News/New Years 2024 - Sonic Heroes

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Sonic Heroes (Sep 28, 2003 prototype)
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Happy New Years, everyone!

Presenting, a prototype of Sonic Heroes for the PlayStation 2!

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In 1998, Sega would release its Dreamcast console, and with it, Sonic's first foray into the world of 3D platforming: Sonic Adventure. A few years later, a sequel would also come out on the Dreamcast. Sadly, that would be the last new Sonic game to appear on Sega's own hardware, as they would soon after exit the console business and become a third party software developer. For Sonic, this meant ports of his two most recent outings on the Dreamcast to the Nintendo GameCube. On December 30, 2003 Sega would release a new entry in the 3D Sonic series: Sonic Heroes. This would become Sega's first simultaneous multiplatform release, hitting shelves on all three major consoles on the same day.

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Development on Sonic Heroes was, to put it mildly: challenging. For Dreamcast games, Sega would be able to rely on their own home-grown Katana SDK, which obviously was not an option option anymore. Instead, Sega adopted RenderWare, a popular 3D graphics abstraction libary that was designed to ease the burden of 3D software development. In particular, it made developing for the relatively complex PlayStation 2 architecture less cumbersome, and allowed developers to re-use more code meant for other consoles.

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The game was announced during the leadup to E3 2003, and had a playable demo for all three consoles on the show floor the demo played relatively the same for all versions. On the surface, it appeared development was going smoothly, however behind the scenes, it was anything but. Takashi Iizuka, a Sonic Team mainstay since Sonic 3, had his role split between director and level designer. Iizuka has called the development of Sonic Heroes the most stressful of his career. Iizuka was the only US-based employee working on the game, and one of only two level designers. At some point during development, he became the only level designer when his co-designer got sick and stopped showing up to work. In an interview with Game Informer, he recalled: "I didn’t sleep at all and I was constantly working. I lost about [22 pounds] because I was just cranking away and it was just work, work, work. I didn’t sleep because I had to finish the game on my own. Almost dying!"

Beyond level design, this was Sonic Team's first outing doing multiplatform development, and their first time using RenderWare. Sega's response to the struggles of the development team is one they've used many a time for Sonic games: crunch crunch crunch. In order to meet the deadline, and to make sure all platforms released on the same day, the team worked until the last second to finish the game. Despite having RenderWare in their toolbox, the PS2 version of the game prove to be the most challenging to develop for. In order to maintain a stable framerate, the PS2 version was limited to 30fps instead of the 60fps of the Xbox and GameCube versions. As all prior prototypes of the game have been for Xbox and GameCube, were have not had a deep insight into how the PS2 version development went during this critical crunch period...

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...until today!

This build of Sonic Heroes has a burn date of October 2, and its file structure suggests that it was build about 5 days prior. This puts it close to the October 8 build on the GameCube, yet shows some clear differences in terms of performance and general stability. Unlike the final PS2 build, this build actually runs at a 50fps (due to being a PAL build), and is able to maintain that fps for the most part. It also shows some clear signs of divergence to its GameCube contemporary. For example, the GameCube build has an earlier title screen from the E3 version, and more placeholder text, despite being what appears to be a later build of the game. The file structure and inclusion of more debugging symbols also seems to suggest tht this is more of a "development snapshot" of sorts, perhaps even a "first burn" of sorts of the full game for the PS2 instead of a limited demo. This build gives us another precious puzzle piece to put into the complex and hectic development picture of Sonic Team's first multiplatform experience.

We'd like to thank Sewer56 for helping us secure this build, and doing valuable research into its inner workings. We hope that this release marks the start of a prosperous 2024 for video game preservation.

With that said, until next time and Happy New Year!

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