Thank you to Frank Cifaldi (of the Video Game History Foundation), Bob Morgan, Jessie Perez and @DickWhitehouse (Twitter) for all their hard work to reverse-engineer the Sega digitizer format.
For decades, the rumours and tales surrounding the making of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 have fascinated fans of Sega’s blue blur. From famously deleted zones such as Hidden Palace, Genocide City and Dust Hill, to discarded badniks and revelations of time travel, the early development of Sonic 2 and the beta revisions and prototypes discovered since have provided rich pickings for digital archeologist, coders and fans of all things hedgehog. To date, a total of nine Sonic 2 prototypes are in the public domain, each a fascinating insight into the game’s development process. Incredibly, the most recent of these betas was discovered as recent as February 2019.
Aside from the prototypes, Sonic fans have reveled in discoveries of concept art and the insight from the developers at the now defunct Sega Technical Institute (STI). Names such as Craig Stitt, Hirokasu Yasuhara and Yuki Naka have all shared valuable tales from behind the doors of Sega’s California HQ circa 1992.
In a 2004 interview, and later in 2009, Sonic 2 zone artist, Tom Payne, shared information on the game’s deleted zones and enemies – details that can only be described as a revelation. “You should start drooling now,” Tom explained in 2009 as he spoke of his ownership of “an ancient box with all my Sonic stuff in it”. What followed was the reveal of a floppy disk with the title ‘Sonic Enemies’ scrawled in rough biro. Portions of the disc’s contents were shared online by Sonic archivist IceKnight. Upon his website, SonicDatabase.com, Iceknight shared original digitizer artwork direct from Tom Payne’s Sega workbench. For the very first time, the deleted badniks Gator, Dinosaur and Snail were revealed to the world in their raw form.
But whatever happened to the remaining contents of Tom’s box?
Discs of discovery
The box’s full contents remained a complete mystery until a chance meeting at a California garage sale in mid-April 2019 between Jason Moorhouse (the owner of California-based retro video game store, Nostalgia Alley) and Tom Payne himself.
What follows is a fascinating revisit to the ‘Sonic Enemies’ disk and many more rarities besides.
Jason begins with how he came to meet Tom Payne:
Jason: I currently live in Santa Rosa California and have always enjoyed going to garage sales. The last sale of the day that I went to, I met Tom, and after talking he told me about how he worked for Sega and LucasArts back in the 90s. Naturally, I asked him if he had anything and he said he had a box of stuff in the garage but would have to dig it out. Later that day I got a text message saying he found the box so I headed over.
Megabites: Incredible! What exactly did Tom give you?
Jason: He had one small box of stuff left from his days at Sega and LucasArts including paper design specs of level lay outs, character designs, floppy disks with lables that read ‘B-Bomb’ and ‘Sonic Enemies’ among others, CD-Rs of the game ‘Yoda Stories’, a SNES prototype of ‘Big Sky Trooper’, a few awards he was given while at Sega, employee jackets and enamel pins. He gave me a few of these items including all the floppy disks, the ‘Big Sky Trooper’ prototype, Yoda Stories CD-Rs, and one of the awards from his work on ‘Sonic Spinball’.
Jason: After talking with Tom he wasn’t sure if he wanted to let them all go but when he heard I could get the information dumped from the disks/protos he decided to do it.
Megabites: If we can start with the floppy disks, what did you manage to salvage?
Jason: Together with the help of Frank Cifaldi (of the Video Game History Foundation), Bob Morgan and Jessie Perez, we have been converting the dumped files into images and text that can be read. Among our discoveries, we’ve seen a couple things that are exciting to see – unused character designs for Sonic 2 and an unreleased Genesis game called ‘Spinny and Spike vs the Nightmare King’. All the information will be able to be seen by those who seek it out.
Megabites: As the owner of a retro gaming store (and surely a Sonic fan!) these discoveries must have been fascinating for you. What are your memories of Sonic in the early 90s?
Jason: My wife, Rebecca Anderson, and I are the owners of the store and only two people who work here. Although I shouldn’t say this, I don’t believe Rebecca has ever played a Sonic game. Her family only had a N64 and PS1. As for myself I am definitely a fan of Sonic so it’s really exciting to see these items and meet Tom.
Meeting Tom was a random experience that I was not expecting – that interaction has got me to read more about the history which has been fascinating. I grew up pretty poor and only owned a NES with a handful of games but I had a friend who was fortunate to have a Genesis. Whenever I stayed at his house we would get down on the Sonic games. I will admit, I’ve never been particularly good at the franchise but I have always enjoyed it.
Megabites: Aside from the odd spot of retro gaming archeology, what else can visitors to your store hope to find?
Jason: Nostalgia Alley is a dream come true for me! Rebecca and I have been working for the last five years to open the store. The process of realising it has been very exciting! We currently carry a wide variety of systems, games, toys, plush, accessories; we have an arcade with a Neo Geo, Smash TV, Super Contra, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Final Fight, The Simpsons, Ms Pac Man, and Street Fighter Championship Edition. We also host events – most recently we’ve staged Smash Bros Ultimate friendlies events, which have been pretty fun!
Jason: Living in the bay area has been pretty exciting; I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many people in the industry including an old Sega Executive. I got a lot of cool stuff from her including a Sonic 2 jean jacket (amongst a bunch of other cool items). I’ve also had the pleasure to meet employees from Capcom, Atari, Sony, 2K, Namco, Double Fine and others who worked in the industry.
There you have it, a little background into the rediscovery of Tom Payne’s ‘ancient box with all his Sonic stuff in it’, much of which, Jason has been kind to share below:
Thank you to Jason Moorhouse and Rebecca Anderson of the Nostalgia Alley store for their incredible insight and assistance with all files and imagery. Of course, a HUGE thank you to Tom Payne.