Sonic the Hedgehog (video game)
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Sonic the Hedgehog, often times called Sonic 1, is the first video game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. It was made by Sonic Team and published by Sega for the Sega Mega Drive in 1991. It has many sequels and spin-offs. The beta/prototype (proto) version got made on January 1, 1987.
Plot[change | change source]
On the lush, tropical paradise of South Island, Sonic the Hedgehog's animal friends begin disappearing one by one. When he discovers that the evil scientist, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, has been kidnapping them and converting them into robotic Badniks as part of a plot to collect all six of the fabled Chaos Emeralds, Sonic decides it's up to him to save them, and embarks on a quest to free his friends and thwart the evil schemes of Robotnik.
As Sonic races through the Zones of the island, he engages in numerous confrontations with the nefarious Robotnik and his deadly machines, and one by one frees the animals from their robotic shells and capsules placed at the end of almost every zone. In their final confrontation, the Doctor prepares his last dastardly contraption to end his adversary but proves no match for Sonic's awesome might, and his machine is totaled. Fleeing with his tail between his legs, Robotnik abandons his laboratory as it explodes, crumbling to scrap, with Sonic narrowly escaping. Following his escape, Sonic finally returns to the vast Green Hills where his journey began.
In the game's normal ending, Sonic gives the player an annoyed look before posing for the screen, and Robotnik will be shown after the credits juggling all Chaos Emeralds the player missed, with a "Try Again" message taunting them.
However, if the player succeeds in collecting the six Emeralds by the end of the game, the player is rewarded with the good ending, where the six Chaos Emeralds react to one another and release a burst of light before disappearing, rejuvenating the wildlife and nature of South Island, leaving Sonic astonished before he jumps up towards the screen and poses. In the post-credits scene, Dr. Robotnik is shown humorously stomping on the "End" text in a tantrum-fueled attempt to crush it, to no avail.
Development[change | change source]
In the mid-1980's, there was no question that Nintendo had overtaken the videogame market. With its Famicom system in Japan and the Nintendo Entertainment System in the west, the 8-bit powerhouse defined an entire generation of gamers. Though Sega had received marginal success with their first mainstream videogame console, the Sega Master System, it was unable to compete with the device that had saved the industry in America. Wanting to be known for more than just their arcade hits, Sega was not ready to give up on the console market, releasing their entry into the 16-bit wars in October of 1988 in Japan. The Sega Mega Drive, renamed the Sega Genesis when premiering in the United States the following January, was Sega's bid to become a major player in the gaming world, in the hopes of usurping the house that Mario built. However, the executives of the company knew there was still an essential element missing from the equation that would push them beyond both the NES and its upcoming successor, the Super Nintendo.
During the Master System's tenure, Sega had poised Alex Kidd as the company's mascot, releasing a handful of games in that franchise. However, the character never gained the momentum they had hoped for. Realizing the importance of having a strong, central figure to embody what they wanted to accomplish, Sega began an internal competition across all of its branches to create the company's answer to the Super Mario Bros. series. For months, numerous character designs were drawn up by an untold number of people, ranging from American wolves to overall-wearing chickens. One of the men who actively submitted characters to the contest was Naoto Ohshima, a designer who had previously worked on the Phantasy Star series. Early on, Ohshima sketched up a plethora of potential headliners, including a rabbit, a mustached-man in pajamas, and a scribble of a hedgehog. The initial favorite was the rabbit, who would run through levels picking up items with his ears and throwing them at oncoming enemies.
After some initial discussion, Ohshima approached Yuji Naka to collaborate with him on the project. An up-and-coming programmer, he had previously worked with the designer on the first two Phantasy Star titles. Having freshly come off of a robot-based game that had been cancelled early on, Naka was eager to get back to work, and soon the two men began discussing just what the game could evolve into. One of the aspects that intrigued Naka most was the inherit speed in the game's design. Even as a young child, Yuji Naka had been transfixed by fast cars including the Ferrari line, and after getting into the games industry wanted to capture that feeling, something that a platformer had not yet accomplished.
As the earliest form of the engine took shape, Naka realized that trying to keep the game running smoothly and maintain speed was almost impossible with the current game mechanic. Having to stop and pick up items broke the flow, especially since the team wanted to keep the controls simple, having to use only one button as opposed to Mario's two-button scheme. Luckily, they wouldn't have to tackle the problem alone, as another employee at Sega would soon join their racks, Hirokazu Yasuhara.
Yasuhara, who would become the Director and Game Planner of what would become Sonic the Hedgehog, was no stranger to the group, having collaborated with Ohshima on the title Final Labyrinth. The first problem he knew they had to tackle was the attack mechanic, realizing if only one button was at their disposal, they needed to combine the jump and attack into one swift motion. Discussing with the other two, they came to the conclusion of having the character himself become the projectile, curling into a ball and able to attack enemies from any side. The rabbit was quickly cast aside as thoughts turned back to Ohshima's other conceptual drawings. While the man with the mustache was still a favorite, it was clear he would not be appropriate for what the game called of him. Instead, they looked at an armadillo sketch and that quick scribble of a hedgehog. As the spines of a hedgehog gave off the illusion of speed, gave off a more urgent sense of attack as opposed to an armadillos shielding, and that it was humorously ironic that a slow creature could break the sound barrier, Ohshima began to rework the character into something that could be turned into the company's mascot.
An early promotional drawing of Sonic. Featured in the Summer 1991 issue of SPEC.
The character, originally called Mr. Hedgehog, was from the get-go meant to not only be a reflection of Sega, but an embodiment of the best the United States had to offer. At the time, it was believed that if a franchise was to become popular in the west, it would automatically succeed in Japan as well. Taking inspiration from classic animation with its simple curves and large, expressive eyes, "Mr. Needlemouse" was styled after the likes of Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse, slowly morphing into "The Most Famous Hedgehog in the World." While the blue hue of the character was directly drawn from the color of the company's logo, the splash of red and white found in the shoes was inspired from one of the most famous American creations of all - Santa Claus. The physical design, buckle and all, was drawn from the look of Michael Jackson, one of the biggest pop stars of the 1980's, and his footwear visible on the Bad album cover. Finally, the "get-it-done" attitude the creators wanted reflected in the hedgehog was drawn from a rising star in U.S. politics, Bill Clinton, who was at the time Governor of Arkansas. With all these elements merging together, and receiving a name change, Sonic the Hedgehog was born.
These changes were not initially told to higher-ups at Sega, who still thought the AM8 division was working on the throwing-rabbit game. When time came for the small number of development teams to present their game proposals, no one knew exactly how Sonic would be received. It was this reason that Ohshima decided to go the extra mile to help sell the character of Sonic. Earlier, during a brief moment of relaxation, Ohshima had gone on vacation to New York City. Armed with his many conceptual drawings including the mustached man and the blue hedgehog, Naoto culled the opinions of passers-by in Central Park, asking which of the group he held they preferred. Sonic clearly being the winner, he planned to use this as proof of Sonic's appeal to a mass audience. Not content with just anecdotal evidence, the team also consulted with Sega's marketing department, producing an early Sonic the Hedgehog plush that would be used during the pitch. Showcasing Sonic's marketability, coupled with the strength of the game, AM8 was given the green light.
Work on the game began in April of 1990, the mythology of Sonic being actively worked on in tangent with the game engine and design. Originally, Sonic was meant to be in a rock band, have a human girlfriend, and fight off monsters and a certain egg-shaped man dressed as a bumblebee. It was over time that many of these elements were streamlined or removed altogether, the team instead focusing on building the world of South Island, the game's locale. Even if the world they were building was to be visually stunning, Ohshima knew that a protagonist was only as good as the villain they were fighting, something evident in the American comic books that he adored as a child. Going back to the one design that seemed to never quite make the cut, the mustached man, Ohshima began working on simplifying the design. Wanting to create an antagonist that was simple to draw for young kids, the original pajamas the character wore and even the brief bumblebee clothing was replaced by a black, red and yellow ensemble. With that, Dr. Eggman was born, set to terrorize Sonic and his animal friends.
The tour poster for Dreams Come True in 1990, officially unveiling Sonic the Hedgehog to the world.
Sonic's first public appearance was at the Tokyo Toy Show in June of 1990, showing off a tech demo of the earliest form of Sonic the Hedgehog. After that, media for the game went quiet, Sega of Japan instead showing off the character in other ways. In the November 1990 issue of Sega Players Enjoy Club, a brief "interview" with Sonic was published, establishing his attitude and his birthplace of Christmas Island. The feature also served as a way to introduce the musician behind the game, DREAMS COME TRUE's Masato Nakamura. Already an established and successful musical act, Nakamura was hired to compose the tracks that would pepper the game. Using the level concept art drawn by Ohshima as inspiration, Nakamura treated the score like he was composing music for a film, wanting the notes to evoke what was on screen. Though the sound chip could only produce a limited amount of channels at once, Nakamura saw this as a challenge, needing to be careful in his construction of the music, his inspiration creating the unique score that would further define the world of Sonic. Wanting to capitalize on the fact DREAMS COME TRUE was involved with their game, Sega became a primary sponsor for their 1990 tour, the image of Sonic stamped throughout the posters and tour buses the pop-group would use.
Work on the game continued nearly non-stop, the 11-month production cycle unheard of for games of the era. One of the core elements, the game engine, was continuously tweaked and altered during this time, in order to make Sonic and its momentum-based physics work, with even Sonic running through loop-de-loops becoming an algorithmic frustration. The limit of what Sonic's speed should be soon became a point of contention, Naka pushing the engine more and more until even he found himself nearly getting motion sickness from the pace the game moved at. Working diligently, Yuji Naka strived to find the right balance of motion for the character, one that would emphasize the speedy nature of the gameplay while at the same time being slow enough so anyone could pick up and play without being overwhelmed, that balance including making sure the animations for the hedgehog looked and flowed naturally.
As the engine became solid and the visual style of the world grew, Hirokazu Yasuhara sought to create an experience that did not appeal to just one particular market. Knowing that the west was more interested in challenging obstacles while the east tended to be more casual with their mainstream gaming, Yasuhara wanted to make a game that balanced both of those qualities. Careful consideration was put into the construction of each unique zone, Yasuhara working on the level design of every act. The one level that was recreated time and time again was the Green Hill Zone, taking half a year until it reached a nearly complete state. As this was the player's first exposure to what Sonic the Hedgehog was to be, it was imperative that it have a careful balance of challenge and fun, also tying into Naka's philosophy of being able to better your time and skill through subsequent playthroughs.
As the 8-strong team of AM8 neared completion of the program, they dubbed themselves "Sonic Team," after the project that could make or break their company. Conscripting Akira Watanabe to create the distinctive pop-art inspired packaging, plus darkening the sprite of Sonic's shade of blue to better stand out from the blue skies and oceans that was integral to the look of South Island, the final product was nearly formed. A three-part mini-comic, the Sonic the Hedgehog Story Comic, was commissioned to help advertise the game in Japan. Showcasing the world of Sonic, the comic draws from elements during production that were either altered or removed from the final game, including prototype level names and a scene where Sonic is clearly a singer in a band.
Developed entirely in Japan, the game would see release first in the west, premiering on U.S. shores on June 23rd, 1991. Some extra graphical effects and a few bugs would be polished for the Japanese release a month later, but it was with this game that the 16-bit wars truly began. Drawing critical and commercial success, Sonic the Hedgehog brought the character - and the company behind it - into the minds of the general public.
While there were plans to port the game to both the Amiga and the Mega-CD, it was decided that the game would remain on the Mega Drive for the time being, letting the cart become one of the main selling points for the system.