Welcome to the first Pernicious Fallacies post. In this series I hope to shed some light on certain issues, and reverse some of the damage done by the spread of misinformation and well-meaning "theories". The subject will most often be Sonic the Hedgehog and its development, but at times I may branch out.
Today's Pernicious Fallacy is "The Mobius Fallacy". It is best summed up by quoting one of its carriers, the Concept Mobius website:
In fact, Mobius itself is all but a simple misinterpretation on SOA's part. Let me take you back to the year of 1992, when Sonic 2 was still in the makes and interviews and press releases were filling the media of the blue blur…
Back when Sonic 2 was released, which was basically the impending of one of the most prestigious video games of all time, many interviews and many magazine articles were published prior to its release. One of which was a Sega Visions issue where Yuji Naka was interviewed, and he mentions the word 'Mobius.'
Yuji Naka was not making a reference to a planet, but instead an obstacle. A Mobius strip is a mathematical testament of geometry that is continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating one end 180° and attaching it to the other end. Sound familiar? Exactly. Those corkscrew roadways in Emerald Hill Zone were Mobius Strips.
The Mobius strip (right) is what the nifty corkscrew highways in Emerald Hill Zone (left) were based off of.
Yuji Naka meant to point out the Mobius strips. Because hey, we all know he is bad at English — the only time he uses good English is when he is kissing an American car salesman's ass to haggle down a shiny new Ford GT. But other than that? Bupkes.
This little misinterpretation stuck with Sega of America, so it was thus morphed into what we know today as Mobius - the world that Sonic comes from in the comics, AoStH TV series, SatAM TV series, and the Sonic Underground TV series.
Here is the offending quote from the Yuji Naka interview in question:
And here is the entire interview at Sonic Retro.
Now that you have a clear and colourful picture of the Mobius Fallacy, it is time to dismantle it.
Firstly, the Mobius Fallacy is based on two independent precepts, which must be dealt with separately.
1. As a result of this interview, the word Mobius was applied to Sonic's homeworld.
The name Mobius for Sonic's homeworld was in use long before this interview was conducted. For example, the Promo Comic from 1991:
(Promo Comic article at Sonic Retro)
And the "Sonic Bible" (an internal document used by Sega of America), dated June 24th, 1991:
(Sonic Bible thread at Sonic Retro)
Now, it is entirely possible that the name Mobius was given to Sonic's homeworld by SoA due to the loops and twists in the Zones. But it certainly was not due to any utterance of Yuji Naka's in this particular Sega Visions interview. The very notion that SoA would mine an interview for ideas on what to name their planet is silly anyway, even if it had not come too late.
2. Yuji Naka said the word Mobius, referring to the corkscrews, but was misunderstood / mistranslated.
Why did Yuji Naka say Mobius? It's a SoA term, after all, not official in the Japanese Sonic canon.
First, there is no proof he ever did. Many interviews with Japanese game developers are conducted through a translator, who could easily have said Mobius for the Americans' benefit. Furthermore, even if there was no translator and Yuji Naka was speaking English (which there is, to my knowledge, no evidence for), he could have used the word himself, knowing that he was speaking for an American publication. We must bear in mind that Sonic 2 was developed in Palo Alto, California, and his American colleagues perhaps used the name Mobius on a daily basis during development. It would not be hard for Yuji to employ the name himself, without believing it to be Sonic's home at the end of the day.
Remember, in the interview, the name Robotnik (not Eggman) is mentioned as well. Similar to Mobius, the name Robotnik is not canonical in Japan (at least not until Sonic Adventure 2, when they finally capitulated, perhaps because Professor Gerald Eggman and Maria Eggman sounded really stupid).
Yuji Naka, Sega Visions:
We wanted one of the characters in the game to be egg-shaped, so we created Robotnik. It was a great character, but since it couldn't be the main character, we made him the bad guy.
So why did Yuji say "Robotnik"? See above - the same points come to bear on this as why he said "Mobius" - if, again, he even did.
This actually suggests a new, parodical "Robotnik Fallacy":
In fact, Robotnik is nothing more than a stupid translation error on Sega of America's part.
What Yuji Naka really was referring to was Metal Sonic. Robot Sonic, Robot-nic, Robotnik! After all, he's a college dropout who can't string two English words together sensibly.
Ever since, mindless buffoons in the West have been parroting the mistake, and they think he's called Robotnik!
As for the whole "translation error" idea (the idea that he was referring to the corkscrews in Emerald Hill, but was somehow misinterpreted), it is certainly possible. But it is not very probable.
Read the interview. Yuji Naka is not vague or ambiguous in any way throughout. The language used is clear, informative, and precise.
Yuji Naka, Sega Visions
...the new Mobius worlds are brighter, crisper, and much more detailed.
The quote itself is crystal-clear (BTW, in ye olden days, it was quite common to call individual levels in a video game, "worlds").
To assume that somehow a reference to an object can be construed into a sentence of that nature reminds me of Bible interpretation. Read with no bias, you'd have a hard time believing that sentence in any way referred to a corkscrew in the first zone.
I hypothesise that, since a screenshot of the corkscrew is featured prominently on the page with the interview, a strong subconscious connection has arisen. When casting the mind's eye back to the only mention of Mobius associated with Yuji Naka, hovering in view is a big ol' page-spanning screenshot of the corkscrew. Check the caption of the screenshot, however, and you'll see it clearly and correctly labeled as a "corkscrew".
Bear in mind that the corkscrews in Emerald Hill bear no legitimate resemblence to a true Mobius strip, either. The very definition of a Mobius strip is an object with one continuous side. The corkscrews in Emerald Hill do not connect to themselves, but are stretched from cliff to cliff, and have two distinct sides. To claim, as Concept Mobius does, that a Mobius strip was their inspiration, is wild speculation, unwisely stated as if it were fact.
Actually, the entire quote from Concept Mobius is arrogant, insulting, and peppered with opinion masqerading as fact:
Yuji Naka was not making a reference to a planet, but instead an obstacle.
This is stated baldly as fact, not as his opinion. Would a simple "perhaps" have killed the guy?
A Mobius strip is a mathematical testament of geometry that is continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating one end 180° and attaching it to the other end. Sound familiar? Exactly. Those corkscrew roadways in Emerald Hill Zone were Mobius Strips.
Actually they are clearly not, by the very description just offered! They are twisted far more than 180°, and do not attach to themselves. The corkscrews are no more Mobius strips than the Eiffel Tower is a rabbit - it is incredible that this claim was made by someone who ostensibly has a working understanding of what a Mobius strip is!
The Mobius strip is what the nifty corkscrew highways in Emerald Hill Zone were based off.
This is more fair to say - they are not actually Mobius strips, but could well have been inspired by them. But again, it is stated as bald fact. How does he know what inspired the level artists? Has he spoken with them? Again, this is pure opinion.
Yuji Naka meant to point out the Mobius strips. Because hey, we all know he is bad at English — the only time he uses good English is when he is kissing an American car salesman's ass to haggle down a shiny new Ford GT. But other than that? Bupkes. This little misinterpretation stuck with Sega of America, so it was thus morphed into what we know today as Mobius...
How does he know this is a misinterpretation or a mistranslation? Was he there when the interview was conducted? Does he have a taped recording, does he even speak Japanese? Where is the evidence for these claims?
Also, this is insulting the man who developed the games this person's site is dedicated to. And hey, isn't the site called Concept Mobius?
Why do people feel so strongly about this Mobius Fallacy? Well, there are two sides.
On the one hand, for people who wish to establish Mobius firmly as Sonic's home planet in all regions' canon, this may be (and only may be) the only time the name has been uttered by the original creator's own lips. Believing this lends the name Mobius more credence, and one can see why territorial fans might cling doggedly to it. We know better, of course - Earth is Sonic's home in Japan, and always has been (the Tails Adventure Japanese Manual explicitly mentions the South Pacific, for just one example).
On the other hand, for people who hate the SoA canon and the Archie universe, maintaining that Mobius is just a stupid mistake that doesn't really mean anything probably makes them feel superior. It de-legitimises Mobius and makes the Western canon seem inferior. But we know better about this, also - Mobius is as official as anything in the Japanese canon. Sonic was intended to have a different backstory for each region, so that conflicting cultural preferences wouldn't limit his popularity.
1. The corkscrews are
demonstrably not Mobius strips. 2. It is extremely
unlikely that a mistranslation occured. 3. Sega of America did not mine
an interview from the future for ideas on what to name their planet.
2. It is extremely unlikely that a mistranslation occured.
3. Sega of America did not mine an interview from the future for ideas on what to name their planet.
A healthy Sonic community must challenge the current views, and overturn them when new evidence comes to light. Continuing to repeat, or support, old, unproven claims only takes our attention from new challenges and mysteries that need to be solved.
There is one clear instance of the corkscrews of Emerald Hill being referred to as Mobius strips. It is from Sega Force, July 1992, talking about Sonic 2 as it was premiered at the CES that year on May 28th. From what is said about it, it sounds like the build that was shown off was the Alpha (just Emerald Hill, with Starlight's BGM), or very similar.
(here's the full scan)
We can be pretty certain that this guy is referring to the corkscrew. "...Must be negotiated at full tilt to keep Sonic from falling off" - the corkscrews are the only thing that fits that description. However, this instance emphatically does not legitimise calling them Mobius strips. Just because one person makes a mistake does not mean that everyone else should copy them.
Why was the mistake made? Here's a bit of a new theory: Instead of, as the Mobius Fallacy suggests, the obstacle name being applied to the whole planet, it's the exact opposite. The Sega Force guy could have heard Mobius said at the show floor and tied it with the corkscrew. I know how confused things can get in the aftermath of a show like CES or E3. Furthermore, gaming magazines of this era are not known for their stellar accuracy or high-quality journalism. This is, of course, only speculation.
Sonic Retro, where I
posted a topic on this subject
Dean Sitton, for pointing out that Robotnik was mentioned in the
and Concept Mobius, for such a vivid example of the fallacy
Dean Sitton, for pointing out that Robotnik was mentioned in the interview
and Concept Mobius, for such a vivid example of the fallacy