Review: After the Fight

Wow. This was an undertaking. Where do I even begin? From the beginning, I suppose. Our starting point would be the moment I finished Infinite Possibilities, the first Sonic Forces special. At that point, I had literally no idea what would come next. I had the basic, rudimentary outline of what the next episode arc would be, and made that first special purely as a way to kick off that arc while simultaneously celebrating the release of Forces. I wrote it knowing that I would eventually have to explain how Blacklight became Infinite, but I figured, based on the “Phantom Ruby prototype” concept (which I only knew about because of the beta release of the mobile game, Sonic Forces Speed Battle) that it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to explain later that Eggman simply made another fake, if all else failed.

Unrelated to that train of thought, a little while after the game came out, I was accidentally spoiled by a single name. “Null Space.” I had no idea what it was, or what its role was in the game (though the spoiler in question did contain the statement that it was underused in the plot). I knew at that moment that I had found my connection between Sonic Forces and my story. From the beginning, back when I wrote the final episode of the Birth of Blacklight arc, I specifically left one very vague statement at the end. “He is safely hidden away.” On one hand, I actually hadn’t yet put the thought into where exactly that hiding place would be, as I knew that I had the whole Dawn of Chaos arc in the middle to think of a good location to kick off this new arc (originally, the location of Sonic’s fight in what would become the first Forces special was supposed to be that hiding spot, he was supposed to see Blacklight getting woken up). On the other hand, the imminent release of Forces was in the back of my mind, and I had a pretty good feeling at that point that it would coincide with the beginning of this new arc. I saw an opportunity to connect them, so I decided that a great way to do so would be to make that hiding place an important location from Forces itself. So when I saw the words “Null Space,” what I saw was something that could almost certainly be the exact place I was looking for to bring this all together. The decision to make Blacklight into Infinite was entirely separate, so when I actually played the game for myself, and learned that Null Space was so intrinsically related to the Phantom Ruby and Infinite, I was almost giddy. The connection wasn’t just there, it was perfect.

One other spoiler I accidentally got was a snapshot of the final scene before the credits, all the characters cheering in front of what I later learned was the Eggman Empire Fortress. By that point, I had already learned quite a bit about Infinite as a character, between the prequel comics, the trailers, and my own attempt with Blacklight-Infinite. I had grown very attached to him. I thought that the face under his mask was…well, sort of adorable. Maybe handsome would be a better word. Either way, I liked him. I wanted to see that guy be happy. So I started planning for a redemption story. I wanted him to come crawling back at the moment of that snapshot I saw, begging for forgiveness, warning of some greater threat. I wanted he and the Avatar to become good friends, for the Avatar to truly show him the way back to heroism. Sound familiar? Bcause that’s pretty much exactly what I ended up writing…up to the last three minutes or so. More on that in a moment.

After I played the game, things just kept falling into place. The “Fading World” background song for Imperial Tower (that level was a great experience, by the way) implied that the Ruby prototype was calling to the Avatar’s dark emotions, helping to justify Infinite’s being a better person without it. Infinite disappeared towards the end of the story, without a clear end, without any serious character resolution. Best of all (or worst, from any standpoint other than mine as a writer) Eggman didn’t even use the real Ruby! He used Infinite’s prototype! (At least, I’m 90% sure on that. It wasn’t extremely clear, and I’ve seen some debate about it.) All of the pieces lined up into a perfect puzzle, where the Phantom Ruby itself could be framed as the true final villain, Infinite would have perfect reason to be the necessary exposition to explain that, and could be truly redeemed from there. I explained some of the basics of my ideas to my brother and fellow writer, Yuni Oha. He was skeptical. He didn’t really see redemption as a reasonable option, because Infinite was so darned evil in the real story. I argued back that his one blue eye was meant to show that he still had some good in him, and he just tried to cover it up with the mask. He countered that everything I said may make for a good excuse, after the fact, of why I did it, but none of it makes for a proper reason to make it happen in the first place. Not long later, the full Sonic Forces soundtrack was released. After he listened to Infinite’s full theme for the first time, he begged me not redeem him. And, after some further discussion, I was convinced. No more redemption for Infinite. Problem was, I’d already planned such a full and complex story to write, that heavily depended on Infinite as a character. In fact, I still started writing this episode less than 24 hours after that. So I thought…Let’s fake it! More specifically, let’s help out Infinite’s character in a different way. Let’s see him at his lowest, see him show a level of caring that we haven’t seen before, give all of us a reason to care about him as a person, even as he stays evil to the end. I was still able to write a fundamentally similar story, just with an added moment of extra drama right at the end. But that still left one problem. If Infinite is still Infinite, how can Blacklight become Infinite? In order to answer that question, I ended up coming up with a much better concluding scene than I was originally planning. “Better” being a relative term. Because it was kind of sad for me, going through all that work to bring Infinite back to power, only to take it away from him. But at that point, the first Forces special had been out there for well over a month, and it was absolutely necessary that Blacklight become the primary problem. I needed to write myself out of that hole with that scene. And it was a good scene, sudden and unexpected, but disappointing from Infinite’s perspective all the same.

So, what else is there to talk about? I ended up writing this episode with the thought in mind to make it as easy as possible to read for someone who’s never read any part of the rest of the series before, partly because Yuni said he wanted to read it after the Infinite conversation we had, and partly just because, as a direct insert into Sonic Forces, direct connections to the rest of my story weren’t really all that necessary. That’s why I didn’t actually name Lt. Alfred when he was voicing over at the beginning, why I had him give a brief synopsis of the Birth of Blacklight arc in the first place.

The design and concept of the Phantom Nightmare was something that came to me quickly and easily. After all the buildup with the Replicas, you only ended up fighting half of them in the final game, and even then they never really did anything. Plus, it was something Yuni and I had been talking about long before the game came out, that all four of the advertised Replicas had some manner of Super Form. It was a logical step to give them all a purpose, while creating an opponent worthy of Super Sonic. With the Ruby’s illusionary powers, fusing them all together into a single monster seemed like a logical extreme. The addition of Heavy King was something that I was debating at first, but in the end I decided that anything that gives Classic Sonic a reason to exist is a good thing. (That one line, “This was never your fight,” was a stab at the fact that Classic Sonic didn’t even belong in this game). I also debated using Titanic Monarch instead of Phantom King as the Heavy King’s “Super Form,” but I was convinced that it just couldn’t properly be justified at this time. Originally, I was planning on having the Phantom Nightmare simply tear out of Null Space right from the get-go. But Yuni, once again, convinced me to have a clear scene where each of the Replicas transform before fusing, just to make it clear what’s really happening.

Let’s see, what else? I was glad to give an excuse to exclude Shadow and Silver from this Super fight, where Generations DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER. *Ahem* Sorry, that’s just a thing that bothers me.

The Avatar’s character arc is something that most people would say Forces did relatively well, especially compared to most recent Sonic games. But I knew that it could use a little extra something. The Avatar grew from point A to point B, which was good. But any good character development arc requires a moment of reflection. A moment where a question is posed, and resolutely answered, of how valid that development was. Speaking of the Avatar, his new little Wisp friend is something that came to me sort of randomly, but I thought it would be good for him to have someone he could call a partner, even when he’s out there alone.

Well, there’s more I could probably say, but I think this has gone on long enough. But rest assured. This is not the last you’ve seen of Infinite or the Avatar.

-And before I say goodbye to you, one more last fist bump!
(For real this time, last one, I promise.)

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Deleted Scene I: The Commander

This is a scene I had planned since pretty much the very first conceptualization of the Birth of Blacklight arc. I’ve mentioned before that part of the idea with this arc was to fill in the empty space between when Shadow was launched from the arc and when he was found on Prison Island. This scene was supposed to be a big part of that. In the story I’ve directly told, there was no clear explanation of how Shadow’s pod ended up in the hands of GUN, only an inference made in Alfred’s final note to Shadow. Writing that note was actually a little awkward, because I originally planned it to be built off of this scene. The reason I didn’t end up placing this scene in the original story is because, as I was getting up to the point where it would have been in the story, I decided that I needed to have a moment where Alfred realizes his mistakes before the alleged final battle, so that he could be there to help before real final battle started. So, I wrote the second major scene of that episode, where Alfred tries to tackle Shadow before being told that Blacklight holds Maria captive. theoretically, this deleted scene would have come chronologically right after that. But, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that this scene has a lot of similar themes and ideas as that one, so it would have been almost like showing the same scene twice in a row, distracting from the battle at hand. So, I deleted it. But, after it was all said and done, I realized, as I wrote in the episode review, that the overarching theme of humanity betraying Shadow got a little bit lost. This scene was supposed to be the beginning of a resolution to that theme, but I deleted it! So, I decided to write the scene anyways, and post it here as bonus content for you. Enjoy!

March 21st, 42 B.E.

Somewhere East of Research Facility EDEN

Approximate Placement: Season 0, Episode 18

“Hold it right there!” Shadow stops as he hears the unmistakable shout of a soldier, and the clatter of a raising gun. Slowly, he turns to look at the soldier. “I-I said freeze! Don’t move! I know what you are!”

Shadow freezes again as he hears the words and lays eyes on the soldier. His uniform closely resembles that of the GUN soldiers once seen aboard the ARK, with a lighter brown coloring. A few locks of silver hair hang out from his helmet, covering parts of his otherwise boyish face, revealing him to be no older than 18. Most surprisingly, his right eye is a dark maroon-red, while his left is a bright cyan-green. He points a rifle directly at Shadow. Shadow answers slowly, “I know who you are as well, Commander…” Shadow looks more closely at the few decorations that the soldier wears, which he is clearly able to read. “…or should I say, Lieutenant?”

The soon-to-be Commander, now Lieutenant, doesn’t seem to hear or care about what Shadow says. “When I heard the call, I knew it had to be you! I knew you would have to turn up eventually!” Shadow tries to take a slow step towards him, but he jabs the rifle forwards to keep him back. An odd rattling sound can be heard. “You’re Project: Shadow. You’re the one who killed everyone on the ARK! You’re the one who killed Maria! But I survived! And I’ve been preparing for this moment for ten years!” The rattling grows louder.

Shadow stares at the rifle emitting the sound, held in the Lieutenant’s trembling hands. Shadow shakes his head. “I don’t have time for this.” He starts rapidly marching towards the soldier.

The Lieutenant jabs the weapon forwards again. “Stay back, o-or I’ll shoot!”

Shadow doesn’t relent. “One day, a long time from now, you will get the guts to pull that trigger. But not today.” Shadow grabs the muzzle of the gun, rips it from the soldier’s hands, and flings it aside. The Lieutenant starts to step back in fear, now trembling all over. Shadow keeps pace with him. “Blacklight was right. Humans have a hard time dealing with things they don’t understand in any way other than violence. They have a hard time learning. But you will learn. And so will they, no matter how long it takes.” He stops walking. “Don’t worry. You will see me again.” He turns and starts to walk away, as the Lieutenant drops to his hands and knees.

Even overcome by fear, staring at the floor, the soldier shouts, “Come back here, Shadow! I’m not finished with you yet!”

Shadow stops one last time. “I didn’t kill Maria. I couldn’t save her, maybe that was my fault. But I didn’t kill her.” He thinks for another moment. “You’ll find me unconscious in a stasis pod, in the basement of a research facility not far from here. It’s password protected, so you won’t be able to open it. Make sure you’re the one who finds it, or you won’t be let in on the secret, no matter how high in the ranks you go.” With that business settled, Shadow continues with his exit, off towards the place where Blacklight waits with Maria, prepared for their final confrontation.

I hope what I said up there makes a little more sense now. The same essential idea of Shadow confronting someone who doesn’t like him, but leaving for lack of time, trying to convince them of their error as he goes exists in both scene. The other scene was more important for immediate plot resolution, but this one was important for resolution of the overarching themes of the story. It’s this encounter that puts the idea in Shadow’s head that humans, even if slow to learn, can learn, which is what convinces him in the end that Blacklight is wrong.

In other news, I would like to apologize for the lack of activity recently. I simply haven’t had as much time to type as I would have wanted, and the Dawn of Chaos arc is giving me a lot of trouble on top of that. Over the next few weeks, look out for a new page on the site, as well as the review for the first epsiode of Dawn of Chaos, the anniversary special. (Wow, it’s been over a month since I published that.) Hopefully, it shouldn’t be long after that that the next episode is published.

-Until then, remember to live and learn every day!

 

Review: Season 0, Episode 19

I meant to post this last week, but I guess it just slipped my mind. Oh well, I guess that means more weeks worth of filler content while we wait for Forces. Keep in mind, this for the finale of the Birth of Blacklight arc, not the premiere of the Dawn of Chaos arc that was published 5 days later.

Since this was supposed to be a part of the last episode, I have a lot less to say. The first thing that comes to mind is how I wanted Shadow’s temporal displacement to be resolved. The way I saw, from the moment I had parallel-Sonic mention the one-way nature of the time machine, I had three options. The first was, as actually happened, to come up with some new convoluted means of time-travel. The second was also quite an enticing option, which was still referenced in the end. I considered having Shadow be put back in a stasis pod alongside Blacklight, spend another 40 years unconscious, to be awoken only when Blacklight is awoken as well. I was very much intrigued by the thought of having the two end with the same fate, and having Shadow dedicate himself solely to the task of protecting the world from his doppelganger. It would also be a nice, convenient way to exclude Shadow from the next story arc, not being reawoken until the following one. Making that choice would have required me to remove Maria from the equation, however, as she would have no means of returning home, and I think that would have taken away too much from the rest of the story to be worth it. There would have been a couple other minor problems as well.

The third option is actually what I was originally planning on doing. That would be to introduce a new Chaos-wielding character who could use Chaos Control to open another rift with Shadow. I had already conceptualized this character’s basic characteristics, personality, abilities, and even the dynamic he would have with Shadow. But then I started planning more specifically for Shadow’s first few interactions with Blacklight, and there ended being no good place to introduce an extra character before they had made their first time jump together, cutting out half of my chances. I suppose I could have altered his story to make him come from another time period instead, but I feel that would have ruined too much of what I had planned for him. And besides, by that point, I had decided that introducing another character that late in would seem silly, and take too much focus off of Shadow and Blacklight. This guy would be a “minor” character, he wouldn’t even get a sprite for this website. Anything I could do with him from that point would seem like a silly contrivance, like he’s only there because he has to be. Anyways, this guy hasn’t been forgotten about just yet, as he’ll certainly get a proper introduction later in the series. But even now, remnants of his existence can still be found. Gerald’s story in Shadow’s dream/flashback referred to this very character.

Speaking of that sequence, it was a reference to more than just the past and the future of this series. Some readers may recall from Cast by the Light, my Sonic Adventure 2 novelization, that I added a look into Shadow’s thoughts immediately after his final loss to Sonic aboard the ARK. His thought: “what is it about him…that allows him to fight me…to fight like me? Could it be…what the Professor told me about?” What the Professor told Shadow about was this very story, the story of the Controller.

I tried to make it as obvious as possible, but I should confirm that the realm in which Shadow and Blacklight faced each other for the final time is the very same place seen in a vision by all three hedgehogs in the premiere of Crisis of Chaos. This wasn’t something I was originally planning, and so I had to do a little bit of working around the fact that Shadow didn’t behave as if he had already been there when he saw it in that premiere. His specific statement was explained by Blacklight’s line in this episode, “Heck if I know.” Shadow doesn’t necessarily not recognize the realm, but, with his newfound learnings under Chaos, he is realizing for the first time what the energies are that he asked Blacklight about in this episode.

Lastly, I want to mention the meaning of the password, “MARIA.” As you may recall from Sonic Adventure 2 and/or Cast by the Light, that was the very same password which Eggman had to use to wake up Shadow from his pod. It never made sense to me that this was the case. If the military found Shadow and sealed him in a stasis pod, why did they seal it with a password that means nothing to them? Now, I’ve seen a few possible explanations, but none of them quite make perfect sense. When I first scheduled this arc to be written, all I knew is that it would be the introduction to Blacklight. I already had the framework of his backstory in mind, that Gerald’s son created him in an attempt to perfect the Ultimate Life Form after its initial failure. In building upon that backstory into this story arc, my central idea was to use this opportunity to fill in the blanks between Maria launching Shadow’s escape pod, and the military having Shadow safely sealed away. In light of everything else that happened during this arc, that original, core idea almost got lost. But in the end, I wanted to make sure that the original password problem wasn’t forgotten. The final explanation: Alfred found Shadow’s escape pod, and transferred him to a stasis pod sealed by a password of his own daughter’s name. The military obtained this pod, but never managed to change the password. There’s an interesting little note about how the military found Shadow’s pod, but I’m going to have to ask you to stay tuned for that answer.

-So, until next time, remember to live and learn every day!

Preview: Season 0, Episode 14

The man with a short mustache and large glasses is again at work at the computer console in his research facility. But this time, next to the console sits some sort of large pod, filled with a green fluid.

After working for a while, he suddenly gets up and walks over to the pod. He tugs at his mustache in deep contemplation. Then he turns around and sits back down, not to work, but to think.

He gets up again, but passes the pod entirely this time. He continues into another, more darkly-lit room. He looks around him, as if to make sure no one is watching. Then he quickly enters a code into a pad on the wall, causing the entire wall panel to slide to the side, and revealing the seven Chaos Emeralds inside. Their rainbow of color illuminates his face.

He closes the wall panel and returns to the pod. He stares into the glass case, the green fluid beneath, and the life form he knows lies inside.

Suddenly, he slams down on a button on the front of the pod, and the fluid inside begins to drain.

The lid of the pod pops open, releasing a torrent of steam. But slowly, the steam begins to clear, revealing the form of a hedgehog, one which might be mistaken for Shadow. But as the light that shines upon him clears, it becomes clear that he is definitely not Shadow. His fur is primarily a silvery white, with streaks of green in his spikes. His gloves are turquoise-blue, and his socks and the cuffs of his gloves are red. His shoes, appearing similar to Shadow’s, are purple on the top, with a dark blue trim. One who has seen into the future might know him as Blacklight.

Slowly, he opens his yellow eyes. He begins to look back and forth, a curious look on his face. The man looks on with excitement.

Finally, the hedgehog begins to speak. “… … …This feels weird.”

The man lets out with a smile, “Hello, Sunlight. I’m so glad to finally meet you.”

“Sunlight…that is me?” The man nods. The hedgehog begins to pat around on his chest and arms. When he finishes with that, he starts rubbing his hand all over his face. He looks back to the man, more curious than ever. “Sunlight is made of photons. But I am solid. I don’t understand.”

The man begins to laugh, all the while keeping a bright smile on his face. “No, you see, Sunlight is your name, not what you are made of.”

“My name? So…it’s meaningless, then?”

“Meaningless? Not at all. Your name is how people identify who you are. It’s how people understand you.”

“Understand…I want to understand more. Tell me more.” Without waiting for an answer, the hedgehog now called Sunlight steps out of the pod and begins to look around more.

“Then let’s start with me. My name is Alfred. I am your f–…your creator.”

“Creator…so you made me exist. Why?”

“Well, that’s…quite a long story, perhaps another–”

“Alfred. I don’t know what Alfred is. That does not help me understand you at all. You should have a different name. I like your mustache. Your name should be Mustache.”

The man, Alfred, clears his throat. “I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work that way. Perhaps you–”

“What’s in this room?” Sunlight begins to walk towards the room that Alfred had just come out of, the one that contains the Chaos Emeralds. “It feels nice.”

Alfred quickly runs to cut him off. “Hold on, let’s not go in that room just yet.”

Sunlight glares at him oddly. Then he shrugs, and walks off in a different direction.