News/Sonic Month Part 1 - Sega No. 1
"...What? Hey! Haven't I seen this before?"
The year was 1991. With the release of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega immediately saw huge success and was on its way of becoming a worthy rival to Nintendo. With the future in sight, due to the growth of the company, the upcoming Sega CD/Sega Game Gear, and more third party support, Sega believed that the company had to expand in order to tackle new challenges in game development. With its eyes on the upcoming Sega CD as the next big thing, Sega knew that they had to focus its resources on facilitating the research and development on the technology required to create games for the system. With Sega's own Sega Technical Institute (STI) beginning work on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 at the same time, Sega needed to create an entirely new development studio that would serve as the frontier for all research and development in multimedia entertainment. In late 1991, Sega began putting together a brand new studio that would help achieve this goal called Sega Multimedia Studio.
Sega invested $10 million dollars into creating an environment that would not only serve as one of its main R&D divisions in Redwood, California, but would eventually become a studio that could create high budget, high quality games for its future systems. The function of the division had changed over time of course, but in the beginning it was created primarily to provide support for the Sega CD. The studio was an attempt by Sega to have all development under one roof, like STI. Unlike other video game companies at the time, Sega would eventually employ over 200 programmers, musicians, and artists to create games for the Sega CD. To make sure that all technological fronts were covered, Sega even provided this division with its own recording studio! Sega invested many of its resources in hiring many great talents, such as Spencer Nilsen, David Young, Brian Coburn, and Dave Javelosa - all were there since the division's inception to provide music for almost two dozen Sega titles.
Sega kept a slightly tight lip on the existence of the studio during its earliest days, as the studio didn't have any games to announce at the time. The first public announcement of the studio's existence we were able to find was from an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly #31 (Feb 1992), where Al Nilsen (Director of Marketing for Sega of America at the time) was quoted as saying: ""We're not going to talk specifics about the software until we can show something.. Oh, OK...Sonic. In addition to Sonic 2 [cartridge], there is a Sonic CD game being planned... Almost all titles will be certainly kept under wraps until June CES...it is way, way too early to talk about specific titles...There will be titles based on movies...We've just formed a major multimedia studio here in the U.S. dedicated to CD software... It is called the Sega Multi-Media Studio...an in-house CD development group...At the June CES show we will show some great software that can't be done as a cartridge...". As Mr. Nilsen had promised, something from the Sega Multimedia Studio was present at the show, but what people didn’t know was that it would completely fly over everyone's heads.
The Summer Consumer Electronic Show (SCES) of 1992 was held in Chicago on May 28, 1992 to May 31, 1992, and was one of the first CES' to be open to the public. This show was the first time Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was shown to the general public and was very popular at the show. This wouldn't be the only thing shown by Sega on this day, however, as the Sega CD was also shown in some form at the show as well. While it doesn't appear any Sega CD games were available to play, many titles were hinted at. Star Trek, Batman, and a Sonic game were all teased at some point at the show (for some reason, it seems Batman would be the only released game that was running on actual hardware at the show). One promotional clip displayed at the show even showcased what appears to be a port of Sonic the Hedgehog 1 for the Sega CD, which was most likely done out of necessity as it was possible that no footage for the actual Mega CD Sonic game had existed yet. Another demo, which may have been running on real hardware at the show itself, was a demo so infamous it sparked one of the longest lasting rumors that still persists to this day.
Among the exhibits present at the show for the Sega CD was a technical showcase of what the Sega CD was capable of. The demo features everything that the Sega CD would be known for - full motion video, sprite rotation and scaling, a larger color palette, and CD quality audio, all presented in a neat five minute presentation running on actual hardware! This was one of the very first projects that the Sega Multimedia Studio would create before going on to create Jurassic Park for the Sega CD - a project that would end up taking over 20 months to complete. The demo features clips from then upcoming films such as Cool World, Batman Returns, and even a little clip from a Bugs Bunny cartoon (a clip from "The Big Snooze" no less)! While the demo is very sporadic with what it presents, almost seemingly random for the sake of throwing things on the screen, it's a nice demonstration of not only what the Sega CD could do, but what the Sega Multimedia Studio were capable of.
Unfortunately, not everyone present at the show was aware of what they were really seeing. Reports of a Sonic game exclusively for the Sega CD can go as far back as February of 1992 under the title "Super Sonic". With rumors of the upcoming Sonic 2 appearing at SCES 92, and the fact that expectations were set with the upcoming Sega CD, it's no wonder that the first instance of Sonic appearing on the Sega CD was misidentified as a new Sonic title. Each video game magazine at the time would take the same shots of Sonic (not of anything else from the demo, suspiciously) and would write how it was proof that the screenshots were of either an upcoming Sega CD exclusive title, a Sonic 2 port, or even a Sonic 1 port. We analyzed many magazines in preparation for this release, and we couldn't find a single magazine that associated these screenshots to any demo, let alone to the Sega Multimedia Studio. Because of this, this has even persisted into the age of the Internet where the misidentification still persists.
However, Sega themselves didn't help the matter either.
In the November 1992 issue of Disney Adventures, Sega gave a rather quick tour of their offices in Redwood. The tour was given by Al Nilsen, and was written rather minimalistically to describe the development process of creating a video game. The article was written during a time when Sonic 2 was still in development at STI, so it was assumed by readers of the article that the studio was Sega Technical Institute. However, it appears that the shots are actually a mixture of Sega of America's main offices and that of some developers at the Sega Multimedia Studio during its very earliest days. Not only that, but the article showcases developers working on this very same tech demo! In fact, the very same CD case that held this tech demo can be seen in the background of this very image!
Despite the extensive use of some of the Sonic art used in the demo, the tech demo itself doesn't seem to have ever been identified for what it really is. For such an obscure curiosity, it didn't seem like the puzzle would ever be solved. That is, until today. We were able to acquire and preserve this very same demo that was present at the SCES of 1992. For the first time in over 27 years, you can not only see it in action - but even run it on hardware too! We dumped this tech demo using Redump.org's methods to ensure that the contents of the disc were properly saved.
We would not have been able to acquire this if it weren't for our contributors.
Sonic Month is NOT over! There's plenty more just around the corner. What other exciting things might be lurking around the corner?
Until next time!