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
The idea of a Sonic racer was first envisioned by one of the fathers of Sonic, Yuji Naka. It was originally intended 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.
Prior to the development of Sonic R, Traveller’s Tales was early into developing a Formula One racing title for the SEGA Saturn which was due to be published by SEGA. In early 1997, however, SEGA instructed them to retrofit the title into a Sonic racing game. This was due to Sonic X-Treme facing severe development issues and SEGA needing a new Sonic game to fill its place.
The original working title of Sonic R was ‘Sonic TT’ – a reference not only to Traveller’s Tales, but also racing terms such as ‘Tourist Trophy’ and ‘Time Trial’ according to lead programmer Jon Burton.
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 the game was present at E3 according to Jon Burton, although some interviews with Sonic R developers from the time suggested the prototype had limited functionality.
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.