1990 – Making Of A Mascot
The year is 1990. After moderate success with the Master System, Service Games (Known as SEGA) has just released its first 16-bit platform. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this 16-bit machine, known as “Mega Drive” in Asia and Europe and “Genesis” in the Americas, was destined to become a household name, establish SEGA for a time as the top console maker in the industry, and feature a blue furred animal that – at one time – was rivaled only by Mickey Mouse in popularity.
SEGA realized that they needed a character whom the public could identify with the console. Their artists designed a wide array of cute characters, including both animals and humans. Quite a few of the designs were hopping animals like rabbits and kangaroos.
To quote Yuji Naka: “At first we used a character that looked like a rabbit with ears that could extend and pick up objects. As the game got faster and faster, we needed to come up with a special characteristic to give our character some power over his enemies. I remembered a character I had thought about years ago who could roll himself into a ball and slam into enemies. Hedgehogs can roll themselves into a ball, so we decided to go from a rabbit to a hedgehog.”
Eventually SEGA narrowed the choices down to an armadillo or a hedgehog, due to each animal’s ability to roll into a ball – a skill convenient for a high-speed gameplay that would show off the console’s power. Of course, we know which they picked. 😉 The hedgehog was drawn with blue fur to represent trust and the blue SEGA logo. It was decided that he would be given an “imperfect” personality to create a contrast with other video game characters and endear him to the American audience. Sonic’s enemy, Eggman, was based on another of the mascot designs, and made into a polluter so that the game would have a contemporary “naturalist vs. developer” theme.
Later that year, Sonic was announced to the public at a concert featuring the popular Japanese band “Dreams Come True.” Little did they know the speedy phenomenon they would unleash on the populace….
- Sonic the Hedgehog – 6/23/9
- Sonic The Hedgehog for Game Gear – 12/28/91
- Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car (Arcade, Japan Only) – 12/91
- SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol (Arcade, Japan Only) – 12/91
- Sega of America releases the Sonic mini-comic – Late 1991
Sonic the Hedgehog entered the entire gaming world with his debut on Sega Genesis in June of 1991. His incredible speed and confident attitude became legendary as children from around the world fell in love with this blue dude with a ‘tude. Sonic made his debut in portable gaming as well with the launch of “Sonic The Hedgehog” on Game Gear, the first of the sequels, in December of 1991.
Sonic also crossed over to comics for the first time in the Sega of America-produced Sonic mini-comic by Francis Mao. This 2-part comic was bundled with Disney Adventures and some gaming magazines. The first of many “spinoffs,” it was based on Sonic 1, but added names for Sonic’s animal friends and a cheesy origin story for both Sonic and Robotnik (the U.S. name for Eggman).
A new era had arrived and Sega had done the unthinkable – taken industry leadership from under Nintendo’s feet (well, in the Americas, at least). Nintendo’s SNES was relased to the market in Autumn 1991. In the years that followed, Nintendo and Sega fought tooth and nail.
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for Game Gear – 11/21/1992
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – 11/24/1992
- Sonic gene discovered – Sometime in 1992
In the summer of 1992, one upcoming game dominated the attention of the gaming press – Sonic’s second Genesis/Mega Drive video game, appropriately titled “Sonic The Hedgehog 2.” This game introduced Sonic’s friend, Miles “Tails” Prower, a two-tailed Fox with the ability to fly. It also featured remarkably bright, detailed, and stylized zones and a soundtrack by Masato Nakamura of Dreams Come True. Not surprisingly, after Sonic 2 was released on “Sonic 2’s day,” it set the record as the best selling video game of all time, and continued to hold that title for years.
Sonic made his mark in the realm of real-world science when researchers named a gene after him! The “Sonic Hedgehog” (SHH) gene, named for its spiky appearance, is one of the most important genes controlling embryonic development. It plays a role in the formation of the brain, heart, lungs, and skeleton, and stimulates hair growth.
- Archie Sonic Issue #0 – 1/93
- Archie Sonic officially becomes a continuing series – 5/93
- Fleetway Sonic released – Early 93
- Sonic The Hedgehog CD – 9/23/93
- “Sonic The Hedgehog” premieres in the U.S. on ABC’s Saturday morning lineup – Autumn 93
- “Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog” premieres in U.S. syndication – Autumn 93
- SegaSonic Arcade – 11/93
- Sonic Spinball – 11/93
- Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – 11/93
- Sonic & Tails / Sonic Chaos – 11/23/93
- Sonic balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – 11/25/93
The Sonic explosion! By now Sonic’s popularity was soaring. With millions of fans around the world, Sonic’s mega-success led to his very own comic book series in both America and Europe, 2 different cartoon series, and a total of 5 different Sonic-related games released during 1993. He even had a three story balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! The English comic, produced by Egmont Fleetway, was based on the games and the Sega of America mini-comic. Over 150 comics were produced before it was cancelled. The American comic, produced by Archie Comics, was based on the 2 cartoons and went on to outsell some traditional superhero comics. The most successful of all the Sonic spinoffs, it’s still in production today and has also printed over 150 issues.
- Sonic The Hedgehog 3 – 2/2/94
- Sonic Drift (Japan Only) – 3/18/94
- Howard Johnson Sonic contest – Summer 94
- Sonic Gameworld (Pico) – 8/94
- Tails And The Music Maker (Pico) – 9/94
- “Rock the Rock” contest – 10/17/94
- Sonic & Knuckles – 10/18/94
- Sonic & Tails 2 / Sonic Triple Trouble – 11/11/94
1994 saw the release of the greatest 2D Sonic game to date – although it was released in 2 parts. Those who played the surprisingly short Sonic 3 extensively noticed that Sonic’s new rival, Knuckles, seemed to fit perfectly as a playable character. The Sount Test and Debug codes also revealed background music for levels that weren’t used in the game, as well as hidden paths that were totally inaccessible in normal play. This mystery was solved with the release of Sonic & Knuckles, the 2nd half of Sonic 3. This game introduced a unique concept – “Lock-On Technology,” basically the first example of an expansion pack in cartridge gaming. Sonic & Knuckles could be played on its own, but it could also be used to unlock the FULL Sonic 3, as well as add Knuckles to Sonic 2.
Sega ran 2 gaming tournaments in 1994. During the summer, gamers competed at Howard Johnson Inns in a contest featuring Sonic 3. (Side note: I got the #3 score in the country. 😉 – Vec) On October 17, 1994 Sega teamed up with MTV to give the world its first glimpse of their revolutionary technology. A huge event, “Rock the Rock” was filmed at Alcatraz, the world-famous prison island near San Francisco, California. Fifty global gamers (culled from a field of more than 100,000) competed for the title of the World’s Best Video Game Player and for a $25,000 grand prize.