Interview: Steve Lycett, Sumo

Sonic and SEGA All-Star Racing is a great all-round Kart game for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS and PC, grabbing a fantastic 8/10 from us.  During the last week we managed to speak to the Yorkshire-based developer Sumo Digital’s Steve Lycett about the title, the lack of DLC for the PS3 and what the hell happened with missing out on getting Kratos behind the wheel of a kart.

The interview, for your delight and entertainment, is below.

TSA: Sumo are generally regarded as being close buddies with SEGA, how much fun is it working with classic SEGA franchises and twisting them into new genres, as you have with Sega Superstars Tennis and Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing?

Steve Lycett: We like to think we’re close buddies now! It’s always an honour to work with SEGA, especially when you get to play with their well loved characters and games. The biggest problem we have – and this has been on both games, is more who and what to leave out?

We’d love to include more, but then we’d never finish a game! Imagine a small kid trying to pick which sweets they want in a sweetshop, and that’s us but with SEGA characters!

TSA: What were the challenges faced with the development of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of ASR? Post release, we noticed that the 360 version has seen a frame-rate smoothing fix, is there any chance of something similar happening to the PS3 version?

SL: We’ve not forgotten our PS3 players! In terms of building the game, the PS3 version was our lead platform from early on, so was generally more advanced throughout development. We spent a lot of time making the game as pretty as possible with things like Global Illumination and real-time water reflections, then right at the end, had to optimise this as much as possible so 4 player wasn’t a slideshow!

There is [going to be] DLC for the game, and there is an update that will come out at the same time. We’ve been fettling the engine since release, so I think players will notice we’ve squeezed some more performance out of the system.

TSA: Speaking of DLC, you’ve already covered most SEGA favourites on the disk itself. What’s the chance of some classic Outrun action, for example, if only in the music selection?

SL: Originally, we were going to include OutRun levels… However as the project developed, we saw it was naturally more about the characters and fun cartoon style stages. We get asked a lot why there are no OutRun stages, where’s Three Seven Speedway, Sega Rally courses and the Virtua Racing tracks?

I think that they would be interesting in another format, say a Sega Racers Megamix of classic racing games, but I’m not sure they’d be appropriate in the context of this game. Besides, we have to leave something in case SEGA want to do a sequel!

TSA: All-Star Racing has some wonderful courses and some great SEGA fan-service, but what are you most proud of?

SL: The big issue with mixing different characters and stages is getting the whole game to feel cohesive. You want it to feel like it was always meant to be one game, not a mismatched jumble. I think we’ve got this about right. Having spent ages playing the Time Trial side of OutRun, I also wanted a feature rich Time Trial mode in ASR, and I think we’ve also really pulled this off.

End of the day, our goal was to show we could do a proper SEGA arcade style racing game. I like to think we did that, and hopefully teach that plumber a few lessons on racing at the same time!

TSA: How did Banjo and Kazooie end up in the game? Did Microsoft approach you guys or was it the other way around? Were Rare involved with the characters?

SL: Early on SEGA visited the platform holders and suggested including a platform exclusive character for each. The ones who got most excited were Microsoft. Although we’d only looked at putting the Avatars, it was suggested we work with Rare to include Banjo.

TSA: How were Rare involved with the characters?

SL: Rare were fantastic, they designed the car, provided us with models, VO and music, plus style wise, he also fitted within the game.

TSA: What are the chances of a classic Sony favourite eventually making their way into a kart?

SL: Well we also approached Sony, but there it’s a case of classic bad timing, all the studios we’d like to use a character from were unfortunately very busy making their own games. Of course, we can never say never, but you’d need to ask SEGA that question!

TSA: How were the demos received? How important is it to get a demo out of your games before release?

SL: I think in our case it was good to get the game in front of people so they could give a go, especially as it’s a rare example of a more cartoony game for the next-gen audience. No grey rainy skies and space marines here!

TSA: What was the reception to the DS version, which actually offers some brilliant gameplay without compromising the look and feel of the game?

SL: I’m really proud of what we achieved on the DS too, we do our best to ensure the DS version gets as much love and detail as the more powerful machines, and I hope that everyone gives it a go, especially as you can get a demo for free from the Nintendo Channel.

TSA: Who’s idea was it to offer the ‘unlock’ DLC for the Xbox 360, and will we see something similar on the PS3?

SL: This was an idea put forward by SEGA. Basically one of the guys had been playing Burnout on PS3, and then wanted to play on his 360 with some friends. He had the option to either spend a lot of time unlocking content to play with, or he could opt instead to buy a cheap unlock from Live and jump right in with everything available.

I know sometimes gamers look on these things unfavorably, but at the end of the day, it’s there if you want it, if you don’t, then leave it.

TSA: Are you aware of the time trial cheats currently making their way around YouTube, and if so, what are your plans to remove the erroneous times from the leaderboards?

SL: Yeah, I keep a close eye on the community so I spotted this fairly quickly. We’re looking into it now with SEGA, so watch this space!

TSA: Who’s your favourite racer in the game?

SL: Oh that’s tough. I generally lean towards Big the Cat. He’s not the fastest, or the easiest character to pick, but we had so much fun with the animations, and the All-Star move still makes me laugh to this day. Getting knocked about and at the back off the pack? Watch out, here comes FROGGY!

We thank Steve for his time in answering our questions and SEGA Europe for making it all possible.  Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing is out now, and is well worth a look for fans of kart racing, regardless of whether you’re a big fan of the classic SEGA franchises used in the game.  If you are, you’ll already have it!