SEGA in recent years have had greater invested interest in the opinions and the involvement of the Sonic the Hedgehog fan community with many aspects to the franchise. One of their greatest assests are the people who work as the community teams, and liase with the fans; this line of communication has definitely had a hand in shaping the face of games over the past half decade.
Three years ago a new member joined the crew at SEGA of America, appearing frequently on the SEGA blogs and known only as RubyEclipse. Today, after many Free Stuff Fridays and blogs (and the occasional festive fanmail reading video), Aaron Webber has become one of the most well-known community members – and with good reason. Aaron has struck a fantastic balance over three years on the community team with SEGA, between being a professional, effective representative and ambassador for SEGA, as well as being a Sonic the Hedgehog fan himself. Aaron’s enthusiasm for his work along with the rest of his team has shone through and has remained unwavered in his time at SoA.
It will therefore sadden many of you to hear that Aaron has announced he will be departing the community team, however I’m sure you will all join us in congratulating Aaron in his promotion to Associate Brand Manager at SoA. We wish him all the best in managing his first assignment of the highly anticipated Sonic Generations (and we hope we will still see him pop up occasionally on FSF vids too!). You can read his final heartfelt blog on the SEGA blogs site.
I’d like to end on my favourite Webber moments from the last few years – if you haven’t seen these before…enjoy!
Friday in San Francisco was one of my favorite days of 2010. Considering all that has been happening on my end, that’s saying something (I graduated college this year, for starters). I’ve wanted to go to a SEGA sponsored event since I was a little kid, but never got the opportunity. Friday was the day.
I was wondering what kind of mental shape I’d be in going into this weekend. This past week, I’ve been in 2 cities on independent gigs and the long hours of work and flight time started to wear on me. Yeah, you sit on a chair in the sky for hours on end, but it still takes a lot out of you. San Francisco would be my third city of a four city tour. Frustrations were compounded when my flight was delayed six hours for maintenance. I could have driven from L.A. to San Francisco in that time. To kill it off, I beat Sonic CD 100% by skipping the special stages and instead destroyed every Roboticizer. I had never done that before and it ate up so much time. That, and I was talking to Kev and Aaron via Twitter every so often.
Luckily, the parent company of U.S. Airways also owns United Airlines and they transferred me to a 2:19 PM flight. An hour later, I was in San Francisco.
San Francisco is a beautiful place and I immediately felt more relaxed when gazing upon the cityscape. Upon arriving at the Holiday Inn, the bell boy, Mike, welcomed me and got me squared away. I changed, showered and got my tech ready for the event. Mike waved down a cab and offered me some delicious gum. We traded phone numbers and took me to a local diner for breakfast Saturday morning. He is one cool dude.
Once the elevator doors opened on the 4th floor of the building, I was instantly greeted by a massive Sonic statue and a pair of gaming kiosks. I was beaming and I felt stupid standing by myself away from the groups of people smiling. People were checking in and Aaron Webber, SOA’s Community Manager, was flying in and out, making sure everything was ready. He grouped us all together and put us in a conference room for us to mingle before we got started.
Aaron walked back in a few minutes later to greet us and lay down the itinerary for the night. Dinner was provided, a hearty helping of gourmet sandwiches and Coke products. They were tasty as hell. Delicious! Then, I met the only person I “knew” (quotes for the fact that I only know him through the Internet) at the event, Moonshadow Caz (real name Skyler). He came in character as Ben Kalough, PR from SEGA of Antarctica. What I thought was great is that, right away, we talked to each other like we’ve been real life buds for years, continuing our normal discourse from the forums and chat rooms. It definitely brought my comfort level up.
In this video: Ben Kalough reviews Sonic 4. Warning: sarcasm.
While eating, Aaron and SEGA’s customer service rep Robert Miles handed out PSPs and copies of Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star Portable 2 to those who didn’t have any. I have never touched a PSP or played a Valkyria/PSO game, so tonight would be another first. My PSP was glitter pink and therefore totally ruled all other PSPs. Hannah Montana stickers on the back would have been the icing on the cake.
I continued to screw around with these games when, all of a sudden, Ken Balough, Sonic 4’s Brand Manger, walked into the room. He is a huge fan of Skyler’s Ben Kalough videos. They shook hands, shared some laughs and posed for some pictures. Aaron asked Skyler what he thought of that moment and replied, “You know that one part in Chrono Trigger where time stops?” “Yeah, that one time,” said Aaron. “It was like that.” Truly the encounter as we imagined it.
Ben Kalough and I interviewed the guests during the PSP tournaments, asking them where they were from, why they were here, what they thought so far and assorted stupid, obvious-troll questions for kicks (“So, sir, what do you think of Sonic’s green eyes?”) that were met with laughter. For real… Skyler is a funny dude.
The PSP tournaments continued and I basically gave up on learning how to play. I was having illegal amounts of fun talking to everybody and getting their games captured on film. Networking with people is a valuable skill and it’s something I enjoy doing (it’s also how I survive in my industry). It was also cool to see strangers getting together to duke it out in the same room.
(Sweet side-note: everybody got to keep their copies of Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star Portable 2.)
Ken and I started talking for a while during the tournaments as well. I was asking him about his job, what difficulties he has had and SEGA’s new marketing strategy for Sonic, where they appeal to each side of the fanbase. We both felt that it was about time SEGA recognized the generational gap that was created with Sonic Adventure and, hopefully, down the road, SEGA is able to capitalize on it.
We gathered back in the conference room, a white board now sitting at the front. It was time for the Sonic 4: Episode 1 feedback session. Aaron set the stage for criticism when he asked everybody in the room, which was about 50-60 people, if they liked the game. One guy kind-of raised his hand. That’s it. “Fair enough,” said Aaron with a smile.
The first thing he wrote on the board, to our chuckles, was “physics.” Were you expecting something else? (If you did, I’m disappointed in you.) The discussion about the game engine went for about 10-12 minutes, about half of the time allotted for the meeting. We talked about level design, level-specific gimmicks, bottomless pits, homing attack, music… everything, really. All the guys from SOA were awesome and open to it.
Feedback was mostly coming from about five people with a few other people throwing in their two cents. There was a guy in one back corner of the room, a guy near the front and the “Sonic Retro Contingent” in the back corner, consisting of myself, Skyler and Sammybeany (Carl). I don’t know if people were shy or hadn’t played the game, but that’s just how it was. Us Retro dudes had the most to say (again, what did you expect?) and I thought everything was articulated by everybody involved exceedingly well and, in Carl’s case, passionate. People are riding Carl like a rodeo show right now for his comments on the event, but there were people who were shaking his hand and liking what he had said back there. If he was being unruly, he would have been tossed. If you weren’t there to see him, please shut up. That’s how he feels, so let him feel it. He’s a fun guy to hang out with.
I, too, would have liked to see the feedback session go on a bit longer. There’s not much left to say about the game, but we did spill over the allotted time a few minutes with more on the table, so I think another half hour would have been beneficial. With the meeting’s brevity and all of what we said already online in the form of reviews and forum topics, I prepared myself for being as concise as possible. I managed to touch base on everything with succinct points. I had so much time to think about what I was going to say in the airport and on the plane. A lot of people expected me to go in guns-a-blazing and tear the house down without restraint, like it were the old Slingerland’s Corner on The Sonic Show. Well, that’d be really stupid. I know when I’m putting on a show and when I’m not. That’s not the approach you take into an atmosphere like this one.
For those 30 minutes, being there made me feel like I was a part of the game development. In the grand scheme, I was an extremely small part, but a part nonetheless. If anybody knows of my fangaming exploits, then you know that I’m big into game creation in my spare time, especially the classic Sonic experience. The fangaming/ROM hacking communities were (and I guess, depending on your perception of Sonic 4, you could say still are) the only place keeping that experience alive. Now that SEGA is back into it, I want them to be as successful with it as possible, because, as success with the Retro-Sonic, Sonic XG, Sonic Nexus and Sonic Fan Remix demos have illustrated (Ken did mention SFR during the meeting), it’s a formula that is still wildly appealing with a fanbase all its own. A fanbase that they deeply want back.
My reasoning behind getting into fangaming mid-way through the last decade and creating a game with a high level of authenticity and professionalism was because SEGA stopped making those games and has struggled with Sonic since then. It was something I wanted to see again. I sought to impart any knowledge that I could to help the next episode be something that would take that monkey off my back to see that 2D Sonic magic return full-time. Honestly, when I get time (which isn’t often anymore with my constant traveling), it has been tough to fangame with Sonic 4 out there.
Interaction with people was another plus. I’m not sure if you have noticed this trend in the last couple of years, but a fair share of the community are batshit crazy on negative opinions over anything Sonic-related. They sniff it out, they find it and they bitch in comment boxes about how the author is a “retrofag,” “unpleaseable,” or how he’s “raging”/bitching himself, regardless of how well he/she presents his/her points.
At this meeting, everybody was chill, nobody raised their voice to an intolerable volume or tone and nobody involved with the game got defensive about anything said. It was like the exact opposite of reading the comment boxes at any of the fansites. Svend refers to it as the “Summer of Sonic Effect.” I wish more people would act more like everybody did at the feedback session on the forums. It’d make all of our jobs as writers and moderators more tolerable and we’d all have a better time. It was so refreshing to talk about this game in a group and not be attacked day and night for it. Binky and his armchair were done proud.
In short, to close this section out, the feedback session was just what has been said over and over the past few months, but I think it was great for SEGA to see those reactions coming from actual mouths. How a person presents a point and illustrates it for the other helps the validity of said point, I believe. Having that instant discourse, as opposed to delayed over a forum or messages, between developers (in this case, brand manager) and players helps, too.
With the feedback session winding down, Aaron started wheeling out boxes of prizes for a raffle. The champions of the PSP tournaments were literally crowned before people walked away with a Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing slot car game, a clock, a variety of figurines or posters. Skyler actually walked away with the biggest prize of the night. As was the status quo for the evening, everybody was ogling while I stood there not knowing a thing about it. It was a large Valkyria Chronicles figure that has not been released yet and it was more expensive than the game itself to boot! I didn’t win anything, but at least I got a goodie-bag. I didn’t really care. I was just happy to be there. I wouldn’t know how to get it back home anyway because I only came with carry-ons!
With the event officially over, people stuck around and talked to each other for about another half hour or so. I was talking to Robert, Ken, Julian, Kellie, Kareem and Aaron and I exchanged business cards or contact info with most of them. Ken then took Skyler, Carl and I to his cubicle where we took pictures of Ben Kalough at work. We chatted some more on a few things and Skyler and Carl said their goodbyes.
I stuck around the latest and, as a result, was without the free shuttle service back to the hotel or a cab. Ken gave me a ride back to the Holiday Inn and that was super cool of him. I know that I’ve already left you a thank you voicemail but I just want to reiterate my thanks to you, Ken, for the lift and the opportunity to speak with you at length. Everybody else at SOA was great, too. You guys are respectful, extraordinarily friendly, down-to-Earth people. Guests, including myself, made jokes at SEGA’s expense in front of everybody (hell, Ben Kalough was a walking punch-line) and you laughed with us. You guys are the kind of people I enjoy being around.
It also helped that we all had a bond between us going into Friday. I don’t think I have to mention specifically what that bond is, but it involves an angry young man in a dark corner of the Sonic community. We’re all card-carrying “Club” members. 😉
SEGA is a much different company than they have been over the past decade. Not only do they open their doors to the public, but they’re in our fan forums, providing us with some exclusive content and exposure and understand the professionalism and perspective that is necessary at their position. That includes dealing with the opinions and occasional mockery from people like me and then saying, “Hey, you wanna go get a beer sometime?” Beer rules. SOA rules.
Also, thank you to all the guests. All of you were really cool and thanks again for talking to the camera for me.
To the people that made my trip possible: thank you. Nuckles87 paid for my trip. How cool of him is that? Very. Very effing cool. Also, it was Jason’s idea to send me there and represent this site. I thank him for his vote of confidence in me to voice my opinion on Sonic 4. Finally, thanks to a pair Food Network producers who re-scheduled Friday into a B-roll day so that they could cut their sound guy loose to go talk about blue hedgehog games.
My adventure in San Francisco was awesome and I hope they hold another event soon. I will have contests up this week because I have a lot of SEGA swag to give away, ranging from buttons to t-shirts. Stay tuned for that, as well as a video of the whole community event on The Sonic Show.
To those who were following me on Twitter, I was so wrapped up in the event (and filming it) that I forgot to tweet more. I only took a handful of photos. I had a laptop and a webcam there, too, so that I could live-stream the meeting, but the stream quality was so piss-poor that it wasn’t worth the trouble. So, it’s all in the video!
I really want to go to Summer of Sonic now. After meeting some people here, I can only imagine that SoS would be absolutely insane. Svend and I would brofist so hard, we’d make Big Ben run backwards.
If any Stadium readers in Toronto are free, I’ve got some gigs there starting next Saturday. We’re playing pond hockey in Sonic Colors hats. That is all.
SEGA attended this years J-Pop Summit Festival yesterday and brought along playable demos of some of their upcoming games for attendees to get some hands-on time with. Sonic fans were also treated to a presentation of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on the big screen in the Viz Cinema, where SEGA of America’s Aaron Webber aka RubyEclipse played through Act 1 of Splash Hill Zone in an attempt to beat a time record set at the event. Does he beat it? See for yourself. The demo shown appears to be from a new build, since it has the changes to it RubyEclipse has mentioned up until now at the SEGA Blogs, such as a new running animation, achieving ‘blurry’ feet’ quicker and the ability to run off screen at the end of an Act.
What do you think of this new build? Speak out in the comments.
Thanks to YouTube user JostheLynx for the footage.
If you’re a fan of SEGA or Sonic the Hedgehog on Facebook, you might have seen the pics of Aaron Webber’s desk. Now, there is a video! Aaron, the community manager for SEGA of America, went on a 3-week vacation and returned to find that his cubicle was turned into Green Hill Zone:
I talked to Aaron yesterday and we determined that this prank really isn’t a prank. It’s too cool to be a prank. Who doesn’t want their desk to be a fully functioning Green Hill Zone? Aaron said that he might leave his desk in Green Hill form for a while. Check the gallery below for the pics uploaded earlier this week.
Those awaiting updates for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 will be glad to hear that they won’t have to wait much longer. SEGA of America Community Manager RubyEclipse has revealed in a post at the SEGA Forums yesterday that the updates could be coming as soon as next week and hints at the next zone reveal by stating that the Sonic 4 website will be getting a new zone overhaul. In his post, RubyEclipse has a question to ask of the fans before SEGA reveal anything, “Would you guys like to know only about the biggest updates to the final version of the game, or would you also like to know about the smaller ones?”
Sonic 4 update question – for you guys!
With our Sonic 4 Birthday Contest wrapping up soon and our final Hedgehog Day prizes about to go out the door, I have a question for you all with regard to the next news about the game.
Coming up, we’re going to be revealing many of the changes that we spoke about a couple months ago when we announced the extended development. With the website getting another big zone overhaul (possibly as soon as next week), I wanted to pose another question to you guys and get your thoughts.
Would you guys like to know only about the biggest updates to the final version of the game, or would you also like to know about the smaller ones? I ask because though not every update is massively game changing, there are some nice minor touches that I think some fans would appreciate. In any case, I’d like to know what you guys think, since you’re all quite passionate and engaged. (You too, lurkers!)
Let us know which you’d prefer (only big changes, or all changes) in a post below. I’ll be looking over the feedback for a couple days until the end of this Thursday. Thanks everyone!
As stated in the above post, answers are to be posted in the SEGA Forums topic and must be in by the end of tomorrow to be taken into consideration.
GameStop (that’s not a typo, I do mean GameStop not GameSpot) are at E3 and have managed to grab the above interview with SEGA of America Community Manager Aaron Webber or RubyEclipse as alot of you will know him. Aaron is asked about Valkyria Chronicles 2 on PSP and Vanquish on Xbox 360/PS3 but if you skip to the 3:13 mark he speaks about Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. Aaron reiterates the announcement a short while back regarding the games extra development time that’s been added to implement fan feedback to the game while also reaffirming the fact that the E3 demo contains just a few changes with more to come. As soon as we hear about the further edits we’ll let you know.
The man behind SEGA’s Needlemouse contests and announcements was asked to weigh in on the on-going “classic vs. modern” debate on the official SEGA forums. His opinion sways in neither direction, as he makes a case for both, but he ultimately assures us that the final verdict will come down to gameplay and not the design of the character.
First, he talked about the image and memories that classic Sonic evokes:
To many fans, Classic Sonic represents a golden era for both Sonic and for SEGA. He symbolizes quality games and memories that, even though slightly rose tinted with age, were still times many of us can look back fondly on.
Modern Sonic, with green eyes, is more largely associated with Sonic Adventure and the games following. To fans of purely Classic Sonic, green eyes represent the advent of Big the Cat and other characters, gameplay that differed from the norm, etc.
That was my issue upon seeing the modern Sonic design (like, I don’t give a damn about the green eyes… just everything else). Most people, including myself, saw modern Sonic and associated it with the last decade of gameplay that strayed away from Sonic and introduced a slew of new characters in some unfavorable games. It has the ability to give off what the final product of “Sonic 4” might be like, regardless of the “3 seconds of footage” counter-argument. Again, it’ s just a knee-jerk reaction that happens when you’ve been waiting for “Sonic 4” for 16 years.
Ruby also commented on the “anti-green eyes” movement that one-half of the fanbase is standing behind. He mentions that it’s not the color of the eyes that we remember, but the well-aged gameplay of the originals:
The color of Sonic’s eyes may be important, especially to some, but far more important to me is the gameplay itself.
We don’t remember the old games as classics because Sonic’s eyes were black and he happened to be a little chubbier. We remember them because they were good games, first and foremost. That’s the truth for me, at least.
With his neutral stance on his preference and indifference for eye color, he makes a point that this game’s legacy will be cemented on gameplay and not design. While he fails to mention the other differing aspects between the two Sonic designs that probably irk most classic Sonic supporters more than eye color (track-star design, huge quills), his statement still holds true and was correct even before articles, forum posts, and blog rants came about a few days ago.
Another post by forum member “Catboy” brought up a “cigarette mentality” that the classic crowd is going through. One that I can say that I am feeling:
To put it simply, if a fan abhors the look of a character of which they’re forced to use, that inherent hate can bog down the general enjoyment of a game.
It’s like a cigarette + state of mind.
RubyEclipse responded to this comment and asked fans on both sides of the fence to keep voicing their opinions. He acknowledged that SEGA is doing a better job of reading into their fans on their forums and fansites such as this one:
Yep, I totally hear you Catboy.
Know that we are still listening. The feedback that fans have – be it for classic or modern – is something we will continue to compile and send upwards internally.
So, whichever type of Sonic you prefer – or even if you really don’t care – make sure to post at least once, somewhere, about it. You may not see the results immediately, but then again, you rarely will with things that matter most.
While RubyEclipse does not work on the project himself, he is a go between for the fans. Both the want for classic and modern Sonic is being taken into account and he will send it to the “Sonic 4” team.
What the ultimate point of this community blog post is a matter of respect. RubyEclipse, a SEGA employee, came out and participated in a discussion that has been the hot topic of every Sonic website since the trailers launch. While company participation in fan issues is important due to its rarity within this fanbase, his respect for both sides of the debate should be noticed and taken with everybody as they weigh in on message boards and comment walls.
He didn’t come out and brush off anybody’s opinion, name-call, or harass just because somebody’s opinion was different than his own. It was something that I saw few and far between in each of our articles that we posted a few days ago (Dread’s was slanted positively; mine was the obvious negative… we disagree, but we’re still best buds aka “broniks”). The same thing occurred when reviews came out for games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic & the Black Knight.
Reviews and articles that slammed those games (or Sonic 4 in this instance) were just outright ignored by hot-heads and authors were being called things like “biased,” “idiots,” “babies,” “unpleaseable” (which isn’t a word) and “complete fucking morons who aren’t intelligent at all.” Some people didn’t even choose to read the whole thing. Dread and I didn’t cut each other or any reader of a different opinion down and yet, people were going off.
Why does that have to happen? Nobody’s going to think or feel the same way. This wild difference in opinion isn’t exclusive to the Sonic fandom either. It’s everywhere in the world.
I might have read too far into RubyEclipse’s posts, but that’s okay. By doing so, I felt better about the situation unfolding across the blue-hedgehog-forum universe. So, complaining about complainers or cut others down? It doesn’t help. It makes everything worse (complaining about complaining is still complaining). As RubyEclipse said, those that voice against you have a right to their opinion, too, and it might even be taken into consideration by those in charge.
Unless that opinion is whether a scientifically-proven illness is “real” or “fake.” Then, you can just get the hell out. 😉
Hey, here’s a bonus. How about a fun “compromise?” Aaaayyyyy?
Were you upset today at the incredibly lame Needlemouse reveal that featured drawings of stuff that we saw last decade and a song that was composed in FL Studio? Well, get used to seeing more of that until Thursday.
The man responsible for posting all of these Needlemouse challenges and general nonsense, RubyEclipse, on the SEGA America blogs went over to NeoGAF today and made a comment about when actual information about Needlemouse would be coming out.
Nope, this Thursday all the big stuff is out of the bag. The second Needlemouse Challenge was also the last, as mentioned when the blog went up.
I know some people would have liked more than just a couple pieces of concept art – and I can understand that sentiment, knowing how excited and hopeful people are about the game. As huge as the hype may be, I personally think the wait to Thursday is well worth it – so, when that day comes, we’ll see if people agree.
So, there you have it. Wait until Thursday. Until then, enjoy the feeling and spirit of classic Sonic taking you over.
It is good to read some comments about you guys enjoying the music though – and that’s really just a small sample, as the best tracks are yet to come.
There better be better tracks. Damn, that little ditty on the SEGA homepage was really bad.
SEGA staffer Ruby Eclipse has made an update on the SEGA of America Blog regarding Project Needlemouse Challenge II. It appears the Sonic community has pulverised the requested 100 pieces of art as the current ammount of submissions now stands at over 350 entries so give yourselves a well deserved pat on the back.
In celebration of the effort that’s been put in RubyEclipse had this to say –
That makes all of us – including, hopefully, you guys – very happy. The challenge has been bested within 48 hours, and as a result next week is going to be the Week of the Hedgehog! The celebration will begin next Tuesday on Hedgehog Day, (step aside, groundhog!) with a special massive swag giveaway and concept art reveal, and will lead into our biggest announcement going live as we approach next weekend. Trust us when we say that February is going to be a very good month.
Now then – to celebrate your success, we’d like to offer you guys additional rewards for continuing to send in your concept art – and some very awesome concept art, at that! So,for every 50 pieces of Concept Art (past 100), we will give away one extra piece of Sonic Merchandise during our Hedgehog Day giveaway!
To close RubyEclipse wanted to put an end to a rumour about the project that’s been going around to no end until now –
Oh, and as another bonus, let’s go ahead and dispel away a little rumor that we’ve noticed in the comments:
Project Needlemouse is not an HD version of Sonic 1. These may be old badniks, but when we said all-new adventure, we meant it.
The SEGA staff have picked out a bunch of their favourite pieces of concept art sent in and posted them up on the Blog for all to see. Has your entry been posted up? Excited about Hedgehog Day? Let us know in the comments