Ian Flynn has had one of those careers they make cheesy teen movies about. He started as a massive fan of Sonic the Hedgehog and, through sheer perseverance, managed to land a job writing the official Sonic the Hedgehog comic books. Now, he’s written the latest Sonic Frontiers game. This is like writing so much fanfiction you get hired to make Supercorp canon on Supergirl, or your parents actually sell you to One Direction. It’s a huge feat.
Flynn is in the unusual position of transitioning from hardcore fan to creator of the canon, so when I was given the opportunity to interview him, the main things I wanted to discover were the things only someone like Flynn could really know: who actually is Sonic? And how do you turn being the biggest fan of something into an actual career?
And, also, why Sonic?
It turns out, Flynn is absolutely delightful, and very insightful, so I hope you enjoy this full Q&A as much as I did.
Alice Clarke: Of all the characters in all the world, why does Sonic mean so much to you?
Ian Flynn: Sonic’s more-or-less defined my life. The Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the first major console in our household. I got caught up in the early 90s multimedia blitz of comics and cartoons. There was some form of Sonic to enjoy all my life, and my first professional gig was writing for the Sonic comics I grew up reading. I’ve been working on Sonic in some shape or form for my entire adult career. So yeah – I bleed blue at this point.
AC: Who do you think Sonic is, at the core of his character? Aside from speed, what makes him Sonic?
IF: Sonic is the embodiment of “freedom.” Freedom of movement, free to explore his world, and always fighting to ensure everyone enjoys those freedoms too. He’s a bottomless well of positivity without being saccharine. He’s just plain cool.
AC: How did writing for Sonic Frontiers differ to writing for the Sonic comic books?
IF: They’re very different beasts. Ideally you have a coherent narrative flow in both, but their construction is completely different. With comics, it’s a direct pipeline. I pitch the premise to the editors, that’s approved by the fine folks in licensing, and then I move on to the script. Once that’s been editorially approved and checked by licensing, it moves on to the art team.
With Sonic Frontiers, producer Takashi Iizuka and director Morio Kishimoto provided the story’s direction and I pitched how to fill in the details. How those details would be realized evolved as the game was developed and took shape. Some material had to be cut, some new material was created later, and a lot of gears were turning at once.
AC: What did you want to get across in the Frontiers story?
IF: The game should have a mature, melancholy feel, with a heavy emphasis on mystery – about the islands, about the Ancients, and about Sage. I also wanted to tie the game into the Sonic Series’ rich history. Ultimately, I hope fans can enjoy a story that feels both familiar and unique.
AC: In the game, Sonic feels quite lonely, why was this something you wanted to explore?
IF: Sonic is known for running off on his own, leaving his friends behind. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s just he’s always on the move. This story flips things around so Sonic’s friends have been taken from him, and now he’s racing to get them back. He’s on his own on yet another adventure, but for all the wrong reasons.
AC: What are your thoughts on how Sonic Frontiers has been received?
IF: I’m very happy with the general reception. Sonic fans in particular have very enthusiastically embraced the story and its interconnectivity with the series.
AC: Is there anything in the Frontiers story you wish you could tweak?
IF: Of course, and that can be said for everything I’ve ever worked on. There’s always a thought that came too late, or an edit I’d like to make after the fact. One of the hardest things is to let a project be “done.”
AC: Are there any parts of the story that you particularly want people to pay attention to?
IF: I want them to take their time and enjoy the experience. Maybe take notes, as the deeper mysteries are given in bits and pieces.
AC: What is your favourite Sonic game?
IF: If we’re talking Classic Era, Sonic Mania Plus with Sonic 3 & Knuckles in close second. If we’re talking Modern Era, it’s a toss-up between Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations.
AC: How did you make the transition from amateur to pro in the Sonic world?
IF: I got lucky. I applied, unsolicited, to Archie Comics while in university. There was a change in editors at the time, and he was big on trying out new talent. He gave me my shot and I took it.
AC: What’s your advice for other people who want to follow in your footsteps?
IF: Persevere. It took me four years to even get a response, and it’s taken my entire career to reach this point. There will be setbacks and discouragements, but keep at it. Take your shot, because at worst you’ll get a “no.” You can always bounce back from that.
Also: start networking. Support your friends in the creative fields, and they in turn will open doors for you. The end goal shouldn’t be just your success, of course. It’s about everyone helping each other succeed.
AC: Which is your favourite island in Frontiers and why?
IF: I’m partial to Rhea Island and Ouranos Island. The former has a lot of neat little details hidden throughout the forest, and I like the openness and free-flowing nature of the latter.
AC: If someone wanted to read or play a single thing to get the best idea of Sonic as a character, what would you recommend?
IF: Sonic has had a lot of interpretations and renditions over the years, so it’s hard to pin down one moment or medium. I think one of the most interesting explorations of that “freedom for all” core to his character is Sonic and the Black Knight. In that scenario, his “heroism” isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as it is in other games.
Sonic Frontiers is available now for PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles. Alice Clarke travelled to Hawaii as a guest of Sega.
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