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Spotlight: Sonic X-Treme

Sonic X-Treme Timeline (as provided by Mike Wallis)

To fully understand the entire situation, you must first understand the players.

Sega of Japan = SOJ. The parent company of Sega of America. The rulers of the palace.

Sega of America = Basically this was the main group in the US. Contained marketing, sales, PR, and the SOA product development group. SOA PD had nothing to do with Sonic other than the Chaotix 32X game and maybe a GameGear port. Hmm, perhaps even Sonic CD though that was before my time at Sega, so I can't be sure.

STI = Sega Technical Institute. This was a very small (basically 1-2 team group) that did Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic Spinball, and Sonic & Knuckles. Originally staffed with Sonic Team members from Japan, then later with American folks. Also did some other games such as Comix Zone and The Ooze. STI's focus was to create character properties that could be built into a franchise.

Sonic Team = Based in Japan. Mostly this was/is Yuji Naka's group. Created NiGHTS and more recent Sonic games.

Naka = Many credit him with creating Sonic. Though those within STI who I spoke with when I arrived say this wasn't true. Never met him, because he had departed the US by the time I started at STI.

Yasuhara = Designer (level and character). I worked with him a few years, and have to say that he is one of the nicest and honest guys I know. He said he created Sonic and I believe him. He's quiet and not driven by ego like Naka, so that is why I believe what he says.

Rough timeline of events:

Late 1994 - Sonic & Knuckles (Genesis) is released. STI staffs up more. I was hired as associate producer on Comix Zone and The Ooze. Sonic X-treme (at the time called Sonic 32X) was very early in development, mostly just technical prototypes and very early character concepts.

Early 1995 - STI moves from 255 Shoreline Drive to 275 Shoreline Drive.

Summer 1995 - Exec producer and lead designer Michael Kosaka leaves STI over political crap that is going on between him and Dean Lester. He returns to EA. The Sonic 32X project continues on, rudderless. However at this time there were really only 4 team members if I remember correctly. 1 concept artist, a designer, and two programmers. It was still very much in pre-production.

Late summer 1995 - Comix Zone (GEN) releases. After it ships, there's a shake-up at STI and Dean Lester, exec producer, leaves and Manny Granillo replaces him. Roger Hector is still the VP at the time. I am promoted to producer. We ship The Ooze several months later. I'm moved over to the Sonic X-treme project.

Fall 1995? - We discuss the mysterious new console based on Nvidia's Riva TNT technology. It's a cartridge based system meant to be like the Nintendo 64. Rather than CD based like the PSX and Saturn. We're told to shift Sonic 32X development onto this system, despite not having hardware specs, development systems, or any documentation. Strange, but true! We shift all STI development team resources onto the X-treme team. It's fuzzy, but we probably had 9-10 artists & animators, 4 programmers, 3 designers, a sound guy, myself, and an exec producer.

Late 1995? - The silly mysterious cartridge system is scrapped and Sega determines the Saturn is going to be its next gen system. We again shift Sonic X-treme over to the Saturn.

Organizational note: This was the most fucked up org. chart I have ever had the (mis)fortune of working on. It was set up matrix style, which for those of you who understand business organizational management know is a concept that works in theory but is so fubar'd in practice. Especially for game development. In a nutshell what it meant was that all the artists report to an art director, the designers to a design lead, and the programmers to a technical lead. Each of those 3 groups reports 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 above mentioned 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 OK. So we had artists doing art for levels that hadn't even been concepted out. We had programmers waiting and waiting and waiting until every minute detail had been concepted out, and we had designers doing whatever the hell they wanted. It was a mess and because of the internal politics (the art director had trained his art team to hate the designers and programmers), it was even more difficult to get any work done.

Between late '95 and early '96 - The team split into 2 groups. One, lead by programmer Ofer Alon and designer Chris Senn, to handle the "main game" and the other, lead by programmer Chris Coffin, to develop the "boss levels."

Early 1996? - Robert Morgan, tech director at STI, takes the main game engine that Alon has been programming over to a programming house that can convert it to run on the Saturn. Alon all this time had been developing the main game engine on the PC, and could not get it to run on the Saturn more than a few frames per second.

March 1996 - The head of SOJ, Irimajiri-san visits STI with his entourage. We show him our progress and he is disappointed with the work on the main game engine thus far. However, when we show him what Coffin has been doing on the boss levels, he says, "I like this. Make the whole game like this." Then he left (what a flare for the dramatic!).

I went to the exec producer and VP and told them the only way we had any semblance of hope of finishing this game for Christmas was to give me the reins, get rid of the political crap, isolate a core team, and give us the tools necessary to get the job done. SOA/STI management agreed, we pulled a core group of 4 artists, 2 programmers (+ 1 contractor), and 3 designers into the old STI location and we get to work.

April 1996? - Bernie Stolar takes over as CEO of SOA. He came over and asked me what we needed to help further our chance. After consulting with the team, it is determined that the NiGHTS engine would be very helpful, as we didn't have time to develop all the tools necessary. Stolar promises the tools. We receive some editors and the engine code shortly after.

2 weeks later - After familiarizing ourselves with both and moving forward, Stolar informs us that SOJ (specifically Naka) has forbidden us from using the code. He claims that Naka threatened to quit if SOA were allowed to use his team's technology. We're back to square one with 2-3 weeks now wasted.

May/June 1996 - I fire an artist/animator who is being disruptive to the team by not carrying his weight. He is terminated from the project and from Sega. He's held a grudge against me ever since.

June/July/August 1996 - Chris Coffin, lead programmer and human dynamo, has been working non-stop to get this project out, comes down with pneumonia. Since he is leading the technology end and creating the engine, with him going down the project is over. I inform management that we cannot continue and will not make Christmas. The project is officially canceled.

August 1996 - Stolar tells about the backup plan management had working and they wanted me to be the producer of it. It was a Saturn enhancement of the Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast. I manage development teams in the US, Japan, and Europe to bring out the Saturn version.

October 1996 - Sonic 3D Blast for the Saturn and Genesis ships. Sonic 3D goes on to become the #2 selling Saturn title behind NiGHTS.

Fall 1996? - Sega of America product development splits off from Sega and forms Segasoft. STI changes its name to Sega of America product development. By this time we were now handling all the ports from SOJ, such as Sega Rally and Decathlete.


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