Sonic Team (ソニックチーム Sonikku Chīmu), currently CS Research and Development #2 (CS2) (第二ＣＳ研究開発部 Dai-ni CS Kenkyū Kaihatsubu), is a video game development division within Sega. It is primarily known for the long-running Sonic the Hedgehog series. Sonic Team is the main developer of current Puyo Puyo games.
In 1983, programmer Yuji Naka was hired into Sega's Consumer Development division. His first project was Girl's Garden, which he and Hiroshi Kawaguchi created as part of their training process For his next game, Phantasy Star (1987) for the Mark III, Naka created pseudo-3D animation effects. He met artist Naoto Ohshima while working on the game.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a rivalry formed between Sega and Nintendo in North America due to the release of their 16-bit video game consoles: the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Famicom). Sega needed a mascot character that would be as synonymous with their brand as Mario was to Nintendo. To distinguish themselves from Nintendo, Sega wanted a killer app and character that could appeal to an older demographic than preteens, demonstrate the capabilities of the Genesis, and ensure commercial success in North America.
Some sources indicate Sega of Japan held an internal competition to submit characters designs for a mascot, while designer Hirokazu Yasuhara said the direction was given only to himself, Ohshima, and Naka. Ohshima designed a blue hedgehog named Sonic, who was inserted into a prototype game created by Naka. The Sonic design was refined to be less aggressive and appeal to a wider audience before the division began development on their platform game Sonic the Hedgehog. According to Ohshima, Sega was looking for a game that would sell well in the United States as well as in Japan. Ohshima and Naka already had the game and character ready, with Ohshima having worked with Sega's toy and stationery department on design ideas. Ohshima claims that the progress they had already made encouraged the company to select their proposal, as theirs was the only team to have put in a high amount of time and effort. This left him confident their proposal would be selected.
The Sonic the Hedgehog project began with just Naka and Ohshima, but grew to involve two programmers, two sound engineers, and three designers. Yasuhara joined to supervise Naka and Ohshima and develop levels, and became the lead designer. He satisfied Naka's request for a simple, one-button design by having Sonic do damage by jumping. Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991 and proved a major success, contributing to millions of sales of the Genesis. The development team took the name Sonic Team for the game's release. Naka has referred to Sonic Team as only a "team name" at this point.
Restructuring and involvement in Puyo Puyo
In 2000, Sega began to restructure its studios as part of the dissolution of Sega Enterprises and spun off its software divisions into subsidiary companies. When the departments took new names, Naka felt it important to preserve the Sonic Team brand name, and the division's new legal name as a company was SONICTEAM, Ltd. (株式会社ソニックチーム Kabushiki-gaisha Sonikku Chīmu) Naka was installed as the CEO, and Sonic Team USA became a subsidiary of the new company.
Despite a number of well-received games, Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001 and exited the hardware business. Sega transitioned into a third-party developer and began developing games for multiple platforms. It was around this time that Sonic Team began development on a new Puyo Puyo game for the Game Boy Advance - Minna de Puyo Puyo. Assistance in development was provided from Caret House and Wave Master, and the game included both Japanese and English text. Minna de Puyo Puyo was released by Sega in Japan on October 18, 2001 - nearly ten months after the release of Puyo Puyo Box.
In 2004, Japanese company Sammy acquired a controlling interest in Sega and formed Sega Sammy Corporation. Prior to the merger, Sega began the process of re-integrating its subsidiaries into the main company. Sonic Team USA became Sega Studios USA, while SONICTEAM Ltd. became Sega's Global Entertainment 1 research and development division (GE1). Naka announced his departure on May 8, 2006 and formed a new studio, Prope, to focus on creating original games. In a 2012 interview, Naka stated that a reason that he left the company was that he would have been required to continue making Sonic games, and he no longer wished to do that. He left Sonic Team during the development of the 2006 game Sonic the Hedgehog , released as part of the 15-year anniversary of the Sonic franchise. Noted for its bugs and design flaws, Sonic the Hedgehog was panned.
By 2010, Sonic Team became CS Research and Development #2 (CS2), Sega Studios USA was reintegrated into the Japanese team, and Iizuka was installed as the head of the department.