4/09/2012

Sonic 2 Beta

During the late eighties, and early nineties it was difficult for any consumer-level hardware to really dig themselves a competitive niche in the videogame market, at least this was the case in North America, and Japan. The reason for this was the borderline monopoly that Nintendo had going; 1 in 5 homes in America had a Nintendo Entertainment System. This firm market-share, was established with the help of a Robot - packaged in to trick people into thinking it was a toy, rather than a videogame console - atop piles of dead-Atari clones. The Nintendo had a lot of things going for it, and was a major breath of fresh-air for both the consumer, and an industry that was literally on it's knees.

Well, not literally. It's an abstract noun.

In 1989, arcade stalwart, Service Games, better known by their contraction, SEGA, introduced a powerful new piece of tech, that promised that with it's BLAST-PROCESSING it could do what NINTENDON'T. Haha, get it? They used their name as a slam against them! It's even more hilarious, because nothing stated in those ads really meant anything; Blast Processing, muh like Grade A Beef, is a meaningless buzz-word. McDonald's uses Grad A beef, and their 'food' still tastes like Blast-Processing.


At this point it's possible that you're wondering what all of these corporate politics have to do with Sonic the Hedgehog. If you are wondering that, it's possible that you're twelve-years-old, and don't realize that corporate politics have everything to do with Sonic. The Genesis spent two lucrative years chugging along on nothing but better graphics, and made-up jargon used to describe said graphics. But their golden goose was about to stop processing blast...

"Riding a dinosaur" is a metaphor for "My chief rival's stock is going to plummet"

In 1991 Nintendo was about to release the Super Nintendo, which didn't need to promise anything other than, "Mario game at launch" and "We're Nintendo"; instant money. Sega quickly regrouped, figuring that 16-BIT SPORTS ACTION wouldn't save their careers from Mario, who now rides mounted atop a lustful, sexy dinosaur. The only way to beat Nintendo was at their own game, and began planning for a new game, featuring an endearing, loveable mascot - no gay dinosaurs necessary. The artists at Sega slaved over their easels, providing different potential trademarks, including a dog, an armadillo, and Teddy Roosevelt. Most of these characters were used in later games, but the artist named Naoto Ōshima would get the honor of having his character become a pop-culture icon, having drawn a blue-furred porcupine that would evolve into Sonic, the Hedgehog we all know and tolerate.

 It's worth noting that SEGA for some reason, or another believed that having Michael Jackson as a long-term business partner wasn't enough to outsell the SNES.

Pictured: Michael Jackson doing what Nintendon't.

Damn it, SEGA.

Sonic 1 was a huge success, dinosaurs notwithstanding, and with Yen-signs in their eyes, the Sega execs started making bizarre, seemingly-bad decisions that would pay off big time in the end (unlike nowadays, where they only make bizarre, actually-bad decisions). The first game's follow-up would consist of two near-identical versions; one for the Genesis, and the other for their then-up-coming optical-disc add-on, the Sega CD. Despite the plans to make them identical, they were to be developed concurrently by two distinctly different teams, with distinctly different pedigrees, in two distinctly different regions of the world.

Sonic CD would be spearheaded by Naoto Ōshima, the father of Sonic, whereas Yuji Naka, tired of Sega of Japan's shenanigans, left Sonic Team, and was transferred to America, to overlook Sega Technical Institute's production of Sonic 2. It was at this time that the one game became two., and this is where we discover the joy of prototypes...

Unreleased Games & Content from the Sonic the Hedgehog series.

This is the first in a series where we discuss the potential Sonic games that never saw the light of day, as well as those that only did so in a drastically altered form. Now, before we begin, I'd like to establish that in the late nineties, when the internet was first discovered by cavemen such as myself, I was enamored by the great breadth of ugly, tacky websites containing every animated gif known to man. I was also a huge Sonic-fag at the time, so naturally, my interests intersected, upon my discovery of Sonic Fan-Sites. I'd spend summer afternoons just sucking down anything related to Sonic; my friends didn't really get it, but you know what? Fuck them. I was just glad to be able to reminiscence about things that happened four-years earlier, the true definition of nostalgia, if there ever was one. I watched the cartoon I had watched when I was younger, then I watched the cartoon I hadn't, then I watched the Canadian series that was actually still running at the time, and no, I didn't watch that for very long.

 There were fangames, fan-videos and all sorts of seemingly endless knowledge about every possible facet of the franchise; one thing that always kept my interest were the in-depth write-ups about the content cut from games, as well as games that weren't released altogether. It was amazing to someone my age to think about how things like this get made; enemies, graphics, in some cases even entire stages, or modes get taken out, never to be seen again. These games were like something out of an alternate universe, or something, where everything is almost the same, just slightly different, though Sonic 2 Beta, in any of it's forms, is a little more than just slighty different. Let's start where it all began...

Despite being a sequel, Sonic 2 is much more important to fans, if for no reason other that the great wealth of discarded content it once had. The differences between the in-development edition of Sonic 2, the Beta if you will, and the retail edition are far greater than the difference between most games, and their respective prototypes. It is pretty much general consensus, that the reason for the great amount of abandoned material is due to the very nature of the game: It's the sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog, one of the best-sellers of 1991. Mad money was invested in this game, and tensions were high for STI to pop this one out quickly, leading them to cut several entire stages, though it's likely that many of the cut stages had never had any progress yet anyway. Even though it was outsourced to a foreign land, Sonic 2 was under the guiding hands of hedgehog-visionary, Yuji Naka. It was SEGA's meal-ticket, and as just like Sonic the Hedgehog before it, Sonic 2 was the center of a media blizzard; only this time much of the content shown to the public would soon disappear forever...


The above are blind runs by professional, competitive gamers, Melissa Joan Hart and some other girl. As you can see, this is a very early protoype, judging by the air-date of this TV show, as well as by your eyes. In fact, in the right-hand video, the player hits an enemy while rolling, and still gets injured. This game, known as the Nick Arcade Prototype - what with it being a prototype showcased on Nick Arcade - is full of bugs, which you can tell right from the get-go. You can also hear the placeholder music, which is in fact taken directly from the preceding installment. Many of the animations are different as well, but I'll touch on that later.

Sega of America sent all sorts of promotional material to the various videogame and electronics publications of the time, many of these promo-goods portrayed situations that don't occur in the game proper. Pictured below, are the eponymous, Wood Zone, Hidden Palace, and Dust Hill, respectively as seen in  various gaming magazines:

SONIC UND TAILS LIEBE WURST SCHOKOLADE-BUNDT UND WIETBIER!

Sonic 2 Beta (Simon Wai Beta)


Sonic 2 Beta [Simon Wai Beta] (Sega Genesis)
Developed by: Sonic Team & Sega Technical Institute
Stolen by: Pirates

In 1992, amidst their marketing frenzy, Yuji and pals attended a toy-fair in Manhattan, to show off their new game. Unfortunately, somebody had taken the opportunity to snatch a prototype right from under Naka's nose. This thief, having inadvertently inspired a whole new generation to steal videogames, wised-up, and went on the DL for quite some time, having just stolen the most important videogame in the world at the time.

Years passed, Yuji Naka watched his beautiful series crumble, the internet rose in popularity, Sega left the hardware business. The world changed. No-one remembered the stolen demo. That is until one day, a dandy fellow by the name of Simon Wai, while in the middle of stealing other games from a Chinese website, happened upon an uploaded ROM of Sonic 2 beta; likely uploaded by black-market software pirates who knew not the value of what they had. After changing his underwear, Simon Wai dedicated a website to researching the ROM, and in the process, created a community.  

Since then several more betas of Sonic 2 have shown up, including the the Nick Arcade Prototype, and several betas released after Simon Wai's allowing us to fill the gaps of this game's production. The Beta's have been documented in great detail; some changes are apparent on a blind-run, others require seasoned hackers to crack the game's hex open. People have literally spent years playing these games, and trying to understand what Mr. Naka really had in mind, only for many of the more interesting ideas to be debunked by mundane, practical explanations years later. Such is life.

There is a massive amount of little changes, but for right now we will focus on the biggest changes.

Remember, all crazy fan-speculation will be written in delicious salmon!

Wood Zone:

We're going to take the high-road in regards to the name "Wood Zone".

Mmm-hmmm... Nothing quite like the smell of pine in the morning. Actually no, I hate pine. It makes me want to vomit. Act 1 of Wood Zone consists of two HUGE trees, with a tunnel and several balconies connecting them.. And that's it. This stage has barely even been started, although, it's still more complete than certain zones, which don't have any assets at all:

video

The Wood Zone has it's own unique tileset, it's neither a placeholder, nor has it ever been used in the retail version, or any actual game for that matter. For what it is, Wood Zone's art is actually pretty decent looking. The stage doesn't have unique music, however; it uses Metropolis Zone's tunes, which lends to some crazy, yet plausible fan ramblings.

Remember when I said that both Sonic CD and 2 were to be one in the same? Well, any fan can tell you that Sonic CD's main gimmick was it's time-travel mechanic, by which you travel to past and future iterations of the same stage you're in. Now if Sonic 2 and Sonic CD started out as the same game, and Sonic CD is about time-travel, then that means...

 Yes, now we're getting somewhere.


The argument is that Wood Zone is a primitive version of Metropolis Zone. This is lent credit, not only by the fact that they share theme-music, but by the similar nature of the two stages in general; despite what little of Wood Zone we've seen, it does bear a passing resemblance to a factory, or at least a primordial one. It even has tunnels, similar to the Space-Age Vacuum Tubes seen in other, mechanical-themed stages, as well as your local bank. 

That said, why aren't there other past/present/future versions of other stages? Well, according to Yuji Naka, who in a retrospective said -"Due to problems with the story, Act 3 was going to be a different Zone that would only appear once, but since it was cut, we still wanted to have something after Act 2. So that's why there are three acts in this one. We had already finished the map, and it would have been a shame to waste it, so this is what we went with." - Is it possibly that due to the Genesis' limitations, in comparison to the Sega CD, that time-travel would only occur when the game deemed so, as opposed to it being a common, player-activated event? Was Metropolis Act 3 really Wood Zone? That would explain why Wood Zone only has one functioning act, now wouldn't it?


Right? Right?...

Casino Night Zone:

Are you getting tired of  Blast Processing jokes? Maybe you can take a break, go have a coffee?

Casino Night Zone made the final cut into Sonic 2. But not this version. This version is a literal mess; the basic layout is similar overall, but many tiles aren't lined-up, the conveyor belts don't convey, and there are no objects placed yet, so you can't even go through loops. The entire tileset has this garish pink color scheme, and Act 2 doesn't even have a proper background; it's simply the pinball-board tiled in the back, it doesn't make any sense.

According to Sonic Retro, Beta CNZ's object-directory contains a lost enemy character who appears in neither the prototypes, or the final cut, and can't be accessed, even in debug mode, which it's worth noting, is the only way to navigate the Casino's... 'terrain'.

 Debug mode is in fact a staple of the early series, having been in all four core Genesis titles, which includes Sonic 2, and by extension, 2 beta. Debug mode is a mode generally used to conveniently test a programs' features, in Sonic's case, the gimmicks, items and objects of various stages. The developers left it in the game, accessible via a short button-command, so that we, the consumers, could write profanities out of rings. Many of Beta's stages are so incomplete, that Debug is the only way to fully explore them, or at all, for that matter.

This stage was totally renovated before Sonic 2's release, because...

 Well... look at this mess:


video

Genocide City Zone:

If you want a picture of Genocide City Zone, imagine a boot stamping on a human face...  forever.
- George Orwell, discussing furries (and Blast Processing)

video

Genocide City? Even early on, they were trying to make people angry, eh?

Genocide City is an apt name, as Sonic and Tails simply fall to their deaths over and over, as if it was some kind of metaphor. Maybe they'll throw a hammer through a projector screen. idk. Luckily, the hip-cats-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands over at Retro have discovered that Genocide City is in fact not empty; It contains a few tiles from Emerald Hill, of all places, above the top of the screen, just out of reach. The page also elaborates on the non-zone, with the artist assigned to this stage stating that Metropolis: Act 3 was in fact Genocide City, and not Wood Zone, as I had said previously. That in mind, I'm going to willfully choose to ignore these facts, and pretend that the factory in Sonic 2 used to be made of trees.

Hidden Palace Zone:

Gee, doesn't this look familiar?

 Hidden Palace was like the conductor on Sonic 2's hype-train. This stage was plastered all over all of the game's advertising, and was shown-off by the dev-team at every opportunity, as if it were the very centerpiece of the title, ironic, given it's name.

Hidden Palace is an ancient-looking cave, filled with robot-dinosaurs, and other weird shit, such as a 1-up for Tails.It functions as a normal extra-life, but it has his face on it regardless of who you're using. The Master Emerald is also located in Hidden Palace!

video

Tails was originally intended to serve the role of Sonic's rival, rather than sidekick. His role in 2 would be the role that was eventually given to the character Knuckles in Sonic 3. That explains the existance of the Master Emerald in Hidden Palace, you see all the ideas scrapped from Sonic 2 were reused in the sequels! Sonic & Knuckles idea of playing through the game twice, as two opposing characters, was originally thought of for Sonic 2, but in order to relieve the hassle of testing two distinct characters, they simply controlled both simultaneously. this explains why Tails had no AI in the early builds; in Beta, Tails was simply controlled via button-commands, and moved exactly as Sonic did to a tee, whereas in the proper game, he followed Sonic more independently, and was capable of finding his own way to a degree. 

The reason that such a seemingly-important feature was added in so much later is because it wasn't needed, because Sonic and Tails weren't allies, and would never be together as a team in practice anyway. At first. Then somebody on the dev team dug the Batman-vibe, and decided to make Sonic and Tails a duo, and scrapped their flimsy 'rivalry' narrative, and replaced it with something more generic...

 Exactly. Except that the lead artist explicitly stated that the giant emerald wasn't the Master Emerald, an element that likely wasn't even thought of at that point. Instead, it was simply the breakable 'cork' to the tube, not unlike the hatch-like objects in Chemical Plant, or the rocks on Hill Top. The reason for the now iconic Tails Box is even more mundane; Since Sonic 2 is built directly off of Sonic 1, the graphic for Tails' extra-lives were occupying the location reserved for Sonic's in the first game. They didn't redirect the items to the proper graphics, and thus we have Sonic collecting lives for the wrong character.


It's also been stated off-hand that Tails was intended to be a sidekick from inception, which would make much more sense than him being a rival; He's doesn't look very threatening, unlike Knuckles, who is red.

Getting back to actual facts, however: Yuji Naka has more recently elaborated on the Hidden Palace, saying that after collecting the seven Chaos Emeralds, the player would be taken to Hidden Palace, where they would be able to transform into Super Sonic. The stage was a pretty huge deal, having been the focal-point of  the advertising campaign. Hidden Palace exists on far more production copies of Sonic 2 than any other deleted stage, indicating that it was a last-minute decision to ditch the Palace. In fact, the zone still exists in the retail-edition of the game, but it's graphics are missing, resulting in a garbled mess. The collision data and object-placement are mostly gone, so you need to play through in debug.

This elevator ran on Blast-Processing
They really wanted to get it in there, but likely couldn't due to technical difficulties; it's assumed that it involved one of the stage's gimmicks, a service-elevator that wrapped around the screen vertically. Doing this screen-wrapping in conjunction with having water at the bottom of the stage provided too many technical challenges for the programmers to sort out, and they simply ran out of time.


Hidden Palace was farther along than the other missing zones, and even had it's own set of unique enemies, a red dinosaur-robot, pictured here, as well as on the bottom-left corner of every page on this blog, and a bat, similar to the bats from other Sonic games.

Lament the Hidden Palace Zone.



Other Shit about Wai's Beta:

There's various little differences you may have picked up on while watching those videos. First and foremost, all of Sonic's running animation is different; the animation on his start-up is actually better than in the final game, featuring very detailed, and intricate animation. It's possible they replaced this animation cycle with something more concise in order to save space. When Sonic tops-out, he has this Chuck Jones-esque swirl around his legs. Sonic also uses a few old animations from Sonic 1, most notably his back-and-forth 'wobble' when standing very close to a ledge.

I've noted earlier that Tails' doesn't follow Sonic, so much as mimic him exactly. He has no AI, and is more akin to simply have a second Player 1 on screen than Tails proper. He can be killed, and more frustratingly, will lose you rings when struck by enemies. He is also missing many animations; he walks into objects, instead of pushing them, and his 'flying' animations are just his death-sprite. Presumably the sprites had been drawn at this point, but weren't yet implemented.

Also missing, is the 1-up fanfare, upon gathering 100 rings. When getting an extra-life from a box, the jingle will play like normal, but when you collect 100 rings - as seen in both the above and below videos - it instead plays the music from the final stage, making every zone unnecessarily ominous.



Nick Arcade Prototype:

Philip Moore was actually slated to be a boss, but Melissa Joan Hart couldn't get enough rings to reach him.

Sonic 2 Beta [Nick Arcade Prototye] (Sega Genesis)
Developed by: Sonic Team & Sega Technical Institute
Resurfaced: November 7, 2006

 In November 2006, Sonic Retro contributor, drx rallied the community to donate money so he could purchase a Sega Genesis cart, supposedly containing a beta version of Sonic 2. Imagine the surprise when it was discovered that this beta was in fact the very same version that Melissa Joan Hart couldn't get 25 rings in; it was the Nick Arcade Prototype. This version is even earlier in production than the copy Simon Wai had found; It seems more like a heavily modified Sonic 1 than anything else, even featuring the first game's level select screen, as well as a now-mostly-broken Green Hill Zone.

Tails dies during the physical-challenge, regretting not just sharing his cocaine with Marc Summers.

Chemical Plant and Hidden Palace are present, but they are labelled 'Marble Garden' and 'Spring Yard Zone' due to using Sonic 1's select screen. Chemical Plant sports an entirely different layout, and features a predominantly pink background. There exists three acts, but they are all the same, with the second two using Green Hill's data for ring placement. Hidden Palace is present, mostly in full. It seems by this point, most of the progress to be made on Hidden Palace already was, and it would remain that way until it was removed. Acts 2 & 3 have the same layout, but it lacks any enemies. These Acts flood at points, unlike the Wai version, where the water was stationary. 2P can control the flow of water, recalling Tails' career as a hydro-engineer.

Pink is an omnipresent theme in this particular build.

Emerald Hill is present, placed under 'Starlight Zone', explaining the music playing when Melissa Joan Hart played through. And "Scrap Brain" was replaced with Hill Top, of all things; despite using the same tiles as the first stage, Hill Top was in fact there since the beginning, and not a last second-filler, as some people had proposed. The lava doesn't function yet at this point, and though the gondolas do work, they don't detach when they reach the end of the rope. In the picture below, you can see one of Nick Arcade's more irritating features; when Sonic hits a solid object, instead of coming to a stop, and allowing you to jump over it, he gets knocked on his ass. It's terribly frustrating, and will often send you careening into foes.


Explain this, Clarissa:


This mysterious graphic was found in the ROM.
Could it be a map to Nickelodeon Studios in Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida?

Betas 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8

Beta 4 & 5, respectively

Found after drx's discovery of the Nick Arcade version, these five rom images help fill in the gaps in STI's production of the the game; slowly, but surely, each consecutive version gets closer and closer to the version that went gold. Beta 4, the first one we have since the Simon Wai Beta, doesn't have Genocide City, or Wood Zone, and they are never seen from that point on. Beta 4 also marks the beginning of the removal of Hidden Palace; it's graphics are missing, but much of it's object, enemy and collision data still remains. And the spike glitch is finally gone. Beta 5 introduces the title screen that would be used in the final version of Sonic 2, and new stages are present. Betas 6, 7 and 8 are near complete, only sporting a few bugs, instances of misplaced music, or other small oversights that were worked out in the following weeks, impending the release of Sonic 2.

That concludes our first installment of Hedgehog's Never Tell, a rertospective on Sonic the Hedgehog's production that sports a creepy title with sexual/romantic undertones.

This series will continue until we either run out of unreleased Sonic games to talk about,
 or somebody recieves a cease & desist.

Next up: Sonic Crackers: Are they making fun of white people?


 All prototypes courtesy of the fine chaps at Sonic Retro.

All second hand information from:



1 comment:

  1. You know, it's funny. Sonic 2 was the first game I ever played, but now that I think about it I don't know much about its particulars. Still, reading this post offered a LOT of information I never would have even considered. So thanks for that.

    Also? Nick Arcade. I friggin' loved that show. (But I liked GUTS more.)

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