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Ken Balough

Community, Game News, Site News

Sonic Boom 2012 – The Aftermath

In the heart of San Diego as the blood from the San Diego ComicCon pumps through the city, the House of Blues was bumping last night with the ’80s Hair Guitar stylings of Crush 40 belting out fan favourites and all new tracks, and a grand outpouring of love for the spiky Blue Blur from all 800 or so in attendance.

And Sonic Retro was there in force to experience it.

After a little meetup at a nearby Yard House with some of our older members and a few other fans, we made our way to House of Blues to discover that the line was already stretching around three corners of a block with people eager to attend Sega of America’s Second Annual celebration of all things Sonic. And while those of us in line joked about the stranger sides of the fandom, we ran into a familiar face frantically scurrying around the block to make sure the line was moving: Sega of America’s Sonic Generations Brand Manager Aaron “Ruby Eclipse” Webber. After some small talk, we left him on his way to continue making sure the line was moving at a steady pace.

As a little bit of a game after letting him go, a few of us wagered on a social experiment: if the six of us belted out loudly the first four lines of Live and Learn, how many people would join in? The result was far greater than expected and can only be truly enjoyed by the video captured of it. Keep an eye out here as we’ll post it once I’m able to get on an Internet service that can handle video uploading.

With that, we went inside the club.

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Game News

Ken Balough Hints Sonic 4: Episode II Teasers Incoming Ken Balough Consejos de Sonic 4: Episode II Enigmas Entrante

Never one from backing away talking up the fanbase, Sega’s own Sonic Digital Brand Manager Ken Balough has been busy chatting with the folks over on Sega’s Sonic forums. Usually, this isn’t enough to draw enough attention–after all, if it was the case, we’d be writing up every time Sega’s own Aaron “Ruby Eclipse” Webber shows up on here in his quest to be the Fastest Sega Employee on Sonic Generations speed runs.

But when Sonic 4: Episode II teases begin to fly, you can bet people will be listening.

Nunca uno de retroceder hablando con los fans, Sega’s Sonic Digital Brand Manager Ken Balough ha estado muy ocupado hablando con la gente más en los foros de Sonic de Sega. Por lo general, esto no es suficiente para llamar la atención suficiente – si fuera el caso, estaríamos escribiendo cada vez que Sega’s Aaron “Ruby Eclipse” Webber se muestra aquí en su búsqueda para ser el más rápido empleado de Sega en los ‘speedruns’ de Sonic Generations.

Sin embargo, cuando palabra de Sonic 4: Episode II comenza a volar, usted puede apostar la gente estará escuchando.

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Game News, Interviews

Ken Balough Speaks On PartnerNET Version of Sonic CD

Late last month, a game-testing friend of mine hopped on Twitter and talked about what he was going to be testing on PartnerNET that day. Sonic CD was one of the games and he was disappointed with what was a 4:3, 30 FPS demo with performance issues. Well, that Tweet made its way around and some confusion ensued, especially since the news of Christian Whitehead’s involvement in the port was made known a few days prior. (Fact checking, how does it work?)

While the PAX demo of Sonic CD cleared up some of that confusion, Sonic CD Brand Manager Ken Balough gave me a ring this afternoon, wanting to make everything clear. “The version of Sonic CD developed by Christian Whitehead has never been on PartnetNET. The PAX version that is widescreen and runs at 60 FPS is the version,” said Balough.

SEGA has been susceptible to PartnerNET leaks in the past, but the version of Sonic CD on the service was never meant to be for private testing, let alone known to the public. Balough noted, “The PartnerNET build wasn’t created by Sonic Team. It was something that we were playing around with to see if a port would work. It was never intended to be played by anybody outside of the company. When we were thinking seriously about this project, we started looking at talented developers. That’s where Christian, his Retro-Engine and Sonic Team come in.”

“It’s a non-story at the end of the day.” Words we’ve heard many times. Many, many times.

Game News

Corrections; Video Interview with Ken Balough on Sonic CD, Sonic 4

A little real talk first before business goes on. We earlier reported that Sega staff member Patrick Riley was interviewed by forum member Shade Vortex. It looks like he might have been a little starstruck as he was actually not speaking to Patrick Riley at all, but Sonic Digital Brand Manager Ken Balough. Patrick Riley had no involvement with the previous interview and we wish to offer our apologies to the two gentlemen and to you, our readers who put up with us, for the confusion. For future reference:

This is Patrick Riley.

This is Ken Balough, as you truly imagined him. Please beat us over the head if this happens again.

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Game News, Miscellaneous

PAX Show Floor Hands-On Preview of Sonic CD on Xbox Live Arcade

Sega’s latest classic title up for download services proves to be an important stepping stone for the company. Not only is it a port of a rare Mega/Sega CD title, the collaboration behind the project showcases the 10+ year old game running with optimizations and slight changes that help solidify Sonic CD’s place among the previous games. Not since Street Fighter has a game seen this level of work, both for those who prefer games to stay as true to the original as possible as well as please those who are looking for optimizations to solidify the functionality between the Sonic games. What was shown off in the PAX demo was the entirety of Palmtree Panic, with two special stages that would be randomly chosen for each playthrough for the sake of the demonstration. Honorable mention goes to our good buddy Ken Balough who was also there at the Xbox Live Arcade booth to help fill in the gaps of what to expect.

No doubt the most promising feature is the ability to change between two different spindash types for the game. However, the demo available only allowed for players to utilize the Sonic 2 & 3 Spindash feature. While the sound effects were still similar to the original version of the game, the spindash execution itself was much more streamlined compared to the original Sonic CD. You still have to charge up Sonic before he goes blasting off, but it is much easier to access places that would normally be more difficult to reach because of this optimization. Because of the new spindash feature, the screen does not pan in front of the player as it did in the original. In the final game, the screen will pan if the legacy spindash feature is turned on.

The gameplay otherwise feels exactly as it did in the original game. Load times are quicker for sure, enemies move as you expect, the stage gimmicks, such as Sonic going through the giant 360 degree loop, are also in place. Some additions including the 16:9 widescreen presentation that properly fills the screen in both regular and special stages help with the viewing area even without the camera panning in front of Sonic. The only real oddity I came across was the stage boss in Act 3; during the part where Eggman falls from the sky, the player can still damage the boss before he begins his attack movement.

The special stages in this version take advantage of the modern hardware, well, as modern as a flat “Mode 7-like” plane with UFOs flying around can get. The 3D plane turns much more smoothly as the UFOs scale properly in the 3D space. Item UFOs are much easier to identify; Light blue represents ones with shoes, and the darker bluer ones represent rings. Of course, the time bonus UFOs are still the same light blue with red bars and will appear when 20 seconds are left on the clock. The smoothness of which Sonic runs around, (or if he gets bounced around,) makes it easier to tell Sonic’s trajectory as he travels. Despite the upgrade in presentation, control is still fully digital, (i.e. no analog,) when turning Sonic left and right.

Another feature unique to this version is a filter effect for the graphics that blur the pixels for a more smoothed, anti-aliased look. Similar to Super 2xSai or Super Eagle filters that work on all the objects on screen. The filter works by applying them per object, however the effect seemed a bit blurry, and the smaller details of some sprites became a bit tough to make out. Ken did state that the feature was still being worked out as it was thrown in shortly before the PAX showing. For purists, players can easily turn the filter off and enjoy the original look of the game. In the demo the filter feature’s switch was mapped to the Left and Right Bumper buttons of the Xbox controller, which are likely to change into a menu function in the final build.

Despite the low volume of the TV, one could determine that the music was without a doubt the Japanese soundtrack. Unfortunately, Ken confirmed that the US soundtrack would sadly not be available in the final version. (Sidebar from me: You can use the Xbox 360’s built in music player to blare your rare Sonic Boom! Music CDs.) What Ken stated on the matter is that they are still working to see what would need to happen on the legal side of things to get the US soundtrack in the final game. While DLC is a possibility, he’d much rather try to include the music for free, whether they can get it in the final or added in through a patch.

While the game was being shown on the 360, Ken did state that the game is coming out on a host of platforms including PS3, Android, iOS devices and on the PC through Steam. A WiiWare version is currently not planned. The game is on track for a release later this year, and already looks very promising. Alas, no disc based version of the game will go on sale.

Finally, on a side note. Those of you who are at PAX make sure to go check out the booth. Last few times I checked over at Microsofts booth, Sonic CD was literally untouched. Go be a bro, check it out and say ‘hi’ to Ken. I bet he’s quite lonely!

Game News

UPDATE: Sega Staffer Speaks Sonic CD Details; Revised as Sonic 4 ‘Prequel’

[UPDATE: Sega’s Ken Balough offers more clarification on the jumbled mess that is the timeline. Read the full quote at the bottom.]

Brace yourselves one more time. This could be a bumpy ride.

The start of PAX today in Seattle allowed attendees to get a first taste of Sonic CD on the Retro Engine before making its way to consoles, computers, and mobile devices, running through the entirety of Palmtree Panic Zone. Initial reactions from the crowd are fairly positive.

While trying out the game, forum member Shade Vortex got to speak to Patrick Riley, a staff member at Sega of America, [UPDATE: Ken Balough, Sonic Digital Brand Manager,] about the game. A few of the details revealed by Retro Engine creator Christian “The Taxman” Whitehead might have been a little premature.

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Merchandise

Retro Shopping Network: Japan Benefit DX: Director’s Cut

SEGA of America has opened up a bevy of auctions on eBay, all benefiting the Red Cross Relief Effort for Japan.  There are over 50 limited edition items, ranging from press kits, posters, trade show displays, autographed copies of games and the rare Dreamcast hoodies that SOA recently manufactured (currently going for over $300).  There’s so much awesome and rare stuff that I bet T-Bird at TSS is losing his mind.  He loves his merchandise.

Today, I’m going to show you the more eccentric and strangely expensive items that you can bid on.

1993 Sonic Notebook

This item is the least eccentric out of what I’m going to show you, but this is Sonic Retro after all and this item is the only one with the ol’ pudg’ems adorned on it.  As of this posting it’s going for $46, but there’s 6-days left, leaving a lot of room for the price to skyrocket to insane levels.  If you manage to get your hands on this masterpiece of school supplies, don’t write in it.  Look at the inside of this magnificent bastard:

Past the jump: a really expensive lanyard, forklifts and a double dose of America’s most popular brand manager.

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Game News, Site News

Monday Links: You’re Too Slow Edition

All right, Retro-ites(?), these are the Monday Links, where we recap the past week of Sonic Retro and SEGA happenings.  It was a pretty busy week, so head on down and start clickin’ to get over your case of “The Mondays.”

Sonic Retro News

SEGA/Sonic News

  • Ken Balough is now on the SEGA boards.  Ask him a question so that he can dodge it.  [SEGA Forums]
  • When he wasn’t talking about moving his TV or shooting tequila, Balough, in typical SEGA PR fashion, announced an announcement.  Sonic 4‘s release date and price will be revealed this week.  [The Sonic Stadium]
  • Then, he said that only the story for Episode II is set in stone.  Will our fan feedback be a factor?  [Cubed3]
  • As we linked before in our Balough article, Joystiq got the exclusive preview of Casino Night Streets Zone.  [Joystiq]

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