Conceptual box art of Sonic X-treme.
|Developer(s)||Sega Technical Institute|
|Designer(s)||Hirokazu Yasuhara (head designer)|
|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
Sonic X-treme was a cancelled platform video game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Early versions were considered for several systems until ending up as being developed by Sega for the Sega Saturn, with the intended release being around Christmas of 1996. However, after getting stuck in development hell and missing that deadline, the game was eventually cancelled. Had it been finished, it would have been the first fully 3D Sonic game and the first original Sonic title developed for the Sega Saturn.
Mega Drive/Genesis and 32X years
Development of the game was started by Sega Technical Institute, a U.S.-based developer that had worked on games such as Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic Spinball. It was originally developed for several other Sega game consoles prior to the Sega Saturn. In its earliest conception, after the completion of Sonic & Knuckles in 1994, the game was set to be released on the Sega Genesis, as a side-scrolling platform game, much like the first four Sonic games for the same system. As the Genesis was coming upon the end of its lifespan, it was eventually moved to the Sega 32X under the code-name Sonic Mars. (The reason for this name being that the Sega 32X was originally codenamed Sega Mars). This version of the game would have featured Sally Acorn and the other Freedom Fighters from the Saturday morning animated series, Sonic the Hedgehog. Even at this stage, the game's design changed wildly, going from "an isometric view, and a 2.5D side-scroller, but eventually settled on a 3D view set on a floating plane." Eventually designs evolved beyond what the Sega 32X was capable of, and the system itself was struggling sales-wise, so the game, among many in development for the system, was shifted to the Sega Saturn console.
Saturn and PC years
The game in this form was initially developed separately by two teams in parallel starting in the second half of 1995. One team, led by Chris Senn and Ofer Alon, was in charge of developing the main game engine, while the other team, lead by Chris Coffin, worked on a "free-roaming, ‘arena-style’ 3D engine". The main game levels themselves were developed in a tubular mode, allowing level rotation and gravity directions, and as result, moved around Sonic. The fish-eye lens camera view, developed by Alon, gave the game a distinctive spherical appearance.
For the boss level engine, several modes such as top-down and side scrolling views were prototyped to create a more interesting view of the boss battle areas while still using the prerendered Sonic sprite assets used in the main game engine developed by Ofer. The boss level engine began to evolve into a game of its own using this new source of inspiration, trying to stay closer to its 2D roots by adopting a 3D but side-scrolling viewpoint. The new boss engine gameplay prototype adopted a more pastel color scheme and organic flow of the inspirational Nights into Dreams..., made by Sonic creator Yuji Naka.
In March 1996, Sega of Japan representatives, including CEO Hayao Nakayama went over to STI's headquarters to check up on the game's progress. They were unimpressed at the progress made on the main game engine, but they had actually watched an old, outdated version of the main game's engine. The representatives left before they were allowed to watch the most recent version, but were conversely so impressed by the boss engine that they requested the entire game be reworked to be like that instead. This was devastating to both teams; to Senn and Alon's team because their work was rejected based on outdated work, and Coffin's because they had far more work ahead of them, with a strict December 1996 deadline nearby.
In order to attempt to make this deadline, the team was moved into a place of isolation from further company politics, practically moved into the company's office, and worked sixteen hours a day. Additionally, since their approach was similar to the Nights into Dreams... game engine, they requested if they could have access to it as a starting point. This request was granted; however, after two weeks of work on it, it was taken away, as the company hadn't secured permission from the engine's creator, Yuji Naka, who threatened to leave the company if it was used. This further wasted development time.
Two major hurdles are credited to stopping the project. Senn and Alon had initially continued on with their game engine, undeterred by their work's original rejection, hoping to pitch it Sega's PC division. However, it was eventually rejected again, and it, along with more company politics, prompted Alon to leave Sega. Secondly, Coffin, who had been overworking non-stop to get the project out, came down with pneumonia.
This solidified the fact that the game could not be released by the end of the December 1996 deadline and thus, the project was cancelled. Instead, for the holiday season in 1996, Sega decided to concentrate on an alternative Sonic project, Sonic 3D Blast, and Nights into Dreams..., the game designed by Sonic original creator Yuji Naka.
For many years, very little content from the game was ever released beyond screenshots that had been released to the media in promotion of the game prior to its cancellation. However, in 2006 a copy of a very early test engine was sold at auction to an anonymous collector who bought it for 2,500 dollars. An animated GIF image of the gameplay was initially released, with the disk image itself was leaked on July 17, 2007 after a fundraising project by the "Assemblergames" website community purchased the disc from the collector.
In 2006, the game's director, Chris Senn, opened the Sonic X-treme Compendium web site and began revealing large amounts of the game's development history to the public, including videos of early footage, a playable character named Tiara, and a large amount of previously unreleased concept music related to the title. He also was given permission by Hirokazu Yasuhara, the level designer for the majority of the original 16-bit Sonic titles, to post level designs that were going to be put in the game. Senn, along with the community, announced intentions to recreate the game, but their efforts deteriorated, and the project was canceled in January 2010.
With the game constantly changing platforms, engines, and development teams, there were many loose storylines in consideration. The main storyline used in promotion of the game in magazines involved a Professor Gazebo Boobowski and his daughter, Tiara, who are the guardians of the six magical Rings of Order, as well as the ancient art of ring-smithing. Gazebo and Tiara fear that Dr. Robotnik is after the six Rings of Order, and call on Sonic to get the Rings before Robotnik can. Dr. Robotnik ends up kidnapping Gazebo after he requests Sonic's help, making it so Sonic has to retrieve both him and the Rings of Order.
To further the traditional "Sonic formula", every level was designed in a tube-like fashion; Sonic would be able to walk onto walls, thus changing the direction of gravity and the rotation of the level itself, much like the special stages in Knuckles' Chaotix. In addition, an unusual, fish-eye lens-styled camera was put into place so players could see more of their surroundings at any given time.
At one point in the development process, there was a possibility for 4 playable characters: Knuckles the Echidna, Tiara Boobowski, Miles "Tails" Prower, and Sonic the Hedgehog, with each character having a unique gameplay style. Knuckles and Tiara would have had traditional-style play, having top-down and side-scrolling views respectively. Sonic had the fish-eye style levels, and Tails would play in first person flight mode. Tiara had the Ice Blade to fight her enemies. Sonic himself was to be equipped with a large set of new moves, including a "spin slash", a ring throwing ability, and a downward dash.
There were six planned Zones: Jade Gully, Crystal Frost, Red Sands, Blue Ocean, Metal Blade and Galaxy Fortress.
The Sonic X-treme debacle has been cited as a reason for the ultimate failure of the Sega Saturn. With the Sonic the Hedgehog series being attributed to much of the company's prior system, the Genesis, success, and Sony and Nintendo both having flagship 3D platformers available early in the life cycle of their consoles (Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64 respectively), Sega was expected by fans to follow suit and produce an official 3D Sonic game. With the game's cancellation, the Saturn never did receive an exclusive Sonic platform game, but rather only the Genesis port of Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Jam, a compilation of the 2D Genesis Sonic titles, and Sonic R, a racing game. Sonic's debut in a full 3D platform game wasn't until 1998, with Sonic Adventure as a Dreamcast launch title, well after the discontinuation of the Saturn. The game's cancellation also led to the overworking, and ultimate disbandment, of Sega Technical Institute.
Websites such as Destructoid and GamesRadar have speculated the game could have been a source of inspiration for future games such as 2007's Super Mario Galaxy. Many journalists would also note similarities between X-Treme and Sega's 2013 game Sonic Lost World.
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