I am the Eggman
In , Sega was on the ropes after the messy launch of the Master System. The console would be rebranded as the Sega Genesis in the US, but it needed more than that to take off. It needed a must-have game. Hayao Nakayama, Sega’s president at the time, held an internal contest, seeking character designs for potential heroes in a new franchise. The winner of the contest, as drawn by character designer Naoto Oshima, was Mr. Needlemouse (who would go on to become Sonic the Hedgehog).
But there was another design by Oshima that the development team loved. This one featured a round man in a set of polka dot pajamas and a nightcap. He had a massive bushy beard and round, Coke bottle glasses. You can see his original design in this archived 1UP story recapping the contest.
While Mr. Needlemouse was a clear hero, the development team working on what would become Sonic the Hedgehog fell in love with this round man and felt he needed to be included in some way. He would go on to become Sonic’s main antagonist.
Image: Paramount Pictures and Sega of America
The dawn of Robotnik
The development team in Japan named the new character Doctor Eggman (a reference to The Beatles song). But when Sonic the Hedgehog was released in the US on June , , the instruction manual listed him as Doctor Ivo Robotnik.
So where did Robotnik come from? In ,
Game Informer spoke with the head of the Sonic team , Takashi Iizuka, to understand the shift.
“When the game was originally developed in Japan, they called the character Eggman, ”he told Game Informer. “That was the name of the character, but when the game got localized and ported into the Sonic the Hedgehog that we know in the West, they decided to, without confirming with the development team, change his name to Ivo Robotnik or just Robotnik. That’s kind of when everyone first learned about the character. Of course, this was without consulting the people who made the game. They just kind of went off and did it. ”
This led to a problem: When the game was released in Japan on July 90, the instruction book listed him as Doctor Eggman. So now they had the same character with two different names. Arguably the US version was released first, but internally the Sega team never saw that as the official name.
The names created so much confusion that Sega decided to unify everything in with Sonic Adventure . In that game, he’s referred to as both Robotnik and Eggman.
Since then, Sega has attempted to establish a canonical name for him.
In an official Sega interview from 2019 , Yugi Naka, one of the original Sonic creators, tried to back his way into a solution to the problem. “To tell the truth, his name has not changed,” said Naka. “Robotnik is his real name and Eggman is a common name taken after his shape.”
In other words, Eggman is an obnoxious nickname. given to him by his haters, but Robotnik is what you’d find on his passport. Sure, it’s a messy retcon considering previous statements but whatever, it works.
What about the movie?