He’s the most iconic character in Sega history and the face of a franchise that has sold over 80 million games across the world, but have you ever stopped to ask why Sonic the Hedgehog is blue? Or ever a hedgehog, for that matter?
It all dates back to the early days of Sega as a major force in the games console market. The company was doing battle with Nintendo at the time and were looking to create a character for a series of side-scrolling platform games that would rival Mario.
That task fell on developers Naoto Oshima and Hirokazu Yasuhara, who opened up about their role in developing the character during an appearance at the 2018 Game Developers Conference. Together, the pair worked on Sonic’s visual design and the overall maps and design of the original game itself.
The team initially settled on the idea of a hedgehog because it could curl up into a ball, roll around and do damage with its spikes. However, the head honchos at Sega wanted to test out a few ideas though and made suggestions during a meeting in New York.
According to Oshima “They said ‘We definitely want to see something like an old guy with a moustache, we also want to see something spiky, and we also want to see a dog-like character.'”
Oshima sketched out all three concepts and then did something unusual – he took the designs to Central Park in Manhattan, asking random people on which concept they liked best.
“The hedgehog was the most popular,” Oshima said. “People pointed at it and liked it.
Second was Eggman. Third was the dog. This was kind of pleasantly surprising. I was asking myself ‘I wonder why it is?’ The conclusion to me … was that by a lot of people choosing the hedgehog, it will transcend race, gender, different types of people.
“I reported it back to the company.” Though the other characters were ditched, the Eggman did eventually end up becoming the basis for Dr Igo “Eggman” Robotnik, the game’s villain.
Sonic The Hedgehog ultimately won through because, as Oshima put it, Sega wanted “a character kids could draw” like Mickey Mouse.
At the same time, bosses were keen for the character to embody the ideals of Sonic as both “cool” and a “challenger” – hence the blue colouring. This was also the early 90s, when eco-friendly attitudes were just becoming the norm and Sonic was a character that tapped into that – a hero who saved fellow animals from harsh robotic technology.
“It was an era where we began to think about our environment more,” Yashuahara said. “That idea was rooted into [Sonic].”
The early plans were ambitious too – Oshima had mapped it out ideas for a section of the game where players had to teach Sonic to dance. Ultimately, there simply wasn’t enough room for the idea but it didn’t matter too much.
Sonic The Hedgehog was dundled together with the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, at one point in 1991 the console was outselling the Super Nintendo Entertainment System at a rate of two to one.
Sega may have stopped making consoles since, but Sonic lives on in a series on new games on mobile and console.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.