|Industry||Video game industry|
|Headquarters||Ōta, Tokyo, Japan|
|Products||List of Sonic Team games|
Sonic Team (Japanese: ソニックチーム Hepburn: Sonikku chīmu) is a Japanese video game development division of Sega, established as Sega AM8 in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan in 1988. It was renamed Sonic Team in 1991 after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. The game was a major success, and started the long-running Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Sonic Team has also developed games that do not feature Sonic, such as Nights into Dreams (1996), Burning Rangers (1998), and Phantasy Star Online (2000).
Following the release of Sonic Adventure in 1998, some Sonic Team staff moved to the United States to form Sonic Team USA and develop Sonic Adventure 2 (2001). Sega's financial troubles led to several major structural changes in the early 2000s; the United Game Artists studio was absorbed by Sonic Team in 2003, and Sonic Team USA became Sega Studios USA in 2004.
Formation and creation of Sonic the Hedgehog
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a rivalry was forming between Japanese video companies Sega and Nintendo due to the release of their 16-bit era video game consoles: the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega needed a mascot character that was as synonymous to their brand as Mario was to Nintendo. To distinguish themselves from Nintendo, Sega wanted a killer app and character that could appeal to an older demographic than preteens, demonstrate the capabilities of the Genesis system, and ensure commercial success in North America.
In 1988, Sega established an internal development division, Sega AM8, led by Shinobu Toyoda. Sega of Japan held an internal competition to submit characters designs for a mascot. Artist Naoto Ohshima designed a blue hedgehog named Sonic that had sharp teeth, a human girlfriend, and fronted a rock band. Sonic was inserted into a prototype game created by programmer Yuji Naka. The design of Sonic was refined to be less aggressive and appeal to a wider audience before the division began development on their platform game Sonic the Hedgehog. Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara respectively served as programmer and designer on the game which was released in 1991. The studio, of around 15 employees, was renamed Sonic Team. The game proved be a major success, contributing to millions of sales of the Genesis.
Sega Technical Institute
Shortly after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, Naka, Yasuhara and a number of other Japanese developers relocated to California, United States to join Sega Technical Institute, a development division led by Mark Cerny. Cerny's aim was to establish an elite studio that would combine the design philosophies of American and Japanese developers. In 1991, they began development of several games that led to the creation of Kid Chameleon, Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, all released the following year. While Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a success, its development suffered some setbacks; the language barrier and cultural differences created a rift between the Japanese and American developers.
Once development on Sonic 2 concluded, Cerny departed from Sega Technical Institute and was replaced by Atari veteran Roger Hector. The American developers developed Sonic Spinball (1993), while the Japanese developers worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) and Sonic & Knuckles (1994). During the development of Sonic 3, the team began experimenting with 3D computer graphics, but were unable to implement the technology on Genesis. Following the release of Sonic & Knuckles, Yasuhara quit Sonic Team and began working on games for Sega of America, while Naka returned to Japan to continue work with Sonic Team.
Sega Saturn, Dreamcast and structural changes
In the mid-1990s, Sonic Team started work on new intellectual property, leading to the creation of Nights into Dreams (1996) and Burning Rangers (1998) for the Sega Saturn. The studio also collaborated with external developers, such as Traveller's Tales, to continue the Sonic franchise.
The Saturn did not achieve the same commercial success as the Genesis, and so Sega focused its efforts on a new home console system, the Dreamcast, which debuted in Japan in 1998. The Dreamcast was seen as opportunity for Sonic Team to revisit the Sonic series which had stalled in recent years. Sonic Team was originally creating a fully 3D Sonic game for the Saturn, but development moved to the Dreamcast to align with Sega's plans. Takashi Iizuka led the project; Iizuka had long wanted to create a Sonic role-playing game and felt the Dreamcast was powerful enough to achieve his vision. The game became Sonic Adventure, launched in 1998, which became the bestselling Dreamcast game. In 1999, shortly after the release of Sonic Adventure, twelve members of Sonic Team relocated to San Francisco, United States, to establish Sonic Team USA, while others remained in Japan. Sonic Team USA was led by Iizuka and began work on Sonic Adventure 2, released for the Dreamcast in 2001.
In the late 1990s, a number of key employees—including Ohshima—left Sega to form a new studio, Artoon. Sonic Team achieved success in the arcade game market in 1999 with the launch of rhythm game Samba de Amigo, released the following year for the Dreamcast. The studio also began exploring online gaming; they developed ChuChu Rocket! (1999) a puzzle video game that made use of the Dreamcast's online capabilities. In 2000, the studio delved further into online gaming with the role-playing video game Phantasy Star Online, which became a critical and commercial success. Despite a number of well-received games, Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001 and exited the hardware business. Sega transitioned into a third-party developer and began developing games for multiple platforms. One of the first games to be released on a major non-Sega platform was Sonic Adventure 2, which was ported to the Nintendo GameCube in 2001.
In 2000, Sega was struggling financially and split their numerous AM development divisions away from the main company to form a series of subsidiaries; Sonic Team retained their name in the transition. Many smaller subsidiaries were unable to support themselves and were forced to close or merge with other studios. Sonic Team was financially solvent and absorbed United Game Artists (Sega AM9) in 2003. United Game Artists was led by Tetsuya Mizuguchi and known for creating music video games Space Channel 5 (1999) and Rez (2001). In 2004, Japanese company Sammy acquired a controlling interest in Sega and formed Sega Sammy Corporation. This led to Sonic Team's reintegration with the main company; Sonic Team USA became Sega Studios USA.
Naka announced his departure from the studio on 8 May 2006 and formed a new development studio, Prope. He left during the development of the 2006 video game Sonic the Hedgehog, which was released as part of the 15-year anniversary of the Sonic franchise. The game received negative reviews. In the 2000s and 2010s, Sonic Team developed a series of Sonic games exclusively for Nintendo platforms.
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- Official website (in Japanese)