Sonic R [Beta – Saturn]

Sonic R [Beta – Saturn]

Sonic R is a 1997 racing game developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by SEGA, which was released on the SEGA Saturn. The title made its debut at E3 1997 and was later launched in November, 1997. On the road to reaching store shelves, the game observed a multitude of beta changes, big and small, from how it was outlined in the beginning.

The Conception of Sonic R

Sonic R was first envisioned by one of the fathers of Sonic, Yuji Naka. It was originally going to be made by Sonic Team itself, but when they became busy creating Sonic Jam, they hired Traveller’s Tales as an alternative. Naka’s place in the project was switched to a supervising role, which included helping determine the character roster. The decision to employ the help of TT was made after they were impressed by their previous works, such as the Toy Story video game.

Kats Sato explains SEGA's decision to recruit TT.

Kats Sato explains SEGA’s decision to recruit TT.

The first working title of Sonic R was simply ‘Project: Sonic’.

One enduring rumour tells that it began as a Formula 1 game, later turned into a Sonic racing title, but this goes completely without corroboration from any reliable source.

 

E3 1997 Prototype

Its first unveiling was made by SEGA in the form of a teaser video at E3, showing off just over 30 seconds of very early prototype gameplay. According to one of the game’s programmers, Jon Burton, who was interviewed in the October 1997 issue of SEGA Saturn Magazine, work on Sonic R had begun in February of the same year; less than 4 months before the reveal. It was being worked on at the time by no more than six people: three artists and three programmers.

A playable demo of it was not present at E3 that year, and Burton explained that this was due to them having only started programming one track at that point, which was an incomplete Resort Island. The build showcased in the video impressed attendees, but in actuality, had “no AI for its opponents, limited animation and special effects”, according to Burton. The trailer in question states that it was approximately “20% complete” at the time.

In another interview, also given to SEGA Saturn Magazine, which was recorded a month later, Kats Sato added that what the video showed “was not even a proper playable version”.

In the E3 1997 clip, which has since been archived online, a few changes can be observed that were made between it and the finished game. Chiefly, the HUD’s used are distinctly different from one another.

Perhaps the most immediately noticeable contrast is the alteration of the character icons used in the E3 trailer towards the left of the screen. Originally, the game used 2D art for these and they were slightly reminiscent of the images seen in the continue item boxes of the original main series games on the Megadrive/Genesis.

Some of the prototype's character icons.

Some of the prototype’s character icons.

The images utilized in the final version use 3D renders more similar to their in-game models and the white backdrops were changed to black. The first racer icons were slightly transparent, which was revised too. Late in development, they were made completely opaque.

One noteworthy feature that was absent from the first showing is the map. This was later added to the bottom right corner of the HUD and displays the location of each player, as well as hidden routes. Another, is the lack of CPU characters present in the gameplay. Despite the placement of the character images, none of the other players are actually shown in the footage. The only model shown was Sonic. Mistaken as an implicit, SEGA-driven marketing decision by some, this is actually due to the fact they had simply not been programmed into the game yet, as explained by Jon Burton in his interview with SEGA Saturn Magazine.

The vast differences between Sonic R's first showing and its final version.

The vast differences between Sonic R’s first showing and its final version.

First Playable Build In SEGA Saturn Magazine

Featured in the August 1997 edition of the UK’s SEGA Saturn Magazine is a write-up of the earliest playable build of Sonic R shown off to the public. Editor, Lee Nutter, described in detail his first experience with playing the demo behind closed doors, which was accompanied by a variety of screenshots. 

In the prototype previewed by Nutter about a month after E3, there was only one playable stage on show, which was the ‘Resort Island’ track, but it offers plenty of insight into some of the cuts made between then and release.

The preview exhibited what turned out to be one of the more significant of the cuts made during development, which was one of the game’s power-ups. Originally, the title was planned to incorporate the three element shields from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. However, in the released code, only two are available: the lightning shield, which attracts nearby rings, and the water shield, which allows players to traverse bodies of water without sinking. The build present in Nutter’s feature shows a variation of the flame shield being used by Sonic. It is described as a protective barrier against attacks from Eggman’s weapon that is immediately extinguished if encounters water, a la Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

Flame shield

Sonic 3’s flame shield, before its removal from the game.

Sonic R’s spread in the magazine marked the first publicly released screenshots of the other characters planned for the game and it showed, quite clearly, an in-game model for Dr. Eggman, which differs slightly from his final appearance. In this version, the weapon beneath his ship appears as a black rocket with red wings. Later, this was changed to a grey cylindrical cannon.

Eggman model

The first in-game model for Dr Robotnik.

Furthermore, it is passingly noted by the writer that there was, at this point in development, a planned number of only 8 characters:

“In the demo picture here, you can control only Sonic – in the final game, five characters are controllable with three more hidden away!”

Contrary to this, in the finished product, there is a total of 10 playable racers and only 4 of them (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy) are available from the outset. This indicates the possibility that Dr. Eggman, the first character unlocked, was once considered to be selectable from the start and wasn’t locked behind special requirements until later. This theory is supported by his presence as a playable character in other earlier builds. It also shows that SEGA and Traveller’s Tales had not yet finalised the planned character roster, as there was an additional two others to be added further down the line.

2nd Promotional Beta Trailer

Sonic R’s second beta trailer was released by SEGA shortly after SEGA Saturn Mag. previewed the game in August, 1997. It was made for use at promotional events. This clip is notable for containing the first official gameplay of the split-screen multiplayer mode, as well as the world debuts of the ‘Radical City’ and ‘Reactive Factory’ stages. Although there aren’t many substantial additional cuts or alterations in this trailer over the E3 video, the more discerning of viewers will notice several small inconsistencies.

The general range of colours and the lighting around each of the tracks is reasonably dissimilar to that of the final version in certain places. Some examples of this include the brighter shading on the sand of ‘Resort Island’ towards the beginning of the track, and the higher key lighting used on the structure from the starting point in ‘Radical City’. Also, the road in front of it is a light grey; in future builds, it was changed to a much darker tone.

Perhaps the most significant observations to be made here lie in the brief clip of Tails in action during two player. His running animation is decidedly different from the one seen in the finished game. The one shown here is much closer to Sonic’s. Here, his iconic twin tails are still when he moves, but shortly after this clip was produced, the team added an animation loop, which would make them spin as he runs or flies. In addition, when the character jumps at one point, he does not go into a ball like Sonic does, and as he later did too. His leap from the ground is very slight, suggesting it was limited at this stage of programming him. This would explain why the trailer does not demonstrate Tails’ trademark flight ability, which he is capable of in the final game.

Tails' stunted prototype jump.

Tails’ stunted prototype jump.

Lastly, there is a design change exhibited in the footage of Reactive Factory. To the left of Sonic, as he travels up the side of the ramp, you will notice that the side barrier present in the finished level is missing. Whether this was a implicit creative decision that occurred further down the line, or if this had simply not been added yet is unclear.

SEGA Video Magazine Prototype

The SEGA Video Magazine, a series of promotional tapes distributed by SEGA in Japan, was host to the next earliest build of Sonic R. Although the tapes with Sonic R footage weren’t released until December 1997, which was over a month after the game had went gold, they inexplicably showed clips of the game in its alpha form from late July. These tapes are home to some of the earliest clips available of the other playable characters being used, outside of Sonic. It shows gameplay of Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles and Eggman being used.

Again, there are a number of differences between this version and the one released that can be pointed out. Not only are almost all the distinctions noted in the E3 build still present, but we can see even more of them in effect here.

When each of the characters jump, they momentarily become engulfed in a blue aura effect. In the release code, the effect was changed to match the colour of each respective character: Tails’ to orange and Knuckles’ to red. A likely explanation for this lies in how the game was programmed. The two running characters, Knuckles and Tails, were duplicated from Sonic and had their unique traits (e.g. as Knuckles’ trademark gliding ability) added further down the line. It’s likely the blue aura was simply a placeholder that the team had not yet gotten around to changing, as opposed to a retracted creative decision; since this is the only video in which it appears.

Blue Aura

Another strange aspect of note in the tape is in the shadow effect beneath each of the characters. During gameplay, it unexplainably flashes a vibrant shade of blue, not unlike the one used on Sonic’s aforementioned jumping graphic. This is not present in any other version of the title, the E3 trailer included, and is most likely a graphical glitch that was amended soon after this was captured.

Interestingly, the tape also contains a very early and somewhat different rendition of ‘SuperSonic Racing’, the main theme of Sonic R, in the background. The pacing of the music is marginally more relaxed and doesn’t use all of the instruments that were employed for the finished song.

We reached out to the composer of Sonic R’s original soundtrack, Richard Jacques, who very kindly shed some light on the origins of this song. Thanks, Richard!

‘This was a work in progress version of SuperSonic Racing. The singer is a lady who used to work in the SEGA Europe offices, and I used her to create a demo version of the song for Yuji Naka to listen to and approve. This is often what takes place before spending financial resources on studio time with session singers / musicians.”

Mr Jacques added that he unfortunately has no personal copy of the aforementioned demo song and that it is most likely only to be found now in the archives at SEGA.

Released September 1997 Prototype

Thanks to the efforts of drx, the owner of Hidden Palace, a Sonic R beta / prototype has been recovered. It dates back to September 10 1997, two months prior to launch, and was lifted from SEGA of America’s archives. There is no record of any member of the press having been shown it in any official capacity during the run-up to release and it was seemingly intended to be used for internal purposes only.

One of the most significant parts of this proto iteration is the substantial difference in the way Sonic R’s computer-controlled racers behave. It is very much unlike the game people are familiar with in this regard. In the finished game, the default CPU opponents are very easy to predict, due to their fixed individual speed stats and abilities. In terms of the starting character roster, Sonic and Knuckles are noticeably speedier than the other characters, meaning they consistently place first and second respectively. Tails almost always finishes third, Eggman fourth, and Amy, the slowest, is regularly last.

On the other hand, in this prototype, the AI is noticeably much less predictable and slightly more competitive. Even low tier characters, such as Amy, can finish in the highest spots. The skill of the individual computer-controlled competitors is seemingly randomised and one of the only reliable factors is based on their respective skills in comparison to the tracks. For instance, Amy and Eggman are commonly the most competent CPU racers on the ‘Reactive Factory’ track, as it contains many bodies of water. They are able to cross these without sinking, due to their amphibious vehicles. Whereas the on-foot characters (Sonic, Tails and Knuckles) cannot, thus slowing them down in the event of the AI falling victim to these pits. Although, Amy’s transformation animation for traveling over water, in which her car’s wheels flip horizontally into hoverjets, had not yet been inserted into the game. Instead, she merely drives over the surface.

Amy and Robotnik

A more competent Amy and Eggman.

One other feature of the prototype which affects competitive play in a somewhat meaningful way is a ‘starting boost’ mechanic. At the start of each race, every CPU opponent in play performs a large and abrupt increase in speed that catapults them ahead of the player for a moment, before returning to their standard speeds. The player, meanwhile, cannot receive this boost and must build their momentum from scratch. This idea was scrapped in its entirety later in development.

The proto's start boost mechanic at play.

The proto’s start boost mechanic at play.

From the point of view of the player, there are some very slight differences in how these characters handle: Amy’s car feels noticeably faster when traveling in a straight line, Sonic’s jump allows you less height and Dr. Eggman moves slightly slower. These tweaks give the impression that the team were still experimenting with balancing the racers around this part of development.

Along with the aforementioned contrast in AI programming, it’s evident that work on the in-game engine was still incomplete at this phase. The draw distance in the prototype is considerably worse than it is in the final version. The environments take much longer to fade in properly; to the point that it can render the stages genuinely difficult to navigate.

An example of the poor draw distance in the prototype.

An example of the poor draw distance in the prototype.

There are other graphical inconsistencies: the shadows beneath characters look grainy, there are lots more issues with collision detecting and the models can easily clip parts of the environment if you bump into them (e.g. any of the floor lights in Reactive Factory).

There was a relatively subtle change to the lighting in Radical City, as well. In the prototype, especially when you enter the rocky tunny towards the start of the track, you will notice it is much darker for some reason. In that same level, there was a change made to the effect rendering the streams of water. It was originally the same colour as it is in every other stage; a bright blue. This would later be made into a much darker shade to reflect the nighttime urban setting. This was most likely nothing more than a placeholder graphic.

radical city prototype

The dimmer lighting of Radical City.

The playable tracks were clearly far from completion at this point in time; especially in the case of the factory zone. Parts of the water surrounding the level still had yet to be rendered and are replaced by a recurring grey static. Besides this, the finish/starting line in the prototype is totally different. You begin the stage in front of a curved ramp. In the final, this is about midway through the track, by comparison.

The original starting point of Reactive Factory.

Reactive Factory’s original starting point.

Resort Island is, by a decent measure, the most complete of the three tracks available, but has one big difference – it contains the aforementioned flame shield item, before it was removed. Strangely, it acts unlike it does in any of its other incarnations in Sonic games.

In its first appearance as part of Sonic The Hedgehog 3, the shield can be used to block enemy attacks and other hazards once before expiring. It is invulnerable to fire-related damage, but is neutralised if it comes into contact with water. Pressing the jump button twice with the flame shield equipped will propel Sonic forward in the direction he is facing in a speedy offensive manoeuvre.

Conversely, in Sonic R, while it can be used to defend against one of Dr Eggman’s cannon shots and can be put out by water, the power-up does not allow the player to dash in midair. Attempting to will instead initiate Sonic’s standard double-jump in the game. The only other function of the flame shield in this prototype is that it can be used to attract nearby rings; the same as the lightning shield. It would appear that based upon where the item is positioned in Resort Island that the flame shield was fully replaced by the lightning shield, in the case of this track.

According to SEGA Saturn Magazine’s August preview of the game, there was a previous stage in development when all three of the element shields were present at once. Whether the item was originally slated to have its own unique ability like the other two is unclear, but it would appear that when this prototype copy was produced, Traveller’s Tales was in the process of replacing each flame shield with either lightning or bubble shields.

Once more, the track which would become known as ‘Reactive Factory’ is the most incomplete of the bunch in this version by some margin. One part of the zone has a very distinct structure with the word “Ride” written along the side of it and automatic doors on its front section. It would later become home to one of the game’s collectable golden coins, however, the doors do not yet function, so it cannot be obtained. Moreover, none of the coins in the prototype serve any purpose yet, because the collision detecting for them had not been programmed at this time. Any attempts to interact with them will merely result in your character of choice passing through them and clipping the revolving 3D model.

An unfinished piece of the 'Factory' locale.

An unfinished piece of the ‘Factory’ locale.

In relation to these hidden coins, the game’s HUD hints towards a fairly big change in the game’s design. The counter located in the bottom left hand corner of the screen keeps track of the amount of coins you have collected, as well as a total number of them present in each level. According to the number seen here, there was planned to be a total of nine per map, although not all of them were programmed into the game yet. This is an increase of four coins over the final code. There is no definite explanation for this that we know of, but it is likely the result of time constraints, as Sonic R’s development was rushed, so that it could be released in time for the 1997 holiday period.

An odd characteristic of the physics, in comparison with the release code, is how the characters interact with solid parts of the environment when they bump into them. Doing this in the released Sonic R will normally slow characters for a brief moment after they hit, depending on the angle and speed at which they impact this part of the environment. Whereas here, doing so will result in the player bouncing off the surface and being knocked back, almost as though they were colliding with a spring. The amount of speed lost is comparatively less too.

At this period of the game’s creation, we can deduce that track names had not yet been finalised either. On the stage selection screen, which is nothing more than a static image, the stages are tentatively listed as ‘Island’, ‘City’ and ‘Factory’. They would eventually be renamed ‘Resort Island’, ‘Radical City’ and ‘Reactive Factory’ respectively fairly late in development. In reference to the title, each track name was made to begin with the letter ‘R’.

Curiously, the course select menu in the prototype contains two 3D concept art renders of both the Island and City locales, both of which were totally missing from the game in the end. Although, these were at one stage viewable on SEGA’s official microsite for Sonic R, alongside top down views of each course, created in the same visual style

The proto course select, featuring unused scrapped art.

The proto course select, featuring unused art.

Nowadays, the website is borderline unworkable, but we were able to archive its assets for your viewing. It contained a variety of these same 3D art images, the vast majority of which never made it into any released version. Some of the character models made it in as ‘ending screens’ for characters, albeit without the backgrounds you see here.

There are more intriguing revisions in the game’s art assets, like its beta / prototype title screen, which was completely changed. The original screen included hand-drawn artwork produced by Sonic Team artist, Kazuyuki Hoshino, and contained character designs more conventional to those used in the art of previous Sonic games. The significance of this image is that it is believed to be one of the earliest pieces of concept art made for the game; possibly even dating back to before Traveller’s Tales began work on it. This information comes to us from a trusted source, who was close to the project. This assertion is supported by the fact that it can be seen in Sonic R’s very first public showing, at the closing of the E3 trailer, which was put together when programming on the game had only just began. It was also originally slated to be the game’s box art in North America.

Hoshino’s original art was not removed from the finished game entirely, however. It was repurposed as a congratulatory message to players who managed to complete it. An edited version of it can be seen at the very end of the credit roll, wherein the ‘Sonic R’ title text has been replaced with the words ‘See ya!’.

Sonic R's original title screen, later turned end credits message.

Sonic R’s original title screen, later turned end credits message.

Sonic R’s title screen, as we know it today, uses 3D computer-generated renders instead. The change was implemented to more adequately reflect the models used in the game itself and as to not spoil the presence of the hidden character, Metal Sonic, which can be seen in the prototype screen.

There are some very subtle details on some of the character designs that were adjusted between the two pictures: the buckles on Sonic’s shoes were removed, Eggman’s ship is less detailed and black bracelets were added to Tails’ gloves. While the first two of those alterations can be attributed to making them closer to their less detailed in-game counterparts, the latter cannot. These mysterious black rims on Tails’ mitts go unexplained. They are not a part of any of his known gameplay models; prototype or otherwise. They appear to be simply a very small artistic liberty taken with the picture that aren’t consistent with the rest of the game.

A comparison between the first and final titles.

A comparison between the first and final titles.

Speaking of which, the team at TT replaced the game’s original loading screen, as well; likely for similar reasons. Its prototype form was a revolving 3D, transparent model of a disc labelled ‘loading’, through which the title screen could be seen. It was removed in favour of a rotating, metallic Sonic head.

Loading screen beta

Almost every menu section in the proto build is a more basic, temporary replacement for what would eventually come later on. Most of the UI is made up of still images and is navigated by pressing a designated button on the controller for each on-screen option.

An example of the still menus in the proto.

An example of the still menus in the proto.

Around this time, Sonic R’s HUD was beginning to evolve too. This is the first recorded iteration on the game featuring a map; although, it is still far from how it turned out to be in the end. It is clearly in an unfinished state and the developer was planning to do more with it. It is not yet functional, as it didn’t yet track player movements around levels and lacks the black outline of the final game. In addition, it is somewhat transparent, making it difficult to see properly during play. It was most likely put in as a placeholder.

The first inclusion of the map.

The first inclusion of the map.

What’s more is a small differentiation in the how the competitor icons on the left of the heads-up display worked. The prototype’s icons function by enlarging the picture of the character in first place, as opposed to the final version, in which the only widened icon is that of the player’s; regardless of their position.

Certain aspects of the build’s audio are also different. The sound balance seems to prioritise the soundtrack a lot more, for one. By default, it is discernibly louder than the rest of the game, while the majority of the sound effects, including the jumping noise, are much quieter.

At this point in development, the starting countdown from the opening of each race used different sounds. It would eventually be accompanied by a voice recording from TJ Davis, saying ‘Three! Two! One! Go!’. Whereas in the prototype, it is a placeholder of one low pitch note from a digital keyboard repeated three times.

In addition, it appears Traveller’s Tales inexplicably removed one of Sonic’s in-game animations. Originally, as we can see in the proto, the hedgehog began each race by nonchalantly gazing off to his left, with his hands on his hips, shaking his head. In the release code, he instead performs what seems to be a hamstring warm-up exercise; stretching down to touch his toes. When the camera pans closer behind him, he stops and faces forward, completely still. This is also Sonic’s idle animation.

Sonic's disapproving head shake.

Sonic’s disapproving head shake.

It’s worth noting too that the developers altered the soles of Sonic’s footwear from white to red to make them more consistent with their previous designs.

Equally subtle is the change in text art used. For one, the prototype used a darker gradient blue for the countdown.

Go font beta vs final

Upon completing each course, Sonic R presents the player with a results parade, in which the characters gather around the finishing line to celebrate or grieve over their performances. The developer reiterated the font used for the overlaid text here from a sharper blue typeface to a bolder orange one. You can also see that they added player icons to the bottom, so you can see where each player places in the race.

Beta vs final race results

Gamepro September 1997 Beta Preview

Gamepro Magazine’s September 1997 edition included a brief excerpt on Sonic R. Among the screenshots they posted, we can still see that the flame shield mentioned above was present as late as September, before its subsequent removal. With regards to its ongoing development, this is the last recorded screenshot of it in the game.

Gamepro September 1997

The ‘First Look’ includes five different screenshots from a “50% complete” build of the game, and displays one considerable aspect which was later cut; the option to change the time of day and weather in the Saturn version.

As we know, the PC version of Sonic R, which was released a year later, added the ability to alter the time of day and weather in each stage. For example, the player can choose from rain or snow effects. These images prove that it was, in fact, originally a part of the Saturn game too. They show Sonic in a variant of Resort Island, set in the evening. The sun is setting over the mountainous vistas in the background and the lighting is much different. In the PC release, you can access these very same removed effects in the options menu by choosing the ‘clear’ weather setting.

Resort Island's evening backdrop, later cut.

Resort Island’s evening look, later cut.

The true reason why they were withdrawn remains ambiguous, but it is likely a result of time constraints on the part of Traveller’s Tales. Sonic R’s development was hastened along by SEGA and was made in no more than 8-9 months. You can see more images of this option in the game in a couple of other magazines, such as the first SEGA Saturn Magazine hands-on.

Tips & Tricks Magazine, September 1997

Some of the biggest and most fascinating cut elements were documented in a segment from the September 1997 issue of the now defunct ‘Tips & Tricks Magazine’. Among other things, the small piece mentions entire multiplayer modes that never made it into the final game and were scrapped partway through development.

Cancelled game modes?

Cancelled game modes?

“A variety of gameplay modes are available – ring attack, relay race and even tag – but the coolest feature is the four play split screen mode”.

The only one of these three modes that was realised in the end was the ‘tag’ multiplayer mode. Despite it being mentioned by multiple articles and even by Traveller’s Tales employees themselves, the nature of the planned ‘ring attack’ game has never been specified. On the other hand, ‘relay race’ was detailed by another magazine, Saturn Power, later in the year.

Mysteriously, the ‘four play split screen mode’ option was never mentioned beyond this article. It is possible to have been something the developer promised Tips & Tricks during their time with an early build of the game, as we understand they were one of the press outlets invited to try it before release. It is known that TT made a number of pledges like this to other magazines that they were ultimately unable to follow through on, due to time and budget constraints.  In the final game, of course, there is no such 4-player split screen. The maximum player count during multiplayer is two. Assuming that this is not simply a typo, it’s possible that Traveller’s Tales scrapped the idea of 4-p, since the Saturn’s multiplayer mode already suffers from technical issues to begin with; because of the hardware’s limited capabilities. 

More pictures of evening Resort Island and a look at the original box art.

More pictures of evening Resort Island and a look at the original box art.

SEGA Saturn Magazine, October 1997

In early October 1997, SEGA Saturn Magazine paid a second visit to Traveller’s Tales to report on an updated version of the game and write about the team’s progress. The magazine staff interviewed Jon Burton, who shared some more information on the game’s creation.

One of the most noteworthy statements made by the lead programmer during this interview clarifies some of the prior claims made in the Tips & Tricks preview from a month earlier and confirms that there were indeed scrapped modes.

Jon Burton confirms the deleted modes.

Jon Burton discusses deleted modes.

“There will be a two-player mode (including Race and Battle modes hopefully), as well as Time Trial, Tag and Possibly Relay modes”

Unlike Tips & Tricks, however, Burton mentions that the team was hoping to include a mode named ‘Battle’. No information on this mode is available, but it’s possible that it was another name for the ‘Ring Attack’ game, which was brought up a month prior to this. A mode named ‘Battle’ was never present in any released version of Sonic R and appears to have been a concept that was either removed or scrapped before work on it began. Given the level of inspiration the title undeniably took from Nintendo’s Mario Kart, perhaps this was their spin on MK’s very own ‘Battle’ mode.

Despite its absence from the build exhibited in the magazine, this interview also contains the very first mention of the in-game map, to be added later. It’s likely that this was a fairly recently conceived idea at the time of the interview, as the team never mentioned a map in any of their communications with the press before this feature.

“There will be an on-screen map to help players find their way around”

In the remainder of the article, we can see evidence of yet another cancelled mode. The writer states that Traveller’s Tales were considering adding a “Mirror mode” at this stage in the project.

Yet another cut option – ‘Mirror Mode’.

“…Tag and Relay modes are already being planned. Additionally, despite there being five enormous tracks, the option for reverse and mirror modes is also being considered to boost lastability still further”

From the sound of it, it would seem that the dev team was contemplating adding something akin to Mario Kart’s ‘Mirror Mode’, which flips the layouts of each track horizontally. In the end, the developer omitted this option and instead went with with a gameplay type wherein the player has to complete each level backwards called ‘Reverse’; which was also touched upon in the magazine.

Game Informer, October 1997

Shortly following on from SEGA Saturn mag’s piece, Game Informer also produced a column dedicated to Sonic R. It contains a number of images from a prototype, believed to have been taken fairly early on in development. Just like Gamepro’s piece, it shows the Resort Island stage in its evening configuration.

Sonic R SEGA Saturn evening gameinforer

At the head of the article, the writer lists some of the title’s planned features:

“2-Player Split-Screen, Analog Controller Support, 9 Racing Characters (4 more Hidden), 360 Degree Environment, 5 courses, 5 Gameplay modes”

Examining this, we can note that during Game Informer’s second play test, they were told there would be a total of nine playable characters. However, in the game released, there was a total of ten. Of course, it is entirely possible that Traveller’s Tales wanted to keep the existence of a tenth racer a secret, but it could also tell us that there were only nine in the pipeline at this point in development.

Game Informer characters

On top of that, the magazine references “5 Gameplay modes”. In the final game, there are only four available: ‘Grand Prix’, ‘Time Trial’, ‘Race and Tag’. This suggests that Game Informer was among the publications told about the ultimately dropped modes (e.g. ‘Ring Attack’) before release.

Saturn Power, November 1997

One of the final pre-release write-ups on Sonic R came from Future Publishing’s Saturn Power magazine. In it, we can see beta screenshots, showing the game in a state not too far from completion. From the spread, which spans three whole pages of the issue, we can ascertain a few more interesting tweaks made to the game in its last months.

Multiplayer beta

On page 24 of the magazine, Saturn Power mentions an alternative title for Reactive Factory, which was present in this beta build. It appears that SEGA and Traveller’s Tales were referring to the stage simply as ‘Industrial’ at this point. The writer carefully noted that the titles were subject to change. 

“Three tracks were playable in the version of Sonic R Sega allowed us to lay with… and very impressive they are, too. City, Industrial and Island are the venues on offer. Note that the names may change before Sonic R is released…”

Saturn Power, in this article, was the only source involved with previewing the title before release to detail the enigmatic cut ‘Relay Race’ mode. Strangely, the writer, James Price implies an unmistakable degree of confidence that the game type was going to make it in.

Relay mode saturn power sonic r

Relay mode detailed.

“Another feature sure to make a debut is a Relay mode, in which players must use each of the five characters to complete a race”

Even more intriguing than this is a trait of one of the characters Price mentions. According to his description of the playable character roster, in the build he played, Knuckles was able to climb.

Was Knuckles originally able to climb?

Was Knuckles originally able to climb?

“Sonic’s hugely fast, Amy drives a car capable of Sega Rally-style power drifts and Tails can fly. Knuckles, impressively, can climb”

However, in the released Sonic R or in any recovered prototype of it, Knuckles cannot climb as he does in his other appearances (e.g. Sonic & Knuckles). Assuming this was not simply an error, it would appear as though Traveller’s Tales played around with the idea of Knuckles being able to scale parts of the environments late in development, but it was ultimately dropped.

Special thanks to Richard Jacques for his contribution and to Sonic Retro, the source of the magazine scans seen throughout the article. 

Sonic idle animation proto

Images:


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Liam Robertson

Liam Robertson

Writer and researcher. I help discover lost and unseen games. I also create videos for the site over on YouTube.
Liam Robertson




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7 thoughts on “Sonic R [Beta – Saturn]

  1. Pingback: Research Guide On History Of Sonic R Published | TSSZ News

  2. Tamaki Post author

    For reference – I have updated the article on 29/09/2014 with a ton of new information. Pretty much the entirety of the piece above was posted on this date.

    If you have any more information on the game or feedback on the article, please feel free to post it in the comments here and I’ll be happy to add it! Enjoy.

  3. ronaldo

    Sega should have cancelled the Saturn version and ported It over to the Dreamcast as a Japanese launch title in November 98 travellers tale would have had a whole year to Polish up the game and day other features like new tracks, ring or battle mode , updated graphics and day night features.

  4. Gaz

    A 2015 issue of Retro Gamer magazine features a retrospective on Sonic R featuring statements given by the team who worked on it, who confirmed it started life as a F1 game. Only a test track and a McLaren were built before it was retooled as Sonic R.

    1. Tamaki Post author

      Hi Gaz. If you are able to provide some kind of scan or proof of this article, then I will be more than happy to update the article. This has been a rumour for a long time.

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