Hey everyone. This year is the anniversaries of two of my favorite video game characters: Mario (who turns 30 this year (and yes, I consider Donkey Kong to be his true debut game)) & Sonic (who turns 20 this year). While both characters kick ass, I've decided to focus on Sonic (since his debut game was the first video game I ever played). Rather than write about the best Sonic games (Sonic 1 through Adventure 2, Sonic 4:Episode 1, and Colors), I'll be focusing on the game that was to have been the blue blur's answer to Super Mario 64 (without a doubt one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, 3D platforming game ever made). I'm of course talking about one of the greatest games never made.

Sonic X-treme



What is Sonic X-treme?

Sonic X-treme is the game that Sega expected to be the Sega Saturn's killer game, as well as Sonic's 3D debut. Though this time around, Sonic Team wouldn't be creating the game (they were busy creating the Saturn cult classic, NiGHTS Into Dreams). The duty of creating the new 3D platformer was sent to the Sega Technical Institute (Sega's American development team who worked alongside Sonic Team in developing Sonic 2- 3 & Knuckles). Helming the project would be Comix Zone creator Mike Wallis.

Pre-Sonic X-treme

The history of Sonic X-treme begins well after the release of Sonic & Knuckles. Sega was looking for ways to take their mascot to new heights. Before Sonic X-treme was concieved, STI came up with two concepts for future games

Concept 1- Sonic-16




The first concept was a Sega Genesis game based of DIC Entertainment's Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon (SatAM to be exact). The game was to have had many unique additions to Sonic's roster of moves, such as throwing your rings at enemies (which would be retained in Sonic X-treme). The game was cancelled when Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka gave the demo reel his disapproval.

Concept 2- Sonic Mars


Another concept was a full fledged Sonic game for the Sega 32x. The game was to have been an isometric platformer (this was before Sonic 3D Blast). Like Sonic-16, it was to have been based on Sonic SatAM, though it was cancelled when the team determined that the limitations of the 32x prevented such a game from being made. The project was shifted over to Sega's then-new console: Sega Saturn. And thus begins the history of Sonic X-treme.

Beginnings

The year is 1994. The 16 bit era of video games was nearly over and the new 32 bit consoles were preparing to be unleashed on gamers. Sony's PS1 was gearing up for release in Japan and Nintendo unveiled the Ultra 64 (the original name for the N64). Sega on the other hand was planning out their next major console. Like any other hardware company, Sega had Japanese and American divisions. Sega of Japan was planning a CD-based 32-bit console, while Sega of America was planning a similar console that ran off cartridges instead of CDs. While Sega of Japan (who always had the final say of what either division does) would eventually force SoA to cancel the cartridge system, they allowed Sega Technical Institute to develop a Sonic game for the CD based console (now known as the Sega Saturn). Production began on the 32x with designer Chris Senn creating pitch demos to show to the executives at Sega of Japan.

Needless to say, the SoJ executives weren't too impressed with the demo, in particular Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka, who after the meeting told Senn two prophetic words: "Good luck". After that, production continued on the 32x before eventually moving on to the Saturn. Development was split into two teams. The first team had Chris Senn and programmer Ofer Alon devolping a game engine featuring 2D sprites moving across a 3D environment, including a "fish eyed" camera lense that gave players a full view to the left and right. There were four zones that were developed by this team: Jade Gully, Crystal Frost, Red Sands, and Galaxy Fortress/Death Egg.


The second team was helmed by Chris Coffin and they primarily worked on the boss battles and some "main" stages. The boss battles consisted of large open areas with 3D enemies, while the main stages had your standard and basic platforming.


1996 rolled around and the Saturn has been out in the U.S. for one year now. Over at STI, the game was starting to take shape and at the second E3 convention, Sega unveiled a trailer and playable demo of Coffin's engine.


Everything seemed to going on track, but alas, nothing ever goes as planned.

Before I get to the tragic ending, I might as well explain what the game was to have been like.

Storyline

(There were many storylines being considered for the game, but I'll bring up the one that was commonly used by gaming magazines that were covering the game at the time)

Professor Gazebo Boobowski and his daughter, Tiara (she was to have been Sonic's love interest in the game), guard the Six Rings of Order. Both fear that a certain evil fat scientist will steal the rings, so they both call on Sonic to get the rings before Dr. Robotnik does. No sooner after sending the message, Robotnik invades in his Death Egg and locks up the Professor. Now Sonic has to not only get the rings, but rescue the professor



Some storyboards for an opening FMV and possibly the only known concept artwork for Professor Boobowski

Moves

Alongside a modified spin dash, X-treme was to have very unique additions to Sonic's attack roster
SpinBash - A modified spin dash
SpinSlash - A mid-air, 360° attack
Ring Throwing - Lose a ring to hurl at an enemy (Tails would eventually have this type of attack in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006))
Power Ball - An attack designed to strike straight down on enemies below
Super Bounce - A higher jump, though harder to control
Ring Shield - An instant shield, at the expense of rings
Sonic Boom - A 360° attack used alongside the ring shield


Levels

Jade Gully









Crystal Forest









Red Sands








Galaxy Fortress/Death Egg



Badniks







Bosses

Metal Sonic



Nack the Weasel




Boss Concept Art










Magazine Scans






Everything Goes Terribly Wrong

While working on his game engine, Chris Coffin got an early build of Sonic Team's NiGHTS. The engine in the game served as the perfect base for a 3D Sonic game and STI asked Sega of America's new president, Bernie Stolar, to get a copy of the NiGHTS engine. He delivered and conversion of the game to the new tech started.

Sometime later, NiGHTS programmer (and Sonic co-creator) Yuji Naka got wind of Stolar acquiring his code and tools for STI. Naka threatened to leave Sega (something he'd eventually do in 2006) if the code and tools weren't taken away from the Sonic X-treme team. SoJ obliged and cost the X-treme team weeks of work, and the situation soon got worse. In the summer of 1996, Hayao Nakayama, then-CEO of Sega, went to the STI offices to try out the two game engines. Nakayama prefered Coffin's boss engine over Chris Senn and Ofer Alon's engine and ordered the team to make the entire game like Coffin's engine. The project went back to square one and Alon soon left Sega in frustrastion. Coffin and Senn literally moved into their offices at STI, bringing everything they need to work for 20 hours a day. But even with their determination to make the holiday deadline, their work soon took a toll on them. Chris Senn became ill and was told by his doctors that he had six month to live, and Chris Coffin developed a severe case of pneumonia. Producer Mike Wallis soon had no choice but the break the news to Bernie Stolar. Despite no killer app for Christmas 1996, Stolar had a backup plan: the Sega Saturn port of Sonic 3D Blast

Even after the cancellation, Chris Senn was interested in getting the game that he and Ofer Alon made a release on the PC. The build went along much better than the Saturn build and there were several complete playable levels. He pitched the game to Sega's PC division, but they turned down the proposal since they were mainly content with doing ports. And with that,Sonic X-treme was officially dead

Epilogue

Sega Technical Institute created one more game (Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade) before being disbanded. Sonic 3D Blast, both the Genesis and Saturn versions, were released on November 30, 1996. While many gamers were dissapointed by not getting the cutting edge Sonic they were promised, they at least got something Sonic related on the Saturn that Christmas. In Sonic X-treme's place as the must get game for Christmas was the very game that started X-treme's downfall: NiGHTS Into Dreams. Eight months later, Sonic Team released Sonic Jam. While it was mostly a compilation of the classic Sonic games, it did feature a 3D "Sonic World". While Sonic World was never expanded into a stand alone game, it did serve as a giant middle finger from Yuji Naka to Sega of America. It was also Naka proclaiming that if Sonic Team wanted to, they could of made a 3D Sonic game like X-treme, if not better.




Eventually, Sonic & co. made their true leap into the 3rd demension with the 1999 Sega Dreamcast classic, Sonic Adventure. While the game and it's 2001 sequel recieved critical and fan praise (not to mention the fact that they are damn great games in my opinion), they didn't really change the face of gaming the same way that Super Mario 64 did, mainly because of the fact that 3D gaming was already the norm by the time 9/9/99 rolled around.



My thoughts

I never owned a Sega Saturn, nor did I know anyone who had one. Had this game came out, I probably would have either downloaded a Saturn emulator or buy a physical Sega Saturn from eBay just for this game. But would this game have saved the Saturn from the hole it would dig itself into? IMO, I think it would have helped the Saturn the same way the original Sonic game helped the Genesis, but in the case of the Saturn, not really enough to topple the juggarnaut that was PlayStation. The camera system looked like it would revolutionized 3D platformers in a similar vein to Mario 64's camera. Overall, Sonic X-treme looks like it would have been an interesting addition to the Sonic series and a perfect way to compete with the plumber's 3D game.

Anyways, hope you enjoy the article and here's to another 20 years for the fastest thing alive.


Special Thanks

Sonic Retro
http://info.sonicretro.org/Sonic_X-treme

Secrets of Sonic Team http://sost.emulationzone.org/sonic_xtreme/index.htm