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