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What is Sonic X-Treme?

This article about Sonic X-Treme was written by Jared Matte, aka The Green Gibbon! from The Green Hill Zone website. The GHZ decided not to include Sonic X-Treme in it's vast data selection since it was not released, and in turn gave their page to the SOST for the world to read.

-- Sonic X-Treme --
   In May of 1996, Sega of America proudly announced the development of the Saturn's killer app. The true Sonic game the doomed console needed from the get-go. Moreover, it was set to go head-to-head with Super Mario 64, the phenomenal return of Sonic's chief rival. So what went wrong? Make yourselves comfortable, children, and I'll tell you a little story...


-- Story --
   Professor Gazebo Boobowski and his daughter, Tiara, are the keepers of the six magical Rings of Order, as well as the ancient art of Ring smithing. Gazebo and Tiara freak that Dr. Robotnik is after the six Rings of Order, and call on Sonic to get the Rings before the Eggman can. Robotnik has already made one previous attempt at stealing the Rings, and Sonic is the only one who can knock the thought out of his head.
-- Behind the Screens --
   The earliest threads of the legend date back to 1994, almost immediately following the completion of Sonic & Knuckles. At that time, Sega of Japan and Sega of America were essentially two separate companies. Sega of America wanted to do its own thing, but Sega of Japan always had the final say, so there was alot of friction between the two. The bigwigs over in the land of the rising sun were busy putting together the destined-to-be underdog of the 32-bit war, Saturn, but Sega's US division had plans of its own.

   Sega Technical Institute, SoA's software division, was already throwing around ideas for the next major Sonic game. The title was originally intended for the ill-fated 32X, but was quickly shifted to a cartridge-based platform in development at SoA. This new console was intended to rival Nintendo's N64, and the new Sonic game was supposed to make it for launch. Sensing the inevitable conflict between this cartridge system and their own CD-based Saturn, Sega of Japan killed the cart muncher leaving the Sonic-to-be with only one option.

   We're now into early 1996. Bernie Stolar, to whom the PlayStation's success is often attributed, had just moved his digs from Sony to Sega of America. With Nintendo's 64 launch looming on the horizon, the Saturn was going to need a big gun for the holiday season and Bernie was aware of this fact. Love him or hate him, but Stolar is a man who knows his business, and he immediately began shaking things up at Sega Technical Institute. Roger Hector, head of STI, was ordered to compile a core team for Sonic X-Treme. The chosen few were to be subjected to a high-pressure development crunch with no freedom until the game itself was complete. The "lucky" winners:

  • Mike Wallis - Producer
  • Chris Senn - Art director, co-lead designer, team coordinator, and conceptual music
  • Ofer Alon - Technical director/engineer, lead programmer, and co-lead designer
  • Fei Cheng - Computer graphics artist/designer and conceptual design
  • Chris Coffin - Lead boss stage/boss FX programming and conceptual gameplay design
  • Howard Drossin - Music and sound effects director
  • Ross Harris - Lead computer graphics artist/animator and conceptual design
  • Jason Kuo - Boss layout lead
  • Andrew Probert - Computer graphics artist/designer and conceptual design
  • Richard Wheeler - Designer, world layout lead and conceptual gameplay design

       The team was practically locked-up in STI headquarters. Meals were brought in and the group essentially lived in the office, working 15-16 hour days in their mad rush to get Sonic X-Treme off the drawing board and onto store shelves in time for Christmas. Despite the pressure, things started off well... the team was enthusiastic and Stolar was generous in making sure they had all the resources they needed. So where did this plan begin going awry?

       Over in Japan, Sonic Team were busy working on their own Saturn masterpiece, NiGHTS. The engine utilized in the game would've made the ideal building block for a 3D Sonic title... such as Sonic X-Treme. STI requested the NiGHTS engine, as creating their own from scratch would've been too time-consuming for their unreasonable deadline. Stolar happily obliged. STI began familiarizing themselves with the engine, but their luck ran out just two weeks later. Yuji Naka, it seems, got wind of STI's acquisition of the NiGHTS technology. This was during an era of intense rivalry between Sega Japan and Sega US, and Naka hated Sega US. So, being the good sport that he is, he went to the head of SoJ and demanded that the NiGHTS engine be taken away from STI, threatening to quit if his "request" wasn't carried out. What Yuji wants, Yuji gets, so the NiGHTS engine was retracted leaving STI to start from scratch. Things only got worse from there.

       Ofer Alon managed to get his own set of development tools up and running on PC. The intent was to port the finished product to the Saturn, but technical problems hindered the transition. Alon's primary game engine featured 2D sprites running around 3D polygonal stages. A fish-eye camera system designed to give players a full view to the left and right as well as in and out was implemented. Much like the Special Stages in Chaotix, all of X-Treme's worlds were built inside giant "tubes" with no center of gravity, allowing the player to run up walls. There were four planned Zones: Jade Gully, Crystal Frost, Red Sands, and Galaxy Fortress.

       Another big gimmick for X-Treme was Sonic's vastly expanded roster of moves. Aside from the standard spin, here's a list of some cool-sounding tricks that, as fate would have it, never made it into Sonic's collective arsenal:

  • SpinBash - A quick forward attack modified from the Spin Dash
  • SpinSlash - A mid-air, 360 attack
  • Ring Throwing - Sacrifice a Ring from the tally to hurl at an enemy
  • Power Ball - An attack designed to strike straight down on enemies below
  • Super Bounce - A jump which offers more height, but less control than a normal jump
  • Ring Shield - A way to forfeit collected Rings for a shield
  • Sonic Boom - A 360 attack used in conjunction with the Ring Shield

       Chris Coffin, working independently of Ofer Alon, created his own boss engine based on the NiGHTS technology. Boss battles were to be fought in large circular arenas. While Coffin only managed to get two full-fledged bosses up and running (series villains Fang the Sniper and Metal Sonic), they were completely developed right down to the AI.

       Despite the circumstances, development continued and Sonic X-Treme was beginning to take shape. Unbeknownst to the team, the final blow was yet to come. During the summer of '96, right in the thick of X-Treme's development, the head of SoJ caught a glimpse of an early build. He favored Chris Coffin's boss engine over Ofer Alon's game engine, and instructed the team to scrap the latter entirely and build the whole game on the boss technology. Alon quit the team and left Sega in frustration, leaving the remaining crew with even more to do in even less time. At this point, the entire project was hinging on director Chris Senn, who was putting in 200%, doing his best to pick up the slack. But after 7-8 weeks of sleepless nights, even the energetic Senn reached his limit. Producer Mike Wallis had no choice but to put the hedgehog out of his misery. He broke the news to Stolar, who officially ended the Sonic X-Treme project in favor of their backup plan, Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island. Sonic X-Treme was officially canned.

       Even after the death of the Saturn version, Chris Senn and Ofer Alon continued work on a PC version of X-Treme. The PC build came much farther along, with several complete levels playable. The duo pitched the game to Sega's PC division, but the suits there were content to simply do ports, and refused to fund the project. This was the last of a series of dead-ends for X-Treme.

       Although the game itself will never come to fruition as originally planned, X-Treme lives on in the collective mind of fandom. It's a popular source of rumor and intrigue.