The Sonic Series’ Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik — Designing For Longevity


Normally on Designing For, we’d focus on taking individual levels under a magnifying glass and showing what they do for a player on an instructive, thematic, or fun perspective. These are concepts that we feel can be applied to other games in the genre or kept in mind for other games that want to apply a sense of a certain concept in a level, boss or other section. However, games can be enhanced by their narrative and character elements as well, so we will occasionally address those. This is one of those times. …where we analyze the character depth of Dr. Eggman! Eggman: “Aha! Get a load of this!” [Cool Music which makes it ironic that its playing in a video about Dr. Eggman] Doctor Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik is one of gaming’s most prolific villains. Arch-nemesis of Sonic the Hedgehog. enslaver of worlds, master of time and space. Feminist. Professional Chao breeder and Olympic athlete, Eggman has accomplished much in his nearly three decade career as a bad guy. It’s that nearly 30 years of villainy that’s exceptionally impressive as Eggman remains one of the few villains of his era with mainstream appeal. He can keep coming back and not only fulfill roles, but excel in them. In all of his incarnations, Dr. Eggman is a villain designed for longevity. A villain’s villain who goes past the confines and trappings of his game to become a remarkable character. Even his contemporary and fellow gaming great Bowser must bow his head… …to the Eggman. Early action games didn’t have any text and never stopped the gameplay, so bosses only had a split-second to inform the player of their behavior and how to beat them. Bowser is big and spiky, so it makes sense that make you have to look toward the environment, rather than jumping on him. Bubble Man looks like a nerd and a loser, so he probably takes more damage and is easier to beat. Eggman’s earliest key to success is his design, and more importantly how it lends itself to Sonic’s fast pace. Dr. Eggman, in simple words, is a rotund bald guy with a big mouth inside of a robot. Eggman: “No way! I can’t believe this!” These three elements — Round, expressive, and part of something larger were the necessary tools that made Eggman an effective boss. Eggman is a cocky round centerpiece to a larger threat, letting the player correctly assume, “If I hit him with my spiky body, it’ll hurt him.” And when you do, he makes a funny expression letting the player know, “Yeah, I did good jumping onto this old man’s face. Let’s do it again!” While this seems like a very simple concept, you’d be surprised at just how many games struggle with this idea. Agahnim, from A Link to the Past is a frail wizard, yet your sword does nothing to his body and his weakness is his own magic. Dr. Wily’s weaknesses in Mega Man 2 don’t really make any logical sense and change halfway through the fight, while the player is already adapting to a new attack pattern. Eggman not only manages to keep his boss fights consistent, but let the player focus on new methods of approaching him rather than how to hurt him. A puzzle which is better left out of a simple fast action game like Sonic. Because of this, Eggman’s design serves as a foil for Sonic speed. In a majority of Eggman’s encounters, he is very slightly mobile. Switching his position on the screen, or manipulating the environment around him to make his position harder to access. Sonic is always coming at Eggman, having to catch up with him in order to deal damage. Finding a way around Eggman’s attacks, getting himself in the right position, and striking all within seconds. Contrast to Bowser, who requires Mario to either collect an object, solve a small puzzle, or actually tell Mario how to beat him so that Mario doesn’t get confused. None of these really reflect Mario’s obstacle course gameplay and wouldn’t until later installments. Leaving a difference in approach between how Mario handles levels, and how Mario handles bosses. Sonic doesn’t really have that issue. He’s in your face and all about going fast at the right moment! Learning patterns and optimizing it for the cleanest ride through. And this has evolved to this day to keep Sonic’s gameplay consistent. Of course, Dr. Robotnik would be seen as just a relic of nostalgia if he couldn’t update to the modern age. While gameplay may endear a character to a specific concept or ideology, the spoken word does wonders to enhance a character into something truly beloved. Sonic has gone through many different interpretations over the years and Eggman has been there for almost every one of them. However the sonic character tends to remain fairly similar through his incarnations. While Eggman can evolve and change dramatically Just a look at early Sonic cartoons for proof positive of that. Despite Sonic himself being basically the same character portrayed by the same actor, one Robotnik is a goofy off-the-wall bumbler who exists to be ridiculous, and the other is a diabolical world conqueror whose only weakness is his own egotism. While clearly going for different themes and approaches, both of these stay true to advance core traits. An egotist relying on his brilliance to get by. Warded by his own hubris and single-minded fury against Sonic, this kind of flexibility is kept true through various incarnations of the series. Need a guy to enslave an entire planet and be credible as the main villain? Eggman’s your guy. Meet your billing to take a back seat to the greater threat, but maintain a constant presence? There’s an egg for that. Sonic becomes more sarcastic and needs a verbal sparring partner on a more relaxed personal and penny level? Sonic: *reading a question* “Do you guys hang out a lot or are you actually frenemies?” Eggman: “Oh, that’s preposterous. We’re enemies- mortal enemies! Oh hey, Sonic, you want any of the leftover chili dogs by the way? I’m grabbing one from the fridge.” Sonic: “Oh, yep sure man, thanks. Oh anyway, uh-yeah total mortal enemies. Enemies. Thanks, Sega! Mm, this is really good…” Adapting past a single story is one of the hardest things for gaming villains to do. Which is unfortunate in such a sequel dominated market. Pyramid Head, GLaDOS, Andrew Ryan, Revolver Ocelot, The Elusive Man, Gruntilda Winkybunion, Sarah Kerrigan- all absolutely fantastic villainous presences in their original games or multi-game sagas. However, many of them are only designed for their singular story in mind. Leaving their appearances in future games ringing hollow or leaving a lot to be desired, as they share spotlight with other villains. Others require a change to fit the parameters of a sequel, losing some aspects that made them so memorable in the first place and removing their mystique, even if they make a return to prominence in a later title. And then some just have a bad writing day, and due to their complex morals and motivations, it ends up watering them down considerably. Villains who do span multiple games will often repeat motivations making them feel very stale. Bowser will almost always kidnap a princess. Ganon possesses some stuff and then revives. Sephiroth says some cryptic stuff to Cloud and then loses a fight. Wesker wants to stick virus into people and see what weird zombies come out. Andross is…. TheSW1TCHER: “I have experience fighting Giant Space Faces!” “That look like Andross! Aaah! My god!” “Shut up!” These obstacles are no problem for Baldy McNosehair. Eggman may want to collect da emewulds but he could also feel like tearing space and time asunder, convincing Shadow to be a loyal servant instead of a loose cannon. Terraforming the planet to harness evil energy, blowing up half of the moon and blackmailing the government, or making a girl cry in order to end the world and build a new one. And although he can be exceptionally bumbling in one incarnation and take himself very seriously in another, there’s always a consistency to his character. He is always egotistical, always hammy and follows his own plan and pathway. Even if he goes against other villains to do so. There is never a time where Eggman feels out of place or out of character, no matter what actions he’s performing and with a thirty year resume, that’s something to be commended. Even his playable appearances reflect this. His Sonic Adventure 2 appearance has him performing story actions in direct opposition to Sonic. The player having to do decidedly bad and villainous things with no real ulterior motive. When he teams with Sonic or helps Sonic, it’s almost always to correct a mistake he’s made or otherwise assert himself. There’s no “for the greater good” with Eggman. He is in it for himself to the end and his rigid selfishness darkens even his brightest moments. Dr. Eggman is a villain through and through and is an invaluable asset to Sonic as a franchise for his ability to fill any role thrown at him and not feel out of place. No matter which way the Sonic franchise turns, no matter what stupid animals are thrown in for no reason, Eggman will be there to steer it to a level of familiarity to keep the franchise grounded. The Eggman Empire will never truly die and its leader will remain the perfect antagonist to Sonic for years to come. and that is how you design for… …Longevity.

14 thoughts on “The Sonic Series’ Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik — Designing For Longevity

  1. One of the best video game villains ever made gets an awesome video!

    Love that you included that clip from SBFP's Star Fox Adventures LP

  2. While it is blasphemy to say that Bowser would bow to the likes of Eggman, this was a top notch video. I hope to see more great content in the future.

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