Sonic X-treme is one of the soldiers of the 90’s console wars that never stepped into the battlefield. Originally planned for release in 1996, Sonic X-treme was supposed to be the next big thing in the Sonic franchise: a revolutionary 3D platformer that would take the series to new heights. But… it wasn’t meant to be. The game was cancelled in 1997, and the development team disbanded. And ever since, we all wake up in the middle of night to wonder: what happened to Sonic X-treme? Could it have been a bright, unforgettable, and XTREME experience… or was it doomed to become just a big flop?
The 90’s Console Wars
Let’s travel back in time to that terrible era known as _the late 90s_. Ah, yeah! Fanny packs, boy bands, Y2K paranoia and the battleground for one of the most heated duels in the history of videogames: Mario vs. Sonic, the plumber from Nintendo versus Sega’s lightning-fast hedgehog.
As the 16-bit era of gaming was drawing to a close, Sega was on the hunt for a surefire way to hit it big. Making _Sonic 4_ sounded like a quick way of squize a little bit more money from the Sega Genesis. After all, the fastest hedgehog alive had already sold a whopping 80 million copies of his games for the console, which included his main titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles and a few spin-offs.
Sound easy enough, right?
What Can Go Wrong?
But, let me tell you, the development of this game was a nightm… hold on, my landline phone is ringing. You don’t know what a landline is? Don’t – don’t worry, I’ll be back in a sec.
Hello, who is it? Sega? Oh, how are you, my old friend! How are those console sell… Oh, sorry, sorry, I just remembered! Yeah, don’t mind me, I was here talking a bit about Sonic X-treme! The development of that game was a smooth ride, wasn’t it? No hiccups or unexpected twists at all. The team was a model of stability, with no personnel changes or shifts in design direction. They even managed to magically transform the project from one console to another with no issues at all! Technical problems? What technical problems? They breezed through development with no trouble whatsoever. And the cherry on top: the team was never overwhelmed by the stress and pressure of making a groundbreaking game, and the project was definitely not unceremoniously cancelled. No way. Maybe you cancelled it because it was so good it was too much to handle, am I right? Alright, alright, catch you next time!
OK, he’s is gone. The development was a nightmare.
Chaos and Emeralds
Turns on that Sega was getting ready to release the 32X, an add-on for the Sega Genesis that increased the capabilities of the old console. So the project quickly turned into a game for that platform. The plan to make an isometric side-scroller was out of the window, and morphed into a full 3D game with a view set on a floating plane. The development started led by Michael Kosaka, executive producer and team leader, and designer and CGI artist Senn.
Kosaka completed the design documents before the 32X was released, but without a clear understanding of the hardware. He introduced some new gameplay concepts, such as the ability for a second player to control a character other than Tails. The game included various playable characters, including some from the saturday morning cartoon, that would be unlocked as they were rescued and would have unique moves. Additionally, players could collect Chaos Emeralds via special stages, which involved playing a mini-game similar to air hockey against Dr. Robotnik. Collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds would unlock the true ending.
The problem? Well, the jump to 3D was not that easy. The team didn’t have experience creating those kind of games, and the pressure to hit the deadline anyway was on. It was around this time that team leader Michael Kosaka resigned. Short after, lead programmer Don Goddard was replaced with Ofer Alon, which some staff found difficult to work with. Yeah, not a good sign, but don’t worry… “The game needs to be on the shelves by Christmas! And we are releasing a movie, too!” said a Sega executive somewhere, before laughing maniacally while a bolt of lightning crossed the night sky. Or something like that.
The Game That Never Was For The Console That Never Existed
With the 32X struggling commercially, the team moved the project to a planned Sega cartridge console powered by nVidia 3D hardware, designed to compete with the Nintendo 64. Yeah, you heard that right, another console.
What about the Sega Saturn? Well, Sega of America senior management’s just wasn’t interested in that platform and wanted to create something new. Robert Morgan, technical director, was instructed to investigate the new console possibility… but without hardware specifications or development kits.
So as you might have guessed, things didn’t go well. After Sega announced that it would focus only on the Saturn, things took a sharp turn. The development team had to shift gears yet again, costing them valuable time. And to make matters worse, when Yuji Naka, the creator of Sonic, visited the team at Sega Technical Institute to observe X-treme’s progress, all he could offer was a terse “good luck”. Ouch.
The dev team started to work on the Sega Saturn version, but they had only one machine to test on. So, to gain some time, they split in two teams. One of them was working on creating the boss battles, while the other was busy coding the stages on PC with the hope of later porting it to the Saturn. Amid all of this, one team member, Chris Senn, worked so tirelessly on X-treme that he lost a staggering 25 pounds and became seriously ill.
In an interview with GameRadar, he declared that:
“It was about as bad as I’ve seen. The politics that led to Kosaka-san’s departure. Allowing a newbie wannabe designer like me to fill a veteran like Michael Kosaka’s shoes without guidance and direction. Going through three lead programmers in the first year and a half of production, each time restarting the technology. A divide between people’s ideas about what the game should be. Egos. Inexperience. Poor communication, bad politics… all of these things contributed to the inevitable demise of the project.”
Demise of the project? Spoilers, Chris!
Well, yeah, after a many more changes of direction and a few battles between Sega and the development team, the game was… delayed? Yeah, that was Sega said for a bit, before delaying it till the end of times.
What ultimately caused the cancellation of Sonic X-treme? There were a number of factors at play: constant changes to the project plans, poor communication between the different teams, interference from Sega executives, and a lack of clear direction and gaming concept. When programmers are coding something that they know will be thrown away in just a few weeks, it’s easy for them to lose motivation and morale. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Sonic X-treme was a lost piece of gaming history.
Let’s Keep It X-treme
But all is not lost. Despite the cancellation of Sonic X-treme, the game’s legacy lives on. The concepts and ideas that were originally planned for the game have inspired countless fan projects and mods. And in recent years, there have even been attempts to recreate the game from scratch, using modern game engines and programming tools.
So while Sonic X-treme may have never seen the light of day, its impact on the gaming world can still be felt today. And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll finally get to see what could have been, with a true successor to the legendary Sonic X-treme. Until then, we’ll just have to keep dreaming of what could have been.