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14 Facts About Sonic the Hedgehog

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Sonic the Hedgehog dashed onto the scene in 1991 to challenge the Super Mario Brothers’ video game dominance. Here are a few things you might not know about Sega’s iconic standard bearer.

1. HIS STORY STARTED WITH A BALL IN A TUBE.

Programmer Yuji Naka’s started small. His prototype for the game featured a simple character rolling through a long tube while inside a life-sized ball. He used this version of the game to create the algorithm that would make Sonic’s complex motion scheme possible.

2. BEFORE SEGA LANDED ON A HEDGEHOG, SONIC WAS A RABBIT.

Sega was bent on creating a character that would rival the appeal of Nintendo’s Mario. Early drafts of the brand’s hero envisioned him as a rabbit that could grasp things and fight with prehensile ears.

When Sega recognized that this design would be too technologically difficult to pull off and that having a character who would pick up and throw things would slow down the game's fast pace, the company shifted its sights to the general community of “rolling” animals that could use their bodies as weapons. They wound up with a head-to-head battle between hedgehog and armadillo. Of course, the hedgehog ultimately won, despite Sega’s concerns that most Americans wouldn’t have any idea what a hedgehog was.

3. …AND HIS NAME WASN’T ALWAYS “SONIC.”

Even after Sega settled on the hedgehog, an idea proposed by designer Naoto Ohshima, the company tried out a taxonomically confusing name for the character: Mr. Needlemouse. (Project Needlemouse would serve as the code name for the later game Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I during its development in 2009).

4. THE CHARACTER HAD SOME FAMOUS INFLUENCES.

A number of pop culture icons were gathered as resources for the character’s creation. Ohshima borrowed Felix the Cat’s head and Mickey Mouse’s body for Sonic’s basic likeness. Michael Jackson’s boots from the Bad album sleeve inspired Sonic’s patented footwear (with Santa Claus’ coloring tossed in for a sense of familiarity).

5. AND LED AN INTERESTING SOCIAL LIFE.

Sega’s staff had worked out a hefty back-story for the character, most of which was scrapped before release of his debut game. Originally, Sonic was the leader of a rock band—consisting of a parakeet (who is often mistaken for a chicken), a monkey, a rabbit, and a crocodile—as well as a skilled break-dancer. What’s more, he was also romantically involved with a woman—not a female hedgehog, but a human woman—named Madonna.

6. POP ART WAS A BIG INFLUENCE ON THE GAME.

Sega cited the work of Japanese pop artist and illustrator Eizin Suzuki as a reference for Sonic’s lively color scheme. Moreover, Akira Watanabe, who designed the game’s packaging, is quoted in the 1994 book SEGA Video Game Illustrations as saying that the company encouraged him to employ a style “similar to pop art.”

7. THE GAME’S SOUNDTRACK WAS COMPOSED BY A BIG-NAME JAPANESE BAND.

In keeping with the spirit of the above, Sonic was scored entirely by the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True, formed as a trio in 1988. The band went on to provide music for films including Sleepless in Seattle and the New Line Cinema animated film The Swan Princess.

8. SONIC’S ARCHENEMY WENT BY MANY NAMES.

As you may know, Sonic’s primary nemesis Dr. Ivo Robotnik was originally known as Dr. Eggman in Japan; Sega’s U.S. and Japanese headquarters could not agree on a universal moniker. American developer Dean Sitton came up with the Robotnik name for Sonic’s central villain, borrowing the forename Ivo from his sister’s contemporaneous boyfriend from Croatia. Other options tossed around for the baddie’s handle: Badwrench, Badvibes, Bad Year, and Fatty Lobotnik.

9. THE GAME MIGHT TAKE PLACE ON THE WEST COAST.

The game’s official setting is the fictional South Island, which may or may not be retroactively located on the likewise fictional planet Mobius (the established home of Sonic and company in a number of the franchise’s cartoon and comic series). However, the original game’s most iconic level, the Green Hill Zone, was modeled after the landscape of California.

10. SONIC LIVED UP TO HIS SPEEDY REPUTATION.

At the time of Sonic’s release, the titular hero was the fastest-moving video game character ever created. In 2001, Sonic programmer Yuji Naka told Edge magazine, “Sonic was delivering [the kind of] high speed no other [game] was capable of, and the Mega Drive allowed this stunning demonstration of rotation during the bonus stages. This was said to be impossible on the hardware at the time.”

11. BUT TECHNICALLY, SONIC HIMSELF WASN’T ALL THAT FAST.

According to the player’s manual that accompanied the game, it was Sonic’s “power sneakers” that afforded him his renowned speed, not any innate superpowers.

12. THERE WERE ACTUALLY TWO VERSIONS OF SONIC RELEASED.

The variation of Sonic the Hedgehog most prominently associated with the title is the popular 16-bit Sega Genesis version, but another version was released as well: an 8-bit game for Genesis’ predecessor, the Sega Master System and Game Gear, Sega's answer to Nintendo’s Game Boy.

A number of minor differences exist between the 16-bit and 8-bit versions. The 8-bit game sports fewer rings for Sonic to collect, more bodies of water for him to avoid, and level checkpoints that take form as monitors instead of lampposts. Additionally, 8-bit “Special Stages” differ from 16-bit ones. Most prominently, the 8-bit games lack loops through which Sonic may run, a trademark component of the Sonic franchise.

13. SONIC’s PROGRAMMER DIDN’T GET ALONG WITH SEGA.

Yuji Naka became increasingly fed up with his employing company during the process of creating and releasing Sonic the Hedgehog, primarily due to Sega’s resistance to giving the game’s developers proper credit. Shortly after Sonic’s publication, Naka severed ties with Sega’s Japanese headquarters and moved to America…only to find work at the company’s stateside office.

14. THE GAME INCLUDES A HIDDEN MESSAGE.

The most scandalous thing about the message is not in fact what it says, but the way it was embedded into the game. In a covert act of rebellion against Sega’s prohibition of post-game credits, Naka did indeed include a displayed list of the names of all parties responsible for creating Sonic, printing them on the screen that introduces the game. Since Naka printed the names in black text before a black background, they were effectively invisible and could only be seen via cheat code.

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Something Something Soup Something
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This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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Pop Culture
15 Forgotten Video Game Mascots From the 1990s

With the growing popularity of Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog on home video game consoles in the 1990s, it seemed that almost every video game company was set on creating a lovable mascot to give their brand a unique identity. Sometimes these mascots were memorable and iconic, like Capcom’s Mega Man or Namco’s Pac-Man, but other times they failed to leave any lasting impression. Here are 15 forgotten video game mascots from the '90s.

1. ROCKY RODENT

In 1993, Japanese video game developers Irem Software Engineering created Rocky Rodent, an anthropomorphized rodent with a cool attitude and hair to match. This would-be mascot was tasked with rescuing the daughter of a restaurant owner named Pie Face Balboa from the mob. As a reward, Rocky Rodent would get an all-you-can-eat buffet. His bizarre weapon of choice was a can of hairspray, which he used to both defeat bad guys and style his hair.

2. AWESOME POSSUM

Tengen created a rival for Sonic when it released Awesome Possum... Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt for the Sega Genesis in 1993. The game featured the cool and badass Awesome Possum, who would collect empty bottles and cans instead of coins or gold rings, in an effort to clean up the forest. It was sold as an educational game for children with an environmental activist theme, but it never caught on with gamers, despite positive reviews. Maybe kids back in the '90s didn’t want to learn about recycling and Earth science while they were playing video games.

3. CROC

Originally developed for the SNES, Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was created as a 3D platformer starring Yoshi from Super Mario World. However, when Nintendo rejected the game, the developers at Argonaut Games changed Yoshi from a lovable dinosaur into a lovable crocodile named Croc, who tried to rescue furry creatures from the evil Baron Dante. Argonaut then pitched the mascot to Sony, who loved the gameplay and released it for the original PlayStation in 1997.

4. RISTAR

Released in 1995, Ristar was developed late in the Genesis's life cycle by Sonic Team, the same production company that created Sonic the Hedgehog. The mascot was a cute star who had the ability to stretch his arms in any direction to climb, swing, and grab enemies, as he explored a number of planets.

Since the character and game came out just before Sega released the 32-bit Saturn, the mascot never grew in popularity. Ristar managed to gather a cult following for its mechanics and strong gameplay, and the character has since made cameos in other Sega games, such as Shenmue, Segagaga, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

5. GEX

In 1994, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer console was released with the promise of high-end 32-bit gaming. To compete with established consoles like the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, 3DO needed a cool mascot like Mario and Sonic to bring more attention to their video game system. Enter: Gex.

Released in 1995, Gex featured a wisecracking gecko (four years before the first appearance of the now iconic Geico Gecko) with a cool attitude and a penchant for watching TV. The game followed Gex as he tried to find remote controls hidden in TV show-themed levels to get home, but the evil Emperor Rez stood in his way.

While Gex received critical and fan acclaim, it wasn’t strong enough to bring the 3DO into the mainstream against tough competition. The 3DO was eventually discontinued two years after it was released, and Gex was then ported to the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

6. CONKER THE SQUIRREL

While he first appeared in Rareware’s Diddy Kong Racing (along with Banjo-Kazooie) for N64 in 1997, Conker the Squirrel received his own spinoff game for the Game Boy Color in 1999. Conker's Pocket Tales was a lighthearted game that followed the adventures of Conker, a cute squirrel who has to rescue his girlfriend Berri from the Evil Acorn. In 2001, Rare released Conker's Bad Fur Day, where the character went from a cute and cuddly mascot into a hard-drinking and foul-mouthed squirrel who would constantly break the fourth wall during gameplay. The game was remade in 2005 for the Xbox, under the name Conker: Live & Reloaded and later included in the Rare Replay compilation game for Xbox One in 2015.

7. BONK

While the NES and the Sega Genesis were the two systems at the center of the console wars of the late '80s and early '90s, NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 was a modest console from Japan, where it was known as the PC Engine before it was rebranded in America. The console’s mascot was Bonk, a prehistoric caveman kid whose main attack was a fierce headbutt. The mascot and game series—the first game was Bonk's Adventure released in 1990—were quite popular in Japan and Europe, but didn’t gain the same success in the U.S. due to the popularity of Mario and Sonic.

8. POCKY AND ROCKY

Released as a sequel to the 1986 Japanese arcade game KiKi KaiKai (it was called Knight Boy in limited release in the U.S.), Pocky & Rocky was developed by Natsume for the SNES in 1992. The sequel followed a young Shinto shrine princess named Pocky and her sidekick, Rocky the Tanuki, as they try to save small and cute creatures called Nopino Goblins in a top-down co-op adventure game. Pocky & Rocky received good reviews from critics and even got a sequel for the SNES in 1994, but the characters were never elevated to mascot status.

9. BATTLETOADS

Rare’s Tim and Chris Stamper created Battletoads, a co-op beat-'em-up game for the NES that featured three musclebound toads named Rash, Zitz, and Pimple as a rival to the widely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video games of the early '90s. Battletoads was mostly known for its fun stage design and heart-stopping speed and difficulty level. The characters even crossed over with brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee from Double Dragon in an ultimate beat-'em-up action game.

While the games spawned a short-lived cartoon series and comic strip, Battletoads could never escape comparisons to TMNT. The warrior toads have not been featured in their own video game since 1994.

10. BUBSY

In 1993, a cocky bobcat with a cool attitude named Bubsy was positioned to usurp the video game mascot throne from Mario and Sonic. However, Bubsy's games didn't live up to the hype, despite being available for the Sega Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, and Atari Jaguar, where he eventually found a home as one of the console's short-lived mascots.

Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind followed the titular bobcat trying to get back the world’s largest yarn ball from a fabric-stealing race of aliens known as the “Woolies.” A sequel was released in 1994 with an exclusive follow-up for the Atari Jaguar called Bubsy in: Fractured Furry Tales released later in 1994. The game series lasted for one more game with the release of Bubsy 3D: Furbitten Planet for the Sony PlayStation in 1996.

11. GLOVER

In 1998, Interactive Studios and Hasbro Interactive released a platformer called Glover, which followed the adventures of a sentient four-fingered right-handed glove, for the N64. The object of the game was to get a ball to the end of each level, while trying to solve puzzles, dodge enemies, and find lost crystals to restore the Crystal Kingdom. Glover’s life was tied to the ball, so if it fell off the platform, the glove would also die.

The gameplay was a little ahead of its time and would probably do better with motion-control consoles like the Nintendo Wii or touchscreen Android or iOS devices. As a result, Glover had poor sales and low critic ratings, which led to the cancellation of its sequel.

12. ALEX KIDD

Before the advent of Sonic, Sega had a different mascot named Alex Kidd, a small boy with big ears and monkey-like features who lived on the planet Aries, which was also known as Miracle World. The games started out in the arcades, but made their way to the Sega Master System as a mix of platforming and puzzle solving games.

Alex Kidd was featured in six games throughout the late '80s and early '90s, but never rivaled Nintendo’s Mario in popularity. Sega needed a different mascot to represent the company, so video game designers Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima, and Hirokazu Yasuhara created Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991.

Sega stopped making Alex Kidd games and focused all of its resources into making Sonic more popular than Mario. However, Alex Kidd still made cameos in various Sega games, such as Altered Beast, Sega Superstars Tennis, and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

13. TITUS THE FOX

Created by French video game developers Titus Interactive, Titus The Fox: To Marrakech and Back (Lagaf': Les Aventures de Moktar) was released for the Amiga and Atari ST personal computers in 1991. The video game followed the titular fox on a quest to rescue his girlfriend Suzy. He must complete 15 levels through the Sahara Desert while dodging dogs, construction workers, and giant bees to save her. It was also eventually ported to the Game Boy and Game Boy Color later in the '90s.

Unfortunately, Titus The Fox received poor ratings from critics and fans alike, and Titus Interactive ultimately filed for bankruptcy and folded in 2005.

14. BANJO-KAZOOIE

After the pair first appeared in Diddy Kong Racing for the N64 in 1997, Rare released a spin-off game starring a bear named Banjo and a bird named Kazooie in 1998. The puzzle-solving 3D platformer followed Banjo-Kazooie as they tried to stop the evil Gruntilda from stealing Banjo's sister's beauty. The game was praised for its non-linear level design, as well as its immersive graphics and deep sound design. A sequel called Banjo-Tooie was released for the N64 in 2000.

Fun Fact: The video game was originally developed as a role-playing game called Dream: Land of Giants for the SNES before it was re-developed.

15. ZERO THE KAMIKAZE SQUIRREL

In 1994, Iguana Entertainment and Sunsoft released Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel as a spin-off game of Aero the Acro-Bat, where he appeared as a sidekick. Zero’s mission was to stop an evil lumberjack named Jacques Le Sheets after he kidnapped Zero’s girlfriend (or should I say “squirrelfriend”) and started to tear down the forest to make counterfeit money.

While it received favorable reviews, Zero The Kamikaze Squirrel never caught on with gamers due to its sloppy controls, while the perception that the character was a blatant rip-off of Sonic the Hedgehog persisted.

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