The Making of SEGA MegaVerse: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog

Notice: This post was written from April to June 2022. While the majority of information discussed within this article is factual, Some information discussed may be slightly out of date. Reader discretion is advised.

INTRODUCTION

This is Takahashi-sensei. Hello again after a more than 2-year hiatus from blogs and announcements. As far as things have gone, It’s no secret how exhausting and exasperating these last 2 years have been for me, since COVID began. So, I figured that now that it’s been 5 months since I wrapped up that happy accident of a doujinshi which ended up taking 2 years to complete instead of just one as planned, I feel the importance of sharing my experience putting it together during the pandemic cannot be ignored. Much like the material it was based on, it felt like an emotional race and rollercoaster with more speed bumps and pit-stops spread out than planned, leading it to becoming a learning experience that will likely only happen once. Of course, this discussion is about the 4-act limited manga serial, SEGA MegaVerse: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

STARTING LINE

It started back in November of 2019. After finishing 3 courses, I was taking 2 more courses 3 times a week at SAIT Continuing Education as part of the Graphic Design Certificate program I decided to be enrolled in starting in March, after enjoying a year and a half retreat from the post-secondary education system so I could embrace autodidacticism, due to my concerns of the high cost of college and university (and also so I could squeeze in just a bit more sleep since I was often writing past midnight). On the days I went to SAIT, I typically came hours early so I could socialize and work on various projects that were education and career-related.

As a gamer, you probably knew how excited I quietly was for SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog to make his big screen debut early the following year. And I say “quietly”, because, this was at a time when SEGA, for some reason, was trying to win over an unhealthily obsessed fanbase based in the West instead of trying to prioritize the more quiet, but polite of the homeland (i.e. Japan), coupled with the fact that they had been developing titles that had varying reception, which was mostly negative. I actively tried to distance myself from that group so I could lean towards producing original icons that people from future generations could look up to, since, well, you can’t really make money from riding the backs off of other creators’ success. Plus, I bought a Windows Mixed Reality headset from B&H as part of a Black Friday sale the previous year; I didn’t really see a need to go to theaters any longer. After comparing the hideous first trailer from May to the second one which made it online in November; sure, the iconic conjoined eyes didn’t come back, but to be honest, I never really liked conjoined eyes in the first place, either. 

I was also aware of SEGA’s illustrious past as the creator of other genre-defining classics of the previous decades such as Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, and The House of the Dead, as well as unique titles such as Cyber Troopers Virtual-On, NiGHTS Into Dreams, Burning Rangers, Jet Set Radio, and Shenmue, and did I forget to mention the fact that they were celebrating the 60th Anniversary of their founding the following year? With the release of the Genesis/Mega Drive Mini console occurring just months earlier, it only made sense that the SEGA brand as a whole could also have a renaissance not seen since the Dreamcast days, that Sonic could share with it, given how successful companies like Marvel, were in reintroducing, in addition to familiar faces like Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man, its obscure catalog of characters elements and universes, for instance, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Black Panther, in a new light to new audiences through the Marvel Cinematic Universe which enjoyed unprecedented levels of success that the comic books didn’t enjoy. 

However, from a business perspective, you could also guess how concerned I was about Disney’s supposed chokehold on the box office that year. Since purchasing the assets of 20th Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in March, Disney had gained close to 50 percent control of the U.S. box office. And, if Spider-Man: Far From Home(2019) counted, 8 of the top 10 highest-grossing films that year were all distributed by them. Seeing this as somewhat monopolistic, I had a reason to be worried about Paramount Pictures’ slim chance of success with adapting SEGA’s icon to the screen. While the Viacom-owned distributor(since 1995) had enjoyed a successful 2 and a half decades making original films based on whatever they have owned(I.e. Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Nickelodeon catalog) with the occasional licensed adaptations, including those of Takara Tomy/Hasbro’s Transformers, they, beginning with Iron Man(2008), gave birth to the MCU prior to Disney’s purchase of Marvel in 2009, before it became the multibillion-dollar behemoth that sank Titanic(1997)’s box office record. They also worked closely with George Lucas’ Lucasfilm on the Indiana Jones franchise as early as 1980. Alas, Disney would end up buying Lucasfilm 3 years later. As a result of Disney’s shopping spree for influence over much of the entertainment industry, Paramount began struggling to find an audience during the 2010s. It only made sense that they needed to fight fire with fire.

While I would, under normal circumstances, NEVER involve myself in these kinds of creative affairs with anything I didn’t have ownership of, after sketching and doing some fan art a bit, as well as observing its chances of finding an audience similar to that of the typical 3-Marvels-A-Year, I decided to brainstorm what it would be like if SEGA’s other creations were to share the spotlight with their mascot like they had in the Sega Superstars series, as that was the franchise that led to renewed interest in their back catalog amongst a new generation. I also brought along a friend I got acquainted with just a year earlier to see the finished film on Valentine’s Day 2020, opening night. Afterwards, we ate at Applebee’s and, alongside talk about our daily lives, we also discussed methods on how SEGA could regain more of its strength and win back consumer trust just to get even with Nintendo, even if we knew that they weren’t in shape to make consoles any longer. Much to my surprise, Sonic ended up beating Birds of Prey at the box office, which made me a bit optimistic for SEGA’s future.

However, COVID-19, which started as an epidemic in Mainland China earlier that year began making headway into much of the global world by March. Thus, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were in place, including in Calgary, which meant I couldn’t really go to SAIT again until further notice, although I took one online class involving the Adobe Creative Suite’s InDesign as part of the program. Everything, even major events such as the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, was impacted so badly that film releases had to be delayed or go straight to streaming in lieu of a theatrical release. And in the case of Paramount, The future surrounding SEGA’s long-term relationship with them was uncertain, so, just to keep everyone entertained and give the fanbase a sense of hope while we mostly stood at home, I finally finalized that decision to write and draw an interquel manga to the film that I planned to last for several chapters since principal photography on the sequel would commence in 2021. 

THE FIRST 2 LAPS

Titled SEGA MegaVerse: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the story was to start one month after the final scene and span the final 4 months of the year I predicted the film took place in, 2018, which was when principal photography occurred. In the spirit of the film, It was important that Sonic, in order to be like humans, and also to fulfill his ever-growing Bucket List(a major plot device from the film), would need to have financial stability in order to be a valuable member of the Wachowski family, therefore, the idea of Sonic delivering food through Doordash in his hometown of Green Hills, Montana was brought to fruition, due to the service’s popularity in real life. However, it was felt that Sonic also needed another adversary that would challenge his right to live in peace on Earth, since Jim Carrey’s character and longtime primary series villain, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman, was already trapped on another planet thanks to the use of Sonic’s rings. I ruled out including characters and major plot elements from the main series of games, since they were already to be introduced and explored in future sequels, so I created some new villains just for this story, since I don’t create characters just for existence’s sake. After doing some research about the deep and dark web, including how Discord operated fairly recently, I figured that having the villain operate a secret untraceable(at least unless you have an invitation) online cult consisting of Robotnik-wannabes from around the world with the aim of capturing Sonic to become Robotnik’s future apprentices should he be found would add suspense to the overall storyline with bits of information regarding their whereabouts trickling in. Their attempts ranged from implementing the smallest tech such as drones, to larger-scale projects such as badnik-like robot animals to capture Sonic. Although only two were realized due to time constraints (i.e. The Taxidermied Robin Drone and The Hurri-Kraken), there were plans to have some resembling a Bull and an Elephant due to some parts of the story taking place in Kenya.(Although much of it was scrapped; more info on that will be discussed soon.) 

In addition to Sonic learning how to make his skills serviceable to the people of Green Hills in Zone 1: “Doordashing and Drone-Smashing”(all the chapters are called “Zones”), Sonic would also learn a new skill that he has yet to learn properly in the games: swimming and diving. It would be useful during James Marsden’s character, county sheriff Tom Wachowski’s trip to Barbados(which was foreshadowed early in the film) in the 2nd Zone, titled “Sea-ing is Believing”, which would also feature another new character in the form of a childhood friend of Tom’s, Jonathan Hyde, whose creation was inspired by Jonathan Bird of the modern Public TV staple, Jonathan Bird’s Blue World. Hyde, however, like James Cameron, was also an explorer who had recently located an uncharted shipwreck not far from the island and, as part of a pact he and Tom made as children in making a discovery, invited him to be the first to see it upfront and excavate it. As Sonic was brought along since he couldn’t largely be trusted being left home alone for obvious reasons, he would also need to be serviceable, despite his major fear of water. To accommodate Sonic’s much smaller body build compared to his human allies, he was outfitted with older diving equipment dating between the 1960s and early ’70s, while everyone else had modern PADI-certified gear. And since this was part of an initiative to expand the universe by incorporating SEGA’s other properties, an appropriate special guest in the form of the titular Ecco the Dolphin assisted Sonic and his friends in their battle with the Hurri-Kraken, which was crafted by two Puerto Rican members of DOR to prevent hurricanes from forming, but also to capture Sonic, controlled by a custom-built Dreamcast controller with 8 analog triggers that controlled the tentacles.

SPEED BUMP

Now, about that chapter which was supposed to take place in Kenya. After finishing up business in Barbados, Sonic and Tom were to reunite with Tika Sumpter’s character, Maddie, in a rural village as part of her perennial abroad volunteer work in humanitarianism. Sonic would have made an attempt to retrieve food from a jungle, a place designated as off-limits to the villagers, which would result into another encounter with the DOR in the form of a battle with the aforementioned Robot Elephant, which was originally built with the purpose of stopping poachers from killing elephants to harvest ivory, but also to, much like all the others, catch Sonic to fulfill the pact. In true-to-character fashion, however, Sonic would ultimately reign victorious in saving the village from further destruction and be given a hero’s departure from the village once their week-long stay was through, after which, they would fly back to Green Hills.

Due to a major anomaly involving a 256 GB NeTac flash drive, purchased from Amazon in May, which, in the middle of July, was being used to back up my work(though I always use a portable hard drive to do so) which rendered my main PC, a 2017 model Dell Inspiron Gaming laptop(7557 i5 I believe), which I had used for just over 3 years, inoperable, as it was stuck in a boot loop after I enacted an emergency shutdown due to how slow the flash drive was receiving copied data, I feared that I would have no choice but to cancel the project if I ran out of options to solve the issue. Worse yet, I was still in the middle of completing Zone 2, and had not copied the files of that corresponding chapter to my portable hard drive yet. Therefore, I ended up hitting up my father’s house hoping for a miracle out of this major predicament. We ended up resorting to the Geek Squad at Best Buy, which was fortunately open despite the ongoing pandemic, to replace the internal HDD with an SSD, which cost me over $100 to replace. With help from my father, I believe we used the Command Prompt’s “diskpart” command to recover the data from the original drive, despite the Geek Squad’s claim it was busted. I learned another important lesson in data management: never back up extensive data on a removable flash drive no matter how simple and carefree it may look. 

There was a reason why I had been using thumbdrives more often than hard drives, though. The year prior, on February 24th, 2019, my most recent portable hard drive, a 4TB Seagate Backup Plus, bought in September of 2018, suffered what I later learned was a major head crash. I lost my photos and a collection of other media such as music and movies(that’s what I primarily used the drive for.). After going to a recovery specialist, I learned that head crashes can happen if the drive had been exposed to too much heat or had been dropped, or even had a defect, the latter of which often applied to Seagates; Early on, whenever I operated the drive, I heard ominous squeaking beeping sounds emitted from it. Hard drives operate with multiple heads with small magnets surfing mere millimeters above the disks’ surface. Nowadays, in addition to using Western Digital and Toshiba drives in the place of Seagate, due to the former’s poor track record of reliability, I use SMART tools to check up on my hard drives’ health and determine when to replace them. There was a happy ending to that incident, though it came at a steep cost; I ended up having my photos retrieved. But afterwards, for a while, I began operating them less frequently, and turned towards storing copies of files on flash drives since I felt that the technology had matured enough to be reliable. Not the case when you’re working with files that are constantly being modified(case in point, Photoshop files). But I digress.

As a result of all that had happened in July, I had to rush through production on Zone 2 in order to have it finished by late August, because I also had plans to have the 4th Chapter involve Halloween. Thus, Sonic’s humanitarian experience in Kenya was discussed at the last minute of Zone 2 without any major conflict occurring. This would also lead to the 4th Chapter being the 3rd instead.

BACK ON TRACK

Titled “Tricked, Treated, Tricked Again”, this Halloween-centered portion of the arc fleshed out the county of Green Hills slightly more, though there was still very limited information to work with, even in the 1st chapter. I figured due to how tightly-knit the community appeared, it was capable of hosting seasonal events. In addition to the temporary name change to “Pumpkin Hills”(a nod to Sonic Adventure 2), and the organization of the Pumpkin Hills Party Patch, characters and plot elements of another SEGA IP would also be featured: The House of the Dead. That’s right; as part of his early research experiments in breaking the boundary between life and death(at least in this continuity), series antagonist Dr. Curien and a small handful of his employees, in the guise of setting up a live shooting gallery replica of his mansion, would try their hand at capturing Sonic to also use as a test subject. Sonic’s early days on Earth regarding his search for friends, which he ended up scaring away during a previous Halloween, would additionally be explored, along with Tom’s newfound knowledge of the Discord service in order to learn more about DOR, later learning about Curien’s involvement at the Party Patch, prompting a search warrant taking place not long before the event was to be held. Maddie was originally going to have a larger role at the climax. While at the Party Patch on Halloween Night, Curien’s lackeys were to disguise themselves as cosplayers and kidnap her, trapping her inside the Curious Mansion attraction to lure in Sonic and Tom as bait, leading to the sequence you read through in the final product. Of course, that was to happen while Sonic and he hung around at the numerous attractions while Maddie wandered around. Of course, she would ultimately be rescued and the Discord group would be flagged. Once again, leading to a month-long calm…before yet another storm.

THE BITTERSWEET FINAL LAP

I will now discuss my experiences in putting together the finale that was originally planned to be ready for March 2021, as I believed the pandemic would be over by then, but ended up in limbo for just over a year, and less than a week before the sequel’s theatrical release.

Now, This was supposed to be Sonic’s official introduction to the Holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, courtesy of the Wachowskis, as well as members from Maddie’s side of the family, as he likely never celebrated them while he lived alone. 

Similar to how Sonic received his iconic shoes modeled as Pumas as a gift from Maddie’s niece, Jojo, I felt that Sonic needed to return the favor to her in another way: by taking her on an adventure through places she wanted to visit and explore.

I would also find the opportunity to finally flesh out the shady bunch behind the Discord cult, only Discord booted them off for obvious reasons. Thus, they would be left to unleash hacking operations upon Doordash and Amazon’s US headquarters and even the Barbadian government. They consisted of American-Swedish programmer Eugene Knack, whose name when spoken in Japanese will sound very familiar, in addition to a few others.

As Sonic and Jojo would traverse between California and Japan, using Sonic’s rings as a means of transportation, though Tom dissuaded him from using them early on the arc to avoid being in violation of travel laws on Earth, they would use them for their final encounter and fight with the Disciples themselves on Catalina Island. Meanwhile, the Disciples would play a riddle game with Doordash that would expose Tom’s involvement in the incident if he lost, but would reveal the location of their secret base if he won. Jojo was originally going to be sent home before Sonic would take on DOR, but I felt the need to develop Jojo’s personal convictions and Sonic’s reasoning and resourcefulness to further build their characters.

Unfortunately, I was just as affected by what happened in Washington DC as much as all of you. I kind of felt uncomfortable working on this finale for some time, as I felt it was inappropriate due to political and social unrest and turmoil affecting much of the world for the past year which would extend into much of the year 2021. Thus, I began working on and off it so I could focus on other important projects.(such as the upcoming St. Nick II & The Miracle Mint Cane, which I will be discussing later this year.) But that’s not to say I wasn’t aware that principal photography for Sonic 2 was taking place. In fact, I stood vigilant over that period since COVID was still lingering even after a year and there were still plenty of anti-vaxxers around. It was also at that point in January of 2021, I gradually began making somewhat of a switch from Adobe Creative Cloud to Serif’s Affinity Suite for my workflow, which I since use as of today.

Even after shooting wrapped up, deep down inside, I was still determined to finish what I started, but I still wanted the finale to look its best, even when compared to the first three. After working on and off in September and November, production was put into full throttle in January of 2022. I promised myself that after 2 years, I would be finished with this headache of a final thesis. And on April 5th, of that year, it was finally over as I uploaded the final Chapter to my website in PDF that day, just 3 days before the film’s sequel finally opened. Alas, I still wish things didn’t end so bittersweetly. 

Even during the final chapter’s development, I had plans for a one-act follow-up, taking place after Sonic 2 that would have seen Sonic, the Wachowskis, as well as Tails(But not Knuckles as I figured he would be guarding the Master Emerald) teaming up with ARKS operatives to thwart a Falspawn invasion that caused the former’s summer camping trip close to home to go awry. Yes, I was planning to implement characters and lore from SEGA’s massively popular MMO Phantasy Star Online into the SEGA MegaVerse.

But, of course, I felt as if the shared-universe initiative I built upon the original back when there was limited information to work with had failed to catch SEGA’s interest in spite of its potential to boost interest as well as sales figures for much of their catalog, and decided to cancel further entries, though as of writing this, a Streets of Rage film with a script written by Derek Kolstad of John Wick fame, is confirmed to have entered production; in compliance with NDA’s, I need not say more. All the more bittersweet is the fact that in 2021 SEGASammy announced that they would be leaving the arcade business altogether in Japan, due to the very uncertainty surrounding COVID that led everything to close down for just over a year, and in some cases, even up to now.

AFTERMATH

As it turns out in the end, Marvel, despite being Disney-owned, actually somewhat still remains divided license-wise. While much of Marvel’s roster is set in a shared universe, a plethora of others such as The X-Men, Fantastic Four, and even Spider-Man were not because Marvel licensed their characters out to various parties such as Sony, Fox, and New Line Cinema well before Iron Man‘s release. This was at a time when the superhero genre of film was still fairly premature as comic books were never taken seriously by most moviegoers at the time when that crowd was looking forward to original fare such as Ghostbusters(1984), Top Gun(1986)(Top Gun: Maverick came out just recently as of writing this), and even The Terminator(1984) as a reason to go to the theater. The genre didn’t find much success until early in the 21st century. Only after achieving that success, Marvel saw potential in their backlog as much as Warner did in DC’s, which led to hits like Sam Riami’s take on Spider-Man(2002-2007) and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy(2005-2012) at the box office. Only during then was the groundwork laid for what would be to come for the following decade.

When Marvel and Paramount began work on Iron Man, they planned things out thoroughly and even had competition to begin with. Warner Media tried their hand with the DC Comics roster starting with Man of Steel(2013), but due to entries varying in reception, coupled with financial flops(I’m looking at you, Justice League(2017)), in 2019, decided to disregard interconnectivity to focus on lower-budget one-shots such as Joker(2019). (though as of 2021, they have since decided to reincorporate it into future productions.) Universal Pictures also did the same with their Dark Universe initiative, starting but ending with The Mummy(2017), which failed spectacularly, even with Tom Cruise at the helm, leading to their current low budget affair with Blumhouse, which is going smoothly. Hence, Marvel still stands even almost a decade and a half later. I learned from this experience that just because lightning can strike twice for a previously struggling entity like Marvel doesn’t mean it will strike twice for everyone else. The SEGA of today is in a very different place in stark comparison to what they were back in the latter half of the 20th century. No wonder treasured talents such as Yuu Suzuki and Yuji Naka gradually left in droves for much of the 2000s.

Despite being 4 decades old (if Disney’s Tron(1982) counts) the video game film genre is still relatively young. Only a small handful of properties have had success in this medium. For instance, Lara Croft was among them, while Mario wasn’t. From the very beginning there wasn’t really a well-thought-out plan with how to adapt SEGA’s Japanese hedgehog to the screen, even as the MCU was taking off in Disney’s hands, which led to the project even switching distributors from Sony to Paramount.

To close this chapter, I definitely feel awful for everyone impacted by the pandemic, especially those who are disadvantaged like myself in some ways. However, I knew that I couldn’t be dormant during this challenging time, and took advantage of the only moment I felt I had to repay the fans my debt and made this project the best I could while also acknowledging SEGA’s six decades of creativity, and of course, making use of much of what I have learned even before being enrolled at SAIT, so that my career could lead me to greater things. And as of current, I’m happy to say that I’m on track to earning my Graphic Design Certificate by the end of this year after a multi-year delay due to COVID, which was a blessing in some ways, but, sadly, a curse in others.

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