Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Game On: Let's Play 3.01 - NiGHTS into Dreams

Game: NiGHTS into Dreams
System: Sega Saturn
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Player: Mark Greenfeld

Game Overview

Sega was in a great position in the early 1990’s. The Sega Genesis had been taking market share from Nintendo in the United States and was doing well in Japan. However, its handheld devices had been failing to compete with Nintendo’s outwardly-inferior products. As the next generation started to come into play, Sega developed a console which retained the great 2D game design Sega thrived with and ensured that 3D graphics would also be useable for the new console. This system would later be called the Sega Saturn, and to help push the new system, a new Sonic would be warranted. Sega Technical Institute, the developer behind Sonic Spinball, had been working on a new Sonic title, Sonic X-treme, which would use a special fish-eye lens and emphasize 3D exploration in each level; unfortunately, friction between the Western and Eastern sides of development made it impossible to complete in time for the system’s launch. In late 1997, Sega had to officially cancel the project, leaving a new IP to push the Sega Saturn. The question was: could a Sega console sell well without the blue hedgehog?

NiGHTS was designed and directed by Naoto Ōshima, who is labeled as one of the biggest creative leads for Sonic Team. He had directed and designed several games from Sonic Team, although his last major directorial role was from Sonic CD for the Sega CD. Yuji Naka acted as the producer and lead programmer for the product, while current Sonic Team lead Takashi Iizuka acted as the lead game designer. The lead character and game design of NiGHTS was inspired by Mystère, a show ran by the great Cirque du Soleil, and its fantastical style shows through quite amicably.

NiGHTS into Dream stars two children, Elliot and Claris, both of whom live in Twin Seeds and each face their own personal hardships leading up to a particular night. Elliot, an avid basketball player, is beaten easily by older children and is greatly hurt by the results, and Claris, who is signed up to perform in a play, is overcome with stage fright and has low confidence for the events to come. As the two sleep, they both endure nightmares surrounding their problems, and in an attempt to escape the monsters which invade their dreams, end up in the mysterious world of dreams. It is here they learn of the Nightopians and Nightmaren, two types of beings bent on creating dreams, good and bad, all around the world. What they also learn is that Wizeman the Wicked, the ruler of Nightmare, is stealing dreamers’ personalities, known as Ideya, in order to take over Nightopia and, eventually, the real world! Thankfully, a Nightmare traitor named NiGHTS wants to stop Wizeman, too, and together, both Elliot and Claris must work together to defeat Wizeman before it is too late.

The game is an arcade adventure, split up into worlds exclusive to each of the two protagonists. Each character has their own set of three levels, followed by a shared fourth level which contains the final boss. Players initially play as the children, moving around in the dream world’s 3D space. The goal of each area is to retrieve the children’s stolen Ideya from Wizeman’s minions, and in order to retrieve each Ideya from Wizeman’s captors, players need to collect enough blue chips around each area before they can move onto the next. While one can try to complete these goals as the children, they are most susceptible to Wizeman’s monsters. The real meat of the game is played as NiGHTS, whom players turn into by freeing NiGHTS from his prison. As NiGHTS, players fly around the world along a fixed plane. Players can capture items and defeat enemies in the sky using NiGHTS’s skytrails to create circles, otherwise known as paraloops. After each area is completed, players are given rankings based on score and time. Initially, only the first stages, Spring Valley and Splash Garden, are available to play, but after completing each world, the next ones unlock. The final world requires that each of the children’s three exclusive levels have an overall ranking of C or higher. The game is made for replaying each world many times in order to get as high a score as possible.

Beyond the main game, players can raise Nightopians and Nightmaren using the A-Life engine. Depending on how each Nightopian is treated, the game’s music shifts to their current mood. Merging Nightopians and Nightmaren create Mepians, and other beings can also be created over time using the engine.

Since Then…

NiGHTS received a bit of acclaim among certain news outlets, and it is seen as one of the best Sega Saturn exclusives available. Its popularity has created a large amount of hardcore fans which continue to speak about the game to this day, even after the game’s sequel release on Wii several years later.

During late 1996, the year of its release, Sega started to release a limited edition version of NiGHTS into Dreams in bundles and through special promotions. The game, called Christmas NiGHTS, is a single level version of NiGHTS which takes place after the events of NiGHTS into Dreams. Both Elliot and Claris play through a special version of Spring Valley, containing unique item placements for each child. Depending on the time of the year, the world changes its graphics and music to suit the season. In November and January, the world is snow-covered and labeled Winter NiGHTS, and in December, the world is covered with Christmas-related content and plays “Jingle Bells” as the world song. Furthermore, the game has unlockable artwork and a special mode in which players can play the game as Sonic the Hedgehog.

The creators of NiGHTS moved on from Sonic Team some years later, sans game designer Iizuka. Creator and Director Naoto Ōshima would leave Sonic Team after Sonic Adventure, citing Yuji Naka’s attitude as a producer. He would later form developer Artoon, which started with the Game Boy Advance title Pinobee. The developer would be notable for its development of Blinx the Timesweeper for Microsoft and Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and Yoshi’s Island DS for Nintendo. Artoon would later help Mistwalker develop the Xbox 360 RPG Blue Dragon and The Last Story for the Wii. In late 2010, the company was officially reinstated into its owner AQ Interactive, but the company still exists without the official title. Ōshima’s latest major character work is believed to be Cubic Ninja for the Nintendo 3DS, to be released soon in the US via Ubisoft.

Yuji Naka left Sonic Team after Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) failed to meet expectations. He would create Prope, a small developer focused on unique experiences. Since its inception, the company created Let’s Tap and Ivy the Kiwi? for Wii (and a DS version for Ivy). Its latest project is Rodea the Sky Soldier, published by Kadokawa Games for the 3DS and Wii, expected for a Japanese release later this year.

A true sequel to NiGHTS would not arrive until both Naka and Ōshima had left Sonic Team. Iizuka had shown interest in creating a sequel, and by 2007, the game had been announced to be in development. NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams was apparently being developed for HD consoles, but Sega management requested the game be shifted to Wii and did not change any release date or budgeting requirements. It is believed that this is partially to blame for its uneven reception. The game follows two new children, Will and Helen, whose problems are very similar to those in the predecessor, one with sports (soccer) and the other with music (violin). Unlike the previous game, JoD’s worlds have multiple missions ranging from the original game concept to vehicle-based missions. The game would be the last title developed by Sega Studio USA, the same team behind Shadow the Hedgehog. No current sequel has been announced for the series since. Meanwhile, the game’s A-Life system has been continually improved and used in other Sonic Team games, particularly the Chao parts to both Sonic Adventure games for the Sega Dreamcast.

Outside of major new games, NiGHTS has appeared as a cameo in a massive amount of projects, although not many feature NiGHTS gameplay elements. Specifically, NiGHTS has been an unlockable character in Sonic Riders, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (both developed with help from NOW Productions), and Sonic Shuffle (co-developed by Hudson Soft). Sega SuperStars, Sonic Adventure, and Sonic Pinball Party all feature minigames based on the property, with the first being closest to replicating the flight aspect of the original game. Another NiGHTS based minigame is available through GameCube-to-GBA connectivity in both Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. Most recently, Sumo Digital has featured NiGHTS in both Sega Superstars Tennis and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

NiGHTS into Dreams has had only one rerelease since its original Sega Saturn adventure which was developed by Sonic Team China. Released for the Playstation 2 in 2008, the game had both retro and improved graphic modes and came with a picture book remade from the original’s release. Furthermore, the Christmas NiGHTS levels are available as unlockables. Unfortunately, the remake never left Japan, despite fan requests.

The Let’s Play

With a new season, we had plenty of games to choose from, and considering that we had only so much time, we decided to start the season off with something exceptionally unique.

Mark had wanted to do a runthrough of a Saturn game, but unfortunately some of the games he wanted to record were damaged, including a copy of Mr. Bones. However, we found that Sega’s flagship Saturn title was within his catalogue and gladly asked for him to play through the game in one sitting.

We began the recording with a look at each introduction video for the two children. Then, starting with Elliot’s side, Mark ran through each world, attempting to do what he could for the camera. Would he be able to defeat Wizeman in a timely fashion, or was his victory but a dream?


Both, I would say. His playthrough of Elliot’s levels left much to be desired. Mark had not played the game in years, and unfortunately, that reflected in his attempt. Elliot’s levels are a bit harder to get high scores on, and having been more accustomed to Claris’ levels, he was unable to qualify for the last level as the young boy. However, he was capable of going to Claris’ final level and, ultimately, her ending. Of course, there was still his ending to receive, but we had to stop there for time’s sake.

Overall, I felt the video was well done. This was our only episode to use a green screen, despite our want to do more with it. Part of the issue was how to key the color away in post production, and it also required more equipment to be carried to the shooting location. I enjoyed the result, but in the end it was not worth the effort at the time. Also, this was our first time recording game footage using a DVD Recorder. Using a capture card was nice, but we had issues when it came to earlier games (and it would take until recently to understand why that was the case). As a result, this would become our method of game footage recording for the remainder of Game On (and a large percentage of Third Rate Game Plays). As in the last episode, it seems the credits music is a bit too loud to hear our commentary, but I will leave it this time for those willing to decipher any humor from our words.

NiGHTS was certainly a unique episode, and it aired constantly at Rowan University as a result of issues in programming. Still, I was glad to see all the people watching it when it was on. Then again, who wouldn’t watch something so absolutely trippy while having lunch?

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