You may not know this, but Sonic The Hedgehog was inspired by “Hedgehog the Human,” a WWII fighter pilot. That’s the (fictional) backstory that the original Sonic The Hedgehog team game designer Hirokazu Yasuhara and character designer Naoto Oshima revealed in a talk at GDC 2018 — along with the original design docs to prove it.
Below you’ll find the full secret origin story of Sonic The Hedgehog, as well as some other interesting secrets revealed by the ’90s team that developed the original Genesis mega-hit.
From the beginning, Sonic the Hedgehog was meant to be a game targeted at American audiences. To that end, the developers looked to some American influences, including WWII-era airplane paint designs, which inspired Sonic’s smile. The title screen of Sonic the Hedgehog was meant to evoke the back of a WWII pilot’s fighter jacket.
Part of developing Sonic as a character was to make sure he had an extensive backstory. In the design docs revealed by Naoto Oshima and Hirokazu Yasuhara, there is an outline of a bizarre origin story for Sonic: It all begins with a WWII pilot with spiky hair who earned the nickname “Hedgehog.” His wife in later years wrote a children’s book inspired by her husband and his bomber plane. It’s unclear how Knuckles, Tails, and The Mean Bean Machine factor in to this fantasy.
Here’s the full text of the backstory from the presentation, and you can see the Japanese design doc with sketches below.
- The story of a man who tirelessly sought to fly his plane at yet-unknown speeds
- His hair, always standing up, led to him being called the “Hedgehog”
- The nose art on the plane he flew depicted Sonic
- He got married to an author of children’s literature, and she wrote a children’s story about a hedgehog that was based on him
- His flight jacket still exists today
There’s a practical reason why Sonic ended up as a hedgehog. The gameplay element of rolling preceded character design, so the intention was always to make a character who could roll around in a ball. The dev team explored several ideas, including an armadillo, a porcupine, a “cute dog,” and “an old guy with mustache.” The latter ended up becoming Doctor Eggman, not known for his rolling, but nevertheless capable of it. He could have been a star!
Hirokazu Yasuhara says of his original vision, “I want little kids to be able to draw the character.” To that end, the Sonic he still draws today (which he demonstrated live in front of the audience) is a stripped-down stick figure of Sonic that only appeared initially in the Japanese manual.
To make the decision between different character designs, Naoto Oshima says he took his drawings to Central Park on a visit to New York City and surveyed passersby. The hedgehog was most popular, with Eggman coming in second. The dog lost!
The many loops and ramps were clearly meant to resemble a rollercoaster, but the idea of a theme park was essential in developing the levels, and the design of Sonic is meant to help you explore the park.
There were no “proper” design documents as the team developed Sonic The Hedgehog. Just pages of notes you see scanned in this article.
Sonic is blue because the SEGA logo is blue. It’s as simple as that.
An extensive dance animation sequence was entirely removed from Sonic The Hedgehog. You can see the original animation plans for the dance below.
And here are some more recognizable planned animations:
Clearly out of secrets to divulge, Sonic The Hedgehog’s developers left us with a final message regarding their time developing Sonic to take on Nintendo and Mario: “There’s always going to be ways to compete with what you think are unbeatable opponents”
Samuel Claiborn is IGN’s Managing Editor and both fixes and breaks pinball machines in his garage. TCELES B HSUP to follow him @Samuel_IGN on Twitter.