Tim Skelly interview by ICEknight (August 2004)

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The following is a series of two interviews given by ICEknight to Sonic 2 Art Director Tim Skelly. The interview was originally put online at Sonic Database.

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.

ICEknight: Was everybody happy with the relations between the Japanese crew and the STI?

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.

ICEknight: Since many American levels such as Craig Stitt's Hidden Palace were removed before release, many people suspect they [Sega of Japan] weren't too fond of the American graphic works.

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.

ICEknight: Were there any plans for other projects in cooperation with the Sonic Team?

Tim Skelly: Not to my knowledge.

ICEknight: Since you're credited as "Special Stage Art and CG" in the game ending, I guess you were responsible for the amazing roller coaster-like graphics that were going on in the background. Can you explain us how did that Special Stage become a reality? It seemed truly amazing and innovative for its time.

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.

ICEknight: Do you remember anything that couldn't make it because of the hardware limitations? Was it originally intended to be any different?

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.

ICEknight: And by the way, do you know if the graphics for Sonic & Tails were made by the same artist than the in-game ones?

Tim Skelly: Hard to say.

ICEknight: I couldn't help but notice how you also have a picture of Tom Payne's "Metropolis" level in your portfolio. Do you remember helping in that level or any of the other 2D levels?

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.

ICEknight: After having talked with other Sonic 2 developers such as Tom Payne or Brenda Ross, many unknown levels have been brought up to our attention, such as a desert level, a winter-themed level, an Atlantis level and perhaps even one with big clown heads?

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.

ICEknight: Can you remember anything about these concepts that were probably never used? Any specific level names, perhaps?

Tim Skelly: Not really.

ICEknight: ...(luckily enough, Mr. Payne has been able to recover a couple of graphics that came from the Digitizers, showing some pretty interesting enemies with different features than the final ones).

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.

ICEknight: We've been able to find a (pirated) prototype of the game and there seems to be many things that were changed. Do you know what happened exactly with a level called Genocide City?

Tim Skelly: Nope.

ICEknight: Or where was the Hidden Palace intended to be hidden? Or why was the Casino Night Zone changed from pink/blue to golden?

Tim Skelly: Because we thought it looked better?

ICEknight: Many levels are missing,

Tim Skelly: I wouldn't say that. Some half finished, untested levels with artwork in various states, yes.

ICEknight: ...but the music can be found in the Sound Test, although a bit different... Could these have been made for earlier levels that didn't make it, then modified and reused for the newer ones?

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.

ICEknight: If you can remember anything else about the development of this game, we would be very interested to read about it.

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. ;>)

Best wishes, Tim Skelly

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.

ICEknight: Any things you remember that had to be removed because they weren't fun enough (something that Brenda has said about her almost finished "Wood Zone")

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.

ICEknight: Also, were the enemies created separately and then chosen after the level art was finished?

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.

ICEknight: Were the levels given a name before they could be actually played?

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.

ICEknight: One of the reasons for asking this is that we don't know if the desert/winter level was ever given a name since it's not present in the known prototype

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.

ICEknight: And by the way, we're not even sure if it was just one level with a palette change in the middle or two separate, but similar, zones like Emerald Hill / Hill Top.

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.

ICEknight: That level and Genocide City (which Tom Payne has just told me it might have been ditched in favor of the third act in Metropolis) are possibly the two stages most Sonic fans are wondering about, until we read about any other previously unknown level, of course.

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.

ICEknight: I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I send you an email filled with selected fan questions in the future.

Tim Skelly: Sure.

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