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The greatest Sonic game we never got to play

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. Even less encouraging was the response of Yuji Naka, original creator of Sonic. He simply shook his head and said “Good luck”.

17 comments

  • JakeMurrin - March 4, 2014 noon

    This article, like IGN's "Sonic X-treme Revisited", is severely prejudiced by its credulous overreliance on Chris Senn as the only source. Senn was/is a hack, a rank amateur totally in over his head. His other work includes jewels like Comix Zone, which is roughly on the same level as fellow "rad" 90s game Sewer Shark. Senn's recent attempt to complete X-treme, predictably, ended in failure. The footage I've seen of X-treme is the worst I've seen of any game pre-production or otherwise. No-one should be surprised that the project was canceled. I know you want a good story, but the mythology surrounding X-Treme isn't something professional journalists should encourage with fatuous remarks about "Sega's Mario 64." The idea that THIS GAME, THIS TEAM, THIS FOOTAGE could have equaled or surpassed Mario 64 is downright laughable. STI barely even had a core concept in mind, constantly switching between genres, playstyles, and engines; while asking Senn about the ups-and-downs of the Sonic franchise, did he ever mention the four playable characters STI had planned for X-treme? (Including newcomer Tiara Boobowski and first-person flying sections with Tails...clearly the work of tragically misunderstood visionaries.) Frankly, what reason is there even to believe Senn's story that his engine was rejected because they somehow managed to show Sega's CEO the wrong version? (Note that, in any case, Senn continued work on the engine until it was rejected a second time.) How dare Senn question Yuji Naka's programming talent (saying in his Sonic X-treme FAQ that Naka "wasn't amazing"), AFTER he tried to steal Naka's Nights engine because his own work was so lacking? (Sadly, Nights was the last game Naka ever programmed.) Despite how outstanding the Sonic Adventure games were for their time, I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side, and there's nothing the gaming press likes more than sticking the knife in Sega.
  • shawksta - May 28, 2013 5:55 p.m.

    The game was called "Sonic Xtreme: New Worlds" Heh, so i guess "Sonic:Lost Worlds" is a throw back to the name
  • DrakonisNegatum - June 23, 2011 5:28 p.m.

    @ViolentLee What about Sonic 4 Episode 1? I thought it was pretty good. Sonic went back to his 2D roots, but with a 3D feel. On another Note: IMHO I think some of Microsoft's people need to get their hands on this and fix it up a bit... It looks as if it may actually be interesting. Though Sony could fix it up pretty good too. I don't care who fixes it up as long as both consoles get it.
  • ViolentLee - May 5, 2011 12:14 a.m.

    It's amazing that something so promising got killed off by a company who put out so much shit under the same banner. I mean, IMHO there hasn't been a really good Sonic game since.
  • jnewco81 - December 14, 2009 9:32 p.m.

    Some of the videos look pretty cool. I'd have been a little concerned about the pace of the game though - sections where you're tearing across the levels at speed seem to be few and far between
  • Kikyabut2 - July 15, 2009 10:58 p.m.

    it looks similar to mario galaxy, in that its spherical and confusing. it looks like it would have been great, if they had just moved back the release date a little further.
  • wiigamer024 - July 8, 2009 5:35 p.m.

    I remember hearing about this game when I was younger, and I was SOOOOO waiting for it. Only to realize that it was cancelled. Damn, I was pissed that day. I remember my cousin coming in my room, asking me if I wanted to play STH2 with him or something, and I gave him this angry look like, "Why the F**K you even asking me, leave me alone." Then like, 2-3 days later, I felt better again. Man, I just wish that game was released...
  • yoshihunter - July 8, 2009 5:33 a.m.

    looks like a early mario galixie
  • Monkeylink - May 8, 2009 11:26 p.m.

    ahhhh I remember the 2-d Sonic ahhhh those were the good days
  • Stuffgamer1 - March 19, 2009 11:53 p.m.

    Interesting article. I first heard of Sonic X-treme in Nintendo Power a couple months ago, and it keeps coming back ever since (especially on this site). Even so, I must say that I don't like the looks of this game AT ALL! No disrespect to the people who worked their butts off to make this thing, but to me, it looks HORRIBLE! Navigation appears to be the absolute worst the series has ever encountered, and the 3D control looks even clunkier than some modern versions. Again, I stress that I don't want to devalue anybody's work, insult anyone, or anything like that, but this is my honest opinion on the matter. I feel that all in all, Sonic should have never left 2D, period. But since he did (and I'm sure I'm going to be flamed for this one), I say that Sonic Unleashed is one of the best of the bunch. The night levels get a level of bashing they DO NOT deserve, and everybody can more or less agree that the day levels are awesome (any cheap deaths are caused by problems the series has had since game 1). I'm not even a die-hard Sonic fanboy (grew up with Nintendo, and bought a Genesis on Ebay a few years ago), but I still think it's horrible how he's constantly attacked and ridiculed, when his games aren't even half as bad as people say (barring Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, whose demo I couldn't stand, and whose story looked NAUSEATING based on things I've seen on this site). Sonic as a series deserves a good deal more respect than it's given lately (and Sonic IS better than real hedgehogs, thank you very much!). As with most things in this world, he's bashed so much that it's literally IMPOSSIBLE for his stuff to be as bad as people say. Well, that's my crazy-butt long rant. I do ask that people don't go about flaming me TOO much. All I did is tell the truth, and a lot of you know it. Dozens of games have problems as bad as Sonic titles and worse every year, but his get the most negative talk, and for no good reason whatsoever.
  • lukel127 - July 23, 2009 6:35 p.m.

    They have a beta at http://www.emuparadise.org/Betas/ I havent tried it but thought you would like to know
  • waffledragon33 - July 7, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    damm
  • AuthorityFigure - April 27, 2009 9:26 a.m.

    That software looks truly progessive. What a damn shame.
  • Magic_OF_Mayhem - April 5, 2009 10:37 p.m.

    What a missed oppurtunity. Things would be different fo Sega, we would be playing the Dreamcast 2 and the Sonic and Mario would still be well and alive in school playgrounds. Although I tuned out after the (in my opinion) great Sonic Adventure game for the dreamcast, I never really did like Sonic after he became "edgey" and everyone of his games had to be stuffed with obnoxiously cute characters( We're paying for a Sonic game, not a Cream the rabbit game!). Eventually though, I hope Sega will find a good game for Sonic.
  • minimaxi - April 3, 2009 4:55 p.m.

    Tragic. But I do find the fish-eye world a bit disorienting, but it certainly shows flavor, and a glimmer of hope for Saturn.
  • OneWithWaves - April 2, 2009 1:28 a.m.

    Ugh. Bernie Stolar. The world would have been a better place without you. "Saturn is not in our future"?! STOLAR is not in our future. Had this guy not been in SEGA at the time people would probably be playing SEGA's newest console and Sonic would get the respect he had back in the Genesis days. (Genesis was the USA's Mega Drive for those of you across the pond)
  • NeoKef - April 1, 2009 11:19 p.m.

    To the guy above me, keep in mind those vids are demos. With further editing, detail, and better movement controls the game would have been different.

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