NB: Article written by Kieran Butcher, proof-read by Christian Senn.
By 1996 the Sonic X-Treme project was severely behind schedule, and time had taken its toll on the members of SEGA Technical Institute (STI). After two years of development the team had little solid production to show, after experiencing key personnel differences, three platform shifts and internal politics. Much of those two years had been spent on the development of Sonic X-Treme’s game editor, created by Ofer Alon. Alon had a vision, he wanted to create an engine and editor that would bring to life the videotape demos created early on in the project, but which would also allow a game to be programmed relatively easily, severely slashing production times, and thus recouping the years that had been lost whilst in its development.
Tension was now mounting, increased pressure from SEGA of Japan, and personal prejudice from the games technical director Robert Morgan, were to spell disaster for Alon. Morgan disliked Alon; he withheld a vital development kit that would allow the transition of Alon’s editor from PC to Saturn, while frequently emailing SOJ to inform them of Alon’s poor behaviour. In reality Alon was a hard and dedicated worker, he’d often isolated himself from the other workers in order to focus his effort upon the development of his editor. Concerned only with coding he’d often neglect others when they required his assistance, and on some occasions he’d work from home just to avoid office politics, and spend time near his family. The way in which Alon conducted his work often drew negative attention from management, but Senn vigorously defended Alon’s position:
“Keep in mind that I had been extremely loyal to Ofer since he’d first arrived. I knew he was extremely talented and respected his abilities. I found myself protecting him many times throughout the course of development out of loyalty and respect for him. Management in particular viewed him as a maverick, not communicating or “playing well” with others, etc. They couldn’t control him and he wouldn’t play politics, nor did he choose to spend time managing other programmers – he spent his time coding… ALL day and ALL night.”
It was these circumstances that lead to Alon\’s removal from the project. Both he and Senn had been ‘Summoned’ to Roger Hector’s (CEO of Sega of America) office. Unable to gauge the reaction his news would provoke from either of the two Hector had a security guard station outside. It was only when the pair had entered that Hector and Morgan decided to voice their concerns over the current development of the project. Morgan also revealed that he had contracted outside help from the then recently established game studio ‘Point of View’ (POV), to which he had co-founded. POV was to handle all of the projects technical development, and that meant Alon was no longer required.
Maintaining their cool, Alon and Senn accompanied Hector, Morgan and the executive producer Manny Granillo to Morgan’s office. Here they demonstrated POV’s work that had helped convince management to choose this course of action. What Alon and Senn witnessed shocked them, for what they saw was rudimentary at best, making it extremely difficult to understand why anyone would scrap the project\’s current course in favour of the POV technical demo. Granillo, sensing their surprise, stated, “See… we’re on a mission,” to which Alon remarked, “have a nice trip.” as he and Senn left the room.
From this point on Senn separated himself from the rest of the team, he began working alongside Alon to produce their own variation of the game. The humiliation and betrayal suffered, not only by Alon, but also by Senn (who believed so strongly in Alon and his abilities), gave the duo the fiery motivation they needed to work quickly and efficiently. Senn reflects on this issue:
“To witness such blatant disrespect and destructive behavior not only by the TD but by management siding and encouraging that behavior, lost my respect for them. Ofer and I discussed this whole charade and decided to blow their socks off with our own version. We were going to come back stronger than before. This treatment fueled our resolve to return with a vengeance!”
It was only when Senn and Alon learnt that that Irimajiri Shoichiro (president of SEGA Enterprises) was to visit STI, to view the current development on the other X-Treme project, that they decided to use the visit as an opportunity to showcase their own version. Alon worked hard to make sure his editor would be complete on time, but when the day of Irimajiri’s visit finally came, Alon was insistent on working out a few minor bugs that were still present. Fearing they may miss the games chance at redemption, Senn took what other materials they had and dashed to meet Shoichiro. By the time Senn arrived at the presentation room he found the Japanese president, fuming with rage at the apparent lack of work which had been attempted on the other project. Unable to approach him in his current state, Senn decided to wait until a time when he had enough courage to inform Shoichiro that he and Alon had been working on an alternative. Unfortunately by the time Senn had found the strength within, and Alon had arrived, Shoichiro had already left the building.
Faced with the knowledge they would never get another chance to present the game to SEGA’s Japanese division, Senn and Alon had only one other option. The two of them continued to work upon the game and build a presentation in order to pitch the concept to SEGA’s PC division ‘SEGA Soft’.
“Our objective was to present our work and convince the PC division to fund production of Sonic Xtreme for the PC. Ofer created a test world and I designed and created four worlds. Our presentation went well, but the PC group decided not to fund Xtreme. Meanwhile, STI had set up Project Condor with a handful of people moved to another building to work in isolation. This ultimately failed as well and Mike Wallis had to pull the plug. And so ended three years of extremely extreme difficulties!!!”