The Sonic Second: The Chequered Ball

The nature of video games is such that drastic changes are possible in development up to the very last minute. Despite this, the press and public need to see the game in action in order to build awareness and anticipation, so it’s incredibly common for promotional materials to depict preview builds that vary significantly from the finished product. The Sonic series is no exception, and its history is rife with examples, from the celebrated Hidden Palace Zone appearing in countless magazines representing Sonic 2, to screenshots from prototypes being used for the games’ own packaging and instruction booklets. (If you have a North American box for Sonic 1 or Sonic 2, look at the back – the screenshots on Sonic 1 say “RING” instead of “RINGS”, and Sonic 2‘s show Sonic’s whirling feet from the beta.)

While Sonic 1 doesn’t have any axed content as high profile as entire zones, it has a large number of unused sprites and objects, from Splats the bouncing bunny Badnik to odd UFOs in the background of Marble Zone (original graphics for both of which have been recovered). One of the most interesting of these objects, and the subject of today’s Sonic Second, is the chequered ball:

The screenshot above comes from a sidebar in an unidentified issue of Official Sega Magazine from the UK. Seeing this screenshot on the internet was the first I’d heard of the ball, and the bit about it being reused as Robotnik’s weapon made enough sense that I just accepted that narrative.

This giant ball eventually found a home as Robotnik’s weapon at the end of the Green Hill Zone.

However, there’s evidence to suggest it wasn’t as simple as repurposing graphics from an unused hazard. In the Game Players Encyclopedia of Sega Genesis Games: Volume Three, both the ball and the Green Hill Zone boss are shown, presumably meaning that they coexisted in the same build. (Unfortunately the screenshot of the boss shows a completely brown wrecking ball; in the finished game the wrecking ball flashes between completely brown and chequered frames, so I’m going to assume that’s the case here.)

Adding more support to the idea that a boss with a wrecking ball was always planned is this image from Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works (image from Azukara at Sonic Retro):

Again, the ball isn’t chequered, so it’s conceivable that the wrecking ball was plain brown until the chequered ball was cut, and then its graphics were repurposed to create a flashing ball for the Robotnik boss.

All that aside, the coolest thing is that we’ve now got moving footage of the ball object in action, thanks to a YouTube upload of the Nick Arcade TV pilot. Here’s just the relevant part for your viewing pleasure (the ball appears at 0:54):

It shows video of this section of Green Hill Zone Act 1, shown here in a partial map from Brazilian magazine Videogame:

Interestingly, Sonic doesn’t have to give the ball a push to make it go; much like the Robotnik signs at level end, it’s activated by Sonic jumping over it. It lurches to life and begins rolling forward, giving Sonic an object with physics very similar to his own to race or chase.

The caption from the Game Players Encyclopedia screenshot above makes the following claim:

Don’t underestimate that big ball. It can squash our hero like a bug. The slightest touch will start it rolling, so Sonic shoves it to the left and keeps moving.

This suggests that touching it also activates it, and that it’s capable of harming Sonic. In the video, Sonic seems to be pushed by the ball for a few frames without being hurt, so it’s possible the only danger is if the ball crushes Sonic against a wall or other solid surface.

An interesting thing to note is that the object, which so far everybody’s been calling a “ball”, has the exact same colour and pattern as the ground in Green Hill Zone. So perhaps it was intended to simply be a boulder, made out of the same rock from the region that mysteriously sports a regular chequerboard. Once I thought of it as a boulder, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a very similar object in a game that takes a few cues from Sonic: Chomp Rock from Yoshi’s Island, which also appears in its respective game’s first level.

(There’s even a level in Yoshi’s Island called “Chomp Rock Zone”!)

Boulder or ball, the Nick Arcade video shows that the object seemed to be working well, so why was it cut? Was it a test object that was never meant for the finished game? Did it cause obscure glitches? Or was it just considered too challenging and confusing for the pleasant rolling hills of the first zone? We may never know why Sonic Team – if you’ll pardon the pun – dropped the ball.


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The Sonic Second: Sonic’s Narrow Escape

Note: This post is a reworked post from my now defunct blog.


In February of 2012, images from the Japanese magazine BEEP! showing screenshots of the earliest known prototype of Sonic 1 were posted at megadrive.me.

The shot that interests me the most, however, is this one:

98f4p0

That blobby thing to the left of Sonic is almost certainly the butt-chinned baddie from the lower right of this concept image:

Sonic_Gems_300

Yes, it’s purple with yellow gloves in the concept art but blue with red gloves in the screenshot. But bear in mind this is the matter of a simple palette swap, from line 1 to line 2:

palette

There may have been more than one version of the baddie, or maybe they hadn’t decided on which colour scheme to use yet. But I digress.

I find this discovery pretty gobsmacking. Yes, I’ve been aware of the concept art for a long time, and that it took the team a while to really nail down what Sonic and his world were going to be like. But to see an actual screenshot of the running game (albeit a prototype) that predates the concept of badniks – well, it’s awesome, but also sort of terrifying. We came this close to living in a world where Sonic did battle with proctological monstrosities instead of the metal menaces we’ve come to expect.

Maybe someone from Sonic Team played Mega Man and was inspired to give Eggman a mad scientist makeover and an army of robots. Whatever the cause, thank goodness they did. Sonic narrowly avoided a long career of being groped and probed.


h/t Sonic Retro

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The Sonic Second: Sonic SatAM Game Pitch Video

Back in 1993, before SatAM had even aired, the developers at the Sega Techinical Institute were already brainstorming ways to bring its world and characters to the Genesis. Sadly, the project was aborted before it had even begun in earnest, and all we have today is the following pitch video, an animated demo made on Amiga computers by Peter Morawiec and John Duggan to demo the game concepts.

The video was donated to the Sonic community by Peter Morawiec, who describes it in this interview with Sega-16:

Shortly after finishing Sonic Spinball, Roger Hector (STI’s boss) took Naka’s team and a number of us down to DiC Animation in Burbank, CA. The studio was about to start production on a Sonic cartoon series for the ABC TV network. It was a funny meeting – the storyboards were super Warner Bros’y, all squash-and-stretch, and full of silly slapstick humor. The Sonic Team guys sat through the spiel all stone-faced, so I don’t think they liked it very much. Roger was interested in having STI create a spin-off game based on the show, so I tried to come up with a gameplay format allowing for more story and adventure than the original Sonic games. I had made a number of these Amiga demos by then, so it didn’t take very long to put together, probably less than a week. John Duggan (STI’s Art Director) created the title screen and helped with the character sprites.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to animate fast-scrolling backgrounds in Brilliance, so the demo came off too slow-paced, though I always intended for it to have some fast-moving sections. From what I heard, Naka gave the design thumbs down, but it was probably the right decision. The cartoon wasn’t even out, so banking on its success would’ve been premature, and too many spin-offs for a fresh new franchise are likely to do more harm than good. I was really excited to get started on Comix Zone which was just green lit, so the design was shelved…

As an avid viewer of SatAM, as well as a fan of the games, I know I would have been absolutely delighted to play this if it had been made. I can’t help but feel that nixing this was a big miscalculation on Sega’s part, especially considering the creativity, attitude, and great animation on display in Comix Zone, STI’s subsequent project. There’s no doubt in my mind that, given the chance, they could have pulled this off, and pulled it off brilliantly.

It may be easy for some to be all “sour grapes” and dismiss this demo as too slow paced or clunky, and claim that it’s all for the best that it was never greenlit. But – as is clearly demonstrated by the Amiga pitch video for Sonic Spinball below – had this game actually made it to the Genesis it would have been dramatically faster and cooler.

Sometimes I wish STI had not only gotten the chance to make this Genesis SatAM game, but that it had been the start of a long line of them extending into the 32-bit era. When playing games like Spyro 2, I occasionally find myself mentally swapping out the characters with SatAM ones and wondering what a western developed Sonic game of that time would have been like had Sega not put the squeeze on their American team. It’s still sad that the messy tale of Sonic X-treme is how it all came to an end.

At the end of the day, though, it’s cool that we even have this video at all. I wonder how long until some enterprising Sonic fan makes an attempt at recreating it? 🙂

***

h/t Sega-16

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The Sonic Second: Sonic and Dreams Come True in SPEC Magazine

Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive on June 23rd, 1991 in America and Europe, but that’s far from the beginning of Sonic’s story. Prior to that point, the character of Sonic and his revolutionary new game were shown to the public multiple times, notably at the Tokyo Toy Show in June 1990 when many of the project’s core concepts hadn’t even been finalised yet.

The first time Sonic’s final form was revealed to a large audience was at Dreams Come True’s Wonder 3 concert tour, which kicked off on November 7th, 1990, with Sonic painted on the band’s tour bus.

sonic wonder 3
Promotional art for Sonic and the Wonder 3 tour

Readers of Sega Players Enjoy Club, or “SPEC”, were treated to some pretty cool material promoting Sonic and the tour, including a concert ticket giveaway for 5 lucky fans of Sega and Dreams Come True.

Thanks to Gazeta de Algol (a Portuguese Phantasy Star fansite), scans of this issue of SPEC are available.

ps_spec7-049 [7474BE56]
“Music Galaxy” page 1
ps_spec7-050 [8B84E32E]
“Music Galaxy” page 2
ps_spec7-051 [FCC071D0]
“Music Galaxy” page 3
ps_spec7-077 [4E5328B0]
DCT Concert ticket giveaway
ps_spec7-078 [AEB0242A]
Sonic promo page 1
ps_spec7-079 [406EFD57]
Sonic promo page 2 (with Sonic interview)
Exclusively here at The Sonic Second, here are translations of the pages!

The Music Galaxy pages are written in an odd, fictionalised style. I am assuming that the section was semi-regular in SPEC, and the hip cyber-future vibe of the narration would be familiar to readers of the magazine. The article begins on another subject, then talks about seeing Dreams Come True on TV and at a live show. My notes are in [brackets].

“This ain’t no synthetic substance,” said the guy, as he placed the sauce-covered meat into his mouth. “You see, without me, you’re nothing but an artist wanna-be.” The guy looked at me, thinning his eyes.

“There is no way you can picture the future,” I said to myself, which had no effect on the outside world.

Bunch of kids show up, buy the coins to play some games. The girls are all fascinated by the display screens and they fill up the arcade. The place is always a full house. I walk through the crowd and the air lock. When I went up the stairs, I saw a door at the end of the hall that had the word “heaven” carved into it.

This seems like the real deal.

I open the door. I felt like the floor was moving. The darkness inside the room surrounded me.

I looked toward the small light source inside the room, and found a hologram in the shape of a human. It was turning around, spinning slowly.

“If this guy didn’t make it to the CD line, just consider the whole thing as a fool’s plan gone wrong.”

This isn’t an artificial voice… it’s an actual person’s voice.

The hologram’s fingers place the heated ROM chip inside the unit. I wore the headset.

TSUKA’s fingers start playing the entry chord. The ninja – Shadow Dancer – starts playing in the hyper sound. [Here they’re most likely referring to Keisuke Tsukahara demonstrating music from Shadow Dancer, the cover story for this issue of SPEC.]

“The synthetic sound was giving me a hard time, so I had to work on the sampling a lot. But you know, I think my hard work paid off. It’s all about getting used to it, and a bit of tweaking, with the square wave.”

The guy went on with this casual talk. I could tell that half of his mechanic brain was occupied by new ideas for his next project.

Then the hologram’s image suddenly changed. It was a VTR image, maybe from about 4 months ago. I saw a bunch of kids dancing in the front line, and a close-up shot of a guy with short hair. I heard the bassist shouting out.

“Do you know this guy?”

I was handed a PIA ticket. I saw the words “Dreams Come True” and “SEGA” on it.

“Those guys decided to combine forces. The album went straight to the top. I heard that you can get your hands on some cool SEGA freebies in the hall.”

The live holograph flashed suddenly.

“You guys all go home happy, ya hear me!?”

That’s Miwa’s voice. The vocalist. It must be from the Urayasu Hall.

“I heard that project SONIC has been launched. It’s a cartridge game. It’ll come out in spring….”

I was then surrounded by this light… and my mind faded out from there.

——————–
GOTO 0
——————–

It was late Saturday night. The TV crew brought the Dreams Come True members. It was for a special 60 minute show. I heard that the other channels are showing some other popular show, but they are no match against the DCT team’s power and popularity. The songs are great, the funky attitude, they have everything. In the show they spoke about how they all first got together, and it was a great thing to watch. The song, of course, was great as usual.

I have a buddy who’s a hardcore DCT fan, and I did hear about them from him, but I had no idea how cool they actually were. According to him, this special edition show punched out an additional 3% increase to the already popular show rating.

——————–
GOTO 1
——————–

It’s my first time in Urayasu. I have been to the city nearby to go to Disneyland, though. My problem was that I couldn’t find this “culture hall,” and I got so tired from walking around. By the time I finally found the place, all 1300 seats were full. So many girls were there. Once the show started, everyone stood up.

The bassist is Nakamuracchi, the keyboardist is Nihya, and of course the vocalist is Miwa. If you guys are planning to go to their concert, you might want to remember their names. Usually when the members appear on stage, she would shout “I am the female vocaliiiiiiiist!” and point the microphone to the audience, and then everyone would shout “Miwa Yoshida!” Then she would shake her butt and say, “Yup, that’s me!” They do this every time, it’s their thing.

I was blown away by her powerful voice. The music was great, the elegant dance, the sound and lighting added a new atmosphere to the stage each time. I can see the desert moon, the Vegas casino, the midnight bay…. Such richness, so much volume, it made me dizzy.

The song “Kuwabara Kuwabara” was so cool. The duet between Nakamuracchi and Nihya was great. [Yes, Kuwabara Kuwabara is a very good song!]

Be sure to check out the DCT ticket giveaway!

The ticket giveaway information, which should be helpful in tracking down footage of and/or information about these shows:

1990

11/07 – Urayasu Culture Hall
11/12 – Melbrook Hall Hiroshima
11/13 – Kyoto Union Building Hall One
11/15 – Kobe Culture Hall
11/17 – Shimane Prefectural Hall
11/18 – Kurashiki City Hall
11/27 – Toyama City Hall
11/28 – Ishikawa Welfare Pension Hall
11/30 – Niigata Prefectural Hall
12/03 – Hokkaido Welfare Pension Hall
12/05 – Aomori City Hall
12/08 – Nagano Prefectural Culture Hall
12/10 – Osaka Welfare Pension Hall
12/11 – Osaka Welfare Pension Hall
12/17 – Gunma Prefectural Hall
12/19 – Yamagata Prefectural Hall
12/20 – Akita Prefectural Hall

1991

01/07 – Ohmiya Sonic City [What an appropriate venue! :)]
01/09 – Nagoya City Hall
01/10 – Shizuoka City Hall
01/12 – Shibuya Civic Auditorium
01/14 – Iwate Prefectural Hall
01/16 – Sendai Izumi Tea Hall
01/17 – Kooriyama City Culture Hall
01/19 – Nagoya City Hall
01/21 – Matsuyama City Hall
01/22 – Kagawa Prefectural Hall
01/25 – Kagoshima City Culture Hall
01/27 – Kumamoto City Hall
01/28 – Fukuoka Sun Palace
01/30 – Kochi Prefectural Hall
02/15 – Prefectural Hall

Here at Music Galaxy, we would like to give away the tickets to Dreams Come True’s show. Some of you might end up watching the show standing, but we will have 5 tickets ready for 01/07 (at Ohmiya), 01/12 and 02/15 (Shibuya), so if you live around the Tokyo area, give it a try and send us a postcard. (For the ones who live far away from Tokyo, we are very sorry.)

If we get a lot of applicants, the winner will be chosen through a raffle.

It’s amusing to picture Sega nerds winning tickets and showing up at (possibly their first) DCT show to see this great new Sonic game. It’s cute, and it reminds me of how my obsessive love of Sonic brought me to their music. 🙂

Last but not least, the Sonic article, including a quick (of course) interview with Sonic himself, which belies the notion that classic Sonic should never talk:

Thanks for your patience, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for!

Sonic the Hedgehog!

I will never forget that day. It was at last year’s designer’s meeting when Mr. Big Island said “Hey, let’s create a character and a game that will surpass all of those existing games and characters that are out there.”

His words eventually led to hundreds of staff working together, and now it is starting to form a certain shape. The day Sonic the Hedgehog presents himself to the world is coming close.

Amazing tricks and traps, colourful unique characters, and Sonic’s comical action is just a small part of it. People who saw Sonic at the [Tokyo Toy Show] had the chance to see the strange world of Sonic, but it doesn’t end there. There is more to the world of Sonic, something even bigger with more humour and thrills awaits you all.

Hang on and sit tight, ’cause it’s coming soon!

[The interview begins]

Rimo: OK then, let’s move on to the interview with Mr. Sonic.

Sonic: Hello!

Rimo: (Yikes! He’s using English!?) So, you will have your big debut in 1991, and I’d like to let the readers of the SPEC magazine know about you more, would that be OK?

Sonic: Yes! Of course it’s OK! So, what do you wanna ask me?

Rimo: Let’s start with where you are from then.

Sonic: I’m from Christmas Island. It’s a completely different world from yours, a very strange place. I live there with my buddies.

Rimo: And your job?

Sonic: You guys already know it, right? I’m an adventurer! I’m actually in the middle of this really cool adventure! Don’t you know about it?

Rimo: Uh, yeah, sorry… I… well, um, what are your hobbies?

Sonic: Rock band! Listening to their music. You see, Dreams Come True is working on the background music, so I’m super excited. Plus the *BEEP* is so *BEEP* and *BEEP* and… hey, what was that “beep” sound? [Sonic obviously isn’t talking about playing Rock Band the game, so he’s either referring to playing in his band or listening to rock bands.]

Rimo: Hahaha, (I can’t let all the information out right now…) we just censored it a bit… OK, thank you! That’s it for now. In the next month’s edition, we will introduce the upgraded Sonic. This interview was brought to you by Rimo the Rambler from SPEC magazine, goodbye for now~~~.

Sonic: Hey! I haven’t spoken enough yet!! Hey? Hey!!

*snap*

*static snow noise*

For me, the best parts of these pages are the banner art that’s clearly based on the prototype Green Hill Zone graphics, Sonic talking about living on Christmas Island with his buddies (as opposed to having just been born there) in “a completely different world from yours”, and Sonic being excited about DCT doing his game’s music. (It is odd, though, how they keep mistakenly rendering the band’s name as “Dream Come True” instead of “Dreams Come True”.)

And can I just mention how cool SPEC is in the first place? A newsletter full of manga, comic strips, and sketched art by actual Sega developers like Rieko Kodama, Yasushi Yamaguchi, Tohru Yoshida, and Naoto Ohshima? Its very existence is pure awesomeness.

The art of Sonic on the last two pages is signed “Rimo” (who also conducted the interview), who is most likely Sakatsu Rimo, an alias for Tsukasa Mori, a designer for Sega games such as King Colossus, Phantasy Star IV, and Skies of Arcadia.

That’s it for this weeks Sonic Second. Like Sonic says in Rimo’s drawing, “Expect much of next!”

***

Thanks to zeus777 for the translation.

Scans from Gazeta de Algol.

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