Sonic X-Treme’s Death in Development | The Art of Failure

Sonic X-Treme’s Death in Development | The Art of Failure

– [JAMES] There’s a famous quote from esteemed Nintendo game designer and producer Shigeru Miyamoto that goes: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” And throughout “The Art of Failure” we’ve looked at games that perhaps needed more time in development. We’ve seen the effects of rushing development to reacha a holiday release date and rushing to beat an expiring license. Yet, we’ve also seen the effects of allowing for delays and that ultimately working out for the better. But sometimes all of the delays in the world can’t save a game. Sometimes a game gets delayed to a point that most assume that it will never come out. Sometimes a game gets delayed to a point where it seems impossibly big in scope. And sometimes a game winds up in development purgatory, an odd state of limbo where it has almost no chance of escaping. The story we’re telling today does not solely deal with delays. Rather, this is a story of ambitions and dreams. It is also a story of stress, sickness, confusion, and exhaustion. This is the story of a game that many thought could change an industry but never even had the chance to try. This is the story of Sonic X-Treme for the Sega Saturn and its death during development. (Musical Intro) [JAMES] The story of this unreleased Sonic game begins with the release of another. We find ourselves in late 1994 at the Sega Technical Institute, located at 255 Shoreline Drive in Redwood City. This particular day marked a momentous occasion for STI: a newly developed game, Sonic & Knuckles, was released for the Sega Genesis. (Musical Transition) [JAMES] Sonic & Knuckles was the culmination of years of work put in by an incredibly talented group of programmers and designers known as Sonic Team. It was the 5th mainline title in the Sonic The Hedgehog series. It was the 4th of those on the Sega Genesis game console. It would be a huge success and further cemented Sonic himself as one of the most influential pop culture icons of the 1990s. But, 5 years prior, parent company Sega didn’t have a Sonic. Sega didn’t have a Sonic Team! Sega barely had any gaming market presence outside of arcades. They were not a household name in Japan and especially weren’t in North America. Their predecessor to the Genesis, the Sega Master System, had only managed to sell well in parts of Europe and Brazil, which, though impressive, was not the success that those in charge of Sega Enterprises were looking for. In the United States in 1989, there was only 1 video game company that seemed to matter to the masses: Nintendo. As for Nintendo Co., Ltd., they had, through both agressive marketing and dubiously legal exclusive licensing agreements, impressively managed to make their NES console a staple of 1980s households. Though competition to their platform had come from companies such as Sega, Atari, and even smaller companies, such as Worlds of Wonder, none of them were able to de-throne Nintendo as industry kings. What bolstered the NES’ dominance was that many NES consoles shipped with a killer app as a pack-in title. This was the original Super Mario Bros., a sidescrolling platforming game that was so successful that it propelled the titular Super Mario to super stardom. Mario even went on to colloquially get the nickname of Mr.Video Game. Come 1989, though, and Sega had a plan to take on Nintendo’s ageing 8-bit console. [COMMECIAL NARRATOR] Genesis from Sega! Genesis: The new generation in video games! [JAMES] That year in North America, they released the 16-bit Sega Genesis. It was leaps and bounds ahead of the NES in terms of power and featured high quality ports of many of Sega’s arcade games. Within months of release it seemed like a flop. After doing some internal reshuffling, including bringing on a new executive for Sega of America in the form of Thomas Kalinske, it seemed that the Genesis could turn around. But, those at both Sega of Japan and Sega of America knew that the Genesis needed a killer app of its own, one that both played better than Super Mario Bros. but also featured a character who was everything that Mario wasn’t. That was to say, they needed a character with a bit of edge and attitude to counter Mario’s seemingly staunch family friendliness. By 1990, Sega was tired of being a distant 2nd to Nintendo in terms of console sales. Though they already had a platforming mascot in the form of Alex Kidd, many felt that he was too similar to Mario to truly set Sega apart. As such, an internal competition was held at Sega of Japan where those working there could submit their own designs for a new company mascot. These would eventually include a rabbit, a warrior clown, a chicken wearing shades and skinny jeans, and even a cross between Teddy Roosevelt and Santa Claus. The winning design would come from designer Naoto Ohshima. It would be a small, blue hedgehog with massive spines. He would wear red-buckled shoes, based off of those worn by Michael Jackson on (the full-body) cover of his “Bad” album, and he’d have a sensible-but-impatient personality. Ohshima claimed that attribute was based off of then-US presidential candidate Bill Clinton. Initially, this character would be known as Mr. Needlemouse. However, he’d soon be christened Sonic The Hedgehog. [COMMERCIAL NARRATOR] Suburban mom, president of HAG. [RED-HAIRED WOMAN] It’s bad enough that the Sega Genesis has the most 16-bit games but this new Sonic The Hedgehog… oh, he really duffs my doilies! They say he’s incredibly fast… well, what’s the hurry, mister? Hmm? And about his attitude, what a smarty pants! Why can’t he be more like that nice boy Mario? Huh, what?
(Sonic boom) Little brat! [JAMES] In late 1991, Sonic would see his first major game appearance, that being in Sonic The Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. It would be developed by a group that had been formed within Sega of Japan, featuring Ohshima, that would name themselves Sonic Team. The original Sonic game would soon be packed in with the Genesis console, much like how Super Mario Bros. had been with the NES. It would go on to be a smash hit, especially in North America. [MALE ANNOUNCER] Some parents are refusing to be taken in. [SUBURBAN MOM] I’m going to say no and I’m going to explain to him (her son) how people market things to make you spend more money. [MALE ANNOUNCER] Nintendo controls 80% of the video market, though some game players prefer the pictures of its competitor, Sega. But no matter how you play the game, or which game you play, things have definitely come a long way since Pac Man. (Musical Transition) [JAMES] With the success of Sonic The Hedgehog 1 came a desire from those at both Sega of Japan and Sega of America for a sequel. However, there were some issues with that. Despite the design of Sonic himself being claimed by Ohshima, the actual game engine for Sonic 1 had been created by programmer Yuji Naka. That is to say, Naka was responsible for the core of what made the game tick. Despite Sonic 1’s success, Naka was not getting along well with management at Sega of Japan. Thus, after months of unhappiness and embroilment in company politics, he left Sega, hoping to find work elsewhere in the video game industry. Meanwhile in California, Sega of America had hired a man by the name of Mark Cerny, famous for creating the arcade game “Marble Madness”. His task was to set up a new development studio for Sega of America, one that would bring together game designing and development talent from both within the United States and abroad. Their mission would be to develop new, character-based games for Sega platforms that could potentially be grown into entire series. This would be the Sega Technical Institute. For the creation of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Cerny brought over several members from the original Sonic Team from Sega of Japan. This ultimately included Yuji Naka. Despite declaring that he was done with Sega after leaving their Japanese branch, Naka had been contacted by Cerny shortly afterwards and made a new offer. The deal would be that Naka would come to America and work at STI. Then, in return, he would have both more creative control and a higher salary. As such, work soon began on Sonic 2, which, thanks in part to a powerful marketing campaign, became one of the most anticipated games of 1992. Meanwhile in Japan, Ohshima was working on another new Sonic game with a different team. This would not be a cartridge-based game like Sonic 1 and 2 were, but rather, would be for the CD-based Sega CD add-on. Fittingly enough, this game was titled Sonic CD. Sonic 2, upon release, would be a massive system seller for the Sega Genesis in North America. Sonic himself would soon appear everywhere. He’d have comics, cartoon shows, and, in 1993, would be the 1st video game character to ever be featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though Nintendo had tried to counter Sonic with the release of a new Mario game for their Super Nintendo system, this being Super Mario World, the success of Sonic, and in turn the Genesis, meant that Nintendo no longer reigned unmatched in North America. This era of intense rivalry between Nintendo and Sega would eventually become known as The Console Wars. However, not all was perfect at Sega. The Sega CD add-on had been released earlier in 1992 and had not been a smash hit. Despite being able to add additional power to Genesis consoles and having the ability to play both games and audio CDs, a staggering $300 USD price tag along with the need to already own a Genesis console to make use of it meant that sales were somewhat slow. Indeed, even when Sonic CD was released in 1993, the Sega CD didn’t pick up much steam. In addition, though the Genesis was a huge success in North America, it was a distant 3rd in sales in Japan, being outsold by both the Super Nintendo and NEC’s PC Engine console. Some internally at SOA suspected jealousy from their Japanese counterparts. But, overall, times were still good in North America. Sonic 3 would come in February 1994 with Sonic & Knuckles following later that year. It seemed like Sega of America and STI were on top of the world. But, following Sonic & Knuckles’ release, most of Sonic Team headed back to Japan. [ADVENTURER 1] Where does this thing go? [ADVENTURER 2] I don’t know! [ADVENTUER 1] What kind of cable is that? [ADVENTUER 2] It’s coaxial, man! [ADVENTUER 1] Come on! [ADVENTUER 1 AND 2] Ahhhh! [ADVENTUER 2] Where are we, man? This is crazy! [ADVENTURER 1] Yeah, but it’s cool! Woah! [COMMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER] Got cable TV? Get Sega Channel! Hook in your Sega Genesis and choose form over 50 games a month and play them 24 hours a day! It’s here, and it’s real! [MONSTER] I get the winner! [COMMERCIAL ANNOUNCER] Sega Channel! [JAMES] The landscape of gaming had changed since 1989. Sega was no longer widely perceived as a cool underdog and the Genesis had become a massive success in North America. Nintendo was also no longer their only major competition, with new consoles rapidly appearing on the market. One of these would be a then-upcoming powerful, CD-based machine from Sony. This would be the PlayStation. In addition, due to middling sales of the Genesis in Japan, SOJ wanted to leave the Genesis behind and move forward with a new console. In around 1994, Sega Enterprises began to look to the future. In Japan, focus was placed on a new 32-bit machine that could perhaps take on the PlayStation. This was called Project Saturn. In North America, however, plans were made for a new system that could hopefully extend the life of the ageing Genesis. This was called Project Mars. Around that same time in early 1994, a proposal was put together by a small team at STI for a new Sonic game, one that would be Sonic’s 1st foray into a 3D world. Planned for the Mars hardware and featuring characters from the Sonic Saturday morning cartoon show, it would be envisioned by a team consisting of designers and developers Michael Kosaka, Don Goddard, and Christian Senn. Kosaka served as lead designer while Goddard served as programmer. Senn, on the other hand, had only recently joined the project after volunteering to do some animation work. They would pitch their game idea to Sega of America on 17 May 1994. Despite having a different play style from earlier Sonic games, this project, called “Sonic Mars”, would show potential. To the surprise of some, it would soon get the green light from Sega of America. Upon learning this news, Yuji Naka apparently just shook his head and said “good luck”. Work would continue on the Sonic Mars project through the following months and the team would grow and change. New people would join STI during this time, including associate producer Michael Wallis, who would later become the producer on this next-generation Sonic title. Thus, here we are in 1994 with the stage set. Wallis perhaps defined this era best when, in a 2004 interview with, he released a Sonic X-Treme development timeline with a preface that’ll be paraphrased as follows. [YOUNG WALLIS] To fully understand the entire situation you must fully understand the players. There is Sega of Japan, SOJ, the parent company of Sega of America, the rulers of the palace. There’s Sega of America (SOA), which basically was the main group in the USA. This contained marketing, sales, PR, and the Sega of America Product Development Group. There was STI, the Sega Technical Institute. This was a very small group that did Sonic 2, Sonic 3, the Sonic Spinball spinoff, and Sonic & Knuckles. They were originally staffed with Sonic Team members from Japan but then later was staffed with American folks. They also did some other games, such as “Comix Zone” and “The Ooze”. STI’s mission was to create character properties that could be built into franchises. There was Sonic Team, based in Japan, which was mostly Yuji Naka’s group. Also, as for Naka, many credit him with creating Sonic. Those within STI who I spoke to when I arrived say this wasn’t true. I never met him because he had departed the United States by the time I had started at STI. [JAMES] Michael Wallis had gotten his start in the video game industry as a teenager, first working as a game tester for Electronic Arts. From there he’d worked his way up through the industry, eventually landing a job as an associate producer at STI. [WALLIS] So I joined, well, I was relatively, you know… still pretty inexperienced in the industry, only a couple of, really, only a couple of years under my belt. Well, of full time work. So, I went and joined as an associate producer and was on Comix Zone and, you know, as a producer, you’re a project manager and you while you can contribute to the creative process, you’re there to keep everybody on task. Right, gotta keep them on schedule, on budget, and when I was at Sega, it was a lot of working with the other departments – marketing, PR, QA, etc. – to ensure that, you know, your game has proper representation and marketing and etc., and that the media outlets are fully informed and that, y’know, with the QA and even, at the time, the thing with Comix Zone was the cartridge replication team. Y’know, making sure that your EEPROMS were programmed properly and everything else. So, it was just a lot of chasing down logistical ends. [JAMES] During this time, the Project Mars hardware had also seen further development and eventual release as the Sega 32X. Instead of being a standalone unit, the 32X served as an add-on that attached to the top of a standard Sega Genesis console. Project Mars had originally been created in response to an order given by Sega of Japan CEO Hayao Nakayama in January 1994. His instructions: develop a new 32-bit console that will be powerful enough to move the company forward. Despite originally being envisioned as a standalone console, after several Sega of Japan engineers travelled to America and met with producer Joe Miller, the scope was changed to instead be an add-on. Meanwhile, the Saturn console had already been in development for nearly 2 years and was rumoured to be a true 32-bit successor to the Genesis. Its specs were said to be on par with Sega’s technically impressive arcade hardware of the time. It was also rumoured to contain both a CD drive and a cartridge slot, being able to potentially play both its own impressive titles and be backwards compatible with the Genesis. Both the imagination of the wider gaming public and those within Sega of Japan was caught more by Project Saturn than Project Mars. As such, the Saturn was poised by SOJ to be the true successor to the Genesis. However, Sega of America still wanted to extend the Genesis’ lifespan, as it was still selling extremely well. Thus, they took on Project Mars themselves, revealing it to the world as the Sega 32X at the Sega’s Gamers’ Day press event in June 1994. [FEMALE REPORTER] The machine has appeared in homes across America! [MAD SCIENTIST] Double and re-double his power! 32X! [ROBOTIC VOICE] 6 times more powerful than 3DO! [SMOOTH VOICE] Alright, baby! [ROBOTIC VOICE] 40 times more powerful than Super NES! [ANGRY MAN] Hey, you! There is no 32-bit Super NES! Now, are we gonna see the games or what? Show them! (Sizzle Reel) [ROBOTIC VOICE] Increase the power of your Genesis by over 40 times! [ANGRY MAN] Thank you! SEGA 32X! [JAMES] Reception was lukewarm, though. Perhaps it was even confused, as by this point Sega of Japan had already announced the Sega Saturn. In addition, the 32X had some odd quirks, including a need for its own power supply in addition to that of the Genesis. Sega of Japan was also unhappy with SOA and the 32X, with some internally seeing the new add-on as nothing more than a way to dillute the potential Saturn userbase. Plus, due to requiring a Genesis to be used, the 32X was nowhere near as powerful as a Saturn. In late 1994, Japanese Saturn units arrived at the STI offices, along with copies of the fighting game “Virtua Fighter”. This cemented the 32X as an internal joke at STI. [WALLIS] I remember we got Saturns… Japanese Saturns in the office and everybody spent so many days playing Virtua Fighter because they loved it! So, yeah. And then, I remember Virtua Fighter came out on the 32X and we were like “This is terrible!” (Laughs) Right?
(Laughs) So, yeah, it…it was the butt of many jokes internally, even amongst the developers at Sega. [JAMES] Perhaps poetically, the Sega 32X would finally see release in North America on 22 November 1994, the same day that the Sega Saturn saw release in Japan. Perhaps worst of all for Sega, due to being released so close ot the Saturn, some 3rd party developers would turn away from further working with Sega, fearing that they would be making games for hardware that would quickly become obsolete. Meanwhile, Sonic Mars – now known as Sonic 32X – was continuing along in development. By the end of 1994, though, most of this early progress had just culminated in some technical prototypes and character concept art. But even then, work was continuing at a pace that led some to believe that Sonic 32X could be a major system seller for Sega’s new successor to the Genesis… assuming, of course, that the 32X was even intended as such. [COMMERCIAL NARRATOR] (Loud Japanese Speaking) Saturn From Saturn. Sega Saturn! Sega! [JAMES] There was confusion felt within Sega. This was soon known somewhat publicly, though the general public was unaware of its scope, along with the scope of the growing rift between SOA and SOJ. People, as a result, began to lose faith in the company. Now more than ever, it was essential for Sega of America to make a decision: What was the true successor to the Genesis? And, what platform would define them for the rest of the 1990s? Was the 32X their future? Was there any future at all for the 32X platform? After all, despite showcasing strong sales and Sega of America shipping over 300,000 32X units by the end of 1994, sales stagnated after the Christmas shopping season. Plus, many titles planned for the platform were cancelled! Indeed, when January 1995 came, many 32X units were returned to retailers. This was partially due to many launch titles being rushed to market and thus having programming issues. What about the Saturn? Was Sega of Japan really adamant about it being the true successor to the Genesis? Sales were strong in Japan, and the Saturn hardware was clearly more powerful than even the 32X! It would even eventually go on to be Sega’s most successful console ever over in Japan. However, due to the strong sales of the Genesis in North America, Sega of America was still apprehensive to release it. Some speculated that SOA would opt for a completely different platform to succeed the Genesis. After all, other console projects had been in the works at both SOJ and SOA. One of these was Project Jupiter, which would’ve been a cartridge-based console which would’ve had similar specifications to the Saturn, which, in development, had been made into a strictly CD-based console, with its cartridge slot mostly just being used for memory expansions. However, Project Jupiter was scrapped some time in 1994 along with Project Neptune, which would’ve been a combination Sega Genesis/32X system that was planned for release at some point in 1995. SOA head Tom Kalinske had found the Saturn underwhelming. Though it was on par with Sega’s arcade hardware of the time in terms of power, it was hard to develop for in comparison to the competition. In addition, it was not as 3D-capable as the likes of the PlayStation. This led to Kalinske, at one point, to reach out to high-performance computer maker Silicon Graphics in the hopes that they could make a new, more impressive graphics chip for the Saturn. Though many of those at Sega of America were excited for the potential Silicon Graphics chip, Sega of Japan felt much the opposite. As a result, the deal fell through. The Saturn would not get a more powerful graphics chip and Kalinske still felt that the Saturn would not sell well if brought to market in North America. At one point, out of frustration, he even referred Silicon Graphics to Sega’s main competitor, Nintendo. Nintendo and Silicon Graphics would end up working together, and Silicon Graphics technology would find its way into the Nintendo 64 console. It was soon made apparent that, despite the objections of Kalinske and others in the USA, the Saturn was going to have to come out there sometime in 1995. Meanwhile at STI, due to issues with internal politics, Sonic 32X project head Michael Kosaka would leave the company. This left the project without a leader and with only 4 consistent team members – a concept artist, a designer, and 2 programmers. With Sonic 32X lacking direction and Sega itself in a state of agitated confusion, it seemed that the project that would become Sonic X-Treme perhaps would crash and burn before it oculd even get off the ground. (Musical Transition) [KALINSKE] I think when Yogi said fork in the road, he meant opportunity. When he sees opportunity, he takes it. So do we! We’re taking all of the opportunities we can to make this business soar. So, since I began my remarks with an announcement I may as well finish with another: we started our roll out of the Sega Saturn yesterday. We are at retail today in over 1,800 Toys R Us,’ Software Etc., and Electronics Boutique stores around the United States and Canada.
(Boom) [JAMES] This was part of Sega’s press conference at the first ever Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short. Along with Sega, there was also console manufacturer presence from Sony – who had their PlayStation console already out in Japan and coming out just a few months later that year in North America – and Nintendo, who still had their Nintendo 64 console going through development. Sega of America had made huge plans for the launch of the Saturn in the United States, creating a massive nationwide event called Saturnday. This was set to take place in late 1995. However, their chosen date would come within mere days of the launch of the PlayStation. Thus, during Sega’s E3 press conference, Tom Kalinske announced that the Sega Saturn would be out that very day. It would only be at select retailers and would cost $399 USD. This announcement had come as a surprise and shock to many. Though the Saturn had beaten the PlayStation to market in North America by several months, the surprise launch had incensed many people, including several game developers and game retailers who were already eagerly planning for Saturnday. Some went so far as to even blacklist Sega, vowing to never work with them again. As for Sony, they had just one thing to say about the PlayStation’s price during their press conference. (Crowd Claps) [STEVE RACE] 299. (Crowd Cheers) [JAMES] The PlayStation was still a few months away but was going to be $100 USD less than the Saturn. In addition, due to the surprise launch, the Saturn was somewhat hard to find. And on top of that, it had come out in the USA not even a year after Sega of America had launched the 32X, a platform that had already seen a price cut and seemed to be falling to the wayside. In short, the North American Sega Saturn launch was a disaster. Of course, many at Sega of America still wanted nothing to do with it despite it already being out and on sale. Other ideas for other potential consoles, consoles that perhaps would be more viable competitors against the PlayStation, were still being drawn up. One such project would be a collaboration between Sega and technology company NVidia. The Sega/NVidia console would combine both aspects of the Saturn with specs and features that could potentially appeal to PC gamers. While this system would have similar graphical capabilities to the Saturn, there were rumours that it would perhaps be cartridge-based like the cancelled Project Jupiter. Despite the botched release of the Saturn and falling sales of the 32X, and Sonic 32X being positioned as a drive title – which is to say, a title intended to bring in a massive amount of sales for Sega – after Michael Kosaka’s departure from STI, it was opted to have development for Sonic 32X moved over to computers built to the rough specs of this proposed Sega/NVidia console instead of the Saturn. Sega of America had their version of hardware that they wanted to do which was a cartridge-based system using NVidia technology. It was like a curved-base technology, and I think they called it the Riva TNT. In fact, they eventually produced a number of video cards – 3D PC video cards – using that tech and then Sega of Japan had the Saturn, right? So, they were kind of competing to see who, well, most importantly, what tech was more capable and then, y’know, what was lower cost and so what would compete better with the Super Nintendo and stuff. So, eventually, Sega of Japan forced the Saturn to be #1 everwhere. They said, basically, “We can’t do 2 hardware platforms, it’s crazy! So, Sega of America, you’re not doing this deal with NVidia and you’re going to have to take the Saturn.” So then we shifted [the project] again as we were only on the NVidia problem for a bit and we actually didn’t have any development hardware, it was all being developed on PCs with theoretical specs, so we were only on that for a couple of months. We didn’t lose that much time but then it was a pivot over to the Saturn. [JAMES] With Kosaka’s departure also came some reshuffling of the Sonic 32X team. This would include Senn becoming the new lead designer, giving him the ability to take the project in a direction that he saw as new and exciting. [SENN] Michael Kosaka created the Mars design. When he left, I took that as an opportunity to try and go in a direction that excited me more. His design was solid and more traditional but I wanted to approach new ways of exploring the design, story, etc. [JAMES] While this was happening, a Sonic title for the 32X did come from Japan in the form of Knuckles’ Chaotix. Unlike the Sonic X-Treme project, Chaotix featured gameplay that was very similar in style to the main Sega Genesis Sonic games. However, Chaotix was also merely a Sonic spinoff and the blue hedgehog himself had little to no presence within it. It would sell poorly. The size and scope of Sonic X-Treme’s development grew dramatically during this period. According to Wallis, by Autumn 1995, the team included himself, at least 9 artists and animators, 4 programmers, 3 designers, a composer, and the executive producer. Also, with the shift to the Saturn, it finally seemed like Sega of America knew what console was going to define its future. What was perhaps odd, then, was that as 1995 began to draw to a close and work continued on this Sonic project is how its development process seemed to begin to spiral out of control. Mike Wallis would speak of this in his Lost Levels timeline. [YOUNG MIKE WALLIS] This was the most messed up organization chart that I had ever had the misfortune of working on. It was set up matrix-style, which I’m sure that those of you who understand business organizational management know is a concept that works in theory but is so fubar’d in practice. That especially goes for game development. In a nutshell, what it meant was that all of the artists reported to an art director, the designers to a design lead, and the programmers to a technical lead. Each of those 3 groups reported to the VP. As producer, I was technically running the project, except that in a matrix-style I only have dotted line authority over the aforementioned groups. Therefore, all of the responsibility but none of the authority. And, as you can see, if any of those groups did not want to do something or wanted to work on something different than what the others were working on, they could go ahead and do it if their director gave them the okay. So, we had artists doing art for levels that hadn’t even been concepted out. We had programmers waitning and waiting and waiting until every minute detail had been concepted out. And, we had designers doing whatever the hell they wanted! The art director had trained his team to hate the designers and programmers. It was a mess and because of the internal politics it was even more difficult to get any work done. [JAMES] Wallis would speak of this in our own interview. [WALLIS] So, you know, I think that the development was always…well, it was… unusual. That’s because the way the team was originally structured was odd. So, they hired a hotshot programmer by the name of Ofer Alon. Right, you probably know his name. He got along extremely well with Chris Senn. But, he was what we all term in the industry a “cowboy coder”. That’s because he is very good, very capable, but doesn’t work well with others, especially other programmers. And so, there was already an existing programmer on the team, Don Goddard, and, so, when Ofer came in, they immediately clashed. So, they had an immediate clash and also, Ofer was allowed by the VP of STI to work from home often. And so, at a lot of times he was not in the office and because he… and because he was primarily working on a PC rather than on the Saturn, he had to then port code over to the Saturn, y’know, on a regular basis. Now, he had never done a console title before and, you know, when you’re working on a PC you can have memory managers and you can have a bunch of systems manage all of this stuff for you but, when you’re working on a console, you don’t have that or at least back then you didn’t. Maybe now you do because consoles are now much more capable and they have full OSes and everything. But, back then, you had to go right to the hardware and there was a lot of machine language and assembly and everything and he was not capable of doing that because what he did is he wrote all of these memory managers for Saturn and everything [on PC] so, by the time he ported a bunch of his code or even all of his code onto the Saturn, it was running at, like, 3 frames per second. Eventually, the Sonic X-Treme development team would split into 2 groups. One would just consist of Chris Senn and programmer Ofer Alon. They would be responsible for the main portion of the game. The rest of the team would be tasked with creating boss levels and assets. This secondary team would feature a young, incredibly talented programmer by the name of Christina Coffin. Coffin had joined STI earlier in 1995, shortly after leaving developer Sculptured Software, where she’d worked as a programmer for several projects for the Super Nintendo and PlayStation. He programming skills would make her one of the X-Treme project’s greatest assets. Meanwhile with Alon and Senn, their part of Sonic X-Treme was running into an entire fleet of issues. Ofer Alon was doing all of his coding work on a PC. He intended to port over his work to the Saturn at a later point. That would be easier said than done. While the main part of the development was running into trouble, work was also being done on potential storylines. Sonic X-Treme had 8 different storylines created for it during development. The earliest of these came from Chris Senn himself and was put to paper in 1995. Its introduction went as follows: [SENN] Peace reigned on Planet Mobius following the evil Dr. Robotnik’s defeat in the floating island adventure. For a long time the inhabitants enjoyed a tranquil existence. It seemed to most Mobites that Robotnik had packed his bags and left their world for a different place. Sonic, though, had a different opinion. For as long as he could remember, Ivo Robotnik had a burning desire to control the power of the Chaos Emeralds. It seemed odd that he would ever lose interest in them. Sonic wanted to get to the bottom of this mystery and sent Tails to the floating island for Knuckles. Once together, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles formulated a search plan. They decided they would meet back there with any news of Robotnik’s whereabouts. Knuckles and Tails took off to the skies in the biplane while Sonic scorched across the land. That was the last Sonic saw of his friends. [JAMES] However, the most popular storyline that was considered for Sonic X-Treme was also the one that was eventually used in marketing. Being a drive title for the Saturn and being a title that SOA ultimately hoped would be a defining game of Christmas 1996, Sega set aside a hefty amount of marketing money for this game. Most of this marketing would begin in mid-1996. With this came a series of magazine spreads called Sonic’s Red Shoe Diaries. These would include information on the game itself, the team behind it, and even teased a potential plotline, which went as follows: [BRITISH NARRATOR] The new story introduces 2 new characters. One is an old man by the name of Professor Gazebo Boobowski while the second is his daughter, Tiara B. Neither character is playable in the game but they are both well represented in the game’s cinematics and there is always the chance for their potential involvement in later Sonic adventures! As with every great hero, Sonic’s greatest joy in life comes from saving his friends from the clutches of evil. And in Sonic X-Treme, very little has changed! At the beginning of the game, we find Sonic doing a little surfing when he sees the Blue Streak distress signal in the sky. The signal is coming from Professor Gazebo Boobowski and his daughter Tiara B. (Is Tiara potentially Sonic in drag? You make the call!) They’re keepers of the 6 magical rings of order and the castle where they practice the ancient art of ring smithing. Boobowski and Tiara are in fear that Dr. Robotnik, Sonic’s arch-nemesis, is after their precious rings. Dr. Robotnik has, at this point, already made 1 attempt at stealing the rings of order. It is determined that only Sonic can fight off Robotnik’s attempts and, to do so, he will need to collect the 6 rings himself. From there, Sonic sets off to gather the 6 magical rings of order, battling Robotnik’s badniks along the way. Just another day in the life of a super hedgehog! [JAMES] Though Tiara B. is mentioned as being unplayable, this was not always the case. In fact, Chris Senn had originally wanted there to be a variety of playable characters. Along with Tiara, these would initially include Sonic series staples Miles ‘Tails’ Prower and Knuckles the Echidna. Christina Coffin, at one point, also pushed for Amy Rose, the Sonic series’ resident manic pixie dream girl. Ultimately, only Sonic himself would make it into Sonic X-Treme as a playable character. Apparently, this came due to programmer Ofer Alon wanting to place emphasis on keeping things simple. Despite this, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy would all be playable in the later Sonic Adventure for the Sega Dreamcast. The Sonic X-Treme team also hoped to provide a unique gameplay experience that involved Sonic traversing a completely 3D world. Instead of featuring a somewhat top-down perspective with a moveable camera, like would soon be popularized in platformers such as Super Mario 64, Sonic X-Treme would instead feature levels with a primarily cylindrical design, with the camera pointed straight ahead but still centred on Sonic himself. Sonic would also be given the ability to run up certain walls and ceilings. The in-game camera would also have a fish eye lens affect applied to it, done in an attempt to allow players to see more of their surroundings in each level. The intent was levels that encouraged players to run through them while simultaneously appearing linear only at first glance. Granted, due to the camera angle, any levels involving Sonic running towards the camera could be problematic, as seen in other games of the time that emplyed a similar camera angle, such as Crash Bandicoot. Despite the project seeming to balloon in size, work continued steadily through the tail end of 1995 and into the beginning of 1996. It seemed to some that Sonic X-Treme really did have the chance to be one of 1996’s defining video games. But, all was not as it seemed. In early 1996, Chris Senn suddenly became incredibly sick. However, he tried to push through it, continuing his work on the project. This would lead, as he would later recount, to it feeling like there were more bad days working on Sonic X-Treme than good. He would speak of this in a 2008 interview that would appear on his own website. (Alarm) [SENN] On a typical day, I would wake up feeling nauseous, get ready, and drive to work while drinking a cup of water, hoping that if I sip it slowly, I won’t puke on the way to work. My side hurts as I get into the office, just in time for a meeting I forgot. I’m now sitting on a couch, leaning almost prone as the meeting commences. Mike Wallis is going over some scheduled questions with Robert Morgan sitting across and Ofer sitting next to me. Mike is polite and tries to get some coding time estimates from Ofer who avoids answering. Robert chimes in to provide an answer. Ofer remains silent, knowing that whatever estimate is provided is bogus anyway. Bob Steele enters the room, apologizing for being late due to another meeting that he just got out of with artists he’s managing. I feel like I’m gonna puke and sip the rest of my water. I manage to make it through the meeting and go to my office and close the door. I dry heave into the wastebasket. Oh my god, how am I going to get all of this stuff done? I’m way behind on delivering final enemy designs to Ross Harris, who’s been doing a stellar job following my designs and directions to achieve an awesome look for the sprites that only he could create. I’m also behind on getting a demo level ready using the newest version of Ofer’s editor. Unfortunately, there was a rare bug with the editor so I can’t save my work. Mike pops in and tells me that Patrick from Game Players magazine is coming after lunch for his first meeting with the team to interview us and get to know the game. “That’s just great,” I think. Just when stuff isn’t working and I have a million things to do! Knock on the door. It’s Richard Wheeler. He comes in and immediately feels my stress. “You okay dude?” he asks. I just stare at my screen, going over an enemy design image that I have open in DeluxePaint Animator. I hollowly say, “I guess” as I flip through frames. “Whatcha working on?” he asks. I respond, “I’m working on…” as I quickly draw bulging eyes on the enemy and draw lines and the words above it: STRESSING OUT. Rick chuckles. I flip to another frame and draw something silly on top of that frame and I make a noise with my mouth to represent the silliness. He laughs and I start flipping through frames and making more silliness and we both start laughting… and it’s not even lunch yet! (Whoosh) [JAMES] In January 1996, attempt was finally made to port over the game engine that Ofer Alon had been creating on PC to the Saturn hardware. The results were disastrous. [WALLIS] Ofer didn’t want to work and play well with others and really, we [at STI] as managers and leaders of the project let it go on for way too long. Hindsight is 20/20, right? So, yeah, that should have never taken place. We should have insisted that he come into the office and that he code straight onto the Saturn hardware and we could’ve seen where the limitations were and then we could’ve scoped some of the design and development process accordingly. But, we let it linger too long on the PC. As the development windows shrunk, right, because we had to be out by Christmas of 1996, Robert Morgan, who was the programming director, took the game engine to an external programming hosue that…I think they were called Point of View. They were in southern California and he was like, “Look. I need you guys to get this PC game up and running on the Saturn!” And these guys knew the Saturn very well. They’d done a lot of work with Sega before and, so, they were able to get it up and running but it was still not at the FPS level that we expected from a Sonic game. [JAMES] Point of View Inc. was brought onto the Sonic X-Treme project at a crucial time. This was January 1996, and STI was expecting a visit in March from a team of Sega management. This would include Sega of Japan president Hayao Nakayama. Their visit would decide the fate of the X-Treme project, which, due to performance issues, was risking further delay or even cancellation. However, it soon became apparent that POV would be doing more than just trying to port Alon’s game engine from the PC to the Saturn. At a meeting in early 1996, both Ofer Alon and Chris Senn were informed by STI technical director Robert Morgan that POV would be assuming all major programming duties. Effectively, Alon was being demoted and removed from the project. At the meeting between Alon, Senn, Morgan, and the team from POV, a demonstration was shown of Sonic running along a basic checkerboard surface. While not massively impressive, it was enough to please those it needed to at SOA. Alon was also apparently unfazed by the decision to remove him from the project. Perhaps he had been expecting it. Senn, on the other hand, was shocked and appalled by SOA’s decision. He saw it as Sega wanting to restart the game’s development from scratch. In reality, POV’s work for most of the next few months was mostly going to consist of them trying to port an older, more stable version of Alon’s game engine to the Saturn. The ultimate result, though, was Senn and Alon going off within STI with their work so far and continuing to develop it. They hoped to pitch it to SOA as a new Sonic title for PC. Perhaps this new game, which was simply referred to as “Sonic PC’, could be published by SegaSoft, a new offshoot of SOA that was allowed to create games for non-Sega platforms. Months went by and work continued on Sonic X-Treme. More shakeups also continued within Sega of America, including president and CEO Tom Kalinske leaving in early 1996. This was due in part to the lacking sales of the Saturn and due in part to poor relations with the Japanese side of the company. But, the X-Treme team still carried on, hoping that their work would impress and hoping that Sonic X-Treme itself could save the Saturn. Finally, March arrived. The morning of the meeting Nakayama, then-Sega of America CEO Shoichiro Irimajri, and an entire entourage of Sega executives, mostly from Japan, arrived at the STI offices. They were eagerly anticipating seeing the work that had been accomplished over the past nearly 2 years. There were technically 3 game demos meant to be shown off to the executives. The 1st was what was intended to be the main portion of Sonic X-Treme, initially created by Ofer Alon and Chris Senn and now ported over to the Saturn by Point of View Inc. The 2nd was a boss level demonstration, created primarily by Christina Coffin. The final demonstration would be an attempt by Alon and Senn to pitch Sonic PC, despite Chris Senn still suffering from his odd illness that had onset in January. Silence gripped the STI office as the 1st demo was displayed. POV’s team had worked hard on porting over Alon’s work and attempting to optimize it. Though release was still months away, it was hoped that POV would have the engine up and running somewhat smoothly. With luck, the executives would not only find their work passible but impressive. But, this was not the case. Most in the room seemed very visibly disappointed. Nakayama, however, was livid. Though 2 months had passed since POV was tasked with porting over Alon’s work, it was only managing to run at a few frames per second. The executives felt that the game was nowhere near where it was supposed to be. It seemed that it could’ve been killed off right then and there… but it wasn’t. Nakayama and Irimajiri had a change of heart after witnessing a demonstration of the boss engine. That was originally created solely by Christina Coffin. In late 1995 when the Sonic X-Treme development team was split, each side was tasked with creating 2 different styles of game. Coffin saw this as a chance to do something truly new and creative. After all, along with being an experienced programmer, she was also a dedicated Sonic fan. She loved the games and the character. Thus, she saw this as a chance to do something potentially next level. Much like Alon, she was described by some as not always working well with others. Chris Senn would even later say so of her. [SENN] Chris Coffin was a wild stallion who didn’t take direction well, but when unleashed she did great stuff! [JAMES] Whatever the reason, in late 1995, she began working on her own boss engine, doing the bulk of the work in her small apartment in her free time. After a few months, she finally felt comfortable enough to showcase her work to the other STI staff. According to Wallis, they were incredibly impressed. Whether it had been done due to feeling that she had to prove herself or just due to feeling dedicated to the X-Treme project, Coffin had made a fairly smooth running engine that seemed to allow for more impressive movement and camera control than Alon’s work on the PC. According to Coffin herself, in a later interview with Sonic Retro user Andrew75, controlling Sonic in a boss level based off of her engine would have versatile camera controls. [COFFIN] The left and right triggers were set up to rotate the camera around Sonic. You could also press a certain button on the Saturn controller to lock the camera onto the boss so that then all of your d-pad movement would become relative to the boss character. For example, with the lock-on mode controls, left and right on the d-pad would let you circle strafe while facing the boss. This would be good for dodging projectiles from Mecha Sonic. Pressing up made you run towards the boss while the camera was still looking at them and pressing down made you run away from the boss while the camera was still looking at them. As you can imagine, fighting this boss with the camera in lock-on mode was very useful for dodging harmful things from the boss. It made it feel more like a 1-on-1 fighting game, which is what I wanted. Having the unlocked camera mode, where the camera stays in a 3rd person view behind Sonic, was useful as well. So, your choice would really depend on player preference and certain bosses. For example, I had plans for another boss that would spawn smaller enemies around them that you would have to jump or spindash into before going back to fighting the main boss. There, the 3rd person view behind Sonic would be very, very useful. [JAMES] Following the positive initial reception, Coffin’s boss engine was adopted by the team and, over half a year later, was showcased to the Sega executives following the underwhelming presentation from POV. The executives, too, were impressed. The Sega executives saw a potentially bright future for the X-Treme project in the part of the project built off of Coffin’s work. They also felt that the work done by POV was best pushed into the proverbial garbage can. Before he left, Sega of America CEO Shoichiro Irimajiri abruptly stopped in fron of the X-Treme team and pointed at the boss level demo. He left them with a seemingly simple directive: Make the whole game like this. (Musical Transition) [MARIO COSPLAYER] What do you mean you couldn’t catch him? [LACKEY] The guy is fast as lightnin’, boss! He just disappeared in a blue streak! [MARIO COSPLAYER] You idiot! You should’ve set a trap! [LACKEY] Boss, he blasted right through it! I’m telling ya, he’s bigger and badder than before! (Slash Transition) [JAMES] This was a promotional video made to show off Sonic X-Treme. It was made to be shown off at the 2nd annual E3 convention in Los Angeles. And, the game here, to many, appeared impressive. But, the process of getting to this point had been hellish. Back in March 1996, after the Sega executives had been presented with demonstrations of Sonic X-Treme’s development progress, which earned mixed reactions, it was decided that there needed to be some changes at STI. [WALLIS] Irimajiri didn’t even want to see the PC version and after he saw the boss level, he said “make it like this” and then he left. And so, that kind of pivoted the whole team because, first of all, we weren’t going to use the port team anymore. No more Point of View guys. Then, second off, we knew now at this point because Irimajiri was like “you gotta make it like this” that we had to make it all like that. I mean, the main game had to run like that. So, we basically took Chris Coffin, who was the main game boss programmer and then brought 4 or 5 artists and animators onto the team, myself, and a tools programmer, and then basically locked ourselves into this office within STI. It was keycard access only and only a few people had access to it and they brought in food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner! So management was like “do what you all can do to get this game out by Christmas” and that was because they really needed it to be a drive title for the Saturn. [JAMES] Sega of America itself would also see continued changes. One of the biggest, and perhaps most controversial of these, came in April 1996 when Bernie Stolar was hired to become Sega of America’s new president and chief operating officer. Stolar, upon joining, surveyed the state that Sega of America was in. The Saturn was way down in sales, especially compared to the PlayStation. Perhaps most importantly, Sega of Japan had another console project in the works, one that would eventually see release in North America in 1999. It was a console more powerful than anything on the market at the time, one that would include features such as a built-in modem, allowing gamers to easily play online with their friends. It would be known as the Sega Dreamcast. It was also, however, a few years away. In April 1996, as far as most at Sega were concerned, the Saturn was still their future. Stolar saw this as an opportunity to restructure. He felt that, though there was a lot of talent at Sega of America, there were also a lot of people that weren’t “strong enough to do their jobs”. As such, in the following months, nearly 300 people would be let go from SOA. Stolar was also, however, more than willing to work with Wallis and the X-Treme team. Shortly after joining the company, he paid Wallis a visit, asking what he could do to best help the Sonic X-Treme project. Upon consulting with his team, Wallis returned to Stolar with a request: they would like the game engine from NiGHTS Into Dreams. [WALLIS] So at that time, Bernie Stolar, who was an SVP at Sony PlayStation was hired on and joined Sega of America as the new president. So, Tom Kalinske is out; Bernie Stolar is in. So, one of Bernie’s first orders of business was that he came to meet with me and he was like “What do I need to do to help you get this game out?” So, then I told him, right? So, I said, we need to isolate the team, feed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and get them all of the tools and contract help that they need. So then, after consulting with the team further, the team said “We need the NiGHTS engine.” That was because NiGHTS had already launched (actually, it was just about to) and it would be very successful and it was pseudo-3D and we were like “We need the NiGHTS engine” so we could adapt our existing design to work within that game engine. [JAMES] NiGHTS was a game made in Japan by Sonic Team. Like with Sonic 1, it would feature Yuji Naka as the lead programmer and as the person most credited with developing its game engine. Seeing release in mid-1996, this title would feature stunning visuals and complex gameplay. This title would follow the titular NiGHTS, an androgynous creature that appears in the dreams of 2 children, Clarise and Elliot, as they take them on an adventure through the world of Nightopia. It would be described by some as being a 2.5D game, as in, though each level was made of 3D polygons, depending on who the player was controlling, they would explore each environment either in 3D or on a 2D axis. The X-Treme team felt that the NiGHTS engine would be of significant help towards completing their game, especially as, due to NiGHTS being so close to release, its engine was highly stable. Stolar agreed with Wallis on this. Thus, after having some talks with management at Sega of Japan, editing tools and engine code made their way to STI. A new era for Sonic X-Treme dawned. A new direction for the game, combining both elements of the NiGHTS engine and Christina Coffin’s boss engine, had emerged. This version of the game was internally named “Project Condor”. It seemed that, finally, Sonic X-Treme had a chance of being finished in time for Christmas 1996. However, trouble would strike again only 2 weeks later. [WALLIS] So, we started to get the code base, the editors, the tools, and everything but NiGHTS was Yuji Naka’s game and Naka actually… from what I heard, as it was all hearsay, but he apparently didn’t like STI or he didn’t like STI owning any of “his” IP even though we’re still within the same company and we’re all really on the same team. He didn’t like it. I heard that he said that “If Sega of America uses this, I’m gonna quit.” So, he gave an ultimatum to Sega of Japan. Now, so, he was kind of the golden boy, right? So, Sega of Japan management then came back to Stolar and said “You can’t use the NiGHTS engine.” Right, so now we had wasted 2 or 3 weeks because we had spent time getting familiar with the engine and getting all of the production pipeline setup and everything with that and now we kind of had to go back to square one. [JAMES] E3 1996 came and, along with it, a showcase of Sonic X-Treme. Perhaps oddly, some promotional materials showed gameplay footage from game builds based off of Ofer Alon’s game engine. Game demos present at the show, though, featured builds of the game heavily based off of Christina Coffin’s boss engine. An early test level was prevalently showcased, referred to in-game as Jade Gully Zone. There was also an incomplete boss fight. Though the project was far from complete, what was shown was enough to pique the interest of press and the public. According to a journalist from Game Players magazine in an article run in their post-E3 issue: [GAME PLAYERS WRITER] There actually wasn’t that much of Sonic X-Treme shown at E3, but there was a playable version of an incomplete boss round. Still, the demo on display, coupled with Game Players’ exclusive coverage of the game’s development process, has given the indication that the 3rd dimension has been incredibly kind to everyone’s favourite blue buddy! [JAMES] Meanwhile, a journalist form the UK-based Computer and Video Games magazine would write in their July 1996 issue: [CVG Writer] Sonic runs into and out of the sreen in addition to left to right and can roll around on most terrain, taking the rest of the screen with him most of the time! Cool new abilities include throwing rings along with the spin slash – a mid-air 360 degree attack – and the sonic streak. The spindash is also back, bonus rounds are guaranteed, but most exciting of all is that Sega has decided to keep certain aspects of the gameplay completely secret. [JAMES] Of course, some of this secretness perhaps came from the game’s turbulent spot in development. Following E3, a decision was made at STI to again re-arrange the X-Treme team and to further seclude them from the rest of Sega of America. This left both Chris Senn and Christina Coffin with more duties on the project. Team members would regularly begin to go into overtime while working on it, with some seeming to move into the STI office. Chris Senn recalled working on the game in 16-18 hour shifts at times. He would work with minimal breaks, having meals delivered to himself and others as they laboured, sleeping on a portable cot in his office, all the while still combating his illness. Meanwhile, sometime in early summer 1996, Christina Coffin had moved out of her small apartment and into the STI office. One morning, she’d shown up with a large papasan chair, which she seemed to live out of for most of the next few months. Wallis recalls some team members regularly showering in their office building’s gym. Progress was proceeding at an incredible rate throughout summer 1996 but also at an incredible cost to those involved. It was evident that an exhaustive, potentially unhealthy amount of work was being put into the game. But, there was also much optimism surrounding the project, with the only noticeable outcry coming from an animator that Wallis ended up firing. [WALLIS] It was super stressful, right. I mean, the team was pretty good natured. I mean, we had… there was 1 guy, an animator, who I had to fire because he was just… he was just being an ass. I mean he was often just like “Oh, you guys are just pushing yourselves too much!” and “Oh, you’re working too hard!” and, you know, everybody there had signed up for it. We had asked for volunteers. You know, we knew we were going to have this insane crunch but we knew we were going to be heavily rewarded at the end and we were all really excited about getting this game out and this guy kind of… so, he volunteered but he had begrudgingly volunteered and he had begrudgingly come along and, so, all throughout the project throughout the months of development he was always… kind of there, right? I mean, but he would put in a good 9-10 hours a day. So, you know, everyone else is doing 12-14 but he’s doing 9-10, which, okay, he was in critical pass so it was okay, and we tolerated it, but, there was one meeting where he… so we had a meeting at 5pm one day and we were doing a status report and he stood up at 5:30 and he said, “Oh! It’s 5:30! I gotta go!” He was like, “It’s 5:30! I’m leaving now! I don’t work past 5:30!” And then he just got up and walked out! It was just not a good move by him. And so, I’m looking around the room as producer and I’m like “Okay guys, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to fire him.” And they were all like “Yeah, we would endorse that.” So, I went to HR and I basically said, “I want to get rid of this guy.” Then I talked to Manny Granillo, the director of development. So, they were all like, “Yep! Make it happen!” So, the next day, the guy came into work and I escorted him out. [JAMES] Sonic X-Treme was transformed drastically from its pre-E3 state. Though nowhere near completion, by July, it seemed like it was coming together well. This, of course, still came at a cost. Chris Senn would later speak of this time in an interview with [SENN] I spent 1 month creating the layout, textures, and a few simple enemies for 4 worlds. Game time was at around 5-8 minutes per world and I’d say that they were around 80% fully textured. This meant that all of the general textures that set the mood, lighting, colour schemes, etc., were in place with some details but the last 20% would have required a great deal of detailed polish to really make it look finished. The worlds were passable but definitely not what I would’ve submitted as “finished”. I did what I could in the time that was available. But then, as the summer was about to end, critical disaster struck. Problems first came for Chris Senn. Senn had been under an incredible amount of stress while working and, as a result, had occurred reoccurring sickness. Throughout the first half of 1996, he had dropped nearly 25 pounds of weight and was suffering from constant cramps and nausea. Around this time, his doctor informed him that, if he continued to push himself like this, he would be dead within 6 months. Feeling that his body would soon collapse unless he took a break, in August 1996, Chris Senn stepped down from the project. But, while this was a major blow to Sonic X-Treme, the team still had Christina Coffin and her incredible coding skills. Problems, too, would soon strike her though. Much like Senn, Coffin had been pushing herself greatly, sometimes putting in 18 hour work days. This was taking a toll on her. Around the time that Senn decided to leave the team, Christina Coffin contracted walking pneumonia. Though she initially just tried to work through it, she was soon ordered by her doctor to take a few weeks off from work. In response to this news, worried for her health and worried that if she continued pushing herself she would die, she, too, stepped down from the X-Treme project. The game seriously crippled and facing massive delays, Wallis decided to make a tough decision: It would be best to kill Sonic X-Treme before it could kill any of those working on it. At the end of August 1996, Mike Wallis informed Sega of America management that the project could not continue on. Sonic X-Treme was officially cancelled. Though, this was not the end of Sonic on the Saturn! [WALLIS] I knew at the point Coffin got sick that it wasn’t going to make it. So, I went to Manny Granillo who was the director of development at STI along with Bernie Stolar and I had a meeting with them where I basically said, “Look: Here’s the situation. We can’t get the game done without Chris Coffin. So, Sonic X-Treme is not going to happen.” So they basically said, “Okay, Mike, we have been working on this backup plan.” So, I was also working on Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis at the same time as X-Treme. So they said, “We’ve been putting together this plan to do Sonic 3D Blast on the Saturn. Maybe up-ressing it, taking advantage of the Saturn’s capabilities a bit, and then be able to bring this game out on Saturn in time for Christmas. So we want you to produce that game.” So, you know, I did. This version of the game had Redbook Audio and 3D bonus levels and things like that. Great soundtrack! I mean, probably, I think, one of the best ever Sonic game soundtracks. So, but, yeah, Sonic X-Treme was done for! [JAMES] Sonic 3D Blast would be the final Sonic game to be release on the Genesis. It would stand out due to its isometric graphical style. Despite the short turnaround time, the Saturn port would see release only 2 weeks after the Genesis version. It would go on to be the 2nd best selling Saturn game of 1996, only being beaten out by NiGHTS Into Dreams. Though Sonic 3D Blast was a Sonic game on the Saturn, perhaps due to being a port of a Sonic game for a previous generation console and not being as technically impressive as, say, Crash Bandicoot for the PlayStation or Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, it was not much of a system seller. As for Chris Senn and Ofer Alon’s “Sonic PC” project, though they had done considerable work on it, it never got the green light from Sega. Some time in late 1996, the pitched the game to Sega’s PC gaming divison. However, Senn and Alon were told that Sega was just looking to port existing titles to PC and that it wasn’t in their budget to finance a completely new game. Senn would later say of this news: [SENN] The point at which I realized the project itself wasn’t going to be released was after Ofer Alon and I had pitched Sonic PC to [Sega of America Executive Vice President] Shinobu Toyoda, who basically told us that Sega couldn’t proceed. [JAMES] Though Sonic X-Treme was never released its cancellation was also not the death knell for the Saturn. That, debatably, came the following year during E3 1997 when Bernie Stolar publicly stated “The Saturn is not our future.” This would not officially kill the Saturn, but it did make many view Sega as admitting that they had failed and thus would stop fighting against the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. The Sega Saturn would remain on the market in North America until 1999 when the Sega Dreamcast would be released. The Dreamcast would have many revolutionary features and would even have the first fully 3D Sonic game on it. This would be Sonic Adventure. This title would feature Sonic in a fully 3D world with a moveable camera and featured the playable additions of characters such as Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose. It would be a critical success and even spawned a sequel in 2001 in the form of Sonic Adventure 2. The intial success of the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, though, would not be enough to save Sega. In 2000, Sony would release the PlayStation 2. It would eventually sell over 150 million systems, becoming one of the best selling video game consoles of all time. In addition, despite storng marketing and a host of critically acclaimed games supporting the Dreamcast, Sega’s blunders in the previous console generations were enough to keep away many developers, retailers, and consumers. This culminated in January 2001, when Sega’s CEO announced that, in March of that year, the Dreamcast would be discontinued. Though Sega would still develop new games, they would no longer create their own hardware. They had formally declared defeat in The Console Wars. (Flame Flicker) [JAMES] As Sonic Adventure later showed, even if Sonic X-Treme had been released and become a killer app for the Saturn, Sega would still be affected by an entirely separate set of factors, the most prominent of those being ill will earned from a long series of questionable decisions. But, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it could’ve changed things for Sega. Perhaps it could’ve even saved the Saturn. Perhaps Sonic X-Treme could’ve been one of the most influential games of all time… had it not suffered death in development. (Musical Outro) (Thank you so much for watching! If you enjoyed this documentary, share it out or even drop a comment!)

33 thoughts on “Sonic X-Treme’s Death in Development | The Art of Failure

  1. Sonic X-Treme is one of the most interesting stories in all of gaming. You have this game that was supposed to change the industry, only to be infamous for it's rushed development

  2. Even though this was way before my time (considering I was born in 05) i still feel if Sega stayed strong through this process then sonic x-treme could've actually been a pretty legendary game

  3. It didn't seem that bad judgeing by the demonstration demos, but overall it all just spiraled into absolute development hell, who knew that one game could almost break apart half an entire development team?

  4. Thanks for allowing me to be part as the…British narrator lol. AOF has been without a doubt one of the best series the gaming community has ever had. The polish is unreal!

  5. Thank you for tackling X-Treme. For being one of the most (if not THE most) famous cancelled games out there, I feel like most resources/articles on the thing fail to convey just how insane its development was.

  6. This video is by far the biggest thing I've ever made. I began making all of the AOF episodes back in October 2018, with the first interview for this doc coming that month. This documentary took over a year and some to get out, and I hope it was worth it. I'm pretty sure Sonic Xtreme is cursed, as I ran into a host of issues while making this, including getting varying degrees of sick several times while working on it.

    That said, I'd like to thank all of the wonderful interviewees, voices actors, friends, and patrons who made this possible. After saying for months that it's still coming…it's finally here.

    As for what's next for me, I'm going to try to go back to more regular uploads. With that said, my next video will definitely not be nearly as big as this haha! If you enjoyed what you saw here, though, feel free to check me out on Patreon, especially as full, un-cut versions of all the AOF video interviews are there:

  7. Great video. One thing that really struck me is what an asshole Chris Wallis is. He brags about firing a guy for working ten hour days. This is while the rest of the team are killing themselves. One person actually moderately looks out for himself and this trash fires him. Human Resources actually okayed it. It actually makes me glad Sega failed.

    Then I see he works for Blizzard/Activision and it all comes together.

    Again great video.

  8. The reason "Sonic the Hedgehog: Wonders of the World" could never take off on production, casting, filming and only a small synopsis was because Sonic X-Treme failed to meet a deadline and release, thus increasing problems further as the plot of the film would emphasize in this particular Sonic game as a way of marketing.

    That's my hypothesis on this whole thing. Now on the video. Very well written and informative! Amazing job, man. Congrats.

  9. Seems like the Sonic series in the 90s had a ton of issues.
    Sonic 2 had to be rushed to make the deadline
    Sonic CD was delayed.
    Sonic 3 had to be split in two, and even then, had to be rushed a bit too.
    Sonic Spinball was basically there to fill a gap and wasn't great.
    Of course Sonic x-treme would suffer from a lot of issues, but this was brutal
    Had Naka not being an utter dick, the game could've been salvaged I think.

  10. Have you seen miiyouandmii2's series on this game's production? That one is entertaining and I love it, but this one goes into much more detail and has interviews, so think this video is just as great in comparison.

  11. This was seriously outstanding, James. I always stings in the heart to hear about the awful decisions of Sega in the mid-90s but Sonic X-Treme will always be one of the biggest “what if’s” in the history of the franchise. Thank you for this!

  12. I've never seen a lot of this footage before- I didn't know there WAS any footage of those E3 conferences, much less Sonic 32X prototypes.

  13. I'm surprised your more popular. Your video are well researched. Sad to see that this game went through Hell. Could have been a neat release!

  14. I give this video
    a 299 out of 10 😎

    Thank you so much again for such a detailed documentary on video game history. I didn't even know about the game called Sonic X-Treme until you announced this doc in the works.

    The console wars of the 90's were such a fascinating time. I was just a bit too young/sheltered to understand how crazy it was at the time.

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