Interview with Naoshi on the Sonic Fan Project ‘Emerald Ties’

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The Sonic fan community produces some high quality fan productions and many of them include fan game titles. They have a wide range of influences and inspirations but one game stood out to me among the others presented at the recent SAGE 2016 event.
Emerald Ties is a 2D Sonic title that offers Classic Sonic Gameplay with the Adventure-era art direction and I enjoyed much of what I saw and played of the title. With me today, is my friend Naoshi and he is a member of the team working on this title.

RK: Can you introduce yourself?
Naoshi: Thanks RK, I am Naoshi, one of the major developers of Emerald Ties. I’ve been involved with the fan-game project since sometime late 2004 when Gamerdude (creator of the fan-game) needed a level designer for the game
RK: What was your first introduction to the Sonic the Hedgehog series and gaming in general?
Naoshi: I remember it was back in 1992 or 1993 when I was introduced to the series. My dad brought home a Sega Genesis one day with 3 games. Of those 3 games were Altered Beast, Golden Axe and Sonic The Hedgehog. I was only 3 at the time but I was immediately hooked! This also happened to be my very first video game too! Not too long after we got Sonic 2 and the cartoon series. I was a huge Sonic fan as a kid (and also a huge Mario fan as well!) The 16-bit era still remains my favorite era of gaming.

RK: Love the 16-Bit Era as well, as it lead to a number of fantastic games being produced. My first introduction to gaming was in the late 90’s where I tried out a few PS1 games like Crash Bash and Spyro 1 but I really didn’t get into gaming until I got my GameCube & played Sonic for the first time. Loved SA2 Battle and Sonic Mega Collection alot. Great seeing your gaming origins stem from the 16-Bit era! My next question would be when did you start working within the Sonic Fan Game Community? Or a better question, what was your introduction to Emerald Ties?
Naoshi: Around 2004, when the game was known as “Emerald Ties: Crossing Fates” (now just Emerald Ties), Gamerdude completed the original gameplay engine and needed a level designer for the game. I’ve offered help to design the layout of the original first Act of Sparkling Seaside Zone. A big part of my motivation for that was the fact fan-gaming at the time had finally reached a point where fan games now have Sonic-like physics and gameplay thanks to talented programmers (such as Damizean, a programmer of several Sonic engines) innovating the fan-gaming scene. So it was a very exciting time because I can finally design a proper Sonic level. Of course the stage design didn’t turn out all that great, but it was a great starting point for the game’s development.

RK: That is great to hear Naoshi. Getting early experience producing level designs can only help you develop more complex and exciting level designs in the future. I also agree that the fan gaming community having more tools to work with is wonderful, as it lead to more creative and polished Sonic experiences being produced. Since we are on the topic of level designs, what are some of your goals when designing Sonic levels? Making sure they are open and utilize the blue blur’s speed is important for level flow.
Naoshi: Right! Speed and overall flow is important to Sonic level design among other elements. When we design the levels, we first come up with unique ideas for the zones first and ask ourselves “How can we utilize this concept into the core concept of Sonic gameplay? And is it interesting enough to give this level an identity and personality?”. We take a lot of things in mind as we design things making sure it all flows well and does not frustrate the player all while keeping them interested.
Fuming Foundary Zone, for example, is our most recent stage and had a lot of thought put into it than any other level in the game. We even made sure enemies were not left behind with creative ideas either, such as the Ignitenite badnik that rests in lava with its body that acts as a hazardous platform when in danger or destroying the Dragon badnik allowing you to reach a higher platform with your jumping skills.
Overall, having a great balance between creativity, speed, platforming and even diversity in skills adds a lot to the game design! When designed right, there is little to no compromise in how you want to play the game. It encourages multiple play styles that really adds a lot of depth and replay value into the otherwise simplistic gameplay. I even find myself having a blast playing through my own levels and find new tricks to beat it in a faster time, or if I want to relax and play I can just simply play casually and explore the level for power ups. I think smart game design like that is what makes classic games like Sonic and many other great platformers timeless.
RK: I couldn’t say it better myself; those are words of a skilled level designer. Thank you for sharing that Naoshi!
Sonic’s levels are just as important as his gameplay, so hearing that you are having a clear focus on both is important. Love how you are designing the badnik’s, as parts of the stage itself rather than something Sonic just deals with on his adventure. Can you talk about the games story? That is one part of the game I have little idea about as of now.
Naoshi: Actually, the latest demo (SAGE Expo 2016) is the only demo to not feature any story of dialog as we’ve recently moved to a better engine and had been focusing on the gameplay part of it. So we had little time for the story and it is not yet finalized. However, there will be story in future releases! So what we had this year was a level content teaser!
RK: Okay, thank you for letting me know this! When I played the demo, I noticed not story elements at all.
But I guess we can move on to the discussion of the level themselves! Which of the levels featured in the demo are you the most proud of? I personally enjoyed all three zones a lot and felt they captured the spirit of Sonic perfectly.
Naoshi: Fuming Foundary Zone! Although this may be because this was the only fresh level of the demo as both Sparkling Seaside and Relic Retreat were in previous demos. However, because this stage was made in a newer mindset, it ended up being my favorite due to its very fun and unique design. We feel we’ve finally figured out a perfect balance for our level design and did our best to make sure it’s a very satisfying zone. It was also the most stressful zone we’ve made this demo due to the short development time (1 and a half months), so we only had 2 weeks to complete this level. So some elements were rushed but thankfully nothing was compromised!
Blyde, our sprite artist, designed the enemies with unique ideas that allowed us to come up with many fun ideas for the zone. He also did the entire spritework of the level’s visuals!
Not too long afterwards, Rael0505, another level designer, returned to the game’s development after leaving in the middle of the SAGExpo 2012 demo years ago. He was a huge help! He helped design this zone’s layout on paper. While he was rusty from that long hiatus from fangaming, I’ve given him pointers as he drew the layout. So when it was time to implement the zone in the game, I took many layout concepts from it and reinterperated them! Overall, it was a blast designing that zone and I think may be another reason why I’m so proud of it. I’m sure the team are real proud of it too!
RK: I loved that zone a lot too, so I completely see why you are so proud of Fuming Foundary Zone! It was a lot of fun and it’s level design was very enjoyable. Relic Retreat is also a zone I personally enjoyed a lot too, and one touch I really liked was how you had a wind shield hidden underground at the very start of the stage. It is a smart choice in rewarding players for having a curious eye. My next question would be how do you feel about the reaction the gaming community shared toward Emerald Ties after SAGE 2016? I personally thought it was one of the best games of the show.
Naoshi: I was very happy to see the overall reaction to the demo! It was more positive than the 2012 demo! So I’ve constantly checked YouTube and twitter for impressions and feedback as they are very vital for the game’s development. One of the most common praises I’ve seen were how impressive the visuals were to them and how well the overall level design was, especially Fuming Foundary which seem to impressed many people the most! The founder of Sonic Fan Games HQ, Rlan, even tweeted about the game with praise!
And I’m glad you’ve found it one of the best of the show! That’s actually another common feedback I’ve seen from many folks across the community.
RK: I’m glad you are getting positive reception on the project thus far! My final question would be what does the future hold for Emerald Ties and do you have any major goals you and the team want to accomplish with the project?
Naoshi: We know for sure we’ll try to participate in the next SAGE Expo event (hopefully 2017) with another demo with several more levels and the return of online leader-boards! Our goal is to deliver a fantastic Sonic fan game experience with tons of replay value!
RK: I have every feeling you will be able to accomplish that goal Naoshi! Emerald Ties is a very impressive project and I cannot wait to see it finished in the future. Thank you so much for having this interview with me and any final thoughts you would like to say about Emerald Ties?
Naoshi: We hope to provide more fun the next demo! See you in 2017 (hopefully!) We also have a twitter account if you’d like to follow updates on the game.

You can learn more about Emerald Ties by visiting the games official website or follow the official Emerald Ties Twitter page. The game is set for release in the future and we will report more on this exciting fan project as information releases. You can also follow Naoshi for future updates on the game through is official Twitter page as well.


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