Mike Wallis interview by PACHUKA
From Sonic Retro
PACHUKA: Do you remember who was on your team for that project?
Mike Wallis: Uhm, yeah I think on that one website, uh it had basically everybody who was on the team. So it was a pretty accurate list. You know which one I'm referring to, right?
PACHUKA: Uh, not a clue, actually. (laughs)
Mike Wallis: It was the one... well, I'll have to find you a link and send it to you, because yeah off the top of my head I don't remember everybody who was on the team, but when I looked at that website that talked about Sonic X-treme, it was accurate. Actually, lemme see... I know Chris Senn was the Lead Designer, I was the Producer, Rick Wheeler was the designer, Ofer Alon.. he was the lead programmer, Christina Coffin was a programmer... Jason Kuo was the designer, Fai Chang, the artist... Andrew Probert was an artist.... Howard Drossin was the music guy, and those are the only people I can remember. But yeah, that's probably the core team. There were additional support people as well.
PACHUKA: And this was through STI, correct?
Mike Wallis: Yeah.
PACHUKA: Did you work on any other games at STI?
Mike Wallis: Yeah, I was the Associate Producer on Comix Zone, that was my first game at Sega, and then I was the Producer of The Ooze...
PACHUKA: I remember that one!
Mike Wallis: Yeah, that was a good game. (clears throat) And after that I did.. uh, after that STI was pretty much dissolved... we became Sega of America, when Sega of America became SegaSoft. So, you know a lot of the history behind Sega?
PACHUKA: Quite a bit of it, yeah.
Mike Wallis: Okay, good. So you know what I'm talking about then. So yeah, STI became Sega of America, and when that happened I worked on DecAthlete for the Saturn, NBA Action '98 for Saturn and PC, Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis and Saturn, Sega Rally.. I did about six or eight games for Sega.
PACHUKA: Did you happen to work on Chaotix at all?
Mike Wallis: No, actually, that was done through Sega of America when STI was still there.
PACHUKA: Ah, okay. Let's see here, we've got some questions that random people sent in.. I'm trying to put them in some sort of order.. (Both laugh) So they make sense, otherwise I'm just jumping around... Uhm... ah, here we go. How long was the development cycle of Sonic X-treme from like, the time they brought you onto the project to the time they actually canned it?
Mike Wallis: With Sonic X-treme, it was strange.. because at the time, Sega was looking to do a new system.. so Sonic X-treme actually first started out as a 32X Game. And then, you know when that system came out and sort of tanked they switched it to... there was an intern system before the Saturn, it was Nvidia technology based... now, a lot of people don't know this because it was just on the drawing board. But Sega had a partnership with Nvidia technologies for their very first RIVA, TNT Card.. Sega was going to make a cartridge based machine to compete with the N64 rather than a CD-ROM based machine. So we had some early technology and X-treme basically went on THAT platform, it was going to be a launch title. And then Sega of America said "No, We're going to do a Saturn." Well, actually Sega of Japan came over and said "We're not doing that machine, we're doing the Saturn". It was weird because SOA would do their own thing and SOJ would do their own thing and then eventually SOJ would come in and say "No we're gonna do this" so Sega wasted a lot of money and a lot of resources on hardware development and software development for machines that eventually would never see the light of day.
Mike Wallis: So, I mean, X-treme was going on when I got there in November of '94. Although it wasn't called X-treme at the time, it was just supposed to be "another Sonic game". But you know, it just kept going and going and going and eventually they just finally said, "we're going to do X-treme on the Saturn", or "We're gonna do a Sonic game for the Saturn. We'll call it X-treme" But I guess by the time they canceled it in I guess March-ish of '97 maybe... is that right? .... what do your notes say on when X-treme was canceled? It was probably earlier than that, it was probably October of '96.
PACHUKA: Yeah, there's no real specific date of when it was canned because that's the main reason everybody was curious it was just canned and there's all these rumors...
Mike Wallis: You know, it was sometime in late summer, so I think it was September of '96 when Bernie Stolar had come on to Sega as the CEO around July of '96. He came over from Sony. And he said, "Look you guys. I want you to get a core team together," he told Roger Hector who was at the time the head of STI, and he said "I want you to get a core group together and we're gonna lock them together, away from everybody, and we'll feed them, we'll bring in cotts and mattresses and they can sleep there, and I don't want them to have any outside contact and get them whatever support they'll need. I want just this core team to do Sonic X-treme." 'cause we needed it to be out there in time for Christmas of '96. So we took the core group -- oh, Ross Hariss is another, he was one of the animators... so we took the core group and they basically locked us (chuckles) into the first floor in.. oh God, what was the address? ...of Sega at the time.
PACHUKA: Lemme look it up here... (both laugh) I don't have the specific address, but it was Redwood City, right?
Mike Wallis: Yeah, there were two buildings. One was 255 and one was 275, I think they locked us into the first floor of the 255 building, which was the old STI area and you know, they'd bring in breakfast, lunch and dinner and people would basically work like, 15-16 hour days. And it kind of sucked, because Bernie Stolar made us alot of promises that he couldn't deliver on. He was brand-new and he said, "Look, what do you guys need to do this by Christmas?" and we said "Well, we need the NiGHTS engine, because we can't develop the technology, it would take too long." ... so he said, "Alright! You got it." So, you know, they shipped us a NiGHTS editor, a level-based editor and our designers where familiarizing themselves with that, and after about two-weeks, Yuji Naka who was the designer of NiGHTS, and one of the original SonicTeam, had said "No". There was a big rivalry between SOJ and SOA and Yuji Naka hated SOA..
PACHUKA: Yeah, I had a feeling.
Mike Wallis: So he said he came to Yuri Maguire (sp?) who was the head of Sega, SOJ at the time, and he said "Look. I don't want these guys to have the NiGHTS engine. I do not want them to have the NiGHTS technology. If you give it to them, I quit." and so Yuri Maguire came back to Bernie Stolar and said, "I'm not giving you anything. You're gonna have to do it without it." So.. Bernie had to come to us "Sorry guys, you're gonna have to do it without the NiGHTS Technology." So at the time, Ofer Alon was developing this game; he was developing Xtreme on the PC... with the intent of porting it to the Saturn. He wrote these great development tools and everything, and it looked great on the PC. But the problem was so processor intensive that when it went to the Saturn, it was running at like, 2 frames a second. So independently of that, Christina Coffin, who was the lead programmer for the Boss Levels -- you know, the boss levels were supposed to be like, these Arenas...
PACHUKA: Yeah, I've seen Pictures of them.
Mike Wallis: Yeah. And that was the one we showed at E3 and everything that people could play... so Chris was developing this Technology, and I think Yuri Maguire had come out to Sega at the time, sometime during the summer and he saw both, he saw the one running on the PC and then he saw the boss level one and he said, "Oh I like this one much better." (Christina Coffin's Boss level techology) and he said, "I want you to make the whole game like this, using this techology."
PACHUKA: And that was the fish-eye type camera, right?
Mike Wallis: No, the fisheye camera was the main-game thing, but we still had to implement that. I mean, the idea was to still implement that type of idea in the main game, but just using the boss-level technology. And Chris, he was like at the time 25, he was this hot-shot programmer, great guy.. and he literally moved into Sega. He moved out of his apartment, moved all of his stuff into a storeroom at Sega, and he moved his bed there, and he slept there. And he'd work... he was like a human Dynamo, is what he was. It was basically all hinges on him because Ofer got very pissed off and he said "I'm off the team" because, you know. Yuri Maguire.. Ofer had this huge ego as well and Yuri Maguire said "I don't like this, I want you to use the boss level technology" and Ofer got really pissed off and he quit Sega and he left. So it was all basically hinging on Chris. Chris, for about 7 or 8 weeks worked about.. I'd say, 20 hours a day. And there was a shower there and everything... the guy was insane. And he basically worked himself into the ground.. and then he caught walking pneumonia sometime in late August, and he basically came to me and said "Mike, I can't do this anymore.", he was so sick and he really was. I mean, the guy looked like a Ghost. So I said, "Alright. That's it. We're not gonna do it. We're not gonna get it done, the project's over." and I went to Bernie Stolar and I said, "We can't do it. You know it was all hinging on Chris? And the guy has basically worked himself into the ground. He can't do it, it's over. We're not gonna make Christmas." and Bernie said, "Well, you know, we've been working on these backup plans." Which turned out to actually be Sonic 3D Blast. So he said "I want you to be the producer of 3D Blast, and we'll go ahead and scrap X-treme." So that was basically the long and short of the whole thing.
PACHUKA: Ah, so you where the one who finally pulled the plug on the whole thing?
Mike Wallis: Yeah, you know. I had to. I had no engineers to do it and I couldn't get ... SOJ was not being cooperative, and I had a great relationship with SOJ. But you know, there were just so many internal political workings going on between the two companies... I really should right a book on it (chuckles) .. because it'd be quite an amazing read.
PACHUKA: Yeah, I'm not if the other gentlemen told you but I currently work for Sega, that's partially why I understand this alot more.
Mike Wallis: So what do you do for Sega?
PACHUKA: I'm a Q&A Jocky, I basically test games.
Mike Wallis: Okay, cool.
PACHUKA: There's a gentleman there his name is (deleted), he runs the equipment lab, I forget what his name is, but apparently he and another gentleman still have a copy of the game floatin' around.
Mike Wallis: There are some, yeah, I think that I actually have a copy.. I know Christina Coffin has some, you know, before she left.. she made dupes of her build, and stuff. So there are some copies floating out there.
PACHUKA: How many builds where there before the project was canceled?
Mike Wallis: Well, we did like, weekly builds.. so there were probably quite a few. But uhm, most of them were destroyed. We didn't keep a lot of them.
PACHUKA: Yeah, I had a feeling. I had heard that the most the project had gotten to in a playable Saturn format was about one level.
Mike Wallis: Yeah, we had one playable level, the Green Valley.. I don't know, I can't remember the name, but it was you know, green fields where Sonic runs over hills, picks up Rings, there were actually some enemies.. there wasn't alot of animated flora and fauna, but there was some. But there wasn't a whole lot of gameplay in there. The boss levels were much farther along, because that was the technology that Chris had built first, and I think we had a Metal Sonic level in there... a Fang the Weasel level in there, I think we had two bosses in there working, they had AI and everything.
PACHUKA: Cool. There have been other sources that have just like, dropped little hints and such, somebody came along and they dumped all the sprites from the game and we have sprites from it. It looks like the game itself, like the levels were all 3D based but the actual characters were sprites.
Mike Wallis: That's correct. Except for the boss levels. The bosses were all 3D. But all the characters in the game were Sprites. Sonic was a sprite, and all the objects and everything were sprites.
PACHUKA: I finally found the rest of my notes here, uhm.. let's see...
Mike Wallis: Uh yeah. I saw Jason Kuo at E3, and he still works at Sega...
PACHUKA: Who was that?
Mike Wallis: Jason Kuo. He was the designer for the boss-levels. And I think he's a localization producer right now, he works with Keith Palmer. He's been at Sega quite awhile. I think that he's the only one left from that original group, because everybody else is pretty much gone.
PACHUKA: Yeah, let's see. I've got a listing of different names here, this article here.. this comes from different articles that I've clipped out of different magazines... the four known zones are "Jade Gully", "Crystal Frost" "Red Sands" and "Galaxy Fortress"... and those are all...
Mike Wallis: Hard for me to remember, I actually have most of my notes and design docs actually boxed up somewhere, but that sounds right.
PACHUKA: And let's see... could you also explain a little bit about this character I came across, her name is Tiara, I believe?
Mike Wallis: They, like, Chris Senn wanted to give Sonic this love interest, or a means to.. I guess.. she sort of would have fit in, like, maybe Robotnik would have captured her and then you know, Sonic would rescue her and you know, she's this good lookin' character, and you know there'd be this sort of... love tension possibility between the two of them, so that was one of the new characters that Chris had designed.
PACHUKA: Also this article here, which while talking to you I realize is completely incorrect, this one claims that a month before the game's release, Sega of Japan pulled the plug on it.
Mike Wallis: No, no... not at all.
PACHUKA: I'll have to send them an email and correct them.
Mike Wallis: Yeah, Sega of Japan was actually not involved with X-treme at all, other than saying that they would initially provide the NiGHTS engine, and then pulling it from us. Other than that, they were not really involved, because I think they were part of the backup plan with Sonic 3D Blast, and Travellers Tales did the game and SOJ did the Bonus Levels.
PACHUKA: Here's the most-asked question... do you have a copy of it?
Mike Wallis: Yeah, I do somewhere. Yeah. Somewhere in my "Sega Archives"
PACHUKA: And then there's the secondary question, which you probably can guess... it's "Are you willing to donate it"?
Mike Wallis: Uhm... you know, I've... I probably wouldn't. Because of Sentimental reasons. Not for anything else. But uh... I would have to find it first. (Both laugh) That would be the hard thing.
PACHUKA: Yeah, I figured. This is insane at Sega right now... it's like...
Mike Wallis: Actually, Chris Senn, after the X-treme project stopped... Chris Senn and Ofer Alon actually worked on the PC Version, between the two of them. Because Chris was an Artist, and also an Audio Guy and a designer, so he's a pretty talented guy so basically it was a two-man team they did something like three or four different levels with enemies and stuff still using the fisheye view, running it on the PC and they tried to pitch it to Sega Entertainment, which is the PC group.. and they tried to get the PC group to pick it up. But at the time, Greg Swoarez (sp?) he was running the PC group at the time and was "Nonono, I'm not gonna spend money on this" .. all they basically were content with doing was ports. So he was like, "I don't wanna... I can't fund this at all." But yeah, the PC game was actually pretty far along ... and I unfortunately don't have a copy of that, but it was pretty far along. They had several different levels playable.
PACHUKA: I'll have to contact him next.
Mike Wallis: Yeah, Chris Senn might actually be able to give you a much better idea of the idea of the progress of the PC game. You know, I might actually have his card here.... ..... ....Why don't you go ahead and ask the next question and I'll -- oh! Here it is.
PACHUKA: What's his name again?
Mike Wallis: It's Chris Senn, and his email is... (deleted) so he could probably fill you in a lot more on the progress of the PC side.
PACHUKA: And another question someone asked, which you probably answered was what were the problems between SOA and SOJ, So I don't think I need to go through that... oh! The moves. The moves in the game. I have a listing here of the moves, see if you can remember them and what they did... the "SpinBash" a quick forward attack, modified from the Spin Dash.
Mike Wallis: Ah, I dunno. Because we never actually got far enough along to do any sort of tuning on the moves other than just graphical.
PACHUKA: So there wasn't any collision or anything on them?
Mike Wallis: No, no. There might have been some basic collision, but you know, there really was no differentiation at the time between that and the Spin Dash. So yeah, I don't really remember much about the moves, although the moves that were listed on the website were correct. Those were the moves we were planning to put in.
PACHUKA: Oh! It's not my website, it's actually the other guy's.
Mike Wallis: Blaze.. Hedgehog.
PACHUKA: Uh, do you know (deleted) .. he was working Q&A at the time?
Mike Wallis: The name is vaguely familiar, yeah.
PACHUKA: Yeah, he took over the department now. I was talking with him and he said he had seen it before it got unplugged and I'm not exactly sure about his answer on this, but he said it was eventually turned into Sonic X-treme, which I highly doubted...
Mike Wallis: Uh, which one?
PACHUKA: He said, oh! I'm sorry. Sonic Adventure.
Mike Wallis: Oh. Well, you know I don't know about that. Because Sonic Adventure was as far as I know.. a fully... that's for Dreamcast, right? I think Sonic Adventure was a fully SOJ development. So I don't believe they'd have utilized any sort of technology from X-treme.
PACHUKA: Yeah. It's kind of hard with these questions because a lot of people don't know the difference between STI and Sonic Team.
Mike Wallis: Right. I don't think they would have wanted to use anything from SOA.
PACHUKA: Alrighty... and I guess that's all the questions we've got right now. One last quick question, I dunno if you'd know or not, but did you ever hear of a project called "Sonic Crackers" while you where working there, that was turned into Chaotix?
Mike Wallis: Uhm.. I did not, no. That doesn't ring a bell.
PACHUKA: Alrighty. And that would be it.
Mike Wallis: Okay, cool. If there's anything else you think of later, feel free to ask me. The reason I wanted to do it over the phone is because the questions Blaze originally asked me I would have to ask follow up questions to, so it was just better doing it over the phone.
PACHUKA: Yeah, I'm much more experienced with like, journalism type stuff, so I think that's one of the reasons he picked me. Alright! Thank you very much Mr. Wallis!
Mike Wallis: Take it easy.
- Original interview at Sonic Cult