Game Development:Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)
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From Sonic Retro
Revision as of 16:30, 21 February 2012
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 went through many ideas and changes during the development process. What follows is a collection of items related to the game's development.
After the tremendous success of Sonic the Hedgehog, it was only natural to expect a sequel to the game. Though many would have expected the original team to spearhead the second entry in the series, right off the bat problems arose that would turn the production of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 into the words legends are made of. Yuji Naka, the man responsible for the engine of the first game, had run into issues with the management of Sega of Japan, the exact disagreements between him and the company unknown. Growing weary of politics, Naka quit Sega, intending to look for work elsewhere. Back in the United States, Mark Cerny, the man who had come up with the gaming classic Marble Madness, had been hired by Sega to create a new gaming studio for the company, the Sega Technical Institute. The general idea behind the studio was to hire talented individuals who were only getting their start in the industry and teach them the ways of the gaming development world, not only with the talent already established in the U.S. but by talent originating from Japan, making their successes in a far different commercial environment. Placing advertisements in local newspapers, the resumes began pouring in, with such people as Tom Payne, Brenda Ross, and future-creator of Spyro the Dragon Craig Stitt becoming employees of this new experiment in game development.
During the production of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Mark Cerny had already secured Hirokazu Yasuhara, the director of that project, to come out to the United States and work for STI once his job back at Sega of Japan was done. However, when Cerny learned of Yuji Naka's departure from the company, he immediately called up his long-time friend, attempting to persuade him to come out to America as well and become a part of his venture. With the promise of a better salary, more executive power, and the potential for a Ferrari, Naka took Mark up on the offer, hiring back into the Sega fold.
Though the American staff of STI cut their teeth on the game Kid Chameleon, with the arrival of Naka, Yasuhara, and a handful of other Japanese staff members, Cerny was sure Sega would give the team their biggest and most obvious assignment - the sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog. With two of the three main people behind the success of the first game (the third, Naoto Ohshima, choosing to stay behind and eventually direct Sonic the Hedgehog CD) it only made sense to devote the entire studio to Sega's biggest game yet. Even though the Japanese staff arrived in September, it would be two months until work on the sequel began. Mark Cerny, knowing full well how much a sequel would be embraced, asked Sega if they should get right to work on a sequel. Surprisingly he was told not to, as it was much too soon for a second Sonic title. Trying to decide what to work on instead, the order to work on the next game in the numbered series came in November, removing two months from the development time.
Filled to brim with ideas, one of the first elements the team decided on was that they wanted a new main character to be introduced in the game, someone who could be developed for a potential two player mode found within. An internal competition was held, and though many entries were submitted (including one from artist Craig Stitt for a flying turtle named "Boomer'") it was Yasushi Yamaguchi who won with his two-tailed fox character, Miles "Tails" Prower. Originally wanting the character to be named "Miles Prower," the rest of the team felt his name should simply be "Tails," to match the simplistic nature of Sonic's name. Unhappy with this idea, Yamaguchi (who became the lead zone artist in the game) decided to sneak the name "Miles Prower" into various concept art and in the game, making both names legitimate in the end.
Being nothing less than ambitious, the original plan was to make a sprawling, 18-zone epic, revisiting the unique level tropes Sonic Team had created for the first game, putting their own spin on traditional platformer levels like desert and snow worlds, and even come up with some ideas that would be totally new. Emerald Hill, Hill Top, Oil Ocean, Hidden Palace, Dust Hill and the never-titled Winter Zone were some of the first levels to be worked on, the concept of time travel also being talked about in early production meetings. However, it became obvious early on that if they were to have the game ready for the Christmas season of 1992, that they could not get everything done. The time travel concept was dropped almost immediately, and Dust Hill and its winter counterpart were some of the first zones to be put on the chopping block, much to the chagrin of Brenda Ross, the artist responsible for their look.
Though the two sides of STI tried to work together, the language barrier proved to be too much at times. Most of the meetings for the direction of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 were done in Japanese (Mark Cerny being fluent in the language), leaving the American side in the dust. Trying to mesh the two cultures and work ethics became a challenge in itself, with some members unable to get along with Yuji Naka's intense personality. Tom Payne, who himself never had any issues with the Japanese half of the team, recalled in an interview later the stark differences between the American mindset of a nine-to-five job and the Japanese mindset of working almost all hours of the night, with members like Yamaguchi and Yasuhara being extremely passionate with the quality of the whole:
With the American and Japanese teams having very different approaches to using color in the zone art and in creating the level layouts themselves, it was up to the senior members of the Japanese staff to help unify the look of the final product, cutting through the cultural differences to provide the best product they could muster in the time allowed.
Even if tensions could rise as the leaders of the project demanded perfection, work on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 continued unfettered. With each passing day, the hype behind the project grew more and more, immense pressure being put on the collective team. Not content with just the random screenshot from time to time, Sega wanted to advertise the game in as many ways possible. Getting in contact with the children's network Nickelodeon, a special cartridge was put together to be played on the gameshow Nick Arcade, featuring an early version of Emerald Hill. This prototype, later referred to as the "Nick Arcade prototype," was eventually leaked onto the Internet in 2006. Sometime after the airing of the show, another early build was put together to help drum up interest, being a playable build to the public at a New York toy show. However, security at the show was not up to snuff, and at the end the cartridge was stolen. Later to be known as the "Simon Wai" prototype (named after the man who discovered the ROM image on the Internet back in 1999) it was this build that was the source of many prerelease information related to the game.
Even knowing early on they would not have enough time to work on everything they had set out to in the beginning, as the release date drew nearer it became more than obvious that the team would have barely enough time to finish the eleven zones that ended up in the final game. Cyber City Zone, a one-act level that was meant to follow Metropolis Zone (and was briefly called "Genocide City" but changed once the Japanese staff fully realized what the word meant) was scrapped, most of it being converted into the third act of Metropolis Zone. The very last level to be removed was one of the first that had been worked on, the Hidden Palace Zone. Conceived as an area Sonic would warp to after collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds, both game flow and deadlines forced the team to drop it, instead awarding the power of Super Sonic immediately after the seventh special stage was completed.
The game was released simultaneously in the United States and Europe on "Sonic 2sday," a marketing campaign promoting the concept of "blast processing" was pursued, while back in Japan the campaign focused on the introduction of "Tails." The entire team, both American and Japanese, celebrated together on November 23rd, 1992, proud of the game that, against the odds, would not only be the biggest selling Sonic game on the Mega Drive, but the best selling game of the 16-bit era.
Also of note is the fact the game contained references to some of the biggest pop culture phenomenons on both sides of the Pacific. The Death Egg, Eggman's ultimate weapon in the game, was modeled after the Death Star, the superweapon featured in the Star Wars trilogy. Meanwhile, the seven Chaos Emeralds and the introduction of Super Sonic were homages to the well-known Chinese fable The Golden Warrior and its then-current interpretation being published in Japan, Dragon Ball.
The theme in the game that plays during the final cutscene, written by Masato Nakamura, was later turned into a song for his band, DREAMS COME TRUE. Called SWEET SWEET SWEET, the duet is sung with a real-life band backing the track.
Enemy Concept Art
Level Concept Art
Emerald Hill Zone
Aquatic Ruin Zone
Casino Night Zone
Hill Top Zone
Mystic Cave Zone
Oil Ocean Zone
Hidden Palace Zone
Dust Hill Zone
The Japanese Promotional Video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIPMhau5GLo