Polygon has published a lengthy new article detailing the history and future of the Sonic brand, and it contains several key contributions from big names such as Yuji Uekawa, Christian Whitehead, Al Nilsen and Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team. It also comes with some very… peculiar looking art to accompany it.
The article contains plenty of interesting quotes and discussions as it details in length the evolution and history of the Sonic brand, its popularity, where they’ve stumbled and what the plans are for the future. Big Red Button’s Bob Rafei also appears, lending some reflection on the critically panned Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric.
You can catch the full article here. It’s an extremely engaging read and we would highly recommend it to you, but for now let’s highlight some important details and quotes from several various iconic figures in Sonic’s past, present and future.
Al Nilsen is up first, an employee of SEGA from 1989 to 1993 who helped to launch Sonic the Hedgehog 2 worldwide with an international campaign – the man behind “Sonic 2sday”. He discusses how Sonic has evolved, the legacy of Classic Sonic and how the story and cast of the franchise has evolved to “convoluted” levels.
“I think [Sonic’s] legacy of great gameplay and great graphics and a very cool character,” says Nilsen, who then repeats himself with more inflection, “a very cool character, was the legacy that had been established by myself and the rest of the SEGA team. And what’s interesting is I think that legacy still exists to this day.”
[…] “Then the story started getting convoluted.” he continues. “If I was Sonic, I was probably having an identity crisis.” Nilsen thinks the series’ canon, or the “bible,” as he refers to it, needs to be “tightened up.” “You don’t need this cast of 8,000 characters,” he says.
Yuji Uekawa follows suits when discussing the evolution to 3D, who was responsible for the “modern” Sonic design that we all know today. He touches upon how speed became intrinsically tied to the series before going on to discuss the reasons and influences behind the new look they created.
“On the artwork side,” Uekawa says, “we added strength and weakness to the lines, giving him a more bold presence while still remaining cartoon-like, and we changed his posing to be more dynamic, emphasizing his movement when compared to the previous designs.”
Christian Whitehead continues the discussion on the evolution of the brand during the 3D transition. Whitehead was behind the remastered version of Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for mobile devices, with CD releasing on consoles as well. He further reinforces the unnecessary additions to the cast being a significant issue in Sonic’s history.
“The impetus for Sonic’s redesign stemmed from a — perhaps misplaced — desire to continue to push Sonic as a AAA brand,”
[…] “I felt [the other characters] were there more or less as padding and quickly overstayed their welcome when you were forced to play with them in games following the original Sonic Adventure,”
This is where Bob Rafei takes over, who discusses the development of the Sonic Boom brand.
When the spin-off franchise was revealed in February 2014, Rafei says how it aimed to be “a fresh approach that will be at once both familiar and new”. However, upon on the release of the exclusive Wii U title, it was critically panned – and sold poorly to boot. Rafei reflects and reveals how it almost shut the studio down.
“Unfortunately, the reception to [Rise of Lyric] was not as strong as we would have hoped,” says Rafei in a new interview with Polygon — his first in over a year. “This industry really is punishing if you don’t have a product that performs well. We nearly closed the studio.”
Continuing, he praises SEGA for being bold enough to evolve its “grandfather character” while comparing to Nintendo who “stayed true to the Italian plumber formula”. He tackles the intent of BRB and challenges of working with SEGA and Sonic Team to create a western take on Sonic and the creative freedoms he had, stating he took “tremendous care”.
Rafei acknowledges that Rise of Lyric may have been too ambitious for its own good and confirms they are no longer working with Sonic. He finishes with a discussion on the fanbase and their relationship with the character.
“What I realized,” Rafei continues, “is that Sonic has a very complicated relationship to his fans and the industry. A lot of people feel that they are entitled to Sonic because of their growing up with him and the feelings they associate with him.” As fans grow older, he says, they have mixed feelings about who the character is.
“Once we came out with something different, some embraced it very powerfully and others did not,”
Iizuka comes in to discuss what lies ahead for Sonic, once again reaffirming the company’s new shift to focus on quality. This has been discussed in various interviews with employees of SEGA before, including CEO of SEGA Games Haruki Satomi who apologised to fans for “betraying” their trust. Iizuka wants the SEGA and Sonic Team logo on the Sonic packaging to represent a sign of quality.
“When you buy a Sonic game, we want you to see that SEGA logo on the package and know that you’re getting a great experience,” he says. “Ideally, I want Sonic to be a character loved both by people who play games and by those who don’t.”
[…] “We use our Sonic Team logo as a brand for those titles that we feel confident in, and though Sonic has evolved and changed much in terms of gameplay as we found what worked best, we want to keep creating good games so that Sonic Team’s logo will always stand as a mark of quality.”
And then, what you’ve been waiting for – he then briefly touches on what kind of game Sonic Team has been building next to represent Sonic.
“Because [Rise of Lyric] tried a different take on Sonic from the norm — and considering the results — this made Sonic Team feel that we want to build a Sonic title which represents the evolution of the Sonic series over the last 20 years,”
There’s so much more tidbits and information to be found in the full interview, so make sure you check out the full thing over at Polygon, bad drawings and all. Are you excited to see the new direction Sonic is taking?