This is the story about three men. Three men with a mission; to infiltrate SEGA Europe and retrieve what was rightfully ours. Following from TSS’ Shadow Week, we had the top prize – the copy of Shadow the Hedgehog signed by Takashi Iizuka – still to hand out to our winner. SEGA wasn’t going to give it to us without a fight. It took the strength of Kieran Butcher, rightful owner of the star prize, Rory Joscelyne, founder of SSN and Svend Joscelyne, founder of TSS, to stand up and take the challenge.
|Left to Right: Kieran, Rory and (the unquestionable) Svend. Ready to Rock.|
Thursday 15th December 2005, and our three heroes were ready to execute their attack plan. Svend and Rory, whilst taking the train to Fenchurch Street, views Essex’s empty plains and searches for old people that always happen to be wandering around aimlessly. We found five. Must have been a special event, or a mass granny ditching. Then meet up with the one that would seal SEGA’s fate – the Hero of Time that is Kieran… well, only because the rest of us didn’t have watches. He certainly wasn’t the Hero of Telecommunications, as he had no mobile phone. Leaving the two TSS Knights to explore Fenchurch Street looking for the alternative exit, like old people that always happen to be wandering around aimlessly.
The heroes greeted and set off for the destination – nay, the lair – that awaited them. Taking the Underground and getting off at Gunnersbury, it became apparent that Svend had forgotten to print out a map of the walking route to the SEGA Building. Navigation -5. Luckily, Rory had the idea of checking Bus Stop maps. As a result, our valiant crusaders managed to walk around Regent Street, up to Kew Bridge Road, and all the way back down again. Svend regained team confidence by asking various locals, including a rather burly bloke at a nearby Garage. Strength +2. After finally finding the A4 and grabbing some food (Kieran was hungry, while Svend represented this by moaning constantly), SEGA’s palace was in sight. We were within a metaphorical arm’s reach of taking the prize from the demon they called ‘Alex Friend’.
|Clever trick SEGA, being so nice. This will be a tough mission.
And look, SEGA Classics. For PS2. You can’t buy it yet though.
After obtaining passes from the ground floor that made us feel vaguely important, we made our way to SEGA’s floor. The reception lair was certainly impressive to start, with game boxes on the walls, promotional pieces dotted about, and game pods along the back. We’re all Sonic fanatics here, but amongst other things we’re proper hardcore SEGA nuts too. It was a dangerous situation. If we couldn’t contain ourselves, this was it. They would have won. We contained ourselves as SEGA made a most concerted effort to sway our mission with promotional artwork and impressive awards along the reception area. As we noticed these commendations – including an XBOX 360 model award (for helping Microsoft with their recent console launch), MCV award and even a BAFTA for PSO – we finally met our match in the form of Alex Friend.
|Standing there in just about the coolest T-Shirt crafted by man – a light blue top featuring the Golden Axe characters and logo on the front – was just about the nicest bloke crafted by a collaboration of man and woman. Our heroes did not understand, this was meant to be a castle of evil – we were to pry Kieran’s signed copy from SEGA’s dead/dying hands. They were to come at us with mutliple limbs and various weaponry to defeat our travellers. Not so. Maybe it was a ploy. Perhaps they were being nice to let our guards down and then devour our souls when we were weakened. We were down with that. Alex gave us a tour of SEGA Europe’s offices – because these offices were both SEGA UK’s main base of operations and the head office for the whole of SEGA Europe, there was a lot of action going on. After being shown doors that outlined their communication with other offices – San Fransisco, Tokyo, Paris and suchlike – we were taken into SEGA’s showcase room.|
This, we gathered, was the room where SEGA did most of their dastardly deeds, such as destroy Sony officials. We walked into a room with many sofas, a HUGE HD TV and some (non-Powerpoint, real) presentation panels. More console pods and a few arcade cabinets were lined along the sides of the walls, including a stand-up cabinet for Outrun 2. We had never seen an Outrun 2 arcade without the seats, and apparently it’s a bitch to play on as well as you still have to use the pedals while standing up. The showcase room is the place where meetings with press and worldwide SEGA officials take place. As mentioned before, SEGA UK is the head office for SEGA Europe, so all administration is handled there.
All of a sudden, a casualty! Kieran broke under the pressure of the rare Shadow in-store promotional material. Svend and Rory sharply turned and attempted to calm him down, but it was too late. Kieran had asked for some promotional pieces, and Alex was only too happy to oblige, knowing that the team was one man down. Rory could have sworn he saw an evil smirk from Alex’s face as SEGA was overcoming our heroes. Indeed, just thinking of the idea that Takashi Iizuka and even Yuji Naka have been here on occasion almost broke us. But the will was strong, and our tour continued.
|One of the Shadow posters, and the pods.
That 360 pod isn’t broken BTW. It’s playing Condemned. ‘Playing’.
We were led into the main testing room, where games were being tested rigorously, such as Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. Heading into the main production offices, we managed to catch a play of the game on an XBOX, although it was still pretty buggy at this stage of development. Rory took the controller, and was transfixed. Svend looked worried. If we lost Rory too, then it would just be a one man army. It took a game of Outrun Mode (plus many, many appearances of “Flag Man”; he replaces the woman in Outrun 2 giving you your rank) to wash him away. The heroic trio was now down to two. As Svend looked around he saw another testing area in the middle of the office room – all consoles playing Sonic Riders. As Svend watched rolling movies of the game on one screen, the XBOX controller was handed to him. The interface in Outrun 2006 has vastly improved, with many appearances of Flag Man, which is excellent news. The courses from Outrun 2 and the Japanese SP Tours Edition are included in Coast 2 Coast, along with many new features we weren’t told about. The handling of the cars has even been tweaked to perfection now, if it was even possible. As alluring as he was however, it would take more than Flag Man to sway Svend.
|After a quick whip around the different departments (including the boxart/promotion designer that quickly hid the European boxart and upcoming magazine advert for Sonic Riders as we noticed) we ran into the person Svend refers to as ‘my man’ Phil. Perhaps someone that our remaining hero could trust, but on the turf of the ‘other side’ he was at this point not so sure. After introducing him to another nice person called Tina (although undoubtedly a ploy too), Phil and co mentioned how much they adored TSS’ recent Shadow Week. Svend was super-chuffed at this news, and try with all his might he could not supress his weakness that was SEGA and all of the joys of this random occasion. That was it. The SEGA had won the battle. Our brave warriors failed in a way not dissimilar to a kick in the nackers by Ax Battler while trying to nick his food. Pathetic attempt at battling the boys in blue, but then again these were professionals, paid to achieve such a level of evil.|
As we reached the reception again after the tour, we had to say adieu to our once-nemesis Alex. He had to attend something else – a shame as we were getting quite attached to him, and there was the chance that at least two of us were going to ask him for a personal phone number. He was _that_ good at deception. We also bumped into Stefan who is the head guy at something promotional to do with the UK, who is also cool, purely because his name is similar to Svend. Sort of. No, then. Kieran recieved his copy of Shadow the Hedgehog plus signage too, along with a plopload of freebies (some of which was handed to Rory and Svend, likely as consolation prizes for not giving into their dirty tactics first). They included a PC version of Sonic Heroes, Virtua Tennis lanyard and PSP screen cleaner, UMD case, and a Football Manager and Shadow T-Shirt each.
What followed was a trip to the local for a pint and some cheesy chips with Phil for chatting and discussing matters. Aside from talking about SEGA and TSS related “bizniz” (which we can’t exactly reveal because that would ruin the surprise), we managed to get some Soniccy questions in. On the issue of ‘why we couldn’t bloody well have a preview copy of Sonic Riders please, pretty please’, Phil kindly opened our eyes to the world of press discrimination. Preview copies go to print outlets first, because they are old and croaky. They send out copies to online sources later, but the result is both outlet types get their preview and content to the readers at around the same time. We thought of clocking Phil, but it wouldn’t have worked since we don’t exactly have a debug console to play the preview copies on anyway.
Regarding a return of a proper, UK, non-crap, non-Eastenders-esque Sonic comic, SEGA’s position appears to be “always a possibility”. Nobody knows if Fleetway’s still kicking (and to be frank, nobody really cares – we only care whether Nigel Kitching and Rich Elson are still alive or scrounging on a street corner somewhere), but TSS would love a return of a comic that gave as much as ‘Sonic the Comic’ did, that Archie still cannot.
We also discussed SatAM DVD opportunities, and it turns out SEGA has no real involvement in the release of DiC’s boxsets. So approaching Disney to push them for a SatAM release wouldn’t be feasible. And merchandise-wise – although SEGA have huge plans for Sonic’s 15th Anniversary next year – it appears SEGA managed to sell all licensing rights for merchandise to Jetix when they bought the rights to Sonic X. The surprising truth that Sonic’s property and entire merchandising opportunity had been sold to Jetix/Fox/4Kids/whoever clearly explained why we had not seen as much of a return for figures and tatty crap in recent years. Phil seemed more shocked that we knew Jet the Hawk’s name than anything else. Bless him, it looked like we broke his heart when we told him we already knew about AiAi as a secret character in Riders too. This Christmas, consider donating to Phil instead of TSS. SEGA is for life, not just for Christmas.
|We saw some great signs though. The old favourites will never die. Oh, and there’s Rory pulling his handsome face.|
Filled on the compund mass that was cheesy chips, the heroic (but shamed) trio said their fond ‘see ya later’s to Phillip and SEGA, and headed home. Although Phil appeared to give us handy directions to the nearest train station, thanks to the power of Svend with the square root of Rory, we got lost. Again. Kieran seemed content though. And damned right too. Our mission, in some small way, was completed. We had successfully entouraged Kieran to SEGA HQ and retrieved his Shadow Competition prize, plus bonuses. But we didn’t exactly get to slay any evil. Far from it, they were far too nice. So nice, in fact, we decided to play their game – visit them every other week until they can’t stand the sight of us, then they turn evil on us and THEN we can slay them. Or something. We quite like them as nice down-to-earth people to be quite fair. As aggressive as Rory and Kieran are, they had to agree too. As we parted ways with Kieran, Svend and Rory met up with Louise (‘Butterfly’) for a drink and Svend managed to discuss Chicken Nuggets on the phone to a very confused ‘Violet’. It certainly rounded up a decent day out.
P.S. SEGA is not evil. Much. I mean, 2002-2004’s been pretty horrific.