Tim Skelly interview by ICEknight (August 2004)
From Sonic Retro
August 17, 2004
ICEknight: First of all, how did you join the team?
Tim Skelly: I was hired as Art Director for STI just after Kid Chameleon was released. The core Sonic Team had only just started.
Tim Skelly: We were all STI. At the time Naka was an outcast from SEGA Japan. He wouldn't have been working for any SEGA division anywhere if Mark Cerney hadn't intervened. However, that doesn't mean that there wasn't a split. Mostly it just involved the usual difficulties of working with talented creators. I don't think culture had much to do with it. There was quite a lot of discord within STI, but not amongst the Americans and Japanese working on Sonic. It was strictly a middle management thing.
Tim Skelly: I don't think so. We always had too much art for the cartridge. Levels and their artwork were developed at the same time, so if a level didn't play well, out went the artwork with the level.
Tim Skelly: Not to my knowledge.
Tim Skelly: Yes, it was quite innovative. Steve Woita, a programmer working on other projects at STI, recalled an interesting scheme that allowed us to do bit-map graphics with a character-stamp based system. That was the beginning. I did all of the artwork except for the rings, bombs, Sonic and Tails, who were drawn and animated (as was just about everything) by Yasushi Yamaguchi. The background was conventional stamp-based artwork that I created and the half-pipe I generated using 3D graphics. The system I had worked out could have done a full 360 vertical loop, but we ran out of space.
I know this will sound peculiar, but Peter Morawiec had nothing to with the Special Stage, or any other Sonic 2 artwork as far as I know, and I was the Art Director. The credits for Object Placement are correct. At least I know I worked with Sugano on that, and of course Yasuhara was involved in all game play. I don't blame anyone in particular for any miscrediting on the game. The credit list popped up at the last minute and was just stuffed in. We were all confused. I don't know who wrote it up.
Tim Skelly: Yes, a lot of unfinished art was pitched because of space limitations or because of less than perfect game play. For instance, my extra curves in the Special Stage didn't get in because of memory limitations. Was the game intended to be different? No.
Tim Skelly: Hard to say.
Tim Skelly: Yes, besides the Special Stage I contributed special renderings of 3D objects, like the rolling cage and the checkered path that does a 360 degree barrel roll.
Tim Skelly: As regards big clown heads, I think someone might be thinking of "Jester," an unreleased game that was in development at STI at the same time as Sonic 2. I'm willing to bet that the famous "unknown" levels are those that were discarded midway through their development, usually because of gameplay issues. I can think of only one level that was dropped for space, and that would have been one of Brenda's. Her art was wonderful, but the gameplay for that round just wasn't as exciting as it could have been. By the way, as you might already know, the background stamps for the desert level were also to double for a winter level by means of a color change. That was Brenda's art. Very few of the foreground objects were finished that were to be used to make the levels look different.
Tim Skelly: Not really.
Tim Skelly: Tom was amazing at cranking out enemies. But, like the "missing" art, there was more art and level ideas than there was room for.
Tim Skelly: Nope.
Tim Skelly: Because we thought it looked better?
Tim Skelly: I wouldn't say that. Some half finished, untested levels with artwork in various states, yes.
Tim Skelly: A lot of sound and music can be generated in a lot less time than an entire video game. I'm sure many variations were created so that Naka and Sonic Team could pick and choose.
Tim Skelly: All of us involved with the creation of Sonic 2 are proud of our work. I am also quite sorry that the world never got to see Brenda's background art in the game. Unfortunately, accurately recreating that time would be next to impossible for any one person. I think the credits reflect that.
At the last minute we had an additional 13 Japanese employees brought in from SEGA Japan to help get the game finished in time to ship for Xmas. As you can imagine, under circumstances like that, it's somewhat difficult to remember much of anything. ;>)
August 21, 2004
ICEknight: Who came up with the ideas and the graphic designs?
Tim Skelly: Sonic Team, mostly. All of the artists doing characters or enemies were given rough sketches which the artists implemented in full color, etc. I believe Tom did a few of those from scratch. He could probably give you more information. The background artists started from the concept of the level and information about what kind of background stamps would be needed for game play. (Yasuhara worked out his gameplay designs on grid paper.) Naka and Yasuhara would look over the artists shoulders periodically see how things were going. They were very particular, especially Naka. My first day there, Yamaguchi had just finished an "industrial" test screen that I thought looked fantastic. Naka made him do it over with more detail. I used to joke that because of this Yamaguchi developed a way of painting between the pixels. ;>) I got some of that myself when I was doing the checkered "Barrel roll" stamps in true 3D. I had to work on it until the checks lined up exactly to Naka's specifications.
Tim Skelly: Gameplay, with the possible exception of size, was what determined what stayed and what went. But, if a level was too large, the game play had to be cut back, and that, of course, affected the "fun" factor. So really, if a level was abandoned it was because it just wasn't enough fun to play.
Tim Skelly: This is something that Tom would know best, but as I mentioned above, I believe the enemies were sketched out, implemented on the digitizer, then "auditioned" in the various levels. Because of technical restrictions it took much longer to do level art, so enemies were easy to test well before the rounds were finished.
Tim Skelly: I would assume that the levels were given names as soon as Naka and Yasuhara had conceived them. The only thing the background artists had to go on was the description of what the level environment should look like. That was usually suggested by the name.
Tim Skelly: The working names (that were often kept) were descriptive for the sake of the artist, like desert and winter. "Casino," for instance, is a perfectly good name for a zone. "Winter" and "Desert" would probably have been changed at the last minute.
Tim Skelly: There would have been two separate zones, spaced far enough apart so that the player wouldn't notice the repetition of the art.
Tim Skelly: I couldn't say. But like I mentioned before, to my knowledge all canceled rounds were stopped before completion. The background cells or the enemies might have been finished, but once Sonic Team decided that a zone would not be used, or if they were at all unsure, all work stopped on those rounds. They knew they would have false starts, and very little time to complete the project.
Tim Skelly: Sure.