Burning Rangers - 1997 Developer Interview
This Burning Ranger interview (actually a composite of two interviews) originally appeared in Saturn Fan magazine about six months prior to the game's release the following year. Led by producer Yuji Naka, the Sonic Team members engage in a light-hearted discussion about their design goals and inspirations. I've also added some commentary from the game's three composers, taken from the OST liner notes.
Yuji Naka - Producer
Naoto Ohshima - Design Chief
Takao Miyoshi - Main Planner
Takuya Matsumoto - Programmer
Naofumi Hataya - Composer
Tomoko Sasaki - Composer
—How did the Burning Rangers development get started?
Naka: We all felt that we wanted to try something new. I think the public see Sonic Team as fitting with a certain frame, and this time we wanted to push out that frame a little, expand our horizons, and shoot for something very different. By different, though, I still mean something that retains the exhilarating kind of action we're known for. That line of thinking was how Burning Rangers got started.
A lot of people probably still associate Sonic Team with cute animal games, and when we made NiGHTS, a game about dreams, that was also because we wanted to stretch ourselves. NiGHTS was also intentionally made to appeal to female players as well. That's not our intention this time so much, but as Sonic Team we're always trying to reach the broadest audience.
Miyoshi: We wanted to see if we could arouse an emotional response in players in a different way from Sonic or NiGHTS. Could we make players feel tension, feel pressure? That was our initial question. When you watch a movie trailer, they always show you a scene with an explosion, something with a big impact, right? With the hero just barely escaping, only to be greeted by an even bigger explosion in the next moment! Could we pull off something like that, I wondered?
—And what is the selling point of Burning Rangers?
Naka: The action won't just be fun and exhilarating, it will also have a lot of tension and excitement. I don't think there's been a game yet which has placed "fire" in the spotlight. So we're putting an extra emphasis on the sound effects, even more than the BGM, to really evoke the beauty and terror of the flames, in a realistic way.
Ohshima: We've put a lot of effort into creating defined, distinct characters. Just like in a movie, there's the overarching narrative, but there will definitely also be "short story" style episodes of human drama to enjoy. I can't reveal too much about that yet, but Shou and Lead are rivals, and I'm looking forward to depicting that kind of relationship.
—I see. Anything else?
Naka: The human drama between the five members. We've added a rich navigation system for Burning Rangers, which allows us to really bring out the drama.
—I can see that. So there'll be lots of messages coming in from your team while you're playing, in real-time?
Naka: Yeah, the other four members will be communicating with you. That allows us both to feed the player information, and impart a sense of drama and urgency.
Miyoshi: In 3D games with relatively complex maps, it's standard to have a radar map off to the side of the screen. But this has the unfortunate consequence of making it so you're spending almost all your time looking at the little radar map, not focusing fully on what's in front of you. We want to avoid that, and when something explodes we want to make sure you're able to focus on what's happening around you—and make sure you don't miss any people to rescue! We want you to feel sucked into the game that way, and the voice support system really contributes to that I think.
—Can you tell us about the "auto-jump" support function?
Naka: A major issue with 3D games is not being able to tell, intuitively, where your exact position is. The support function tries to remediate that issue via some clever programming.
—Did you have a futuristic image in mind when you designed the characters?
Ohshima: Yeah, we tried to imagine what kind of clothes people would be wearing in the future. Japanese firefighters don't look all that different, but in America there are clothes and things you have to wear, so we played off that and interpreted it in our own way, eventually taking the form you see in the game. We paid special heed to the lower legs, since you're running around through the flames, we wanted something sturdier looking than normal flimsy shoes.
—What were some of the programming struggles you faced?
Matsumoto: Struggles? Hmmm… can I talk about what we had fun with instead?
Matsumoto: Fun stuff… well, it was all fun to be honest. (laughs) In fact, this might be the most fun on a development I've ever had.
Naka: Making the game is the funnest part of all.
Matsumoto: Making the fire look good was something we had in our minds from the very start. When everyone finally saw it and liked it, I was very happy.
Naka: We're using a lot of functions and abilities of the Saturn hardware that aren't often used. That was something Matsumoto worked quietly on behind-the-scenes.
Matsumoto: I wouldn't say I was quiet about it!
Naka: We were able to do things with light sources and the walls that helped you feel the immediacy of being in a fire. It's the kind of little detail one might not notice, but we asked Matsumoto to pay attention to stuff like that.
Matsumoto: Immediacy, the sense of being there, was a goal from the start, and something I had in mind throughout the development.
—From the start did you intend for Burning Rangers to use the Saturn 3D controller?
Naka: Well yeah, I mean the 3D controller was specifically created for NiGHTS after all. (laughs) Since they'd gone to all that trouble, we again wanted to make software that fully utilizes it. In truth we're hoping many more developers will use it for their projects. It's difficult to add the 3D controller support in the middle of a development. And it takes us 1-2 years to complete a production, so...
Ohshima: You'll be able to use the standard Saturn pad for Burning Rangers too, of course, but we very much want players to try playing with the 3D controller.
—Will there be a lot of traps or puzzles on the maps?
Miyoshi: There are sections where the action will make you think, and we're trying to make sure players can approach it from multiple strategic angles.
—In recent years, players have started being a lot more conscious of the sound in games. What are your thoughts on that?
Hataya: Our mission as composers is to try and assist and enhance the game however we can. Making the experience as immersive as possible is our job. At the same time, I think our overall perspective on game music is still a work-in-progress. In that sense, I believe we need to keep working on elevating our musical horizons and keep making an effort. The New York recording we did for Burning Rangers is a manifestation of our intentions there to make something "high quality", musically and otherwise.
—Sasaki, you also composed the music for NiGHTS. Do you have a particular approach or style when it comes to game music?
Sasaki: Creating music that feels like it naturally belongs in the game, and assisting the overall presentation is my number one duty, so I always aim along those lines. If I can, I try to sync up my songwriting process with the content of the game. In the final stage of NiGHTS, for example, I wanted that stage itself to be the core around which I wrote the music, for something that would feel really good while you're playing. I got a lot of positive feedback from players about that stage, which encouraged me that I was on the right track.
Hataya: We're planning to have Sasaki sing the ending vocal and write the lyrics for the songs in Burning Rangers. The content of the songs is linked to the story so I can't say much about it, but it should be spectacular.
—Are the lyrics written yet?
Sasaki: No, not yet.
—What's your image for them?
Sasaki: Sorry, that would spoil the story. (laughs)
—Please give a final message to our readers.
Miyoshi: I want Burning Rangers to be a game that is fun to play and brings out the humanity of the characters, so please look forward to that.
Matsumoto: I hope you enjoy the sense of urgency within a 3D space. Definitely mess around with it and see what you can do. Visually, the design theme we're aiming for is "light and shadow", so please look for that. We hope to show you something you've never seen before, something that takes full advantage of the Saturn's abilities.
Ohshima: I don't think there's ever been a game before like this one, that creates a feeling of pressure despite so much commotion happening around you. Many games have used quiet, still settings to create tension, but we're aiming for excitement+tension. We'll do our best to bring it to you as soon as possible.
Sasaki: Your first impression on seeing Burning Rangers might be, "What? This is a Sonic Team game…?", and to be honest, I thought the same thing at first. (laughs) Anime, voice actors, and sentai stuff might not seem like it fits Sonic Team's image, but when you see the actual story, and how it's a tale of love and courage, I think the Sonic Team-ness will become apparent. I'll be doing my best to create lyrics for the ending theme that accentuate those feelings, so please look forward to it!
Hataya: The music, sound effects, and voice acting are all high-quality and match the world very well—when you're finished we want you to feel like "damn, that was a good game!"
Naka: We're doing our best at Sonic Team to show you something new. We're making sure it will be enjoyable and accessible for fans of NiGHTS and Sonic, and even for those who might feel hesitant to try a game like this, so we hope you'll have fun.
Burning Rangers - 1997 Composer Commentary
excerpted from the Burning Rangers OST liner notes
Naofumi Hataya: Our two key points for the music of Burning Rangers was first, to give a sense of immediacy and make you feel like you were really there in the midst of a raging fire, and second, to help highlight the human drama. Because a lot of info is conveyed in the voice recordings, we tried not to make the music too insistent, opting instead for a more atmospheric sound.
Fumie Kumatani: We wanted players to have an experience that felt like they were really there on-the-scene, so we avoided having music play constantly. In turn, for those important key turning points and scenes with psychological weight for the characters, we use atmospheric music to further heighten the emotion and make those scenes feel even more important. Also, during the boss fights, we arranged the music in such a way that it would hopefully convey the transition in the protagonist from anxiety and uncertainty, to a welling up of confidence as the fight goes on.
As Hataya has written about before, Burning Rangers has a lot of intense, passionate dramatic scenes. I hope when you listen to these songs on CD in order, it evokes the intensity of the story.
Masaru Setsumaru: One way to enhance the sense of immersion in game sound design is to limit the scenes in which BGM is playing. The common approach to BGM (especially action games) has been to have music constantly playing, but our "occasional music" strategy allows us to draw the player's attention to the important parts, and it also makes the sound effects, which tend to get smothered by the music, easier to hear.
In Burning Rangers, more than other games I've worked on, we put a special weight on the various sound effects. With the BGM dedicated to creating atmosphere, you could perhaps call the BGM in Burning Rangers a type of sound effect.
Also, with the navigation system, the player's attention goes beyond just what he sees in front them, and when you receive a transmission, it should give you an idea of what situation your allies are facing even though you can't see them. We paid special attention to that during the sound design, too.
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