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Sega Technical Institute

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Sega Technical Institute
Division
IndustryVideo game industry
SuccessorSega of America Product Development
Founded1991; 27 years ago (1991)
Defunct1996
HeadquartersPalo Alto and Redwood City, California, United States
Key people
ParentSega of America

Sega Technical Institute (STI) was an American development division of Sega. Founded by Atari veteran Mark Cerny in 1991, the studio sought to combine elite Japanese developers, including Sonic Team programmer Yuji Naka and his team, with new American talent. STI developed a number of Sonic the Hedgehog games, as well as other games for the Sega Genesis, before it was closed at the end of 1996.

After working in Japan for Sega on games for the Master System, Cerny proposed the creation of a development studio in America, which was approved. When Naka quit Sega after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, Cerny convinced him and Sonic level designer Hirokazu Yasuhara to join him at STI. After completing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992, STI was divided in two due to friction between the Japanese and American developers: the Japanese developers developed Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles before leaving in 1994, while the American team developed games including Sonic Spinball. The failed development of Sonic X-treme for the Sega Saturn became representative of a culture shift at Sega, and STI closed at the end of 1996.

Games developed by STI are considered significant in the history of the Genesis, and many were well-received or sold well. Developers have described STI as a unique workplace that did not fit into Sega's corporate structure, and have fond memories of the environment.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Mark Cerny, founder of Sega Technical Institute

Mark Cerny, a fan of computer programming and arcade games, joined Atari in 1982 aged 17.[1] At 18, he designed and co-programmed Marble Madness, his first major success. After his time with Atari, he joined Sega in Japan, where he worked on various Master System products,[2] including launch games and the 3D glasses accessory.[3]

In 1990, Cerny returned to the United States with a desire to create a small development team. At the same time, Sega of America CEO Michael Katz and executive vice president Shinobu Toyoda had prioritized increasing game development in the United States due to a lack of games catering to American tastes.[4] By 1991, Sega allowed Cerny to start STI as a game development studio.[3] The studio's first project was Dick Tracy,[4] and two additional projects began early in 1991: Kid Chameleon and Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude![3]

Shortly after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, Sonic Team developers Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara, and several other Japanese developers relocated to California to join STI.[3][5] Naka had quit Sega following disagreements over salary and backlash from the company over the time and effort it had taken to finish Sonic. Cerny, who had been in Japan while he was setting up STI, visited Naka's apartment, listened to the reasons why he left, and convinced Naka to join him in America as a way to fix the problems he had had with Sega in Japan.[2][6] Yasuhara, who had designed most of the Sonic stages and gameplay, chose to come with Naka.[4] Cerny's aim was to establish an elite development studio that would combine the design philosophies of American and Japanese developers.[3]

Later in 1991, STI began development on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with a team composed of both nationalities. Accoding to Cerny, Sega of Japan was initially not ready to develop a sequel, but later gave the direction for its creation, costing two months of development time out of a normal 11-month schedule.[3] Sega's plan to develop Sonic 2 involved sending members of the development teams from Japan over to STI, but Sega failed to acquire visas for the team, resulting in STI being staffed with American developers before beginning work.[7] While Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a success, its development suffered some setbacks; the language barrier and cultural differences created a rift between the Japanese and American developers.[3][7] According to STI artist Craig Stitt, he did not believe the junior American members of the team were learning from the more senior Japanese members. Stitt also stated that while Yasuhara and lead artist Yasushi Yamaguchi were easy to work with, Naka was not interested in working with the Americans.[7] Of the situation, Cerny said, "Sonic 2 did ship but after that we said 'no more!'"[3]

Division into two teams[edit]

Once development on Sonic 2 concluded, Cerny departed STI and was replaced by Atari veteran Roger Hector. Under Hector, STI was divided into two teams: the Japanese developers led by Naka, and the American developers. STI became unusual in Sega's organizational structure. According to Hector, STI reported both to Sega of Japan and Sega of America, but was independent and did not fit into corporate structure. Hector states that because of this, "we were able to concentrate on creating fun games. This is what made STI very special." Developers Peter Morawiec and Adrian Stephens, who worked for STI, expressed fond memories of working there for its uniqueness.[3] Hector's roles with the Japanese team included keeping them on track while ensuring they had necessary resources and preventing outside interference on the team. To facilitate better communication, Hector brought in a language teacher to instruct a Berlitz class in Japanese.[8]

In 1993, STI's Japanese team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but it would not be complete for Christmas season;[4] it was split into two games with Sonic 3 scheduled for February 1994.[8] STI's American team had been working on a spinoff, Sonic Spinball, proposed by Morawiec and inspired by the Sega marketing department's desire for a game based on the casino levels of the first two games. Morawiec and the American team were tasked to complete the game in nine months, without any help from the Japanese team. Though it received poor reviews, Sonic Spinball sold well and helped to build the reputation of its developers.[4] In the meantime, the Japanese team worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, releasing both in 1994[9] with Sonic & Knuckles coming out one month before the Japanese release of the Sega Saturn. Following the last release, Yasuhara quit, citing differences with Naka, and went on to develop games for Sega of America. Naka returned to Japan to continue work with Sonic Team, reuniting with Sonic the Hedgehog character creator Naoto Ohshima and bringing with him developer Takashi Iizuka.[5] In 1995, the mostly American staff completed Comix Zone and The Ooze, the only games to bear the STI logo. STI completed one game in partnership with Sega-AM1, Die Hard Arcade.[3]

Sonic X-treme and closure[edit]

As Sonic Team was working on Nights into Dreams,[4] Sega tasked STI with developing what would have been the first fully 3D Sonic game, Sonic X-treme. It was moved to the Saturn after several prototypes for other hardware (including the 32X) were discarded.[10][11] It featured a fisheye lens camera system that rotated levels with Sonic's movement. Corporate politics both within the team at STI[11] and between Sega's Japanese and American divisions[12][13] pervaded the game's development. After Sega president Hayao Nakayama ordered the game be reworked around the engine created for its boss battles, the developers were forced to work between 16 and 20 hours a day to meet their December 1996 deadline. Weeks of development time proved fruitless after Sega of America executive vice president Bernie Stolar rescinded STI's access to Sonic Team's Nights into Dreams engine following an ultimatum by Nights programmer Yuji Naka.[10][14][15] After programmer Ofer Alon quit and designers Chris Senn and Chris Coffin became ill, the project was cancelled in early 1997.[10][11][15] Sonic Team started work on an original 3D Sonic game for the Saturn, but development shifted to the Dreamcast and the game became Sonic Adventure.[16][17]

STI was disbanded in 1996 as a result of changes in management at Sega of America. According to Hector, the success of Sony and the PlayStation console led to corporate turmoil within Sega that resulted in STI being dissolved. Hector himself had left STI and new management had taken over shortly before the studio closed.[3] Producer Mike Wallis stated that STI was not actually disbanded, but rather became Sega of America's product development department, while the previous department branched to form SegaSoft.[4] After STI's closure, developers Peter Morawiec and Adrian Stephens of STI left Sega and formed Luxoflux.[3]

Game development[edit]

Retrospectively, STI's games have been considered important to the Sega Genesis, pictured above

STI's developed games include four titles in the Sonic the Hedgehog series.[3] Sonic the Hedgehog 2 received critical acclaim and was a bestseller in the UK charts for 2 months.[18] As of 2006, the game had sold over 6 million copies.[19] Sonic Spinball received mixed reviews upon release and holds an average score of 61% at GameRankings, based on an aggregate score of six reviews.[20] However, Spinball did sell well.[4] Sonic the Hedgehog 3 holds an average score of 89% at GameRankings, indicating positive reviews based on its aggregate score of five reviews,[21] while Sonic & Knuckles also received positive reviews.[22][23][24] All four games have been re-released multiple times in various Sonic compilations.[25][26][27][28]

Kid Chameleon has been recognized for its original character designs and abilities that made it play like "several different platform games rolled into one.[3] Mega placed the game at #35 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time.[29] Comix Zone, a beat 'em up, faced mixed reviews from GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly at the time of its release,[30][31] but has been retrospectively praised for its originality, including the concept of moving through the pages of a comic book and defeating enemies drawn in front of the player.[3] The Ooze, originally planned as a Genesis Nomad launch title,[4] received negative reviews at its launch,[32][33][34] but was recognized for its originality,[34] and has been retrospectively called "one of those little-known 16-bit gems that are well worth taking the effort to play through."[3] Die Hard Arcade has also been recognized for its depth as one of the last beat 'em ups. Of Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!, Retro Gamer writer Ashley Day criticized the title retrospectively for its poor character design and inadequate clone of Pitfall! in 16-bit form.[3] While it was never released, journalists have considered what impact Sonic X-treme, as a Sonic game for the Sega Saturn, may have had on the market.[14][35][36][37][38]

In addition to Sonic X-treme, several titles were considered by development but ultimately were never completed. One title, called Jester, featured a nearly-invulnerable clay character. Another, called Spinny & Spike, was proposed and greenlit by Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske, but never made it out of development after resources shifted to Sonic Spinball, followed by a change in producer causing the original developers to leave Sega. A sequel to Comix Zone was also proposed, but was dropped. Morawiec and Stephens had also set up an office to begin work on an original Sonic game, but that project was killed by Naka.[4]

Retrospectively, STI is given more credit for its game development than it had while it was active. More Sonic compilations have featured games developed by STI, and Sega has since opened more external studios outside of Japan. Ashley Day of Retro Gamer stated, "only time will tell if such companies can harness the same kind of magic the Sega Technical Institute did so long ago."[3] Ken Horowitz of Sega-16 stressed the importance of STI's games on the Genesis, and also framed STI's history as a cautionary tale of corporate politics. Of this, Horowitz said, "Be it the continued growth and success of the core Sonic games, the innovative original titles, or the unique development atmosphere that was unrivaled anywhere else at Sega, the Institute gave us some great games and produced some amazing talent. Today’s industry would do well to take a page from Sega’s book about how to make a development team feel at home, and the story of the Sega Technical Institute is living proof of how too much corporate interference can kill a good thing."[4]

Game[3][4] Year released[3][4] STI development team[3][4]
Dick Tracy 1991 American
Kid Chameleon 1992 American
Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude! 1992 American
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (with Sonic Team) 1992 Both
Sonic Spinball 1993 American
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (with Sonic Team) 1994 Japanese
Sonic & Knuckles (with Sonic Team) 1994 Japanese
Comix Zone 1995 American
The Ooze 1995 American
Die Hard Arcade (with Sega-AM1) 1996 American
Sonic X-treme Cancelled American

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Perry, Douglas C. "IGN: Interview with Mark Cerny". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on August 30, 2008. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Horowitz, Ken (December 5, 2006). "Interview: Mark Cerny". Sega-16. Ken Horowitz. Archived from the original on October 17, 2014. Retrieved November 26, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Day, Ashley (2007). "Company Profile: Sega Technical Institute". Retro Gamer. No. 36. Imagine Publishing. pp. 28–33.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Horowitz, Ken (June 11, 2007). "Developer's Den: Sega Technical Institute". Sega-16. Ken Horowitz. Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Sean (2006). "Company Profile: Sonic Team". Retro Gamer. No. 26. Imagine Publishing. pp. 24–29.
  6. ^ "Interview with Yuji Naka". Shmuplations. 2001. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Thorpe, Nick (December 2017). "The Making of: Sonic the Hedgehog 2". Retro Gamer. No. 175. Future plc. pp. 20–29.
  8. ^ a b "Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Behind the Scenes". GamesTM. No. 60. Imagine Publishing. August 2008. pp. 140–143.
  9. ^ Thorpe, Nick (2016). "The Story of Sonic the Hedgehog". Retro Gamer. No. 158. Imagine Publishing. pp. 18–25.
  10. ^ a b c Fahs, Travis (May 29, 2008). "Sonic X-Treme Revisited – Saturn Feature at IGN". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on July 12, 2017. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c Houghton, David (April 24, 2008). "The greatest Sonic game we never got ..." GamesRadar+. Future plc. Archived from the original on May 21, 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  12. ^ Fahs, Travis (April 21, 2009). "IGN Presents the History of Sega". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  13. ^ Horowitz, Ken (May 9, 2006). "Interview: Steven Kent (Author)". Sega-16. Ken Horowitz. Archived from the original on May 4, 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
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  22. ^ "Review Crew: Sonic & Knuckles". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 65. EGM Media, LLC. December 1994. p. 34.
  23. ^ "NEW GAMES CROSS REVIEW: ソニック&ナックルズ". Famitsu (in Japanese). No. 309. Enterbrain, Inc. November 11–18, 1994. p. 37.
  24. ^ "ProReview: Sonic & Knuckles". GamePro. No. 64. IDG. November 1994. pp. 72–73.
  25. ^ Goldstein, Hilary (November 3, 2004). "Sonic Mega Collection Plus". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on May 22, 2012. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  26. ^ Goldstein, Hilary (November 15, 2006). "Sega Genesis Collection Review". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on June 9, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  27. ^ Miller, Greg (February 12, 2009). "Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on September 20, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  28. ^ Harris, Craig (March 5, 2010). "Sonic Classic Collection Review". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on June 29, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
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  34. ^ a b "The Ooze". Next Generation. Imagine Media (10): 123, 125. October 1995.
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  38. ^ "In the Studio". Next Generation. No. 23. Future US. November 1996. p. 17.