The Sonic Second: Sonic History Video

Last time on The Sonic Second, I talked about the promotional videocassette for Sonic 2. Well, Sonic 3 got one as well, albeit one that’s less than two thirds the duration at only 6 minutes long. This time it’s not billed as a “CHIRA-video”, either, but as a “Sonic History Video”, and it focuses mostly on exactly that, with only the briefest of Sonic 3 teases at the end.

Again like last time, you can watch the whole video below, and I’ll be posting a breakdown with images of the packaging, screenshots, and my thoughts below that.

Unlike the Sonic 2 promo video, which had a paper insert in a plastic case making it look almost like a slim Genesis game, this one has a cheaper folded cardboard sleeve. It’s still cool, but for a picky collector like me it’s kind of annoying that they don’t match. (Sonic & Knuckles came in a cardboard box, though, so these are just the kind of irksome things one has to learn to move on from.) Again, the cover artwork is the same as the game’s.

The tape itself, however, does match the Sonic 2 one quite well.

And that’s it – as far as I know, no coupons or anything were included with it. So let’s get started with the video. It opens with the same “Sega!” animation as the Sonic 2 promo video.

Then oddly, there’s footage of the Sonic CD opening cartoon, complete with Sonic CD music.

This is a little confusing – if the viewer wasn’t lucky enough to know about the comparatively rare Sonic CD, they might get the impression that this cartoon and music had something to do with the game being promoted, because there’s no indication otherwise. In fact, Sonic CD music is used here and there all throughout the video.

The cartoon culminates in a deft piece of editing that has Sonic’s spinning jump smoothly transition to his jump that smashes the Sega logo in the Sonic 3 intro sequence. Then the “Sonic History Video” title is shown. Not quite as fancy as the gentle fun(?) being poked at Mario and Luigi in the previous video – just a grey background.

Like the previous video, there’s a character section that starts with Sonic, but this time they jump right into it. It’s called “All About Sonic!”, and technically, it’s more than one section, because it’ll keep coming back throughout the video for each character’s profile.

Sonic’s profile:

  • Nickname: Sonic
  • Type: Hedgehog
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 15~16 years old
  • Weakness: Swimming

For the sake of comparison, here’s Sonic’s profile from Sonic Jam (Japanese and English versions):

(I find it interesting that neither Japanese profile commits to an age here, and the American one used 16. Sega now uses 15 according to Sonic’s profile on the official Japanese site.)

Back to the video! In the case of Sonic only, the profile goes into more detail, focusing on three of his individual traits.

For “Hair”, the Sonic 2 special stage is shown, because it’s the best 3D demonstration of Sonic’s spines.

For “Hand”, Sonic 2‘s waiting animation is shown, with Sonic looking at his watch.

For “Shoes”, footage of Sonic running – actually from Sonic 3 this time! – is shown, and the narrator mentions Michael Jackson’s “dancing shoes” from Bad. Naoto Ohshima has mentioned these as the inspiration for Sonic’s shoes in later interviews (e.g. in Gamasutra).

The next section is called “Making of Sonic!”, and whereas Yuji Naka got to talk in the previous video, this one has Naoto Ohshima.

The black and white document being quickly flipped through at the beginning of the segment has some interesting stuff in it I’ve not seen elsewhere. It’s got an odd mix of Japanese and American art – I’d love to see the whole thing, I’m sure there’s great stuff in it, whatever it is. These are terribly blurry, but you can see what looks like Sonic and Tails yawning, running, and a picture of Sonic with a telescope.

After that, while Ohshima talks, a bunch of concept art for the character contest that resulted in Sonic’s creation is shown. This video is the source for many of these images you’ll see around the ‘net.

Finally it’s narrowed down to two rough sketches by Yasushi Yamaguchi (who would later create Miles “Tails” Prower) and Ohshima himself. The latter, at the bottom of the screen, is the famous “Mr. Needlemouse”, or more technically “Mr. Harinezumi” – a Japanese compound word meaning “hedgehog” made from “hari” (needle) and “nezumi” (rat/mouse).

Once Ohshima’s design was chosen, Sonic started to take shape, resulting in his final design.

The segment ends with a mention of Sonic’s public reveal, at Dreams Come True’s Wonder 3 concert tour in Japan.

(As an aside, there’s some music throughout this video that’s not from any Sonic games, and it’s particularly striking in this “Making of Sonic” section. It sounds suitable for Sonic though, and I wonder if it’s just stock music or if someone from Sega composed it.)

The next section is “History of Sonic!”

It opens with this weird drawing of Sonic flying some vehicle (possibly the Tornado, although it would have to be awfully off-model) in pursuit of Robotnik, whose hovercraft has insect wings like something out of Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Robotnik appears to have captured Tails, and there’s also a very disturbed bird. There’s no real explanation for its inclusion here.

Next Sonic 1 is shown, and its subsection concludes with some nice drawings of Dr. Eggman.

Next Sonic 2 is shown, and its subsection concludes with Tails’ profile to match Sonic’s at the beginning of the video.

Tails’ Profile:

  • Nickname: Tails
  • Type: Fox
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 8 years old
  • Favourite Thing: Mechanical Tinkering

Again, Sonic Jam profile for comparison:

(You may note that Prower is transliterated into Japanese in two different ways here. The video, as well as the booklets for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, use “PA-U-WAA”, while Sonic Jam matches Sonic 2 and Sega’s current official profile with “PA-U-AA”. The Terada/Norimoto manga uses yet a third way, “PAA-A-WAA”. None of these actually sound like “Prower” – I would have gone with “PU-RA-WAA” myself (compare “power” and “flower”) but what do I know? I also find it weird that “Miles” and “Tails” are both transliterated with a “SU” sound at the end instead of a “ZU”, despite the latter being how “Knuckles” is transliterated. But I’m probably digressing way too much here….)

Next, the video finally gets to the good stuff (from the point of view of a player at the time who’s excited for the next game). Sonic 3, and the new character, Knuckles!

Knuckles’ profile:

  • Nickname: Knuckle
  • Type: Echidna
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: Older than 15
  • Pastime: Digging Holes

Again, Sonic Jam profile for comparison:

It seems a little silly that his nickname is “Knuckle”, but even the narrator of the video calls him that. Also, his age in the video is listed as more than 15, while Sonic Jam just says 15. Seems weird for him to be possibly younger than Sonic, and I guess Sega realised this too, as he’s now listed as simply 16, a year older than Sonic.

With Knuckles introduced, the video goes on to show off the three new shields.

“Thunder Shield”, called “Thunder Barrier” in the Japanese manual for the game and “Lightning Shield” in the US manual. I think it’s interesting that the video uses “shield” despite being Japanese where “barrier” was always the preferred term, even well into the Sonic Adventure era.

“Aqua Shield”, called “Aqua Barrier” in the Japanese manual and “Water Shield” in the US manual.

“Flame Shield”, called “Flame Barrier” in the Japanese manual and “Flame Shield” in the US manual.

(Because there wasn’t any reason to match what the instruction booklet said exactly, I grew up calling them the “Lightning Shield”, “Bubble Shield”, and “Fire Shield”, just because those sounded the most natural to me at the time.)

I guess the new elemental shields were something they were really proud of, because they are the only new features of Sonic 3 that get specific attention. All the other cool stuff, like Ice Cap’s snowboarding and the new Special Stages are relegated to a tiny montage at the end, and then the video is over, signing off with a cute animation and the phrase “See you next Sonic!”

And I’ll see you next Sonic Second. 🙂


h/t Sonic Retro

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The Sonic Second: Sonic CD vs Sonic 1

Sonic 1 was groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, and a bestseller. Crafting a direct sequel to follow such a title is a pretty tall order, but Sega actually did it twice, simultaneously – Sonic 2 and Sonic CD‘s development overlapped, with each game handled by a separate team, working on opposite sides of the ocean. Sonic 2 was headed up by two of Sonic’s three co-creators, programmer Yuji Naka and game planner Hirokazu Yasuhara, working with the Sega Technical Institute in America. Sonic’s designer, Naoto Ohshima, remained in Japan and oversaw the creation of Sonic CD.

According to Ohshima, although the teams did communicate with each other, discussing game design and the aims of their projects, the games were intentionally two very different beasts.

Sonic CD was made in Japan, while Sonic 2 was made by (Yuji) Naka’s team over in the U.S. We exchanged information, of course, talking about the sort of game design each of us was aiming for. But Sonic CD wasn’t Sonic 2; it was really meant to be more of a CD version of the original Sonic. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, if we had more fun making CD than they did making Sonic 2 [because we didn’t have the pressure of making a “numbered sequel”].

– Naoto Ohshima (Gamasutra, 2009)

Because of this, we can see two distinct takes on the task of succeeding Sonic 1. While Sonic 2 took Sonic to a new island and expanded the capabilities of the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic CD sent Sonic to another planet, and replaced the Chaos Emeralds with another set of powerful gems, the Time Stones. Where Sonic 2 was brighter and more cartoony, Sonic CD went for an edgier, anime style. Sonic 2 gave Sonic a young admirer who became his sidekick – his “Luigi” – but Sonic CD gave Sonic a young admirer in need of rescue – his “Princess Peach”. Sonic 2 introduced 2-player gameplay, allowing Sonic and Tails to cooperate or go head-to-head, but Sonic CD introduced Time Attack, allowing players to compete by taking turns, trying to shave a few centiseconds off the timer and immortalise their name – or at least three letters of it – in the Sega CD BRAM.

Probably the most obvious and overriding stylistic difference between the two games is how they approach the level tropes. Sonic 2 has a new take on the classic Green Hill Zone, and a couple of spiritual successors – for example, Metropolis Zone’s nods to Scrap Brain Zone – but largely covers new territory, inspiration for the environments fueled by Sonic Team’s travels in America. Sonic CD‘s zones, however, despite taking place on a literal alien world, are noticeably rooted in the tropes of the original Sonic, opting to refine and polish familiar ground.

Astute players of Sonic CD can notice similarities between its zones and Sonic 1‘s that run far deeper than just the visuals. With Ohshima’s words above, “[Sonic CD] was really meant to be more of a CD version of the original Sonic“, it’s tempting to speculate that this is evidence that the game began as a literal “Special Edition” of Sonic’s debut outing. Whether that’s the case or not, Sonic CD‘s conservatism in level tropes winds up being appropriate – with Sonic’s ability to time travel and see multiple variations on each level’s theme, the use of familiar themes helps anchor the “Present” versions of the levels. The game can go as wild as it wants with atavistic pasts and dystopic futures, but each one remains recognisable, as though the traditional zones of the original Sonic itself are being reinterpreted.

I’ll now, with a liberal smattering of screenshots, list the similarities. I’ll hardly be exhaustive, because there’s so many I’ve probably missed some, but this will be an illustrative sample.

Green Hill Zone / Palmtree Panic

Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic 2 is also clearly harking back to Green Hill Zone, but Palmtree Panic revisits quite a few more elements. The rocks, the crumbling walls and ledges, the swinging platforms, the twisting chutes, and the mountainous background with waterfalls.

Spring Yard Zone / Collision Chaos

Collision Chaos is quite a bit brighter than Spring Yard Zone, but its “Present” version shares the latter’s purple, brown, and green colour scheme (complete with cyan metal lattices), as well as the star bumpers, floating neon signs, and lower interior paths with rotating sets of spiked balls. Most interesting is the presence of two signs and exits in the second zone, a distinction it shares only with Spring Yard Act 2. It’s hard to chalk this up to coincidence.

Note also that Collision Chaos was originally going to be the third round before the infamous “Round 2” was cut, which would put it at the same position as Spring Yard Zone in the level order.

(Find the full maps at Zone: 0)

Labyrinth Zone / Tidal Tempest

Tidal Tempest’s pink corals strongly recall the crystal clusters from Labyrinth Zone, and the type of blocks in both the background and foreground are incredibly similar in style. They also share many of the same gimmicks and hazards, and their bosses both involve chasing Robotnik through vertical watery shafts (although only one of them culminates in a fight). Furthermore, they both wrap vertically, allowing Sonic to fall down endless waterfalls.

Of course, these are also the water levels in their respective games.

The original idea for Labyrinth Zone’s background, with rocks and crystals, could have been recycled for this cool introductory background for Tidal Tempest’s first zone.

Wacky Workbench and Quartz Quadrant have no direct analogs in Sonic 1, but the final two levels match up quite well.

Star Light Zone / Stardust Speedway

In addition to sharing starry skies (and names), these levels are both made of twisting, looping metal roads suspended over a beautiful city at night. They both make use of the cool effect of having tall structures pass intermittently in front of the scene, although in Stardust Speedway’s case the effect is limited to the third zone instead of all throughout the level.

Scrap Brain Zone / Metallic Madness

Unique amongst the levels of their respective games, these both have unique backgrounds for each of their three stages. There are also many gimmicks and hazards in common.

Special Stage

Finally, Sonic CD originally had a bonus stage (perhaps an early form of its special stage), that looked very similar to Sonic 1‘s. Note the “R” block, and the “U” block, which might have been the same as the “Up” blocks from the original.


Yes, most Sonic games have similarities, but I think that in this case of Sonic CD and Sonic 1, the sheer number of them, their odd specificity, and especially the order in which they appear, are definitely compelling. I don’t think they make a conclusive case for anything in particular, but they are interesting to consider from the perspective of Sonic CD as glimpse of where the franchise might have gone if Sonic 2 had never existed.


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The Sonic Second: Sonic 1 Zone Concepts

Last week, I covered the character concept art from the Sonic the Hedgehog Material Collection, and this week I want to talk about something similar – more concept art from Sonic 1‘s development, but this time of zones.

The first 8 of these images are scans generously donated by Tom Payne.

S1concept1
1. メタリック調のステージ “Metallic Stage”

The writing in Japanese at the top of the image helpfully includes a number, so this is considered the first drawing, although I don’t know if that indicates that it was literally drawn first. The text refers to the background being styled like Southeast Asia, and also describes “gold-coloured plating”.[1]

S1concept2
2. C.G.風のステージ “C.G. Style Stage”

The second image ought to be familiar to anyone who has seen Green Hill Zone in the Sonic 1 beta, with those layers of foreground rocks and trees:

GHZ Beta

Further indicating its connection to Green Hill Zone is the notation at the top, describing it as a “CG styled stage”. Even though Green Hill Zone was designed by hand, Sonic Team was intentionally going for a computer graphics look. This is confirmed by Yuji Naka himself in the Sonic Jam Official Guide (translation by G Silver):

This is the stage that took the designers the longest to get properly arranged, and from the beginning of development the graphics were probably redone 4 or five times. The art and maps for this zone alone took half a year to produce! At the time, we were aware of computer graphics, but we tried to get that look by hand (laugh)

So it’s entirely possible that the drawing above is the first image of Green Hill Zone to ever exist… pretty heavy.

S1concept3
3. 岩山と水中のステージ “Rocky Mountain and Underwater Stage”

The third image is a “rocky mountain and underwater stage”. The caption refers to using the jump to cross the water – an ability that never made it into the 16-bit games but was present in many of the 8-bit ones – and also makes it clear that it would be a Japanese styled stage, as if a giant Mount Fuji in the background wasn’t obvious enough.

Given Sonic Team’s strong desire to make Sonic popular and palatable in the West, I would speculate that this and the other Asian styled level were dropped early on. It’s a real shame, too – I think something like this would have been really cool, and I would be interested in particular to know how Masato Nakamura would have approached the BGM for the zone.

S1concept4
4. 地形がゆれるステージ “Stage with shaking terrain”

Image number 4 is a “stage where the ground shakes”. It seems at first like a concept of Marble Zone, but the ground shaking idea wasn’t used until Hill Top Zone in Sonic 2 and then again in Marble Zone’s spiritual successor Marble Garden Zone in Sonic 3.

S1concept5
5. 宇宙のステージ “Cosmic Stage”

Image number 5 shows a “cosmic stage”, with stars, shimmering aurorae, and beams of light that remind me of the searchlights from Stardust Speedway. It’s possible that the white hills depict snow, to go with the aurora in the sky, but the description of a “cosmic stage” might also suggest it could be an alien environment with silver moon dust.

Even more interesting is the caption’s reference to a 2-Player mode, showing that the idea was considered even before Sonic 2 – when Miles “Tails” Prower was not yet a twinkle in Judy Totoya’s eye.

The caption also suggests that Sonic would be able to jump higher in this stage, I’m assuming because of lower gravity. (This concept was used in Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy.)

S1concept6
6. 大霊界ステージ “Spirit World Stage”

Image number 6 is described in the caption as a “spirit world stage”, which sounds like something straight out of the Goemon series, complete with spooky mist and ghostly spirit fire. It really is amazing how much more patently Japanese a lot of these concept drawings are than the finished game.

S1concept7
7. 実験器具のステージ “Laboratory Equipment Stage”

Image number 7’s caption calls it a “stage of laboratory equipment”, and and we can see steaming pipes and boiling chambers in the drawing.

It’s easy to miss, but in the upper middle is a 3-digit rolling counter much like an odometer. It’s cute, but if implemented it would take a lot up a lot of VRAM unless the tiles were dynamically loaded.

S1concept8
8. メガロポリスステージ “Megalopolis Stage”

Image number 8 is quite clearly the basis for what would eventually become Scrap Brain Zone. The caption calls it a “megalopolis stage”, which of course will remind one of Metropolis Zone and Gigalopolis (Gigapolis) Zone.

The caption talks about how it’s tricky to get inside the rotating sections.

So that accounts for the first 8 images, but we’re not done yet. Though these are the only images provided by Tom Payne, there are others in the set that have popped up in different places over the years.

Sonic Jam Official Guide page 127
Sonic Jam Official Guide page 127

In the Sonic Jam Official Guide, on page 127, we can see on the middle left there is a new image, this time showing what looks like Labyrinth Zone, complete with gargoyle heads and pouring water.

Here’s a slightly better image from my personal copy of the guide (it’s hard to get a good shot without cracking the spine, so please forgive the quality):

labyrinth concept
Labyrinth Zone concept

But there’s even more drawings: In November 2013, Egmont released an issue in their “All About…” magazine series for kids – all about Sonic the Hedgehog.

All about Sonic
“All About…” issue 73

Mostly consisting of reprinted Archie Sonic comics, it’s notable for having a “Complete History of Sonic the Hedgehog” page which gives us a look at even more of these zone concept drawings (scan first posted by JenHedgehog):

Allaboutsonic-scan2
The Complete History of Sonic the Hedgehog

Here’s a closer look:

Labyrinth Zone
Labyrinth Zone concept

No, I have no idea what “PLAELY” means either, but it reminds me of the “Welcome” sign from Green Hill Zone in the Sonic 1 beta:

Welcome Sign
“WELCOME”

And now for detail shots of the other zones:

Star Light Zone
Star Light Zone (?) concept

This one is labeled as though it is supposed to be Star Light Zone, but it bears very little resemblance to the final version. It’s possible that the magazine is just making an assumption.

Maddeningly, none of these images beyond the first 8 have captions. I wish we could find proper scans somewhere.

Marble Zone
Marble Zone concept

And this one – Marble Zone – is the final image that I know about.

Despite image number 4 bearing such a resemblance to Marble Zone, this image is clearly the exact zone, so I have to assume that the two concepts were fused for the final version.

We can see even more similarity to Marble Zone in another version of the image, which was displayed at the Sonic the Hedgehog 25th Birthday Party Anniversary Exhibition from 2011 (image discovered here by Orengefox):

Marble Zone
Sonic 1 concept drawings exhibited at Joypolis in 2011

Above the temple, the floating squares from the beta version of Marble Zone can be clearly seen.

Marble Zone beta
Beta version of Marble Zone

Surrounding the Sonic 1 concept drawings you can see ones that appear to be for Sonic 2 and – judging by the style – are possibly drawn by Yasushi Yamaguchi. These have never been fully documented or completely seen, and they are surely as fascinating as the Sonic 1 ones. But that would be a subject for another Sonic Second altogether.

So, what else can be said about these cool concept drawings? Well, for one, I find it intriguing that out of all the ones we have none appear to be concepts for zones from the 8-bit Sonic 1, which could suggest that those zones – Bridge Zone, Jungle Zone, and Sky Base Zone – were dreamed up by the creators of that game and were not leftover ideas for Sonic Team’s 16-bit version of the game. Of course, since we can’t be sure we’ve seen all the concept images that may exist, this is only speculation.

It’s also not confirmed who drew these Sonic 1 concept images. It’s possible it was Naoto Ohshima, but we don’t know for sure – it’s equally possible they were drawn by Hirokazu Yasuhara (with whom Tom Payne, who donated the first 8 scans, worked directly, unlike Ohshima). It’s also logical that they may have been drawn by Rieko Kodama or Jina Ishiwatari, the zone artists for the game. The best evidence right now is the Japanese text in the Sonic Jam Official Guide, which – according to Google Translate – says that Ohshima provided the treasured images during the interview.

今回の取材の最中に、大島氏から提供された秘蔵のイラストがにれ。ソニックの初期コンセプトを形作るためのイメージラフカットである。ソニックのアクションや表情は今と変わらないが、ボツとなったゾーンのさまザまなイメージが興味深い。

If you have any knowledge about these images, or have seen any that I might have missed, please let me know in the comments.

P.S. The Sonic Jam Official Guide is hella cool, and it’s not that hard to get your hands on one from eBay. I got mine from this seller and it was a fantastic experience, so if you want a piece of Sonic history, go for it!)


^ 1. Here I am assuming that the rough translations provided here are basically correct.

h/t: Retronauts blog, Sonic Retro, South Island Stories, Licensing.biz

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