Dust Hill Zone
From Sonic Retro
Dust Hill Zone is the name of a scrapped level intended to be featured in the Sega Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Development of this stage was handled primarily by Brenda Ross of Sega Technical Institute, and is themed on a desert, similar to those found in Southwest America, complete with cacti and sand.
Dust Hill Zone is infamous among its level contemporaries as unlike many other scrapped stages, it was revealed (albeit in mock-up form) early in Sonic 2's development cycle. Despite this, Dust Hill Zone is not thought to have been implemented to any significant degree in the actual game. It is claimed by Ross that the level's layout was completed before work began on Wood Zone, Ross' second level which was also ultimately scrapped.
Dust Hill was referred to in an early concept sketch as "砂漠 Zone" (Sabaku Zone, literally "Desert Zone"). Brenda Ross claimed in an interview that the level would have above ground and below ground sections.
In the pictures above, the first two use inaccurate colors while the last image is using the correct colors. The second image was printed on the back of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. Magazine from a November/December 1992 issue. None of these pictures were accompanied with a caption mentioning any level name.
Before its level artist Brenda Ross unveiled that this screen was in fact a mockup image for promotional use, this could already be deduced based on three things:
Mystic Cave connection
Many gaming magazines received prototypes of Sonic 2 for review, which used the name Dust Hill Zone when referring to Mystic Cave Zone in the level select screen, thus making them label it as such. These entries in the level select listings are the only references to Dust Hill Zone that can be found in any known version of Sonic 2.
Despite this, Dust Hill was often thought to be the desert level shown in the concept art and mockups. It is possible that the level slot the Zone was meant to be in could have been replaced with Mystic Cave Zone, so picking Dust Hill Zone on level select would lead to Mystic Cave Zone instead. However, the Dust Hill/Mystic Cave association was kept when the level select screen was reworked in the prototypes, so this is purely speculation.
After Brenda Ross' e-mail was found and made public, several internet-goers pelted her with questions about the Dust Hill desert, something that prompted her to choose just one person (nicknamed Deviance) to conduct an interview in behalf of the rest.
Once this interview was made, she could be seen mentioning Dust Hill when asked about the desert level's name. Later, there was also a second interview with her conducted by Wetflame, where she also mentioned that she had always called it the Desert Zone or Desert Level, as a working name.
Dust Hill Zone was finally confirmed to be the Desert Level's name on September 13, 2008 as Tweaker and Sik released conclusive evidence proving so. Through Chris Senn they were able to get into contact with Hirokazu Yasuhara, a staff member that worked on Sonic 2 whom confirmed that the Desert level was Dust Hill Zone:
It was after this information was revealed that any speculation regarding the name Dust Hill was finally put to rest.
Other Zone connections
According to Brenda Ross and Tim Skelly (Art Director), most of the graphic tiles would be reused (with different colors) in a winter level. One of the possibilities was that Dust Hill Zone would change into a snow level half way through, but Tim Skelly explained: "There would have been two separate zones, spaced far enough apart so that the player wouldn't notice the repetition of the art."
As a side note, this level was originally planned as being the "present" time zone of another scrapped level, (Rock Zone), but the idea of time travel was quickly dropped and it's quite possible that it never got to be implemented in the game. Additionally, "砂漠 Zone/Desert Zone" and "Rock zone" are just descriptions, or working names, and not proper names of the zones.
In the Simon Wai prototype, there is an empty level slot that can be accessed by entering the Game Genie code AA7A-AGGY and choosing Green Hill Zone Act 1 in the stage select. Like the Genocide City Zone, Death Egg Zone, and the second Act of Wood Zone, the stage is entirely empty. The default background music in this stage is the same as the Oil Ocean Zone in the final.
These leftovers can also be accessed in the final game by entering the Game Genie Code ACLA-AGD8 (AB6X-AGBR in Knuckles in Sonic 2), and pressing start on "Sound Test" (or in Knuckles in Sonic 2, the Special Stage). This version of the stage is also comparable to the Genocide City Zone, as they both use broken Emerald Hill Zone tiles, have little collision data, and no objects, making the stages impossible to finish by any means.
Level Inclusion in ROM hacks and fan games
Several enthusiasts in the community, such as Esrael with his hack, Sonic 2 Delta, and Sonic Hachelle-Bee, with Sonic 2 Long Version, have used the image of this desert level to create full zones based on the artwork. These levels provide an alternative to perhaps understand how this level would have been had it moved past the concept stage.
In 1999, Jan created a demo fan game called Dust Hill Zone, a representation of Dust Hill Zone based on the very limited information of the time. It was created using The Games Factory, and posted on the Dust Hill Zone page of the Area 51 section of SSRG.
Media which reference Dust Hill