Happy New Year! And since we’re well on our way into 2009 already, it’s time to look back on the past 12 months and reflect on the good that has come out of the Sonic the Hedgehog community in 2008. There have been simply loads of good times and plenty of bad times, and each of them as memorable as the last. But what have been the reigning moments of the year? We’ve whittled all the good times to one single event, and of course because we would be wrong if we didn’t cover the bad elements of the Sonic fanbase too, we’ve pointed out the single worst event in the Sonic Community as well. Read on and reminisce in The Year That Was.
The Best of the Community 2008
Creativity took a huge upturn in the community this year, partly due to encouragement on the part of various fansites – Slingerland has been a keen advocator of awesome Sonic artwork using the Fan Spotlight feature, while Roarey Raccoon’s Raccomics have been just as funny and incredible. Sonic Fan Games HQ has been home to some promising fangames as of late, and this year’s SAGExpo really brought home the fact that there are still people out there willing to put the time into great-looking game projects.
Sonic Retro’s community have also been pumping out some really great stuff, including the beginnings of a Sonic 2 HD project, a few more nuggets on Sonic X-Treme and various media projects such as the current Holiday album, Christmas Chaos. TSS’ recent ‘Sonic Present‘ competition is further proof that the Sonic community is as creative as can be.
SEGA have been more endearing to the fanbase this year too, with a few notable events being a community-wide contest to name an alien race in Sonic Chronicles (SEGA Nerds won it with ‘The Zoah’) and an art competition to include fan work in the upcoming Sonic and the Black Knight game. ArchAngelUK has been just about the sole catalyst behind these initiatives and his work in stretching an arm out to the fanbase and community at large should not be without recognition. That, and he’s an awesome chap when you meet him in real life. Just make sure you pronounce his last name correctly.
There was one thing that stood out in 2008 however. Something that has probably changed the landscape of the Sonic community for a very long time. And this isn’t here simply because I’m blowing my own trumpet or anything.
Best of 2008: The Summer of Sonic ’08
The genesis of the ‘SoS‘ project can be worked back as far as 2001, when The Sonic Stadium was but a wee nipper. During this stage of the website’s history, as you’ll no doubt be aware if you’ve read the History pages, I was thinking/dreaming of things that could further the community, while making TSS’ name stand out in the process. Of those, the Sonic Site Awards and SEGASonic Radio became reality. The two ideas that didn’t was a website that involved every community webmaster chipping in content as a celebration of Sonic the Hedgehog, and a real-life convention. The first one was rejected by many webmasters as a stupid idea (and it was, without a proper purpose) and like hell I was going to organise a convention at the age of 16.
There are loads of pages further detailing the evolution of the Summer of Sonic convention elsewhere, but fast forward to 2008 and we saw an awesome convention, hosted by myself and AAUK, that brought all sorts of Sonic fans from all walks of life together, in a tiny little community hall in Covent Garden. Saturday 9th August was the date that more than 300 people came together and played games, met Nigel Kitching of Sonic the Comic fame, watched Richard Jacques and TJ Davis perform and see Bentley Jones belt out a special rendition of His World.
I personally have so many great memories of this event. It’s a great thing to have an idea of mine on a scale such as this turned into a reality, and a huge honour to have had SEGA Europe agree to be (albeit obtusely) involved in such a project. Fans from all over the world came, as close as London town to as far away as Germany and even Australia! I met a mother from America, whose son asked her to arrange their family vacation to Britain around the date of the Summer of Sonic, and they were impressed with what myself, AAUK and the many awesome volunteers we had on the day had done. That was a special thing, to hear that people as far as the US were actively wanting to come to something like this. It’s proof that a convention for Sonic the Hedgehog is very much a viable idea.
We had an art area, which was constantly being used (and we couldn’t make it larger as it’d probably take up half the hall), a small comics table, merchandise cabinet featuring stuff from the 90’s all the way to the present day, a games area with a Guinness World Record attempt for Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s Emerald Hill Zone Act 1, and a stage which AAUK and I regularly stepped onto to announce various things. T-Bird and various other dudes had a DJ deck which played Sonic music and created plenty of crowds singing along, even when Richard Jacques wasn’t on the stage. To hear a unified crowd sing ‘Live and Learn’ along with the DJ was pretty awesome.
The day could not have been more awesome thanks as well to the special guests that kindly agreed to take part. Legendary composer Richard Jacques performed a special set on stage featuring SEGA and Sonic tunes, and played Diamond Dust live for the very first time, along with Rusty Ruins and an awesome Outrun piece. TJ Davis joined to sing some classic Sonic R tracks, and she told us she loved every minute of being at the event. She ended up wearing an SoS T-Shirt (we were giving out one to every attendee) all day. Bentley Jones arrived just as the crowd were chanting along to Dreams of an Absolution with the DJ, and he belted out some tracks as well.
It was twice as godly to have Nigel Kitching appear, the writer of many of the Fleetway Sonic the Comic story arcs that had me so eager to wait for the next issue. His timeless game adaptations of Sonic & Knuckles and Chaotix are on par with no other, and he was surprised to see so many fans know who he was. He signed issues of STCs while we had original artworks from Nigel Dobbyn, famed for his Knuckles comic art, up on the wall (see picture, they’re behind Nigel there).
We had some games too, one of the best being T-Bird’s lunchtime quiz which had a group of fans on stage answering questions on the games and cartoons, the prize being a Nintendo DS which HelenBaby won, then kindly gave to the second-place contestant, Peter. It was truly “Awwwww”-worthy to hear him say to Helen that she was “the bestest best person that was ever best ever!” for donating her prize.
If it seems like I’m waffling on for far too long, then I apologise. It was an amazing event – not without its hitches, and it almost didn’t even happen at all – that taught me something very important. Seeing all these fellow Sonic fans come together for a common interest, when they really didn’t have to, says an awful lot about the dedication of the fanbase. The fact that jokes were had about Sonic 06, but not one person slagged another off for actually liking the game, showed truly the best side of the Sonic Community.
The atmosphere we had in that small, cosy hall that Summer’s day is something I have always wanted, and tried, to replicate on both The Sonic Stadium and the SSMB Forums. Opinions and politics are left at the door and for just one day, everyone spoke to one another like they knew each other for years. It’s probably much easier to hide behind a veil of anonymity on the Internet, and that’s why we have all of these petty flamewars between classic and modern fans. But the truth of it is, throwing all of that away, we are all huge fans of Sonic the Hedgehog. We all love the little blue sprat, even if his games haven’t been all that or perhaps were never all that to begin with. It was this undeniable truth that brought everyone together.
There will be a Summer of Sonic this year, this I guarantee. But I only hope that the awesome attitude and feeling that we all shared in Covent Garden last year is not limited to an annual event staged in real life. We should all be able to get along with one another and enjoy each other’s company, no matter what their views on Sonic are and no matter where we are. Let’s play the games, enjoy them (or not), respect one another, make jokes on how corny ‘X Aspect’ is and laugh together. Let’s just be Sonic fans.
The Worst of the Community 2008
Most of the bad times have come from the unfortunate disparity we have in the fanbase. We have the classic fans who love Oshima’s design and Yasuhara’s level creation, and the modern fans who want the gritty realism, rock soundtracks and heavily story-driven games. There are some inbetween that simply want to play a good Sonic the Hedgehog game regardless of design and influence, and it’s this that has resulted in plenty of discussions turning into some sort of fan war. Classic fans want ‘back to the 90s’, Modern fans spit at them and say that Shadow has a place in the games, and the Inbetweeners agree that this hasn’t been Sonic’s most stellar year.
The worst of the Sonic Community in 2008 though wasn’t any single incident per se, but rather an event. A game’s release, actually. And not because of the quality of the game itself, but the embarrassing fallout that occured afterwards…
Worst of 2008: The Sonic Unleashed Debacle
First, let’s get the simple facts out of the way. Sonic Unleashed isn’t a great game. It’s an average game. The Sonic segments, while fun, are more exciting to watch and the Werehog gameplay got boring, and has been a negative talking point of many people after the Debacle started. Having said that, Sonic Unleashed is good for a blast and is at least better than Sonic 06.
With this in mind, the Sonic fanbase decided to arm themselves in a pointless fight against professional video game journalists. Why? Because the journos were quite clearly biased in stating the aforementioned facts in the form of a review. The Sonic fanbase has never been that keen on games reviewers, dismissing every “five out of ten” or “two star” review on ignorance, bias or other things like not actually playing the game – a ridiculous assumption given these guys get paid to play them.
Rather than face the fact that recent Sonic games have been rather duff, some fans take it upon themselves to blame the reviewer. In rare cases it’s justified, when actual facts about the game are wrong and the writing is rather contradictory – not all games journalists are perfect after all. But in most cases, the reviews are pretty solid, but still get a canning. It comes part and parcel with being in the fanbase – there will always be those who will vehemently defend a Sonic game online rather than enjoy it themselves and let others do the same.
But never before has a game caused so much disagreement from a fanbase desperately wanting to like all of Sonic Unleashed, that there have been countless moments – on SSMB, Sonic Retro and other places – where simple commentators have taken to throw abuse at reviewers, whose job it is to play the games from beginning to end and assess its technical (and artistic) accomplishments. While almost everyone agreed that Sonic Unleashed was a bit… mediocre and could be better, fans took this as a spit in the face rather than an honest judgement based on years of critiquing objectively much better games.
One website even assumed that an IGN reviewer didn’t complete Sonic Unleashed because his personal gamertag didn’t show it, which was quite a blunder for the site in question as all office-based professional reviewers use debug machines (thus wouldn’t have appeared on the personal gamertag). Sadly, people believed it. In a word, they’ll all be sunk the fanbase turned feral, and it was a bit of an embarrassment. Even SEGA Community Manager AAUK and myself took time out because the fanbase was simply getting too much.
Sonic Unleashed wasn’t the worst game in the world, but the furore surrounding its release from the fanbase turned what should have been an exciting release date into a depressing flamewar. Fans took the fact that Sonic Unleashed is better than Sonic 06 and ran with the warped view that, because of this, Sonic Unleashed is awesome. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but from a technical standpoint that’s not the case, and when you have an opinion that’s contrary to the facts, you accept that you enjoy it and most others don’t, and respect the reality while others respect your opinion.
Unless, as Sonic Unleashed proved, you’re a Sonic fan, in which case you blam the hell out of the reviewers and even fellow Sonic fans that think the game wasn’t that good, and accuse those fans of not being ‘forward thinking’ or ‘retro fanboys’. Without a doubt these turn of events was the single most worst thing to happen to the community, as it showed fanboys at their absolute worst – attacking respected reviewers and other Sonic fans all in the name of a sodding video game. Hopefully the fan community can learn from this dark period of 2008 and be a bit more civil to each other, and to themselves in this new year.
So we’ve had some good times, and some bad times. I think we can safely say, however, that 2008 wasn’t exactly a boring year. It’s been a hell of a ride, on all accounts, and we’ll look forward to more awesome (and hopefully less not-so-awesome) happenings in 2009! Discuss your best and worst happenings in the community at the SSMB, it’ll be great to hear your thoughts.