Sega has posted a screenshot on its official Facebook page, teasing something. Any long-term Sega fan will immediately recognise it as an environmental render from Stick Canyon - one of the final levels in 1996's NiGHTS into Dreams. Any long-term GamesRadar fan will know that NiGHTS into Dreams is one of my favourite games of all time. And... I'm confused. But first, have a look yourself:
Above: Stick Canyon, no mistake. But what else does this screen tell you?
Initial thoughts are the most obvious: It's a render from Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, teasing the reveal of a NiGHTS-themed race track. But some elements of the picture don't add up. I'll number them:
Above: It's the same screenshot, only with numbers on it. Could you tell?
1) This is a 3D 'sky box' apparently made using the orignal flat 2D background from the Sega Saturn original. If you look closely, you can see that the 2D image is blurred slightly to cover up the fact that it's the original, comparatively low-res image.
2) These rocks are blocky and flat, with textures highly reminiscent of the 1996 CG images that accompanied the original game on its release.
3) This cactus is not only drawn in full 3D, it has modern graphical effects like a real-time shadow and a full reflection in the metal surface. It looks render-quality, way better than the 3D model in the PS2 remake and yet completely at odds with the flat dirt texture beneath it.
4) These screws are a complete mystery. Sega Saturn could never have rendered them in real-time, instead opting for flat textures of screws. These screws, however, are not perfectly rounded like you'd expect from a modern render. You can see the flat lines from the polygons that make up their 3D models. Basically, they're too good to be from an HD remake or even an HD version of the PS2 edition... but also too basic to be from a modern-day 3D render.
Above: The PS2 remake, running in HD through an emulator. Flat screw textures and a blocky cactus. This is not what is depicted in the new picture
5) Finally... there's no race track. The screws could denote the edge of the track, but then you'd be driving into that hill with the crane. Surely there would be some element of the racing in there like weapon pick-ups or speed boost panels?
So what ARE we looking at? Either it's the most authentic and lovingly-created All-Stars Racing Transformed track yet, or it's something else. With Sega closing many European branches right now and the company's own admission that it's only focusing on a few core franchises for boxed releases (of which NiGHTS is not one), it's highly unlikely that it is something else. Especially when NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams bombed at retail, effectively securing another ten-year wait for a second sequel.
But I look at that image and I can't help but hope. That said, I also hope for Shenmue III every time Sega teases anything, so I wouldn't get your hopes up too much. We wait with bated breath to see what was being teased. Hopefully the wait won't be too long.