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Game Development:Sonic the Hedgehog 4

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The following details the marketing campaign and development of Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

Contents

Marketing

First announcement and teaser

The silhouetted emblem resembles that of the one from Sonic the Hedgehog
On September 8, 2009, Sega revealed to GameSpot details about a new 2D Sonic game. Named Project Needlemouse after Mr. Needlemouse, an early prototype of Sonic, it would be released in 2010 and feature HD graphics. GameSpot conducted an interview with Sega's associate brand manager, Ken Balough. Balough described the game as a response to "old-school Sonic fans [who] have long asked to see Sonic return to a more 2D style of gameplay."

A teaser video (info) was also released. While the video didn't include any actual gameplay, it showed Sonic racing around collecting rings, with the words "Speed returns in an all new 2D adventure built from the ground up." It included sound effects from early Sonic games (like the original Sonic the Hedgehog). The video concludes with a silhouetted "ribbon, ring, and stars"-style emblem, which hides details such as the game's true name and main character (which would later be revealed as Sonic). The shape of the emblem closely resembled that of the one on the original Sonic the Hedgehog's title screen.

Character Countdown

On Monday, January 11, 2010, the "Project Needlemouse Character Countdown" began on the official Sega Blogs. This countdown would eventually reveal that Sonic is the only playable character in the game, after goals were met by the community. On Monday, a picture was released showing the names of potential playable characters. Each day that week until Friday, names would be crossed off that picture if enough fans answered Sonic-related trivia questions correctly. The list of possible characters included: Chip, Charmy, Shadow, Sonic, Vector, Sonic's new friend Mr. Needlemouse, Shade, Tikal, Big the Cat, Amy and Froggy.

A bonus point could also be earned each day. If at least three bonus points were earned by the community by Friday, "something special" would also be awarded. On Friday, this was revealed to be drawn concept artwork of a Shellcracker badnik from Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Day 1 (Monday)

Sega Blog post

Trivia questions:
  1. In Sonic 1, how many rings were needed at the end of an act to enter a special stage? A: 50
  2. How many emeralds were in the original Sonic 1 for Genesis / Mega Drive? A: 6
  3. What colors were these emeralds? A: yellow, pink, blue, green, red and white

Challenge: Get 100 replies on the Sega Blogs with three correct answers in 20 hours. Get over 250 correct replies for a bonus point.

Outcome: Over 700 correct replies within the first 12 hours; challenge met with a bonus point awarded. Charmy and Chip were eliminated.

Day 2 (Tuesday)

Sega Blog post

Trivia questions:
  1. What was the general name for the robot enemies in the early Sonic games? A: Badniks
  2. 50 Rings is always nice, but 100 is even nicer - why so? A: You earn an extra life
  3. In Sonic 2 for the Genesis / Mega Drive, how many lives was a 'continue' worth? A: 3 lives

Challenge: Get 500 replies on the Sega Facebook page and Sonic Facebook page with three correct answers in 20 hours. Get over 750 correct replies for a bonus point.

Outcome: Over 900 correct replies were posted; challenge met with a bonus point awarded. Vector and Tikal were eliminated.

Day 3 (Wednesday)

Sega Blog post

Trivia questions:
  1. How many acts were in each zone of Sonic 1? A: 3 Acts
  2. What was the first game to feature Super Sonic? A: Sonic 2
  3. The original Sonic the Hedgehog featured special stages with morphing backgrounds - can you name two of the animals seen in that background? A: Fish and Birds

Challenge: Get 750 replies on the official Sonic forums with three correct answers in 20 hours. Get over 1000 correct replies for a bonus point.

Outcome: At least 750 correct replies were made, but the bonus point challenge was not met. Shade and Amy were eliminated.

Day 4 (Thursday)

Sega Blog post

Trivia questions:
  1. If you locked Sonic 3 onto Sonic and Knuckles, what was the largest amount of emeralds you could collect from special stages? A: 14, 7 Chaos and 7 Super
  2. Yuji Naka is credited with much of Sonic’s history, but who is the man that actually designed Sonic? A: Naoto Ohshima
  3. During his creation, what was the Japanese name originally given to Sonic? A: Mr. Needlemouse

Challenge: Get 1000 tweets replying to @sega on Twitter with three correct answers in 24 hours. A bonus point would be awarded if over 1250 correct replies were made or if #SEGA or #Needlemouse became trending topics.

Outcome: Over 1000 correct replies were made; challenge met with a bonus point awarded. Shadow, Sonic's new friend Mr. Needlemouse, Froggy, and Big the Cat were eliminated, leaving only Sonic.

All of the trivia questions had to do with the gameplay or creation of early Sonic games. This strengthened the idea that Project Needlemouse would be a game that somehow was related to the first Sonic games. In revealing that Sonic is the only character, the Sega Blog acknowledged that this was in response to "thousands of [fans] out there asking for a game where Sonic is the only playable character." Project Needlemouse would focus only on Sonic. The Shellcracker concept artwork further suggests that this game is closely related to the original Sonic games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

The Needlemouse Challenge: Part 2

On January 27, 2010, the official Sega Blog announced the second and final competition. This competition was realized because of Trakker's magnificent artwork of Slicer, which was in the same style as the official Shellcracker artwork released. Because of how impressed Sega was with it, they started the 2nd competition, which took a different path than the first one. It asked blog visitors to submit their own concept art of badniks. Along with the competition, concept art of a Motobug was shown.

Part 2 (Thursday-Monday)

Sega Blog post

Task:
  1. Submit concept art of your favorite old school Badniks.

Challenge: Submit 100 total pieces of concept art by February 1st, 2010.

Reward: The actual name of Project Needlemouse would be revealed, along with concept art from the first zone and an extra bonus.

Outcome: According to Sega, well over 300 pieces of Artwork were submitted within the contest's first 48 hours.

"If our target had been a ship and your entries arrows, we wanted you to simply fire off one-hundred arrows and hit our ship. That would have been enough.

Instead, you shot one hundred arrows, fired two hundred cannons, launched multiple air-to-land missiles, detonated at least three warheads, and sent the ship splintering into the air in a grand explosion of planks and pieces – of what used to be a target – as they fell, smoking, to the ground. (Note: The term ‘blew it out of the water’ just wasn’t accurate.)"

The challenge was completed, and Sega announced the next week would be Hedgehog Week, which would start on GroundHog Day, "Hedgehog Day," and would be a week full of big reveals and possibilities to earn prizes.

Hedgehog Week

Hedgehog Week started on Hedgehog Day. (Groundhog Day in US) The reason this day was chosen was because it was the original release date for Sonic 3. The 1st things revealed on Hedgehog Day were as promised, 2 new pieces of concept art: a palm tree and a sunflower, both reminiscent of Sonic 1. The bonus turned out to be a short clip of music from the new game, which accompanied the "Happy Hedgehog Day" banner on Sega's official website.

This particular blog post was also where the prizes would be decided by post numbers. The big prize was a copy of Sonic 3 that was signed by one of its original developers, Takashi Iizuka, with post #333. Other prizes included "a Sonic & Metal Sonic Wall Scroll (Featuring classic Sonic – who has black eyes), a brand new Sonic the Hedgehog Clock, a Sonic Towel and more!" Most winners were in 50 post increments. (50,100,150,etc)

Sega said not to confuse the music as the big surprise, and stated that the surprise would be revealed on Thursday, February 4th, 2010.

Official unveiling

On February 4, 2010 at midnight PST, the official title of Project Needlemouse, Sonic the Hedgehog 4, was revealed on the Gamespot website. It was accompanied by an interview with Sega's Ken Balough and a trailer containing a few seconds of gameplay footage.

Leaking and delay

The early level select screen in this leaked image displays the 4 zones featured in Episode 1. Splash Hill Zone is currently highlighted.

In February, a build of Episode 1 was submitted to Xbox Live Arcade's PartnerNET service, where developers are given access to upcoming downloadable titles for testing purposes. Soon after, screenshots, music and progressively more gameplay footage were leaked to the Internet. Eventually a playthrough of the entire game had been leaked, and Sonic Retro, who had already banned leaked material when more than they approved of had been released, responded by banning Sonic 4 discussion for several days. As well as this, PartnerNET shut down for a night. Other websites also made efforts to crack down on leaks, such as banning posting of leaked content. The build was controversial, due to it containing "floaty" physics speculated to be due to its using the Sonic Rush engine, poor animations, and criticized level design such as gimmick-based Acts that were disliked by most fans.

On May 20, 2010, SEGA announced that, due to fan input, the game would be delayed until later in 2010, in order to extend the development of the game. They have stated in game magazines and on GameSpot's On The Spot that this was specifically done to allow various fan requests (since the game was leaked) to be implemented, including more momentum-based level designs and improved physics closer to the Mega Drive titles.

Releases for the iPhone and iPod Touch were also announced, finally ending speculation of the 4th unknown platform, although this was leaked months before when images were found in the website's source code. It was also revealed that the iPhone platform would receive two extra levels, which were the Mine Cart and Score Attack gimmicks in Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 2 and Casino Street Zone Act 2, which were heavily criticized in the leaked gameplay footage. This is thought to have been done because such levels fit the iPhone controls more. The console versions received new non-gimmick levels to replace them.

A video on YouTube from E3 dated June 11 led some fans to believe that physics changes had already been made to the game, although Sega staff stated that the build at E3 was not the most recent one.

Birthday Contest

In June, SEGA announced a contest to celebrate Sonic's 19th anniversary where people would create videos with the winner going to Tokyo to see the finished version of Episode 1. Running only in the United States and United Kingdom, 10 videos from each country were put up for voting, two UK entries included Sonic Stadium staff members Dreadknux and T-Bird. The voting system was intended to allow one vote per day, however people found workarounds to allow multiple voting by clearing their browser's cookies and cache due to poor site coding. On July 16th, SEGA suspended the voting. On August 2nd, the winners were chosen by input of SEGA staff and Sonic Team.

Concept art

Early Game Design

Splash Hill Zone

1

Sonic the Hedgehog 4
Sonic 4
Sonic4ep1.png

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