Inside the E3 booth for Sonic Generations, the 20th anniversary Sonic the Hedgehog game, there were glass encased shelves filled with collectibles. Amongst them was the first issue of Sonic the Hedgehog Archie comic. The comic belongs to Aaron Webber, associate brand manager for the popular franchise, who has been a fan of the speedy blue hedgehog for much of his life.
"I was probably five or six years old," says Webber. "My parents rented a Sega Genesis and brought it home. It had Sonic 3 in it and I was just enthralled. Genesis went on the Christmas list for that year."
Webber is part of the team working on Sonic's 20th anniversary celebration, which will include surprises throughout the year and will culminate with the release of Generations for Xbox 360 and PS3 this holiday season.
"The game itself is a mix of the best of the old Sonic, like the very early '90s Sonic, and the new, modern, Sonic. We've taken the original classic Sonic, he's a little shorter, a little bit chubbier, got black eyes," says Webber. "Fans love him. For the first time in 15 years, he's back in a video game."
Webber indicates that the use of the original Sonic character design is a response to requests from fans.
"They thought they would never get heard, that the feedback would never be listened to and then we announced Sonic Generations and here is classic Sonic again," he says. "I was super excited to see classic Sonic return."
Some of the old zones will be appearing in Generations as well. Webber says that one of the highlights for him is "seeing Green Hill Zone," from the original game.
"In HD it looks fantastic," he says.
Webber can't say how long the game has been in development, but it's been a while.
"They've spent a lot of time on this game," he says, "but, I think with Sonic and it being his 20th birthday, if there's going to be one game to spend a lot of time on, this is one of the ones that really deserves it."
Sonic fans who were unable to get into E3 had the chance to check out the game on June 8, when Sega hosted a 20th anniversary party at Club Nokia.
"It was the first chance for fans in the entire world to get their hands on it," says Webber.
Fans were also able to get their hands on some cool swag, like anniversary t-shirts and blue hats that resemble Sonic's hair. The crowd was joined by five members of the original Sonic the Hedgehog team, including Yuji Naka, Naoto Oshima, Hirokazu Yasuhara. Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioeli of Crush 40, who have provided a lot of music for the Sonic franchise, performed live along with Alex Makhlouf, who contributed to the music for Sonic Colors.
But, fans of Sonic have more than just Generations to look forward to playing this year. Sega's beloved hedgehog is joining forces once again with Nintendo's Mario for sport with Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics.
"The 20th anniversary kind of spans all of the Sonic games that are coming out this year because it is the 20th birthday year," says Webber. "Generations is very much the celebration of the twentieth anniversary, but Mario and Sonic kind of falls under that umbrella too."
Sega and Nintendo, often seen as rivals during the 1990s, first brought their famed mascots together for a video game tribute to the Beijing Olympics. They reunited for winter sports for a Vancouver Olympics game last year. The London game is anticipated for a November release on Wii and a February release for the 3DS.
"In the '90s, they were so iconic, Mario representing Nintedo, Sonic representing Sega and the Genesis," says Mark Orillaneda, producer of London 2012, as well as Vancouver 2010. "Seeing those two compete in the '90s and then in a situation where it's universally known--the Olympic games is internationally known-- it made sense for them to compete in a friendly manner.
Sega developed the game while working closely with Nintendo and the International Olympic Committee. It's the second summer Olympics game in the series and combines both events seen in the 2008 Beijing game with new sports. London 2012 focuses on two-player games with partner-friendly events like badminton and canoeing with no split-screen. There are also "dream events," challenges that take place in fantasy locations instead of an Olympic stadium. Our favorite was the Dream Long Jump, where you try to stay in the air as long as possible.
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The Olympics gave the developers a chance to work with the famed characters' best assets.
"Being on the Sega side of things, we definitely wanted to accentuate Sonic's speed and Sonic's competitiveness as well," says Orillaneda.
And as for Mario?
"He's more of a jumper," says Orillaneda. "He's good at everything, but not particularly the best at everything. He's kind of an all-around character."