SEGA’s Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4…and chili dogs?

Posted on May 20 2012 - 12:23pm by Tim Torres

metalsonic SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

A new Sonic the Hedgehog game is out and you can be sure we’re paying attention. Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, the continuation of 2010′s Sonic 4 Episode I (makes sense!), came out Tuesday. While we prep our review, you can check out this tidy Q&A we had with SEGA’s Associate Brand Manager Aaron Webber and Digital Brand Manager Ken Balough.

We start off with the subject of Metal Sonic — Sonic’s mechanical rival from Sonic CD. He returns in Episode II and stars in his own Episode, Episode Metal, if you have both episodes on the same console, a likely callback to the “lock-on” technology of Sonic & Knuckles. Then we move on to the improvements in Sonic 4 Episode II, whether “Classic” Sonic will return and other Sonic ephemera comes up as well.

Let’s juice it loose! (Ugh.)

metalsonic2 SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

Metal Sonic LOVES this look. Seen here in the Sonic OVA.

Metal Sonic: best Sonic rival, or best Sonic rival?

Aaron Webber: Best Sonic Rival. Well, right behind the Tails Doll, but we can’t put him in games anymore… Last time we did, he terrorized three of our producers and two of our marketing interns just vanished one night. We still haven’t found the bodies.

Ken Balough:  It was an HR nightmare. But Metal Sonic has the right balance of being a great villain, while also realizing he needs to stay within the boundaries of his own games. He’s as solid as the Ralph Lauren polos I wear every single day to work!

Metal Sonic returns in Sonic 4 Episode II, but he’s actually popped up a lot over the years, like in Sonic Heroes and Knuckles Chaotix. Why bring him back again?

A: One can never have too much awesome. Well, maybe one can, but personally: I think it’s about time Metal Sonic got his time in the spotlight again.

K: Absolutely. Metal Sonic was one of the coolest villains to ever grace a Sonic game. In Sonic 4: Episode II, not only do you get to fight against him, but if you own Episode I + II, you even get to play as him in the bonus Episode Metal!

What’s your attachment to Metal Sonic? What is it about the guy that we love?

A: He’s one of the enemies out there that has come the closest to taking down Sonic. Metal Sonic was first introduced in Sonic CD as a serious threat, and I think it’s nice to know that all these years later, he can still hold his own against the blue blur. Plus, he’s quite shiny.

K: It’s gotta be those eyes, in my opinion. Something about those eyes lighting up just says “I’m a big, blue, metal hedgehog… and I’m going to kill you.” And I think that makes for one heck of an antagonist.

Would it be fair to say you played an instrumental role in Metal Sonic’s return this time?

K: We were both there when it was largely decided. Of course, it should be noted that everyone at SEGA’s teams on Sonic, from the US, to Japan, to Europe, all have influence and help contribute ideas. Sonic 4 is the same in that regard, so we all work as part of one larger team.

A: I remember the exact moment when we knew Metal Sonic would be returning – and I don’t get to talk about any of it. You’ll want to wait for the tell-all book that Ken and I are publishing, titled “Rolling Uphill: Ken and Webber go to White Castle”, which will be coming out December 2015. (Please don’t tell our lawyers.)

What’s your favorite depiction of him? Ever see the Sonic OVA? What are your thoughts?

A: I thought Metal Sonic was awesome in the OVA. Cold, calculating, and ruthless, and in the right light, has a terrifying exterior. Incidentally, that sounds a lot like my first girlfriend.

K: I really like his depiction in Episode II. What I think is really cool is that we pick up where Sonic CD left off – Metal Sonic is still on Little Planet, right where he was defeated by Sonic in the race. And now, he has a chance to get back into the game and get his due revenge.

fakesonic SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

Sonic replicants aren't always cool. Take Pseudo Sonic! Really. Take him.

Remember the Pseudo-Sonic episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog? What the hell was that?

A: Ah, the old cartoon! One second, Ken and I need to watch this episode to get you a legit reaction.

[A few minutes later… you can watch the same episode on Netflix Instant, if you dare.]

A: Oh wow. Too many chili dogs?

K: I’m picturing our Episode II co-op moves with a Sonic that size. Thank goodness he slimmed down.

ken3 1 SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

Metal Sonic and Tails return in Sonic 4 Episode II.

So, in Sonic 4 Episode II it looks like Tails will actually be useful. Will little brothers and sisters around the world actually enjoy playing co-op?

A: I certainly hope so! You know the world is becoming right again when we’re releasing 2D Sonic games that let your little brother or sister help you out as Tails.

K: From the all-new co-op moves to the fact that Tails is really useful for clearing the way and taking out enemies, a new generation of Sonic fans will now get to team up just like we all did as kids.

Also, pro-tip for the kids: don’t let Tails steal your air bubbles.

Episode I took cues from Sonic 1. It looks like Episode II takes cues from Sonic 2, like the Bonus Stage and playable Tails. What else from Sonic 2 returns?

A:  There are two levels that have heavy inspiration from two great levels in Sonic 2. (You’ll see them and smile when you play them!) But there was also a big focus on doing new things for Episode II – I’ll let Ken explain.

K: It was important for us to balance the nostalgia that older fans love while also offering new experiences and levels, both for old and new fans alike. We’ve got a brilliant snow level and a new desert level, both of which really stand well on their own as all-new inspirations.

Can you tell me of any other enhancements and/or additions made to Sonic 4 Episode II?

A: Ken, this is all you… except those physics and momentum improvements that I have been pestering you about for two years – very glad to see those, personally.

K: The backgrounds also received a big, notable lift. There are huge improvements and tons of detail now going by as you run through the stages. The graphics on the whole also received a major update and overhaul, and it really shows.

Both graphically and in gameplay, Sonic 4: Episode II is a great step up from the first Episode.

Despite that final boss, Sonic Generations was a hit. I assume we’ll see Modern Sonic in HD again, but what about Classic Sonic? Was that the last we’ve seen of him?

A: No word from me, sorry. Only time will tell!

K: I asked your question to the Classic Sonic figurine on my desk.

He’s not speaking.

What about a new Sonic on 3DS or Vita?

A: See above!

metalsonicomic SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

Metal Sonic appeared in the comics, too. Wish I kept issue 25...

Will we ever see Sally, Antoine and Rotor in a game? And have you been keeping up with the Archie comics? I can’t make heads or… Tails of it.

A:  The Archie world exists separate from the game world (save for one or two rare occurrences in the 90’s), so no word on the odds of seeing them in a game anytime soon.

As to Archie, I read them all the time starting with #0 as a kid, but stopped halfway through. I’ve started re-reading them recently and getting up to speed again. It’s really impressive to think that Sonic is now the longest running comic book series for any video game character, ever!

You guys are bringing back Boom. What can fans expect this year?

A: We have a lot of surprises planned this year, both for Sonic Boom in the US (which is at San Diego Comic Con this year) and Summer of Sonic in the UK! You’ll want to stay tuned to the SEGA Blogs ( for all the latest announcements.  Also, if we get enough donations, I hear Ken is going to do a dramatic reading of his Big the Cat fan Poetry on stage.

K: Maybe I’ll be there
Maybe I won’t
Maybe I’ll read Sonic poems
Or maybe
Aaron needs to stop talking about my Big the Cat obsession!

Sonic Boom should be a great show either way. And if you really want to hear me do a dramatic reading… let me know on the SEGA forums. But really, please don’t.

A: Do it. Oh please.

Last year was Sonic’s 20th anniversary. What’s the milestone this year?

A: The big 21! I think it’s also very fitting that this year’s big Sonic games are Episode II and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which has a lot of favorite Sonic + SEGA characters from over the years. We’ve had a great trend with good Sonic games over the last few years, and we plan to keep it up!

city beta SEGAs Aaron Webber and Ken Balough talk Sonic 4...and chili dogs?

Phantasy Star Online 2 -- bound to come here someday, maybe!

Final question: What can you say about Phantasy Star Online 2?

A: What is there to say about the best MMO I’ve played since… PSO? The Japanese Beta was amazing. That said, the game has only been announced for Japan… I recommend practicing Katakana in the meantime!



Hmm… well, it may be a while before we see Classic Sonic again or get our hands on PSO2, but Sonic 4 Episode II is out now on XBLA and PSN. Expect our full review shortly!

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Editor-in-chief Tim Torres is a video game geek, a tech nut, a film nerd, and he occasionally picks up a book once in a while. He has written all manner of copy for PCMag, Computer Shopper, The Jersey Journal, Radio One, and Random House. As a video game critic and podcast host, he has written in-depth reviews, attended industry events, conducted interviews and led creative discussions on various topics related to games and the games industry. Before entering the tech world, he attended New York University and worked in education as an art instructor. In his spare time he acts, sketches, eats a lot of sushi and watches a lot of Netflix. He does not hate Final Fantasy VII.

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1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Cyan May 21, 2012 at 10:16 PM - Reply

    Great interview! LOL at classic sonic not speaking. 

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