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Big Red Button reflects on Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, SEGA on Sonic’s future and more

Posted on February 8, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in News, Wii U

Today, Polygon published a massive piece about Sonic’s history. The site chronicled the series’ early times all the way up through Rise of Lyric as well as the future (in general terms).

We highly suggest giving the full article a read here if you’re a fan of Sonic. But after the break, you can find a breakdown of comments from Big Red Button CEO and co-founder Bob Rafei about Rise of Lyric as well as other comments from SEGA about the franchise.

“Unfortunately, the reception to [Rise of Lyric] was not as strong as we would have hoped. This industry really is punishing if you don’t have a product that performs well. We nearly closed the studio.” – Rafei

“If you stay the same, I believe you stagnate, and that’s a slow death.” – Rafei

– Rafei says SEGA was “brave”
– He admires its willingness to change and evolve its “grandfather character” something we may not see from a company like Nintendo, who has “stayed true to the Italian plumber formula”
– Sonic was originally a showcase for how fast the SEGA Genesis could process information
– However, Rafei says there comes a point when it can all be too fast and the player’s mind can’t keep up
– This is when Sega began exploring its flagship character’s personality, giving Sonic and other characters in the series their own unique stories
– Taking influence from titles like Sonic Adventure and the games that followed, the Boom series followed suit
– Wanted to explore Sonic and friends’ personalities as characters and focusing on character action

“The goal of the Sonic Boom brand was to make Sonic a bit more [well rounded] and to increase the other characters’ personalities.” – Rafei

– SEGA and Big Red Button came together as different entities to “really define what the Sonic brand was about” and to create a “consistent vision” for how the character would interact with a strong supporting cast
– Rafei says that Sonic Team gave the developer “guardrails” to explore within as to what changes made sense visually, thematically and stylistically for its character
– The two parties gave “tremendous care” to maintain the brand of the character
– Iizuka and Sonic Team would give Big Red Button feedback during the development of Rise of Lyric, choosing and critiquing what changes were acceptable and denying changes they believed went against Sonic’s character
– Cultural differences came into play when considering acceptable changes for Sonic
– Westerners may want to try different things, but Easterners are much more rooted in maintaining the historical representation and “legacy of the brand”
– Iizuka told Big Red Button that he always has to consider the “ghosts of Sonic” when there’s a discussion about changing the themes or style of the franchise

“Sometimes it would be very difficult to understand what exactly was the concern and we had to really drill deeper to figure out what [were] the subtleties that [weren’t] working for [Sega].” – Rafei

– Big Red Button spent a lot of time on things such as Sonic’s eyes and proportions in order to make them fit Sonic Team’s vision

“It makes sense, because, you know, we’re moved on now from Sonic, but Sonic Team has to live with that. So, we wanted to make sure that we were the proper stewards of the brand.” – Rafei

– Big Red Button tried to push the game as far as it could
– Rafei says had he known that it was being too ambitious, Big Red Button might have been more conservative with its approach
– He feels that it was his team’s job to bring a different type of thinking to the game as a developer outside of SEGA

“If we were to stick to the brand canon, I think we would not be doing Sega the justice that they wanted from this relationship. What I realized is that Sonic has a very complicated relationship to his fans and the industry. A lot of people feel that they are entitled to Sonic because of their growing up with him and the feelings they associate with him.” – Rafei

– As fans grow older they have mixed feelings about who the character is

“Once we came out with something different, some embraced it very powerfully and others did not.” – Rafei

– He hopes the game will stand the test of time because it tried to do something different for the brand
– Also admits that it is ultimately up to history and the game community to decide
– Rafei says he doesn’t have the authority to say where Sonic should go in the future, and it’s up to the fans and gamers

– Iizuka hopes Sonic games will be a part of the solution of SEGA winning back customers’ trust by putting a greater emphasis on quality
– Iizuka does not wash his hands completely of Sega’s problems
– He says with Rise of Lyric, priority was put into shipping the title rather than quality and fan expectation
– Sonic Team wasn’t “deeply involved” with the game’s development
– Iizuka says that Sonic Team wants to build a new internal standard for its products, giving the team the necessary resources to craft something that lives up to fans’ expectations

“When you buy a Sonic game, we want you to see that Sega logo on the package and know that you’re getting a great experience. Ideally, I want Sonic to be a character loved both by people who play games and by those who don’t.” – Takashi Iizuka, the current head of Sonic Team

– Iizuka says Sonic Team needs to keep the franchise expanding, pushing Sonic further into other medias such as television, movies and merchandising, as well as expanding on the types of games Sonic appears in
– Also means keeping the character a “nostalgic icon of [fans’] childhood”

“I want to make him a character who continues to be iconic and remains relevant as one of the first cool characters a child might see.” – Iizuka

– Criticism surrounding Rise of Lyric has taken a toll on the company
– Not eager to make the same mistake twice

“Because [Rise of Lyric] tried a different take on Sonic from the norm — and considering the results — this made Sonic Team feel that we want to build a Sonic title which represents the evolution of the Sonic series over the last 20 years.” – Iizuka

– Also says “modern Sonic won’t be changing his design in games anytime soon”
– Iizuka wants the character to remain the same five, even 10, years from now

“Though the character won’t change, we do think that the games should always be open to evolving and constantly improving themselves. We use our Sonic Team logo as a brand for those titles that we feel confident in, and though Sonic has evolved and changed much in terms of gameplay as we found what worked best, we want to keep creating good games so that Sonic Team’s logo will always stand as a mark of quality.” – Iizuka

– Sonic has to go up against various entertainment options
– COO of Sega Networks, Sega’s mobile division, Chris Olson explains that it becomes hard to compare how the current state of the series stacks up to the weight it carried 10 or 20 years ago
– SEGA is still reaching more people than it did during the Genesis generation

“We obviously want to appeal to as many people as possible but still focus on what it means to be Sonic and a Sonic game. Maybe that might lose some fans along the road, but we’re picking up new fans that will hopefully grow with us as Sonic grows.” – Olson

“It’s [the] essence of Sonic — his speed, his attitude, his key qualities — that I want to keep in mind as we look forward, creating new expressions and creations for many years to come.” – Sonic Team character designer Yuji Uekawa

“I think it’s a pretty tough ask to expect Sonic to be as big as games like [Grand Theft Auto] today, but with the right mindset behind it, Sonic has the chops to be as great as any high-quality platformer Nintendo is currently putting out.” – Christian Whitehead, hired by Sega to remaster the first two Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis titles

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