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The Modern Sonic Evolution: Satoshi Okano & His Influence To The Series

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by YuTwo, Jun 19, 2022.

  1. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    Hello fellow folks of Sonic Retro! I would love to share an article I have written about former SEGA artist Satoshi Okano and his contributions to the series with his design for Sonic which helped kickstart the modern redesign. I used excerpts from the two interviews Okano did on Fanbyte and Game Developer (Formerly known as Gamasutra) along with a slew of tweets he made which also contain some, in my opinion, valuable information. I am very eager to share my compiled findings.

    Special thanks to @Vertekins who provided translations to parts I needed. I asked them if they could do it and they kindly did. A special thanks also goes to @Pengi whose post in a particular thread got me interested to even start researching Okano in the first place as I wanted to learn more after reading what they had linked:
    https://forums.sonicretro.org/index...or-the-3d-era-and-other-qs.39100/#post-955203
    I’ve seen @Pengi around these forums and they always drop some great trivia on things I didn’t know so I just want to say you are amazing in that regard!

    Please make sure to wait for all of the images and content to load up. Basically once the icon on the top of your tab finishes the loading animation. There is a lot of content to load.
    Some of the things you will learn from this article:
    -Background on Satoshi Okano's career before joining SEGA up until his departure from the company.
    -His design for Sonic which made Yuji Naka hold an internal contest with other artists to see who would do the modern redesigns.
    -A look into each of the 4 different designs submitted to the internal contest.
    -Yuji Uekawa’s winning design and how Sonic’s proportions, different shade of blue, and green eyes all came to be.
    -Okano’s contributions to Sonic Adventure with some Sonic artwork, the Eggman logo, and an obscure spider girl character within the game only seen in some posters.
    -How Yuji Uekawa’s art style has changed throughout the years.
    -New Sonic art that Okano has created more recently.

    I have been lurking on these forums since around 2013 and I love discovering new things about this series, particularly with the classics, by reading informative posts. I would love to give back to this community by providing my own informative article. I'm no professional writer so I apologize if there are any errors or if my writing is not up to par. I am also new to using the WordPress website so I'm still trying out how to format things.

    The tweets that I have screencapped can be found here compiled all together if you just want those:
    https://archive.org/details/okano-tweets

    An image directory for them can be found here which has them as a list. I personally think it makes accessing each image much more quickly and conveniently:
    https://archive.org/download/okano-tweets

    Here is a list that has sources to all the tweets:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20220617033855/https://pastebin.com/U0fiFLnB

    A zip folder file of all the tweet screencaps can be downloaded here but PLEASE NOTE CLICKING ON THIS WILL CREATE AN AUTOMATIC DOWNLOAD:
    https://archive.org/compress/okano-tweets/formats=PNG&file=/okano-tweets.zip

    If you have any thoughts on this I would love to know. Did I get anything wrong? Please definitely tell and correct me. I am open to it. I would hate to spread false information. Did I miss something that could be added? I was very meticulous with the research I did but I could have still passed over something that could contribute to the article.

    I hope you enjoy reading the article! I will continue to update it whenever new information arises both in the article itself and here in the forums with periodic posts in this thread.

    By the way I want to take this opportunity to bring up once again that I also was the one who scanned the introduction manual of Sonic Mania which can be seen here if you want to:
    https://archive.org/details/sonicmania-intromanual-paged
     
  2. SystemsReady

    SystemsReady

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    trying to not fall asleep while writing Selenium tests
    wait omg, he did the infamous "poster girl" from speed highway??

    [​IMG]

    and she was supposed to be a spider??

    YuTwo, this article is fascinating and really good. I've been pretty riveted throughout, I love seeing the threads between works, artists, and projects over time!
     
  3. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    Yeah, it was interesting to find out about that and that she was supposed to be a spider.

    Thanks for responding! It's good to see one at least so I know someone has read through it all. I appreciate what you have said. It is so fun to share information with others.
     
  4. Aesculapius Piranha

    Aesculapius Piranha

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    What a cool collection of knowledge. Lots to read and some things I missed, and some of it saved me some research I was about to do.

    I honestly like this person's non-sonic stuff much much more. Never liked the "Adventure" art direction, but everything they have done elsewhere looks really cool, which probably just means I like Oshima's old work a lot.
     
  5. Pobert-Eii

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    Wow, this article's pretty good! I like the direc-


    HE ILLUSTRATED THE NAKED ZOMBIE SEAN CONNERY GAME???


    okay this man's now my favourite illustrator of all time. bar none.
     
  6. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    One of the main reasons I wrote this article was so that I could compile and curate all this information together so others can at least have some resources to go back into and use themselves so I’m glad to read that it saved you some time from doing your own research as it accomplished its purpose in that way.
    Well everyone has differing opinions after all. I really love the way Okano drew Sonic and the others with thick outlines of varying line weights. The 3D Blast art in particular since it was like a hybrid of Classic Sonic but with the Adventure style proportions. Seeing that new art he made in 2020 makes me want to see even more from him and what Amy Rose would look like in his style as he mentioned he would like to try to draw her if he got the opportunity to do it in an official capacity which I mentioned in the article.

    I also do love Ohshima's early artwork in Sonic 1 like in the Japanese manual or those that appeared in those set material sheets I showed. Sonic had those rubberhose limbs to him in those.
    Wait what were you going to say before you cut yourself off? :V
    Direction? Director? Directory? :eng101:

    Also that is a very amusing way to describe a game. Which one are you referring to exactly though? Is it Zombie Nation/Abarenbou Tengu? I just want to be sure what you mean.
    Keep an eye out folks because I will try to make more articles about Sonic whenever I have the time to write them down.
     
  7. Pobert-Eii

    Pobert-Eii

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    [​IMG]

    alright since ive dated myself, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 2007 (jesus, that was 15 years ago) spoony released a video on zombie nation where this piece of gold was spoken

    for a long while it was the only thing people knew about the game (until ashens covered "ABARENB" in one video).
     
  8. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    I also can’t believe 2007 was already 15 years ago 0_0
    I’ve heard of both Spoony and Ashens but I had never actually seen any of the videos either of them made. I remember there was a channel named Ashenclone that emulated the style that Ashens did but that channel no longer exists. For Spoony I recall that there was controversy surrounding him and I think he got kicked out of Channel Awesome. That’s the furthest extent from what I’ve read though so I'm not entirely sure.

    I was more of a viewer of people like “Angry Video Game Nerd”, “IGSRJ” (and their secondary channel IDGSRJ), “Silent Rob” (their original channel no longer exists but there is a channel that archived the majority of their older videos and it is called ShawnD1), and lastly BlackBusterCritic who made a series on certain Sonic fans called “Sonic Brainfart”. That series was actually how I found out about “they who shall not be named” that created Sonichu.

    One of the other individuals in that series named PaulandAmy actually committed one of the worst things someone could do which I won’t explicitly say here so you’ll have to watch it for yourself to find out. The source of the info in the description of that video now leads to an expired domain but it was fortunately archived

    I have recognized that I have detracted far too much from the actual subject matter of Okano at this point though and I will not go any further now. I just got carried away talking about older Youtubers. I just love to talk about that period of the 2000’s internet whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

    Anyways, thanks for the clarification. I figured you were talking about Zombie Nation/Abarenbou Tengu given that it has “zombie” in its English title. That “Airbnb” joke Ashens did with the cutoff Japanese title was pretty humorous too by the way.
     
  9. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    I’m just going to bump this thread to mention that Okano himself has now read the article as well and I feel so excited to share this personal accomplishment.
    https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1555205001085358080

    https://archive.ph/yuAai

    https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1555353998378430464

    https://archive.ph/I1UBL
    He has since given me a follow and added a link to my article in his profile bio as English article 02
    [​IMG]
    https://archive.ph/g7ha1

    Not only that but he also sent out some tweets talking about my article and this thread itself too.
    https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1555215644391456769

    https://archive.ph/H4pBn

    https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1555328131782754304

    https://archive.ph/jhRRS
    It felt so great when all of this happened. If anyone missed out on seeing this thread the first time then I encourage to read the article please.
     
  10. BlueSkiesAM2

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    Way to go! It does feel great to get recognition by the people who played such a big role in creating the games we grew up playing. I wished I could have interviewed some of the JP staff when I was writing my bachelor’s and master’s theses on Sega, but I wasn’t confident enough in my Japanese not to make a fool of myself lol. It was nice to hear feedback and appreciation from Kalinske, Nilsen, etc., but it would have been next level to actually speak to the creative forces behind the games themselves.

    Great work :thumbsup:
     
  11. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    Thanks for the response. It did feel great to actually get acknowledged by Okano. I used the translation software DeepL to communicate with him in Japanese and I think it did a very great job in translating what I was trying to say to him. It is so much better than Google Translate. I recommend using it if you weren’t aware of it.

    It was good enough for me to have a conversation with him about music, particularly with our mutual liking to Björk’s music who I have gotten into recently :V
    1. https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1556070528699342849

    https://archive.ph/4U6KC

    2. https://twitter.com/zedm256/status/1555594640803467264

    https://archive.ph/rmVbH

    3. https://twitter.com/okanotion/status/1556069990494679040

    https://archive.ph/craux
    Though I wouldn’t rely on it entirely as I still have to sometimes adjust my writings so they can be properly translated. It would be great to actually know Japanese so I could write to others that were involved with the Sonic series.

    If it's alright to ask, what were you studying/majoring in that you had to write a thesis on SEGA? That sounds like something I wouldn't have minded doing for a course. Was it just about the history of SEGA and the people involved with the company? Again, you don't have to answer those questions if you do not want to. I'll understand.
     
  12. BlueSkiesAM2

    BlueSkiesAM2

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    I did a BSc. in International Business Asia and MSc. in Business, Language, and Culture at Copenhagen Business School. They both consisted of typical management and financial courses with a focus on Asian markets, but the bachelor program had 4 years of Japanese throughout. So I typically wrote about Sega for every paper since it was relevant lol. For example, I think for a project management class I wrote about the issues surrounding Shenmue 1’s development. For my final exam in Japanese, I wrote a paper about the Yakuza series’ performance in the West and had to present and discuss it with my teacher. Stuff like that.

    The bachelor thesis was specifically regarding internationalization strategy for Sega of America. The gist of it was they were able to perform well since the increased autonomy granted by SoJ allowed them to more quickly react to and address domestic market concerns. So I only spoke to Kalinske for that.

    Then for the master’s, I focused specifically on marketing strategies for JP-developed titles in the west. That boiled down to the all-in Monster Hunter World approach of developing games for global appeal from the ground up, and then the niche approach of places like Play-Asia where they attract collectors and try to maximize revenue with premium editions and merch. For this, I had long interviews with Kalinske, Nilsen, Fornasier, and Don Mesa, and then some random contact with people from other companies who weren’t able/willing to give interviews.

    Definitely fun getting to spend months doing nothing but reading/writing about Sega and not having it be wasted time lol. But yeah, I guess doing a text interview after 4 years of essentially being a dual business and JP major felt like cheating. Naka and Yasuhara would have been great for my theses though considering their experience in the US (Cerny too with his experience in Japan and STI), but I’d want to be able to conduct it orally in Japanese or at least get a friend of mine who’s better with it than I am.

    I can put the papers up if you’re interested. There’s really not much new for people here though. Kalinske and Nilsen are well documented and have their stories pretty rehearsed. One thing I got from Nilsen which I think was new is an abandoned sub-brand of SoA that would focus on selling JP-imports called Sega Pirate. I never looked into it but I do remember telling him at the time that it sounded vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure. Fornasier had some fun stories like American focus group hating the designs of Claris and Elliot in NiGHTS. People said Elliot looked like a delivery boy for a Chinese restaurant lol. This stuff isn’t even in the papers though. They’re pretty much 40-50 pages of academic crap with 10 pages of stuff the nerds like us know already. It’s just not well documented in academic contexts, so I figured why not.
     
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  13. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    Thanks for the insight on all this by answering my questions. Very fascinating you were allowed to write about SEGA for several courses. I’m surprised they approved for you to write about SEGA but then again you discussed the business aspects of the company. What were your teachers like having to discuss it with you? Did they enjoy it as well?

    How did you also manage to get interviews with people like Kalinske, Nilsen, Fornasier, and Don Mesa? (I’m only familiar with the names of [Tom] Kalinske and [Al] Nilsen)
    Yeah it probably didn’t feel like doing course assignments since you had fun. That was just like me since I had fun finding, collecting, and archiving all the sources I used for mine. Then sharing the article with the rest of you all who were willing to read it as I am always excited to share my Sonic knowledge with the rest of the community.

    I suppose the difference between your writings and mine is that yours were done for academic purposes so they were actually beneficial and productive for you :eng101:

    I hope you got some good grades from them as reading your descriptions for each one sounds like you really did a lot of research for them particularly since you said you spent months reading/writing about SEGA. Meanwhile it took me an entire year just to complete my article since I could only do it whenever I had any free time which was usually not often.
    If it’s fine with you then I would be glad to see those papers just out of curiosity :thumbsup:
    That SEGA Pirate thing sounds interesting. I like the naming of it since it dealt with selling Japanese imports which made it a fitting name. There was an advertising campaign that was similarly named SEGA Pirate TV that ran in European regions: https://segaretro.org/Sega_TV
    It’s always amusing to hear stories about how Japanese characters weren’t perceived well during the 90s because of their cutesy anime designs so some companies considered heavily altering them in order to adapt for Western audiences. Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Megaman are some examples of that which come to my mind at the moment.

    I mean in a way even Sonic was another example of this at the time as he had reached a point where he was then considered too cute so that was one of the main reasons why the modern redesign even happened which I detailed in my article.
     
  14. Prototype

    Prototype

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    I think that the original Ohshima design captured a nice balance of cool and cute, and it can move and express itself well due to the flowing design and rubber hose style. But there was no real brand consistency around his design throughout various media.

    It was jarring to see so many variations on the design, all of which handled the design in a different way.


    I think the biggest detriment was the 3D graphics trend, since it took a cute cool 2D design and translated it to early 3D, which we now see as Sonic 3's "fat Sonic" which is essentially two spheres stacked on top of each other.

    I feel like the Adventure 2D artwork went some ways to recapture the feeling of fluid motion and I adore those designs. However, I really don't think the Adventure design worked in 3D either.

    In 2D art, you basically impose your own perception of motion onto symbolic artistic markers of motion. You can see motion through something like a stray curve or a speed line.

    You can accept it and not break the suspension of disbelief due to the human history of pictograms.

    When such a design is put into 3D and then moves stiffly, all it does is break the suspension of disbelief. It's an uncanny valley thing. It lacks the implied fluidity of the 2D art and you no longer see yourself playing as Sonic, but seeing yourself controlling an object in 3D space with a character model with a limited set of animations grafted on top.

    I think while I'm probably derailing the topic a little, I think there's definitely something to talk about there.

    As for the westernization of Japanese designs in general, I have to wonder how much of that was due to cultural artistic differences and a sincere dislike of their designs, or whether it was simply an echo of the cost-cutting H-B/Ruby-Spears/Filmation animation culture and their adherence to strict model sheets, and the desire of unique western changes for merchandising reasons.

    As to that last point, I point to Power Rangers. While Live Action, it was borne of the same translatory adaptory method. However all the toys, comics and merch had unique chest symbols on the Rangers that didn't appear in the show (except as coin emblems), which was done both to appeal to the Western superhero market and I believe, so Haim Saban could merchandise the shit out of it without it technically being an identical product to the Zyuranger toys from Japan and thus earn a bigger slice of money for himself.

    Perhaps with Sailor Moon, it came about for that reason. They shopped a pre-existing idea around with the idea of to sell lots of toys based on it to a girl market, and the only studios still thoroughly enveloped in that merchandising mindset and willing to accept ideas presented to them were the same ones who dominated the stiff limited animation productions in years past.

    That is, maybe the westernization of designs were just a perceived necessity for streamlining production so they could better coincide with the resultant (hypothetical) toy releases, rather than it being any proper comment on the merit of original Japanese designs.
     
  15. BlueSkiesAM2

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    Most of the papers didn’t require any sort of approval. It was mostly a case of receiving an exam prompt along the lines of, “Utilising theories from our lessons, analyse and discuss a topic,” and as a business, Sega applies even if their operations seem like fun and games to those of us who enjoy the products. The only ones that did were the bachelor’s and master’s theses since you had to find a supervisor/examiner yourself and submit a research proposal to the school.

    The teachers all seemed to enjoy my papers. They get tired of hearing the same old crap over and over from students so talking about the gaming industry is probably refreshing. For my fourth year Japanese exam, the teacher really had fun talking about the Yakuza series. She came here from Japan and was surprised that a series like that would get popular abroad. The only problem I noticed is that current academic papers seem to treat “gaming” as a uniform block, so I had an outside grader/invigilator who was clearly less familiar with the topic than my teacher/supervisor continually ask about China and mobile gaming when I expressly stated in my paper that I would not be covering it.

    Yeah, I did pretty well. The bachelor’s thesis received a perfect score and the master’s got the equivalent of an A- which was disappointing after the bachelor’s but I’ll live. And I wouldn’t say I spent months doing active work. As members of this forum, we all spend ridiculous amounts of time reading about Sega for fun, ultimately amounting to far more research hours than most courses would require. I just applied it to school so I didn’t need to do any excessive work haha. All in all, the bachelor’s and master’s theses took about 5-7 straight days of writing each but the interviews were pretty spread out. I’m a fast writer which lets me get away with procrastinating, but I had one day when I needed to do 20 pages and that was rough lol.

    Diane Fornasier was a marketing exec that joined midway through the Genesis. Don Mesa is another marketing exec who joined during the mid-2000s and played a big role in bringing Yakuza over. I got in touch with Tom by contacting his work email then I connected with him on LinkedIn so I could more easily find others who worked at Sega and would see I already knew him. I think I reached out to Al through LinkedIn. Al introduced me to Diane, and then she introduced me to a bunch of others who I connected to on LinkedIn or email (she is the nicest woman ever btw - we had multiple 2 hour+ calls regarding the thesis and just chatting). It’s pretty easy to get in touch with people on LinkedIn generally, but getting your foot in the door with someone who can suggest others and give introductions is always nicer.

    Sounds good. I just have to remove some confidential things and trim them generally. I’ll see if I can put the executive summaries up later today, but the full papers will take some time.
     
  16. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    I agree with you. I really love Ohshima's original drawings which had those rubberhose style limbs. Most of them could be seen here: https://info.sonicretro.org/Sonic_the_Hedgehog_Settei_Shiryoushuu

    I also agree that there was no consistency to Sonic’s design during the 90's up until at least Sonic Adventure. I didn’t grow up with the Greg Martin 90's American design so I have no attachment to it and I don’t think it looked very appealing with those mohawk quills that got adapted into the American cartoons which just made them look worse in my opinion.

    I think the mohawk quills were even on Sonic for his sprites in Sonic 2 as that game was developed in America.
    [​IMG]
    Image source: https://twitter.com/speepshighway/status/1204774760040808448

    https://archive.ph/yS5YD.
    I think the bendy limbs lent to that feeling of dynamic poses with fluid motion for the artwork of Adventure. I also don’t think those types of poses could have been properly translated into the 3D models at the time. I have seen some fan made renders which make them do Adventure poses and they look so good. Here is an example:
    [​IMG]
    Source: https://www.deviantart.com/geki696/art/Sonic-Adventure-Pose-3D-Remake-Variant-782006635

    Full resolution image. NOTE: It's a very large image (4000x4000)
    https://tinyurl.com/yvbp9yew

    Those were some good points you brought up about the westernization of Japanese designs too by the way. They likely did account for merchandise profits during the process of redesigning characters as well. I never thought of the possibility that the Power Rangers toys could have had those chest symbols for that potential reason. I had a few of them when I was a kid and wondered why they added them to the toys and other merchandise since they felt unnecessary. I figured it was just a much more easier way to show what each of the Rangers represented.

    Come to think of it, Sonic also experienced a westernized redesign from the very beginning of the series with the aforementioned Greg Martin design since Sega of America thought the Japanese design wouldn’t be appealing for western audiences which is rather funny because Sonic’s original Japanese design was intended to appeal to them in the first place which is a point that I only mentioned in passing within my article.

    I did like how Greg Martin’s later Sonic art dropped the mohawk which did make it look immensely better:
    [​IMG]
    Thanks for providing more details for my questions. What an amusing anecdote that your teacher from Japan was surprised that the Yakuza game series was popular abroad. I always liked it when I would surprise my teachers too with things that they may have not known about.
    Great to know that you received good grades on your thesis papers. I do also spend a lot of time on these forums learning about so much obscure information and trivia. I would save all of the ones I find interesting enough in a Google Docs document so I could access them for any given later time. That is how I was able to pull all my sources for my article on Okano. It’s a similar situation to what you did by just moving all the research that was done for fun and applying it into actual writing. I’ve always had a problem with procrastinating so I couldn’t imagine cramming in having to do 20 pages in a day.

    To further elaborate from what I previously mentioned about my article taking a year to complete, there were some month-long gaps in between where I didn’t work on it. I decided that I didn’t want to keep putting it off so I finally decided to just focus on writing the article beginning around February 2022. So I kept at it for four months whenever I could until I finally finished and uploaded it in June 2022.
    It must have been very convenient that you were able to get some contact connections for your research. Diane was very generous to make time for you by doing those hour long calls.
    You can take as much time as you need in order to edit them to remove those confidential things. Speaking of taking as much time, I would like to apologize for taking a very long time to respond to both you and @Prototype

    I didn’t want either of you to think that I have ignored your messages. I just never made the time to write out my own responses to each of them. I’ve only managed to make posts over on Twitter during this period since it is much quicker to do with the shorter character limit over there as opposed to responding to lengthy forum posts :shobon:
     
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