Sonic the Hedgehog might have been an old man, a porcupine, or a dog according to his creators. He also had a brief spell as a skilled dancer before technical limitations got in the way.
Naoto Oshima and Hirokazu Yashura, who created Sonic, spoke about his origins at the Game Developers Conference this week. The character was intentionally created for the launch of the Mega Drive after Sega concluded it needed an iconic figure to equal Nintendo’s Mario.
Among a range of ideas, including an armadillo, Sega came up with a shortlist of three designs: hedgehog, old man with mustache, and dog. Oshima then drew concept sketches and surveyed passers-by in Central Park to find their favorites. The hedgehog was a clear winner, while the mustache man character was instead reimagined as game villain Dr Eggman.
In an attempt to make the character even more iconic, Oshima even created a fictional backstory for how the character was created. The story went that a Second World War pilot had been nicknamed the “Hedgehog” because his hair stood up in spikes when flying at high speeds, with both his plane nose and his flight jacket supposedly carrying a hedgehog painting.
The story had it that the pilot later married a children’s author who was inspired to create a hedgehog character, which in turn was the supposed inspiration for Sega’s Sonic. That’s why the title screen of the original game shows Sonic surrounded by flight emblems including wings.
Oshima also used the talk to show off early animation sketches of Sonic’s spectacular dancing abilities. However these had to be ditched as the cartridges didn’t have enough code space for the animations.