Sonic the Hedgehog 2 HD
From Sonic Retro
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 HD (S2HD) was a fangame begun by, and (despite its having been marketed as a “Community Project” of Sonic Retro for most of its life) largely limited to materials created by, a small group of people who wanted to create a remake of Sega and Sonic Team's classic game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, with high definition (HD) graphics and music whilst at the same time precisely preserving the original gameplay (which continues to set standards to this day). S2HD was intended not to be limited only to presenting a graphically and musically upgraded version of the original game: it was also planned to include new features, such as online multiplayer modes, extra levels, and Knuckles as a playable character.
The idea of creating a high definition version of Sega's classic Sonic the Hedgehog 2 first appeared on a website called "Alchemist Defined". An artist calling himself Billy had drawn detailed piece of artwork depicting Sonic about to fight the final boss of the game in the "Death Egg Zone". The low-resolution sprites were brought to life in this recreation: both the background and the characters had been completely remastered. A number of video gaming websites quickly discovered the image and were soon showing it off on their homepages. The question had been posed; "What would Sonic 2 look like in high definition?"
The Sonic Retro community had always taken a keen interest in all things related to Sonic's classical era. On December 6th 2007, a member of this community called "Athelstone" found Billy's image and excitedly posted it in the General discussion forums, while asking the very same question - what would it be like? The thread was soon moved to the "Creative Works" section of the forum.
Three months later, on March 8th 2008, a member of Sonic Retro called "Vangar" created a discussion thread asking for a game engine he could use to start work on such a project; soon after, interest in the thread exploded. Many members of the community quickly began to post concept images of what the game ought to look like. In the beginning, fans would merely apply graphical filters to the original low-resolution graphics. A member called "Yarharhar" then posted an image of a completely remastered Sonic, along with a method describing how he had created it. It was not long until a member of the community called "Vincent" was so inspired by Yarharhar's effort, that he took it upon himself to begin remastering a whole set of Sonic's character frames. Sonic 2 HD had officially begun.
Finding the engine
However, the most difficult tasks still lay ahead of the project. How would the project be organized to achieve this goal? What game engine would be used to make it a reality? One possibility was to use a modified Genesis emulator, which would display the graphics from the original game ROM in high definition. After some debate, it was decided that any emulator, no matter how tweaked, would be far too limiting for the project. Reasons for the decision included the bugs and slow downs from the original game, problems that would be replicated rather than fixed and improved upon. The project also required room to expand beyond the original title.
One of the more appealing possibilities was to use a custom-made engine that had already been created. A member of the community called "Taxman" had already created a popular Sonic engine called "Retro Sonic". Unfortunately, the physics in his engine were not yet close enough to the original Genesis series for it to be used (despite the fact that Taxman's engine boasted an incredibly impressive level development kit for designing original Sonic levels). It was likely that Taxman would eventually perfect the physics in his engine - but rather than wait for him to accomplish this, the community was anxious for the Sonic 2 HD project to move forward.
Soon after the staff's initiation, a staff team had been formed. Since Vincent had already remastered many of Sonic's frames, he became the project leader and the lead artist. A member called "SANiK" had even created an online database, which allowed contributors to upload all of their artwork, while members "Athelstone" and "Blue Streak" coordinated some of the community's contributions while giving suggestions and guidance to other project staff. Eventually, the administrators of Sonic Retro granted us our own community forum for the Sonic 2 HD project - but the project still lacked an engine.
Members of the community were starting to cast doubt upon the project: without a platform to run on, would it ever become a reality? In answer to this, a long-running member of the community called "LOst" privately informed the project staff that he had already been developing his own engine for a number of years and would like to be a part of the project. The staff were astounded at the accuracy of his physics, since they were based upon Sonic 3 (the game responsible for fixing many of the bugs present in Sonic 2's physics). Sonic 2 HD finally had an engine, but its growing pains were far from over.
Arrivals and departures
During the summer of 2008, both Blue Streak and Athelstone ran into a series of life events that prevented them from being as active with the project as they had been earlier on. At roughly the same time, a new member called "Canned Karma" had come across the forums, and began to suggest ways to coordinate the many contributions the project was seeing. Shortly thereafter, he was invited by the staff to hold a position as the official community contributions manager. Contributors "Woot", "Exodus", and "Flare" had all created appropriate artwork for the project over the course of the previous weeks, and were also asked to join the staff as official artists. This could not have come at a better time, as the staff had been planning all summer long to have the first functional technical demo of S2HD ready by early fall. On September 15th, 2008 the first tech demo of Sonic 2 HD was released.
The Tech Demo was a milestone for the project in more than one way. Not only did it demonstrate the commitment the newly gathered staff had to the project, but it exploded across the internet, garnering massive page hits for the Sonic Retro servers as well as being prominently featured on popular gaming blogs like Kotaku. While the Tech Demo was a success for the S2HD staff, there was a vast amount of work to be done behind the scenes. Staff artist DeathofRats, had almost completely dropped off the scene, leaving behind many tile breaks that had only been cobbled into working fashion at the last minute. Similarly, the main artists responsible for the game's badnik assets up to that point, "Trunks" and "Drox" had also begun to move away from the project. Until the following year, artists came and went, gradually contributing both level assets and badnik artwork, but none had shown the dedication and passion toward the project sought after by the staff for a member to hold a position on it.
In January of 2009, another wave of changes for S2HD began. A new member called "scanline99" contributed a concept poster for S2HD before any promotional material for the project had even been considered. With his background in illustration and animation, a few months later he would accept a position as the staff visuals & animation director. In the same spirit, a new level artist was found in a member named "Sciz" who had also shown a high level of interest in the project and had begun to work exclusively on the project's level art, ranging from tilework to level sprites. When the well-debated ring was once again brought to the foreground in the spring, two new members of Sonic Retro, "TyrantWave" and "Gambit" arrived almost simultaneously and began creating the best 3D renders of the ring yet seen. After a week of fierce competition and a controversial poll, Gambit's ring was chosen for a vector-based remaster. When life events removed Sciz from the project, Gambit replaced him as the lead level artist, and with his work the level art was yet again brought to new heights. A talented illustrator called "CornetTheory" also joined the staff as a background artist that spring, and it would be his painted landscapes that would provide the game's environmental scenery. The team's final members would not arrive for the better part of a year.
From late spring of 2009 to early winter of 2010, the project's went almost completely dark in the public eye. During this time, the game engine was underwent heavy change and the character art completely re-evaluated, effectively rendering the entire Tech Demo obsolete. While these changes were favorable for the project in the long run, many posters in the project's subforum wondered if the project was still active, or if the game would ever see another release beyond the original demonstration. Members of the staff who had joined just before the Tech Demo's release had drifted away from the project; the staff had been reduced to Vincent, LOst, Canned Karma, Gambit, scanline99, CornetTheory, and the staff musician, "scubasteve".
A new year brought another set of change to S2HD, and a new talent base. The team's future Sprite Artist, "Cerulean Nights" appeared in February with two rapidly produced badniks, and soon became a regular community coordinator along with Canned Karma. The perceived lack of progress came to a head on March 15th, 2010, when the staff revealed teaser images of some of the work that had been done, and announced that the project would be shifting to a "closed community project". This news was met with widely varying remarks, but ultimately ushered in a total overhaul of the project's forum organization, and clear cut guidelines and goals for those wishing to contribute from that point on. Immediately after the new goals were set down, a member called "Synergy" posted up an image of a prototype for a Special Stage design, the one core area of the project that had not been worked on yet. Over the next few months, he would continue to refine the engine he built for this purpose, and would eventually craft the best candidate the project had seen. Midsummer of 2010, a musician named Tee Lopes was invited by the staff to remaster pieces for the project after staff members had reviewed his previous remix work for various Sonic level themes. Much of his work would be featured in the audio of the alpha release.
In December 2010, a countdown was added to the site's homepage, http://s2hd.sonicretro.org . The countdown expired on January 16, 2011, and many S2HD fans expected the release of an S2HD demo. Unfortunately, the announcement did not have a demo; it only had a trailer, screenshots, and wallpaper. This led to many likening it to the pre-release hype for Sonic the Hedgehog 4, which included an announcement of a delay. Additionally, in a blog post by the S2HD project manager , it was stated that all of the community-created assets were thrown out in favor of privately-created work, leading some to wonder if S2HD should remain a "Community Project" on the forums.
Alpha release, controversy, and cancellation
The Alpha release of Sonic 2 HD was finally released to the public on March 27th, 2012. The demo contained the relatively complete Emerald Hill Zone, with both Acts 1 and 2 and the boss present. With this release the Community Forum for the project was closed, ending the community area for the project. The project instead went to a single topic inside the Fangaming section to better situate themselves from here on out.
The team revealed why the game had taken so long to reach the Alpha stage. LOst, the programmer for the game's engine, had apparently kept the engine heavily under wraps, and had apparently been "adding unnecessary things" to the Alpha, instead of doing what the team asked.
Right after the release, some forum users tried to reverse engineer the demo, only to be met with a screen saying that it wasn't allowed by the terms given. Many noted that such terms didn't actually exist, but it was apparent that LOst had implemented a sort of fangame DRM in the Alpha release. The community found this absolutely unacceptable, as the whole site's purpose was to reverse engineer Sonic games. However, this wasn't the end for the team's problems.
In early April 2012, shortly after the Alpha Release, it was mentioned to ScarredSun from an antivirus employee that there seemed to be a possible "keylogger" packaged with the S2HD Alpha. She immediately posted about the threat, not going into it much more, saying she would update further when more information was available. It spread across the Internet quickly, with many websites saying to remove the demo altogether to prevent possible information being stolen. Polygon Jim, a tech member on the forum, noticed that it had to do with a poorly-coded DirectInput handler . The input code grabbed input even when the window wasn't focused, which is similar to how some keyloggers act. After this was brought to everyone's attention, it was immediate that the issue was simply the poorly coded engine, which was done by LOst. Scarred Sun revoked her previous statements and apologized for her actions.
The presence of DRM and what some had (presumably wrongly) assumed and subsequently reported to be a key-logger led to many members of Sonic Retro questioning both the character and competence of LOst. Shortly after, all members of the S2HD team made individual replies in which they agreed that LOst had become intolerable and also revealed more information about how he had slowed development to a crawl – in fact, left it in stasis for approximately two years – by refusing to compromise with other staff members or make his engine more flexible, by rejecting additions that did not meet his personal tastes, etc.. With this, and the other issues that had been brought to light, it was obvious what needed to be done: LOst was removed from the S2HD team.
However, that was not the end of the project's problems. Now with no programmer and therefore no engine, having been set back by years, and with various staff members having insufficient time due to events in their larger lives – not to mention insufficient patience to retread the same ground upon which they had already wasted so much time –, the project was announced as cancelled by its leader Vincent.
Visit the official webpage for the Alpha Release!