PAX Prime 2012: Nights--Hands-on interview with Jeff Beckham

I once read an article in an old issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly that compiled and listed the top 100 (domestic) video games of all time. While the list contained many of the games I was apparently savvy enough to pick up before they were considered all-time greats, there were a great many from a system I never had until long after its demise: the Sega Saturn.

One such game was NiGHTS Into Dreams, a game that debuted the Saturn 3D Analog Controller and came pretty close to being un-classifiable. Was it a platformer? Flight-sim-lite? A racing game?

One thing was certain: it was very popular, and very scarce in my neck of the woods, but I managed to track both it and a Saturn down to see what all the fuss was about which, all told, was a very long endeavour. And worth it. But now, there's a better way for people to be able to experience this goodness; recently, NiGHTS Into Dreams was announced as a downloadable title on the PSN and XBLA Marketplace making this fairly highly sought-after title much easier to obtain and experience on platforms that much better accommodate NiGHTS' ambitious features.

And while I could go into the finer points of what makes NiGHTS great, it's a 16-year-old game and this isn't a review. But chances are, if you're reading this, you already know NiGHTS is awesome.

I caught up with Jeff Beckham at the Sega booth for a bit of Q&A about the upcoming PSN and Xbox 360 HD downloadable version of NiGHTS Into Dreams!


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Ser – First off, what spurred Sega to release NiGHTS for PSN and Xbox 360?

Jeff – NiGHTS has been one of the most requested titles that we've had. Fans have been asking and asking and asking, year after year and at some point, you just can't deny them anymore.

Ser – Of course. [laughs] As a Saturn fan myself, I have actually been looking forward to seeing this game come out. Playing it, there's quite a few differences in terms of its presentation and polish. We'll start with some of the technical things first; what has been changed about the game on a technical level in terms of graphical fidelity or how the game actually plays?

Jeff – As far as the technical side goes, it has been up-rezed to HD graphics, in addition it has also been converted to 16:9 wide-screen so you'll notice that very prevalently, when you play the game, it looks like the NiGHTS you've seen before, but it's better.

Ser – Now, the original NiGHTS had a wide-screen mode. Is [the play field] actually bigger than the wide-screen mode on the Saturn?

Jeff In this version, you can play in the Saturn Mode if you like, so if you want you can play in the old graphics and have your fun with that. But what you can do in that mode is you can zoom in so that it turns the non-wide-screen into wide-screen and I believe that's what was done before, back on the Saturn, so it's not “true wide-screen” before, you're just kind of messing with proportions a little bit.

Ser – Speaking of the graphics being up-rezed, I noticed that NiGHTS himself seems to have a lot more polygons in him. It almost looks like the same model from NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams on the Wii.

Jeff – I wasn't involved with [Journey of Dreams], I would be surprised if they didn’t use elements from Journey of Dreams to make this better.

– One of the big things about NiGHTS on the Saturn was the A-Life system, which changed and evolved based on your play style and how well you did. And it took up a lot of space from the Saturn's internal memory. You really needed a RAM cart just to sort of fully utilize what it offered. How intact is the A-Life system in this version?

Jeff – Basically, we've taken the version that you've seen before and we've put it on here, so what you've seen before is what you can expect this time.

– Excellent. That was one of the biggest parts of what made NiGHTS so special, is just how much interactivity and how much replayability it held for being just what is essentially a multi-path racing game.

Jeff – I like it when people call it a racing game, 'cause to me, how is it a platformer without platforms? You're really just... beating the levels is easy. It's about “how well can you do it”, and getting that 'B' and 'A' is really elusive.

– That's true, it takes a lot of time and a lot of practise and stage memorization to get that coveted high score. With that said, the controls feel really nice as opposed to with the Saturn 3D pad for example. It wasn't... It was kind of janky, you know? How much refinement had to go into the analog controls?

Jeff – The best way to put it is, the technology has changed and we've moved with it. Part of it is just the capabilities of the hardware that we're using and the control stick is probably a little bit more ergonomically friendly, a little bit more sensitive. So we put this through QA just like anything else just to get it right but it has as much to do with us as it does with the systems.

– It does feel a lot better though. If there wasn't much refinement in the original controls then it's a testament to just how well the game was made originally, which I admire. Being able to transfer a game from such an early analog state to present day with almost no effort. That's amazing stuff.

Jeff – Absolutely, this game back when it was released in '96, it was loved by the fans, but it wasn't really until a couple years after when it started to get all the critical acclaim that it has gotten and so, why would we change something that's already great?

– Yeah, if it ain't broke why fix it, right? I guess the only thing I need to know is when exactly this is coming out?

Jeff – We've announced that it will be October 2012, the exact date... stay tuned.

– And the price point?

Jeff – Stay Tuned. 

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