Sonic's "Downward Cycle" Not Unlike Marvel, Star Wars, or Barbie, Former Exec Says
"All of these brands have had their cycles. I think Sonic has had a downward cycle for a while, and it's time to have an upward cycle again for a while."
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the biggest and best-known franchises in all of gaming. However, the quality of the latest games in the series left much to be desired for some.
Now, former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske has spoken up to say Sonic's fall from grace is part of the cyclical nature of characters and franchises in the entertainment world.
"I think there is some natural up and down for any character," he said in the November issue of Game Informer. "We've certainly seen it with the Marvel characters over the years. We've seen it with Barbie. We've seen it with Star Wars. We've seen it with G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels.
He added: "All of these brands have had their cycles. I think Sonic has had a downward cycle for a while, and it's time to have an upward cycle again for a while."
Last summer, Sega management frankly admitted that the company had somewhat lost its way.
"Sega in the '90s was known for its brand, but after that, we've lost trust, and we're left with nothing but reputation," Sega games CEO Haruki Satomi said last summer. "We'd like to win back the trust and become a brand once again.
The Sonic the Hedgehog game released in 2006 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, is considered by some to be the worst in the entire franchise. Series creator Yuji Naka told Game Informer that the intent was to help Sonic reach a bigger audience, not unlike the way Batman Begins brought in new viewers.
Sega management was dead set on getting the game out in time for holiday 2006 and this may not have been in the best interest of the title.
"It was the first iteration of the engine and we didn't have any time to polish and we were just churning out content as quick as we could," Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka said.
The report also mentions that midway through development on Sonic 2006, the team broke into two, the other one getting to work on Sonic and the Secret Rings for the Wii. Additionally, Naka left Sega in 2006. Designer/director Naoto Ohshima, producer Mark Cerny, and others also exited Sega.
"They lost the heart and soul of Sonic for a while, and I think that made an enormous, immediate difference in the next products that came out," Kalinske said. "It's hard to replicate that team."
For his part, Iizuka said it was the deadlines more than the turnover that contributed mainly to Sonic 2006's poor standing.
"We missed out on that really important time to polish and tune and manipulate the map and make sure that the world really felt good and the gameplay felt good," he said. "Because it didn't have that, it didn't turn out as good as the development team wanted."
Iizuka also shared a story about Sega's commitment to deadlines and how this took a serious toll on his physical well-being. For Sonic Heroes, he was one of only two developers working on the game's level design. The other person eventually got sick and didn't come in to work, meaning Iizuka was the only person working on the game's level design. He had to work extended hours to finish the game--and he lost 22 pounds because he was working so hard and not sleeping much.
"For those very last stages of the game, I didn't sleep at all and I was constantly working. I lost about [22 pounds] because I was just cranking away and it was just work, work, work," he said. "I didn't sleep because I had to finish the game on my own. Almost dying!"
It appears Sega is loosening up its approach when it comes to sticking to deadlines for financial reasons alone. When Sega announced the delay of Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice to 2016, the company said it's important--for all Sonic games--that Sega takes the time it needs to release a quality product, even if that means a delay.
Game Informer's November issue is available now.
The next Sonic game is Sonic Mania, which is a 2D platformer that features visuals and gameplay reminiscent of the classic Sega Genesis games. From what we've seen of the marketing so far, it definitely captures the vibe of the '90s. The game revamps zones and acts from Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, in addition to introducing new ones into the fold. Sonic Mania is scheduled to launch spring 2017.
It's not the only Sonic game in the works, as Sonic Team is working on a brand-new entry in the series that is said to feature both classic and modern versions of Sonic, much like 2011's Sonic Generations. No title has been revealed, but we do know that it's coming holiday 2017 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo NX.