Sonic is back!… with long legs and a scarf

Remember Sonic?

Of course you do! Born in 1991 as Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic quickly became a system seller and one of the most iconic video games characters. As a matter of fact, he was one of the first members of the Walk of Game, alongside Mario and Link.

Sonic's 1991 version

Original Sonic

Since Sega abandoned the hardware business, its mascot jumped to other platforms, increasing its fame (even if the last games were poorly received). Ironically, in May 2013 Sega announced a partnership with Nintendo, so the next 3 Sonic games will be developed exclusively for the 3DS and Wii U, being Sonic Lost World the first. Following that deal with Nintendo, Sega has been busy doing a total makeover on its flagship character, and the result is Sonic Boom.

Sonic BOOM!

Sonic's 2014 redesign

Sonic’s 2014 redesign

In a clear move to change the franchise’s appeal to Western audiences, Sonic Boom will be developed by American studios: Los Angeles-based studio Big Red Button for Wii U and San Francisco-based studio Sanzaru Games for 3DS. Both of them will be focused on combat and exploration, but with slightly different content (mostly environments and enemies).

“One last thing”

But don’t be confused. If Sega hosted a press event in New York wasn’t just for announcing a new installment in the decades-old franchise. No, Sonic Boom is a whole new universe for the blue hedgehog, comprising 2 games (3DS and Wii U), a toy line and an animated Cartoon Network TV series (with 52 11-minute episodes). The Sonic Boom characters will exist in parallel with the original ones without replacing them.

The business reason behind the “cross-media” launch is to cover as many obvious, and follows the same strategy a lot of other properties have had: to cover , being The Simpsons a clear example (even South Park is investing heavily on its long-awaited The Stick of Truth).

The artistic redesign, in turn, seems to focus on each character’s skillset: Sonic’s legs (because he runs), Knuckles’ upper body (because ha can throw a punch), Tails’ wrench (because his tails are evident) and Amy’s hammer (because… well, I guess she’ll use it). The blue hedgehog’s new scarf is a different case, and it may have to do with Uncharted Nathan Drake’s influence.

Fast feedback

Of course, this deep makeover didn’t go unnoticed for fans and the Internet community in general. Some elements like Sonic’s scarf, bandages and long legs (along with Knuckles’ new passion for the gym)  have become the center of many jokes. Here are some of them:

Sonic loves bandages

Sonic loves bandages

What do you think of Sonic’s new look?

Sources: IGNKotaku

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How much money do you need to make a big game?

“And I would like a mobile version too, please”

There are countless materials available about best game design practices, recommended development techniques and successful artistic approaches. However, finding reliable information about game budgets is a pretty disappointing venture. Even if you work in games, chances are you don’t know the budget of your current or past projects, simply because publishers and developers almost never release their data.

There are always exceptions, of course: journalists and analysts making educated guesses (although most of the times they are just a guess), public companies’ investor reports (although they usually combine all their production costs), and people like Tim Schafer, who isn’t afraid of telling us the costs of their previous critically acclaimed games (Grim Fandango: ’98, $3 million; Psychonauts: ’05, $12 million; Brütal Legend: ’09, $24 million), and even lets us know that patching a console game can cost $40,000.

“And this is how I get the money for my games”

That’s why it’s worth checking what a remarkable job the Kotaku columnist superannuation has done. Using public sources, he has put up an incredible list with tons of titles and their budgets. According to him, this list “marks a first attempt here at Kotaku to get a comprehensive sense of how much money the world’s biggest and most expensive games cost.”.

It starts as early as 1982, with the infamous E.T. (’82) and its $23 million licensing fee, and includes the car combat game Twisted Metal (’95, $0.8 million), the god game Black & White (’01, $5.7 million), the first Guitar Hero (’05, $1.7 million) and the mythological action-adventure game God of War III (’10, $44 million), among others.

Take a look at the full list here.

What happens when Obama buys your game for Christmas?

Basically, it becomes a phenomenom.

The first Just Dance was launched in December 2009. Despite the skepticism around its dance-centric proposal (and some bad reviews), it slowly climbed its way to the top of the charts, thanks to word-of-mouth.

However, what sent its brand awareness through the roof happened in December 2011, when Barack Obama was photographed buying a copy of Just Dance 3 for the Wii, as a Christmas gift for his daughters. That single event helped catapult mainstream recognition, as Xavier Poix, Managing Director at Ubisoft Paris, said in an interview with IGN:

My first thought was that our PR in the U.S. must be really good, but no, I was thinking: now we’re universal. The image that we wanted to convey with the game, the spirit of it, really worked. The president, in front of 80 cameras, can think, ‘I’m not making a mistake in showing that I love this game.’ It is so simple and positive that nobody could object. We’re very proud of that.

“Can I play it with my suit on?”

Now, 4 years after its first launch and 2 years after the Obama photo, Just Dance is one of the most successful series in the world, having sold around 50 million units (more than Pac-Man or Tomb Raider, to name a few).

Source: IGN via The Escapist.

How to confirm a sequel to fans

I really enjoyed 2012’s Hitman: Absolution. It had its flaws, of course, but it was really fun (and sometimes stressful) to find creative ways for killing your targets solving the puzzles. That, combined with the franchise’s reputation, sold 3.6 million units at retail (it could also be purchased digitally), although it failed to meet Square Enix’s (its publisher) unreal expectations.

Square Enix Montreal (a different studio) was entrusted with continuing the saga, but recent rumors seemed to put that in a hiatus. However, after some clarifications regarding the franchise, today IO Interactive (the original developer) posted “An open letter to all Hitman fans“. In it, they confirm they are working on a new Hitman game for PC and next-gen consoles.

The juiciest part comes from the list of features the game will have:

The game concentrates on the core Hitman fantasy…

…using the best parts and what we have learnt through Hitman: Absolution and drawing inspiration from past titles like Contracts and Blood Money to fulfil the core Hitman fantasy.

Our aim is to create living, breathing and believable levels which will allow gamers to play around with the AI to create those unique moments every fan of the Hitman franchise loves.

Contracts Mode is back.

You will also be glad to hear that we have removed 47’s magic pockets.

In other words, they aren’t try to challenge fans, but to please them. According to their judgement, it’s time for playing safe, for showing that they heard the hardcore fans’ feedback. Innovations will surely appear later. After all, a big game like this will probably need at least 1 extra year of work.

I appreciate the tone of the letter (although I’m a little worried about how they’ll handle the “checkpoint-free, sandbox levels”), especially after the distasteful marketing campaign Hitman: Absolution had.

We’ll see.

I can wait…

Is a multiplayer game tougher to market?

Titanfall is, without question, one of the most anticipated games of the year (it will be launched on March 11). Let’s sum up:

  • It’s a multiplayer-centric first-person shooter, a combination that has proven successful when executed smoothly.
  • It’s exclusive for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Actually, Microsoft hopes that it becomes a system seller for Xbox One (it’s even getting its own controller).
  • It’s going to be published by Electronic Arts (the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue after Nintendo and Activision Blizzard).
  • It’s being developed by part of the original team that turned the Call of Duty franchise into a billion-dollar business.
  • It’s been receiveing extremely positive buzz from the press, winning over 75 awards after its E3 2013 reveal.
  • And last but not least, it will let players fight each other as elite assault Pilots or as HEAVILY ARMORED TITANS.

So, it’s a game that’s being created by a team more than skilled in that genre, backed by Microsoft and Electronic Arts and with enough hype to fill a stadium. Therefore, a dream came true for marketing, right?

Apparently, no.

According to producer Drew McCoy, the multiplayer nature of the game forced the team to take a different approach to get the game noticed.

It’s actually been really tough trying to accurately market Titanfall. If you look at what we’ve done, its a lot different than what most FPS games do. Without a bunch of highly scripted singleplayer moments to recam from different angles, the usual ‘movie like’ trailer is just about right out.

Although Titanfall will provide some narrative moments, the main core of the experience is to play with other people, and that’s what they’re trying to emphasize (along with driving HEAVILY ARMORED TITANS, of course). So, their current marketing strategy consists in releasing full unedited 3-5 minutes segments, showing the flow of the game.

What I find interesting about this is that, when McCoy says that they have  had problems ‘accurately’ marketing Titanfall, what he’s really saying is that, because of its multiplayer nature, they had no choice but to use actual game situations to get audience’s attention.
The marketing guys didn't get the chance to build their own Titan (?)

Marketing guys didn’t get the chance to build their own Titan (?)

And actually… that sounds like a good thing to me. There are lots of games that were marketed in a dubious way, frustrating players (because they weren’t getting what they were expecting) and creators (because their game was being advertised as something else) alike. As a matter of fact, in the only trailer they published (the one at the top of this post) there are no first-person sequences… and it’s a first-person shooter! But I’ll write later about that.

Titanfall is a hardcore game (there’s nothing casual about it) that’s being marketed to its potential hardcore audience through actual footage, even minimizing risks. Instead of showing a more controlled experience (i.e. a regular trailer, like the one they used for presenting the game), they are simply showcasing gameplay.

I understand that it may be a change from the more classic way of advertising a game like this one (and that, at some stage, an edited video can be useful for awareness) but I hope in the future more companies start to be more transparent regarding their actual products. Or, as McCoy himself admits,

There’s no amount of polished marketing that can replace playing the actual game.

Source: IGN