So as my first own created post where I don’t just post big news, I decided to make it about the results of my research about the developer of the Wii U version of Sonic Boom; Big Red Button Entertainment.
Most may have never heard of them before, and you’d be right to not have, because they were formed in 2008, and have not put out a SINGLE title under their name, Sonic Boom will be their first. What on Earth was going on for the last 6 years you ask?
I have some answers, which is why I made this post. 😉 As you may know from the recent interviews, Big Red Button was co-formed by Bob Rafei, who was a AAA veteran from Naughty Dog, so much so he was actually their first employee, how about that?
He joined NDI in early ’95 as its first employee while in the visual development stage of Crash Bandicoot. He played a key role in establishing the look of this series; touching on all aspects of production, from back ground modeling, lighting, texturing, to character rigging and animation.
He worked on all of their Crash Bandicoot games, all of their Jak & Daxter games, and the original Uncharted (that’s where Sonic got his new scarf from you know).
He is also seemingly credited for the art design of Daxter himself:
He was part of the team who earned Best New Character of the Year for his art design of Daxter in the Jak series.
So that’s enough about Bob Rafei, he isn’t the only pebble on the beach. 😉 So who else is there?
Well E. Daniel Arey was the other founder of the company, and he was ALSO a Naughty Dog member. I am having trouble at the moment finding his exact positions in the company. He’s credited with scripts and cutscenes for Daxter on PSP, Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier on PSP and PS2, and the original Uncharted. IN FACT, he and Bob worked on The Lost Frontier as part of Big Red Button.
Remember I said Sonic Boom is their first proper game? That’s still true, because The Lost Frontier actually was developed by High Impact Games who earlier worked on Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters on PSP and PS2 and Secret Agent Clank for PSP (Sazaru Games who’s behind Sonic Boom 3DS actually ported Secret Agent Clank to PS2 later on). Big Red Button only have two sneaked in credits through the involvement of the two founders alone.
Where’s E. Daniel Arey now? Well he’s now Senior World Designer II at Blizzard Entertainment.
Next on the employee list is a 3rd Naughty Dog veteran, named Eric Iwasaki, who began with Crash 2 and ended at Uncharted 2. He is more of a tech person, working on models and engines. At Big Red Button as the Lead Technical Artist, he’s tasked with getting CryEngine 3 just right for Sonic Boom on Wii U:
Currently lighting, creating FX, authoring tools, and customizing CryEngine 3’s shaders and rendering tech for SEGA’s Sonic Boom™
Next, we’ll move on to an Insomniac person; Victor Murillo, who was an Environment Artist there, but again worked more on realizing 2D concepts into 3D. He began on Ratchet 2/Going Commando and ended at Resistance 3. Now he’s Senior Environment Artist at Big Red Button.
Now we’ll move on to a group of folks while they weren’t at Naughty Dog or Insomniac, they worked at their “Junior” versions so to speak, most specifically High Impact Games (that one’s most known from Insomniac), the three are Justin Rasch, who’s a Lead Animator, Adam Yeager, an Environment Artist, and Shiva Adloori, an Animator. All three worked on at least one of the Ratchet and Jak spin-offs at High Impact (the 3rd person just on Lost Frontier). MobyGames claims Justin was a stunt person in Uncharted 2, but it doesn’t fit with his other work so I’m curious if it’s a different person or not. Hey, could always have been the same person.
Finally as far as employees are concerned, is neither a Naughty Dog, nor an Insomniac veteran, but someone most of the Sonic fandom know very well.
That person is Chris Senn, who many know was basically the man behind Sonic X-Treme. Well he’s now at Big Red Button as Lead Level Implementer. He actually did work on one game that key Insomniac folks worked on previous but it’s questionable how much of his influence remained since this was way before it was even unveiled; Spyborgs for Wii as Design Director. Spyborgs was developed by Bionic Games, which was really a different label for High Impact Games, since most ended up working under High Impact Games on their output afterwards such as Phineas & Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension for Wii and PS3.
So you’re asking “great, we know the names, what the hell did they do for 6 years? Tap their fingers?”, NO! The following as an astounding find by a talented research group who apparently is part of Kotaku called Superannuation. Superannuation ran their own website and they’d uncover stuff you wouldn’t believe, from canned games to who’s at where, etc. The site closed years ago and now mostly run their twitter account. They were a common source for neat finds. Shame they sort of stopped or at least went low.
So about what they found, well back a year ago Superannuation at Kotaku posted this fascinating article about various finds, including what on Earth Big Red Button was up to, and the bold reveals some juicy tidbits:
Big Red Button Entertainment is something of a rarity: a studio that has existed for five years and operated under the radar without having shipped a single game.
Founded in early 2008 by two Naughty Dog veterans—art director Bob Rafei and creative director E. Daniel Arey—Big Red Button had ambitions to become “the United Artists of games.” The duo wanted to use Big Red Button as a vehicle to AAA games that were genuinely accessible and solve the one of the major issues of contemporary games: players not necessarily completing the games they buy.
Arey seems to have left the company several years back to join Blizzard, and he currently appears nowhere on the studio’s list of employees. Curiously, a since-removed page of “Advisors & Consultants” listed him as a “Creative Consultant” alongside Doug Church, who apparently served as a “Creative Advisor” to Big Red Button prior to joining Valve.
Big Red Button spent the first few years of its existence creating a portfolio of original IP, and secured an alternative financing arrangement contingent on the signing of a publisher or similar partner. They briefly worked with the now-defunct Jerry Bruckheimer Games on an IP called “Ten Minute Man.” (The relationship between the two companies actually led a Jerry Bruckheimer Games production assistant to jump ship to Big Red Button.)
As of mid-2010, Big Red Button was pitching IP “to publishers such as Sony, Konami, and Activision.” By spring of the following year, Big Red Button landed an “unannounced major project with third-party publisher,” which seems to be the title they are presently working on.
Big Red Button’s recruitment copy describes the project as a “next-gen landmark AAA console project,” and job openings hint at a cross-generation “character driven, 3rd person action” title with co-op gameplay and some sort of mobile integration. The Big Red Button copy also mentions the company is keen on “delivering authentic gaming experiences that are as fun to watch as they are to play,” so perhaps the game is not too far removed from a cinematic action-adventure title like Uncharted?
Finally, a producer at the studio says the project has a “$19.9 million budget” with an estimated “34-month” production cycle and a present studio headcount of 28 people. Also, the domains itsasnowday.com and monstersurgeon.com—both registered in fall 2011—redirect to Big Red Button’s site, though neither of those quite sounds like a name of a AAA action title
So there you have it, we might know what the budget potentially was for Sonic Boom (granted said info could certainly have changed) and Sonic Boom may have been a cross-gen (meaning released on PS360 as well as Wii U, PS4, and Xbox One for instance), plus it was confirmed the game was multi-platform at one point.
And that’s that! For now. I may create a Part 2 if I find any more information about who may be at the company, there’s still so much to do, so much to see! Thank you very much for reading, hope you enjoyed it. 🙂