The Spin: Can a Sonic Boom game be done right? I think so

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In today’s edition of The Spin, I want to talk about something I think that, despite being a question no one will ask; if a Sonic Boom game can be good let alone should be made, is that if such a game period can be good or even GREAT. Short answer? Of course it can!

The long answer? I have some ideas.

Continue reading The Spin: Can a Sonic Boom game be done right? I think so

Unseen64 details what happened during Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s development

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mo7esa1Tfk[/youtube]

Look Ma! We’re in the thumbnail!

Yes, it’s the story you’ve waited for, finally we get some answers as to why the game went, well, boom. Some quick key details include confirmation that the game was intended for “unspecified next-gen consoles”, the game was mostly done in this form, and Sega gave Big Red Button so little time to do the Wii U port when the exclusivity deal happened. Another highlight is that the footage in the debut trailer (that went bangarang on your ears), actually was NOT Wii U footage after all.

More can be seen in this 5 and a half minute video.

Thanks so much to Liam aka Tamaki from Unseen64 for this wonderful look into the game’s development. 🙂

Sonic Boom RoL Once Had a Beautiful Hub

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmM28X7m_WA[/youtube]

Big Red Button developers have been busy again by recently uploading more test footage and concept art from Sonic’s last console outing Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. In the above footage taken from Tuan Nguyen’s demo reel (with Skylanders footage cut, thanks to SSMB’s Blue Blood), we can see the scrapped beautiful hub world first seen in the GDC 2013 CryEngine 3 demo footage in a playable state.

Devon Roderick has also released two test footage clips in the above video, one of a cutscene and one of an NPC.

Creepy Shadow

Onur Cayli has released a large amount of images showing character renders he worked on, including the rather creepy looking Shadow render you see above.

What do you think of these latest releases? Do you wish the beta hub made it to the final product? Speak out in the comments.

Sources: Tuan Nguyen’s demo reel, Devon Broderick’s demo reel and Onur Cayli’s portfolio

Early Big Red Button Sonic CryEngine Test Scene Found

I’ve spoken quite in length of the development of Sonic Boom and how Sega were apparently really impressed with what Big Red Button were doing with regards to the CryEngine & Sonic. Now, we’re not sure if this was one of those experiments, tests, concepts which were shown to Sega, but what we do know is that this was made by someone at Big Red Button during/just prior to the development of Sonic Boom. I think some of you are going to be shocked at what you see.

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A former Big Red Button employee, Ryan VanMeter who was a technical artists has posted what he calls “Screenshots of a small scene rendered in cry engine. Hedgehog-inspired, but unrelated to Sonic Boom.”

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You can clearly see traditional Sonic elements present in the scene, it looks nothing like what we got in Boom at all and the graphical fidelity is vastly superior.

You can find all the images in the gallery.

Source: Ryan VanMeter’s

Sonic Boom: The Rise and Demise of a Spin-Off

SB12014 has been a significant year in my books; To mark my 30th I’ve been fortunate enough to have also celebrated Sonic the Hedgehog at three different events across three continents with many fellow enthusiasts. 2014 has also been a year in which SEGA has proven it can still put on a show. Sonic Boom (the fan event, now in its 4th year) was yet another fantastic showcase of the best of what the Sonic franchise has to offer, including the a troop of extremely talented musicians, artists and voice actors presented in an incredibly well executed evening. Sonic Boom (the show, the 5th Sonic the Hedgehog TV series to date) is currently airing State-side entertaining kids young and old alike with its unique brand of slapstick sitcom comedy, packaged snuggly into accessible, digestible episodes. But while two Booms seem to have won over the fans, the third, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Nintendo Wii U, is most certainly not – and it doesn’t take much searching to find there is a rather polarised, negative opinion of the game.

The game’s origin is unusual in that it is rather Inception-esque: a spin-off game from a TV show, which in itself inspired by the Sonic the Hedgehog series. If SB:RoL were to be purely judged as a tie-in with a TV show, it could be taken as a typical endeavour designed purely to reinforce sales of merchandise.

SB2Unfortunately, SB:RoL doesn’t get off the hook that easily for several reasons; most notably, the Big Red Button brand bred high expectations with many fans for a full and thorough development of something potentially fresh and exciting. It seems like cracks in the game began to manifest fairly early on, likely compounded by the en-mass exodus of staff from the developer. Furthermore, the herculean marketing drive for the game across the many months led many to believe that something special was in the pipeline, myself included. This was further reinforced by the waves of concept art and character designs which came cascading out from official releases; peaks at lush, organic environments and teasers of gargantuan mechanical leviathans confronting our heroes was more than sufficient to induce salivation from a large fraction of the fan base.

So what, in the end, did Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric deliver? The premise is something like this: Sonic and his friends accidentally awaken Lyric, a biomechanical snake with a penchant for destruction, and it is up to the heroes to collect crystals in order to prevent him from eradicating life from the planet. The game takes a triple threat format of speed, puzzle-solving and exploration stages, interspersed with arenas where the player does battle with an onslaught of cybernetic creations.

SB4The game commences with an apparently arbitrary flash-forward before switching to a brief encounter with Eggman and Metal Sonic, after which the player is dropped into the world and SB:RoL begins to show it’s true colours. The bulk of the game consists of navigating through a number of linear dungeons lying off a main hub world. From the get go it becomes strikingly obvious that the sheer scale of ambition in this title has been its demise, resulting in a lack of focus on any element of gameplay. Speed sections, at full pace, give the players few chances to react properly to any obstacles; bizarrely you can also slow to a snail’s pace with virtually no consequence, other than to prolong the experience. Sections involving combat require little to no skill or tactics, and can be completed successfully with the age old art of button bashing. Additionally, there is no consequence in running out of rings as death simply results in an instant respawn, meaning players can operate with near immunity throughout. From start to finish puzzles lack variety or originality and will fail to challenge even the youngest players, and although some differential is offered through each of the characters wielding their own unique abilities, most areas can be navigated regardless of character selected, rendering differences in skill sets as arbitrary and pointless on the most part.

SB3Contrary to what some of the early screens indicated, the worlds of SB:RoL feel empty and flat – almost reminiscent of a past generation game that might have been expected from a title released ten or even fifteen years ago. The sparseness of the realm is baffling as the characters can only saunter along at a leisurely jog (ironically unless you are on water) requiring the player to traverse vast distances to get to and from areas and characters of interest. A number of optional quests delegated by supporting characters fail to provide any unique gaming experience, with the rewards providing no noticeable benefit gameplay whatsoever. What’s more are the numbers of objects dotted around such as crowns and “shinies”, which seem to serve no purpose other than to be sought after by completionists. Fortunately, only one game-breaking bug was encountered in the play through, but demonstrates a distinct lack of any comprehensive QA tests having been carried out.

The story is inconsequential and predictable on the most part, and includes two completely inexplicable encounters with Shadow, the inclusion of which can only really be explained away as fan service. The dialogue in the game is probably one of the highlights, with Mike Pollock once again stealing the show as the voice of Dr Eggman. However, amongst the fleeting moments of humour are the endless cycles of character soundbytes that remind the player repeatedly of the obvious (e.g. ramps can be used as ramps), over and over again.

Needless to say the overall state of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is disappointing, but the problem with this title, and the continuing problem with modern Sonic games, is much more deep-seated. SEGA has in recent years felt the need to perpetually reinvent Sonic in aid of keeping the franchise fresh to younger audiences. While the redesign of Sonic and fellow protagonists are probably subjective and down to personal preference (and although they are not ‘canon’ could be argued as uncalled for anyway), the deviation from what makes Sonic games so special is where these modern Sonic titles fail. The Sonic games that fans fell in love with back in the nineties won over flocks of gamers because of their originality, their pace, their music and the worlds they painted – it was because of this revolutionary take on the platformer that Sonic became immortalised as videogame legend. While other successful franchises, such as Mario, continue to grow and evolve with ever increasing computational capabilities, we’d have expected Sonic to do similarly. But while Mario retains a familiar identity (characters, themes) and first and foremost its high-calibre of gameplay, Sonic games of recent have futilely attempted to mimic the architecture of others; one recent exception is Sonic Generations, a title that retained the core of what constituted as quintessential Sonic gameplay, and succeeded because of this.

The other great successes of recent have also been the fantastic revampings of classic titles for iOS by Taxman and Stealth – two veterans of the Sonic community. While the success of these titles will have been partially due to the capitalisation on nostalgia, you can ask any die-hard Sonic fan about these versions and they will tell you they aren’t the original game – they are loving restorations, painstakingly tweaked with additions that have breathed more beauty into what were already masterpieces. This duo are already demonstrating they can do the same with Sonic & Knuckles, and we can only hope that this title will get a similar official release. If I was in the shoes of those responsible for mobile gaming at SEGA, I’d be asking these guys to build a whole new game with a neo-retro look around the old engine; retro sells.

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From a consumer perspective some of these moves made with Sonic Boom seem logical, and perhaps, as stated before, this game should only be regarded as a spin-off – but from a fan perspective there is a great fear that Sonic is or has mutated into nothing more than the face for market products with, as opposed to a high-calibre game series lovingly constructed by an enthusiastic and capable ensemble and equally loved by those who play them. I hope that the overwhelming opinion on this title will be observed by the powers that be, and that the criticisms, or perhaps even the suggests from the fans and reviewers alike are heeded. I, like many others, am extremely passionate about the Sonic universe – and we want to see great games created.

I’m still ever hopeful that Sonic will return to form very soon, and I certainly hope by the time my 40th rolls around that the Sonic franchise will have found its stride again. In the meantime, the show must go on.

Many thanks to Nintendo PR for supplying TSS with a review copy of Sonic Boom

TSS Review: Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric (Wii U)

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Developer: Big Red Button Release Date: NA/EU/AUS: Out now, JP as Sonic Toon: Dec 18th, 2014

So here we are, the game that was supposed to mark a new chapter in Sonic’s long and treasured history as a new side-series running in parallel to the current Modern Sonic series. Sega entrusted this new series to a not-so-new developer named Big Red Button, I say not-so-new as they’ve been around since 2008! Big Red Button is a team formed by veterans from Naughty Dog, however, that’s where seemingly that relation ends. For a further look into Big Red Button and the folks who worked on the game during the last few years (note that some have departed from the company in the past few months), check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my articles about Big Red Button.

Now before I get to the main review, I want to make clear that sadly I have NOT completed the story for the game as I originally intended, so I want to make sure you know that fact to judge my thoughts on the game more fairly, my deepest apologies.

Also note that this is my very first professional review, so this is a new experience and I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say.

So I will make the following into a few categories, rather than just put the whole thing in one, as in, I will speak about the game’s Gameplay, Story, Graphics, Audio, and the overall conclusion. I will also do something a lot don’t; I will provide an additional opinion based on the current price, and a bargain price in the conclusion, as a lot of people judge games based on price and can be more willing to pick a game up if they find it for like $10 or $20, also a lot of reviews pan a game for being too short for $50, that sort of thing.

Let’s begin!

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Gameplay:

So the gist of the gameplay is; it’s a beat-em-up with a decent amount of platforming, why can’t I call it vice-versa? Because I kind of find it’s more focused on the combat than the platforming though there’s quite a bit of it as well. You have your punches and your ground pound moves. All characters function basically the same but have some special touches to them, such as Sonic having his homing attack, Tails can glide and use long-ranged weapons like what appears to be a fire cracker shooter, Knuckles is obviously the strongest but I also find Amy with her hammer to be not far behind Knuckles. Amy is able to kill the snake enemies with a single swing which is pretty handy.

Combat is relatively simple, I never felt I needed to go beyond just mashing X or Y to attack, there’s no real strategy, I also find using the enerbeam in fights to be very clunky and they just don’t seem to work, even when I grab, swing, and throw them. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. It’s certainly not as elaborate as in Sonic Unleashed. You are able to unlock things such as upgrades and acquire items to help, but I didn’t really get to experience those fully yet. You also once in awhile find these tiny robots that run from you, and when you kill them, they drop a weapon. Only one I got to try out was a wind gun that shoots a tornado. It was cool, but it has a limited amount of uses. Fun gimmicks I guess.

As far as exploration is concerned, I don’t find any of them to be that fast, only Sonic is when you spam the Spin Dash move, and that’s a stretch since it’s only a bit faster and is absolutely nothing like in Sonic Adventure or Sonic Lost World. Outside of the auto-run sections, Sonic is not his Gotta Go Fast self, so get that out of your head if you came in for speed. And as far as the number of said sections, there aren’t that many and they’re over after a minute or two. You’re slowly running around and fighting a lot more. It’s a side dish. I did find the running on water sections to be pretty fun, at least I wasn’t bumping into obstacles every 2 seconds.

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Story:

Now we get to what is arguably my favorite part of the game. Yeah the cutscenes are very unpolished so you see jerking objects here and uber low-res textures there and you wonder why they had the camera up close in clean sight of then. But the character animation and writing is a true highlight, especially the former. The animation is very high quality and the animators should be given high praise. Buuuut I would not say the same thing for the in-game “cutscenes” where you see the characters just stand there like zombies flapping their gums, Amy is not a pretty sight in these. As for the story, the plot is interesting if not the most original (guy stumbles upon an ancient evil, lets it loose, he done goofs, he tries to undo it), but I really like the characterization. Knuckles is probably my fav of the group, but I also really like Lyric and how he animates, I wouldn’t call him intimidating, but he works, still it would’ve been cooler is he was an Owl (Owlyric?), but what can you do? The humor is part of the highlight. From the subtle facial expressions to the one liners, I certainly laughed and I love anything that can make me laugh.

I will say some of the story so far is really out of place, such as Shadow’s appearance is so far unexplained and feels very shoehorned and that is NOT a good thing. I like to know why things are the way they are unless they let the audience figure it out as a mystery. This is not one of those times. Will there be some big reveal that explains everything? From what I’ve read, that’s not likely.

Eggman

Graphics:

It’s a double-edged sword. At times it can look really nice, but the severe lack of polish hurts it so badly. It’s got a very lovely style, especially when you’re outdoors. But the graphical issues such as really bad shadow pop-in, the horrifically low-res textures, especially in cutscenes. Not to mention the game only runs in 720p and 30fps, so they don’t even make up for the short comings with trying to be more ambitious with the technical specs. The game was made using Cry Engine 3, and is the very first Wii U game to support it that’s been released, and honestly I feel that was a huge mistake. The engine very likely not only was not optimized properly for the console, but also they had to exclusively try to work in a function that the engine never used before; split-screen. I’ve not used the mode myself, but as I’ve seen in footage, when you use split-screen/co-op via the TV and GamePad, most shadow and lighting detail vanishes, and apparently the framerate can be even worse, which by the way can get a bit sluggish at points, even in cutscenes.

Lighting is another visual highlight, but again, it’s hard to overlook the flaws. However, I also want to bring to attention some of the geometry and effects of the outdoor sections. When you’re up-close to plants, they do have subtle animation and you see some particles floating in the air, I really, REALLY liked those details.

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Audio:

The voice acting is REALLY good in this game. No one really stood out as being bad, they all really delivered and were really fun to listen to. The music which was composed by Richard Jacques of Sonic R and Sonic 3D Blast Saturn fame, which to me is nothing like the aforementioned games, it does set the mood and some of the outdoor areas had a really nice tune to listen to. Personally the soundtrack could’ve been less orchestral and more upbeat like previous games, but it’s not a big deal. I personally hoped they would’ve brought in someone familiar with classic western platformers like Crash, Spyro, Jak, Ratchet, and Sly (Rocket gets no love…), but I guess they wanted someone familiar with Sonic to do it, even if the music isn’t anything like the series ever had before. Also, Jun Senoue was in the US for a long time as part of the now closed Sonic Team USA, wouldn’t he have been a way more appropriate pick?

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Conclusion:

So in conclusion, it was not at all what I was really hyped for, I mean I was hoping it’d be a gorgeous adventure though big expansive open worlds, like that infamous Cry Engine 3 demo showed. What’s that, they took that out? *sigh*

The game in a word is… okay. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s really hard to recommend it, especially at $50. What really needs to happen is after like 6 months, is that they release a patch that fixes so much in the game, that could give it a much needed and deserved second wind. If you find it for $20, I would say check it out. Compared to Sonic Lost World, if you want exploration, go with Sonic Boom, it’s got that, even if some environments like the desert level are really boring and some of the indoor ones also don’t feel all that exciting to look at or explore. I really hope we see a patch, I truly do. It needed many more months, like at least 6 more months in the oven to polish what they had. Why do so many not follow the wise words of Shigeru Miyamoto?; “A delayed game is eventually a good game, a bad game is bad forever” or something along those lines.

Also, click here to check out Jason Berry’s review of Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for 3DS!

So that’s it! What did you think?

Sonic Boom 3DS Theme hits Europe on Friday

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They’ve been out in the US for almost a week now, but this Friday will see Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal making their way to European shores – and that’s not all! Revealed via Nintendo’s UK 3DS Facebook page, the Sonic Boom 3DS theme (which has been available to American 3DS owners since last week) will also be hitting the handheld come 21st November… and best of all, it’ll be completely free to download!

The Sonic Boom 3DS theme initially displays only Sonic and Tails, but scroll it along and it’ll eventually showcase all five members of the main cast, including Knuckles, Amy and Sticks. You can get a better preview of the theme in the video below, alongside a sneak peek at a 3DS StreetPass puzzle – there’s no confirmation yet whether this will be arriving in Europe as well as the theme, but we’d place a good bet on it!

http://youtu.be/7IR35VRD7aU

Will you be downloading the Sonic Boom 3DS theme on Friday, be it in addition to the games or just to decorate your handheld menu with everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog? Let us know in the comments!

In the meantime, stay tuned for our TSS reviews of Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal, both coming your way soon!

New Sonic Boom: RoL Details Revealed, Chaos Crystals, Time Travel & More

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVT93XgmRME[/youtube]

An E3 2014 demo and interview with Big Red Button’s Mark Vernon has revealed some new details on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for Wii U. The previously seen crystals are called ‘Chaos Crystals’ and there are nine of them to collect through the game’s story. Vernon also goes into more detail about the game’s time travel element and reveals that players will go to the past and the future, seeing areas in both times.

The name of the underwater base level played is ‘Ancient Template’ and in this demonstration we get to see some of the hidden areas of the level. Vernon gives us a look at the collectibles menu and a ‘Freeze Rod’ weapon that, as you guessed, freezes enemies in ice. It’s clarified that while these weapons are obtained from enemies, the enemies can’t actually use them and they are one-time limited use only. You can’t store them.

Vernon also explains that collectibles will earn you upgrades, which aren’t just for making your characters stronger, but also unlock new abilities. When asked about a release date, Vernon says he can’t remember the exact date, but it’ll probably be the first half of November. Finally, merchandise fans will want to stick around until the end to have a close look at some of the upcoming Sonic Boom action figures.

Source: The Family Gaming Team

Very high-res off-screen development pic of Sonic Boom Wii U reveals HUD

Sonic Boom Crop

So what you see above is an in-development pic of Sonic Boom on Wii U, please keep in mind that anything you see in the debug data on the upper right is in no way an indication of the final product (so don’t panic over the 15FPS bit). Heck many bits aren’t even textured. I personally think it will be a night and day difference when we see the final version of the area. For now, we can have a look at the potential HUD, the general camera angle, and the layout of an area we’ll likely explore in the final game.

This was originally posted in a smaller resolution at AP, but was removed,  due to the appearance of a Wii U dev kit. We’ve decided to only share the main attraction, the actual screen and not the entire pic, we don’t want the Nintendo Ninjas to come after us next!

The large pic you see above was discovered by the user Finn from the Spindash.de forum (it’s best if we don’t link to it as it has the unaltered image), the exact origin of the pic however isn’t clear.

EDIT @ 3:20PM EST: Nevermind, it’s been decided we can link to the Spindash.de post, we just can’t put up the pic ourselves.

Here you go!

Who’s at Big Red Button? Part 2 – SuperBots are invading, we need reinforcements!

Big Red Button Entertainment Logo

For Part 1, look here!

It’s that time again! I’ve been busy doing more research on who’s at Big Red Button and working on the Wii U version of Sonic Boom.

Well my findings sort of come in almost two categories; the most common is the mass amount of former SuperBot Entertainment folks, the team behind PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, aka, Sony Smash Bros. Which by the way while it was never going to dethrone Smash, it looked like a very polished game from what I’ve seen, and Metacritic is pretty kind to it (only one reviewer gave it a horrendous 20/100 as the only score below 50, the game clearly is not shit).

The second category is held by one person, and it’s actually most deserving to be the highlight, more on that in a bit. 😉

Let’s start with a brief look at SuperBot. The team was formed in 2009 by a former Sony Santa Monica person (creators of God of War), and they were in fact, a 1st-Party developer of Sony, just as Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, Sony Santa Monica, etc, are.

Well that changed, after All-Stars didn’t sell well (I don’t remember the numbers), Sony cut ties with them, and they were hit HARD, many thought they had closed but they confirmed in April 2013 that they were still active.

Well it seems a lot of them went to Big Red Button, now let’s see who’s there!

Let’s start with Niles Tucker, who was an Environment Artist at SuperBot, is now the same at Big Red Button.

Next is Kevin Hsu, who was a Senior Level Designer at SuperBot, is now a Combat Designer at Big Red Button.

Then we have Johnathan Nielsen, who was a UI (User Interface) Programmer at SuperBot, is now a Programmer at Big Red Button.

Fourth is  Carl-Henrik Skårstedt, who was Lead Software Engineer at, you guessed it, SuperBot, is now a Senior Programmer at, right again, Big Red Button!

Yet again, we have Daniel Ramirez, who was a Senior Character Artist at SuperBot, is now a Lead Character Artist at Big Red Button.

Here we have Mark Vernon, Combat AI Designer at SuperBot, is now Combat Designer at Big Red Button.

Next is Lisa Kapitsas, who was a Producer at SuperBot. Now she’s a Producer at Big Red Button.

What’s that? No more? Wow, I thought this wouldn’t end! XD Seven SuperBot folks, holy cow. This is looking more like a SuperBot-based company than a Naughty Dog or Insomniac one don’t it?

There are a few extras before we get to the big bit, they are the following:

First is Greg Prior, who worked at Sony Santa Monica as a Junior Environment Artist, specifically on God of War: Ascension. He’s now an Environment Artist at Big Red Button.

Second is Dannie Carlone, who also worked at Sony Santa Monica, this time as an Environment Artist, again on God of War: Ascension, is now also an Environment Artist at Big Red Button.

Next is Ben Strickland, this time having been a Junior Designer at High Impact Games (I covered a few HIG folks in the first part), is now a Game Designer at Big Red Button.

Finally we have David Nam, who was an Animator at High Impact Games (but only for a few months, he actually was an Animator for a few years at Wayforward, who makes Shantae, Mighty Switch Force, etc), is now Junior Animator at Big Red Button.

But wait, this person also worked at Disney, as he says specifically:

Created hand drawn animations under the mentorship of Anthony DeRosa, and animated on several scenes for “Winnie the Pooh”

This is leading up to my favorite of the pack, saving the best for last, allow me to introduce Todd Ammons, this guys’ resume will blow your mind. He worked at Disney for many years during the 90’s and early 2000’s as Assistant Animator on MANY Disney Renaissance Era films like Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, Tarzan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc as he shows on his site! He also worked on animating in the film Barnyard, and actually worked at Insomniac for a year and a half as Senior Animator, animating in Ratchet Deadlocked and Resistance: Fall of Man. He worked on numerous games at Heavy Iron Studios including Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Spongebob: Truth or Square.

And he has an animation demo!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE1–ka5_BE

Here you’ll find clips of Ratchet, Barnyard, Ratatouille, Spongebob (oh my god this is my fav bit), a tiny clip of Home on the Range with Alameda Slim (the villain), among others.Guys, I think we’re in for a TREAT! He’s now Senior Animator at Big Red Button, and here’s his description of the position:

Responsible for development of Cinematic,Character,Camera and Game Animation for the main actors and enemies. Influential in creating a Combat style and adding personality to the heros

That wraps it up. I hope you enjoyed this, as I certainly have!

The Sonic List: Why Sonic Boom Will Be Awesome (And Why There’s Still Room For Concern).

Sonic Boom Logo

 

I truly believe Sonic Boom will be great. While the game trailer left me more confused than excited, you cannot deny the legacy of the developers working on the game. While Knuckles design has been incredibly controversial, one look at a scene from the show or listening to the recording sessions convinced me that the show is not only going to be very funny, but heading in the right direction. Yes, Sonic Boom has left some fans divided about its quality, but I don’t think there’s no denying that it’s looking better than originally anticipated. That said, if there’s one thing you should ALWAYS have with any Sonic media (except the comics) is caution. If there’s one thing Sonic Lost World taught us, is just because something looks great, doesn’t mean it will be. (I’m not saying SLW was bad, just…disappointing.)

That said, here is my list of reasons why Sonic Boom will be awesome and why you might still need to be cautiously optimistic.

"We're surround by Playstation developers!........Cool!"
“We’re surround by Playstation developers!……..Cool!”

The Game Developer’s Background

Why it’s awesome! – You’ve got former developers and art directors from Naughty Dog, High Impact Games and Chris Sean (the cancelled Sonic X-Treme) all working together to make Sonic Boom happen. There’s some solid talent here including Bob Rafei who was with Naughty dog from its very beginnings such as the Crash series, all of Jak and Daxter and up to the first Uncharted. Not only that, but there are several other Naughty Dog founders here along with staff from High Impact who worked on Ratchet and Clank and J&D games on PSP. It’s like seeing Sonic if he was developed for Playstation! This is their first big break though game under this new company so they know they can’t afford to mess it up. Not only that, but you have the uber-talented guys at Sanzaru games (Sly Cooper 4) working on the 3DS version. I could go on all day, but if you want to know more about these guys, just look at this article.

Why you should be cautious – All that Jak and Daxter talent seems to be leaking into the game itself. Just looking at the trailer, if you removed Sonic and the gang and replaced them with Jak and Daxter, it would seem almost MORE fitting (that “desert-punk” look reminds me a bit of Jak 2). There’s no doubt this team has the talents to make a great game, but do they have the talent to make a great Sonic game? Outside of that, there are some mediocre games in their back catalog including the fairly weak Secret Agent Clank. Still, it’s GOLD compared to some of the stuff Sonic Team’s put out.

"Knuckles is right. That upper-body work really pays off!"
“Knuckles is right. That upper-body work really pays off!”

The Cartoon Show

Why it’s awesome! – There’s been plenty of Sonic Cartoons over the years, but very little of good quality. Sonic SATAM is almost universally loved for its strong dramatic storytelling, Adventures had it’s good moments and watching Robotnik act goofy was always a treat, Sonic X while not that great, was fairly faithful to the games and brought in a new generation of fans and Sonic Underground was liked by a few because………I have no clue.

So many were worried about how Sonic would be represented in an 11 minute comedy-based CGI cartoon. Thankfully, we not only got one 3–minute scene from the show, but a behind the scenes moment of their voice recordings and I’m very happy with what I’ve seen and heard so far. While the jokes aren’t hilarious, the delivery by such superb voice actors as Mike Pollock and Roger Craig Smith help to deliver a very funny performance. Just a few of those moments were funnier than almost all of Adventures of Sonic. As a fan of the very silly Sonic X comic and of the writing in Sonic Colors, I’m very happy with this direction for the show.

Why you should be cautious – Because you’re all into dark drama and hate fun. XP

Okay, kidding aside, there were a few small concerns. Knuckles looks like he’s going to be the big, goofy dumb brute again and his “funny” dialogue sounded like stuff you’d hear on a bad Disney Channel comedy. Also, just from the small sample shown it’s obvious Amy Rose is still channeling her inner Minnie Mouse. “SIGH!” Speaking of…

"C'mon, you Ratchet and Clank reject!"
“C’mon, you Ratchet and Clank reject!”

Amy’s Character Change

Why it’s awesome! – For the longest time, Amy was just a one note character. Following and pining over Sonic with not enough development and growth. This changed over time and she became a little more strong and independent. This was in part thanks to having Cream the Rabbit as a sidekick (albeit that was really shown more in Sonic X and the comics).

With Sonic Boom, we no longer get a boy chaser in a frilly dress, but an athletic, gymnastic and stronger Amy Rose than before. Someone Sonic may be chasing after, rather than the other way around. Someone with less flaws, who’s smart, gymnastic and…..uh-oh. Uuuuhhhh-oooooh!

Because perfection is boring.
Because perfection is boring.

Why you should be cautious – This is part of the problem. Amy was already becoming tougher and more independent while still keeping her character flaws that made her a fun personality. What I definitely DON’T wanna see is Amy Rose become Sally “little miss perfect” Acorn. Sally has become the super-ultra, self-sacrificing, Christ-like Mary Sue of Mary Sues whose only flaw is caring too much and I really can’t stand her!! (Gee Jason, tell us how you really feel. Also, you covered this three weeks ago you idiot.)

In short, it’s cool for Amy to be tougher and more independent, as long as it doesn’t go overboard.

Go home Amy, you're drunk.
Go home Amy, you’re drunk.

“Finally, something interesting!” AKA The New World/Designs

Why it’s awesome! – By now, we’ve all seen the new designs and we all have our opinions on them. Buffles, the sports tape, blue arms, extra quills, you either love it or you hate it but you know what? At least it’s something different. We really haven’t had anything quite this unique and new in the Sonic franchise since “Sonic X” and even that was based mostly off the Sonic Adventure series of games. We’ve got a new design, new lands, new characters, new villains and more!  With all that newness on the horizon, what’s not be excited about? Plus if it doesn’t meet up to your expectations, you don’t have to worry about it replacing your favorite Sonic as it’s just its own thing. “A branch of the Sonic Franchise”.

Why you should be cautious – At best, Sonic Boom could re-ignite the Sonic franchise in a big way. At worst, we could have another Sonic ’06 that ruins the franchise further and we get more stupid “LOL Sonic-Cycle!” posts. Personally, I don’t believe it will go that way at all but you never know.

Also, just look at how ridiculous Knuckles looks. What with those tiny noodle arms attached to giant boxing gloves and don’t get me started on those Lego shoes. Wait, which Knuckles were we talking about?

Jason Berry wraps himself up every night in sports tape for……personal reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Who is at Big Red Button? What is their long quiet history? Let’s have a look and see…

Big Red Button Entertainment Logo

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. 🙂

Sonic Boom or Sonic Bust?

SB_LOGO_RGB_WHITEBG_1391691188I remember a time not too long ago where one could wake up to find out that their favourite blue hedgehog had taken up the hover board, had decided that swords were cool, or had a accumulated another new friend to add to the already brimming roster of colourful critters. At the time, Sonic had suffered a spate of mediocre to down-right poor titles, the most notorious being Sonic ’06. The prevailing morale of the online community was pretty low and on the morning of the announcement of Sonic Unleashed, images of the Werehog did nothing to inspire or reassure fans that a title of note was in the making. Forums lit up with debate, sites quizzed their audiences with “will it be good, won’t it be good?” polls and comment boxes became an arena for conflicts of opinion.

Many fans at the time, including myself, were certain that the train of thought implemented in the making of Sonic titles had become intrinsically flawed, with focus on graphics and sheen, rather than gameplay. Many desired to see a return to the roots of what made the classic Sonic titles so good, which ironically backfired somewhat with the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I. The last thing we were interested in was another gimmick, and this is what it looked like SEGA were about to present us with. On this occasion however, I couldn’t have been happier to be proven wrong. I love Sonic Unleashed, from the diverse soundtrack, to the lush worlds, to the level design to the Pixar feel of the characters. While not a perfect game in many respects, it was fun, and had elements to please both old and new fans. Not only that, Night of the Werehog was a fantastic little bonus; ten minutes of distilled genius and beautiful animation.

Fast forward six years and we seem to be back at this juncture once more.

sonicboomSonic the Hedgehog fans have had a lot of new information to assimilate over the last 48 hours with regards to the announcement of Sonic Boom, which will hit screens later in the year in both TV show and videogame incarnations. Scanning through my facebook feed, the general vibe from a lot of the younger members of the community is one of excitement at the prospect of another TV show, after all it has been a decade since Sonic X premiered on western screens (has it really been that long?). However, these announcements have been completely eclipsed by the news and images of the new character designs, which have in the cases for some characters, been fairly drastic.

But haven’t we been here before? If so, what is all the fuss about? Well, a few months back, we were all given a glimpse of some familiar shadows set against a wall. It was obvious that the main characters of the franchise were looking to get a makeover, and internet speculation about whether or not Knuckles had been hitting the gym exploded onto every Sonic-themed forum.

Boom10It seems almost seems surprising therefore, that the community has reacted in the way they have, given there was fair warning substantial changes to the character models were on the horizon. Indeed, Knuckles looks like he has now swallowed the Master emerald in a last-ditch attempt to prevent it from getting nicked. Other characters seem to have been less drastically altered, in most cases proportions have been subtly tweaked, and many would be forgiven in suggesting the team have had a recent run-in with the Andrex puppy. Admittedly, I’ve had a good giggle at some fan parodies and interpretations of these changes. Fortunately, fan reaction has been tempered by a follow up announcement that Sonic Boom would remain an isolated “sub franchise” and that these changes would not be canon.
So again, we come back to the question: what’s the big deal? Why has something like a change in the colour of Sonic’s arms hit such a nerve amongst fans?

Well, the likely answer to that is probably many fold. Firstly and most obviously, many fans probably fear that SEGA are back on down the gimmick route to promote new games. Sonic Lost World didn’t quite achieve the accolade many thought it might, and it’s understandable that there is apprehension over whether this is the dawn of the second era of the so-called “Sonic cycle”. Secondly, and more importantly I think, is the change in the base properties of the franchise. There aren’t many other fandoms that command such a loyal legion as Sonic does, and many are invested in the characters, the stories and the universe on the whole. So when something fundamental is modified, no matter how trivial it may seem to someone on the outside looking in, fans are going to react negatively; after all, why change something that isn’t broken? Indeed, most fans are questioning the necessity of equipping a hedgehog with a scarf and a copious quantity of sports bandages. Perhaps in some cases it is purely personal opinion. More curiously, many have noticed how pedantic SEGA have been in the past with regards to attention to character models, what they are allowed to be doing, and how they are represented in any media. Many perceive this as an almost complete U-turn on this previous ethos, and has opened up speculation to whether or not this is the result of a shift in those who call the shots when it comes to the franchise globally (although a recent statement from Iizuka picked up on TSSZ News announced that Boom will only be available to western markets).

soniclegsThe counter opinion of course, is that sometimes, change is good. You probably wouldn’t be seen dead in the clothes you were wearing a decade ago, and indeed, it could be seen as logical in this sense that over time, some things will inevitably update in order to remain fresh, keep with trends, and of course, interest a new generation. Back in 1998, Sonic underwent his transformation from a short fat spike-ball to a more athletic, green-eyed iteration of himself; that metamorphosis seemed on the whole a successful transition. Examining the timescales between those character models, it does seem like Sonic is well overdue a cosmetic overhaul.

Those of you who, like me, pine for another title with the same DNA as Unleashed, will no doubt be as giddy as I to see stunning pieces of concept art of environments, and some extremely amusing facial expressions from the cast, which lead to believe we will be getting a game with rich worlds to explore akin to Unleashed. Those worried about the game have had some reassuring news in that the development is in the hands of those behind the Uncharted and Jak and Daxter franchises (now developing under the name of Big Red Button), and if the quality of these titles are a reflection of what the next Sonic game will be like, we have nothing to worry about. The attitudes of SEGA have also markedly changed in the past half-decade, with the growth of an extremely competent and capable community team who have been receptive of fan feedback.  On top of this, the connection to fans has been reinforced through events such as Sonic Boom in the states and Summer of Sonic in the UK, which have both received an incredible reception from attending patrons.

I think as a community we have matured in many aspects; after all, many have now been fans for over twenty years; some are now employed in the video game business and are more able to understand the intricate nuisances that go into making a video game. That said, I think we shouldn’t fall into the trap of becoming grumpy old women and men, and forming opinions on changes purely because they “aren’t as good as they were back in the good old days”. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to whether or not you think the new direction Sonic is taking will be good or bad, as after all the main component at the end of the day is personal preference. I hope as an older and somewhat wiser community, we can hold final judgement of the “Sonic Renaissance” until we’ve seen the final product.

After all, we’ve only just read the first page of this new chapter of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic Boom announced for Wii U and 3DS

Edit 3:12PM EST: The official announcement from Sega:

http://blogs.sega.com/2014/02/06/sega-launches-new-franchise-strategy-for-sonic-the-hedgehog-with-sonic-boom/?0=1

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0a7-1wdDuw

For more than two decades, Sonic the Hedgehog has been one of the world’s biggest gaming icons, with over 70 video game titles, four animated series, and an extensive global merchandising line to his name.  This year, SEGA is excited to introduce a new branch of the Sonic universe, entitled Sonic Boom, that will debut a new look for Sonic and friends and launch their first-ever CG animated television series, new video games for Wii U  and Nintendo 3DS, and a new toy line.  The creative driving forces behind these projects are working together with SEGA to kick-start a global campaign for Sonic Boom that will excite and engage new and existing fans across a variety of platforms.

Sonic Boom’s visual identity includes character designs inspired by the abilities and unique personalities of each of the characters, while still maintaining the core identity and values of the Sonic brand.  The rich worlds of the TV series and videogame will share a common narrative and a number of location and stylistic similarities reflecting full collaboration between videogame, TV series partners and SEGA from the outset.

The Sonic Boom television series, co-produced by SEGA of America Inc. and OuiDO! Productions, will debut on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and on CANAL J and GULLI in France during the 2014/2015 season.  The series is an ensemble comedy consisting of 52 x 11-minute standalone episodes packed full of high-adrenaline action.  Every episode starts from a small character-driven story and explodes into an epic tale of saving the world, robot battles and more.

Serving as a prequel to the stories revealed in the TV series, the Sonic Boom video game will deliver a totally different experience to previous Sonic games with collaborative gameplay at its core.  Developed in the U.S by California-based Big Red Button Entertainment (Wii U) and Sanzaru Games (Nintendo 3DS) in collaboration with Sonic Team, this is the third title to be released as part of an exclusive deal with Nintendo.  Sonic Boom will take advantage of the innovative hardware of both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, with traditional elements of Sonic games, such as speed, also featured.  The videogame will also introduce exploration, combat and a new Enerbeam tether mechanic that will allow the Sonic Boom world to be discovered in totally unique ways.

Sonic Boom will be supported by a robust global licensing and merchandising program, anchored by new master toy partner TOMY. TOMY’s line will showcase the new character looks, stressing interaction between core characters, and will feature new play patterns based on both the new game and TV series.  TOMY will develop a comprehensive toy range across a broad number of categories including plush, action figures, RC, role play, vehicles and novelty. Sonic fans can expect a high-quality, collectible toy line fueled by TOMY innovation and energized with speed, lights, sounds, motion-activation and action-performance.  SEGA will launch a broad licensing program across multiple categories including toys, apparel, publishing, accessories, food and beverage, health and more – making this one of the biggest license initiatives SEGA has undertaken in recent years.  The company will enlist many of its current partners who have had tremendous success with Sonic over the past years while seeking new licensees to join this exciting new Sonic licensing program.

“We want to ensure that the Sonic brand continues to evolve and appeal to new generations of Sonic fans and this different look introduces a fresh approach that will be at once both familiar and new to consumers,” said John Cheng, President & COO, SEGA of America. “We are committed to supporting this initiative to provide great entertainment to fans for all aspects of their lives.”

Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared as a videogame character in June 1991 and instantly became an icon for a generation of gamers. Defined by his super-fast speed and cool attitude, in the years since he first raced on to videogame consoles Sonic has become a true global phenomenon with over 140 million videogames sold or downloaded worldwide across consoles, PC’s, mobile phones and tablets. SEGA’s iconic blue blur has also gone on to enjoy incredible success in many licensed areas, such as toys, apparel, comics and animation.

The Sonic Boom TV series is a co-production between SEGA of America, Inc. and OuiDO! Productions.  Executive producers on the show are Evan Baily, Donna Friedman Meir and Jane McGregor on behalf of SEGA, and Sandrine Nguyen and Boris Hertzog from OuiDO!.  Other partners involved in the TV series include Lagardère Entertainment Rights for distribution and Lagardère Active TV Licensing & New Business for licensing and merchandise in France.

Edit 3:03PM EST: Our friendly neighborhood Carbo has spotted a couple of interesting things.

1) A certain man named Chris Senn is at Big Red Button, who fans may recognize as a key player from Sonic X-Treme’s development team before its cancellation.

http://board.sonicstadium.org/topic/17839-sonic-boom-announced-wii-u3ds/page-3#entry829385

2) The game seems to run on CryEngine 3, as Crytek sneaked in a few seconds of environmental footage in their CE3 demo during Big Red Button’s segment at the very beginning (Edit 10:09PM EST: I cut and rehosted the clip as its own video for easy viewing):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAJE_twq4wE

http://board.sonicstadium.org/topic/17839-sonic-boom-announced-wii-u3ds/page-4#entry829419

Original Post:

A French video hosting website has posted a trailer of what appears to be the third Sonic title exclusive Nintendo. It’s based off the new CG cartoon series Sonic Boom.

Confirmed characters are Sonic, Knuckles, Amy and Tails, all showing off their new looks. From watching the trailer it has a very Sonic Heroes feel – each character has their own unique abilities, however segments show all characters on screen in the level at once.

The game is not being made by Sonic Team, but instead being co-developed by Sanzaru (Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time) and Big Red Button Entertainment (former developers of Naughty Dog).