The following is a FAQ written by and maintained on Chris Senn's Sonic Xtreme Compendium website. It concerns the development of the cancelled game Sonic Xtreme. At the time this was archived the FAQ was last updated December 23 of 2008.
Q: Where can I find LOTS of materials related to Sonic Xtreme?
A: Visit the Sonic Xtreme Compendium (SXC).
Q: What is the "SXC"?
A: The "SXC" stands for Sonic Xtreme Compendium which is a compilation of materials from the development of the game. Images, animations, storylines, music, sketches, and notes are some of what are shared.
Q: Why was the game cancelled?
A: Sonic Xtreme underwent many changes and difficulties that would have tested even the most seasoned game industry veterans. Lack of experience, poor business decisions, ego, politics, over-ambition, bad timing, poor communication... these were some of the ingredients that ultimately spelled disaster for the game. Bringing Sonic into 3D for the first time was a huge challenge - not only for gameplay, but from a technology standpoint as well. This made the job of defining what the game should be more difficult, but doubly so as the technology and platforms changed. In the first year and a half the team went through three programmers, causing the game’s technology to basically restart each time. Problems like this took a toll on the budget and created more pressure for the entire team down the line. Ironically, it was only near the end that Ofer Alon’s engine was ready for full production when Sega had to stop funding and cancel the project.
Q: What characters were planned?
A: Various characters were considered or planned at different points in development. These included Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik/Eggman, Tiara, Professor Gazeebo Boobowski, Nack/Fang, Chaos Elementals, Mips and an assortment of Archie Comic characters (Sally Acorn, etc.).
Q: Were there any models or sprites of Dr. Robotnik created for 'Xtreme'?
A: Senn wrote, "None that I know of. He would have represented the 'Boss' portion of the game, more than anything. Ofer and I focused on the main game, while Chris Coffin and Jason Kuo worked on the Boss stuff later on in the project."
Q: Did sprites exist for any other playable characters besides Sonic for the Mars?
A: Senn wrote, "Knuckles for sure, Tails and Tiara were a maybe (can't remember and don't have them to remind myself =P)"
Q: Was the character Tiara B. intended for use in other games besides Xtreme?
A: Senn wrote, "Tiara Boobowski (or Tiara B. as she likes to be called, or so I'm told :P) was created for use in the videogame that would later become officially known as Sonic Xtreme. She was originally developed for Michael Kosaka's "Sonic MARS" design (for the 32X)."
Q: Was Tiara inspired by Princess Sally of the Archie Comics fame?
Q: Was Nack the Weasel (Fang the Sniper) ever planned?
A: A preliminary 3D model of Nack/Fang was created for "Project Condor", using its "Boss" engine technology (rather than the PC "Fisheye" engine).
Q: What were the "Mips", and what did they do?
A: Mips were the replacement for Flickies. Each zone had a unique design of Mip, with it’s own color and movement. The name "Mip" was dubbed by Michael Kosaka and is an abbreviation for a computer term "Million Instructions Per Second".
Q: Was an Archie Comics tie-in ever considered?
A: Yes, but only for a brief period near the beginning of development.
Q: Was Sonic going to be a 3D character or a 2D sprite?
A: The idea of rendering a 3D model in real-time was scrapped in favor of a pre-rendered 2D sprite. Sonic existed in 3D, along with his animations, but was rendered to create the 2D sprites created by Ross Harris.
Q: Was Super Sonic going to be in the game?
A: We did consider having Super Sonic (not Hyper Sonic) in Xtreme very briefly but concluded that since we were the first to journey into 3D, we needed to simplify wherever we could until we could prove that basic 3D gameplay was fun. By the time the project was canceled, we could easily have incorporated this gameplay feature throughout the game, along with quite a few other simple additions, had we had more time and the support to do it.
Q: Did you (Senn) ever consider different gameplay modes and characters for Xtreme?
A: Senn wrote, "We explored many ideas throughout the course of development on Xtreme. At one point, I thought it would be interesting to provide different gameplay for multiple characters by changing the view each played the game in - Sonic from 3/4 view, Tails from "tail cam" (behind him), Knuckles from top-down, and Tiara from side view... I created some demo animations to show these ideas, but they never went anywhere. Ofer was convinced we should keep things as simple as possible - namely having just one playable character that worked well first (then adding others if one worked well). I agreed, despite being excited about "more" characters."
Q: Was the game going to have big or small bosses?
A: The bosses were going to be big. The reason for this was, it seemed cool, but more importantly, since moving in 3D for the first time for Sonic would be new for players, we wanted to make it easier for them to hit something.
Q: Did the enemy’s color schemes have an effect on gameplay?
A: Yes. Example: Blue was a ‘weak’ enemy, Red was a ‘strong’ enemy.
Q: Was a demo version of Sonic Xtreme ever released?
A: No, there weren't any demo versions for this console game. Coffin's boss engine may have been playable at E3, though.
Q: What different names existed for the game?
A: The project went through many name changes and considered others, usually corresponding to platform changes mandated from management or the introduction of drastically new technology. The names that were considered or actually given to the project included:
Q: How were the acts/zones structured?
A: There were different configurations throughout the project, but the main formula included two acts and a boss act per zone.
Q: What was the story of the game?
A: There were many storylines that were created to fit with the changes the project went through (target platform change provided advanced possibilities, new game features opened up new story possibilities, etc.). There was never "one" story for the game, really, for as the game developed, new iterations of the story were made. Browse through the Storylines section of the SXC to read the different storylines.
Q: How were the cut scenes to be used?
A: As an end or beginning of a level. The focus was on gameplay.
Q: What Powerups were planned?
A: Powerups planned, included the following:
The powerups were to be contained in a rotating sphere, with Sonic having to spindash or land on one to get the power up.
Shields were based around a concept called "Elements". Elements represented the six powers that Sonic could unlock. There was a hierarchy of power whereby each Element was stronger than the next with the last Element being stronger than the first, thus making a Circle of Power. Every other Element could be combined together to make one of two special "PowerShields".
Elemental Circle of Power:
Q: What are the Rings of Order, and what did they do?
A: The "Rings of Order" was part of a simple story generated for a news article in a magazine at a point when the real game story was in progress. The magazine needed something to print and the team wasn’t ready with a final story. The idea behind it leveraged the concept that there were magical rings, special rings, that coincided with the Chaos Emeralds that provided order to the Universe when kept together. Using this as a setup, any number of things could happen - not the least of which was Robotnik stealing them and Sonic trying to "restore order" by replacing them.
Q: How did the "World Rotation" concept work?
A: This was another concept created by Ofer Alon that opened up gameplay potential significantly. Sonic would hit certain ‘hotspots’, causing the world to rotate, shifting gravity for Sonic, allowing him to run on walls and ceilings. This gave him access to powerups/paths that were previously out of reach. To simpify world construction, 90-degree rotations were used.
Q: Do any maps of the levels exist?
A: Yes. Paper maps exist (some of which are shared in the SXC), but due to Ofer’s wishes, actual in-game maps based on his engine cannot be shared.
Q: What was the reason for the ‘Fisheye Lens’?
A: Christian Senn and Ofer Alon had struggled to come up with an answer to the problem that plagued all side-scrolling games - how do you provide the player with enough space to react when moving quickly to the left or to the right? Ofer created the Fisheye effect which, when applied after rendering, warped the display of the 3D world to appear spherical via a complicated algorithm. Although it might take a player some getting used to, it yielded a sweeping view around Sonic providing the player with extra screens of view above and to the sides of Sonic and supplied more reaction time for the player.
Q: Were Yasuhara Hirokazu's paper designs for Xtreme intended as 2D or 3D gameplay?
A: Senn wrote, "Yasuhara-san's level designs for Xtreme were for 3D gameplay. The idea was to free Sonic into full 3D. I'm not sure how the designs would have worked using Ofer's fixed camera (that translated but never rotated about the vertical axis) - as his camera allowed for faster calculation. If a different camera were used (say one that could rotate around corners), the gameplay probably would have been quite different."
Q: Was music ever created?
A: Yes. Chris Senn created a number of conceptual pieces of music, and Howard Drossin created some production music. Although only a small percentage of the music sounded "Sonic-like" in its traditional sense, they did evoke visuals and emotions in the minds of the composers.
Q: Where can I listen to the conceptual music for Sonic Xtreme?
A: Howard Drossin created a few pieces of music for Xtreme late in development. Early on and throughout development, Senn created about 55 pieces of conceptual music he used to inspire his game design, enemy designs, etc. These pieces, along with new ones he created in 2006 (in the 2K6 folder) can be accessed here:
Q: Was the conceptual music for Sonic Xtreme going to be "official" music for the game?
A: Senn wrote, "No. My music was all conceptual - meaning they were tunes that inspired me and some other team members to create the game content (like world ideas, situations, boss encounters, etc.). Howard Drossin would have created the official soundtrack had we finished the game."
Q: Was the Xtreme concept music created during or after development of the actual game?
A: Christian Senn created the conceptual music prior to and all the way through development of the game. This music served to inspire creative discussions, to dream up levels and gameplay, enemies and bosses, and was intended to serve as a brainstorm starting block for Howard Drossin. The idea was to enlist Howard's sound and music expertise once the game was developed enough, play any relevant conceptual music, and then let him create whatever music or style he thought would be appropriate for the game.
Q: Were sound effects ever created for Xtreme?
A: We did not yet get to the process of adding sound effects by the time the game was canceled. Though important, this step would have been an easy one to add with Ofer's editor - all we would have needed were the source sounds, and Howard Drossin could easily have provided them. Too bad the game ended before that though.
Q: What equipment was used to create the conceptual music for Xtreme?
A: In terms of a process, I just enjoyed being imaginative and creating the tunes. Sometimes I had an idea for what I wanted the music to be, but usually it developed as it was created. Most of the time, it was afterwards that I (and Richard Wheeler) envisioned actual characters, situations and gameplay supported by the concept music.
In terms of equipment, to make the original (1994-1996) Xtreme music, I used:
To make the 2K6 Xtreme music, I used:
Q: How many platform changes did the game go through?
A: The game changed target platforms five times, including the Genesis, 32X, nVidia, Saturn, and PC.
Q: What was the difference between the different platform versions of Sonic Xtreme?
A: Over its 3-year production cycle, Xtreme evolved significantly and split at one point into multiple versions developed within the same company. No versions were ever finished, so it's difficult to refer to any version as "official". The 32X version was so transitional due to the change in technology and platforms, so the most significant source of what would have defined this version would be Michael Kosaka's 32X design document. The Saturn had three versions along the way: One led by Ofer Alon and Christian Senn (see complete list of contributors), another led by Robert Morgan using POV, and the last led by Christina Coffin (Project Condor). To my knowledge, no playable versions exist of any of these versions. After their Saturn version, Ofer Alon and Christian Senn continued development for the PC version. All versions ended up being cancelled.
Q: Could Sonic Xtreme have saved the 32X?
A: Senn wrote, "It's true that nobody can truly predict the impact one game, such as Sonic Xtreme, could have on a console (look at what Sonic did for the Genesis...)... but I don't think the quality level the system offered could have allowed a 3D Sonic game to simply look good enough. Even with killer gameplay, it would need to look great to really be a classic. I don't think a fairly simplistic-looking Sonic game (without the visual polish and sophistication the 2D Sonic games had before it) would have "saved" the system."
Q: What was the The NV08 and the nVidia?
A: Don Goddard wrote, "I overheard a conversation... about some new platform and Saturn killer they were working on. ...The new platform was nVidia's NV1. The NV1 was frickin' brilliant but only a third as powerful as the 3DFX card. At the time, we saw these 3D cards like you see Renderware and Gamebryo or Unreal Editor today...unproven middleware only for hardware. The NV1 could do what I call URBS with is the same thing as NURBS except they have to be uniformally distributed points along the polygon and they are 9 point polygons. The NV1 could do tri's, quad's and 9 point polys that were very clever and drawing near perfect curves. You could do a sphere in 6 polys!!! Take a box and pull the middles out of each of the sides and you'd have a sphere, though they would cusp at the edges so you really needed 32, but with 32 polys you could do ANY size sphere and it looked perfect. It could also do amazing color lighting--another thing the Saturn couldn't. The Saturn couldn't light for shit and most games have no light in them. You could like the 8 ouside points of the 9point poly and light the inside a diff color and get a perfect circle of light, no banding whatsoever."
Q: Why didn't the NV1 get used?
A: Don Goddard wrote, "Here's the story of why nVidia never made it though. We were attempting Sonic very briefly on this NV1 (Ofer was) and I was doing some experimental game prototypes on it. This thing was a BITCH to hookup the graphics pipeline. It was like someone cutting a cable line with thousands of wires and trying to figure out which wire goes with which other one. It was supposed to be flexible but was truly baffling...much like programming the Saturn, haha. Well, over the next few months (Sonic went back to the Saturn after a month or so) nVidia was trying to sew up all of these loose ends and make this beast do things that are only NOW this YEAR getting in to games. They are four months behind schedule.
Sega says, 'Look, you have to take your design and put this on a chip to see if it will work if we are going to have a new machine. We need to know it will work now so we can have it for Christmas.' Well, 3DFX bragged about ONE thing that stunned us when we toured their location. They said they paid a million dollars for 'chip verification software' that would nearly guarantee their chip design would work in hardware exactly as it was simulated in software. nVidia, to my knowledge, did not do this!
nVidia rushed and rushed, then finally printed a chip (and this, by the way, was directly told to me from a huge nVidia employee, Michael Hara, who I believe is still there in a very high position today!)
They turned on the chip.
Just Black. Tapped it, checked controls, flipped switches... Nope... just a black screen. Sega dropped them on the spot and the whole nVidia platform."
Q: Could Sonic Xtreme have saved the Saturn?
A: It's hard to say whether Xtreme could have "saved" the Saturn. If Xtreme turned out to be a finished game that blew the socks off of people? It might have at least prolonged the life of the Saturn... Sega of Japan was the headquarters for all of Sega - so Sega of America ultimately had to follow SOJ's orders or decisions. SOJ wanted SOA to deliver American titles and to market their Japanese titles - which made lots of sense. Unfortunately the communication between the two wasn't as good as it could have been (which is a common problem even within companies everywhere - let alone between two once-giants like SOA and SOJ).
Q: Why did the game plan change when the target shifted from the 32X to the Saturn?
A: Senn wrote, "Michael Kosaka created the MARS design. When he left, I took that opportunity to try and go in a direction that excited me more. His design was solid and more traditional, but I wanted to explore new ways of approaching the design, story, etc. Another major reason for changes along the way had to do with the technology and tools changing. As Ofer developed his editor, I had to rethink my design plan for the game... and it got to the point where I was playing "catch up" to figure out how to use the tool most effectively, and to try and build a vision around that (normally you develop something the other way around - think of what you want, then figure out how to get there)."
Q: Why was the PC version created?
A: The PC version of Xtreme was created somewhere between 1994 and 1995 once Ofer Alon ported his Macintosh code over to the PC to continue development. The intention was to port this code to the Saturn, which never ended up taking place. So even after the team divided, POV got involved, and Ofer continued development of his engine and editor, it was still being developed on the PC. Ofer and Christian Senn, near the end of the project approached the PC division at Sega to pitch Xtreme for the PC. They declined, and thus marked the end of Ofer and Christian's Xtreme.
Q: Why didn't the PC version of Xtreme get published?
A: Senn wrote, "When Nakayama-san from SOJ visited and saw the POV presentation, he did not like what he saw. He said firmly, "make the game like [Chris Coffin's boss engine level]". Due to the importance of Nakayama-san, being at the top chain of command, nobody could go against his decree. This meant that the POV version of the game, which was a very rudimentary version (and based on an old version of Ofer's editor), would not continue. This also, unfortunately, meant that the version Ofer and I were working on (which was LIGHTYEARS ahead of anything anybody had seen) could not officially continue under the Saturn banner as well. If Ofer and I could have shown Nakayama-san our version, I am quite sure he would have liked it enough to let us continue. Unfortunately, the attitude from SOJ was: Anything remotely looking like Ofer's old version should not continue. I think this was a political reason why the PC group at SOA decided to pass on our PC version. Also, I think the PC group didn't have the money or the confidence in Ofer and I to finish a PC version in a timely manner. If this was true, it would have been really unfortunate - because the advanced version of Ofer's editor that the PC group DID see was on the PC!"
Q: Was the PC version a "finished product"?
A: Yes and No. Ofer’s engine was ready for game production, but with only four worlds created by Christian Senn that were 60% done at best, it would most-likely have taken the two of them another 6 months to complete a "finished" PC product.
Q: What happened when the PC version was shown to Nakayama-san?
A: Nakayama-san never saw Ofer and Chris’ PC version of the game. What he did see was an old, outdated version of Ofer’s engine ported through POV that outraged Nakayama-san. He couldn't believe how games were made at the company; how anyone got anything done. He did, however, respond favorably to Christina Coffin's boss engine demonstration and told management to "make the rest of the game like that". This paved the way for Project Condor, most-certainly terminated POV's involvement, and most-likely ruined the chances of the PC version from ever getting accepted.
Q: Why did SOA’s PC division turn down Xtreme?
A: The official reasons are not known, but some possibilities may have included a lack of budget for such a title for the PC (i.e. no money allocated for a project like it), or total expenses for the project might have been required to be absorbed into the PC group's budget (which they could definitely not afford). Another possibility may have simply been that by Nakayama-san rejecting POV's technology (which ported only a small portion of Ofer's technology), he was effectively rejecting everything related to it - including the much more sophisticated PC version Ofer was coding. Politically-speaking, it may have been impossible for the PC group to accept the project (when a head of Sega says "this SUCKS" it’s tough to go against this "decision").
Q: Why didn't Sega want to use Ofer's code to create other games?
A: Senn wrote, "I think due to the politics, and secretive nature of STI, nobody new of the tool, nor its capabilities. Someone here's the word "cool tool" and they think a freeware audio convertor... not a dynamic, real-time, level-building tool you can play while you edit in an unending number of ways.."
Q: Did you (Senn) have any input with the Sonic Xtreme editor's design?
A: Senn wrote, "I helped by sharing what I wanted the engine to be able to do, which in a large part was inspired by new discoveries Ofer would make while programming and designing the editor. He and I spoke on average 3 hours a day in which we would discuss options as to what the editor could do. It was a long and involved process to simply discuss and decide what the editor and game could do. What you see in the PC Demo videos show only a fraction of the power of the editor."
Q: If Ofer made such an amazing editor, why didn't the game get done quicker?
A: Ofer's engine took a year to create. That may seem like a long time, but if you look at what it could do, the functionality was amazing, as was its power. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the tools, partially because they were constantly evolving and changing - but also because my imagination didn't fit into the tool's capabilities for some time. I really respected his mind and ability, so if we were at odds in opinion about game direction, many times I would defer to his choice... which made it hard for me to generate a vision for the game (to be creative you either have no rules or you have certain restrictions... and I didn't know what the restrictions were because I relied on him to develop them with th engine). Was my imagination free to think of whatever I thought was the coolest? No. Was my imagination ready to do this by the time the game was canceled? Yes. By that time, I knew the engine and editor Ofer had developed, and was able to be creative comfortably and execute ideas quickly. Too bad it was too late!
Q: Why didn't more people learn Ofer's editor?
A: By the end of the project, many had learned the fundamentals of the editors most basic functions. But, while the editor was being developed, only Richard Wheeler and myself really learned the editor backwards and forwards (myself moreso since I worked so closely with Ofer). The editor was changing all the time, with new features and functionality, new ways of doing things, etc. so it was difficult to teach it for awhile. Right about the time when POV got involved was when a great many more people got involved to use it. This was also the time when Ofer and I worked privately to continue development on our own, and his old editor was used by the POV group (which included most of the art staff at STI). The newer editor introduced dynamically animating paths (you only see a tiny bit of this in the PC videos), and POV could not replicate the fish-eye lens of the older version. Ofer and I worked with his new editor until we got a final rejection for our efforts when the PC division didn't choose to fund our game (Nakayama-san killed any chance of that with his comments about how poor the game was - when the poor game he saw was not Ofer's new, much more advanced and polished engine). At that point, there was no point for anyone to learn it... and Project Condor worked away to cancellation as well.
Q: What languages were used to code the game?
A: In C, C++, and Assembly
Q: What equipment was used to make the game?
A: PC, Macintosh, Amiga and SGI’s were the systems used to take advantage of various software, including: 2D programs like Deluxepaint Animator and Photoshop, 3D programs like Imagine, Studio MAX, Alias/Wavefront and possibly Strata3D.
Q: What did the game builds look like early on in Sonic Xtreme?
A: The builds for Xtreme were not as distinctive as you might expect. They were partial bits of new elements, but never a "complete" presentation, with the exception of the original Sonic Demos, Coffin's Boss Engine Demo, and numerous builds by Ofer featuring World Display, Sonic Interaction, World Construction, World Rotation, Fish-Eye Lens, Dynamic Spline Paths, and more. Don Goddard created a demo early on in the 32X days, but this demonstrated the display of a large number of animating sprites on-screen at once with basic movement.
If we were to do this project again we would definitely want to approach things in a much more careful, step-by-step approach. Unfortunately back then, there were so many factors contributing to the stormy process and ultimate cancellation we experienced.
Q: What is a game "build"?
A: A game build is presentation of code that is usually playable. Many game builds are created throughout the course of a game. There are different types of builds, too, such as playable builds (to demonstrate playability), viewable builds (to demonstrate visuals), technology builds (to showcase specific technology), and so on. Builds typically are part of milestone deliverables to show progress to development executives or game publisher executives. This way, the team that is working can get paid for their work, and the executives have a chance to provide feedback, request changes, etc.
Q: Was the NiGHTS engine used?
A: No. This was discussed at one point, but never became a reality. The Boss engine Christina Coffin created provided a similar look, albeit simpified, to the NiGHTS engine, but the actual engine was never shared or used.
Q: Do you (kurisu) have any playable versions of Sonic Xtreme?
Q: Why hasn’t a playable version of the PC game been shared?
A: Although Sega owns the rights and materials for everything related to the game, Ofer Alon was responsible for coding the real-time engine and editor for Sonic Xtreme. When asked if he was willing to share it, he made it clear he believed it would have been unethical to share code that Sega owned. Out of respect for him and for Sega, the PC version has never been shared.
Q: Who worked on the game?
A: Many people contributed to development over the course of its 3-year cycle. The following internal development people contributed at one time or another to Sonic Xtreme (in alphabetical order):
CHRONOLOGICAL INVOLVEMENT: I've tried to group people in alphabetical, ordered sets as I remember them being involved in development. Spaces within a group indicate time passing. (NOTE: Keep in mind this list is to the best of my recollection):
SONIC16 (GENESIS) PITCH
SONIC MARS (32X) PITCH
SONIC SATURN (PROJECT CONDOR)
Q: What was "Project Condor"?
A: By the end of the project there were two teams working on two versions of the game, one comprising Ofer Alon and Christian Senn (Saturn/PC) with the other led by Christina Coffin (Saturn), dubbed "Project Condor". (see above for its members).
Q: Why were there so many different groups of people making one game?
A: There were a lot of people who contributed to the game. However, many factors were responsible for a large amount of change to the project throughout its development. Technology changes, target platform changes, lead programmer changes, and our team leader leaving combined with mounting pressure and attention from Sega (both in the US and in Japan) caused quite a bit of shuffle and change amongst the structure of the team and its members.
Prior to POV involvement, there was (more or less) a single team with sub-teams working on different parts of the game (i.e. main game team, boss team, glue-screen team, etc.). However, once POV got involved and Ofer Alon was ousted as Lead Programmer, Ofer and Senn continued development for the Saturn on their own and POV continued development using most of STI's personnel. Eventually, Alon and Senn dedicated themselves to the PC version while Project Condor was formed to create a Saturn version.
Q: Did you (Senn) and Ofer work closely throughout Xtreme?
A: Senn wrote, "I was undying in my loyalty to Ofer. Why? Because I respected his brilliance and saw the value in what he had to offer - and was offering. He was building a tool to allow me and others to deliver fun, innovative products to gamers. Not just Xtreme, but others as well... because his engine and tool was built with so much thought put into it, that it could be used for many games. This fact was something that escaped many, while others just wanted to see a finished game and didn't care what was there. He and I stuck together very closely for a large portion of the development. His work was very personal to him, and mine was close to me... so that created a bond of mutual respect that allowed us to work hard in the face of adversity and have each other's backs."
Q: Do ex-members of STI still keep in contact?
A: Some do. Christian Senn keeps in touch with Yasuhara Hirokazu and Richard Wheeler, occasionally with Michael Kosaka, Ofer Alon, Aoki Kunitake and Mike Wallis, has worked again with Peter Morawiec and Adrian Stephens, and bumped into Roger Hector once. It’s likely that other team members have kept in touch with each other, too. It’s a small industry, and people usually run into each other again.
Q: Did Christian Senn and Chris Coffin nearly die while working on Xtreme?
A: Yes. Both people contracted separate sicknesses that nearly killed them while working on the game.
Q: Was a group of designers locked up at the old STI location?
A: Yes, in fact it was a small team of people collectively known as "Project Condor". Provided with meals and cots, they were expected to finish the game by Christmas ’96!
Q: Why haven't more Sonic Xtreme team members been interviewed?
A: Senn wrote, "I have wished that others would get more involved in contributing to the fans' understanding of the game and its production. I think most people moved on from it and didn't look back. Remember, although quite a few were passionate and put their all into the project, a great many did not enjoy themselves due to all of the issues. So it's understandable that not many would like to remember what happened, let alone be interested in the material anymore."
Q: Why have so few people come forward to share their experiences about Sonic Xtreme?
A: Sonic Xtreme proved to be a painful, long-drawn out experience for most of the people who worked on it. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, the project failed, never to see the light of day. It is likely most people chose to put their unpleasant memories behind them and move on. To some who worked on the game, this project was their life; to others, just another game. It is thus understandable that most people would lack interest in sharing their experiences. It's important to note that what has been shared in regards to Xtreme constitutes opinions mixed with facts and samples, but in no way represents the "whole story" of Xtreme. It shall forever remain somewhat of a mystery, but perhaps we can all learn something from it.
Q: Did people at STI have an unfavorable opinion of Ofer?
A: Senn wrote, "I don't believe STI as a whole had anything against Ofer. However, due to the state of the project (which was a result of many things), management might have put undue blame on Ofer. Ofer chose to work at home for much of the time in order to avoid distractions and allow him to focus on his coding and design work. Unfortunately, the brilliant work he did, and the INSANE and consistent number of hours he diligently maintained (we're talking 16 hours a day, 7 days a week!) was NOT understood or appreciated by management. They didn't see the brilliance in his code, what it had to offer the team - they saw that it was not on Saturn. They likely viewed his absence from the office as him vacationing. In the end, these misconceptions hurt his reputation. There were some, like me, who defended him, his hard work, and immense value he brought to the project... but it can often be the case that once people make up their mind, no amount of talking will change it... Unfortunately. =(
Now I've just defended Ofer and I think it's important to temper that with an understanding from management's perspective. I believe they did what they felt was best (with a few exceptions) for the company and the project. You'll find that there are ALWAYS two (or more) sides to any story, so looking at this project and trying to place 'blame' is almost impossible... because there was nobody who wanted it to fail - and nobody tried to make it fail. Keeping that in mind, we all shared in the reasons for its failure, as did SEGA of America - even Japan."
Q: Was Ofer replaced?
A: Senn wrote, "The meeting in which management informed Ofer and I that Robert Morgan was going to be taking over as programming lead to work with an outside company (POV) had the security guard outside - but this was not kicking Ofer off the team. It was putting someone else above him. Understandably, after working so hard, then seeing what POV had created without his knowledge, combined with the fact that management believed this was a better option was a big blow to Ofer's ego, showed his work no respect, and basically flipped him the bird. I was livid - and it wasn't directed at me! In contrast, he was calm and took it like a champ. I honestly don't remember what happened with Ofer business-wise after this."
Q: Was the company named ‘POV’ involved in development?
A: Somewhere between six and eight months prior to the project’s cancellation, management had investigated outside options to help insure completion of the game. They chose a company called ‘POV’. The effort was led by the Technical Director Robert Morgan, one of the original founders of POV, without the knowledge of Ofer Alon (or Christian Senn). When ready, management brought both Ofer and Senn into an office and unveiled their new plan to finish the game. The plan included removing Ofer as technical lead of the project and shifting technical control over to Robert Morgan, who would lead POV. Management presented POV’s efforts on-screen which included a computer monitor with an animating Sonic sprite fixed on-screen, a ground plane with a checkerboard texture on it, and a shaded sphere floating in the sky - without interaction of any kind. In stark contrast was Ofer’s editor and engine with real-time world construction, moving sprites (Sonic, rings, enemies) with behavior, triggers and physics - with direct playability from the player. It astounded both Ofer and Senn that management would make this decision without discussing it with them first. It was even more surprising that the decision was to move forward with this POV technology. Management explained that the plan was to use POV's technology to simply port Ofer’s PC development to the Saturn. Unfortunately, this trivialized the complexity of Ofer's technology and proved there was a very different understanding of what was involved to port the existing technology.
Q: Did people from other teams or divisions offer their input during the project?
A: Senn wrote, "Other than Roger Hector keeping tabs on and providing suggestions for the game, Yasuhara Hirokazu was asked at one point (in the firt year) his thoughts, and I think I remember him suggesting this be for the Saturn, not for the 32X. I visited and made friends with a few of the Sonic Team members, namely Aoki Kunitake. Later I got to know Yasuhara-san much better... but nobody bothered or bugged me."
Q: Did Sega Of Japan (SOJ) help Sega of America (SOA) on Xtreme?
A: I'm not sure what the budgetary delineation between Sega of America and Sega of Japan were, so it's difficult for me to share any informed opinion about how SOJ may or may not have helped SOA to make the game (from a financial side). On some level, SOJ was responsible for signing off on what SOA did. Specifically with Sonic Xtreme, I just don't know about either of these... that kind of executive participation was way over my head. In the last year of the project, SOJ did send several representatives to determine what state they felt the project was in and whether or not they thought it could succeed... I don't know what they reported.
Even if SOJ had wanted to help, there would have been difficulties that project leaders might have liked to avoid entirely - which could have included the budget (money) required to let people "help" others... if SOJ helped, each person would have needed to account for the time they would spend, the travel expenses (flights, hotels, food, etc.), etc. - and that money would need to come from SOJ... so they would start paying for the project, even though they were not part of it. Make sense? It may seem silly, but money decides a lot of things (that may definitely seem "stupid" to anyone looking at the situation)... for better, or in our case, for worse.
Q: Was there a rivalry between SOA (Sega of America) and SOJ (Sega of Japan)?
A: My belief and impressions were and are that SOJ was the money-maker, and the SOJ arm that was the Sonic Team was the money-maker in America. I think the SOA corporate machine wasted so much money, on high salaries and poor business choices, that SOJ didn't respect SOA. I also think that SOJ understood the Japanese market, but did not understand the SOA game market... so mix all that together, and you have a big problem! I joined Sega (STI, specifically) when it was already falling. In the next 6 years it fell, crashed, bounced, crashed and settled when Sega broke up into tiny companies marking the end of Sega as a hallmark hardware publishing company.
Q: Was there really a security guard present when the POV plan was announced?
A: Yes. Senn wrote, "The only reason you would want a security guard present when delivering a message is either: 1) you expect violent behavior or 2) there might be violent behavior. One must ask themselves... If the person in question (Ofer) was mentally sound and completely non-violent, which he was... what would drive him to such an extreme to actually change character and become violent? The answer lies in the message they were delivering. I was called in to the office as well because management knew how loyal I was to Ofer. Since he and I were leading the team, it made sense for me to be present too."
Q: What was it like working with everyone on the team?
A: Senn wrote, "here was a wide variety of personalities on the project. Everyone, at some point, was tested beyond their level of patience (me included), and consequently didn't necessarily act in a way they would have preferred to. Translated: We all had moments of happiness, sadness, anger, impatience, ego, etc. There were some people who tended to remain calm and cheery, though... Fei Cheng, Richard Wheeler, Roger Hector... to name a few. Honestly, I don't think people's personalities would be something I would consider a major reason for the game's cancellation. It had more to do with decisions... decisions that either weren't very good, or suffered from a bad case of poor timing."
Q: What was STI like/What did you think of STI?
A: STI was, at first glance, the place where the Sonic games were made. It was also riddled with politics. There was a division internally. Japanese/Sonic Team on one side, "everyone else" on the other side.
Q: What was like life on the project?
A: Senn wrote, "Life on Xtreme was different for each individual who worked on the team, from startup, to cancellation. I can't speak for how life was for anyone else, but I can offer what I observed... you had people like Michael Kosaka, a veteran game industry guy (and creator of one of the two games that led to my ultimate enfatuation with Streetfighter II... he designed and did the sprites for Budokan, an old PC game - the first fighting game with technique I'd ever fallen in love with) who worked 9 to 5 (his experience taught him how to optimize his efforts into an 8-hour day, something I still have not learned!)... you had people like Ofer Alon who worked 22 hours of every day (he had a family he never saw because of it) and mostly from home who carefully calculated each step before taking one... you had people like Chris Coffin who was a wild stallion and didn't take direction well, but when unleashed did great stuff (like the boss round you see on the web) but lacked the combined experience to think long-term with his passionate ideas, which led him into trouble when management put pressure on him to deliver the game that nobody else did (and thus you had him camping out in the office eventually getting very sick)... you had people like Rick Wheeler who joined as an intern and was dedicated, passionate, creative and talented from day 1 to the end... And then you had people like Andy Probert, designer of the Next Generation Enterprise who gave me the evil eye when I entered his cubicle at 12:04pm wanting to discuss some art-related issues... or people like Dean Ruggles who walked out in the middle of a team meeting... or Robert Morgan, as rumor later had it, withheld a development kit Ofer needed to translate his PC work to the Saturn so Ofer would "fail" and Robert could point to a company he'd help start as the new savior of the project... And then you had people who meant well, tried hard but just couldn't excel in the high-pressure environment... And then you had people like Don Goddard, the tallest man in programming. lol"
Q: Thoughts on Yuji Naka?
A: Naka-san became known by many to be the father of Sonic. (I’d like to meet the mother and interview them both! j/k =P) It has been shared that Naka-san was extremely determined and pushed the team around him, even if his own programming wasn’t the most amazing. It was this drive that manuevered him politically to carry the spotlight of Sonic's success and his association with Sonic. He had strong beliefs that only his Japanese team should work on Sonic. When I presented him and the Sega executives with our original demo videos for Sonic Mars, he said to me simply, "good luck". This simple statement, I think, summed up his attitude about our team.
Q: Can you (Senn) sum up your experience working on Xtreme?
A: Senn wrote, "When Michael Kosaka left one year into development, our team was indeed without a producer, a designer and project leader. Michael recommended I assume the position of designer to "replace" him (which I argued was madness but eventually decided to try) until such time as management could decide otherwise. Management agreed (specifically Roger Hector and Dean Lester, the latter being the executive producer of the company at the time) and I became the designer. At this time, I'm pretty sure Ofer had been a part of the project for several months (I'll have to review notes to verify) and had proven to be the most competent programmer, grasping what we were trying to do and taking tangible steps to reach that goal.
Fast forward a year and some change... Sonic Xtreme had taken more twists and turns - another two platform changes, politics and we were behind schedule. That's two years of development - with plenty of ideas to show, plenty of test, an editor that was coming along great - but not enough actual game to show for all the money that had been spent. Ofer and I are asked into the boss's office one day where we learned that the technical director had, without our knowledge, recruited an outside company to take over technical development of Sonic Xtreme. This backstabbing ousted and put the technical director in his place. I remember them walking us to the TD's office where they showed us a "demo" of what the outside company had created. What they were going to show us was the reason for taking such drastic actions... they were going to show us their "hope" for success. What we saw was amazing.
They showed us the Sonic sprite we were already using floating in the upper-right of the screen, a checkerboard ground, a rotating shaded polygonal shape floating in the air and maybe a ring sprite animating.
For all that we had created, to throw all that away for such nonsense. Amazing.
I remember the executive producer sensing our astonishment. He piped up with, "See... we're on a mission..." to which Ofer walked out the door saying, "have a nice trip."
Keep in mind that I had been extremely loyal to Ofer since he'd first arrived. I knew he was extremely talented and respected his abilities. I found myself protecting him many times throughout the course of development out of loyalty and respect for him. Management in particular viewed him as a maverick, not communicating or "playing well" with others, etc. They couldn't control him and he wouldn't play politics, nor did he choose to spend time managing other programmers - he spent his time coding... ALL day and ALL night. Ofer chose to work at home most of the time to avoid the politics and distractions at work, and to focus on building the game. So the perception at work by some, particularly certain management and leads was that he didn't spend much time working, didn't communicate or manage well and was "just a programmer." In fact, he was leading the design WITH me and building the entire engine and integrated editor for the game! He was doing brilliant things with the editor and designing a system of development we could churn out another game intirely in a short amount of time... he was responsible for the "world rotation" concept that added gameplay, and the "reflex lens" which was a nifty and veyr useful feature for the game... yet he was referred to and treated as "another member of the team," effectively. It was annoying for me to hear that, and exhausting to keep correcting those who treated him that way (in person and away from him) and trying to protect him.
So, imagine being in on that meeting where management decided to hang him out to dry. You'd spent countless hours working with, respecting and trying to build the best game you possibly could with him... he'd never harmed anyone intentionally or played any politics... then imagine seeing him pierced through the back with a giant spear. I was so pissed!!!
To witness such blatant disrespect and destructive behavior not only by the TD but by management siding and encouraging that behavior, lost my respect for them. Ofer and I discussed this whole charade and decided to blow their socks off with our own version. We were going to come back stronger than before. This treatment fueled our resolve to return with a vengeance!
At this point the rest of STI pursued one version of Xtreme. Their plan was to take Ofer's editor and convert the output to Saturn. That proved to be a failure, and when Nakayama-san saw what was being done, he was shocked and disappointed, having apparently thrown a fit and storming out of the presentation. I remember that day very well. Ofer and I were in his office and Ofer insisted on fixing some details. Obviously he wanted our presentation to be the best it could be - but I was getting extremely antsy, worrying we'd miss our window of opportunity. I remember very clearly saying to him, "Come on - nobody is going to notice that - LET'S GO!!!" and then told him I would meet him at the presentation room. I arrived in time to see someone (who I'd later learn was Nakayama-san) standing around with his entourage and a few STI management... I joined the incredibly "tense" circle... everyone's faces were stark and there was unhappiness thick in the air. That was the moment which I felt I should speak up to alert the Japanese that we had our own version. I could have said it in Japanese, too.
But alas, I was too scared. I felt like I walked into the immediate aftermath of a huge parental fight... and by the time I worked up the nerve to say something, the Japanese had left. Ofer walked in at that moment too, out of breath and ready to present... only things had gone so poorly in the presentation earlier that Nakayama-san had already left! STI had failed, and Ofer and I didn't present. That was a stinky day, to be sure.
STI's only hope was to follow Nakayama-san's demand to make the game like Chris Coffin's boss round. Ofer and my only hope was to regroup and try to present again (presenting to Sega of Japan at this point was a political impossibility). Ofer and I isolated ourselves and worked from home to indeed shield ourselves from the politics and distractions at STI. Ofer continued development of his editor while I set out to create some levels... in the month we took to do our respective work, Ofer had advanced the editor significantly with some nice new features, polish and refinement making it worthy of usage in full production and I created as much as I could using the editor. Our objective was to present our work and convince the PC division to fund production of Sonic Xtreme for the PC. Ofer created a test world and I designed and created four worlds. Our presentation went well, but the PC group decided not to fund Xtreme. Meanwhile, STI had set up Project Condor with a handful of people moved to another building to work in isolation. This ultimately failed as well and Mike Wallis had to pull the plug. And so ended three years of extremely extreme difficulties!!!"
Q: What was a typical good day for you (Senn) while on the project?
A: Senn wrote, "Roll into the office at 10-10:30am. Boot up my Amiga 3000 and continue working on the Sonic Demo 3D animation where there was no inverse kinematics and each frame needed to be animated... in 3D. lol ...Mark Kupper peers over cubicle wall and stares at me until I notice at which point he says, "hey dude..." and proceeds to tell me about the latest concert tickets he bought while I try to work. He eventually leaves with a pencil in his forehead. lol (j/k) ...about 11:30am we have a meeting with Michael Kosaka, Chris Ebert, and Toshi Morita to go over Sonic Mars technology, design, and art updates. Lunch about noon and we all walk around the lake at 255 Shoreline Drive in Redwood City, careful not to step in goose poop along the way. Eat at my all-time favorite cafe which has the BEST chicken salad sandwich IN THE ENTIRE WORLD (I just know!) on toasted sourdough with a side of fruit, a mini-can of Pringles, and a fruit drink. DANG now I'm hungry! nom nom nom... Anywho, we joke around, talk work or whatever and walk back... more 3D modeling then onto paper character designs. I've got a cubicle with my favorite original Sonic enemy designs tacked to the wall beside me so I can refer to the style as I brainstorm new enemies and gameplay for them. Company meeting is called in the main conference room in which Roger Hector explains we're bringing on board a new team member and we get an update on company information. Howard Drossin and I mimick a few people in the room under our breath (maybe even uttering a loud "CONNIE!" somewhere). Peter Morawiec is embarrassed because we make him laugh which penetrates his ultra-professional code of conduct. Sue Ortlip, Office Manager, explains that we need to fill out new Time Off sheets the next week, followed by our Art Director, John Duggan, who just made me laugh outside on his smoke break as he talked about his Camaro at age 50-something... talks briefly about a new art style he wants us to try for another game, Spinny & Spike, that's in production as well. Meeting ends, we go back to work... more modeling and sketching... informal meeting at Michael's cube to talk about some of the enemy gameplay ideas... he shares a bonus game idea he's toying with... I like it and set to work creating a demonstration animation of it... evening comes and Peter, Howard, Adrian Stephens and I drive to the city for dinner at The House, a hole in the wall Asian fusion restaurant with some of the yummiest food around... We try to find our car which we had to park 3 blocks away in a dark alley and hope it's still there... and drive back to the office and we all go to our homes from there. I get home and do some more sketching by lamp-light until I crash at 2am... Wake up in a daze and jump in the shower and off to work - oh crap - no clothes! Turn around, get dressed, and off to work."
Q: What was a typical bad day for you (Senn) while on the project?
A: Senn wrote, "As my role changed, let's fast-forward to when I was sick... wake up feeling nauseous, get ready and get to work while driving with a cup of water, hoping if I sip it slowly I won't puke on the way to work. My side hurts as I get into the office just in time for a meeting I forgot. I'm sitting on a couch, leaning almost prone while the meeting commences. Mike Wallis is going over some schedule questions, with Robert Morgan sitting across, and Ofer sitting next to me. Mike is polite and tries to get some coding time estimates from Ofer who avoids answering. Robert chimes in to provide an answer. Ofer remains silent (knowing that whatever estimate is provided is bogus anyway). Bob Steele enters the room, apologizing for being late due to another meeting he just got out of with artists he's managing. I feel like I'm going to puke and sip the rest of my water. I manage to make it through the meeting and go to my office and close the door. Dry-heave in the waste basket. "God, how am I going to get all this stuff done?" I'm way behind on delivering final enemy designs to Ross Harris who's been doing a stellar job following my designs and direction to achieve an awesome look for the sprites only he could create. I'm also behind on getting a demo level together using the latest version of Ofer's editor. Unfortunately, there is a rare bug with the editor so I can't save my work. Mike pops in and tells me Patrick from Gameplayers is coming after lunch for his first meeting with the team to interview us and get to know the game. "That's just great," I think, "just when stuff isn't working and I have a million things to do!" Knock on the door. It's Richard Wheeler. He comes in and immediately feels my stress. "You okay dude?" he says, as I stare at my screen going over an enemy design image I have open in Deluxepaint Animator. I hollowly say, "I guess..." as I flip through frames. "Whatcha working on?" he asks. "I'm working on..." as I quickly draw bulging eyes on the enemy and draw lines and the word "STRESSING OUT!!!" above it. Rick chuckles. I flip to another frame and draw something silly on top of the frames and make a noise with my mouth to represent the silliness. He laughs. I start flipping through frames and making more silliness and we both start laughing. ...And it's not even lunch yet."
Q: What was the worst day you (Senn) can remember on Xtreme?
A: Sitting with Ofer in his office, making last-minute changes, my gut telling me we would miss our window of opportunity, tugging on Ofer's arm saying, "that's good ENOUGH - we have to go - now!"... I ran ahead to find the executives and Nakayama-san... only to arrive at the tail-end of Nakayama-san's very loud disgust of what he had just seen on the other side of the office... as he walks down the hall with the top STI executives, Ofer runs up with his CPU under his arm, sweating, and saying, "what's going on?" and I looked at him and said, "we missed him." That was a horrible moment. And no, it was not Ofer's fault at all... it was just the culmination of a project fraught with so many difficulties that apexed at this moment. A good moment: Walking across the conference room, carrying a videotape I had just made with the demo videos to show management, STI, Naka-san and the Sonic Team... I was an excited, proud, nervous 20 year-old with a great opportunity who had worked his butt off for many weeks to finish the demo materials.
Q: How familiar was Senn with Sonic before Xtreme?
A: Senn wrote, "I didn't fall in love with Sonic until I joined Sega, though, and met the Sonic Team and was so inspired by their work, I wanted to play the Sonic games more. I was always a Mario fan and my cousin was always a Sonic fan - so it was interesting to play them (them = Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3) more and talk about them. I really wanted to stay true to Sonic, but bringing him from 2D to 3D was a real challenge. One way to do it would be to do the same style game but in 3D... with nothing else new. That might have been a safer, wiser approach in retrospect. I started by creating artwork - trying to design enemies that fit into the world of Sonic. The more we played the games, the more we wanted to match the play style, too."
Q: What jobs did you (Senn) do before Sega?
A: Senn wrote, "Prior to Sega, I worked for just over a year at a small videogame company called Malibu Interactive (originally Acme Interactive). Six months prior to me leaving Malibu Interactive, my lead left to join Sega. He told me what a great opportunity it was and helped me to get in. Ironically, while there, I worked on more shipped titles in that year than I did in my almost 6 years of working at Sega... One example of how less bureaucracy can accomplish more!
I was 19 when I joined Malibu Interactive. It was the summer after my second year of CalArts where I was studying Character Animation. Prior to this, I had summer jobs... my first one, immediately after high school, was working at the Wild Animal Park doing food service (working the register, preparing crap food for impatient, hot, sweaty people who waited in long lines in sweltering heat). The next summer, I worked at American Film Technologies doing 2D animation for Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (one of, if not the, first shows to create the content completely digitally)... I worked the graveyard shift from midnight to seven in the morning... Ugh... never doing that again!"
Q: What other games did you (Senn) work on at Sega?
A: Senn wrote, "I worked on the following games while at Sega (listed in chronological order, oldest first):
1) Spinny & Spike (Genesis) - I created concepts and finished graphics for enemies and backgrounds for this game that was in production that got canned.
2) The Ooze (Genesis) - I created pitch graphics that Dave Sanner incorporated for a playable demo. Spent two weeks creating all graphics and animations. Pitch was accepted, game was then made (I didn't have anything to do with the actual game).
3) Comix Zone (Genesis) - I created 2 background levels, 1 boss, a few of the basic, main character animations, and miscellaneous fire special effects (cauldron, torches, etc.). 1 of the background levels I took Tony DeZuniga's comic art made for the game and used portions of it, optimized portions for tiling, etc. (great artist, btw)
4) Sonic Xtreme (various) - You know what happened with THAT one!
5) Miscellaneous pitches and prototypes - Including a MMO adventure game before there were any, a party game for the Dreamcast called Frog Pond, and a MMO action game that's still dear to my heart. These never made it past pitching (Frog Pond had a demo video, whereas the others were drawings, documents, test animations, etc.).
6) Geist Force (Dreamcast) - I managed production for the art team (task definition, scheduling, database design, etc.). We were very close to finishing this game when it was canned because Bernie Stolar told the programmers we needed to finish by "x" date and they said they honestly couldn't deliver by that date... boom."