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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The Sonic Second: Sonic 1’s Secret Paths

Even in the dark times before the advent of ROM hacking, the dedicated Sonic fan could still find a few ways to mess about with the inner workings of their favourite games and try to squeeze out every last secret. A subscription to a gaming magazine like Sega Visions could bring knowledge of cheat codes, allowing access to Level Select or the even more powerful Debug Mode, and hours could be spent examining every nook and crevice without regard for number of lives, time limits, or even physical barriers.

Even more options were afforded the true enthusiast by cheat devices. My personal experience was with the Game Genie, and I would estimate that fully half of my childhood hours logged on the Sonic games were done so with some modification code or another active.

Game Genie
This screen was nearly as ubiquitous as the SEGA screen when playing Sonic in my youth.

Between Debug Mode and Game Genie codes like “high jump” there were no hidden areas in Sonic 1 that I had not already discovered by the time I was able to find whole zone maps on the internet. But that’s not to say that such maps held no surprises whatsoever.

There were two secret routes in particular – one in Labyrinth Zone (Act 1) and another in Scrap Brain Zone (Act 2) – that had remained mysterious despite my ability to repeatedly access them through the use of cheats. I had visited them so often by using “high jump” codes that it actually took me a while to realise that these routes seemed to be wholly inaccessible when playing normally. My attempts to get to them without the aid of cheats always proved fruitless, and I wound up assuming that they were not meant to be accessed, and were perhaps leftover bits of level layout.

I should have given the level designers more credit, because it turns out that these two secret areas were certainly not leftovers, and there are methods available to access them – obscure, clever, mindblowingly weird methods that don’t bear any similarity to the way Sonic players are usually encouraged to explore.

Now, before we proceed: It’s entirely possible that what I’m about to talk about is already old news to you. It’s certainly no world exclusive revelation, and if you’ve spent enough time at Sonic fansites there’s a high chance you’ve already encountered this knowledge. But sometimes I will bring it up and be surprised at who hadn’t already heard of it, so in the spirit of The Sonic Second I’m showcasing these secrets again in the hopes of giving latecomers the thrill of discovery.

Labyrinth Zone Act 1

Labyrinth

Right before the end of the act, the last thing Sonic does before running past the sign is jump on a switch to open a hatch that leads out of the water. If, instead of running right toward the sign, Sonic heads left, he’ll find another similar hatch with another switch beneath it. This is the end of the secret route. But it’s clearly an exit – how does Sonic find the entrance?

In the middle of the act, there’s a pit of water that’s patrolled by Jaws. The bottom is flanked by two doors, each activated by a switch and accompanied by nearby platforms that rise up when Sonic sets foot on them. The door on the right leads onward through the act, while the door on the left leads into a dead-end room with a ring monitor.

The secret to entering the hidden path is right here with one of those two switches. The one on the left, in a bizarre stroke, actually does more than opening a door to the ring monitor room. It performs double duty, both opening the door and making a tiny platform appear far above. If Sonic jumps on this left switch without triggering the rising platforms, he can step onto one of them after activating the switch, and use it to make his way back up above.

Jumping on the tiny platform that appeared will cause it to move slowly to the right, over a row of spikes. It will carry Sonic to the entrance of the hidden path, where he can find a couple of unusual sights – a solitary ring, and a submerged water slide (how does that even work?) The path constitutes a shortcut to the end of the act, bypassing all of the remaining swinging maces, thrusting harpoons, and dangerous conveyor platforms that might carry Sonic into spikes. As long as he watches out for a handful of Burrobots, this secret route is smooth sailing.

See the Labyrinth Zone Act 1 map at Zone:0.

Scrap Brain Zone Act 2

Scrap Brain

If Sonic takes the route that makes him encounter all six of the Ball Hogs at the end of the level, with the chance for an invincibility monitor right before them, he’ll have passed one of this act’s minor secrets. Before entering the Ball Hog corridors, to the left of the switch and the pit with the shield monitor in it, there is a wall with three platforms on it that only appear intermittently. The delay for their appearance is practically 15 seconds, so they are easy to miss for an impatient hedgehog.

Provided Sonic does climb these platforms, he’ll be rewarded with four ring monitors and an extra life. A handsome reward, to be sure, but the real point of interest is the set of conveyor belts above the monitors. These are part of the hidden route, and without cheat codes or knowledge of the following secret, it’s quite possible that Sonic has never set foot there.

If Sonic backtracks even further, to the area with the tiny conveyors that try to push him into buzz saws hanging from the ceiling, he can see other parts of this hidden route by jumping high enough. He should be able to catch glimpses of crumbling floors above the buzz saws. But how to get there?

It’s deceptively simple, and unique in the whole of the game. If Sonic enters the transport tube that led to this area with the buzz saws we were talking about, it will take him up to the hidden path – but only if he has 50 or more rings. Yep, it’s a transport tube that thinks it’s a Giant Ring.

Because of a one way door, it’s impossible to backtrack to the tube from the areas described above, and it’s fairly tricky to have 50 rings by the time Sonic gets to the tube the first time. What’s more, there’s little payoff for the bother – while the path avoids some hazards, it also passes up all the goodies along the normal path. In fact, it seems to taunt you with the extra life and ring monitors as Sonic runs over the conveyor belts above them.

But it’s fun to go through the secret route sometimes, just to prove you can. 🙂

See the Scrap Brain Zone Act 2 map at Zone:0.

***

h/t Sonic Zone: 0

Sonic 1 images from ReadySonic

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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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The Sonic Second: 8-bit Marble Zone?

Possibly the most interesting thing about the 8-bit version of Sonic 1 is that it shares so many similarities with its 16-bit counterpart – unlike its successor, Sonic 2. It shares fully half of its six zones with its bigger home console sibling, and a recent discovery reveals that it may once have been even more.

The presence of an 8-bit rendition of Marble Zone’s BGM was discovered by Sonic Retro Tech Member Kroc last November, nestled in the ROM of the Master System version of the game at hex offset 0xCD0A. Here it is at YouTube if you want to give it a listen:

This constitutes mounting evidence that Marble Zone was once meant for inclusion in the 8-bit version of the game. Previously, graphics for the badnik Batbrain (Basaran) were also found:

8-bit Batbrain

Furthermore, in the Master System ROM, the initial palette for Bridge Zone (which never shows up during play because it is overwritten with the cycling palette data) is slightly different, with one colour of green replaced with lavender. Could this be a leftover of a Marble Zone palette?

Initial, unused palette
Actual Bridge Zone palette

And if Marble Zone was planned, I wonder how far along it got before it was axed… and for that matter, why it was axed. Too many moving platforms and complex objects for the 8-bit hardware?

Regardless of all that, it is really cool to hear the 8-bit rendition of Marble Zone’s BGM itself. Besides Green Hill Zone and the Sonic theme music, it is the only other 8-bit arrangement by Yuzo Koshiro of one of Masato Nakamura‘s tracks from the original game we get to hear. (Though Koshiro would later go on to arrange more of Nakamura’s music in an orchestral context for Play! A Video Game Symphony Live!)

It would be cool if someday a prototype is discovered with actual 8-bit Marble Zone level graphics, but failing that I eagerly await some hacker to try their hand at making their own interpretation of what it would have been like.

***

Batbrain image from Sonic Retro.

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Review: 3D Sonic The Hedgehog

After reading this interview with the developers of the 3D remake of the original Sonic on Nintendo’s 3DS, 3D Sonic The Hedgehog, I was impressed enough with their dedication to doing the project right that I just had to try it out immediately when it launched on the eShop today.

I purchased the game for the entirely reasonable price of $5.99 US, cooked up a couple of chili dogs in order to make a proper event of the proceedings, and sat down to play all the way the through Sonic 1 again (for approximately the billionth time). Here are my thoughts.

There are two burning questions anyone who hears about a 3D remake of Sonic The Hedgehog is going to have at the outset: What is the 3D like, and is this going to be a repeat of the disaster that was Sonic The Hedgehog Genesis (GBA, 2006)?

I’ll get the second question out of the way first: No. This is a fantastic version of the game. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the recent port for iOS and Android – there’s no widescreen support or a 7th Chaos Emerald here – but for my money it’s nearly as good as having the original Genesis / Mega Drive version in your hands. The framerate is solid, the controls (which are also customisable) don’t lag, and the 3DS’s larger screen fits the original graphics without the egregious scaling that plagued the Sonic Classic Collection (NDS, 2010) version.

I say “nearly as good” because there are still some – very minor – differences and issues. The sound effect when running past the sign post at Act’s end has the same issue from Sonic Mega Collection (GCN, 2002), which is jarring when you are used to the correct sound. And I did encounter a minor collision issue in Star Light Zone when pressed into a curve by a fan. All and all though, the game delivers an experience that is highly accurate and satisfying.

So what about that 3D? Far from being a lazy effect applied to the multiple scrolling planes from the original game, M2 went the extra mile to apply the 3D to all of the lines of parallax, and even the foreground elements like road cones, lamp posts, and those famous spinning sunflowers, giving them all a sense of depth. It is quite the experience to look across the sparkling lake of Green Hill Zone or the starry sky of Star Light Zone after over 20 years of playing these Zones on a perfectly flat plane.

In the game settings, it is possible to choose a “Classic” Screen Mode, which is basically a glorified TV filter, giving the game the blurred colours and bulging look of a CRT you may have played the original game on in the 1990s. I was slightly disappointed to find that this effect, while 3D in and of itself (it really looks like it is bulging right out of the 3Ds), removes the other 3D effects from the game. Which I suppose makes sense considering it is called “Classic” mode. I am happy with the overall look of the filter though – sometimes attempts to recreate the RGB smearing of a CRT go overboard and give me eye strain, but I didn’t find that here. At first I felt the bulge was too much, almost like a Sonic X-Treme style fisheye lens, but of course it can be adjusted with the 3D slider until it is as subtle as you’d like it to be.

And of course, it is always possible to just slide the 3D all the way down and play the game in good old 2D, at which point it is basically indistinguishable from the original, making this a solid port if you just want to play Sonic 1 on a Nintendo handheld.

The only negative part of the experience for me was the eShop’s trailer for the game wasn’t in 3D. For shame! Without seeing the raison d’être of the game in action, how are people going to get excited enough to press that all important “purchase” button? Fifty-eight seconds of someone of moderate skill playing Green Hill Zone isn’t a proper trailer, people.

3D Sonic The Hedgehog, at the end of the day, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s Sonic, and it’s in 3D, and neither aspect is a letdown. So if the price of admission for yet another version of Sonic 1 doesn’t get your hackles up, I’d recommend giving it a go.