Yesterday, SEGA held their first ever “Community Event” at their headquarters, inviting those far and wide to come, check out the place, play a bit of Phantasy Star Portable 2, and talk about Sonic’s other latest outing, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1.
Because he simply had nothing better to do, forum member Sammybeany decided to attend, not really interested in playing Phantasy Star but plenty prepared for the “highlight” of the evening, the Sonic the Hedgehog 4 feedback session.
As can be expected, the half-hour alloted was not nearly enough time for proper discussion. Sammy was slightly agitated and how quickly they tried to move things along (almost like the release of Sonic 2006 haha see the joke I made there), but a lot of topics were brought up in the discussion that at least were heard by Aaron Webber and Ken Balough. Is it enough to force SEGA’s hand and change the direction of future installments? Who knows. But hey, at least there were free gourmet sandwiches.
To read his entire report, either go to the thread on the forums, or just click on the jump below. And be sure to keep an eye out for Retro’s own Slingerland give his two cents on The Sonic Stadium. Update: Slingerland’s report is up. Check it out.
These days, I live just a short train ride from downtown San Francisco. I figured “well, why not.” I had no misgivings about this event, of course. I knew there was no way I could go in there and be taken seriously and have my opinions matter. Despite this, I sort of felt like I had to go. My ever declining interest in video games wasn’t enough to quell the fact that Sonic was a big part of my childhood, and I felt like this was the only chance I’d ever have to defend the series in a way that at least pretended to be meaningful.
So, I went. I wanted to be in San Francisco to see a movie that was opening today, anyway. (Four Lions, by Chris Morris. It was pretty funny. Recommended.)
I got to Sega’s headquarters about half an hour early. A few people had already showed up, so I joined the group and just sort of sat around and listened to them talk. It became clear, quickly, that most people were there for Phantasy Star and Valkyria stuff. I basically know nothing about either series, and I don’t care about them. At this point, I realized it was probably going to be a pretty long evening.
Sorry I didn’t bother trying to get convincingly good photos of this shit.
Someone briefly mentioned Sonic 4, and my ears immediately perked up, and I quickly weaseled my way into the conversation, and began to give an impassioned speech about why it’s so bad. That RubyEclipse blog hero guy sort of stumbled through, and was like “you’re already complaining about Sonic 4? That’s supposed to happen later.” So, I jokingly said “well, fine. I’ll keep it bottled up until then.” But, I actually did back off. I figured it would be better to do this on Sega’s terms. Why not? They invited me in here for this. I withdrew myself from the conversation and went back to listening to everyone talk about the other games.
I thought the frosted glass windows with Sega logo style stripes were pretty classy. Nicely designed offices, overall.
The crowd was very (very) nerdy, but they were generally the “good” sort of nerds (with only a few outstanding exceptions). They treated each other with respect, and generally tried to be social and include other people. The one funny case I noticed where this faltered was with a cute Asian girl, who seemed pretty withdrawn. I talked to her a few times, and she acted like she was shy and embarrassed. She warmed up to the group after a while, though.
They served dinner first. Catered gourmet sandwiches and cookies. Not bad.
Anyway, nobody cares about that bullshit. The Sega event itself was sort of arduous. Apparently the one game required everyone have a certain save file, and they had to go around and copy this shit to everyone’s PSP memory card, and some people didn’t have memory cards, so they had to scrounge these up for people, and some people didn’t have PSPs, so they had to scrounge up loaner units, and blah blah. It was all pretty disorganized and ridiculous, and I was glad I didn’t have any interest in participating. I felt a bit antisocial for refusing to play shitty animu games, but I wasn’t there for that. I was there to criticize Sonic 4.
After sitting around through all of this nonsense for close to four hours, they finally gathered around for the “Sonic 4 Community Feedback” session. RubyEclipse even had a whiteboard with “Sonic 4 Community Feedback” written on it. You know that shit’s official.
He started out by saying we’d go through items that people felt needed work. First thing he writes on the whiteboard is “physics.” Everyone in the room laughs. How embarrassing for Sega!
Brad Flick, some guy who is apparently an admin for Sonic Stadium and Sonic Retro, was the first to speak up. Everyone basically turned to him and assigned him the task of breaking the ice, as I guess he’s been a vocal detractor of Sonic 4. He goes into a fairly cogent explanation of why Sonic 4’s physics suck dick. I used his point as a springboard to interject, explaining that any “experimentation” they were trying to do with the game would have been slightly more understandable, if not for the fact that it’s billed as SONIC FUCKING FOUR. I explained that they set the bar pretty high when they’re claiming to be creating a direct sequel to the original games.
After talking about this for a very brief period of time, RubyEclipse starts trying to push the conversation to a new bullet point. I don’t even remember what he put up on the whiteboard next. It might have been “levels.” From here, Brad started explaining how poor the flow of Sonic 4’s levels are, compared to the original games. Other points came up, like how there’s less variation in level design, from zone to zone, compared to the classics. Plenty of great points were made, and the people moderating the discussion did a fair job of acknowledging them.
Unfortunately, every time we’d get the ball rolling on some topic, they’d be forcing us along to a next one. As I noticed this happening, I began to get pretty pissed, and I started just interrupting people and talking over the moderators. I know I was being a dick, but, fuck this! You call me in here and tell me you want my opinion. Then you rush me through it? We have a room of more than fifty people sitting around, trying to tell you why this game sucks balls, and you’re barely giving us a chance to speak?
I should have known this was coming. Well, I sort of expected it, but I really should have known, because it was in black and white from the beginning. Look at the event schedule on that blog post, and you’ll see that they allotted HALF AN HOUR for this Sonic 4 discussion, amongst all of the other bullshit they did for the evening. What a joke! They’re sitting there, saying how valuable our feedback is and how this community is so great and we’re going to help so much. Fuck that.
You call us in for a four hour Sega circle-jerk, then you sit us all around in a campfire-esque circle in a goddamn room for focus group bullshit, and then barely give anyone a chance to speak? A few of the people who tried to make points about what bothered them would do so in a belabored, barely coherent way. And, I mean, you EXPECT that. These are nerds coming in here. They’re not sitting behind the comfort of their keyboards. This is difficult for them. But, if you value their opinions so much, why don’t you fucking give them enough time to try to convey what they’re feeling!
In the end, about 90% of the discussion was between Brad + me and the discussion moderators. Ruby Eclipse was trying to wrap it up, but I kept jumping in as soon as he’d lull slightly and try to inject more criticism. I know it was pretty ridiculous to do that, but, goddamn it, Sega invited me there to tell them why Sonic sucks. Give me my satisfaction.
Finally, he puts his foot down and declares the discussion is closed. There’s nothing more I can do. At that point, I had to sit through a bullshit SEGA SHWAG RAFFLE! YAAAAAAY.
I won a fucking clock.
A clock doused in shitty, soulless, overused Uekawa art.
I’ll probably put it on eBay.
Anyway, yeah. That was it.
As people dispersed, I was surprised that a number of the random nerds went out of their way to come up to me and shake my hand and actually thank me for talking over them and ranting like a frothing lunatic. They told me (paraphrased) “we agreed with pretty much everything you said, and we’re glad someone said it.” No joke. I guess I sort of felt vindicated.
A couple of the employees came up to me, and “thanked” me for my “passion.” That’s nice and all. I tried to explain to them how ridiculous this whole event was. I mean, does Nintendo have to ask their fan-base how to make a proper Mario game? Do famous bands organize press events after releasing an album that is critically panned, and go “okay, folks, we want to know what you feel we did wrong.”
They “explained” to me that it’s difficult, when you’re working on something, to take a step back and observe it’s faults, because you’re too absorbed in it. So they need some constructive criticism. Um, what? You’re a fucking company, paying teams of “talented” people to make games for you. But you have to petition fans for critical input? How absurd. This was pretty much the final insult, for me. I didn’t really have anything else to say, because nothing has ever made their corporate delusion clearer to me. You have teams of professionals working on these games, but you bring a bunch of nerds in off the street trying to fix your problems, and then you don’t even give them a fucking chance to provide what you apparently expect.
Anyway, I sort of lingered around for a while, after that, even though the event was “over,” and most people had already left. I guess I was sort of shell shocked.
I don’t know why any of it surprised me. I knew it was going to be bad! Just like I knew Sonic 4 was going to be bad. Just like I’ve known every fucking Sonic title of the past ten years was going to be bad.
My decision to awkwardly stand around for a while was rewarded with an opportunity to go back a bit deeper into the offices with a couple of the employees. I didn’t take any pictures, because this was all part of the area that was deemed off limits during the actual event. There was confidential development stuff laying around. We were in the middle of the Sega cube farm, basically.
Tons of employees had old Sega relics scattered about their desks. It was sort of endearing, and I guess it was a reminder that some of the people in this company actually still give a shit. At some point, one of the guys working there mentioned how much of this stuff was “rescued” by the workers, because it would have otherwise been discarded and destroyed by the company. He was very quick to follow that up with “but, you’d be surprised how common that is amongst companies like this.” What a lousy justification. Sega, as a company, does not care about their culture. They don’t care about their games. They don’t care about their fans.
I don’t regret attending. It was interesting. To some extent, I feel like this was a final footnote in my enduring interest and concern for the series and the company. I’ve been “over” Sonic for quite some time, but this is sort of the last nail in the coffin, I guess. I’ll always be able to look back on the old 16-bit games fondly. I’m pretty confident that I’ll never look forward to another Sonic game, though.
The best part of the day was biking around San Francisco.