Interview: Sumo Digital On Team Sonic Racing’s Squad Goals

Team racing games seem to be all the rage these days, with the likes of Trailblazers and today’s release of Onrush emphasising racing with others. Team Sonic Racing is the next to take on this challenge, grouping racers into threes and having them try to reach the finish line ahead of the other teams.

How does it work? You can check out our preview here, but we also got to sit down with Sumo Digital’s Richard Acherki, Lead Designer, and David Dino, self-described “Fun Analyst” to chat about the game and the team-based direction that it’s taking.

TSA: Following on from Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, I’m assuming that you spent a lot of time coming up with a more easily remembered name, like how Psyonix went from Supersonic Rocket Powered Battle… whatever to Rocket League. How did you come up with Team Sonic Racing?

David Dino: [chuckles]

Richard Acherki: I think it more accurately describes the core concept behind the game. I think, you know, that you want to keep it simple and you want people to understand what you’re going for in designing the game.

TSA: Team play is definitely the hook here. Coming after some of the reaction to Onrush though, which also has teams oriented game, you’re still all about being the first person and team to cross the line?

David: Yeah. I mean, there’s different ways to do

, but you can see that it’s all a group dynamic for the most part. Obviously if you’re first, you’re get the most points, but you’ve still got to worry about your other guys too. A lot of mechanics in there help to propel everybody forward.

TSA: Along similar lines, Onrush

Richard: There will be other types of races that allow you to set up solo races among many others we’ll be announcing down the line.

TSA: So how do you then go about engendering that team play and getting people to look out for the others on their team as opposed to racing off into the distance?

Richard: I think part of it is that the way we work in the team mechanics is that we use them to help you win the race. At the moment, the build you’re playing is an early build and you’re playing it on a slightly easier profile, so as we balance this what we’ll be aiming for is a reliance on the team mechanics to really help you get further on in the pack.

TSA: There are these things related to racing closely together, like the slipstreaming and what you call “skimming” past them, but the most interesting one is being able to pass Wisps to your team mate. That’s an interesting one because, if you’ve got this weapon, wouldn’t you just use it yourself?

Richard: Well, when you make an item transfer to a friend, what happens is they’re more likely to get a better Wisp than they would do if they just picked an item up from the track. A prime example that you would have seen is that you may pick up an orange rocket singular, but when you have it transferred to you, you may get a triple rocket. So it should encourage that concept of sharing and you generally will roll a slightly better Wisp.

TSA: Oh, that’s a neat twist that I hadn’t picked up on. All of these actions also build up a shared Team Ultimate meter, but how does that work when you then put into an online set up? Is it something that’s shared so everybody has to use the boost at the same time?

Richard: So you all contribute to the same Ultimate meter, and when it’s fully charged you all get your own individual Team Ultimate and you can use them at any time. You don’t get one to share, it’s one boost per character on that team.

Activating them at the correct time, though, will give you a slightly longer Team Ultimate.

TSA: I noticed that, as you’re racing, there’s plenty of Sonic’s trademark gold rings to collect, not to mention they get dropped when racers are hit by weapons. Do they tie into the gameplay, or are they for something else entirely?

Richard: Collecting rings adds to the individual racer’s overall points for taking part in a race, and these points contribute to a system that will offer players exciting opportunities that we have yet to reveal.

TSA: There’s just six characters in two teams of three for this early demo (and then two more teams of placeholders for those you’ve yet to announce), but they’re split into predetermined groups of good guys and bad guys. Are those set in stone, or will you let people mix things up and have, for example, Sonic and Shadow racing on the same team?

Richard: We will have flexibility with the character selection, but because it’s tied to the various game modes, we’re not going to release too much information about that right now…

TSA: That’s fair enough, but along similar lines, there’s three racer archetypes in today’s demo and they have shared stats between the characters. Is there more variation that we’re going to see coming into this?

David: You’re going to be able to customise your character and their vehicle. So if you like the Power characters, but you wanted a bit more speed, you’ll be able to mess around with that in the customisation.

What you’ll get is another story… [laughs]

TSA: That’s good to know, because outside of the team play mechanics, it feels like you’ve reigned things back to a relatively purist karting game, especially compared to the craziness of Transformed.

Richard: Obviously we were trying to bring something new to the racing genre and that was the team mechanics, but if we couple that with the character types and imagining that in a multiplayer scenario, you’ve got a lot of dynamic gameplay emerging from who races who and how they play the game.

It’s something that we’re focussed on to ensure these team mechanics are key to everything, really.

TSA: I’ve been thinking of this a lot in an online gaming setting, but what about those people who are, for example, playing it on Switch on a bus? What is there in terms of single player?

Richard: So we have the Team Adventure, which is a sort of narrative driven adventure mode, and you can play all of the modes and the Team Adventure mode locally with three players, with your friends right then and there on the same machine. We’re going to have parity between the online and offline modes.

TSA: Hold on a second. If you can have four players locally, how does that work when there’s three to a team? Do you force one person to play on their own with AI? [laughs]

Richard: Well, uh, I can’t go into the full details of how the game modes work, but suffice to say we’ve thought through the problem! [laughs]

David: There are solutions. [laughs]

TSA: Yeah, there’s some easy solutions, but I do like the idea of Billy No Mates having to play on his own! Or Billy Hatcher No Mates, if we’re talking Sega…

Finally, I think it’s a nice surprise that Sumo are coming back to Sonic racing games – in fact, I think I remember you [David] from a Transformed preview?

David: I might have been around there, but I didn’t work specifically on that game. I might have been like, “Hey!” because I had joined around the time they were almost finished, at the beta stage.

TSA: I do feel like you were there, but it was quite some time ago! But it’s nice to have Sumo still working on this, and I’m curious how much if any continuity there is from the team that worked on Transformed through to this?

David: It has been a long time, yeah. Well, we have Sumo Nottingham working on team and we do have some people from the old team giving us, how can I put this?

TSA: Constructive criticism, I hope? [laughs]

David: [laughs] Yeah!

Richard: We can still draw on their experience, so it’s really handy for us to work with them.

David: But we have a lot of people experienced in the racing genre and everything like that working on the game, who are on the side of Sonic fans and even Sonic Racing fans as well.

Thanks to Richard and David for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to check out our hands on preview but, given the E3 build’s small roster and single style of racing, keep a beady eye out for more details in the coming months.

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