Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games – Sega & Nintendo interview

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games Wii-DS logo
Nintendo and Sega made a huge announcement earlier this week by revealing the first game to STAR both of the companies mascot characters. But the type of game revealed definitely came as a surprise. An Olympic game?

But when you really think about it it actually makes some sense. I mean both Mario and Sonic have always been athletic characters. And you’ve got Mario, who’s specialty has always been jumping, and Sonic who’s always excelled in speed. Seems like there’d be quite a match-up if you put them together and had them play the same sport! And with the 2008 Beijing Games coming up, it really seems like a perfect fit. The game is scheduled for both the Wii and the DS and will apparently be coming this holiday.

To shed some light on this pairing of onetime bitter rivals, GameSpot caught up with Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America’s vice president of marketing & corporate affairs, and Scott Steinberg, Sega of America’s vice president of marketing.

GameSpot (GS): So this is a pretty exciting…

Perrin Kaplan (PK): Are you happy?

GS: Am I happy? I’m so happy right now. Can’t you tell by my voice?

PK: I kind of can, yeah.

GS: Sorry, I’m not sufficiently caffeinated. OK, so who approached whom? I mean, you’ve got three elements here–you’ve got Olympic games, you’ve got Mario, you’ve got Sonic. Who came up with the idea, Sega or Nintendo?

Scott Steinberg (SS)
: I’m not sure where the idea came out originally, but it’s been in the works for a few years now. And the partnership between Sega and Nintendo has been rich since the Sega side got out of hardware, and our characters and properties have done extremely well on Nintendo’s platforms. So that synergy has been there for a number of years. The discussions around this were kind of in a casual sense, been going on, and it was looking for that right context and that right venue to really give it an exclamation mark, and the context and backdrop of the Olympics is what really drove the conversations to a head and made it happen.

GS: Right. But who initiated the conversation?

SS: You know, I don’t know if history will say who was the lightbulb-over-the-head person. I think it was a pretty easy notion for the companies to come together because of the style of games that they developed, and their approach to game development has been very similar over the ages. And we’ve been enjoying a closer and closer partnership, both in the US on the co-marketing side and in Japan, as well. So, it just kind of came about that way. But it was not an idea that we thought of yesterday and kind of pulled out of our hat–it’s been a fairly long-running strategy and plan.

GS: This is the first game with Sonic and Mario in it…so why the Olympics?

SS: It’s the perfect backdrop, since Olympics being synonymous with the spirit of sportsmanship. It’s a great context for Mario and Sonic to come together in their first game. So it couldn’t have been written in a better script.

GS: In the past, Olympics-based video games have had kind of a checkered history. What’s going to set this apart from previous Olympic video games besides, obviously, the inclusion of Mario and Sonic.

SS: The big difference is, will be, that it’s on a Wii and a DS. So, that in itself is going to make an Olympic-style game that much more physical and kinetic and fun. You throw in Sonic and Mario, and you’re talking about a real fun action sports game. All that recipe together equals a unique and innovative approach on that theme.

GS: Right. So, well tell me, how is the Wii motion-sensing control going to be utilized?

SS: All those game-related questions will go in the “stay tuned” category, because we’re really not announcing game-specific details at this time.

GS: OK, so which events will be featured? Are we going to see Mario throwing javelins?

SS: We’ve announced three Olympic events: the 100 meter race, table tennis, and the swimming heat. Of course, the structure is all about going for the gold. So it is a competition for who is going to have the gold medal at the end of the day. And that’s really all that we’re getting into related to the specific competitions and the gameplay. You can expect more later.

GS: No equestrian events, eh?

SS: Say that again?

GS: No equestrian events–I was trying to make a joke. [Laughs sheepishly] OK, so you’ve got Sonic, Mario, Luigi, and who else?

SS: Knuckles, Yoshi, and Tails.

GS: You said you haven’t announced some characters?

SS: Oh, yes, absolutely. The six that we’ve announced are sort of a sneak peek. There are plenty more to come, and we’ll be talking about that later.

GS: Now Mario and Sonic are two icons, but they’ve also got some very iconic developers behind them. How involved is [Mario creator Shigeru] Miyamoto going to be in this game?

PK: Very, in that he has teams that work on a lot of our games and that he does sort of a cursory review at the end. He will be very involved sort of during the development process and at the end, which we hope to people signifies the priority of this product for our company. And, you know, support that the Sega-Nintendo relationship…we’re all very happy about it. I said to someone the other day that there’s a thin line between love and hate, and we’re in love.

GS: I see. [Awkward pause] And how involved is the Sonic Team, the Sonic developers, going to be in this game?

SS: It’s not being developed by the Sonic Team, but it is being developed at Sega Japan.

GS: I know a big problem that people have with console games versus handheld games, sometimes the handheld version seems kind of truncated. What’s going to differentiate the DS version of this game from the Wii? How is it going to take advantage of the touch-screen control?

SS: Well, I can tell you it will not be truncated. We’re not really going into details on the DS specifics. But we are taking that platform extremely seriously, so do not feel like it’s going to be an appendix or an afterthought.

GS: Right. So, if this works out, could we expect more Sonic and Mario crossovers in the future?

PK: You just never say never in this business.

GS: Yeah, tell me about it.

SS: That is a great way to think about this–never say never–because I think 15 years ago, you never would have thought this would happen, and so “never say never” is a great way to characterize it.

GS: OK, the Olympics don’t even start until August of 2008. Why are you releasing this game so far ahead?

PK: Well, let me just say that Nintendo’s not usually early on things, and there you have it!

GS: That’s a pretty good way of putting it.

PK: Get it while you can, right?

GS: Yeah, basically.

SS: Yeah, you’re right, the Beijing Olympics are starting in August [2008], but there will be a lot of attention, or there has been a lot of attention, to the transformation of China to get dialed up for the Olympics. This will be a perfect holiday product because it is, as Perrin was talking about, very pick up and play. Little kids will be able to play it. Adults will find it very inclusive for family fun. So it’s an opportunity to get this out for the holidays and really let families enjoy both the Olympics and the gameplay around Mario and Sonic.

GS: Right. Now you mentioned the transformation of China pre-Olympics. Are there any cultural elements that are going to be kind of incorporated in the game? As far as the host country is concerned?

SS: That’ll go into the aforementioned category of information that will be released as we get into more of the product details.

GS: Is the Olympic mascot going to be a playable character in this, too? I don’t know what the mascot is for the Beijing games, but I know for the [2004] Athens games…

PK: We wish it was our character!

GS: Yeah, well, I was also wondering, will Mario and Sonic become the de facto mascots of the 2008?

PK: I think that they would charge us trillions of dollars.

SS: We should charge them, what are you saying?!

PK: That’s right, baby.