RetroVision – A Tale of Two Tails

Today some people will argue that the Sonic Universe has become too complicated, with numerous allies and enemies alike. In 1992 though, at the release of Sonic’s second outing, he had only one, brand new debutant Tails. At a first glance the naming of Tails may seem obvious, due to him having two tails, but the story behind his name highlights the troubled past between Sega of Japan and Sega of America.

This is a story that first came to light in 2014 as a part of the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and is discussed within an article over at USGamer. Here Blake Harris, author of Console Wars, held a panel to promote his (at the time) upcoming book. A panel that alongside Harris himself, also included former Sega of America president Tom Kalinske, Marketing Director Al Nilsen, and programmer Scott Chandler.

Tails Sonic 2 Art
Original art for the character Tails.

It was during this panel that Al Nilsen began to describe the challenges he faced in giving Sonic’s new ally a simple and catchy name. As anyone who has read the now famous book, and soon to be movie will know, the power struggle between the two regional offices was more than common place. Nevertheless, the success of Tails is largely down to one of the few occasions where the two sides compromised.

In fact, as Al Nilsen told the story so well, I will insert the transcript for you to enjoy:

Madeline Schroeder, who worked for me, we affectionately called her ‘The Mother of Sonic.’ And she defanged Sonic—I called her ‘Sonic’s orthodontist.’ She was the one who worked with [Sonic co-creator Yuji] Naka and his team in Japan on Sonic 1, making him a little softer, and a little nicer. Because he was really a mean character—a mean-looking character. And she was also our person at [Sega Technical Institute] who was going in and watching them. So we stayed very much hands-off. She was the one who came into my office and said those words which brought terror and fear into my life: ‘Miles Prower.’

Kalinske Nilsen Toyoda
From left to right: Al Nilsen, Shinobu Toyoda, and Tom Kalinske back in the 90s during their famous time at Sega.

And I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I do not want this name. This is not a great name.’ And I thought it was an interesting pun, but not a name for a character. And we tried everything to go and convince the Sonic team, and [we weren’t successful]. Finally, [Sega of America President] Tom [Kalinske] said, ‘Come up with a back story.’ And so, Madeline and I wrote a back story, and I had to go and present it [to Sega of Japan]. And the back story that you read in Console Wars is the actual thing I presented there. If it feels a little disjointed, it’s because I would read a paragraph, and then [SOA/SOJ liaison] Shinobu Toyoda had to translate it into Japanese. And, literally, [the Sega of Japan representatives] are just like this (furrows his brow).

It’s like, ‘They want to kill me.’ And then, all of a sudden, it just started to lighten up, and, at the end, I had won them over. And Naka came up to [Toyoda] and said ‘You may call him Tails.’ Shinobu and I were shocked because we didn’t think it was going to work, but it was our Hail Mary play, and it absolutely worked. Naka didn’t cry, but one of the designers actually teared up. It was interesting, because [the back story] really cemented the relationship between Sonic and Tails. And that’s how big business works.

Tails Sonic 2 Instructions
Miles “Tails” Prower as he was introduced in the Japanese instruction manual for Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

So, as you can see, this ‘tail’ goes to show how even the simplest of decisions became a battle. However, without this in-fighting we may never have got the iconic team of Sonic and Tails, a friendship that is now almost 25 years old. Just think we could have had Sonic and Miles Prower…

And yes that earlier pun was intentional. Oh, and I also love the pun Miles Prower… Sue me!

Stuart Drake

Not very good at writing about games and even worse at them. Is that going to stop me doing either? Absolutely not! You can follow this Pokémaniac on Twitter and Instagram via @Boogbn

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