From Sonic Retro
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|System(s): Sega Saturn|
|Developer: Sega Technical Institute Burbank|
|Development timeframe: Early 1996 to Mid 1996|
|Planned release date: Late 1996|
|Number of players: 1|
|State before cancellation: Partially-developed|
Sonic Saturn is an unreleased Sega Saturn action platform game developed by Sega Technical Institute Burbank and intended to be published by Sega in late 1996. Commissioned by Sega of America management earlier that year to be produced as one of two potential mainline Sonic the Hedgehog titles for the system (the other being Sonic X-treme), the team planned on presenting Sonic as a dedicated three-dimensional model instead of a sprite, and the game would feature a more realistic interpretation of the character's world than seen before.
While concept artwork, gameplay designs, background software, and even a playable bonus round were created for the project, Sonic Saturn was never actually publicly announced, and was reportedly cancelled early in development due to Yuji Naka's dislike of the game.
|“||"Sonic Saturn (or Sonic 3D) was a different project [from Sonic X-treme], which Adrian and I started at STI Burbank in early 1996. It was supposed to be a 3D Sonic game for the Saturn – those concept images I sent you previously are from that game. Adrian had a very nifty and fast spherical renderer going on for it, for things like bodies and heads. This game was going for a more realistic rendition of Sonic’s world, but Naka didn’t like it so the project was axed. (Ironically, the subsequent Sonic game for the Dreamcast was much more realistic). Following that, there was a slight chance of salvaging our tech and assets to create a bonus game for the Travelers Tales developed Sonic 3D Blast, although we will never know just how seriously this was ever considered. Nonetheless, we quickly whipped out a prototype, which we called Sonic Pool, but it never went past that."||„|
Following the poor commercial performance of the development team's previous title Comix Zone, and Sega of America's focus shifting to the upcoming Saturn, three of Sega Technical Institute's high-profile staffers decided to move from the company's Palo Alto, California headquarters and establish an independent game development studio in Los Angeles: designer Peter Morawiec, programmer Adrian Stephens, and composer Howard Drossin. Before this could take place, the team was convinced by Sega of America vice president Shinobu Toyoda and particularly STI head Roger Hector to stay within Sega's umbrella. Ultimately, the new studio was established as a satellite office of STI located in Burbank, California, and given the name STI Burbank.
The newly-founded studio's first task was producing a mainline entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog for the Saturn. In order to compete with games like Super Mario 64, Morawiec intended Sonic Saturn to be a fully three-dimensional platformer. To this end, programmer Adrian Stephens coded a game engine based on sphere-rendering technology (similar to that seem in games like Ballz 3D, but with VPD1-supported polygon limbs), specifically designed to overcome polygon faceting caused by the system's limited processing power. As recalled by Morawiec, "our sphere-renderer was used for things such as Sonic's body parts (head, belly, hands) and other characters/enemies. Sonic X-Treme was doing 'spherical worlds' which was really something completely different."
While concept artwork, gameplay designs, background software, and even a playable bonus game were all created, Sonic Saturn's development was left in limbo due to Yuji Naka's reported dislike of the project. This created political tensions between STI Burbank and other divisions of the company, and resulted in the game's ultimate cancellation in mid 1996. Unfortunately, the studio's only other project (a Saturn follow-up to Comix Zone) had been previously cancelled by Sega management to keep its focus solely on Sonic Saturn, leaving the developer without any active projects for months. These cancellations would go on to have lasting effects for the fledgling studio, with STI Burbank permanently closing its doors that December.
|“||"Yes, the idea was that Sonic would run around to position himself behind a ball, go into a stationary spin-dash, then you could 'aim' your direction and... let go -- the camera went overhead to show the resulting action as he smashes into other balls. The goal was to put all those balls away (into those portals) within one minute, or some such time limit. He could also push into the balls, but that wasn't very fast and thus wasn't the preferred way to play.
The game's bonus rounds were going to consist of a billiards minigame titled Sonic Pool. Sonic would position himself behind a ball and perform a Spin Dash to strike it forward, with the camera then switching to an overhead view to show the ball's movement. The balls can also be pushed around the arena, but this is much slower. Later stages would have featured enemies wandering about the playfield, which could harm Sonic. The goal was to sink all seven balls into dedicated portals within a certain time limit. A number of differently-themed arenas were included in Sonic Pool, including Egypt, Galaxy, Roman, Future, and Snow. An additional arena, set in an American Southwest-themed courtyard, was also planned.
After Sonic Saturn's cancellation, the bonus round was initially considered for inclusion in Sonic X-treme. As recalled by Project Condor lead developer Christina Coffin, the two shared a similar art style, but as STI Burbank's sphere-rendered Sonic was so drastically different in appearance to X-treme's pre-rendered one, it was decided to include everything from Pool with the exception of Sonic himself. A single known screenshot from this attempt reveals it was indeed ported over to X-treme during its Project Condor phase. Coffin states she never actually received any source code, just their art assets. As a result, new versions of Sonic Saturn's sphere-rendering engine and Sonic Pool's gameplay programming were recreated by Coffin just for Condor.
Ultimately, the August 1996 cancellation of Sonic X-treme forced STI Burbank to consider other options. Despite this setback, development on Sonic Pool progressed through September and the following October, when at least one additional arena (Future) was added and the HUD's positioning was changed.
The four available images from September are early in-engine screenshots which illustrate how the final bonus round would appear, as indicated by their lack of working timer and the movement of the HUD between screenshots. By September, development had progressed to an in-engine prototype, as the round now features a working timer and "finalized" HUD, and with its screenshots captured from an analog source. Regardless, every screenshot from this period show Sonic's model in the same pose, suggesting that animations had still not yet been implemented.
In one last attempt to see their work on Sonic Pool make it to market, Morawiec urged Yutaka Sugano (producer of the Saturn version of Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island) to include the bonus round in that game. Unfortunately, due to the request being made around October, and the already-tight deadline of Sonic 3D's upcoming November release, this too was abandoned in favor of a 3D version of Sonic 2's special stage developed in-house at Sega of Japan.
In December 2000, ICEknight of the Sonic scene fansite Sonic the Hedgehog Database emailed STI Burbank designer Peter Morawiec about his work on a number of unreleased Sonic games. Morawiec responded later that day, providing a wealth of knowledge on topics such as Sonic X-treme, Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, and Sonic Saturn, even sharing development material from his time working at Sega.
- Interview: Peter Morawiec (2007-04-20) by Sega-16
- Interview: Peter Morawiec (2006-01-11) by hxc
- Interview: Peter Morawiec (2000-12-27) by ICEknight
- Interview: Mike Wallis (2007-06-19) by Sega-16
- http://www.shadowsoft-games.com/sonicdatabase/S3Dpool/S3Dpool.htm (Wayback Machine: 2005-12-08 01:57)
- https://forums.sonicretro.org/index.php?threads%2Fpresenting.7325%2Fpage-4#post-128851 (Wayback Machine: 2023-09-29 02:22)
- https://tcrf.net/Prerelease:Sonic_3D_Blast_%28Sega_Saturn%29 (Wayback Machine: 2023-09-19 00:26)
|Sonic the Hedgehog games for the following systems|
| 1996 Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island 1997 Sonic Jam | Sonic R |
Demos Sonic R: Trial Version
|Unreleased Sonic the Hedgehog games|
|Sonic's Edusoft | Sonic the Hedgehog (home computers) | Sonic the Hedgehog | Sonic the Hedgehog 2 CD | SegaSonic Bros. | Sister Sonic | Treasure Tails | Pre-May 1993 Sonic arcade games | Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Limited Edition | Sonic Sports | Sonic Ride | Sonic Saturn | Sonic X: Chaos Emerald Chaos | Sonic DS | Sonic the Hedgehog Extreme | Sonic Riders | Sonic the Hedgehog: Awakening | Sonic Central | Sonic Demo|
|Sonic X-treme incarnations|
|Sonic-16 | Untitled Isometric game | Sonic Mars | Sonic X-treme (Point Of View | Project Condor)|