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Big Red Button Explains Its Sonic Boom Character Designs, and Admits They Could Have Been Wackier

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Minus input "the character would have been a lot more alien and different"

When Sonic Boom was announced as a TV show, toy range and — perhaps most importantly — a game for Wii U and 3DS, there was an explosion of interest around the web. Much excitable chatter in those initial hours wasn't so much about the setting of the show of the potential style of the games, however, but on the character designs. In fact the words "what have they done to Knuckles?" was one of the most common sentences when the cast (above) was revealed.

The furore has perhaps died down a little now, and we can start to look ahead with some anticipation to the games themselves. While Sanzaru Games is taking on the 3DS iteration, most attention is on the home console entry from Big Red Button, a studio making its début yet boasting an impressive pedigree in its staff. Bob Rafei, best known for his time at Naughty Dog, is very much the front-man for the studio, and he recently spoke to Gamespot about those character designs that prompted such fierce debate among series fans.

In comments that may surprise those that already think the designs are quite a departure, the developer did experiment with even more distinctive looks, before feedback from the Sonic Team put a sensible break on proceedings. Takashi Iizuka, who heads up the Sonic Team, didn't find the process easy.

We went pretty wide with the designs at first, and by going too wide, we lost some of the spirit of the character and had to rein it in. Sonic Team and Sega were very open-minded about our approach, and accepting of a lot of things we were doing. Ultimately, because of some of our really wacky ideas, we did find the boundaries of things we could and couldn't do.

We experimented with different colors and surface features on the characters, such as fur or scales, and quickly Sonic Team came back with their discomfort of that. They were great guardrails for us to understand when we were deviating too far from the character. Without their input, the character would have been a lot more alien and different from what Sonic is known for.

...Early on, when we had our first review of all the crazy things we wanted to try, Iizuka-san came down to Los Angeles and looked through all the different concepts.

I felt sorry for the guy because sometimes he couldn't actually look at the screen — it was too traumatic seeing all the crazy stuff we wanted to do. Over the course of that meeting, when we were coming up with new ideas, we had a very sincere — just two adults talking — conversation about why a character should or should not wear pants, and that was a very surreal moment in my life and my career. But it helped us understand the rules of clothing in this universe. Any small adjustment went a very long way, so we had to be very careful.

As for the looks that we now have, it's explained that the visual touches applied to each character are there to make their abilities and characteristics instinctively understandable, with fashion choices reflecting their personalities.

It's really important for me to make sure when you have an ensemble of characters that they all have distinct shapes so you can quickly [internalize] the variety between them. With that comes a quick understanding on who these characters are. That's why, for instance, we requested to beef up Knuckles, to make him look more like the bruiser he is.

From my perspective, it was important the characters have a practical heroism to them and not vanity, which is more fitting for villains. The arm and leg wraps were inspired by fighters and American football players — two groups who don't really care what they look like so long as the end result is that they kick ass at what they do. That was something I wanted associated with these characters. The sports tape is meant to show the characters are not vain; it's just a part of their daily routine. When the world is in jeopardy, you don't have time to worry about what you look like. It's a more grounded approach for the characters.

This is in contrast to Eggman and his very formal, military-esque attire. That's a very conscious design choice because his character is more vain and is very concerned with what his robots look like and what he looks like. Hopefully you can see the thought that went into this and not just something we threw out for the sake of it.

The dust has now settled since that flurry of activity when the Sonic Boom spin-off series was announced. Let us know what you think of the designs and Rafei's comments, while below is the behind the scenes video originally released in February.

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User Comments (52)



ToniK said:

It's cool. Things need to change every now and then and you're bound to disappoint someone every single time you change something. That's just the way it is. I like the new design and I'm one of the original Sonic fans and Knuckles was my favorite in the early 90's Sure he's different now but I don't take that as a personal insult.



MrWalkieTalkie said:

The new designs have really grown on me. Still a bit questionable on the excessive sports tape though.



mostro328 said:

Not bad and its made by a different team so its boot really sonic sonic in a way...I'm really interested in this more then the galaxy ripoff they tried



Phantom_R said:

"When the world is in jeopardy, you don't have time to worry about what you look like."

I make time.



Janfeae said:

oh man, it could've been so much worse...I actually had to look up a picture of knuckles, because I was slowly forgetting what knuckles is supposed to look like!
I won't judge the game until it's released though.



Dr_Corndog said:

I don't mind the Sonic design, and I actually like Tails and Amy. Except for the excessive athletic tape, of course. Knuckles is the only truly awful-looking one.



HyperSonicEXE said:

"We went pretty wide with the designs at first, and by going too wide, we lost some of the spirit of the character and had to rein it in."
The moment they lost the spirit of the character in the designs SHOULD have been their cue to pack it up and go home.

Ugh, I feel bad for Iizuka. Having to sit in on children's designs being touted as "professional."



link_hatchet said:

I hate the new design, I sure the hell hope this is just some concept. This is not how I remember what sonic looks like.



LoveSugoi said:

The only design I have issue with is Knuckles. I understand why they designed him that way since he was always the tough guy but it seems a bit much for me. I liked that he was a tough guy in a small package (or rather a package that wasn't much bigger than others). I never thought he was intelligent but this design makes him look even more like a meathead.

I also don't like Amy's dress particularly the reddish color that clashes with all the different shades of purple/pink. But I've never been a fan of Modern Amy's styling in general, I much prefer her classic look. Had much more character.

Tails is probably the best design out of the bunch and Sonic doesn't look all that different from usual though he could of used more stylish kicks.



Vanya said:

These are completely unnecessary changes to established characters. The process here by Rafei was waaay over thought. There is no logic in change for the sake of change.
Would old fans really dislike the game if the characters looked the same as they always have? No.
Would new fans be mortified that the characters haven't changed? No.
Will making change to established characters guarantee that you will upset some fans? Yes.
So where is the logic here? Is the the fact that a character named Knuckles who has big spikes on his gloves not intuitive enough of a characterization?
And anyway, what ever happened to not judging a book by it's cover?



JeffreyG said:

The only one that starts bothering me more and more is Amy, to be honest. I'm afraid she gets a little too independent. I thought they had a perfect combination of strong and dependent in the tv-show Sonic X. She relied on Sonic quite a bit, but went absolutely insane with her hammer when she was angry. I just hope they don't make her too mature, if that's the right word.



Onett said:

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is proof that excellent stage design and a few new features can make a game fun. It will be interesting to see what is done with Boom, but I'm still waiting for Sega to be inventive with their classic formula, much like Retro did with DKC:TF. Over all, It's becoming gradually clearer that Sega doesn't know how to properly handle their IP.



DreamOn said:

Time for Sonic to make money! If he had his own console still like Mario we might not have had to get weird to do it.



unrandomsam said:

@Onett The inventive one was Donkey Kong Country Returns. (I suppose even Tropical Freeze is more inventive than most - I wish they actually tried to raise the bar).



Gioku said:

Seems they've put a lot of thought into these designs, that's never a bad thing.



Znerd said:

The only promblem i have with amy is not her new design i like it, its her voice with that design that bothers me. it just fells so wrong



Onett said:

@unrandomsam Tropical Freeze's genius comes from the use of the other Kong's and the way their unique talents change the way the player progresses through stages. Sega could make use of a similar formula with sidecrolling Sonic and friends but they seem to lack the ambition.



FilmerNgameR said:

I just want an open world Sonic Adventure 3 with Sonic Generations gameplay or a T rated Shadow the Hedgehog 2, now that should had been Sonic's next games after Generations, not freakin' Sanic Last Worlzls or this game but Sonic Boom seems interesting.....



CaveDweller said:

Sonic, Tails and Amy always looked fine to me. That Knuckles design is flat out terrible though. It just looks stupid, simple as.



IronMan28 said:

Since the main art director has experience at Naughty Dog, I hope this game turns out okay. I'm not betting on it being good, but I really hope I'm wrong.



Melkac said:

@Bizzyb According to who? If Sonic's creator was ok with changing the color of his arms, who are you to tell him he's wrong?
Also real hedgehogs don't have "bald" arms so...
@FilmerNgameR "T rated Shadow the Hedgehog 2" Wow

I like the new designs quite a lot! Sonic still looks like Sonic, Tails still looks like Tails, Amy still looks like Amy, and Knuckles, despite the huge height increase, still looks like Knuckles.
Having said that, I still have a problem with Knuckles' legs...they're just too skinny.



Tiberius30 said:

I like Amy's modern dress the best. Untitled
But the Sonic Boom Amy kinda looks like a "western future dystopian" look, and i'll be definitely trying this game.



unrandomsam said:

@Onett That sort of thing has been tried a few different times in Sonic games and I have never liked the results. (Most recently I think in Sonic 4 : Episode 2).

Does it really slow the pace down in Tropical Freeze ?



Zombie_Barioth said:

The designs have grown on me a bit but Knuckles and Amy still don't look quite right to me.

To me Knuckles is just a little too tall compared to everyone else, and those skinny legs don't help any either. As for Amy I think she'd look better in something less battle-ready, to me something like a skirt fits her better as an unassuming, but very capable character. I also don't get the sports tape around her waist, not to mention around everyone's legs and shoes.



Genesaur said:

"When the world is in jeopardy, you don't have time to worry about what you look like." Yes, that perfectly explains why everyone wears more stuff. I don't mind the athletic tape so much, and I really like Tails' design all around; it's just that stupid bandanna around Sonic's neck.



OptometristLime said:

This is like... Nintendo gives a third-party license to its Mario universe, and they some how replace overalls with Master Chief's armor.

It really doesn't make any sense for the character, and the development team is just spinning its wheels until the artists rein in their "creativity".



BakaKnight said:

"Scales"... for Sonic maybe?
It could even look cool, a sort of Dragon-Hedgehog thing OoO

Still I see why the Sonic Team stopped them despite the initial huge freedom XD



Marshi said:

Ah people never do like change do they? Its those same people that cried in outrage at windwakers look. Change is GOOD guys! Especially when there has been several games with the same old designs,having something fresh and new is great. My son is nearly 4,and the first thing he said upon seeing the sonic boom trailer is "daddy,i want a knuckles toy!". People who hate the new designs need to take a step back and ask themselves if they want original content,or maybe just go back and play the original games. Personally id be curious to see what these "wackier" designs looked like



unrandomsam said:

@Marshi The thing is Generations was almost perfect and it took them loads of tries to get something of that quality.
Change for its own sake would be ok if everything else stayed at the same quality but it never happens like that. (Especially for Sonic Games).



Ristar42 said:

I find these designs lacking in charm, quite the opposite to Sonic's 1991 look. As a long term fan, I'm not interested in the game, which seems weird!



MrQwerty said:

I think that Tails is the best because he is still the same size and is not really tall I think that they should go for the new costumes but keep the old models, I think that the old designs was one of the things that made sonic cool and I think sonic trying to go to a more realistic look just does not work like when egg man in sonic 2006 he just didn't look like a one of a kind thing.

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