Why “Sonic Excursion” was a hoax from the start

Why “Sonic Excursion” was a hoax from the start

by May 2, 2013

Wondering why we didn’t post about it? Here’s why

Over the last 48 hours, we’ve gotten a handful of news tips here at TSSZ over a rumor for an upcoming Sonic game. Having read over it myself, I was not entirely sure I felt comfortable in posting it – and nobody else on the rest of the team did, either. That’s probably for a number of reasons, but I’m not privy to the exact reason at this time (simply because I haven’t bothered to ask).

This is going to require a lot of setup, so bare with me as I explain the situation: our old buddy Wentos from 4chan came calling again, this time to relay some information about an upcoming Sonic game he was calling “Sonic Excursion”. Some of that information follows:

The first level is called “Shattered Heights” and is similar to the Sonic Generations incarnation of Speed Highway. Very New York themed. We were told the level was five minutes long, but they spent about fifteen minutes showing us parts of the stage’s design, focusing on the lighting and shadows and how lighting was one of the main focuses for this game’s design. Shattered Heights, for example, started at dawn and by the level’s end the entire stage’s lighting had changed to more reflect the mid afternoon. Most of the level consists of Sonic and Tails actually breaking through the windows of buildings several stories high and running through apartment hallways, office buildings, and hotel suites with Pixar-like humans gasping and shouting in surprise.

Sonic and Tails communicate throughout the level with each other similarly to the conversations in Sonic Heroes, both commenting on their surroundings and giving you advice on how to play the game. They would often stop at areas in the level to tell us how if we were playing as Tails instead of Sonic, we would be able to fly and reach different paths that Sonic could not access, but most alternate paths were entirely optional and not forced like they were in Sonic Adventure or Sonic The Hedgehog for the Xbox 360. They really wanted to make a Sonic Generations title that played more similarly to the Genesis titles where different characters could play the same levels with the only difference being their personal abilities.

(…)

After this demonstration was complete, we watched a powerpoint presentation with screenshots from the game. We were told how the story would focus on Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, and Dr. Eggman with a couple of appearances throughout the game, but those appearances would have less importance to the plot than Amy Rose’s role in Sonic Unleashed. For example, Amy Rose’s story once you unlocked it would begin at Cream’s house, where we see Cream, Vanilla, Gemerl, two Chao, and some Flickies. Outside of that scene, none of those characters make an appearance outside of one more scene with Cream in it. Emblems will be making a return, and will be earned in various ways with ten emblems per level. They can be earned for completing levels with each character, getting an S rank with all four characters, collecting all red rings with any character, and completing side missions for the level.

Release date: November 2013

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, 3DS, PlayStation 4, and Xbox Infinite.
“All seven versions will be the same, except the PC, PS4, and XI versions will have higher resolutions and the 3DS version will be made by a different team. Do not worry, it is not going to be Dimps. Sega has ended their relationship with them.”

At a glance, it all seems to be fairly safe information – nothing too outlandish that would easily identify it as a hoax. A run-of-the-mill Sonic game if there ever was one. But there’s a problem: It’s actually fake.

Now, admittedly, I’ve been a little out of the loop. I was contracted to help a friend develop an iOS game, so since around February, roughly 75% of time I would normally use to browse the internet has been focused on game development. When I first saw the “Sonic Excursion” rumor, there were some telltale signs that something was very fishy, and since then, the perpetrator has decided to make himself known – one Ben Spurr, probably better known to Sonic community oldbies as “Bendalin”. Spurr made waves last year after publishing a flash game in which you could punch a photo of FeministFrequency’s own Anita Sarkeesian, giving her bruises and bloodied cuts. Not content with poking the feminist hornets nest, Spurr turned his attentions back to the community he was once a part of in order to impersonate Wentos.

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Wentos, whoever that actually is, has become something of a trusted source around certain corners of the internet. He generally posts on 4chan’s /v/ board, and usually about vague information regarding upcoming Sonic games. Depending on how you interpret what he says, he’s actually been fairly on the nose. Of course, people will also tell you that if you interpret Nostradamus correctly, he predicted the September 11th World Trade Center incident. For this reason alone, I approach information supposedly dispensed by Wentos with a very skeptical eye.

If you’ve followed me elsewhere over the years, you know that there was a time when I was deeply involved in creating hoaxes much like this one. To me, it was like creating a puzzle – like putting a rat inside of a maze and seeing if they could find their way out. Every time the rat escapes, you make an even more elaborate puzzle to see if they can solve it. And, for my trouble, I had one of my hoaxes posted on Kotaku as if it was a legitimate thing. Unsurprisingly, I was banned from Kotaku’s comments section for years after I revealed myself, and since being hired to write for TSSZ, I’ve more or less given up the hoaxing gig for fear it would reflect poorly on our site (those energies usually get funneled in to creating April Fools gags like this one). So I’d like to think that I can spot a hoax pretty well – you can’t kid a kidder.

And this is where being “out of the loop” comes in, because I read the Sonic Excursion rumor expecting something that could possibly be legitimate. But right away, there were things that stood out to me as being obvious signs of a hoax…

1. “Excursion” is not a sellable term

“Excursion” is a bit of a $5 word, kind of difficult to spell, and even sort of tricky to say. It is too complex to be a marketing-friendly word. Think about names like “Sonic Adventure”, “Sonic Heroes”, or “Sonic Unleashed” – they have a certain ring to them that makes them appealing. When was the last time you even heard somebody say the word “Excursion”? Not any time in the last decade, I’d guess. Sega has marketing teams that would think up something better.

2. Referencing the “Xbox Infinite”

loopOn the subject of names, the supposed leak specifically calls out the next Xbox’s name as the “Xbox Infinite”. This is likely because of a rumor going around months (or even years) ago regarding the logo for the next Xbox being the symbol for infinity. The problem with this is that when the “infinity” symbol originally came up, it was never attached to the name “Xbox Infinite”, it was attached to the term “Xbox Loop”. Things change, I guess, sure – there was a story going around tech sites a couple days ago regarding an “Xbox Infinity” – but it comes off as one of those moves you see at the bottom of a faked Gamestop stocking sheet where they mention how Final Fantasy 47 is going to ship for the Dreamcast 3. I will fully admit that this was more of a gut feeling than anything else, but it’s one that ultimately ended up being correct.

3. Elements are too similar to past Sonic game reveals

791564-sonic_arch02You remember how I said the “Excursion” information felt very safe? Well, that’s largely because it contains shades of other Sonic game announcements – in particular, a comparison could be made regarding Excursion’s focus on its supposed lighting engine, which would allow levels to change from day to night in real time. Where have we heard that one before? The original pitch for Sonic 2006 also pushed that game’s own lighting and shadow engine, which fueled its (now scrapped) day/night cycle. It ended up being a pretty significant technical hurdle for the game, and is at least partially responsible for some of why Sonic 2006 turned out the way it did. While game developers – especially Sonic Team – are known for going back to ideas they couldn’t do the first time, I would think they’d try to avoid revisiting things that contributed to games like Sonic 2006 being such a horrendous trainwreck.

4. Playable Amy Rose

Towards the end of the Sonic Excursion information, things predictably fall apart as our hoaxer starts to let his ideas run away with him a little. Though he manages to keep it largely reigned in, his insistence on Amy Rose being a playable character was a big point of suspicion. Amy’s influence on recent Sonic games has been rightfully dialed back – in games like Sonic Heroes, her romantic affectation towards Sonic borderlined on psychopathic, furthered in a game like Sonic Battle, where she actively trained in martial arts in the hopes that her displays of violence would woo him. She resurfaced in Sonic Unleashed with a far more understated presence, something that has continued throughout other games. Suddenly bringing Amy Rose back to the forefront as a playable character seems ill-advised; any time Amy is playable in a game, it’s always weird, awkward, slow and largely unnecessary. Something that you always put off until it’s the last thing left to do because it’s not terribly fun. While I’m sure Amy Rose fans would love to see her take the spotlight once again, I don’t think it’s because they enjoyed her weird stealth mechanics from Sonic Adventure.

5. Digging up forgotten characters

But perhaps the single biggest red flag came right after we learned of Amy Rose’s apparent role in Sonic Excursion: a small cameo appearance by Gemerl. Gemerl, if you’ve forgotten, was a one-off character only seen in Sonic Advance 3. He was a descendent of Emerl, a character in Sonic Battle. Emerl and his story was apparently popular enough that he made a rather lengthy appearance in the Sonic X anime and served as the basis for the Gizoid robots in Bioware’s Sonic Chronicles RPG. Emerl was destroyed at the end of Sonic Battle (spoilers), but Eggman used his designs to create Gemerl, an evil clone. Gemerl was mortally wounded at the end of Sonic Advance 3, but was repaired by Tails, where he apparently lived the rest of his days with Cream the Rabbit.

gemerl

That was 9 years ago. Gemerl has not been referenced in anything since then. If you ever wanted a quick way to spot a hoax, it’s inclusions like these – they might as well have included Fang the Sniper or Mighty the Armadillo, while they’re at it. No matter how much you like them, these are characters that are never coming back, which is why they’re so enticing to include in a hoax, because you know they’re going to grab somebody’s attention. “Well then,” you might hear a particularly dedicated fan say, “I guess my Lumina Flowlight letter writing campaign finally paid off!” No, I’m sorry, but it really didn’t; somebody’s just banking on your attachment to that forgotten character in order to make you more easily rally behind their hoax.

And there you have it. Really, the biggest key in spotting a hoax is to stop and consider the bigger picture. What matters to a multinational corporation like Sega when they are trying to satisfy the needs of the world at large? Are they going to be focusing on niche ideas like playing as Amy Rose and visiting Gemerl? No, probably not. Is it at all logical to drop in a sentence about how they’ve ended their partnership with Dimps without naming their successor? Not really. Eventually, a bunch of little doubts add up in to a larger answer: Don’t always believe everything you read on the internet.