SEGA has this evening released a photo on the Sonic Facebook page of the Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II billboard in San Francisco that the company previously stated was in the works. Nothing much else to say except it’s great to see SEGA putting Sonic in the public eye.
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.
Ah, California. Land of sunshine, economic instability and Katy Perry’s mysterious boobs. It’s also the home of SEGA of America. They will be hosting a community event this Friday and I will be there.
The Sonic Stadium continues its whirlwind tour of events with this stop at SOA HQ to take part in gaming tournaments and a Sonic 4: Episode 1 feedback session. I will be taking it all in, ask some questions, meet some people and drop some notes on what they can do to make Sonic 4: Episode 2 a game that I don’t make a glitch-exposing contest over. Who knows what’s going to happen? You’ll have to be here to find out.
I will be blogging my trip via Twitter. You can either follow my profile (@bradflick55) or the event’s hashtag (#TSSatSOA). You don’t need an account to see what I’m up to, but if you want to ask me questions at the event, you’ll need to get one. When it’s all said and done, check here over the weekend for a feature with an event recap, photos and a video of what went down.
Since the recent discussion and interest on Shadow The Hedgehog, there was not a respectable news report on celebrating Sonic being inducted into the ‘Walk of Game’. On Tuesday, March 8th, Sonic was inducted along with Mario, Halo, Nolan Bushnell, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Link. Sonic The Hedgehog beat out such competition as Solid Snake (Metal Gear) and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). The 6 inductees of the ‘Walk of Game’ were the very first in its history.