The Sonic Second: A Brief Behind the Scenes of Sonic & Knuckles

Let’s travel back in time, 20 years ago to 1994. Offspring and Collective Soul were on the radio, and Sega Genesis was the hottest thing around.

In order to promote the upcoming Sonic & Knuckles, Sega sponsored a tournament – 25 players from around the world would play a prerelease version of the game, competing for a prize of $25,000. The contest would take place on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay with MTV covering the event in a TV special called “Rock the Rock”.

Almost everything about it seems ludicrous today, not least of which is the attempt to set up Sonic as a competitive game that requires exceptional skill. Street Fighter it ain’t, and it’s laughably ridiculous to see an audience ooh and ahh, intercut with footage of Knuckles trundling through Launch Base Zone.

Cheesy production values and forced excitement aside, at 5:18 in the video we do get to see something special. A short segment, barely 3 minutes long, visiting the Sega Technical Institute for a look behind the scenes of a Sonic game.

STI
The doorbell makes the famous “SEGA!” chime. 🙂

Though brief, there’s a quite a bit of interest. We get to see 3D artist Kunitake Aoki at work on the title screen graphics, editing wireframe models and also using a Digitizer.

Aoki1 Aoki2
Aoki3 Aoki4
Aoki5 Aoki6

With tools like Photoshop and GraphicsGale, it’s easy to forget just how meticulous and difficult it was to input large, detailed graphics back in the day. The fact that the Sonic games look as great as they do is testament to a huge amount of dedication on the part of the artists.

We also get to see Hirokazu Yasuhara at work, surrounded by concept art that I dearly wish we could get a closer look at.

Yasuhara1 Yasuhara2
Yasuhara3 Yasuhara4
Yasuhara5

Next up they talk to Adrian Stephens, STI Technical Director (and Brit with impeccable personal style), who is seen at a whiteboard describing a couple aspects of the game physics.

Stephens
Whiteboard1 Whiteboard2

You might be thinking, “Adrian who? Isn’t Yuji Naka the programmer and the physics guy?” and you could easily be forgiven – his name appears nowhere in the credits of Sonic & Knuckles. But according to STI General Manager Roger Hector (in an interview with HXC), Stephens was truly involved in the game’s creation:

…Adrian was also an excellent technical programmer, and he did indeed contribute to the physics code in the game. As Adrian was working in the capacity of Technical Director, he provided assistance to Naka, and helped him solve technical problems. In certain areas, he was a stronger technical designer than Naka. He even wrote some underlying code that was used in the game. Naka respected Adrian (who is a Brit) quite a bit, and he was happy to be able to use Adrian’s help.

Then there are a few moments with Howard Drossin in his studio.

Drossin1 Drossin2

He’s heard to say

I do all the music and sound effects for the games that we do here

which is a bit of an overstatement in the case of Sonic & Knuckles, but the fact remains that he did a large part of the soundtrack in very little time, an impressive feat.

Chris Senn is also seen sketching Tiara B, showing that STI were already tossing around ideas for their next game at this point.

Senn Tiara1

In another part of the video, you can see finished concept art of Tiara (and also Metal Sonic Mark V on the left).

Tiara2 Tiara3

At another point, there’s a quick shot of Knuckles that’s intriguing, because it’s practically the famous picture we’re all used to, but the colouring style is different.

Knuckles

He looks to be drawn like the official art from Sonic 2 (example), and his “swoosh” is the same colour as his muzzle, instead of white.

And, speaking of Knuckles, right before the STI segment of the special starts, he’s called a “wild, red dreadlocked echidna thing” by one of the hosts and this picture is shown:

Funky Knuckles

That’s a pretty rare piece of Knuckles art, although he looks a little funky :P.

So, while the rest of the “Rock the Rock” special is not that thrilling, there are a couple minutes that are pretty cool. It whets the appetite for a much longer “making of” for the classic Sonic games, and I wish such a thing existed!


h/t SEGAbits, SOST, SonicStuff, 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? 🙂

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h/t Sega-16

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