This is an interview conducted by HXC, with Peter Morawiec. This interview can be found here but unfortunately only half the interview is present and the half dealing with Comix Zone questions is missing from Sonic Cult. HXC provided the rest of the interview.
HXC: Which was your favorite project to work on?
Peter Morawiec: Spinball was my first full project, so it was super exciting, but it was also a title we had to get out in something like 9 months, so it showed. Comix Zone was a game I was extremely passionate about -- definitely my favorite project while at STI.
HXC: What was your usual day like?
Peter Morawiec: Long. I was single and had no kids back then, so I was in no hurry to get home. I loved the job and would stick around doing and learning stuff. The Sonic Team guys were notorious for working ridiculously long hours (some of them slept on the floor in their cubes) and I enjoyed venturing over to their area to see what they had going on – some of those guys were just amazing artists, just drawing these great designs non-stop. As for diversions, a few times a week I’d go play b’ball with Chris Senn and every Friday night a number of us would carpool to North Beach in San Francisco (Little Italy) for food, beers and to hang out; it became part of our routine for solid 2-3 years.
HXC: What are your general recollections of the time at STI? Any interesting events, etc.
Peter Morawiec: I joined in early 1992, when Mark Cerny was in charge. I was very green but I was thrilled to be a part of the industry and working with some of Sega guys from Japan. STI was very experimental back then with many cool and wacky game concepts in the works. This was a time when the Genesis was starting to seriously take off and SEGA was beginning to grow, so there was a lot of excitement around the company – I would always look forward to the SoA employee meetings to see what cool new titles or hardware were in the works. Initially, there was a lot of camaraderie and co-mingling with the Japanese team, but it didn’t last and soon they were moved off to a separate room. By 1995 most of the Sonic Team were back in Japan (working on Nights) and STI became pretty corporate and political. But it was definitely good times!
HXC: Were either of you involved in the canceled Sonic X-treme? It's of big importance to us to find out as much as we can about this, so if you were, would you mind us asking some more questions about it in a further email?
Peter Morawiec: Sonic X-treme was Chris Senn’s and Ofer Alon’s baby, started while Adrian and I were still working on Comix Zone. After that, we struck a deal with Sega to let us set up a satellite office in LA (STI Burbank) to work on next-gen Saturn tech/concepts, but those were unrelated to X-treme.
HXC: Again on X-treme, recently, there was an auction for a demo of the game, what we suspect to be the very last version of the game, after the NiGHTS engine and the fisheye camera, can you shed any light on this? Pictures can be seen here:
Peter Morawiec: Gee, I don’t really recognize these screenshots. Chris Senn is your best bet here. I do remember a very cool level editor Ofer was developing for the game on a Mac, but that’s about it. I do know that there was some serious anxiety about X-treme toward the end and some other programmer within STI hacked together some quick demos to appease the execs; perhaps this is one of those builds?
HXC: Do you have anything left you would be willing to share with us?
Peter Morawiec: I dug up some concept artwork from the Sonic Saturn projects Adrian and I worked on at STI Burbank (see Sonic Saturn).
HXC: What's the deal with the text entries in the April '95 beta ROM header which read "JOE PENCIL IN THE COMIX ZONE" and "JEAN CLAUDE CRAYON DANS LE COMIX ZONE"? Were either of these ever seriously put down as the name for the lead character (Sketch Turn) or just put in as a joke?
Peter Morawiec: The original concept had the main hero as a scrawny artist dude by the name of Joe Pencil, but we ultimately changed him to be a tough Gen-Xer; the marketing people came up with the name Sketch Turner much later in development. So, the first header must be some legacy text. The second string, I think it was Adrian’s own localization, you know, placeholder text. Obviously, he replaced them for the final release.
HXC: Why was the music in the beta logo + title sequences completely changed round in the final?
Peter Morawiec: It must’ve been Howard Drossin (our in-house sound/music composer) swapping in the final theme at the last minute. I recall that we were going for a really grungy sound for the game and it took a good effort on Howard’s part to achieve it on the Genesis sound chip.
HXC: How come the "SLAM!" popup graphic (appears when you knock an enemy back against a wall) and the wall + ceiling-climbing Crawlers never made the final version?
Peter Morawiec: Don’t remember. We probably needed to get some memory back for stability reasons.
HXC: In the last panel of Episode 3, when you fight Mortus, he sounds like a posh upper-class guy with comments like "Tally Ho!", "Queensbury Rules?", "I say, steady on!" etc. - whose idea were they, and how come they got cut?
Peter Morawiec: I bet these were Howard’s placeholder sounds. Adrian and Dean Lester (our producer) are both Brits, and Howard loved poking fun at them, really at everybody. These sounds definitely had nothing to do with the Mortus character.
HXC: Were there ever going to be any other characters helping Sketch out, apart from Alissa? I ask this because in the first episode of the beta, she tells Sketch that "We have been expecting you", implying that she has accomplices.
Peter Morawiec: I think she was speaking on behalf of the ‘empire’ or something like that. She was the only (human) sidekick planned, but of course, Sketch also had his interactive pet rat.
HXC: The final ending sequence, in a way, seems to hint at a sequel (quote: "And they all lived happily together, until...") - was one ever planned?
Peter Morawiec: There were no concrete plans at that time, but we left it open for that possibility. I even made some quick prelim storyboards for how the Comix Zone concept could work in 3D on the Saturn, but ultimately Sega wanted us to work on a Sonic property next.