Interview: Sumo Digital producer Steve Lycett

SEGA Nerds: Sumo Digital has worked on many games with SEGA in the past. How can you characterize your relationship with SEGA today?

Lycett: It’s great because I think we’ve reached the point now where we know each other fairly well. We trust each other, and we’ve built that trust up over so many games that if we suggest something a little bit crazy, seeing that we can rise to it and that we always try to treat their IPs sensitively. Realistically, we try to take care of the IP and work very close with the original IP holders.

We’ll go talk to Iizuka-san to talk Sonic very, very closely. So we’ll ask them, ‘When you were making the original games, what did you have in mind? What were you trying to achieve?’ And they’ll talk us through it. Now we’re so close to them that we know almost exactly what they would have done, and they’re happy that we know what to do with it.

There’s so much inspiration you can take from classic and modern SEGA stuff. Every time you look at their games, they’re always pushing the envelope. To me, SEGA’s all about big, bright colors. It’s the most ideal version of anything ever. So if it’s a perfect sunny day, it’s the most perfect sunny day.

Do you feel Outrun 2 is Sumo Digital’s defining game to date?

SEGA Nerds: Looking back at the library of games Sumo has created, what would you say is the defining game of Sumo Digital?

Lycett: This is a problem because I always think the latest game we’ve done is the best. To me, Transformed stands head and shoulder as the highest, my favorite game I’ve ever worked on. But if you ask other people, they’ll probably say Outrun 2. (laughs) We’re forever known as the Outrun 2 developer, and I can live with that.

SEGA Nerds: I’ve heard that the way SEGA handles its IPs is kind of confusing at times. Even though, say a game is developed by SEGA, there will be one person in Japan who technically owns the rights, and you have to get everything approved by that one person. Is that true, and how difficult was it to implement that.

Lycett: It’s absolutely true. It’s unusual because normally you’ll have a publisher where they’ll agree or decide what you can or cannot do. But with SEGA, what they do is put the control of a given IP to the person who created the IP, or if that person’s left then it’s to someone they can trust.

So if you go and talk about Crazy Taxi, for example, you’ll take to Kanno-san. He created the franchise, he created the IP and therefore, anything that needs to be signed off has to go past him.

They do that very specifically to make sure that anything they which is set within one of those IPs is true to the originals, so it always winds up being very authentic.

There has been a few instances where we haven’t got everything quite right. One interesting one is when we were doing Ulala for SEGA Superstars Tennis, it took us about three months to get the makeup right.

How would you feel about Sumo Digital developing LittleBigPlanet 3?

SEGA Nerds:  There’s been online reports linking Sumo Digital to developing LittleBigPlanet 3. Is there anything you can tell us about these rumors?

Lycett: I couldn’t possibly comment.

SEGA Nerds: OK.

Lycett: It was interesting, though, wasn’t it that during the PlayStation 4 conference, I’m pretty sure I saw a Sumo logo up on that back wall.

SEGA Nerds: Back in April, you created quite the controversy on Twitter when you tweeted something along the lines of: “I’m thinking we can finally settle some arguments about who would win in a kart race. I was thinking bigger rivals.” Obviously, people were wondering if Sumo was working on something Nintendo vs. SEGA related. Can you address those tweets?

Lycett: So to put it into context, the first part of one those tweets began with “sitting here having a beer …” and thinking what could we do next after Transformed adding cars, boats and planes.

[Steve talking to himself] We could go to space? No, we can’t do that. Add time travel, nah, not sure if that’d work. What really riles me? Ya know what? I really hate that Mario Kart. Do you know what would be great is if we could have a Sonic vs. Mario Kart! We should do that! I’m going to tell this on Twitter![/end]

It was something I was laughing and joking about. It’s crazy this because anytime I say anything about anything online, people just take it out of context and run with it. Honestly, I’d love to do a Sonic vs. Mario Kart. To me, it’s almost like a no brainer and it was announced around the time of SEGA doing three unique Wii U games, and I thought, if you’re going to do a Wii U game, surely we should do this. It’d be great.

SEGA Nerds: Is there any chance of porting the SEGA PC characters despite their exclusivity to the consoles?

Lycett: The reality of this is it’s very much a SEGA decision. We advise that’d we’d like to do this, but it’s up to SEGA at the end of the day. The main reason is it costs money to develop the content for consoles. It costs to test it. It sometimes costs money to release it and depending which console it is, it costs money for downloads. So you have to ask yourself that this could end up costing one or two million pounds. Would the return either in goodwill or further sales of the game be worth it? I can’t answer that question. It’s a question for [SEGA].

[Talking about the SEGA forums character DLC vote poll] The reason I haven’t been able to talk about it because on a number of occasions, it looked like it was going to happen and then it didn’t. For example, not to put too fine a point on it, when we did the console update, we were actually going to put another character in based on the vote, and it fell through because of timing, cost and money. And then as soon as I was going to say something, it was back on again, and then it was back off again. So even now, I can’t say if it will happen or won’t happen, if it will be this game or another game.

Obviously, there was one clear vote winner, and that’s one I would hopefully like to get in the game in the future.

General Winter may not have been the new racer everyone hoped for, but there’s no denying his a badass.

SEGA Nerds: How did the concept of General Winter come about? Obviously, if SEGA had never purchased Relic, that would have never happened.

Lycett: Right around the Relic purchase, [SEGA] was wondering what would be a good way to promote [Company of Heroes 2], and they approached to us and asked, “How would you feel about putting a Company of Heroes character into All-Stars?” And we said, “Oh, OK. Well, it might not please the fans but we’ll give it a go.”

The Relic guys were super helpful. They provided references, models, they did voices. I know it’s not been to everyone’s tastes, *laughs* that’s putting it mildly. If someone came and asked me if [General Winter] would have been my first choice, it probably wouldn’t have been. But certainly, by the time we got him in, I think it actually worked out very nice. And I think it was crazy that on Independence Day, we added a tank driving Russian!

SEGA Nerds: The game’s difficulty is higher than expected, given its genre and target audience. Looking back, would you handle that differently?

Lycett: I did feel, in places, we got a bit too difficult and we should have scaled it down a bit. In fact, when we updated the game in the console update, we did tone it down to make it easier. What we had last time with All-Stars Racing, people complained that you didn’t get anything at the end, that there wasn’t a reward or satisfaction.

So, as a side effect, SEGA decided we should have a more traditional unlock structure. What we wanted to do is have something right at the end of the game that was like an uber special unlock that you could only get if you were really, really good. Hence, the SEGA bot. Hope that’s not a spoiler for anybody!

We should have probably unlocked the hardest difficulty from the start rather than getting you to earn it by finishing the fifth world tour or finishing GP on hard. We did that because we thought people would play it and it’d put them off, so we made it a bonus difficulty.

We talked to SEGA once or twice about putting in a cheat in there or giving an option for DLC which unlocks everything. But we continue to talk about that so it could be an option.

Would you have preferred that Sumo integrated a storyline in Sonic Racing Transformed?

SEGA Nerds: Was adding a storyline into the game ever something you guys considered?

Lycett: Well, if you look at the game, no one ever questions where there’s so many islands there. We wanted something to pull and hang the whole game together, so the idea was this character, like an impresario, was stealing bits of SEGA universes and pulling them all together. And then forcing them to race for his own satisfaction, and then at the end of it, he’d pull his mask off, and it was Eggman all along.

But in the end, we found trying to force a story into it didn’t really make sense. You can’t really justify why these characters are racing around. We tried to do it with the tracks as well. If you notice, at the start, the tracks are bright and colorful, and then at the end, they’re kind of dark and dangerous. There’s a kind of implied art there.

If you put a story into it, that’s lots of cutscenes, voice acting, FMV, all of which is very expensive. You could spend that money on cutscenes or spend it on the game.

[Editor’s note: Portions of the transcription have been edited from its original form to conserve space. To hear the full interview with Steve Lycett, listen to the SEGA Nerdcast: Episode 15.]

Chris Powell

Chris is the editor-in-chief at SEGA Nerds and Mega Visions Magazine. Over the years, he's written for publications like Joystiq, PSP Fanboy, RETRO magazine, among others. Oh yeah, he's also been a diehard SEGA Nerd his entire life.

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