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30 in 30: Sonic Team

Let me be your Phantasy

Named after, and best known for, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Team is a studio whose hit-filled library extends well beyond Sega's blue mascot.

Asked by Sega to come up with a character that could rival Nintendo's Mario, Sonic Team (then 'AM8') of course came up with the spiky speedster we all know today.

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Following Sonic the Hedgehog's successful release in 1991 the studio was given its current name, and alongside newly established Sega Technical Institute (later Sonic Team USA) overlooked all Sonic titles on Sega Mega Drive (Genesis to Americans).

It was the 1995 launch of the Sega Saturn (North America/Europe) and the cancellation of the mythical Sonic Xtreme that finally gave Sonic Team the opportunity to dream up a host of new creations, many of which would become classics in their own right.

Nights into Dreams and Burning Rangers are both regarded as the Saturn's best, while ChuChu Rocket!, Samba de Amigo and Phantasy Star Online are on our Dreamcast favourites list.

OVERVIEW

Founded: 1990 (as Sega AM8)
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Killer Quote: "Dreamcast was my baby back at Sega... I want to carry on making good games for the European market and one day I'm hoping it gives me the opportunity to work on Dreamcast 2." - Yuji Naka

KEY PEOPLE

Yuji Naka

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Naka was hired as a programming assistant at Sega in 1983, where his first project was the tantalising Girl's Garden, which he and a colleague created as part of this training process.

The game was eventually published and Naka moved on to work on Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System (1987). His true breakthrough though came in 1991 when he programmed the original Sonic the Hedgehog, with Naoto ‘shima designing the character and Hirokazu Yasuhara creating stages.

Following Sonic The Hedgehog's release, Naka moved to Sega's US branch, Sega Technical Institute, where he worked on the follow-up in conjunction with the original team back in Japan. This partnership between East and West continued through Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.

Hirokazu Yasuhara

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Yasuhara designed the stages for the majority of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games for Mega Drive.

Yasuhara worked on the franchise until 2002, working on Sonic 3D Blast, the canned Sonic Xtreme and Sonic R, before joining Naughty Dog to work on Jak and Daxter and Uncharted.

He's now senior design director at Namco Bandai Games America.

Takashi Iizuka

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Iizuka's fist involvement with Sonic Team came when we worked as a designer on Sonic 3 & Kunckles, collaborating with US-based Sega Technical Institute.

Later he helped supervise Traveller's Tales Sonic R, but his big break came when he headed up lead design on Nights into Dreams, which is regarded as one of the best Sega Saturn titles ever released.

In 1999 Iizuka-san moved to San Francisco to establish Sega Studio USA, working as lead designer on Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes and more recently, Nights: Journey of Dreams.

SONIC TEAM GAMES WE LOVE

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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Sonic 2, co-developed with USA-based Sega Technical Institute, is our favourite game in the series.

The 1992 sequel follows Sonic and his new partner Tails on their mission to stop the evil Dr. Robotnik from stealing the Chaos Emeralds to power the Death Egg space station, itself a giant Lucasfilm lawsuit waiting to happen.

Featuring bigger levels, faster gameplay and Sonic's now-standard Spin Dash move, Sonic 2 was the business.

The game has sold over 6.3 million copies to date, making it the second best selling game on the Mega Drive/Genesis, behind only its predecessor.

Nights into Dreams

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Nights into Dreams was released in 1996 for Sega Saturn and is widely regarded as one of the best titles to ever come out of Sega.

The game's story follows two children entering a dream world, where they are aided by the daft-looking main character, Nights.

Sonic Team's intention with Nights was to use the Saturn's then-innovative 3D graphics to create a sensation of flight, and the results were truly impressive.

In January 2000 CVG magazine readers voted Nights into Dreams as their 15th greatest game of all-time, one place behind Super Mario 64.

A two-level spin-off, Christmas Nights, was released in December, 1996

Phantasy Star Online

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In 2000 Sonic Team took their rigorously traditional RPG series in a new online direction. Phantasy Star Online was among the first MMO games to release on console and still accompanies a very small group of genre entries in the console space.

The game had players band together with three online comrades to explore the monster-filled surface of the planet Ragol. Experience points, levelling and rare loot featured heavily in PSO's core gameplay, and it owes us thousands of lost hours from our teenage years.

Subsequent 'episode' expansions were released on Dreamcast and Nintendo GameCube, and we have very, very happy memories of playing Chu Chu Rocket! football in its lobbies.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Sonic Team recently celebrated Sonic's 25th anniversary with the release of Sonic Generations.

Former figurehead Yuji Naka left Sega in 2006 to form Prope, which has since released Wii title Let's Tap. Speaking to CVG last year, Naka admitted he's not given up hope of working on Dreamcast 2.

"I do miss those old days where I was heavily involved with hardware production at Sega," he said. "I was involved in most of the consoles and controllers that Sega came up with. Right now compared to the old days I'm just given the hardware and I have to come up with games based on that, which is completely different to my old days at Sega.

"If I have the opportunity in the future I want to be involved again with hardware making again. It would be ideal if I could get an advisor position and work with platform makers in the future. I think if I can work well with them it's good for both sides because I can then come up with totally new games."

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