Why are Sonic's eyes green in Sonic Adventure, the franchise's first serious crack at a fully 3D polygonal platformer? It turns out there's a lovely little story behind that. Ristar creator Yuji Uekawa was the man tasked with revamping Sega's mascot for his debut on Dreamcast. Some of his decisions were practical: shrinking Sonic's enormous, swept-back skull and elongating his limbs, for instance, so that he doesn't look like a fuzzy joystick when viewed from the rear. Others were a touch more poetic. "He is always seeing these green pastures around him, like in Green Hill Zone," Uekawa explains in an interview conducted for Sega's 25th anniversary artbook. "I thought it would be nice to reflect that in his eyes."
There are always little symbols to look out for that can help you figure out if a game's going to be worthwhile. Once upon a time it might have been Nintendo's seal of quality, or maybe the logo of your favourite developer - back in the day it was Treasure's magic box, perhaps, or more recently the glimmering P of Platinum Games. In recent years, there's another logo I've always kept an eye out for, a symbol that's a guarantee of quality, and a certain little spark. Quite often, though, you have to look really hard for it.
Motor racing, despite its roots in France, its scarlet red Italian heart and its current domination at the top tier by a German and a Spaniard, is a very British affair. In the heart of England, amidst the pockets of nondescript countryside of Banbury, Oxford and Woking there's the self-titled Motorsport Valley, where a large part of the global circus that's F1 calls home.
When I last met Gareth Wilson three years ago, we were sat in the offices of his previous employer, Bizarre Creations. The designer, a veteran of the Project Gotham Racing series, was talking up his next game Blur, telling me how Bizarre wanted to escape the simulation niche and make racing games mass-market again. "I think we should be going back to the reason people play racing games," he said.
It didn't work out that way. Blur was a good game but it didn't find its audience, and a year and a half after we met, Activision shut down one of Britain's best studios for good. But the story - for Wilson, at least - might still have a happy ending. He might yet hit that populist racing jackpot. And he might do it with Sonic the Hedgehog.
This time around, Wilson and I meet in the plush screening room of a London hotel. Wilson now works for Sheffield's Sumo Digital, an unpretentious jack-of-all-trades studio with good racing game pedigree and a good relationship with publisher Sega (both exemplified in its wonderful console versions of Sega-AM2's modern classic, OutRun 2). He's the design director on the freshly announced Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a sequel to 2010's mascot racer, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.