I think I own about 100 kinds of board games. There are many people who like board games in the company, so I am not worried at the opponents.
The characteristics of board games are not only about thinking with logic in our mind, but are also the area where the results would be influenced in the part where the battling directions of the partners in front of our eyes go on changing with their psychological strategies, negotiations, and so on, and the luck part of miraculously rolling the dice, pulling the cards, and others, as well as in other parts. So, there are many situations, where it is also difficult to become a victory or defeat randomly as well as easy to become the mood like “One more round!” even if one loses and unintentionally and accidentally until the morning…. (Laughs) Even if they are the same games, we have the enjoyment that is quite different from the video games that we make.
For the rest, I do not know if it is all right if I say this as my hobby, but I like investment relations very much—the transactions of stock, exchange, and corn, among others. Investment relations are different from board games and they have large parts of fighting with myself. How I would be able to judge everything calmly while checking social situation and thinking about its likelihood…. I like my side like that!
Besides … I like to look for shops that sell delicious food. I do not care about the highs and lows of the price, but if I really encountered tasty food once in a while, it would be nice that I could feel the excitement like “Ah, the carrots are truly this delicious! What the food that I’ve usually been eating was…” of the ingredients, cookery, and others, don’t you agree?
I also did things like thinking how good it would be if I would also be presented the excitement in the game like this, “I see, the thing called whatchamacallit is really this wonderful!”
Among the tasks so far, what leaves you the best impression? Please let us hear the reason, too.
There are various things that leave me impression, but hmm … if I have to give one, we personally went to deliver a download service of a video game (that is related to Sonic) that I had to do with at SEGA’s booth of a large-scale hobby show for children, a loooot of children—kindergarteners, elementary and junior high school students—formed a long line gathering and everyone of them brought home the data smiling and looking happily. A kid said, “Pleeease!” and passed me his Game Boy Advance that had become sticky because of his nasal mucus, candies, and others (sarcastic laughs), but when the download finished, he said, “Thank you!” looking happily and it could not be helped anymore that he was cute.
I could directly feel, Ah, such children are enjoying the game that we made, from their hearts… and my eyes came tearily a little.
Excuse us for the same old question! Inside the Sonic series, which character do you like the most? Please tell us the reason, too.
Um, as I thought, it is supposed to be Sonic, isn’t it? I think that while there is Sonic, there is Sonic series, so he is a very wonderful and attractive character.
For the rest, please let me mention Chao as my favorite character as well because I am one of its creators. (Laughs) Its spongy part is very cute.
What is Sonic to you?
It is a character, which was born when I was in the position of a senior high school student, but from that time, there was a considerable impact. I think the game features in which I have not seen a very polished character design and also the blazingly and extremely fast type, stand out prominently even now and before. I want it to be a cool hero forever.
Thank you for your many very interesting talks! Finally, may I request your brief comment to everyone who is visiting Sonic Channel?
We aimed at a work that the players seem to be able to think Sonic Unleashed as a Sonic compilation and it had been made. It had become a completion that has experiences of Wii and PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 versions respectively. If possible, I want the players to try to play both versions because it is all right if the places are their friends’ homes. Thank you.
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