In 1993 Genesis owners were given a surprising game that turned heads of Sega fans and critics. That game was Ecco The Dolphin. The game involved the player controlling Ecco as he transverses the ocean trying to locate clues to his missing pod. The game was beautiful and mesmerizing, and the game had a fantastic soundtrack as well. There was one thing that tripped up gamers was the unforgiving difficulty. However, although the game was hard, players continued to go back to the game. This series has a cult following, and to help commemorate the 20’th anniversary of the game I was able to get an interview with the game designer, Ed Annunziata!
Sef: This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Ecco’s release in the states. How does it feel to have a game that is still enjoyed by many today?
Ed: It is, as you would imagine, a great feeling. I wish more people knew about Ecco and had fond memories of it but after all these years I am thankful of the small following the game has.
Sef: What was your inspiration when creating Ecco the Dolphin? How did you come up with the idea?
Ed: Back in those days console systems were all about smooth scrolling “play fields and sprites. My head was thinking sidescroll or platform game, but I wanted to do something different. At first it was the movement and control that I was thinking about. I filled in everything after I had that working in my head. Most important was the smooth sine wave motion and the surface interaction, getting speed to jump higher and higher into the air I KNEW would be cool.
Sef: One of the most fascinating aspects of Ecco is that the main character is a Dolphin. Did you study the animal to make sure it was represented well in the game?
Ed: After I had the idea for the play mechanic, I started to study about the dolphins. It was easy to learn the basics from the library and books I bought (no google back then) but, the real inspiration of making the creatures sentient was a book I read:
Sounding by Hank Searls http://www.amazon.com/dp/1585863858/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_Cpgsrb1W11T1M
This story was from the point of view of a whale. It really inspired me to think of Ecco as thinking feeling creature. Also, this story inspired me to think more and more about how the dolphin’s echolocation works - so that was added to the main controls.
Sef: Another aspect that people enjoy about the game is the sci-fi plot element. How did you come to the idea of involving time travel and the Votex Queen?
Ed: I always loved time travel and Aliens, especially evil, hungry ones are convenient bad guys.
Sef: When Designing the Atlantis Stage, did you use any of the myths to help design the level?
Ed: Mostly just surface elements, some visual inspirations. I didn’t want to go to far with the Atlantean part of the story. They escaped into the past and left the pathway for Ecco to follow, along with the time machine of course.
Sef: When it came to the game’s soundtrack, did you work hand in hand with the composer? If so what was that process like?
Ed: I worked with the music team on the game. My input mostly consisted of me playing the game while playing an example song that captured the feeling I was going for. Of course, Pink Floyd came in handy for that.
When the game music was done, Spencer Nilsen remastered most of the tracks he produced and made the Sound track CD.
Like the entire development cycle, this process was very enjoyable and satisfying.
Sef: Did you find it difficult translating the game between the various Sega Consoles?
Ed: It’s always harder to make something new - moving from there to other platforms is easier.
Sef: When it came time to develop Tides of Time, did you already have the story planned out since the first Ecco, or was the story crafted as you were going along?
Ed: I had it before the first Ecco was done. I loved the idea of the distant future and showing how the dolphins and other creatures have evolved. One plot rule I set in the first game to support the 2nd was the time machine ONLY allowed travel to the past. So to go to the distant future Trellia had to come back to Ecco’s time to take him. I really liked that part of the story.
Sef: A feature that was introduced in Tides of Time was the ability for Ecco to transform into different creatures. Where did you come up with the idea for this feature?
Ed: Learning about DNA and how Ecco’s abilities granted by the Asterite was all genetic. My favorite part of this DNA morphing idea is when Ecco turns into a small school of tiny fish. He must survive with at least 1 fish to beat the stage. The enemies in this stage are other hungry dolphins.
Sef: If you had to pick one stage you enjoyed creating the most, which one would it be and why?
Ed: Welcome to the Machine
It was just surreal and way over the top challenging.
Sef: One of the biggest mysteries of Tides of time was the ending. Ecco, instead of destroying, ends up using the Atlantian Time Machine. Could you shed some light into ending of Tides of Time?
Ed: No comment.
Sef: When Sega first showed off the 32X add on for the Genesis, they also showed a small 5 second clip of Ecco jumping through the logo. Was this a test for a possible Ecco game on the 32X?
Ed: I tried to get another Ecco game going for both the 32X and Saturn.
Sef: With the rise of independent game companies using Kickstarter to bring life to their projects, is there any chance that your studio might try to make another Ecco game?
Ed: Sega owns the rights to Ecco the Dolphin, unless they grant them back to me, or if they decide to back another game, all I can do is move on, and make something original. Stay tuned for the Big Blue. Follow me on twitter @edannunziata and I’ll keep you posted to progress of a new under water adventure game.
Sef: There are rumors floating about that a new Ecco game is in the works. Are these rumors ture?
Ed: Not at the moment.
Sef: Is there anything you would like to say to the people who continue to play and discover Ecco today?
Ed: Sorry the game is so hard! :)
Ecco will always hold a special place in my heart, and I am happy to announce that Ed’s next game, Big Blue, has started its Kickstarter campaign! So any fans of Ecco are reading this, then please head over to http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/annunziata/the-next-ecco-the-dolphin-adventure-game and fund this game! I’m am very thankful for Ed’s time, and I hope folks will continue to enjoy and discover Ecco the Dolphin!