Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Darren Wall

Darren Wall
Founder and editor-in-chief of Read-Only Memory

Notable books Darren has been involved with: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis:
Collected Works, Sensible Software 1986–1999

http://readonlymemory.vg/

You can follow ROM’s activities on Kickstarter here

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Brad: Growing up, were you a SEGA or Nintendo kid?

Darren: I actually owned both a Mega Drive and a Super Nintendo (yup, I know… a spoilt kid!) but the Mega Drive hit me at the right time and as a result, my allegiance was always with Sega. I vividly recall firing up the Mega Drive for the first time and playing The Revenge of Shinobi. It was unlike anything I’d seen before.

Brad: My first console was a Master System but I actually became a Nintendo kid after getting a NES shortly after although I always dipped into the world of SEGA thanks to the early Sonic games on both the Master System and Mega Drive.

So what was the catalyst for forming ROM and what made you guys choose to first write about Sensible Software and then the Mega Drive?

Darren: I started Read-Only Memory because I thought there was a dire lack of in-depth, high quality history books on the videogame industry. I wanted to make definitive, exhaustive documents on great publishers, developers and games makers. Coming from a graphic design background, I also wanted the books to challenge what we’ve come to expect from videogame-related editorial design, aiming to make them look as timeless as possible.

Brad: Well it looks like a lot of people agree with you based on the Kickstarter success, I remember when I first saw the project I had to back it because there really is a lack of books like this. Last year I got Hyrule Historia which was pretty impressive so I was pretty blown away your book arrived. You really have put a lot of effort into it which can only be a good thing when you start looking for backers for a new project. Speaking of which, are there any plans to use Kickstarter to fund a third book any time soon?

Darren: Thanks so much! We certainly wouldn’t rule out Kickstarter in the future. Right now I’m keen to do our next publication without crowd funding and see how that goes. It will be very weird to just release a finished book one day – I’ve become so used to working on these books in public!

Brad: Do you already have ideas for your next project then and can you talk about it or is it still too early? On that note will there be any plans to cover other SEGA consoles or even a SNES Collected works?

Darren: We have several books in the pipeline, but frustratingly, there’s nothing I can reveal just yet!

Brad: What is your favourite aspect of collected works? Was there a particular piece of art or an interview you were really happy with?

Darren: Personally, I’m really happy with the way we presented the in-game pixel art. The book catalogues sprites and game backgrounds in a way not unlike a zoological catalogue – each character or level is given a ‘figure number’ and the section is followed by a legend, detailing the names of each figure (including regional variations). The actual amount of work involved in creating this section was pretty eye-watering – we enlisted the help of several screen capture gurus to aid us! I recall the Bare Knuckle/Street of Rage spread took about 3 days to put together in total… I’m not sure I could put myself through it again!

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Brad: While on a research trip for a Sonic Collected works book you happen to fly to a floating Island, Angel Island to be precise. Unfortunately the plane takes quite a bit of damage during the landing so you find yourself stranded. After finding some shelter in a cave (er… a mystic cave in fact) you find boxes full of Mega Drive games. The floor looks unstable so you decide to grab 5 of them and run for it.

What 5 games have you selected and can you tell me your reasons why?

1)  ToeJam and Earl

I love videogames that feel closely connected to their creator’s sense of humour. Treasure’s games always had this charm, as if the developers were crying with laughter throughout production. ToeJam and Earl is just such a title – the loving attention to detail suggests that developers Greg Johnson and Mark Voorsanger had a whale of a time creating it.

2)  Star Control

A distant spacebound cousin of Street Fighter II. The game’s melee mode allowed two players to pit hugely varied craft against one another in a deep-space arena with only a planet and a few asteroids for company. Anybody who has managed to vanquish a friend’s mighty Ur-Quan Dreadnought with a weedy Shofixti Scout will know of this game’s giddy highs

3)  Sub-Terrania

An often-overlooked late-era Mega Drive shooter, essentially a 16-bit reimagining of Thrust in the Turrican universe. The joy of Sub-Terrania was in mastering the controls; flying at high speed throughout the game’s atmospheric caves and perfectly arcing your gunfire into unsuspecting enemies.

4)  Rolling Thunder 2

I came to this finely-tuned cover-based shooter only a few years ago and devoured it in a single sitting. The thing that kept me playing was the thoughtful pace of play. If you try to tackle a Rolling Thunder game like Gunstar Heroes you’ll be out of action in seconds – the game forces you to take things carefully.

5) The Super Shinobi / The Revenge of Shinobi

This was the game that forever endeared me to the Mega Drive. In creating the book we discovered this title was intended to be a showcase for the graphical and audio capabilities of the console. The game fulfilled its brief delivered one of the best action platforming experiences of all-time.

Brad: From out of the shadows steps a mysterious figure brandishing a katana, you only have time to grab one game before making a run for it. Which game would you choose to save?

Darren: The Revenge of Shinobi without a doubt. It was the first console game I owned and I distinctly remember the awe I felt when presented with a perfect facsimile of the Sega arcade experience on my 14″ bedroom TV.

About the choices

ToeJam and Earl

Developer – Johnson Voorsanger Productions
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

Star Control

Developer – Toys for Bob
Publisher – Accolade
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

Sub-Terrania

Developer – Zyrinx
Publisher – Scavenger, Inc.
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1994

Rolling Thunder 2

Developer – Namco
Publisher – Namco
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

The Super Shinobi / The Revenge of Shinobi

Developer – Sega
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1990

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Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Christiaan Jones

Christiaan Jones
Content Designer
The Creative Assembly

Notable games Christiaan has been involved with:
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Operation Flashpoint: Red River and F1 Race Stars

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Christiaan LARPing as Vincent Le Blanc (deceased)

Brad: Hello Christiaan.

Thanks for taking part in “Leave luck to being rescued” which bears no resemblance to any music based top 5 interviews!

Now, I have previously worked with you through a development cycle so I already know a few things about you. I know you enjoy LARPing, so I’ve set up a very believable scenario to explain how you get stuck on an island with nothing but a few of your favorite games. I also know that your real name isn’t Christiaan, although I can’t remember the story behind this. So why don’t you start by telling me a bit about your LARPing hobby (do you have a good photo I can attach to the post).

Christiaan: Hi Brad!
Firstly, thanks again for trapping me on an island (I think…) and I’ll quickly try to clear up the name confusion; Third child of 4, grandparents wanted family names, I drew the short straw and got them but to save all the arguing everyone calls me Christiaan (family names being Alan-Michael and Harold)! Luckily my last name is Jones so that keeps me humble 😉

I’ve been LARPing on and off since I was about 18 in a few different systems around the UK (Live Action Roleplaying, for the uninitiated, is a mix of cosplay, theatre, a kind of martial art and basically pretending to live in a fantasy-based MMORPG), which are all different sizes and have a different feel or emphasis depending on where you go. I’ve been in many forests and fields, camps and “towns” and even a 2 mile long chalk cave system (it was very dark and cold, but GREAT for atmosphere)!

In the system I currently play in called The Lorien Trust (or L.T.) there’s a good mix of fighting and roleplaying and I try to attend all four of their main events, two of which are in May and two in August. Each main event lasts around three days over a long/bank holiday weekend and you can spend your time trading, crafting, fighting, casting spells, performing rituals (basically uber-majicks) researching about the world, chatting, eating and drinking (there is lots of this!) or pretty much anything else you can imagine doing!

There’s stalls for food or selling kit like weapons and armour and the roughly 2000+ players per event (not including vendors, referees and other hangers on) arrange themselves into one of the many nations, groups and guilds all with their own lands, customs and identities and act on the various storylines or plots, some of which have been going continuously for 10 years or more!

I could go into a LOT more detail, but 1) I’d be here forever and 2) this is less about LARP and more about gaming: Next question please! ;D

Brad: Wow, I didn’t realize how much was involved. I imagined about 40 people in a field shouting a bit and pretending to attack each other!

Alright, so let’s talk about games. I presume you were a gamer from a young age? What was your first console (or PC)? When did you decide to pursue a career in games development and what is your background?

Christiaan: It ‘IS’ one of (if not the) the biggest systems in the country, and most other systems tend to be around the 40+ mark it’s true 🙂

Yeah, I started pretty young with an Apple 2 we used to borrow from the local primary school I went to for a week during the summer holiday to play Oregon Trail and Kings Quest 1 on. The first games machine we actually owned was the good old NES (in the end my parents bought two for us to share!) and I spent many long hours with my brothers in front of it back in the early 90s.

Deciding to go into the games industry was a bit of an accident really. I’d finished secondary school (having done A levels in English Literature, Philosophy and Media Studies) and I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do next! Looking through some university brochures I saw a course in Games Design from Lincoln University. Thinking about it at the time, I’d always been designing one thing or another when I was a kid playing with my brothers: turn-based rules for a LEGO strategy game (with real-time sections for shooting the cannons!), new quests for the Hero Quest board game or even digital stuff using RPG Maker 95 and various MOD tools for Quake and Quake 2. I’d never considered it as an actual job and Lincoln were offering one of the first courses on it in the country so I guess I was lucky to get in on the academic ground floor!

Brad: Ah yes, the NES, I spent countless hours playing Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda on mine and it still works!

Looks like you were always going to end up in some sort of design / games related career then.

Now Christiaan, a shocking turn of events occurs when The Lorien Trust decide to do something a bit different and organize a special LARPing event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You decided to go LARPing as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and in your excitement you climbed down a sewer to hide; suddenly a great rush of water knocks you unconscious and sweeps you away. You awake to find yourself at the foot of a ladder and suddenly another rush of water picks up, carrying with it a load of games. You only get chance to grab 5 of them, one of which can be a collector’s edition (explain why you chose this) along with one complete game soundtrack (this can be from something other than the 5 games you select). With your new haul in hand you climb the ladder and reach the surface, only to find yourself on a desert island and stumble across consoles, TVs and a power supply. What 5 games did you grab and why?

Christiaan: Certainly one of my strangest adventures I think (also, I’d have probably been dressed as Donatello, but that’s neither here nor there really).

So, on to my choices. I’d like to start with the Game soundtrack if I may and that would be the original World of Warcraft (WoW) soundtrack. I’ve chosen not to include WoW in my main list for two reasons: firstly, because I won’t have internet connection and the servers have to close some day and secondly because it somewhat bias’ the list and there’s SO many other games I’d like to include!

So my choices (in no particular order) are:

1)  Diablo 3 Collector’s Edition (PC)

OK bit of a cheat this one as by taking the collector’s edition of Diablo 3 I get Diablo and Diablo 2 plus all the expansions already saved on the USB stick but my choice is still valid (plus I’m a sucker for an art book, especially those done by Blizzard)! Actually one of the first great games I played on the PC, the Diablo series is probably the best hack-and-slash RPG out there, despite some… odd choices for the third instalment. The story is great without being overly complicated and the replay value is frankly, HUGE. Randomly generated dungeons and item drops, unique creatures (in the later instalments) and simple but addictive gameplay make this a series I constantly come back to (even today I have both Diablo and Diablo 2 installed on my PC). The way the characters interact with the world too by breaking open barrels and opening chests and sarcophagi made you feel like you could have an impact on the actual environment and made the huge AOE attacks all the more satisfying! Special mentions goes to the dark tone, the gore, the story and best of all: sounds design. Those town and cathedral tracks from Diablo or the haunting desert theme in Diablo 2 make me feel I’m right back there, seeing them for the first time not to mention the death sound effect when you kill goatmen is still one of the most visceral and satisfying sounds ever! 😀

Brad: What a great choice, selecting a collector’s edition with the previous 2 games included and giving you a massive amount of content!

2)  The Elder Scrolls V, Skyrim (Xbox 360)

I think the best quote to describe Skyrim is paraphrasing Douglas Adams: “Skyrim, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Skyrim”. The fact is though, that there’s just so much to do in it and that’s only with one playthrough. The main quest is suitably long and epic and feels like a real challenge, spanning not even a quarter of the map. You can play for 60-100 hours without even exploring all of the over world, let alone many of the dungeons, tombs, houses, coves, caves, shrines, underground cities etc. The combat is really satisfying rewarding skill and timing, the stealth is a tactical challenge and the magic makes you feel really powerful but is balanced by being tough to use against a variety of creatures (who, thankfully, don’t level up with you so you can be killed by a skeever). If nothing else, I’ll be playing this game for a long time, island or no island! Also Dragons.

Brad: Again, another great choice. I have probably spent about 100 hours in that world and that on just one playthrough so I’m sure you’ll be able to sink plenty of hours into this.

3)  Terraria (PC)

An Indie title to add variety, but not placed here without good reason! I got into Terraria fairly early on in its life (when it first arrived on Steam actually) and I loved its 8-bit style and huge depth. Like minecraft only much simpler, Terraria was like when you go exploring as a kid out into the unknown. Most of the time you’d come back with nothing but sometimes you’d stumble across a place you’d never been or a cool dell or something you’d walked past many times before but never noticed. That feeling of adventure and exploration and finding “new” places always excited me and Terraria feeds directly into those memories. Taming the land to my whim was another favourite pastime of mine (sadly only in-game!) and building towers and fortresses to strike out into the Corruption, Jungle or the Dungeon made me feel like i made real progress in a changing the environment, something you don’t often see in games. The amount of tweaks and updates the developers made after release added even more depth (sometimes literally!) to the experience and I still go back to old worlds and characters I’ve created just to “rediscover” what I built in other playthroughs, even months apart. Almost the definition of epic replayability.

4)  Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (PC)

 Yes I know, another Blizzard title, but this really is the game that made me fall in love with these guys in the first place. Epic storytelling and fantastic FMVs set the scene for an epic game where, even though you’re playing an RTS, you always feel like the story is centered around you, and the character you’re playing. The way the game shifts gear through the Orc, Human, Scourge and Night Elf storylines and gets you to experience their sides of the story as well as try out the unit combinations and racial quirks is almost flawlessly executed. The little in-game scenes between characters really give the title life and the gameplay balancing (which to Blizzards credit is STILL ongoing today) mean the game feels easy to pick-up and difficult to master, like all great games should! While I didn’t play online multiplayer as much as I could have done, LAN sessions with my friends at uni and hours playing against the computer opponents on the sprawling maps are still some of the best times I had with an RTS. Also, Arthas is awesome.

5) Starflight (Mega Drive) 

A quite obscure title to finish on perhaps and my only “retro” game on this list. There were many different games I could have picked for this last choice: JRPGs and fighting games, old RTSs and point-and-click adventures but Starflight was just a really cool experience and pipped many of them to the post. Not because it has amazing graphics or massive amounts of replay value but because it was a well-crafted, pulpy, sci-fi adventure and it managed to get SO much detail onto such a tiny console. After assembling your crew the universe was pretty much your oyster and you could fight or negotiate with aliens, explore new star systems and planets, and then send your rover to the surface to search ruins, capture animals, mine minerals- basically all the things Mass Effect did, but about 16 years earlier! There’s no character interaction or back stories for your crew but it was all about the universe out there; a macro rather than micro story. Sorely deserves a good remake!

Soundtrack – World of Warcraft (WoW)

Not only is it well-composed, superbly executed and has a wonderful variety of tracks, but it’ll always remind me of the great times I’ve had on that game, ever since I first started playing on the European Beta way back in 2004.

Well, there are my choices! I hope you enjoyed them and they made sense. Cheers!

Brad: Months later a helicopter comes in to rescue you, in typical Resident Evil style a mysterious figure in the distance shoots the chopper down with a rocket launcher. As the burning debris falls you are only able to grab one of them.

Which game did you save?

Christiaan: haha yeah, that is a good ending (curse you Tyrant/Mr. X!) Ooo you bastard; an even tougher call to make now though! I’m torn between Terraria and Diablo 3 but…

I think Diablo 3 has the edge! Oddly, it was the first one to jump into my mind when I read the rest were going to be destroyed. Thinking about it, it’s not only because it contains an art book and Diablo 1 and 2, but I think longevity and nostalgia-wise it’s just a much fonder experience to me than the others. Also the Tristram theme will soothe my soul on the loss of the other titles 😦

About the choices

Diablo 3 Collector’s Edition

Developer – Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher – Blizzard Entertainment
Platform – PC
Release – 15th May 2012

The Elder Scrolls V, Skyrim

Developer – Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher – Bethesda Softworks
Platform – Xbox 360
Release – 11th November 2011

Terraria

Developer – Re-Logic
Platform – PC (Steam)
Release – 16th May 2011

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

Developer – Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher – Blizzard Entertainment
Platform – PC
Release (EU) – 5th July 2002

Starflight

Developer – Binary Systems, Electronic Arts
Publisher – Electronic Arts
Platform – Genesis (Mega Drive)
Release – 15th May 1991

The problem with . . . Sonic The Hedgehog.

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In 1991 a blue blur streaked across our screens for the first time. This is when my first experience of Sonic The Hedgehog began, with my Master System controller in hand I spent countless hours dashing through each zone hoping to defeat Dr. Robotnik (as he was named back then in all but Japan). Sonic was like nothing we had seen before, his sheer speed, the lush setting of the green hill zone and his cool persona. Sonic was fresh and a far cry from the outdated podgy plumber sporting a moustache and dungarees, yet at some point throughout the years it all went wrong. You see, although Mario as a character was always much less “cool” than his blue younger rival, Mario is still innovating and refreshing with each new instalment of the main franchise, which is now pushing 30. So where did it all go wrong for Sonic? For some years Sonic was arguably as big, if not bigger than Mario, let’s take a look back at how Sonics rise to fame began.

During the 1980’s the juggernaut of Nintendo began to dominate the games industry with a reported market share of around 92%[1]. By this point Sega had already entered the console market and yet the Master System paled in comparison to the NES, selling around 13 million units[2] while the NES achieved a whopping 61.9 million[3] sales. At this point Sega had to rethink their strategy, the Genesis had arrived in Japan at the end of 1988 and over the course of almost two years it was eventually released in the UK (the console was named ‘Mega Drive’ in both Europe and Japan). This console was about to sow the seeds of success which would shoot Sega into the forefront of gamers minds, and make Sonic one of gaming’s greatest icons for generations to come. The Genesis was not an instant success, however, that was all about to change as a new game had been developed called Sonic The Hedgehog and it would be bundled in with every new Genesis console.

Sonic became an instant success and Sega’s market share peaked at around 55 – 65%[4][5] during 1991. The golden era of Sonic was about to begin as a string of Sonic titles were released yearly, beginning with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 in 1992, the lesser known Sonic CD in 1993, and both Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Sonic and Knuckles released during 1994. The classic Sonic formula had worked wonders throughout the 16-Bit era, however, Sonic’s reign was about to end due to three important factors discussed below.

Part 1: Sonic Adventure

3D gaming ushered in a new era for videogames, and many existing franchises had to evolve to stay relevant. Super Mario 64 hit shelves in 1996, followed by other 3D platformers, such as Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. Sega had also begun to evolve and so the natural progression was to bring their mascot into the realms of 3D. Fans had to wait 4 years after the release of Sonic & Knuckles for Sonic Adventure, which was released for the Dreamcast in 1998; it was the first in the main series to feature 3D gameplay (spin-offs such as Sonic Labyrinth and Sonic 3D had previously experimented with isometric gameplay).

Sonic Adventure received mainly positive reviews[6][7],so how could 3D possibly have had a negative impact on the franchise? Sonic The Hedgehog had been designed to be a much faster game than Super Mario Bros.[8] There is still an element of skill involved in Sonic’s gameplay, however the main appeal is its speed. I generally felt myself rushing through most levels as fast as possible rather than trying different routes and finding all the secret areas. Adding a third dimension to the mix didn’t really add anything to the game play, and if anything, Sonic became increasingly frustrating to control as his speedy movements were difficult to judge in a three dimensional environment. Mario on the other hand was a slower paced game with a greater focus on skill and taking time to plan each jump with expert precision, or work out a method of attack (there was of course a countdown timer in Super Mario Bros. but generally stages were not designed to be sped through as they were in Sonic The Hedgehog). Adding a 3D element to Mario games offered a further degree of tactics; the player now had to carefully navigate the plumber across narrow ledges, circle enemies and shake off crazed Bullet Bills. Moving to a 3D environment was one of only several large changes Sonic Adventure brought with it.

In recent years many would agree that Sonic games have become bloated with superficial playable characters, and if we compare this with core Mario games, the player is generally only able to play as Mario or Luigi, of course there are exceptions to this (see Super Mario 64 DS). I believe Sonic Adventure was the catalyst for this, adding six playable characters that were insubstantial in terms of their relation to the Sonic universe and more importantly to the player base. Sega seem to have addressed this oversaturation of extraneous character selection with the launch of Sonic The Hedgehog 4, in which a character teaser countdown[9] was used which finally revealed Sonic as the only playable character.

Sonic Adventure also brought with it some strange design decisions. Gone were the memorable electronic songs synonymous with previous games in the series, instead replaced by throw away guitar riffs and vocals . . . vocals! As for the level design, there were some beautiful zones such as ‘Emerald Coast’, ‘Mystic Ruins’, and ‘Windy Valley’, all of which were reminiscent of canonical Sonic design. New, however, was the inclusion of hub worlds (think Super Mario 64’s castle), which would be a perfectly fine inclusion were it not for ‘Station Square’; a city populated with humans and featuring a train station. Other than Robotnik (who is very much a caricature) humans had never been a part of this universe before, but that all changed with Sonic Adventure.

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Most importantly, disregarding some poor design decisions on Sega’s part, it is the gameplay that should keep players hooked. Going back to play ‘Emerald Coast’ (the first zone in Sonic Adventure) I realized how little interaction there is in this stage, with very few enemies, and a very linear path to the goal. The stage looks quite nice, but due to Sonic’s high speed, the player misses most of its beauty, and has no real reason to slow down to appreciate it as the stage is fairly linear with a general lack of enemies and obstacles.

Part 2: The Console Fiasco

When a new console is released it is generally four or five years until a successor is released. This allows developers to get to grips with the new tech and work on building a franchise. Developers start to understand the limitations of a platform and are in a much better position to release a sequel or two utilising the same engine and tech. Consumers also benefit from these life cycles as they generally end up with better quality games as a result. Buying a new console can cost hundreds of pounds and consumers can be reluctant to upgrade. Both Nintendo and Sony have released every new home console at least five years after their last flagship machines (there was a four year gap between the original Xbox and the Xbox 360). Sega on the other hand have had a very troubled release schedule.

The Master System debuted in 1987 and aimed to compete directly with the NES. By this time however Nintendo had already dominated the market. For the next generation the Genesis arrived two years earlier than the Super Nintendo, giving Sega a much-needed boost. The Genesis firmly cemented Sega as an established brand, and not wishing to fall behind again, Sega quickly began working on new consoles. They were perhaps a little worried that Nintendo might follow up and beat them to the market with their next generation console, which would eventually be the N64.

What happened over the next decade would lead to Sega retiring from the console market and focus solely on software. Between ‘89 and ‘99 Sega would release six new home consoles (along with the 32X there were also Mega-CD 32X games which required both a Mega CD and a 32X), plus provide continued support to the Master System. On top of this Sega also released hand held consoles and updated existing models (Mega Drive II). Compare this to Sony who openly announced that their consoles have a ten year life cycle.  The new PlayStation becomes Sony’s flagship system for five years, and then the company spends a further five years supporting the system as the budget older brother to the PlayStation 2, strengthening the user base for their latest console. There is nothing inherently wrong with this logic as Sony only supported two home platforms simultaneously, not seven!

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Now arguably the Mega CD and the 32X (along with Mega-CD 32X games) were add-ons for the Mega Drive, as neither could function without being connected to a Mega Drive. The idea was quite innovative, essentially keeping a base console relative for years to come while upgrading it with extra units rather than abandoning it in favour of the latest system. Keep in mind however, that these were full price systems retailing at approximately £250[10] for the Mega-CD and £150[11] for the 32X at release. Nintendo implemented this same concept several years later but in a much more user friendly way by offering customers the ‘Expansion Pak’, which increased the N64’s RAM. The Expansion Pak retailed for a fraction of the price of the 32X and was even bundled free with Donkey Kong 64 for a time. So therein lies the problem. It’s not that fans went off Sonic itself, but for the most part they lost interest in Sega as a brand. Nobody could keep up with the sheer about of systems Sega was selling, and for that matter who would want to?  The 32X library consisted of thirty-four games while the Mega-CD 32X library consisted of only six (some of which were duplicates of 32X games); quite a price to pay for such a limited selection.

Sega followed up with yet more bad decisions. The Saturn was slated for a September 1995 release but four months before the launch date, Sega surprised fans when the console shipped early at select retailers.[12] Due to the surprise launch there were only a handful of games, none of which were from third-party developers. Sonic didn’t even make an appearance on the console after Sonic X-treme became stuck in development hell. Four years of poor sales passed until Sega released what would be their final console, the Dreamcast.  In terms of shipped units, the Dreamcast only scrapped around 10 million, just slightly more than the Saturn.[13] Both the Xbox and GameCube sold about double that amount although they were not considered to be massive successes when compared to the mammoth PlayStation 2 sales; a console which has gone on to sell an estimated 150 million units. For reference here are SEGA’s home console releases in chronological order:

Master System (1987)

Mega Drive (1989)

Mega CD (1992)

Pico (1993)

32X (1994)

Saturn (1995)

Dreamcast (1999)

Part 3:  In Conclusion

There is not a simple explanation as to why both Sega failed as a hardware developer and Sonic failed as a flagship franchise. Sonic’s fall from grace seems to be attributed to the culmination of bad design decisions to both hardware and software. With failing hardware a franchise cannot survive, but would Sonic have fared any better had the Saturn or Dreamcast sold as well as the PlayStation 2?

During the 1990’s many franchises were evolving and Sonic had to compete to stay fresh and relevant. Sonic Team seemed to struggle to evolve Sonic in a way that would remain true to the franchise. Perhaps Sonic should have remained a 2D platformer and found new ways to innovate within that design space; after all, in recent years 2D platformers have enjoyed a resurrection and have been well received. Mario and Sonic have returned to their roots with New Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 respectively, as well as many new and unique platform style games such as Braid, Limbo and Super Meat Boy populating the downloadable space. In the meantime though, Sonic has been placed in increasingly unfamiliar situations. There has been 3D platforming in Sonic Adventure, the high-paced, almost racing like Sonic and the Secret Rings, and morphing into a werewolf in Sonic Unleashed:  none of this content ‘feels’ like a Sonic game should.

Sonic remains a reminder of a bygone era of classic platforming action in the golden age of gaming. Unfortunately he has never been able to move on and evolve in a way that both improves the core mechanics and remains relevant.

1. Kent, Steven L, The Ultimate History of Video Games (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), p. 428.

2. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/965/965032p1.html

3. http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/library/historical_data/pdf/consolidated_sales_e1106.pdf

4. Kent, Steven L, The Ultimate History of Video Games (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), p.434

5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mFs2v7XM4o&feature=relmfu

6. http://dreamcast.ign.com/articles/160/160140p1.html

7. http://www.gamepro.com/article/reviews/385/sonic-adventure/

8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D9h-4vQUHM&feature=relmfu

9. http://blogs.sega.com/2010/01/15/project-needlemouse-character-countdown-finale-and-concept-art/

10. http://www.captainwilliams.co.uk/sega/megacd/megacd.php

11. http://www.captainwilliams.co.uk/sega/32x/32x.php

12. http://uk.ign.com/articles/2008/05/02/the-sad-legacy-of-the-saturn-launch

13. http://web.archive.org/web/20080905175406/http://www.gamepro.com/article/features/111822/the-10-worst-selling-consoles-of-all-time/

Edited by Arthur Salt