Vertical Slice: The Fact and Fiction of Sonic Boom

Vertical Slice: The Fact and Fiction of Sonic Boom

by June 4, 2015

As is the case with many of Sega’s controversial releases, the development of Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric for the Wii U is shrouded in mystery. However the lid was lifted ever so slightly when Tamaki, of unreleased videogame archive Unseen64, published a Youtube video describing his conversations with former employees of Rise of Lyric developer Big Red Button Entertainment.

Long story short, Tamaki claims the following:

      1. Big Red Button were originally developing Rise of Lyric for “unspecified next-gen hardware”.

      2. Sega’s 2013 Wii U exclusivity deal saw Big Red Button having to port this “unspecified next-gen hardware” version of Rise of Lyric to the Wii U in a minimal time frame.

      3. The original Rise of Lyric announcement trailer showed in-engine footage running on “powerful” PC hardware, and not Wii U hardware.

There are more details to go with the story than what’s surmised above, and I strongly suggest you read TSSZ’s related report and watch Tamaki’s video before reading the rest of this article.

Back in February of this year I published an opinion piece detailing a handful of Sega’s numerous blunders of late – Vertical Slice: Sega of America – Why I’m Not Surprised – many of which involved Sega utilising a similar marketing strategy to that used with Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric: generate hype for a new title, push for pre-orders, release a sub-standard product.

That’s not to say Sega is the only publisher using this tactic – it’s a industry-wide problem that’s only getting worse – but in the last five years Sega’s reputation has plummeted from that of a mediocre publisher of semi-decent content, to a greedy and mismanaged mess of a company. It was only a few months ago that TSSZ published a collection of comments from former Sega of America employees that painted the head office’s managerial staff as little more than efficiency-obsessed, money-hungry bullies. And now we’re hearing that Sega hamstrung what could have been a solid 3D platformer in Rise of Lyric for the sake of an seemingly unalterable release date and a lucrative exclusivity deal?

That’s so Sega.

Then there’s the Rise of Lyric announcement trailer that showed visually impressive gameplay footage that wasn’t running on Wii U hardware, but was kinda sorta presented as if it was running on Wii U hardware. Interestingly, this very same trailer has mysteriously vanished from Sega’s Youtube account days after Tamaki’s video was published. What has Sega got to be afraid of? Doesn’t the vague and forgettable disclaimer at the trailer’s start absolve them of any misconceptions drawn by their loyal and paying customers?

Again, underhanded tactics by Sega, but hardly surprising considering it’s responsible for one of the most overhyped and underwhelming games of all time – Aliens: Colonial Marines. In that case we had King Charlatan Randy Pitchford of Gearbox showing off impressive demo footage at E3 2012 of a game no one would ever get to play. And although I recognise that Sega weren’t entirely responsible for Aliens: Colonial Marines‘s catastrophic release, it’s still shocking to learn that Sega themselves tried the same misleading trailer stunt Pitchford did less than a year and a half earlier.

#thatssosega vertical slice

Even if I’m to assume that Tamaki’s information is true, I’m still not surprised. I’ve long since realised that Sega is an untrustworthy publisher willing to deceive its customers, misuse its talent, and tarnish its strong and iconic intellectual properties in order to turn a transient profit.

But while I’d like to think that Tamaki’s findings are accurate, there’s aspects of his sources’ claims that don’t quite piece together.

While no one knows when Sega’s plans for Sonic Boom were first laid out, the general consensus among fans is that Rise of Lyric had been in the works alongside the Sonic Boom cartoon for some years before the February 2014 Sonic Boom announcement event in New York. Tamaki’s sources refute this, claiming that Big Red Button had a very short, yet unspecified, window in which to both develop the game and then port it to the Wii U.

But even if we assume that Rise of Lyric was designated as the third Sonic Wii U exclusive sometime between Sega’s and Nintendo’s exclusivity deal in May 2013 and the aforementioned Feb 2014 announcement in New York, that would still have given Big Red Button a bare minimum of six months to port the game. Considering Tamaki’s statement that “most of the work was already done” on Rise of Lyric when porting began, this speculative six month window, while small, should have been enough for Big Red Button, a team of industry veterans, to finish the port to a satisfactory level.

Although I haven’t had the opportunity the play Rise of Lyric myself, from what I’ve learnt from TSSZ’s Ryan Bloom’s video review and elsewhere, it’s hard to believe Tamaki’s claim that “most of the work was done”, and that the game’s flaws are a side effect of the porting process. Bugs and glitches aside, Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric is, by all accounts, a poorly designed, poorly written mess of gameplay mechanics and ideas that aren’t properly utilised – problems that run far, far deeper than those arising from a bad port.

The idea that Rise of Lyric had an exceptionally short development time is also confounded by the information divulged during Radio Sega’s The SEGA Lounge (Episode 20, 11-Dec-2014), which featured Sanzaru Games’s Mat Kraemer – lead designer for Sonic Boom Shattered Crystal for the Nintendo 3DS. During the programme Kraemer explained that Shattered Crystal had a “pretty short development cycle”, and that when this cycle started, Big Red Button’s Rise of Lyric was “much further along”.

It’s certainly plausible that despite Big Red Button’s impressive origins, the studio was simply incapable meeting Sega’s deadlines for Rise of Lyric‘s development, regardless of how strict or lax those deadlines were. But Tamaki’s sources specifically attribute Big Red Button’s Wii U woes to CryEngine 3, stating that the engine’s supposed incompatibility with the Wii U, combined with the short porting time, resulted in broken game we have today.

However, Crytek were supposedly working on the Wii U version of CryEngine long before news of Rise of Lyric‘s Nintendo exclusivity. Back in 2012 Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli told CVG that CryEngine 3 “runs beautifully” on the Wii U [IGN, originally CVG], and Big Red Button were even working with Crytek to implement non-native CryEngine features into Rise of Lyric, such as split-screen [NeoGAF: originally Official Nintendo Magazine]. With that kind of support at its disposal, its hard to believe Tamaki’s source that the Wii U version of CryEngine is to blame, rather than Big Red Button’s inability to utilise it.

Vertical Slice Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric

Whether you question the validity of Tamaki’s sources or not, the fact remains that Sega mismanaged Rise of Lyric‘s development big-time, and it doesn’t want us to know how or why. Because Sega is a company that aims to make money despite these cock-ups; deceiving customers with promises it knows it can’t keep, and dangling “Limited Collectors Editions” and pre-order DLC in our faces. And when the smoke and mirrors fall away and we’re left with the likes of Aliens: Colonial Marines, Rome II: Total War and Sonic Boom Rise of Lyric, Sega sweeps the aftermath under the rug with a smile on its face and money in its pockets.

Sega thinks you’re stupid, and customer stupidity suits it just fine.

I find myself thinking of Konami Digital Entertainment; the videogame development and publishing arm of Konami proper; a division that’s currently bursting at the seams with internal drama and a division with its fair share of recent blunders. As of this moment, the Konami mothership seems content to watch Konami Digital Entertainment tear itself apart from the inside out. It’s irresponsible, but it makes sense. After all, Konami’s Japanese gambling machines are making a killing.

Here’s looking at you Sega Sammy.

#ThatsSoSega is Michael Westgarth’s original hashtag – DO NOT STEAL. Read Michael’s previous columns via his TSSZ author page and check out his blog at MegaWestgarth.