About 10 years ago Sega created the extremely popular NiGHTS game on the Sega Saturn. But why did it take Sega so long to produce this title and what can the loyal fans of this franchise expect from this upgrade to the Nintendo Wii console. Gamecore's Chad Chamberlain had the pleasure of chatting with "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" (NJD) lead designer, producer and director, Takashi Iizuka, in an effort to answer those very pressing questions.
Gamecore (GC): What's the premise behind "NJD" this time around?
Takashi Iizuka-san (I-san): Like the original, "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" is about "NiGHTS" and the dream world that everyone experiences when they fall asleep. Within this mysterious and wonderful world, I wanted to create a game that allows everyone a chance to experience something surreal, a space where violence ceases to exist and imagination begins.
GC: How long did it take your dev team to deploy this title and was there a strict time frame involved with its deployment?
I-san: I started the initial game concept of "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" after the team shipped "Shadow the Hedgehog," which was about two years ago. I spent nearly six months just thinking about the game design. Once that was set, we started on the actual production process which we've been working very hard on for the last 18 months.
GC: It's been well over a decade since the last "NiGHTS" game on the SEGA Saturn. Why resurface now with this SEGA title when there were many classic games from the Saturn that never saw the American shores. Why remake this one now?
I-san: Since the release of the original "NiGHTS," it has been my dream to create the sequel. Now I have that chance to bring "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" to all those loyal fans who have been waiting 11 years for its return as well as introduce "NiGHTS" to a brand new audience.
GC: And they have certainly remained loyal through the years. I've checked various blogs, forums, etc. and the buzz is still extremely strong. That said, did the closing of SEGA as a game system hardware manufacturer factor in on the delay of the next iteration of Nights?
I-san: Not at all. My previous commitments were focused on creating games for the "Sonic" franchise, thus I didn't get a chance to make the sequel until now.
GC: Well thanks to your added creative efforts. "Sonic" remains a successful franchise today. Now since a classic Saturn game like "NiGHTS" is being "remade" for the Wii, are there any other plans to bring other Saturn games to the Wii (such as "Radiant Silvergun" and "Burning Rangers"), because I REALLY want "Burning Rangers" remade! That was a great game.
I-san: Right now I am completely focused on "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" given that its return has been my dream for many years. That's not to say we aren't bringing back any SEGA games from the past. I think there is real value in bringing them back, especially if there is something that makes them unique. It's also important to analyze the title and the market to figure out whether you can create a game that incorporates key elements of the original that made it a success and add fresh features that take advantage of new platforms and current gaming trends.
For "NiGHTS," I think this is a perfect time to bring the sequel to life. Our industry seems to be flooded with violent games - which is fine for the mature audience. But I wanted to create a game for everyone that would touch the consciousness of those who are looking for games outside of that trend, a more family friendly game.
GC: Having more "family friendly" games is certainly applaudable especially since the video game industry has been marred by those select few games that contain more adult content. Nintendo has been seen as the "family friendly" game console despite the emergence of "Manhunt 2," which is a game meant only for a mature audience. That said, what was the basis behind making this game solely for the Wii?
I-san: I thought the best platform match for the "NiGHTS" character was the Nintendo Wii. Partly because it's marketed as a "family" entertainment console, but mainly because of its user-friendly design making games easy to pick up and play. I am also very excited about the online features that the system offers and I thought that it was the best fit for the title.
GC: Speaking of which, I've heard rumors that you originally wanted to have this on the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3? Is that true and, if so, are we going to see a sku of "NJD" on either systems?
I-san: Initially, when I thought about the game concept of "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams," I really didn't consider what platform I wanted the game to run on. It wasn't until I started the actual game design that I discovered that the Wii was the most appropriate platform because it had the right features to fit the game I was designing.
GC: With new technologies available in rendering, light sources, level design, control scheme, data compression, physics, etc., how have you used these new techs in "NJD"?
I-san: As you can see by the screenshots we've recently released, the game takes advantage of the various features offered by the Wii platform. In addition to the single player game, "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" will feature an online racing game mode that enables gamers to race against other gamers online via a Wi-Fi connection. The game will also include a "My Dream" feature, which is essentially a sandbox area that gives gamers a chance to capture and raise A-LIFE (A-LIFE are the dream world inhabitants or creatures existing in the single player mode) and A-LIFE evolves over time. What is unique about this feature is that the "My Dream" area links to the Wii's Weather Channel. So not only can you raise your creatures and customize this constantly evolving dream environment, but the weather effects will react to the actual weather that is happening in your area (as long as you have registered with on the Wii). The result: if it's sunny and clear in your neighborhood, it will be sunny and clear in your "My Dream" area.
GC: Did the scope of the game have to change to match that of the technology available?
I-san: The game still possesses its core flight system mechanic, however, we have added so much more. The Wii has a lot of interesting features available allowing me to conceptualize and bring new ideas to life such as incorporating the "Weather Channel" into the online virtual world of the A-LIFE system, as well as integrating an online chat system. I'd like to think that the technology increases the scope of game designs that I think about.
GC: Let's talk about the original Sonic team that I believe were also involved with the original NiGHTS title for the Sega Saturn over 10 years ago. Has the team changed from the original core "Sonic" team?
I-san: I've been very fortunate to have on this project the original core members from the "Sonic" team -- the same people who created the first "NiGHTS" title with me.
GC: That's great news. In the original 1996 "NiGHTS" game, the main premise or core gameplay element was the flight system. Is that still the same a decade later in this latest rendition?
I-san: Of course. The flight system has and always will be the core gameplay element of "NiGHTS." The real challenge is how to create the "fun-to-fly" experience while creating a variety of different gameplay mechanics that expand on the original game. In "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams," I tried to incorporate new gameplay mechanic to keep the game fresh and innovative. There are parts in the game where the gamer can take control of either Helen or Will and venture around in a full 3D environment. In other areas the gamer is in control of "NiGHTS" while in the form of a raft. That particular level has full working water physics and more.
GC: Exactly how challenging was it to transfer your conceptual ideas of flight, in a living 3D world on the Wii using the Wii remote and nunchuck?
I-san: One of the challenges I faced was how to recreate the "fun-to-fly" gaming experience of the original. Without it, the sequel would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make. Additionally, I was challenged to recreate this experience with not one, but a variety of controller schemes that the Nintendo system supports including Wii remote, Wii remote + Nunchuck and the classic controller. Take the Wii remote configuration for example. Initially, I had tried various ways to control "NiGHTS" like pointing the remote at the screen, but the motion sensors wouldn't pick up small movements of the remote. So I tried creating an on-screen pointer, but that wouldn't allow the any large motions inputs. What I eventually came up with was a "hybrid" motion-pointer system that allows the player to move "NiGHTS" in such a way that they are able to keep the "fun-to-fly" experience intact.
GC: Are there elements of the game that didn't make it into this sku and if so what were they?
I-san: At the concept stage, I thought about creating "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" to take advantage of a completely free-roaming 3D flight system. After many attempts though, it proved to be not as fun as what we currently have in place.
GC: What are the available modes of play and could you go into a bit of detail on them?
I-san: There are several modes to play "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams." The primary one is the story mode where the player can either play through the Will or Helen story. Those missions are mainly time and/or finding items. We've also implemented the "My Dream" feature into the game so that players can capture the A-LIFE creatures and transport them into their own personalized virtual world that can be shared with others via the network. "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" also has a two-player versus mode that can be played as a stand-alone (split screen) or online (full screen) against anyone who is logged in. I think we will have something for everyone to enjoy.
GC: That two player-versus mode sounds very appetizing. In the original NiGHTS game there were approximately seven levels each sub-divided into sections with boss battles. Can we expect the same with "NJD"?
I-san: My idea was to create the same game experience of the original. However, I've created some very special missions in each stage to expand the variety of gameplay not found in the prequel that I'm sure everyone will enjoy.
GC: Tell us a little about the game play mechanics as it pertains to interacting with level bosses, the environment, power ups, etc.
I-san: In the first Nightopia stage, the game opens up with a simple "chase" mission which is very similar to how the original starts. "NiGHTS" has to find several keys in which to unlock a particular cage. Upon completion of the chase mission, the boss is encountered and "NiGHTS" will need to successfully clear that boss in order to open a new mission. Each time a mission is cleared, players will re-battle the boss which gets increasingly more difficult. Once each stage is cleared, Will or Helen is rewarded one of the seven "Ideya" they need to collect throughout the game. Additionally, when each boss is finally cleared, the player is given a "persona" mask that has the ability to change "NiGHTS" into a dolphin, dragon or rocket. Once the player has possession of these masks, he can use them as power-ups to increase his score or unlock new areas of the stage. I'd like to tell you more, but I don't want to spoil the fun.
GC: "Sonic" was and will continue to be a huge success, so much so, that it even has its own animated cartoon. Can we expect the same from "NJD"?
I-san: I hope that the popularity of "NiGHTS" will grow and I would love to see the character become a game icon such as Sonic. Of course, all this will depend on how successful "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams" will be.
GC: Heard that loyal fans. You've asked for the game! Now it's here so get to buyin'. Now where do you get your influences from?
I-san: My influences come from just living life like anyone else. Being around family and kids, watching movies and just watching people interact is a great tool that influences the way I design games. I'm always looking at things and trying to figure out how to make them better and I guess that's what I carry over into my designs.
GC: What games are on your radar for the upcoming holiday season?
I-san: I've always been a big fan of Mario games, and I have to say, that I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on Mario Galaxy to see what new adventures are in store for him.
GC: What impression(s) would you like gamers to experience after playing "NiGHTS" on the Wii?
I-san: First of all, since this is the first time "NiGHTS" utilizes online features, I'd hope to see the players interact on a global scale. The online user interface has been simplified and designed to be extremely easy to use and very user friendly. We've done this so that players from all over the world, can interact and share their "NiGHTS" experience no matter where they are. And secondly, although the game is based on the stories of Will and Helen, I hope that everyone is conscious of the fact that in our dreams we all have the ability to encounter "NiGHTS" who resides in that mysterious dream world of Nightopia. So when you go to sleep, I hope you will have an adventure that unleashes the power of "NiGHTS" for yourself.
GC: Thank you very much Iizuka-san for taking the time out to chat with us and share your thoughts on "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams". We wish you continued success going forward.
By Chad Chamberlain