It’s 1994. The Nintendo 64 is coming and Sega wants something big to go toe-to-toe with Ninty when the machine is launched. Naturally, a flashy new Sonic game is the obvious solution.
At this point it’s important to note how Sega was set up at the time. It was a very divided company with a definite separating line cleaved between east and west. Sega of America and Sega of Japan were virtually operating as separate entities, and relations between the two weren’t always smooth. The division was so great in fact, that at one point during the Saturn’s development there were actually two versions of the machine being planned; a Japanese, CD-based design and and an American, cartridge-powered console.
So when Sega Technical Institute (a small US development division, once populated by Japanese Sonic Team members but by then also incorporating American employees) expressed interest in making the game, it was perhaps inevitable that things were going to get messy. At that early stage though, few could have predicted just how ill-fated the project would be.
Above: The original pitch video
Preliminary work began with Sega’s 32X Mega Drive add-on as the intended launch platform, despite the fact that the device wasn’t even finished and firm technical specifications weren’t yet available. Michael Kosaka was the game’s producer and team leader at that point, and soldiered on with a design document regardless of the hardware complications. CGI artist and animator Chris Senn was charged with creating demo animations to sell the concept to Sega’s executives. We’ve been lucky enough to to talk at length with Senn about his time on the project, and we’ll be checking in with him regularly throughout this feature.
Senn had no choice but to design his demos conservatively due to the lack of clear hardware specs for the game, but upon being shown his work, Sega’s execs voiced concern regardless. In those post-Donkey Kong Country days, they weren’t happy with what they saw as simplistic graphics, irrespective of the constraints on the designer at the time. Evenless encouragingwas the response of Yuji Naka, original creator of Sonic. He simply shook his head and said “Good luck”.