SSM interviewThis interview was conducted by Sega Saturn Magazine and was printed in issue 31.
They can be found at game-online
I'm sorry it doesn't say who it is that is answering, but there is nothing I can do about that.
Interviewer is warren Harrod, Emap's japan correspondent.
Question. When did the BR project start?
Answer. It started around December 1996.
Q. What was the main idea behind doing a firefighting game?
A. We wanted to create a game where you could rescue pople. Nowadays, there are so many games where you just kill people. Insted we decided to make a rescue game. In addition, right from the start, it seemed that fire was the most appropiate way to create fear and tension. So in the end we combined these two elements.
Q. Why so you think people find firefighters so facinating?
A. Rescuing people. and many of the other things that a firefighter does, are in fact the very essence of a Sonic Team game. The firefighter is a hero people can identify with because they exist in current everyday lives.
Q. So why did you decide to choose a futuristic stage for the firefighters?
A. The picture we want to paint of the future is not like that seen in the Terminator movies, where the world has been reduced to a devastated wilderness. Rather, we want a clean and beutiful future. A place where we dream our children can grow up happily. However, no matter how good this future world is, there are still disasters that will occur. We wanted to create heroes that would protect these people from those disasters.
Q. How did you come up with ideas for the Burning Rangers' futuristic technology?
A. The basis of the future we established was one of a world that uses clean energy. Our ideas then flowed from this point. The first thing we talked about was the Burneer Unit. At the time. we considered that a future firefighter would be very acrobatic, with lots of dextorous movement. I order to get into places where normal people couldn't go and rescue trapped people, it was necessary to place some kind of survival unit on their backs.
Q. How did you come up with the name "Burning Rangers"?
A. To tell the truth, the original name was "Firefighter", but we wanted a cooler sounding name so we changed the title. I don't know about western audiences, but to us Japanese, that "burning" meaning has a great "Go for it!" image. It seemed to fit the disaster-rescue nature of the game perfectly. Now, "ranger" has a little bit of a strange image to it because in English it refers to someone who looks after a forest. However, we wanted to strongly emphasise its "Power Rangers" image. We knew that we were going to use the same name for all the international versons, so we checked the name with some foreigners. They all said it was OK.
Q. What kind of player did you create Burning Rangers for?
A. Well of course we created it for people who like action games, but we also created it for players who are fans of Sonic Team games. BR is completely differnt from our other games, so we'd like to increase the number of people who see it, thinks it's enjoyable and become intersted in it.
Q. Was it your intention from the very beginning to create a suitably dramatic atmosphere tor the game?
A. Yes, it was. The main theme of the game is both tension and the sensation of actually being present in the game. To develop the feeling of being in a real-time situation we created the navigation system.
Q. Did you work out the game's story before development started?
A. To a certain degree we decided on the direction of the story before the game's development began, but in reality we occasionally all got together and thought out parts of the story that we no longer thought were very good.
Q. Can you tell why the BR numbers aren't sequental? Where are BR No. 2 and No. 4?
A. At the moment we can't tell you that. It's a secret. It's still a hidden part of BR. Gor the present, we don't have any plans to reveal the meaning behind this, not even in Japan. To the extent that it might even be linked to Burning Rangers 2, it's still a long way off.
Q. How does the style of gameplay in BR differ from that in NiGHTS?
A. I think that in the case of NiGHTS, the main idea was to give players the feeling of true flight. However, in BR, it's difficult to do fluing leapsso you have the thrill of succes and failure. If you succed in doing a difficult jump you think "Yes. I did it!".
Q.At what point of devolopment did you decide to include the auto-jump system?
From the time we first saw the game in 3D we understood that it would be difficult for players to judge the depth and distance. Just looking at rhe screen and being able to do a jump was hard, so we thought that since we'd come this far we might as well just let them jump automatically.
Q. Where exactly is the auto-jump sensor? Is it in the BR boots?
A. (Laughs) I really don't think that in reality they have such a system. The real BR would probably be able to judge the jumps perfectly himself without needing a sensor. It's been added to the game as a "new product" for the users benefit, in order to bring the character's actions closer to the real BR and make the user's jumps look as cool as the real thing.
Q. Did you use any mothion capture for the smooth charachter motions?
A. In the beginning, as an experiment, we recorded some motion capture fotage. We spent a lot of time trying to take motion capture data for all kinds of different poses. However, in the end we only really used the motion capture data for the walking motion. No matter what we ded we just couldn't get real people who could perform the kind of special motions that we needed. We tried it, but it didn't work. It was all certainly realistic, but it didn't look very good. In the end we created most of the motions by hand.
Q. In order to design the game's stages, did you visit any special places?
A. Some Sonic Team members went to Hong Kong for some enjoyment and while there they thought that they might find some interesting things. This was right during the starting phase of development. We wanted to go over before Hong Kong was reverted back to China. In terms os actually gathering materials beforethat, we actually went over to Universal Studios in Americato experience the Backdraft adventure. At that time we thought it would be great if we could generate that kind of sensation in a game.
Q. Did you have any opportunities to see real fires?
A. Well, fires are always breaking out over here, but in Japan there aren't that many of them. However, we did go to a special firefighting event in Tokyo where real firefighters displayed their techniques. When we saw robots putting out fires, we were really surprised to see that compared to our image of the future. Even present day firefighting is incredible! The robot had special infrared sensors and a camera and could go trough fires, which even firefighters couldn't . Also at the show, the firefighters were using a special flame extinguisher gun as well.
Q. During the game's development, did you get any advice from professional firefighters?
A. No we didn't. We had the impression that if real firefighters were to see the game, they would have said that real firefighting wasn't that simple. We imagined that our game wouldn't be well recieved. At the Tokyo Game Show, a real firefighter did actually comment that he thought the costumes weretoo thin. The problem is that the game isn't real. It's set in the future and so there's a difference in the realities involved. If we made any part of the game too real then the gap between that and the rest of the game would be exaggerated even more.
Q. If you compare BR to real firefighting, how real do you think the game is?
A. We think that to a cerain extent we've been able to make a realistic game. In realitywe've never been to a disaster area and I'm sure that if we did it would be very different from how we imagine it would be. A real firefighter risks his life to save others, and althoughwe, as ordinary people, have never done thiskind of thing we can imagine how hard that work is. So of courseit might be incorrect, but we've just taken the good sections, the parts that look cool and put them into the game.
Q. How do the graphics engines used in NiGHTS and BR differ?
A. When we created NiGHTS we had only just started to program for the Sega Saturn. If you take another look at every part of the engine, you'll see that the speed has been increased considerably. We also managed to accurately portray the fires as well. We've been able to increase the number of things that are now possible over what was possible in NiGHTS.
Q. Where you confident that you could create these very large and detailed stage areas when you started development?
A. First of all we created the corridors, then we placed the fires inside them. After that we added the lightning effects and finally the charachters. This time, the two things we really wanted to do were the lightning effects and the feeling of real fire. We certainly aimed for something more than we thought we could achieve. It wasn't so much about having confidence, we just did it! You can't let yourself worry about whether or not you can do this or that. Everyone in the team wanted to put so much into the game that we only completed about half of what we wanted to do.
Q. Could your remaining ideras appear in Burning Rangers 2?
A. They might (laughs)
Q. What was your strategy for putting together the stages.
A. for stage one, our main aim was to have players become used to the game. We didn't want to send players all over the place because we didn't want to cofuse them. For stage two we increased the number of routes. for stage three onwards we started to make players think in three dimensions. Finally, we incresed the number of places that you could go so that even if you replayed the game again there would be places that you could explore that you hadn't been to before.
Q. Where did you get your inspiration for the wonderful character designs?
A. We orinally wanted the silhouette of the BR with the Burneer Unit to look like the silhouette of an angel with their wings opened up. We wanted to create the image that angels were moving sagely through the burning flames. All through development somebody kept wanting ro call it "Burning Angels". but it was a little too direct so we had to change it.
Q. Of all the BR characters, Big Landman is the most unique. Please could you explain a little about his design?
A. He's the oldest and most experienced member of the BR team. He's very strong and smart, but he's also very kind and gentle.He's someone who can be relied on. However, when he was young, he was too eager to rescue people and as a result he recieved many injuries. Because of this he's now half cyborg and you get the feeling that he's now more than human. Each time he became injured they replace the damaged parts of him with mechanical devices. The bionics on the top of his head are in fact special sensors.
Q. How did you approach the game's impressive bosses?
A. Obviously one aspect was to make them really big so as to give them plenty of impact. The image we had in mind was that at a first glance players would get the impression that they just couldn't defeat these creations.
Q. Did you think it was really necessary to include bosses in this kind of rescue game?
A. A Sonic Team game is never limited to just any one target. It's our goal to have no limit in having fun. The primary task in BR is to put out fires and that's what's always at the back ot their minds. However, it's because they are the BR that they feel that should rescue people as well.
Q. How did the development of the navigation system progress?
A. BR is completely different fom anything we've ever done before so we completely rethought all the ideas of what should be included in the game. From the start we decided not to use any on-screen maps, but just to create a game where you could play with the voice navigation. We did many expeiments and there was a lot of trial and error. At the outset, the voice navigation system said every single direction. We playtested a lot of navigation systems and from these we picked the best one and that's the one we're using now.
Q. With the voice navigation system you can't use any BGM. Did this make it even more difficult to build a dramatic atmosphere?
A. From the very start, the main thing we considered was how to actually being present in the game. First of all we decided to have no BGM at all. The sound effects of the fire and the noise of the creaking walls are the only kinds of sound we considered. On top of that, we didn't think that including a voice, for the navigation system would be a problem at all.
Q. How did you go about choosing the voice actors for the game?
A. Everyone had their own image of who would be suitable. First of all we designed all the characters and while looking at their pictures we built up an image of how they should speak.
Q. What are you going to do about the foreign versions of the voice navigation system?
A.Well, first off all there's only going to be one English language foreign version. We would have liked to have done around six languages, but it's too difficult. The volume of work involved is just too much. It's a difficult thing being able to judge how well the English speech fits the game's image, but we tried to pick those voices which matched the characters best. We belive that some of the voice actors have appeared in American TV programs, but we're not sure which ones. For those contries where they don't speak English, we would have liked to have used sub-titles, but we couldn't push development that far.
Q. Who did you get to produce the animation vut scenes for you?
A. We had the animation done for us by TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha). This company is famous for producing the Transformers and Sonic cartoon seies. They were also involved in the production of Akira as well. This was the first time that we had been in contact with them, but Sega has worked with them before. They produced the Last Bronx animation for Sega as well.
Q. What kind of animation did you use?
A. This time we used digital animation. In normal animation. everything is done on cells, but for digital animation it's all done on CD. Nowadays, everyone's changing over to digital animation. This is different from the 3D CG used in Beast Wars. It's more like the anime used in Disney's Alladin. They didn't use any cells for that either. It was completely digital.
Q. Was the use of different routes essential for BR?
A. To a certain extent you are seaching for something and having to use your head a little when playing a game makes it a lot more enjoyable. Although in teality, with the navigation system you are being made to follow a single path. The main reason for it's use is to give more variation in the game play and thus make it more fun to play.
Q. Do the different routes have any effect on the game?
A. There aren't any big effects. You can locate items and find people who need rescuing, but after you find them you return back to the main route again. There aren't any changes to the story. Actually, in the beginning we wanted to have a lot more routes throughout the game. However, in a 3D enviroment it's easy to become confused and lose your sense of direction, so we limited ourselves to just a few.
Q. Why did you include the Generate System?
Originally, we wanted a game that you could play again and again, any number of times. However, if you keep playing the same stages then you'll lose that tense atmosphere of not knowing what's going to happen next.
Q. How exactly does the Generate System work?
A. Well, for example, a door that you couldn't open the first time you play through a stage may be opened the second time you play. This may lead to a new room or become a new route. In addition, fires break out from different places and walls burst into flames in alternative locations so you don't know where the next danger is coming from. The Generate System creates a new map each time you play and complete the game. Even if two players play and complete the game once they'll get different maps the next time around. The maps are generated completely at random and there are ocer 3000 variations. Also, each generated stage has a password assigned to it. Built into the password is information avout the stage including which people need to b rescued and where they are located. If you enter the password then you can play that level again and again. In total there are 108 people who need rescuing. However, if you can't find everyone you can exchange passwords with your friends. Maybe they've already found a person who you're looking for.
Q. What part of BR are you most proud of?
Mr. Yuji Naka: As the producer, this is a new game for me, so I'm happy that we were able to get a good overall balance for the game.
Mr. Takoao Miyoshi: I'm proud that we managed to create a navigation system that was pretty much the same as gow we first imagined it would be.
Mr Naoto Oshima: One part of the game that I'm quite taken with are the crystals. It's a fundamental rule that you have to use the crystals to power up your shield.
Mr Takuya Matsumoto: As a programmer, the fact that we've been able to push the Saturn this far is enough for me to die happy. Almost all the things I wanted to do I was able to do.
Q. Do you have any advice or hints for players?
A. When a fire breaks out, don't just run around it. Look at the place you're in and judge the conditions. If you do this then you'll sometimes discover that there are routes other than the normal ones. Actually, the real fun of BR comes after you've cleared the game once. Using the Generate System to find all the people who need rescuing is the most enjoyable part.
Q. Do you have a message for you fans in the UK?
A. I'm sure that children like firefighters. Who knows, maybe by the time they've rown up, Burning Rangers will have become a reality. In the BR world you can realistically experience the role of the firefighter. By endeavouring to save people's lives you can have fun playing the game.
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