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Sonic Team
Type Subsidiary of Sega
Founded 1990 (as Sega AM8)
2000 (as Sonic Team Ltd.)
Founder(s) Yuji Naka
Naoto Oshima
Hirokazu Yasuhara
Headquarters Japan Ota, Tokyo, Japan
Key people Takashi Iizuka (Game Designer/Producer)
Kazuyuki Hoshino (Artist)
Jun Senoue (Composer)
Yuji Uekawa (Illustrator)
Tetsu Katano (Programmer)
Industry Computer and video game industry

Sonic Team (ソニックチーム Sonikku Chīmu?) is a Japanese computer and video game developer established in Ota, Tokyo, Japan in 1990, originally known as Sega AM8. The Japan-based division is also known as G.E. Department Global Entertainment. The studio has collaborated with several In-House Japanese studios as well as all other American studios such as STI and Visual Concepts.


History of Sonic Team

In 1990, Sega asked one of their departments to create a game with a character that was popular enough to rival Nintendo's Mario. What the group came up with was a speedy platformer with a new, fresh character called Sonic the Hedgehog. In 1991 AM8 took its name from its phenomenally successful Sonic the Hedgehog series and became Sonic Team. Sonic Team was headed by the famed video game designer and producer Yuji Naka. Under his leadership Sonic Team has become a creative powerhouse in the video game industry.



Despite the extreme popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka grew dissatisfied with Sega of Japan's policies and so moved to Sega's U.S. branch, Sega Technical Institute, headed by Mark Cerny. Due to most of Sonic Team's key members moving to the Western branch, Sega Technical Institute got the job to handle Sonic's Mega Drive sequels. The American developers collaborated with Sonic Team in the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Most of the STI staff worked on the zone art and special stages, while most of Sonic Team worked on the level designs and the programming. However, due to most of the Sonic Team staff lacking the ability to speak English, there was trouble with language barriers. The STI staff also weren't very experienced with strict Japanese game development philosophy. Most likely this was because all of the STI staff were new to the game industry. Sonic Team members also usually worked very late nights and usually slept under their desks in order to perfectly achieve Yuji Naka's guidelines. After the completion of Sonic 2, Yuji Naka made the final decision to only allow the Japanese members in the core development team to work on Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

1993 - 1998

Following the completion of Sonic 3 and Knuckles, Yuji Naka and the Sonic Team name finally became respected by Sega. Naka was even offered the role of producer at Sega of Japan. With the company's name revived, Sonic Team started developing different franchises, such as Nights into Dreams..., Burning Rangers, ChuChu Rocket!, Samba de Amigo, and Phantasy Star Online. The joint creator of Sonic, Naoto Oshima, left Sonic Team to form his own studio, Artoon.


Sonic Team's United States division, Sonic Team USA (Sega Studio USA), was founded in 1999 and ran up until early 2008, when Takashi Iizuka and a group of Sonic Team members decided to stay in America after testing the international releases for Sonic Adventure and ChuChu Rocket! to make games that appealed to the western market, like Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic Team USA was established in #650-650 Townsend Street San Francisco, California 94103-4908, within the same building Sega of America resided in.[1]

2000 - 2006

During the transitional phase of Sega dropping out of the console race to concentrate on software and game development, all of its main departments were separated from the main company and established on semi-autonomous subsidiaries. In 2000, Sonic Team officially became Sonic Team Ltd. In 2002, the other creator of Sonic, Hirokazu Yasuhara, left Sonic Team when he moved to Naughty Dog. Also during this phase, United Game Artists (formerly Sega AM9) merged with Sonic Team Japan in 2003 to start the Sonic Riders series. In 2004, Sega acquired Sega Sammy Holdings. Due to this new establishment company, all of Sega's subsidiary divisions were put back into their previous departments, including Sonic Team. Sonic Team once more became an internal division of Sega after being spun off as a second-party developer in 2000. The company name of Sonic Team USA is also changed to Sega Studio USA. Unlike most of the other divisions, Sonic Team still retains its internal structure and name.[2] On May 8, 2006, Naka left the group with ten other members of Sonic Team to establish an independent game developer, Prope.


In 2009, the director of Sonic Unleashed and creator of the Hedgehog Engine, Yoshihisa Hashimoto, left Sonic Team when he moved to Square Enix.


In 2010 on the 4th February, a teaser trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 was unveiled, leading many to believe Sonic Team would be the sole developers of the new 2D platformer. However, on February 18th, it was confirmed that Dimps, the developers behind the Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush titles, would be developing the game in cooperation with Sonic Team.

Sega Studio USA (Sonic Team USA)

Sonic Team
Founded 1999
Defunct 2008
Headquarters United States San Francisco, California
Key people Takashi Iizuka
Kazuyuki Hoshino
Jun Senoue
Eitaro Toyoda
Industry Computer and video game industry
Owner(s) Sega Corporation
Employees 24-25 (2007)

Sega Studio USA was the United States division of Sonic Team located in San Francisco, California. The division was formed in 1999 when a group of Sonic Team decided to move to America to make international releases for a few games, and so that they could develop games to receive feedback from the western market. They had a few months to polish up Sonic Adventure's international release due to the worry of the western market reacting negatively to the rushed outcome of the game's original Japanese release. Sonic Adventure had a big milesone due to the deadline the game had so it could be launched with the Dreamcast's release. All of the team members that worked there were Japanese, with the exception of Brad Wagner (Artist) who was hired at the studio during the development of Shadow the Hedgehog.[3] The division first worked on ChuChu Rocket! and the international release of Sonic Adventure. In 2005, the division changed their official name to Sega Studio USA.


The US branch's first game was the 2001 Dreamcast game Sonic Adventure 2. Instead of using the same engine Sonic Adventure used, the programmers developed an entirely new and much more sophisticated engine. All of the game mechanics from Sonic Adventure were completely re-tooled from the ground up. The newly established Sonic Team USA was so influenced by their new San Francisco location, that the level designers of the game, Takashi Iizuka and Eitaro Toyoda, designed some of the levels, such as the City Escape, Mission Street, Radical Highway, Route 101, and Route 280 levels as references to major San Francisco locations. The City Escape level resembles the steep, downhill roads of the city. The Route 101 and Route 280 levels were named after actual highways within the surrounding bay area. The Mission Street level in the game was actually named and inspired after a famous street in the city, while the Radical Highway level resembles the famous Golden Gate Bridge. The game designers decided to get rid of the "Adventure Fields" from Sonic Adventure, in order to keep the action and game flow consistent. Also, at the time, Sonic Team USA made a partnership with Soap to advertise their shoe products in the game. Unfortunately, the partnership didn't last, as Soap soon stopped producing their shoe products. Later they were bought by another company called In-Stride, and began developing other products.


Sonic Team USA later ported the game to the GameCube after the Dreamcast was discontinued. They had 6 months to polish and refine the game for the GameCube. The port was renamed Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, after some multiplayer mode enhancements. The programmers and artists even added in minor special effects, such as rain in White Jungle, redesigned some textures completely, fixed some level design to establish better flow, improved the draw distance and graphic field activity, fixed a few cutscene hiccups, added in an extra level of sensitivity for the Emerald radar in the treasure hunting levels, included in some Chao Garden extras, and added in extra level geometry such as trees. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle was the only third party game on the GameCube to sell over one million copies in the United States alone.[4] The game is also considered to be the studio's most popular game by fans, and one of the most popular 3D Sonic games next to Sonic Adventure.


Their next project was Sonic Heroes. The team wanted to port this game on all platforms to achieve better sales and broaden the fanbase, so they decided to use RenderWare as a game engine to make programming the game on multiple consoles a lot easier, due to the studio's lack of experience developing for the PlayStation 2. Thus, the team had to sacrifice a certain amount of technical capabilities. The game was released on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC CD-ROM. Instead of designing levels that relied on American influence, the team decided to design the concept of the game so that it would stay closer to the roots of the 2D Sonic games. This meant removing contact with any humans in the game, designing levels that didn't resemble modern day cities or environments, and developing a sparser story. Sonic Heroes went on to become the best-selling 3D Sonic game. The concept on team-based gameplay was actually going to be used in future Sonic games, but due to numerous fan complaints about the game design, the idea was cancelled. Some hardcore fans of the Sonic Adventure titles were disappointed on how different the presentation and gameplay mechanics for Sonic Heroes turned out. However, Takashi Iizuka has stated that he didn't want to make this another Sonic Adventure title due to his worry of only core gamers picking this up. He wanted to create a game for general users to adapt to easily in mind.[5]


After Sonic Heroes, Sonic Team USA decided to change their official name to Sega Studio USA. Sega Studio USA went on to make their next multiplatform game, Shadow the Hedgehog, using the studio's own built game engine rather than using RenderWare technology again. Still, due to the company's lack of experience developing for the PS2 and Xbox, without the advantage of using the RenderWare engine, some of the game engine quality wasn't as well-balanced as hoped. It seems that most of the work that was put into building the game engine, was used to take advantage of better visual effects. The game was intended to clear up Shadow's mysterious back story, while also adding in a new gameplay perspective by including firearms and vehicles into the game. The game designers also wanted to incorporate the "choose your own path" concept that they scrapped during the mid-development of Sonic Adventure 2 due to disagreements in the game flow. According to an IGN interview with Takashi Iizuka, he stated that his team referenced some popular films for the game. "I can, however, say that we did reference films like Underworld, Constantine and even Terminator series while creating concept art for Shadow. These movies and more were used to create the image of what we thought Shadow and his world would be."[6] The game was released on the Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Xbox. Despite all of the poor critical reaction from critics and part of the fanbase, the game has been able to sell surprisingly well, and has sold in excess of a million copies. This helped increase Sega's profits in 2006.[7] As with Sonic Heroes, the game was also criticized of how it ran on the PlayStation 2 due to framerate drops and longer load times. Takashi Iizuka was actually planning on making Shadow the Hedgehog a game series. However, due to the poor critical reaction, the idea was scrapped. Reception of the game is still mixed among fans of the Sonic the Hedgehog games, with some liking the concept, while others despised it. Sega Studio USA was notable for including references in the game to past Sonic Team games that some of the members at the studio worked on. During the battle with Black Bull after Lethal Highway, the 650 Townsend Center building makes a cameo appearance as the center building within the battle arena, the building where Sega Studio USA resided in. The building also makes numerous cameos in the Westopolis and Central City levels. Also, since Takashi Iizuka worked on Sonic 3 and Knuckles as a designer, he used the spinning drums from Carnival Night Zone in the Circus Park level. Due to Iizuka's love for the original NiGHTS into Dreams, billboards of the game can be seen in one of the stages he designed called Lethal Highway. One of the levels in Shadow the Hedgehog, Circus Park, was named after one of the areas in the obscure Sonic Team game, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. One of the special weapons in the game, the Vacuum Gun, was inspired and designed off of the unique look from Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg as well.


Members of Sega Studio USA also supervised and designed the concept for Sonic Rivals and Sonic Rivals 2, though the actual development of the games was done by Backbone Entertainment. To help Backbone with the game concept, Iizuka and his team wanted to re-create the 2D Sonic gameplay experience and combine the advanced technical capabilities the PSP had to offer to develop a fresh, original gameplay experience. Sega Studio USA helped out with character artwork, scenario writing, and level design ideas.

Takashi Iizuka and his team finally received the green light to make a new Nights game when Sonic Team's Japan departments started handling the 3D Sonic franchise, starting with Sonic Riders and Sonic Next Gen. During the November shipment of Shadow the Hedgehog, Iizuka started right away from there and spent six months coming up with the game design without thinking or knowing which platform the game would be suitable for. The team found out that they could make the gameplay stand-out after researching the Wii's new control scheme and decided the Wii was the best choice for the game because of its family friendly library of games. The platform was also suitable for this type of game due to the game's story being about the importance of family, and the team was interested with the online features the platform had to offer. This game became Nights: Journey of Dreams, released in 2007. A new game engine was designed for the game, which utilises PhysX according to the back of the box. The team also decided to not include American influence in the game like some of the modern 3D Sonic games, choosing a more European influence. Eitaro Toyoda moved back to Sonic Team to work on Sonic and the Secret Rings as a game designer.


According to a Q&A with Jun Senoue, one of the questions he answered from a fan was why he moved back to Japan. He answered by saying, "No more Sonic Team USA". It's believed that after Sega of America moved to a new building after their lease ran out, Sega Studio USA was absorbed back into the Japan division. It is unknown whether all of the members moved back to Japan. The head of the development team is now Takashi Iizuka.


The team resided on the sixth floor inside the Townsend Center building (650 Townsend Street, Suite 650, San Francisco,California), along with Sega of America. Other tenants that reside in the building include G4, Aplix Corporation, Level 3 Communications, and NaviSite, Inc.

United Game Artists

AM Annex was a first-party video game development studio for Sega of Japan. In 2000, Sega-AM9 (as they were later called) became United Game Artists or (UGA) when Sega reorganized its studios to become second-party developer. They released three games for the Sega Dreamcast before they were merged with Sonic Team Japan in 2003. They are more well known for their work on Space Channel 5, Rez and the Sonic Riders series.

The United Game Artists Logo

Notable staff

Sega Technical Institute

The Sega Technical Institute Logo

The Sega Technical Institute was a video game development division of Sega based in the United States, unlike the AM divisions which were based in Japan.

STI was at one time an elite organization within Sega of America that developed well-received games such as Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone, The Ooze and Die Hard Arcade (this one being the result of a team-up between STI and successful arcade game developers AM1).

While the original Sonic the Hedgehog was developed in Japan by Sonic Team, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was developed by Sonic Team in the US with several members of Sega Technical Institute assisting [1].

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were again developed by Sonic Team in the US, but this time with only some STI's musicians contributing the score. Sega Technical Institute held the principal responsibility for Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball instead.

STI disbanded after the cancellation of Sonic X-treme. Some of the key members currently work for Microsoft.

Notable staff

See also


External links


Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Wikia Gaming, your source for walkthroughs, games, guides, and more!

SEGA AM9 was a second-party developer for Sega. In 2000 AM9 became United Games Artists or (UGA). They released three games for the Sega Dreamcast before they were merged with Sonic Team in 2003.

Games developed by United Games Artists

See also

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