Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Remastered Interview with Simon 'Stealth' Thomley

The seminal Sonic the Hedgehog series on the Sega Genesis is one many gamers hold close to their hearts; indeed, many of us here at Power Up Gaming grew up playing the classic platforming trilogy.

It’s not always been easy being a Sonic fan, however, even when it comes to the series that started it all for the lightning fast blue hedgehog. After a number of less than stellar re-releases in the form of mishandled ports and lazy emulation, long-suffering Sonic fans were finally given hope back in 2013, when Sega announced the release of a truly remastered version of the 1991 original – in enhanced, widescreen glory – for mobile devices.

Even better, the company had quite literally turned to fans for help in ensuring the remaster afforded the original game the respect it deserved. Following their successful development and launch of a remade version of another 16-bit gem, Sonic CD, Sega contracted two Sonic fans-turned-professional programmers to lovingly recreate the game.

After receiving significant critical acclaim, the title’s sequel Sonic 2 would receive the same treatment later in the year, and arrived complete with a number of lauded additions, such as the reinstatement of Hidden Palace Zone and a boss attack mode.

However, now two years on, the remastered trilogy remains incomplete. Sonic 3 & Knuckles, considered by many to be the pinnacle of 16-bit gaming, remains conspicuous only by its absence. While a proof-of-concept demo for the game was showcased to mark the original’s 20th anniversary last year, its developers made it known that Sega had refused to green light the title.

Amidst rumblings of potential financial and legal issues standing in the way of the completion of the final part in the Mega Drive saga, fans took it upon themselves to launch a media campaign to convince the company to approve the development of the classic game.

With a petition calling for Sonic 3 & Knuckles Remastered now standing at over 6,000 signatures, Power Up Gaming’s editor-in-chief and resident Sonic fanboy Chris Mawson recently had the chance to sit down with both of the developers responsible for creating the Sonic 3 remastered prototype, as well as the remakes of Sonic CD, Sonic 1 and 2; two men who seem the perfect candidates to proceed with the development of Sonic 3 should it ultimately be approved.

Our interview with Christian ‘The Taxman’ Whitehead will follow later in the week, but first up is Simon Thomley, better known to fans in the burgeoning Sonic the Hedgehog fan community as ‘Stealth’. Not only is he responsible for helping to remaster some of our childhood favourite games, but he’s also one of the most influential and prolific members of the Sonic hacking and fan game scene. In our in-depth chat, we discussed a wide range of subjects, from Simon’s early memories of the Sonic series, to his thoughts on the future of the franchise and the Sonic 3 Remastered campaign.

Chris Mawson: Firstly, I think it goes without saying that you’re clearly a passionate Sonic fan; anyone who has played one of your remastered works will appreciate the respect you’ve shown towards the original series. But when exactly did your relationship with the franchise start? Do you have any early memories of playing Sonic on the Genesis?

Simon Thomley: The first time I had ever seen Sonic was on display at a Sam’s Club right after its release in ’91. It looked amazing, but it took several more visits before I was actually able to try it for myself. Up to and including my own first attempt, I don’t think I was able to see anything beyond Green Hill Zone, but I wasn’t disappointed with the experience, and I tried to play it again whenever I could. A while later, I found that my dad had already set up a Genesis with Sonic 1 at home, which he claimed to have rented from Blockbuster, but on the same day I ended up finding a Toys-R-Us bag that indicated that he had actually bought it.

For a little while, I was unable to get beyond Green Hill Act 2 because I got impatient with the section near the end that was filled with slim moving platforms, spikes, and bottomless pits, but I eventually worked it out and started progressing a little more each time. The first time I had gotten all the Chaos Emeralds, my parents decided to go out somewhere when I was still working through Scrap Brain Zone Act 1, so I had to insist that I be allowed to leave the game running so I could finish when we got back.

CM: You’re credited as being one of the most influential and founding members of the Sonic scene. How did you become involved in the hacking/modding community? Did your knowledge of and interest in programming come first, or was it informed by a desire to learn more about Sonic games?

ST: I had started trying to learn to program at an early age, though most of what I did at the time were very small BASIC programs. I had started with a TI94/A, but when I was 7, we had gotten an Apple IIc, and I took the time to read the entire AppleSoft BASIC User’s Manual from cover to cover. My dad worked as a database programmer for Sony at the time, which I thought was pretty neat, so a lot of what I did myself involved math, databases, and extremely basic utility.

My first video game console, as opposed to a home computer with games, was the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It was at this point that I actually became interested in video game development, mostly because of the Super Mario Bros. series. My earliest attempts at creating a video game were aimed at re-creating something like Super Mario Bros. 3, but I’d come to find out that BASIC on an Apple II wouldn’t be sufficient. My first game actually had no real physics to speak of, and used the 40×40 low-res graphics mode. The main character’s movement was basic left/right motion and the ability to teleport a few units forward or backward. Later I tried to create something more Mario-like, again using the 40×40 mode, but I had partially implemented both jumping and a map screen. Something stopped me before I got very far with it, though.

Eventually, my parents sold our NES, and I went without until they found a SEGA Master System at a strange clearance shop in Florida and decided to buy it for us. I had never even heard of it before since they didn’t really make a big deal out of that system here in the US. We ended up getting a lot of fun games for it, but nothing really changed my mind about aiming to duplicate Mario. That is, until the first Sonic the Hedgehog game appeared, whose speed and physics impressed me so much that I knew I had to become good enough to reproduce it. At the time, we still had the Apple IIc, so I tried to work it out in AppleSoft BASIC with the system’s high-res mode, but I didn’t get any farther with it than drawing a crude scene that didn’t actually do anything

The Apple II was also sold off, but later, we got a then-top-of-the-line 386 PC. I started using QBASIC for DOS and began by trying to create a sprite and animation editor. It was crude but it worked, and, naturally, the first thing I ever drew and animated in it was one of Sonic’s rings. More time passed without much progress, until I was exposed to the internet for the first time in 1995. Although it was much more simple and restricted at the time, I ended up meeting a few people who also had an interest in Sonic the Hedgehog, and a few of us eventually decided that we wanted to create a game together. Initially, we tried Klik N Play, but it was extremely under-featured and we weren’t able to do anything useful with it. It was at that point that I finally broke out a collection of books I had bought a year or two prior and started learning to program games in C. I started with some graphics display tests, progressing to a tiled background scroller and on to player character control and finally other objects to interact with. That particular team sort of fell apart after a while, but I continued making newer demos until I met someone who called himself Ron Echidna, who wanted me to re-create the game he was building in The Games Factory with my own engine. This became the game we called “Project Mettrix”, which ultimately led to the development of an improved engine that I had been calling Engine02, which has now become Headcannon Game Engine.

Sometime during my involvement with my first team, while searching for Sonic and other video game fan sites, I ran into “Andy Wolan’s Sonic Page”, subhosted under EmulationZone. He was looking for someone to create summaries of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic, so I contacted him to offer the service myself. As we talked, we eventually decided to work together to create a larger and more technically-oriented site – the Sonic Stuff Research Group. The first piece of content ended up being a screen shot of the “Sonic Team Presents” screen from the first game, where I had accidentally found that the secret Japanese credits screen was actually being displayed behind it, but masked out due to having its palette entry set to black to match the background. We began contacting other people with interesting content to combine everything into a central location, and the site grew from there with our continued coordination, administration, and participation.

As some basic information began to surface regarding some of the data in the original Genesis Sonic games, I started to reverse-engineer more of it myself, creating the original SonED and a level map dumping utility in the process. Everything else progressed from there.

CM: Amongst your Sonic fan creations are level editor SonED, game engine E02 (now renamed the Headcannon Game Engine), fan game Sonic Megamix and many, many others. Which rank as your favourite, and which are you most proud of?

ST: I’d have to say that I take the most pride in HCGE, which has come a very long way from my first attempts at developing a game engine. Now that I’ve finally developed the engine portion to the level that I have, I’ve started focusing on heavily expanding the editing interface and its usefulness, which is something that will show in future releases. Versatility and performance are the aspects I consider most important, with the latter having allowed me to port it to several other platforms, some of which are relatively low-powered.

Sonic Megamix is probably a close second, being my one remaining large-scale Sonic the Hedgehog project. Besides the fun factor, the most important thing to me in a technical sense is that it actually runs on the original hardware, which is something that I’m proud to be able to say that we’re doing. My having ported it to the SegaCD from its original Genesis code base has raised its potential, and we’re trying to live up to that. I perform my tests almost exclusively on real hardware to make absolutely certain that everything works, given that there are many issues that emulators don’t actually account for. To make it easier, I use a Mega Everdrive and a special utility set I created to cause the Genesis/SegaCD to run the game from my PC using the USB port, which prevents me from having to constantly burn test CDs. I also created a Genesis-side mini-debugger to help track down any errors in the game code. It’s not a moneymaker so it’s had to become low-priority, but as of right now we still plan to eventually finish the updated version that’s shown in more recent videos, and we still have a few surprises planned on top of that.

I still think back on SonED/SonED2 from time-to-time and there are still a few plans that I had for it that I never got to implement. Maybe one day it’ll get a surprise update. I am proud of its popularity, though, with it being the first-created and most widely-used level editing utility for the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. We do still use it for Sonic Megamix, as well, and that’s led to some unreleased improvements, though they’re not complete or end-user friendly yet.

I’ll also comment on my C ports, which I was originally hoping to use as credentials for getting work with SEGA. This started with Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone and Special Stage, with the Gameboy Advance as the target platform in response to SEGA’s own Sonic Genesis. That received a tremendous response from fans. Eventually I ported the same code to the DS and PC, as well as partial ports to PSP and Wii. This overlaps with the time I had begun working with Christian, as I created partial ports of Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 in hopes of getting involved with “Sonic Classic Collection”, whose existence had recently been leaked, as well as fully-playable versions of the complete Palmtree Panic Zone and Special Stage from Sonic CD, all for the DS. Nothing really came from them, though, and I currently don’t have any plans for them. They are available for download on my website.

Finally, prior to Sonic Megamix, I have to say that my most popular work was probably my Knuckles in Sonic 1 modification. Almost everyone had been wanting to see that happen since the release of Sonic & Knuckles, when they found that it wouldn’t interact with Sonic 1 the same way it would with 2 and 3. Within days of its release, nearly the entire internet had heard of it, and I know that it also ended up being mentioned in at least one print publication. To this day it still seems to be used as representative of “Sonic Hacking”. It was also my first such major modification, and I’m happy to have done as well with it as I did; I honestly didn’t expect there to be such a fuss. After having done that, though, an official remake of the original Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t feel complete without the inclusion of Knuckles as a bonus, which was a major motivation for making sure that he and Tails were present in the 2013 release

CM: When did you first begin collaborating with Christian ‘The Taxman’ Whitehead, and how did it come about? I believe you assisted in creating a pitch for Sonic CD, but weren’t involved in its development beyond that once Sega approved the project?

ST: That’s right. We had actually known each other since the late ’90s, but we hadn’t worked together directly until much later. We lost contact with each other for a few years, but in 2009, he sent me a private forum message to congratulate me on a recent release – the first version of HCGE (then “E02”) to run on Linux, Mac, Wii, and PSP platforms. In the same message, he linked me to a private version of his original Sonic CD pitch video, which is the first I had heard of it.

As we continued to talk, he asked for my help in reverse-engineering a few things such as the EGG-HVC-001 walking boss machine for Palmtree Panic and a few movement and physics aspects of the Special Stage so that he could reproduce them accurately as he continued to develop the pitch demo. I disassembled the original code and worked out how things were done, building my partial DS port of Sonic CD at the same time to check my work, and wrote out complete pseudocode and detailed behavioral step-throughs for him to use in building the Retro Engine versions, since I wasn’t directly involved with Retro Engine at the time. There were a few other tidbits that I worked out for him during that time, and we discussed later portions of the game and even enhancements and additions for the game overall. Once SEGA had finally accepted the project, though, I performed no more actual work for it, as they had only contracted Christian.

CM: Were you again involved in pitching process for the Sonic 1 and 2 remasters? When did you officially come on board as a co-developer for Sonic 1?

ST: Once Christian had stirred up a basic interest in re-creating Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 using Retro Engine, he mentioned to our contacts at SEGA that he thought I would contribute a lot to the development process. At the time the whole thing was still all talk, but it was something. We had already been discussing the possibility of working together to remake Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 after Sonic CD was finished, so all that was left was to let me know that the potential was there and bring me into the talks. There were a few conference calls I participated in, where the SEGA employees basically got to know a little about me and hear about what I could and wanted to do with the project.

While we waited for things to move internally, Christian had asked me to perform conversions and create sprite sheets of the original sprite data for both Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, starting with what we’d need for what’s called a “First Playable” of Sonic 1. This is a standard practice in development, and it’s essentially the same concept as the demo that was used to pitch Sonic CD; they want to see what they’re getting into. By the time the contract was finally ready, I was able to have already finished all conversions/sheets for both games, which really came in handy when development was officially started.

As soon as I signed, Christian finally sent me a copy of the Retro Software Development Kit and the existing demo, and I started to work directly with the game code. At this point, the game consisted only of Green Hill Zone and the first iteration of the Special Stage, which was later revised once the project was go.

CM: What do you think you were able to bring to the table that perhaps Christian couldn’t on his own?

ST: Aside from just being an extra set of hands, I think my most important contribution was my experience with the original game code. I had already learned a lot about how the classic Sonic games worked and how to manipulate them, so when it came to specifics that I didn’t already know, I was able to find them easily. When necessary, I was able to dissect whole sections of code and re-construct their functionality in Retro Engine. If anything were approximated, I could follow behind and tweak it until it was just right. My existing work on SonED2 also came in handy, as I made a few modifications to it that allowed me to perform some of the necessary data conversions and to more-easily edit the collision issues that became apparent upon the addition of the new characters.

Later in development, after most gameplay bugs were dealt with and while Christian was sorting out the menu interfaces and any issues with Retro Engine, I was able to use some of the extra time I bought us to go through and add some of the hidden extended features, such as Super forms in Sonic 1, Tails+Sonic mode, Sonic 3 shields, most of the prototype content found in Debug Mode, and most of the modified level sections.

CM: Were you able to use any aspects of your HCGE in Sonic 1 and 2, or did they only use the Retro Engine?

ST: Before I had created the final sprite sheets based directly on data extracted from the original game, Christian used the Green Hill demo level I had previously created for HCGE to obtain sprite graphics and their draw offsets, as well as some information regarding object functionality that I had reproduced in my own scripts, for the First Playable.

We didn’t actually use any of HCGE itself for these games, but I did base a few suggestions for RSDK and Retro Engine on some things I had done with it.

CM: Turning to Sonic 2 specifically, who was primarily responsible for the reinstatement of Hidden Palace Zone, and its layout and boss? What did you take inspiration from besides the original unfinished level; did you have access to any early concept work? Were Sega at all reluctant to have you recreate the level?

ST: Christian ended up performing the implementation, as well as mostly designing the new content.

We had many discussions about it, as early as during the development of Sonic 1. The only material we had to work with was the version of the level that most people have seen in an early prototype of Sonic 2, so direction was pretty much up to us, but we would have to actually make it appealing if we wanted it to be present at all. There were a few concepts that came up, such as preserving its original intent and having it show up upon completion of the 7th Special Stage instead of receiving the Chaos Emerald immediately, and having to retrieve it from a boss at the end of the stage. In this case, in particular, it was ultimately decided that this would be too intrusive in relation to the game as it was originally released, so, we opted to instead hide it away as a special, optional bonus.

To get approval, we had to impress both Takashi Iizuka as current Sonic Team head, and Yuji Naka as the head of Sonic Team at the time Sonic 2 was being developed.

CM: Sonic CD was obviously incredibly successful, spawning home console and PC ports shortly after its launch. Why do you think Sonic 1 and 2 weren’t afforded the same treatment?

ST: One reason may be that, unknown to us at the time, SEGA and Nintendo signed an exclusivity deal shortly before we were contracted for Sonic 1, which pledged the next three Sonic the Hedgehog-related games to Nintendo platforms. It may be that they didn’t regard Mobile as competition, so it would be outside of the scope of the contract.

Another contributing factor is that SEGA have already released Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 for many other platforms via emulation, whereas they hadn’t successfully created a SEGACD emulator, and therefore SonicCD was still very underrepresented. Also, as 1 and 2 were released as free updates to the original emulated versions on iOS, the general assumption has been that all emulated versions would be replaced as a free update, which hurts the potential to recover the extra development cost, as well as what they’re charged for releasing the update on each of several platforms.

CM: Forgive me if my timeline is a little off, but I believe this was around the time Sega took the decision to also put Dimps’ Sonic 4 Episode 3 on hold. Did this mark a change in direction for the company – away from reviving its classic IPs, and the beginning of its shift/refocus towards casual games?

ST: I think that the cancellation of Sonic 4 Episode 3 was more a quality issue than a change in target audience. Many veteran fans were very unhappy with how the first two installments turned out, especially in light of the fact that notable improvements were promised for Episode 2, yet it basically suffered from the same problems. I can fully understand them wanting to back out on associating such a thing with the classic series, which they must recognize is still pretty important considering the multitude of re-releases.

CM: Turning now to Sonic 3, I believe you and Christian pitched the game to Sega on several occasions, but were ultimately unsuccessful. What did your pitches consist of? Any ideas as to why they didn’t approve them?

ST: It came up in conversation along with other potential projects, but the only true pitch was made with the one demo we created, which we took with us to E3 to show to them. We reminded them at least once afterward, but that’s pretty much when we really became aware that it wasn’t going to happen.

As I’ve mentioned in a few other places, what I’ve heard indicates that there’s a legal issue of some sort regarding Sonic 3, which makes sense when compared with the publicly available information such as the rumored rights issues over certain songs, and a statement made by one of the composers that claimed that there was some form of legal action “going on or about to go on” in early 2012, which directly follows the last release of Sonic 3 to-date, the 2011 Steam release. I don’t know any more than this, myself, but that’s where I’d put my money. Some people claim that the current availability of the Steam version, among others, disproves this, but the truth is that we don’t have any of the details regarding when and how these songs could be used, even after a presumed violation. One important fact to bear in mind is that previous re-releases were emulation-based, which could very well be considered to be the same as continuing to distribute physical cartridges, as it’s a direct, unchanged copy of the game. The remastered games, on the other hand, have been re-created from the ground up, and thus, are much more likely to be considered a new product.

CM: You showed off your proof-of-concept for a remastered Sonic 3 & Knuckles last October to mark the game’s 20th anniversary. I believe you originally had created the demo earlier in the year as part of one of your pitches to Sega. How much more was there to the title besides what the YouTube video showcased?

ST: We made certain to highlight all important aspects of the demo within the video, with the exception of the “Blue Spheres 2” concept for which I included a video in the blog post that accompanied the primary video. All that exists of that concept is a functionally-complete implementation with the one test level, and there are no materials regarding any of the other additions that we were considering. As for the original game, there is nothing playable that wasn’t shown in the video.

CM: It seemed that in the weeks following the release of the gameplay footage, fans’ appetite for Sonic 3 Remastered just continued to go up and up. Was that your aim; in releasing it, did you intend to try to rally support to petition Sega, or was it merely meant as a nice treat for fans of the series in time for the game’s birthday?

ST: Honestly, I wanted very much to display the work that we had put into the game, since the pitch had been rejected. Since Christian had similar feelings, we settled on using it to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary

We were getting a lot of questions regarding when/if Sonic 3 was going to be released, which mostly leaned toward the “when” side, as well as there being posts on many sites with people who assured others that it was, in fact, coming, and plenty of speculation as to when a release was going to be made. Personally, I wanted it to be very clear that we did try, and it’s not our decision that it’s not happening. The expectation was created, and one very real concern was the potential for fingers being pointed at us causing harm to our own businesses, as we both had our own projects to move on to. We love Sonic as much as anyone, and that scenario would be far from fair to us.

CM: It must be extremely satisfying to see so many people get involved with the Sonic 3 Remastered letter-writing campaign and petition, both of which have launched in the last couple of months. What are your general thoughts on how the campaign has been conducted so far, and what do you think the chances of Sega actually listening to it are?

ST: Well, you may know that I’ve decided to support the campaign in a personal capacity, myself, having blogged/tweeted about it, having participated in both the letter-writing aspect and the petition, and having participated in a recent live streaming event on Twitch that was meant to raise awareness of the campaign. It’s a very exciting thing to essentially have a movement such as this dedicated to you, and I want to help it gain the exposure that it needs to prove the demand that we all know is waiting to be discovered. Sonic 3 is an excellent game that deserves better treatment in the first place

Though I want to see the campaign succeed, I can say very little in regard to how SEGA would respond to it even if it does receive upward of 100,000 signatures or letters, and those two things must not be considered to add to each other due to the possibility of overlap. This figure is my own, and comes from nowhere other than my own estimation based on projected development cost and the purchase price assumed by the campaign, which may also be incorrect. It does take a lot, though, and it will take a lot to prove sufficient demand to do better than break even. As I said, though, there is absolutely no guarantee that the demand will actually cause any change, because we don’t know the exact reasoning behind the game being turned down. Even if it’s something that can be addressed by the fans, such as the need to replace certain songs to avoid legal issues, fans who would accept this would have to make that fact absolutely clear to SEGA, and even then there’s no guarantee that it would have a real effect. My own involvement in the campaign is based purely on the fact that I don’t personally see another way to address the problem, and although it’s entirely possible that it will have no effect whatsoever, it seems worth attempting.

CM: Do you have any thoughts on Sega’s recent restructuring? Do you think it will harm or improve the chances of Sonic 3 being greenlit?

ST: I don’t really have anything to say about the restructuring itself, but my feeling is that it’s causing nothing that would have any effect on Sonic 3.

CM: Supposing Sega eventually does green light the project and brings you guys on board once again, what can we expect in terms of new features and additions that weren’t present in the original game? Fans loved the introduction of the Hidden Palace Zone and Boss Attack mode; do you have any similarly exciting ideas in the pipeline for Sonic 3 – and can you share them?

ST: I wouldn’t say that you should actually expect anything, considering that this would be SEGA’s game and everything is subject to their approval, but there are certainly some things we’d like to do if given the opportunity. One concept was the “Blue Spheres 2” mode that I mentioned previously, which is a secondary game provided on the side of the original “Blue Spheres” with all-new levels containing two new types of spheres – Green which must be turned blue before they can be turned red, and Pink, which would transport you randomly to another Pink sphere somewhere else in the level. On a related note, I do love level editors.

We had a few other ideas as well, but proceeding under the assumption that this could ever happen, it might be fun to leave some of them as surprises.

CM: As we know, Sonic 3 was split into two games due to time constraints at the time of its original release. What plans do you have in terms of the level order; would you offer fans the chance to play through the zones as the developers originally envisioned?

ST: When I say “Sonic 3”, I’m always referring to the complete game, which is commonly known as “Sonic 3 & Knuckles”, so I certainly want to see the entire thing accounted for. As for level order, we are working with a pre-established game so similar considerations to those observed with the previous remasters apply. That being said, we have been known to tuck away some optional stuff.

CM: Whenever someone mentions a Sonic 3 remake, my thoughts are often immediately drawn to Tiddles’ fantastic Sonic 3 Complete hack, which lets players effectively customise the way they play the game. Have you played the hack, and do you take any inspiration from it?

ST: I haven’t paid it much attention, personally. It’s not that I have anything against it or the author, but I usually keep myself very busy with my own projects, and aside from that, I’d rather go into a Sonic 3 remaster with as clear of a head as possible. It’s almost certain that there would be some similarities, though, just because we’re all huge fans with concepts to improve the classics, and there are just some things that really stand out as obvious candidates.

Similarly, Sonic 2’s Boss Attack mode has been likened to “Robotnik’s Revenge”, although many other games do this sort of thing as well, and as a concept it’s long been a personal favorite of mine.

CM: Moving beyond Sonic 3 now, what are your future plans for your company Headcannon, your game engine, and your working relationship with The Taxman? Could we perhaps see more Genesis classics remade and remastered, or even an entirely original Sonic game?

ST: We’ve discussed the idea of remastering some other games, but for me, personally, my primary motivation was getting involved with Sonic. An original Sonic game was among the things we discussed as possibilities, but nothing serious has really happened in that regard to-date. Given all that’s happened since Sonic 2 was completed, I’m not very confident that that would be possible at this point, but I would say that it makes sense to me that the likelihood would increase somewhat if we were to actually be taken on for Sonic 3. An original Sonic game was one of my long-term goals, and I’m still very interested in it.

I do, however, have several of my own original projects lined up, including further development of HCGE itself. My intent is to license it to other developers and to make several of my own games with it. The progress I’ve made with it lately has been very exciting, and there are a lot of things that I’m still looking forward to doing with it.

As of right now, there are at least three game concepts pending with the Headcannon brand that will be developed using HCGE, and one more which is currently in development. The working title for the current project is “Bone Rattle”, and the game itself is a 2D action platformer with visual and audio style similar to the Genesis. I recently tweeted a link to the development blog where we’ve been posting progress updates.

CM: Do you have any thoughts on the recent Sonic Boom spinoff games and Sonic Runners? Do you like the direction modern Sonic seems to be moving in?

ST: Sonic Boom was kind of a mess. You can tell that development didn’t go very well, and nothing about it really says “Sonic”, despite the fact that it includes a blue hedgehog character named “Sonic”. I found neither the Wii U version nor the 3DS version very appealing at all, and although spinoffs are fine in theory, this seems to have been made out to be “the” thing for Sonic in 2014, as opposed to the treatment of say, the GBA game Sonic Battle or the DS game Sonic Chronicles. The big budget and hype really make the fact that Sonic Boom is not a “Sonic” game stand out.

Sonic Runners, on the other hand, is kind of fun. I’ve gone back to it several times since I first got it. I wouldn’t say, though, that that’s where I want Sonic to go. It’s a F2P mobile game, and within that scope, it’s not bad, but if I had to choose between that or a game that you’d find on console/PC, I’d choose the latter. There’s a certain type of game that goes along with the concept of “mobile”, and it really doesn’t do Sonic justice, nor is it what I think of when I say to myself “I want to play a game”. Luckily, SEGA have openly confirmed that Sonic isn’t going to be restricted to mobile.

As for direction, it doesn’t really seem to me that Sonic actually has one. I think he’s been looking for an identity since 2006, and he hasn’t really settled down at all. The most consistency we had was the prevalence of the “modern” formula, which was basically running straight forward into the screen at an almost unmanageable speed. Sonic is supposed to be fast, sure, but they seem to have forgotten the physics and slow-down-and-platform elements from the classics. Lost World marked the end of what even SEGA had been referring to as “Modern Sonic”, but that game came with its own problems.

To me, the best post-classic, main-series Sonic game was the original Sonic Adventure, and I’d like to see that sort of gameplay make a return, if not be improved upon.

CM: Finally, what games are you playing right now, and what are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?

ST: I spend a lot of time working, but when I do play games, I’ve mostly been going as far back as the SMS and NES, through to the Genesis and SNES. I had a lot of fun with some of those games in the past, and I still do now

The most recent game that I play frequently is Super Smash Bros. U, which is also very fun. I had the opportunity to try Mario Maker and Splatoon at last year’s E3, which stand out as two that I’d like to see more of.

CM: I’d like to thank you for being so generous with your time, Simon. We all look forward to seeing more of your work; hopefully in Sonic 3, of course, but if not, we’ll also be keeping a keen eye on some of the other upcoming projects you mentioned.

You can check out more of Simon’s work via Headcannon‘s official website, his Tumblr page, or on Twitter. Fnd out how to get involved in the Sonic 3 Remastered campaign over at its community-run website or via the petition page itself.

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