You ever spot a really bad idea and think, “that’s definitely going to have consequences that no one can foresee”? To me, that’s the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Not because of its questionable design choices (give me the weird hog, it’s good, actually) but because no matter how great Sonic’s movie design is, Halloween was always coming. And when Halloween rolls around, so do horrifying costumes that barely resemble the things they are based on.
Consider with me Party City’s children’s Sonic costume. Since it is in fact based on the film—which would have been out this year were it not for a last-minute hedgehog makeover—we have a onesie adorned with a weird fur pattern and floppy hood spikes. It is good, perhaps, if you would like to dress up your progeny as sonic, the meme, and not Sonic, the mascot. Get it for your child, and you will quickly become sorry for all the days they wear it that are not Halloween.
The less said here, the better, but there’s a reason that after years and years of memes and goofballs in blue tights, most have taken to wearing Sonic hoods, not Sonic masks. You’re courting chaos, the way Nic Cage did when he said he’d like to take John Travolta’s “face…..off.”
None of us are ready for these to hit the streets, let alone the Sonic the Hedgehog film, which I now suspect has been delayed strictly to avoid association with any of this stuff.
In June 2022, a rocket will launch carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, a spacecraft made by the European Space Agency and Airbus. And as it hurtles through the cosmos on its mission to study Jupiter’s moons, it will carry with it the blessing of…Sonic the Hedgehog.
One of the instruments onboard was developed in Japan by Tohoku University, who wanted Sonic as the mascot for one of the mission’s principal tests—a Radio & Plasma Wave Investigation, or RPWI—and got Sega’s blessing.
I’m going to assume that this test involves some kind of probe that wiggles, otherwise that logo is going to take some explaining.
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2029, where it will perform tests on three of the planet’s moons—Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa—to see if any of them are habitable, since they’re believed to each contain large bodies of water.
Once JUICE is out of fuel, it’s designed to “deorbit” and crash into the surface of Ganymede in 2034.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the U.S. release of the Dreamcast, so we thought it was appropriate to reshare this piece on the console’s legacy that originally ran September 9th, 2016.
The Sega Dreamcast was released 17 years ago today in the United States. A console defined by experimental games and features far ahead of the curve, it’s fair to say that the Dreamcast changed my life forever. It made me see what games could be. It lived up to the name; it was everything I dreamed of and more.
Originally released on November 27th, 1998 in Japan, the Dreamcast was a shot at redemption after Sega’s last console, the Saturn, had a less than stellar time competing with the Playstation and Nintendo 64. Something had to change in order for Sega to keep a horse in the console race. The Dreamcast had it all: incredibly powerful graphics, online capability through dial up, and a playful take on media. Hell, the memory card, also known as the Visual Memory Unit (or VMU) had a screen built into it. Sega was here to play and they did it wonderfully.
If there is one thing I believe the Dreamcast managed better than any other console, it was offering bright and living worlds. The Dreamcast had an energy, a pulsing heart that I’ve found nowhere else. Yu Suzuki’s ambitious Shenmue dutifully recreated the streets of 1986’s Yokosuka, giving NPCs schedules and habits. The bright anti-establishment frenzy of Jet Set Radio popularized cel-shaded graphics, sweeping players away in a jazz fusion lighting bolt of colors and sounds. Sonic the Hedgehog came to life in Sonic Adventure, shooting through loops and bouncing on springs in proper 3-D.
I played it all and learned to love the act of playing. I found myself in those games. I will never forget sailing into the unknown in Skies of Arcadia. By all standards, Skies is an average role playing game. For me, it was a revelation. I watched as cheerful heroes stood against villains because that’s what heroes do. I learned that impossible was a word that people used so they could feel better when they quit. I was told to always be audacious. I have tried every day since then to live up to the heroes I found in that game. It is the reason I believe that games are worth the attention we give them. I would not be here if not for that game and the wonderful console that made it possible.
When I finished Skies of Arcadia for the first time, I ran to find my mother. I was eleven years old and was crying tears of joy. I held her close and she held me back; I remember her smile. A bemused grin that told me it was okay to care. That it was beautiful to dream. The Dreamcast encouraged my passion and called on me to share it with those around me. My father was obsessed with Shenmue; we would play it together every Christmas after it came out. He, too, could not get enough of those virtual worlds and eagerly awaits Shenmue 3.
The Dreamcast didn’t last long. It arrived too soon and floundered as the Playstation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox entered the market with astounding fanfare. By 2001, Sega discontinued the console and lowered the price in a desperate attempt to offload inventory and exit the world of consoles for good.
Skies of Arcadia ends with a message. I think of it often. It comes to mind now as I think of the Dreamcast:
As long as there are dreamers who have the courage to pursue their dreams, the world will have heroes. And as long as there is a thirst to discover the unknown, there will be new stories to tell…and new adventures to be had.
That is what the Dreamcast was. A joyous and celebratory reminder to play and dream. The Dreamcast may be dead but there are still dreamers out there. Like me. Like you. As long as we keep dreaming? I think things will be alright. For games and beyond.
Debuting in 2017 with a Mario-themed set, Monopoly Gamer combines Hasbro’s classic real estate board game with iconic video game characters and unique game mechanics. Now it’s Sonic’s turn to race around the board, collecting rings, fighting for chaos emeralds, and investing in property, just like he does in his video games.
Monopoly Gamer: Sonic the Hedgehog Edition’s currency is rings. Its properties are stages from Sonic games like Speed Highway and Chemical Plant. Instead of utilities and railroads, there are ramps that propel players’ pieces across the board and spots for collecting rings. The tokens are Sonic, Amy, Knuckles, and Tails, each with their own special Super Boost ability, activated by rolling a special Boost die. Sonic’s Super Boost doubles his normal dice roll and causes every player he passes to drop rings on the game board. One can also imagine that sort of scenario playing out in a video game.
Instead of collecting money, landing on or passing Go initiates a boss battle. A boss card is flipped and players must beat the number value on the card by rolling a die. Should the player win the boss battle they earn the boss card and its chaos emerald. The boss card is worth points at the end of the game when scores are tallied. The emeralds allow players to reroll during boss fights.
It’s still a Monopoly game. The goal is to make it to the end with the most points. It’s just this one’s got Sonic all over it.
Sonic has gotta go fast, but did the decision to redesign the hedgehog maybe happen too fast? Jim Carrey, who plays the evil Dr. Robotnik in the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie, said the fandom response that resulted in director Jeff Fowler delaying the release to rework the character is the sort of thing that risks turning creative ownership into “Frankenstein’s monster.”
Speaking at a panel for Showtime series Kidding at the Television Critics Association press tour (as reported by The Wrap), Carrey was asked about the fan response to the design of the title character in Sonic the Hedgehog, which was largely panned for, well, just about everything.
The overwhelming backlash to the teaser trailer initially prompted Fowler to say the character was getting a redesign. However, that announcement led to even more backlash, as it meant the visual effects artists could suffer from an overpacked and burdensome production schedule. A short time later, the film was bumped to February 14, 2020, giving the team an extra three months.
Some visual effects artists (not connected to Sonic the Hedgehog) previously told io9 they took issue with the fact that negative fan response could prompt this kind of response from a studio. It seems to be an opinion shared by Carrey, who shared his thoughts on the Sonic redesign at TCA.
“I don’t know quite how I feel about the audience being in on the creation of it, while it’s happening,” he said. “Sometimes you find that the collective consciousness decides it wants something and then when it gets it, it goes, ‘OK, I don’t want it’… You become a Frankenstein’s monster at some point, right?”
Carrey added that he didn’t have to do any reshoots for Sonic the Hedgehog as a result of the redesign, and noted how he’s not “super concerned” about how the whole situation plays out in the end. Either way, he’s still playing an evil mustache-twirling scientist with robot birds, so I’m sure he’ll be fine.
Sonic the Hedgehog comes out February 14, 2020. Maybe. We’ll see.
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And yet, in the Access video below, the interviewer refuses to believe that Carrey will not be lending his rubber-faced charms to Sonic himself.
The first mistake comes early. The interviewer has crossed some wires and asks Carrey what it was like to be “the only animated character” in the otherwise live-action movie.
“Well…y’know, I’m totally live-action in this,” Carrey replies. “It’s just acting. It’s just fun.”
Having gracefully side-stepped the mistake, he continues talking about what it was like to be Dr. Robotnik—the non-computer animated character he plays in the movie.
“So, are you wearing some sort of special suit?” she asks next. “Or how does it work…once they turn you into the animated Sonic?”
“Well, I’m not animated at all. My character’s Robotnik so…I don’t do that,” Carrey replies, still smiling warmly and likely hoping to get things back on track.
“When I played Sonic growing up, he doesn’t really have a voice,” the interviewer continues, refusing to take a hint. “So, we’re going to really get to know him through you. What can we expect and what’s the story going to be like?”
“You can expect me eventually, as Robotnik, to get that little blue boob,” Carrey answers, going through another question where he makes very clear that he will be playing Robotnik, not Sonic.
Though the clip is misleadingly titled “Jim Carrey Goes Off The Rails In This Hilarious Interview!,” the whole thing is Carrey trying his very best to stay on the rails, despite being given every opportunity to fuck with his interviewer. Maybe he just felt like being nice, doing his best to keep the talk rolling without embarrassing the reporter. Or maybe he’s saving his energy for better targets—like the Trump administration and Mussolini’s granddaughter.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
An eight-hour road trip I recently took with a friend quickly turned into a musical deep dive. As we flew through conversations about bachata, gospel, R&B, soul, house, and more, my friend mentioned that ’90s music made up a significant portion of his palate. “You know, there’s a lot of anime and video game music that’s influenced by black American music,” I casually mentioned, barely concealing the same air of conspiracy as someone planning to play you no less than several dozen “hilarious” YouTube videos. My friend, a non-nerd who trusts my sense of his taste (wise) and who is very patient with me (unwise), humored me and handed me the audio cord for the car’s stereo (anarchy).
“Walking in the crowd in a faceless town, I need to feel the touch of a friend,” I crooned, Milly Rocking emphatically. “Smile Bomb,” the opening them from Yuyu Hakusho, is widely considered a classic among anime openings, and I wanted to put my friend on.
“YASSS high notes! She must be a soprano,” my friend cooed in approval, which I took as a sign to keep going. As a card-carrying Sonic R apologist, this was clearly my chance to get someone else in my corner. I played “Work It Out,” one of several songs from the game that I’m convinced could have been on a CeCe Peniston B-side.
My friend liked this one, too, but after a while, he reasonably wanted to hear something he knew the lyrics to. I set a smaller section of my 6,000-song collection on shuffle, but then I felt a familiar anxiety building. It’s one thing to curate these songs for someone but another thing entirely to randomly shuffle through thousands of unorganized songs. I kept my finger on the skip button so that I could keep us within the parameters of the R&B and soul that had sent us down the rabbit hole in the first place, dodging cringey options. I also resisted the temptation to play more Bust a Groove music, even though it actually would fit the vibe we were going for.
I have way too many unpleasant memories of shuffle snafus directly caused by game and anime music. It’s embarrassing to be creating a relaxing mood and suddenly have a weird nasal voice start warbling, “Where’s that place that comes in pairs whenever I’m aware? Casino here, casino in my hair!” Once, I was playing a bunch of relaxing alternative R&B when “Devils Never Cry” suddenly came in with its mildly horrifying church organ music. It’s one thing to explain away, say, a Korn phase, but it’s a little harder to make a case for occult-sounding pretty-boy devil music. If my friend thought I was a murderer after hearing that on my playlist, I kind of couldn’t blame them?
Then there are the jarring moments where I’m not paying close enough attention to that skip button and I ruin my own mood by letting a song play when it should have been skipped within the first millisecond. I love Louisiana bounce music and dance to it a lot. What I don’t love dancing to is “Go K.K. Rider,” yet there it is on my playlist, confidently following Big Freedia like it’s just supposed to be there!
I often find myself skipping songs I otherwise like because they are notorious mood killers, popping up just like that one super weird episode of a show you were otherwise excited to brag about. “Otherworld,” the theme that plays in the big fancy cutscene at the beginning of Final Fantasy X, does this often. “DON’T. YOU. GIIIIVE UP ON IT,” it growls at me, before I quietly give up on it and try the next track. I headbang a few times to the riffs of “Fright Flight!!” from Um Jammer Lammy, but I skip to the next track before the traumatized pilot can scream at me to “LOOKUPINTHESKY, GIMMEALLYOUGOT, NEVAGIVEITUP, SOLDIER!”
Still, sometimes, I hit lyrics that truly capture the essence of the soul, and in those moments, the cringe of it doesn’t really matter: now me ohhh me now, kway kway me nah oh, me oh me oh me oh me oh!
The Sonic the Hedgehog movie has been delayed from November 2019 to February 14, 2020 in order to tweak the design of the CG Sonic character, according to a tweet from director Jeff Fowler.
Fans were unhappy with Sonic’s design in the movie’s trailer released in April, which prompted Fowler to respond earlier this month. “The message is loud and clear,” he said at the time. “You aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be.”
Changing the design, however, means more work from VFX artists and post-production personnel. Without a new release date, concerns about crunch were inevitable, hence Fowler’s hashtag “#novfxartistswereharmedinthemakingofthismovie.” It’s a bit glib, but it’s good to know they share the concern.
According to Fowler, the redesign work will push the movie back three months to February 14, just in time for the romantic holiday Sonic was made for.
After the trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehogmovie, it was like a million voices cried out in laughter, then were suddenly placated. The negative response to Sonic’s look prompted director Jeff Fowler to announce that the filmmakers were going back to the drawing board. But what does that mean, how long will it take, and is this all a marketing scam? We asked a couple of actual VFX artists to fill us in.
The Sonic the Hedgehog trailer hit us all like a wrecking ball. The weird, beefy-legged Sonic was less a tribute to the ‘90s video game speedball and more a cry for help from the cosmos. The response was immediate, and so were the memes, reaching such a general fervor of “no thanks” that Fowler told the world that he’d heard the criticism and the character would be redesigned. We reached out for clarification from Paramount about whether this was happening or how long it was expected it to take, and the studio declined to comment.
Of course, that announcement came with even more backlash—how could the visual effects team be forced into “crunch mode” to quickly change a character they’d already spent months crafting and perfecting in the lead up to the movie’s November 18 release? Given the recent backlash against video game studios like Rockstar for fostering a culture of crunch, this seemed like a bad solution to a bad problem. Instead of speculating on what a redesign of Sonic would entail, and what Fowler’s decision says about the state of visual effects in media as a whole, we decided to ask a couple of professionals.
Ilion Animation Studio character supervisor Juan-Luis Sanchez (Paddington), who spoke out on Twitter about Fowler’s decision, told io9 he was surprised when he heard that the fan backlash was leading to what could be a partial or complete character redesign. While it’s unclear how much of the Sonic character would be changed—and he made sure to mention he doesn’t know anyone working on the project—he did say the Sonic we saw likely represents at least six to nine months of work. Work that’s now out the window.
“If they took nine months to build a character, it’s two to three months of reworking before you can even put the character back into shots again,” he said. “I can’t even guess what’s going on behind the scenes.”
That doesn’t mean the whole movie will have to be redone. On the contrary, Sonic probably isn’t even in most of it yet. According to Sanchez, when trailers involving digital characters are released, what you see is typically all that’s been finished by that point. That means, by the time the world was fully introduced to Sonic the Beefy-Legged Hedgehog, “maybe five percent” of the movie had been fully animated with him in it. This was echoed by Daryl Bartley, a visual effect artist who worked on Avatar and Power Rangers, who said much of the work on getting the character into the movie is done in the final months, or even weeks, of production.
“Obviously, on most movies, they’re doing everything down to the wire. They push the limits of everyone involved to continue to make changes, to the very last second you could commit a frame to film or digital. There are shots being finalized the weeks before, or even the week before. There’s a prevailing thought that you could snap your fingers and change things,” Bartley said.
The problem isn’t getting the character into the movie, as for the most part that hadn’t happened by the time the trailer came out. The problem is the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog’s visual effects designers now have to waste months of time going back to the drawing board before they can continue. In short: Redoing the character can happen, but it’s going to take up a lot of time. If the movie’s release date isn’t delayed, it’s going to mean a lot of overtime and stress for the visual effects artists.
To demonstrate, Sanchez described the process of what it would take to make Sonic look like that viral tweet shared above. He said characters like Sonic are usually divided into two pieces: the head and the body. Each have their own challenges, and changes like this couldn’t be solved with cosmetic fixes. For example, thinning Sonic’s legs, changing the size of his head, or redesigning the shape of his eyes. And that’s not even getting into the fur. According to Sanchez, the body could take a month to fix, and the head twice that, before putting him back into the movie. Since the movie is supposed to come out in half a year, this could reduce up to half of the designers’ available time.
“From the design, to the modeling, to the rigging—putting in the skeleton—testing out the skeleton, putting in the fur, lighting it…all of that work is easily nine months. And that’s without major design changes, or changes in the story along the way,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez and Bartley expressed frustration that this was all presumably happening because people talked shit about the character design on Twitter. In their minds, social media may not be the best testing grounds for a character at that stage in the filmmaking process, considering all the work that’s gone into the design before the trailer even drops. The public might be right about aspects of the criticism, but other points might change in hindsight. Sometimes, public opinions change after the actual film or show comes out.
For context, Sanchez shared his experience when he was working on Paddington. When the character’s design was first teased, there was a massive backlash for its photorealism. It even prompted the Creepy Paddington meme, where Paddington was inserted into horror films as the new villain. Sanchez, who was set to work on the fur design, and others on the team were worried this could mean changes for the character. But the producers stood behind the design, and it ended up being for the best. (Because Paddington is fucking awesome.)
“We’ve seen it so many times, where people pile on instantly when they see something that they don’t like. For whatever reason—and there might be something I agree with,” Sanchez said. “Whether it’s Ben Affleck as Batman or the design of Paddington, there are so many things where people pile on instantly. I don’t find it healthy personally.”
But what if it was all done…on purpose?
That was a theory making rounds after Fowler announced the redesign. That Paramount knew people would hate this design, so they pulled a “New Coke”—making two versions of the character so they could release the better one later, to more fanfare. We asked Bartley and Sanchez to share their thoughts on this theory, and both of them agreed it was unlikely and stupid. Perhaps some marketing executive might think it’s a cool idea, but there’s no way a studio would spend that much money to make two versions of the same character, in the blind hope that people would get pissed off just enough to make them happy in the end.
“It’s one of those things that’s feasible, I think, in the mind of an executive. It could be this sort of sociopathic way of doing things. But I don’t think any normal people would try and do that. I get there’s so many attempts at going viral, but they’ve gotten way more attention for this than they would have,” Bartley said. “There is such a thing as good attention and bad attention. Having your fanbase be pissed off at you in order to generate interest is not anything a sane person would throw out there.”
Sonic the Hedgehog is set to come out on November 18. Maybe. We’ll see.
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Clarification: A previous version of the story spelled David Bartley’s name as David Barley. This has been fixed. We apologize for the error.
When you stop moving in Sonic the Hedgehog games, Sonic taps his toe. When you leave Arthur Morgan on his horse, he will pet them affectionately. These are video game idle animations, and they’re beautiful, because for a brief moment the characters we control get to show off a little something about themselves.
I recently broke down my great appreciation for idle animations when I delivered a microtalk at the Game Developers Conference this March about video game animations titled “Idle Animations as Expressions of Freedom.” The crux? The characters we control in games have hidden depths, the way we control characters doesn’t always serve the best interest of those characters, and it is during idle animations that those characters most successfully get to be themselves.
Talking about animation to a room of animators was tricky, but when you start to crack open the strangeness of video games there’s a lot to think about. In his 2007 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty essay “Driving Off the Map,” the critic James Howell writes about how video game characters exist as two different things: characters and actors. Characters are the fictional people in a game world. Actors are the individuals we control. In Sons of Liberty’s case that means Solid Snake and Raiden. Simple enough, but because games characters are two things at once, there’s a lot of tension.
Let’s think about Resident Evil 2 for a second. In that game, the characters Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield share one basic motivation: to survive the zombie hordes and escape Racoon City. That’s their character motivation, but their motivation as actors is chosen by the player. Players can do any number of things that run counter to Claire and Leon’s desire to survive. They can attempt a run that only uses knives, something that grinds against their motivation to survive by any means necessary. Cruel players might attempt to see every death animation in the game. In that case, the character goal of survival is directly in conflict with their behavior as actors. In these moments, players are capricious tyrants and the actors are helpless to assert themselves.
Thankfully, there are moments within games where characters are able to be themselves and act independently of the player. There are places and moments where they are, lacking a better word, “free.” Cutscenes are a good example of this, as players are usually unable to affect character’s behavior or movement in these moments. The other example is idle animations. These small moments are crucial for allowing characters to exhale after extended puppeteering by players. They don’t last long, but they are extraordinary in their implications.
For an example of an idle animation that expresses the tension between players and characters we can look at Sonic the Hedgehog’s iconic and impatient idle animation. If the player doesn’t touch the controller, Sonic will look out at the screen and tap his feet expectantly. He, as a character, wants to move. He wants to go fast and defeat Doctor Robotnik. However, Sonic can’t move until the player moves the controller. He is unable to complete his character motivation as a result, and his response is something sassy and annoyed. This idle animation tells us something about Sonic as an individual—he’s presumptuous, he’s got attitude, he doesn’t like staying still—but it also reminds us of the inherent tension between characters and players.
Idle animations can resolve that tension. Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. A player is enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2 and decides to go to a small town and commit a massacre, blowing away lawmen and civilians alike. This isn’t really in Arthur Morgan’s character. He’s an outlaw but tends to have a moral code against causing too much chaos. But the player can make Arthur act contrary to this code, blasting the brains out of anyone in sight. After the dust settles, they ride off on a horse and walk away from the controller. In the moments where the player is not dictating inputs, Arthur shakes out his hand and pats his horse. That moment, that small gesture, is a moment where Arthur is free to act how he wants. It’s a monumental exhale after all the tension and terror of the player-controlled massacre. For me, as someone who appreciated Red Dead Redemption 2’s smaller moments, that is a very beautiful moment.
Better, that moment helps us understand the things that Arthur values while the player is away. Designers can use that information to craft mechanics and interactions that make sense for Arthur and the player to perform together. Arthur might enjoy petting his horse—he values it enough to do so while players don’t control him—so Red Dead Redemption 2 smartly allows players to pet and groom their horse whenever they want. It’s an interaction that bridges the gap between player and character, aligning character desires and with the player’s whims.
If players are tyrants, intentional or not, controlling character against their whims, then idle animations are moments when developers have a chance to tell players something about a character’s attitude andy offer these digital entities a moment to breathe. The animations might be a sneeze, a stretch of the neck, a tap of the toe, or something else. They might be small, but they’re essential to rounding out characters and adding a little more empathy to games.