Sonic: The Dumb Behind-The-Scenes Reason He Can't Swim
In 1991, programmer Yuji Naka played a little game called Lemmings. Like so many others who got a look at it, he found Lemmings fascinating. The game featured so many moving characters, a feat that (he'd later claim in 2009) no other game would replicate, even decades later. The really cool part, though, was that the characters' movements were based on those of real lemmings, right down to the unfortunate tendency to die en masse:
Naka had already been working on a new platformer for Sega. Now, influenced by Lemmings, he decided to give his new character Sonic the Hedgehog an attribute based on real-life hedgehogs. The character would be unable to swim.
Let's count off all the ways this story is ridiculous.
First, we have to share with you our favorite fact about lemmings. Despite their reputation, lemmings don't commit mass suicide. This idea began as a theory long ago and then was popularized when Walt Disney forced a bunch of lemmings off a cliff for his documentary White Wilderness. And in fact the idea that hedgehogs can't swim is also a myth. Hedgehogs can swim. Yet it's not an especially well-known myth, not famous enough to be worth including in a game. You probably had no special opinion on hedgehog swimming ability before today.
Plus, we have to point out that Sonic shares virtually no other behaviors with real-life hedgehogs. And Lemmings didn't kill its lemmings out of failed devotion to zoological accuracy. It killed its lemmings because that seemed like a fun gameplay mechanic. Is the absence of swimming a fun gameplay mechanic?
So, to make his hedgehog accurate (a pointless endeavor), Naka created a character that in no way appears to be accurate, except for in this one way, which is also not accurate, all in honor of a different video game that was also not accurate. Clearly, Naka was a deluded man. If only he consulted us for tips, maybe Sonic would have been a success.
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Top image: Sega, Yves Tennevin