Roger Hector: Director of STI Interviews [Sept/Oct 2005]
This interview with Roger Hector was conducted by Simon Wai's Sonic 2 Beta members HXC, who found Roger Hector, who was once the Director of the SEGA Technical Institute, creators of Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic Spinball, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic X-Treme. An initial e-mail was sent, as well as [currently] 3 interviews, all in this page.
HXC had been on a quest to find many old employees of SEGA and it's subsidiaries. After finding a Roger Hector involved in a Photogoraphy business, he e-mailed him with:
Dear Mr Hector
First of all, may I appologise for this email being unrelated to your photography bussiness, which may I add, is very impressive. Also, may I appologise incase I have infact got the wrong person, which is quite possible, as it is becomming ever harder to hunt down people these days!
Here's the main question.
Are you, or are you not the same Mr Hector that was once the director of the unforunate devision of Sega, Sega Technical Institute?
If not, please disregard this email, and I appologise for wasting your valued time.
If you are... Would it be possible to ask you a few questions about your time there? as I work for a Sonic the Hedgehog fansite, and I happen to know that STi worked with Sonic team on quite a few games, including the canned Sonic Xtreme. I would ask the message board of the site to submit some questions and I would put in a few of my own, if you agree to this interview.
Thankyou highly for your precious time
****** ********* (real name)
aka HXC of Shadow of a Hedgehog (http://www.planetdreamcast.com/sonic/)
In which Mr. Hector replied:
Even though you may have found me through my Automotive Art website, I am the same Roger Hector that used to run STI from 1993 - 1996, and I know quite a lot about Sonic and the people that developed him (I used to be regarded as "Sonic's Boss").
Today I am involved with several businesses, including games, but my website only makes reference to my being an artist (I've been one all my life). Even though I paint many different types of subjects, this website only deals with my popular automotive paintings.
If you'd like to ask any Sega questions, I'd be happy to answer.
And so the interviews began. Both HXC and LOst handled the questions sent to Mr. Hector.
Interview 1: August 31st, 2005
Interviewer: What games did you work on while at Sega Technical Institute?
Roger Hector: Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic Spinball, Comix Zone, The Ooze, DieHard (coin op), and several corporate joint venture projects with various Hollywood and Silicon Valley companies.
I: Which of those was your favorite project?
RH: Sonic 3 (also called Sonic & Knuckles) was a lot of fun, but it was also very difficult. Michael Jackson was originally brought in to compose all the music for the game, but at the very end, his work was dropped after his scandals became public. This caused a lot of problems and required a lot of reworking. But the game turned out great in the end.
As director, what was your job and day normaly like?
RH: I was responsible for all the teams and all the projects. I oversaw every detail of production and kept the teams organized, creative, and productive. Sometimes I'd spend all day solving problems, and sometimes I'd play the games and work with the teams.
Did Sega of Japan keep a close eye on STI, and the sonic games inparticular, or were you working alone?
RH: We were separate from the rest of the company (which was great!). We had a lot of autonomy. Sega of Japan was always very interested in what was going on because Sega counted so much on Sonic. It was the most important game produced by the company at that time. But we were given the opportunity to do what we wanted, and were generally left alone.
Can you tell us anything about Sonic X-treme, as in, if it was originally planned for the Mega Drive, the 32x etc.?
RH: Sonic X-treme was started during a time when a lot of changes were going on at Sega. But I left Sega during its production, and it went through a lot of changes afterward.. along with the rest of the company.
(note, the next few questions will be on the subject of Sonic X-treme, so if you don't know the answers, it is perfectly fine, we don't have a clue either!)
From the few screen shots and movies we have of the game, we know there was a "fisheye" camera, what was the reason for this?
RH: Don't know. This must have been after I left.
How did it feel when it was finally canceled, also, was it Sega of Japan who pulled the plug in the end?
RH: It was canceled after I left. SOJ was going through a lot of executive changes there too, and the new people at SOJ pulled the plug on many projects and people in America. The situation was bad at SOJ, and they turned STI and SOA upside down. It was kind of a mess, and I had had enough. The old chemistry was gone, and it became very hard to be creative and do good work.
User Submitted Question: "What is the process of SEGA creating a Sonic game? Like, from the initial ideas to the launch, and everything in between?"
RH: The core Sonic team consisted of Yuji Naka, and Yasuhara. They were responsible for keeping Sonic at the cutting edge. I helped build a team around them that included many other level designers, artists, and programmers. Once Naka & Yasuhara agreed on a general design approach, they drew up a schedule and started working. It took a full year to create many of the Sonic games, and it took many people working together (a dozen or more). Once we were happy with the game, it went to SOA for bug testing. After it was debugged, I signed it off for production. Then everyone took a little vacation and waited to see it launched into the marketplace. This was a lot of fun as there was always a lot of promotion and publicity events that we attended, and it was fun to watch people react to the game. After this, we all started to think about the next Sonic game...
USQ: "What are you recollections of working at STI?"
RH: It was a lot of fun working there, as we had a very top notch creative and technical group. We also were left alone by the rest of the company, so we could be creative and not bothered too much by company politics etc. I enjoyed it a lot, except at the very end. At that time, the company became very political and practically everyone in the SOA management was fired or quit. I was outside of SOA, but I was asked to take over some development aspects of SOA..and this was a mess. Overall, Sega was a great place to work before this, and I am very fond of my memories there.
USQ: "Did you know anything of Knuckles Chaotix?, or more importantly, the prototype called Sonic Crackers?"
RH: I didn't have anything to do with these. I recall they were done somewhere else in Sega.
USQ: "How many zones were there in Sonic X-treme? We only know of four. "
RH: Sorry, I don't know as I left before it was done.
USQ: "Have you got contacts for Howard Drossin? [Music Composer for Sonic & Knuckles, among other games] "
RH: I haven't spoken with Howard for a while, but we are still good friends. He was last living in Los Angeles when we last talked (but I don't have his current contact information). He is an excellent composer and did some wonderful music while at STI.
USQ: "How much work were you involved in, for say Sonic 3? "
RH: I contributed in the initial creative brainstorm meetings, but Naka was in charge of selecting the ideas to develop. I was primarily involved with helping and supporting the team by getting them whatever they needed to get it done. I also worked with everyone outside of STI to get them the information they needed to market the game. Whenever a big problem came up (like the whole Michael Jackson thing), I had to help find a solution and keep things on track. I also helped with creating the marketing and promotion programs to launch the game, and oversee getting it through QA and into production.
USQ: "tell him Sonic Spinball has been one of my favorite games since I was a child, and the anticipation of Sonic X-Treme has shaped me not only as a gamer, but literally as a person as well. The work that STI did on the Sonic series in the mid-90's was, in my eyes, the utmost pinnacle of quality gaming that I've experienced in my 21 years."
RH: Thank you so much! I really appreciate hearing this. It was a lot of work, but as I've said before, it was also a lot of fun. I'm so glad you also enjoyed it.
Sonic Spinball was inspired by the "Las Vegas" level of Sonic 2, but was done by a different team at STI. It was pushed into the big "Christmas release" slot when Sonic & Knuckles got delayed, but we all had a good time with it. I'm glad you also did.
I: And finally.. What do you have left over from the time at STI? As in materials or even prototypes. And are you willing to donate or copy any of them to the Sega Community? We are always itching for new things!
RH: I have stashed away a small box of Sega memorabilia, but I'm not sure what's in it now. I'm also not sure where it is (I've recently moved and these things are still boxed up somewhere). When I get to find it, I'll be happy to send you something...but no promises on exactly when this will be. Feel free to check back with me sometime.
- Roger Hector
Interview 2: September 10th, 2005
User Submitted Question: "No matter what guy we have turned to, including music team Milpo,
Jun Senoue, and Bobby Brooks, they won't answer anything from Sonic 3
yet today over 10 years after the release, so what's the secret? And
why are you willing to answer questions about Sonic 3 when no other
guy is able to?"
Roger Hector: I'm not sure who these people are that you refer to, but they were not on the core Sonic team. So I am sure they don't know as much about Sonic 3 development. I have simply answered your questions because you asked them.
USQ: "Please ask him about everything he remembers about the making of
Sonic 3, I believe it would make for a quite interesting article.
Also, ask him if he knows of anybody who might keep any kind of
development stuff from the original Sonic 3 (concept art, music,
prototype builds, whatever)."
RH: It has been a while since Sonic 3 was developed, but I remember it was a very satisfying project because we worked so hard and it paid off. It was pressure packed because the success of Sonic 2 had to be topped with a better game in Sonic 3. That put a lot of pressure on leads Yuji Naka and Yasuhara. To come up with better more interesting challenges, characters, puzzles, animations, worlds, etc. etc., but everyone pitched in.
There was also a lot of pressure from the company to make sure it was completed on time for a Christmas release. But most of the pressure came from the team itself as they truly wanted the game to be great, and they all worked very hard to make it so. Ultimately it all came together, we made our ship dates, and the game was a hit. So in that regard our collective hard work paid off. That's why it was satisfying.
USQ: "Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was originally one game that was later split
into two parts (Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles). Sonic & Knuckles
introduced a number of elements that were not found in Sonic 3, such
as the Super Emeralds, and the Lava Reef and Death Egg stages. Were
these elements always intended to be included in the full Sonic 3
RH: The original Sonic 3 game was very aggressive in its scope. Massive really. So after getting started working on it, it was decided to split it in half, and spread the design across two games. This was good as there was no way all of it would fit in one game. The second game was developed later and the things you mention were introduced to add new, previously unseen game elements. I don't remember if they were originally in the larger game plan from the beginning as new things were added all the time.
USQ: "The design of the character Knuckles is a great source of fascination
for Sonic fans. According to Sega of Japan, the final Knuckles design was chosen
from 10 possible designs. Could you tell us more about the rejected
designs? Were the rejected designs re-used for any other Sonic games?" Also, there was a supposed Nike sponsorship? Is this true?"
RH: There were dozens and dozens of character designs created. All kinds of creatures. Some based on animals, or collections of animal parts. Some were completely made up and didn't resemble anything you've ever seen. The artists had a great time with this and it was very creative. I don't remember specifically if rejected designs became other creatures in the game, but it is very possible.
I also don't remember anything about a Nike deal.
USQ: "Both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles contain a hidden yellow 8th
Chaos/Super Emerald. Was there, if you can remember any significance
RH: Only that the designers wanted to hide a lot of things to discover. That's the fun part of the game anyway.
USQ: "Was Yuji Naka responsible for all the programming of Sonic 3? A lot
of techniques were improved and added that were never even possible in
Sonic 2, which kind of makes the question: Did Naka get help just to
finish Sonic 3 in time, or did he get help because his programming
experience wasn't high enough for yet another Sonic game?"
RH: Naka was the lead programmer, and the Project Lead. He did not do all the programming as there were several other talented programmers that worked on the game. But Naka was as good as they get, and nobody was brought in to help him because he wasn't up to it. Naka was excellent.
Interview 3: October 29th, 2005
[Note: This interview was done after the finding of the "Rock the Rock" STI Video from MTV]
I'm sorry to torment you with these questions again, but we have just had a new video appear, with you on it, the Rock the Rock MTV Sonic and Knuckles special. A member of our community has come up with lots of helpful questions that could sort a few things out
When Sonic 2 was released in America, a new logo was used for the SONIC text on the box art. This text saying "SONIC" had yellow-orange outlined border with blue shiny letters. The O and C had a diagonal circle in the middle. This logo was later used to say "SONIC SPINBALL", "SONIC CHAOS", "SONIC CD", "SONIC 3", and then the last one used for "SONIC & KNUCKLES".
We are all very interested how this logo was made, and by whom?
We are also very interested in knowing what the font family name was, do you remember maybe?
Roger Hector: There were many different artists that developed packaging art who worked outside of STI . In the beginning this was not tightly controlled. I remember that at one point there were several different versions of the same art (like "title art") and it became a problem. So SOA Marketing decided to produce a Sonic Style Guide (a book containing the official approved versions of all types and pieces of Sonic art) to be used by every Sega division and subcontractor. It took a long time to produce, and STI was only involved at the end to give final approval. The reason it took so long to produce was it required several tries to get STI's approval. Unfortunately, I don't know the names of the artists that did this development.
The Sonic drawings on mostly all the American Genesis boxarts involving Sonic The Hedgehog were drawn in a special way. Who was this artist making this nicely shaded Sonic looking "cool" all the time?
RH: Again, this was done outside of STI and I don't know the name of the artist.
I: The third question has to do with the Sonic & Knuckles development. We just got videos of a MTV show recorded back in 1994, which were a very big Sonic & Knuckles contest, probably sponsored by STI. In this show we can see you among other developers of a unknown Sonic game.
We can clearly see Kunitake Aoki working with a 3D wireframed program making the Sonic & Knuckles title screen. He also draws the graphics for the 3D title screen in a Digitizer, I think. He is doing an amazing job we can tell. The rest of the gang, except Hirokazu Yasuhara and Howard Drossin, are no even credited in the Sonic & Knuckles staff roll at the end.
One of these guys is Adrian Stephens.
In the MTV show, Adrian Stephens is credited as "The Technical Director". He is showing off in front of the camera by drawing math on a whiteboard while talking about how the Knuckles player's physics work in the game. The math he is using is very confusing.
First of all, I know Naka was behind the programming of the Sonic character's physics. It's part of the Sonic engine he made back in 1991. And the math used by Adrian Stephens can't even be simulated on the Genesis hardware. This makes me wonder what Adrian Stephens really worked on at that time. He can't take credits from Yuji Naka's work.
Adrian Stephens probably did a great job at what he was working on at that time. I just want to know what he was working on, and why he was credited in this show for being the Knuckles physics mind behing the game?
RH: Adrian enjoyed playing jokes, and the physics math on the white board could have been something fake he threw up there just for fun (I dont remember for sure). But Adrian was also an excellent technical programmer, and he did indeed contribute to the physics code in the game. As Adrian was working in the capacity of Technical Director, he provided assistance to Naka, and helped him solve technical problems. In certain areas, he was a stronger technical designer than Naka. He even wrote some underlying code that was used in the game. Naka respected Adrian (who is a Brit) quite a bit, and he was happy to be able to use Adrian's help.
I: Chris Senn was also credited in the Sonic & Knuckles contest on MTV back in 1994, as Artist. He was never credited in the real Sonic & Knuckles game. Also he was working on drawing a female Sonic character.
As the result of this, I believe that some of these people were not working on Sonic & Knuckles at all since the game was already released. I think these people were working on a new Sonic title, possible Sonic X-treme. That's probably why Chris Senn's character is not a Sonic & Knuckles drawing, and Adrian Stephens math physics was ment to be.
Have we got this right, or is there more to the story?
Chris Senn was working developing character art in the Sonic team at the time the MTV show was made. It may have been that his art made it into the show, but his art did not make it into the final Sonic & Knuckles game. It was not uncommon to have several STI artists take a crack at creating characters, but the ones that made it into a game were only a small percentage of what was created. But it was not all wasted ...When a new game would get started, we would bring out unused character art from previous games to use as inspiration for the new game.
Thank you Roger Hector for answering these questions. And for our research, most questions here have been brought to life by us from looking at this page:
RH: Thanks for sending this. It was fun to see it again!