SEGA’s Sonic Boom event took place this past Saturday in New York, and SEGAbits was there! Before I run through the day’s events, I want to thank SEGA, all the special guests, and the attendees for making the whole event a memorable experience. I know it was a big deal when SEGA chose to host last year’s event in St. Louis, but I can only imagine that planning this year’s event in America’s most populated city from the other side of the country was a lot of hard work on the part of SEGA. Thankfully, the hard work paid off. Within the span of five hours, SEGA treated guests to gift bags, autograph signings, game demos, live music, and both scripted and unscripted entertainment – and despite a large turnout, there was room to walk about and enjoy just about everything the event had to offer.
I arrived in New York City by car at around 1pm, and planned to hit various video game shops before the event’s doors opened at 5pm. I figured I’d walk past the event at around 2:30 to get a feel of the line before walking about some more, however when I saw that people were already lining up two and a half hours before the event, I cancelled my afternoon plans and secured a spot in line. As the start time neared, the line grew incredibly fast, stretching down the block. Like many fan bases, Sonic fandom is quite segmented, and looking around myself I saw that fact on full display. You had the kids (with parents in tow) who no doubt got into the series as recently as Sonic Lost World, you had the teens and young adults who were eager to show off their fan characters and sketchbooks, you had the more reserved fans who chatted only when spoken to, and you had the older classic era fans who seemed eager to meet guests like Jun Senoue and Tomoya Ohtani. But despite the clear divides in the fan base, it was amazing to see that an event like Sonic Boom brought them all together.
Around an hour before the event, SEGA’s Sonic Boom branded Uber Chevy rolled up, and SEGA staff filmed a few takes of Sonic Boom producer Stephen Frost exiting the vehicle and welcoming fans to the event. I’m not sure which take SEGA will use, but I’m hoping it is one of the first two takes in which I got in some high fives with Stephen. As 5pm rolled around, the doors opened and fans made their way up the steps and into the venue. Interestingly, the event actually took place on the 7th floor, and not unlike a theme park ride we were counted off and sent up an elevator in groups of fifteen. Upon exiting the elevator, we headed up some stairs and were ushered into the event space by SEGA staff. While my feet were killing me from 3 hours of standing, the wait paid off as I had free reign of a near empty room! The venue took place in a ballroom, with a stage up front and tables for food, gift bags, and toy displays around the edges of the room. In the middle of the floor was an autograph table and a platform for SEGA’s cameras facing the stage. Judging from the line outside, the place would be packed within an hour, so I got in line for the first autograph session featuring Jun Senoue, Tomoya Ohtani, and Takashi Iizuka. Given the session itself was only 20 minutes, there was no way a majority of the fans waiting outside would make this signing.
Making my way down the line, I first met Tomoya Ohtani who was accompanied by a translator. I wanted to keep the line moving, so I kept things short, telling him how much of a fan I was of his music and how his Space Channel 5 Part 2 work was some of his best. Jun Senoue was next, and again I gushed a little about his music and mentioned I wrote for SEGAbits and Sonic Retro. Jun recognized SEGAbits from Twitter and knew Sonic Retro well, which was a cool connection to make with a SEGA legend. Finally, I met head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka. Having written for SEGA fan sites for most of Iizuka’s time as head of Sonic Team, the man has often been the subject of behind the scenes banter between myself and the SEGAbits team, so to meet him in person was quite interesting. I felt as though I’ve known the guy for a long time thanks to the many interviews, videos, and second-hand stories, so to see him in person for the first time felt oddly familiar. I thanked him for signing my French “History of Sonic the Hedgehog” book and brought up SEGAbits. He said it sounded familiar, but then I mentioned Sonic Retro and he let out a little laugh and said “Oh, I know Retro!”. One of the highlights of the night for sure.
The room was filling up fast, and I made my way over to the table for Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comic artist Tracy Yardley. Tracy was quite popular, with a line already building toward the venue’s front door. With Tracy manning the booth on his own, and doing everything from custom sketches to selling signed posters and original comic art pages, the line moved slowly. Thankfully, I was able to chat with some folks in line, most notably the guys from FindTheComputerRoom who seemed to be on the same page as me in terms of what sort of fans we were. Nearby, Jun and Ohtani took the stage and performed music from Sonic Lost World, kicking off the stage show. Stephen Frost stepped out and welcomed everybody to the event, and then took his place at a late night talk show set – a fitting format for New York City. Throughout the night, Stephen interviewed various guests with Dr. Eggman voice actor Mike Pollock serving as the announcer.
I’ll admit, with so many things to do around the venue, I wasn’t able to catch all of the interviews, however given the layout of the event it was easy to wait in line for things and still enjoy the events on stage. After the interview with Iizuka, I made my way to the next autograph session, only to spot a familiar face – it was SonicYoda of SEGA Driven! Having gone solo to the show, it was great to finally see somebody I knew from online. After chatting for a bit, the FindTheComputerRoom guys came over and joined us, followed by The Sonic Stadium’s T-Bird and Tails’ Channel‘s Matt. It was a great to be a part of a little inner circle of SEGA and Sonic fansite owners and writers, and to write about half the stuff we talked about would probably get me in trouble. Let’s just say it was great to meet them all.
The costume contest was packed, with well over two dozen contestants on stage. There were several Sonic, Tails, and Amy Roses (as expected), as well as several classic characters like Mighty, Fang, and Mecha Sonic. There were also the oddball costumes like a creepy Sonic in street clothes, a zombie Sonic that looked more like a lost and homeless Sonic, and FindTheComputerRoom’s Smoovies as Sonic X‘s Chris Thorndyke who is now in his late 20’s and has become a hipster. In the end, Mecha Sonic placed first, Wentos placed second, and (much to Smoovies’ dismay) grown-up Chris Thorndyke placed third. Following the costume contest, I parted ways with the fansite group to jump into the autograph line for Jun Senoue, Ted Poley, and Tony Harnell. I had missed out on the voice actors, but I did not want to miss out on these guys.
If there is one negative about the event, it was the short autograph sessions. Each session lasted no more than 30 minutes and the line spun around the table at least two times. There was no way an attendee could get every autograph, and it was unlikely that the line you were in would end up being for the guest you wanted an autograph for. I don’t think the lack of a per item autograph limit hurt the pacing too much, as fans were respectful of other’s time for the most part, but I do think a one autograph limit would have moved the lines along a little bit faster. Halfway through standing in line, Ted Poley’s session ended (Tony Harnell was running late and never showed for the signing). Thankfully, Ted Poley is an incredibly awesome guy as he continued to sign autographs off to the side of the table for those who were still in line for him. It was a really cool move on his part, so a big thank you to Ted Poley.
Oddly enough, when fans learned that Jun and Ted Poley weren’t signing anymore, the line evaporated as Sonic Boom developers Bob Rafei (BigRedButton Entertainment), Mat Kraemer (Sanzaru Games Inc.), and an unannounced Iizuka took to the table. For a brief window of five minutes, just about anybody could get Iizuka’s autograph before the line filled up again. I had Bob and Mat sign my Sonic Boom poster, and Iizuka was nice enough to sign it as well.
While the autograph session went on, the Sonic Boom voice actors took part in an entertaining table read of portions from upcoming episodes. From what I heard, the humor was sharp and the dialogue was well paced. If there is one element of the Sonic Boom franchise that I’m most looking forward to, it’s the TV series and video game cutscenes. Not since Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog have I had this much fun hearing Sonic and Eggman interact. After the voice actors segment, Sr. Marketing Manager of TOMY Jamie Rosenbaum took to the stage and talked a bit about the toy line, showing off some concept art for upcoming toys. It’s great to see Tails’ plane and Eggman’s Egg-Mobile getting full on toys, though it’s a shame we’ve never seen the game versions getting the same treatment.
Based on the toy display, which I was stood next to as I waited in line to get Mike Pollock’s autograph, the toys themselves look much higher quality than what Jazwares offered fans. Though I’m undecided on how good the articulation will be, as figures didn’t appear highly posable. Like Ted Poley, Mike Pollock also went above and beyond by signing autographs off to the side of the stage between hosting duties. I caught up with Mike at the end of the night, and despite signing dozens upon dozens of autographs and co-hosting the stage show and taking part in a table read, he was still soldiering on. While he probably passed out moments after the event ended, he did a fantastic job accommodating fans throughout the night. I let him know I appreciated all he has done over the years, and he said the thanks should go to SEGA for keeping him on as the voice for so long. While I don’t doubt that SEGA deserves the thanks, I think the energy that Mike continually brings to the character is the reason why he has held the role for so long.
The night ended with the much anticipated concert featuring Jun Senoue, Ted Poley, and Tony Harnell. The guys performed such classics as “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Sonic Boom”. I was in the line for Mike Pollock at this time, so unfortunately I didn’t capture their performance as well as I could have. However, if you want a great video from the event check out Tanner Bates’s upload. When the music performance ended, Stephen Frost returned to the stage to thank all those who attended as all the guests from the night took to the stage with a giant costumed Sonic – you can see the moment in our video at the top of the page. It was awesome to see the all-star lineup of guests in one place, and Stephen did a great job as the host for the night. Aaron Webber would have been proud.
As the guests left the stage and fans made their way to the elevators, I was able to meet up with Stephen to thank him for the night and to finally introduce myself in person. Readers may remember my visit to SEGA of America. One of the plans while there was to meet up with Stephen, but meetings got in the way. We did meet via a Swingin’ Report Show podcast, but it was great to finally meet in person. Stephen was kind enough to mention he is a regular listener to our podcast and he signed my Sonic Boom poster before I left.
All-in-all, Sonic Boom 2014 in New York City was a lot of fun. Sure there were long lines, but most guests made time to meet with fans outside of the scheduled autograph times, and I’m amazed that I was able to do so much in such a short amount of time. If my impressions sound like a bit of a whirlwind, it’s because the night was just that. In the span of five hours I met close to a dozen awesome folks who play a part in one of my favorite SEGA franchises, I met several people who up until now I only knew virtually, and throughout the night fans were treated to great live music and informative interviews. I didn’t even mention the exclusive TV show and video game trailers, which SEGA has since posted to YouTube, and the exclusive convention swag.
All fans received a Sonic Boom poster set with large glossy prints of the cover art for both games in a SEGA branded poster tube. They also handed out large branded bags, last seen at E3, as well as a map and schedule for the night. Tracy Yardley had a convention exclusive poster featuring the Sonic Boom cast of characters which was a hot item, and given the long lines I assume it sold out quickly. The autographs also served as a giveaway in that they were all free and there were over a dozen to be had. I’ve been told that autographs were something new to Sonic Boom 2014, and I really hope future events have them.
Sonic Boom 2014 was a lot of fun, I’m happy SEGA gave the East Coast some much deserved love (the last minute Sonic Colors ice skating event doesn’t count). Having enjoyed this year’s Sonic Boom event, I only hope that there is a bigger and even better one in 2015.