Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball/Development

From Sonic Retro

Back to: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball.
Peter Morawiec, Spinball's lead designer.

While the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 would be a tremendous success, allowing the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and Sega as a whole, to soar to new heights during 1993, development was challenging. Developed by the Sega Technical Institute (STI), Sonic 2 was a joint project between development staff brought over from Japan, and the American team behind the likes of Dick Tracy and Kid Chameleon, an idea instrumented by Mark Cerny to have Japanese "mentors" improve the output of Sega's American produce.

Language and cultural differences meant Yuji Naka and others wanted to abandon the "experiment" for the next logical step, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, so the Japanese staff would work on Sonic 3 while the Americans would be placed on other projects. However, when it became clear Sonic 3 was unlikely to make a Christmas 1993 release date, a number of smaller Sonic the Hedgehog games were commissioned to capitalize on the most profitable trading season of the year. One of these would become Sonic Spinball[1].

A "Sonic Pinball" pitch was put together by Peter Morawiec and others at STI, featuring a short animation demo created with an Amiga computer, inspired by the pinball elements of the Casino Night Zone stage of Sonic 2. The project was greenlit, and the retitled Sonic Spinball would commence development, being created by an entirely American team with virtually no input from the Japanese Sonic developers. it stands as the first entirely Western-produced Sonic game, and the first specifically designed with a Western audience in mind.

The third-party development studio Polygames handled around 90% of the programming, while STI members handled the graphics, design, and music. The game was produced in the span of nine months, with Polygames founders Lee Actor and Dennis Koble being hired as programmers to get the project out the door. Spinball was programmed in the C programming language, when the norm for Mega Drive games of the era was 68K assembly.[1]


The early map.

Early concept art depicts the Veg-O-Fortress being used as a map screen:Media:Sonic Spinball game rounds concept art.jpg[2]

  1. Underground Caves
  2. Toxic Pools
  3. Lava Powerhouse
  4. The Machine
  5. Eruption

The final game contains only four rounds, with "Underground Caves" and "Toxic Pools" combined to produce Toxic Caves[3]. In the 8-bit version, the name Toxic Pools is retained. Meanwhile, Eruption was renamed Showdown in the 16-bit version and Final Showdown in the 8-bit version.


Three groups contributed music and sound effects to the game: Sega Multimedia Studio, OUI Multimedia and Sega Technical Institute itself.[4] In June 1993,[5] STI hired its first in-house composer Howard Drossin. By the afternoon of his first day of work he had composed the music for Toxic Caves, thinking he would simply test out the Mega Drive hardware, but was pleasantly surprised when the music was approved for the final release.[6][7]

During the soundtrack's production, Drossin reached out to Sega Multimedia Studio audio director David Javelosa for assistance. Javelosa's close friend and later staff hire Barry Blum contributed "some killer tracks on Spinball", and while Javelosa recalls that he himself may have provided some instrument patches and sound effects for the project, he "mostly functioned as cheerleader."[8]

"Well, no one had told us about this, and we had used the original music. Howard, our music guy, quickly ran to his little room and started writing a new piece of music. At about midnight that night we released a NEW gold master version of the game, this time with our own original theme song."

— Artist Craig Stitt[9]

Sonic Retro emblem.svg Main article: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (alternate music prototype)

Two versions of Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball are commonly available: an "earlier" ROM which features two short jingles previously used in Sonic the Hedgehog, and a "later" ROM which replaces the jingles with new songs. As the former jingles were not composed in-house at Sega, instead being created by Masato Nakamura of the Japanese pop band Dreams Come True, Sega did not hold the license to use the music in other games - something the developers at Sega Technical Institute were unaware of. When Hirokazu Yasuhara revealed this fact during the game's official wrap party, Howard Drossin was forced to compose last-minute replacements for the offending tracks.[3]

This earlier ROM leaked onto the internet as early as November 6, 1993[10], with the common belief that it was released in limited quantities before being quickly pulled and replaced with a later revision. However, modern investigation has also revealed information which identifies the ROM as being a late prototype stolen from Sega of America's BBS servers and released by the scene group SNEAKERS.[11]


Sonic Pinball demonstration

The game's creation came about as a result of Sega of America's marketing department showing interest in utilizing Sonic 2's Casino Night Zone for a potential new Sonic project.[1] A short animated pitch, titled Sonic Pinball, was soon created by Sega Technical Institute's Peter Morawiec, Kurt Peterson, and Justin Chin. Recycling graphics from Sonic 2 (a common theme across the game), the demo features elements from what would become Toxic Caves, albeit with an entirely different set of graphics and music.

The demo was produced only 2-3 days before Winter CES 1993, with Peterson creating the game's art and Morawiec producing its programming.[1] Drawing inspiration from the popular Amiga game Pinball Dreams, the layout was designed to look like a real pinball table, and a MOD file from the Amiga demoscene was used as background music.[1] It is unknown if the video was actually shown at Winter CES 1993. However, a copy of the VHS tape was retained and eventually digitized, where it can now be easily found online.[12]

Summer CES 1993

Sonic Spinball was announced to the public under its new name at Summer CES 1993 in Chicago, with a teaser video playing on the show floor.[13] It was one of three games scheduled for release on "Sonic Mania Day" at some point in November, alongside Sonic the Hedgehog CD and the Game Gear version of Sonic Chaos. Prior to the event, Sega had listed a Sonic 3 on its release schedules, but were quick to point out that Spinball was not the game being referenced, and would ship with only an 8-megabit cartridge.[13]

While in a more recognizable state than Spinball's previous appearances, the video on display was not real gameplay footage. Sonic's animations boasted a notably-low framerate, and appearances from both Toxic Caves and Lava Powerhouse demonstrated a number of design and layout differences when compared to the final game.

¡Atencion! Mezcla Explosiva: Especial Eternal Champions

Sonic Spinball footage was included in the Spanish promotional VHS ¡Atencion! Mezcla Explosiva: Especial Eternal Champions.

Concept art


Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (16-bit)
Spinball title.png

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