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Prerelease:Sonic the Hedgehog 3

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This page details prerelease information and/or media for Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

This cactus is UNDER CONSTRUCTION
This article is a work in progress.
...Well, all the articles here are, in a way. But this one moreso, and the article may contain incomplete information and editor's notes.

Unlike its direct predecessor, Sega opted not to release any significant preview material of Sonic 3 as it was being developed, likely due to the frantic nature of its production and the many predicaments unfolding behind closed doors. This questioned people whether builds were given out to magazines, though the November 3rd prototype confirms at least one build was sent out.

Rather, Sega instead sent out VHS tapes that the magazines would write up about; although presumably many were made, only one from late in development has been released.

Development Timeline

Late 1992 - Early 1993

  • The Sega Technical Institute division that developed Sonic 2 is split into two teams: one team comprising of the American developers and the other team comprising of the Japanese developers. The team comprising of Japanese developers developed Sonic 3.

1993

  • January - Development begins with the working title "Sonic 3D". The game is intended to use the Sega Virtua Processor (SVP) chip to allow for 3D polygonal graphics. The game is given a deadline of February 1994, to coincide with a McDonald's Happy Meal promotion.
  • June - It becomes clear that the SVP chip will not be finished in time for February 1994, so development comes to a halt. Since the game must be released by February 1994 no matter what, the decision is made to restart Sonic 3 as a more conventional side-scroller built off of the Sonic 2 engine.
  • September/October - The developers realize that the game's scope and size are far too large to make it possible to complete before the deadline. Not wanting to compromise their ambitious vision, the decision is made to split the game into two parts: Sonic 3 Part 1 and Sonic 3 Part 2.
  • November 3 - The Sonic 3 prototype is dated to this day. Though the header indicates that its data is actually from the previous month, suggesting November 3rd to be the date the game data burned onto the EEPROM cartridge, rather than when it was actually last worked on.
  • November 20 - The first part is completed as Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
  • December 10 - The first issue of the UK Sega Magazine (cover-dated January 1994), containing the most extensive preview coverage of Sonic 3 prior to its release, is published. The screenshots published in the issue are later discovered to have originated from the aforementioned November 3 prototype.

1994

  • February 2 - Sonic 3 is released in North America. Development on the second half, to become Sonic & Knuckles, continues.
(Source: Hidden Palace, Sega Magazine)

Subpages

Sonic3 ConceptArt Ico.png
Concept Art
Knock, knock, it's Stealth.

Production Cycle

Sonic 3D

Sonic 3 was originally developed under the working title "Sonic 3D", and was planned to be a drastically different game compared to its predecessors. Unlike the side-scrolling Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, Sonic 3D was to be an isometric game using pre-rendered 3D graphics, while the Special Stages featured a polygonal Sonic in a figure eight-shaped stage. This was to be accomplished using Sega/Samsung's SSP1601 chip, the Sega Virtua Processor (SVP).

Development on this initial version of the game lasted until June 1993, when the developers were informed that the SVP wouldn't be available in time, which would result in a long delay. Even then, a delay was not possible because Sega had signed a promotional deal with McDonald's that mandated that Sonic 3 be out in February 1994. Due to this, the developers scrapped all their work and decided to build Sonic 3 off Sonic 2. In the end, the SVP would only be used for Virtua Racing, which it was initially developed for.

Not all the work on Sonic 3D went to waste: the character renders were re-used for the title screens of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, plus the "No Way!" screen; the in-game sprites of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles were also designed to resemble these renders. The isometric concept also ended up getting used in Sonic 3D Blast in 1996.

Final Version

Due to the success of the previous two games, Yuji Naka was given more creative freedom and wanted Sonic to go through a large game, essentially doing what they wanted to do with Sonic 2. Early on, the developers had already planned all the stages for the final game, spanning 14 zones, however Sega had a cross-promotion with McDonald's that required the game out by February 1994. Many of the stage concept art was reused from Sonic 2's development, with Metropolis Zone's hilariously being changed to "interior of a blimp" (most likely referencing Flying Battery).

Due to the short development time left, the developers decided to essentially split the game in two; the first seven zones would be polished and released as Sonic 3, so that the final seven zones could be worked on and released as a second part. Flying Battery Zone was planned to be the fifth Zone, following Carnival Night and preceding IceCap, however it was later moved to Sonic & Knuckles due to time constraints. During this, Sonic Spinball was created so that a new Sonic game could be released in time for Christmas 1993.

The Michael Jackson Conundrum

Arguably one of the most famous mysteries surrounding the development of Sonic 3 regards Michael Jackson's involvement with the composition of its soundtrack. Masato Nakamura, who composed the first two Sonic games, was highly successful and popular in Japan, and his asking price for Sonic 3 was significantly higher as a result. As such, Sega chose not to hire him to compose Sonic 3‍ '​s soundtrack and instead look elsewhere. It was then that Michael Jackson, who was at the height of his fame and was a Sonic fan, approached Sega and was hired to write tracks for Sonic 3, with allegedly the entire game's soundtrack having been composed by Jackson.

However, Jackson left before the game was completed and is not credited in the final game. The extent of his contributions - or whether his contributions remain in the game at all - remains a source of debate. Over the years, developers who worked on the game have provided conflicting reasons for his departure. Sega Technical Institute head Roger Hector, who first revealed Jackson's involvement in 2005, has stated that Sega fired Jackson following the first accusations of child sexual abuse against him, which arose during the game's production. This stance was backed up by Naoto Ohshima in 2018. Additionally, Sega staff, including then-Sega of America president Tom Kalinske, have said that no contracts or agreements were signed.

In contrast, Brad Buxer (one of Sonic 3's composers) stated that Jackson left because he was unsatisfied with how his music sounded on the Genesis. Doug Grigsby, Cirocco Jones, and Buxer have also stated that Jackson's contributions remained, and that he chose to go uncredited. This was corroborated by an anonymous source who spoke to GameTrailers in 2013, who stated that Jackson himself had chosen to go uncredited; the developer identified the music for Carnival Night Zone was one of the pieces that Jackson had contributed. Carnival Night's theme contains identical notes to Jackson's Jam, and contains a sample that was later confirmed to have originated from Jam. Buxer also claimed that the credits theme for the game is what later became the basis for Jackson's song, Stranger in Moscow.

Although still a topic of debate, the 10 tracks most commonly believed to be composed by Michael Jackson and/or an associate are the Act 1 boss theme, Knuckles's theme, the Competition Menu theme, the credits theme, and the tracks for both acts of Carnival Night Zone, IceCap Zone and Launch Base Zone; IceCap Zone, especially, was discovered in the early 2010s to have originated from an unreleased track for Brad Buxer's band, The Jetzons, titled Hard Times. It's worth noting that the tracks for the Act 1 boss theme and Knuckles's theme used different compositions in Sonic & Knuckles, which extended to Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The 1997 PC version of Sonic 3 titled Sonic & Knuckles Collection ended up using different songs in place of all of these themes (with the Act 1 boss music using the Sonic & Knuckles version). It was originally believed that either licensing issues or limitations of the MIDI format (which couldn't reproduce the samples used in those tracks) forced Sega to hastily compose new tracks; however, Hidden Palace's release of a prototype debunked those theories, instead revealing that the aforementioned "replacement" tracks were the originally intended compositions the entire time. Since that prototype is dated around October/November, this means that Jackson's music was likely implemented at the last minute.

Level Changes

Angel Island Zone

November 3rd, 1993 Proto Late Prototype Pre-Final Tape Build Later Prototype Final
Sonic3ProtoIntro.png SonicTheHedgehog3PrereleaseIntro1.jpg SonicTheHedgehog3Pre-FinalBuildIntro.png SonicTheHedgehog3PrereleaseIntro2.png SonicTheHedgehog3Intro1.png

The intro went through three variations after the November 3rd prototype; In the first picture, Sonic's sprites have been finalized, but Knuckles still wears green socks, clashing with the HUD palette (due to both using the same palette), which has also finalized. The camera is less centered than later builds. It's also a little hard to make out, but it appears that Sonic's Super palettes remain unaltered from 1103.

The second pic has Sonic and Knuckles' final palettes, lack of HUD and is more centered on Sonic, but swapped the purple and blue Chaos Emeralds so they could be better seen in front of the waterfall. The left boundary for this stage is also nearly final but is at X position $1300 in this build.

The third picture is exactly the same as the second except that the left boundary for the stage is now in it's final position at X position $1308.

IceCap Zone

SonicTheHedgehog3PrereleaseIceCap1.jpg

At this point in development, Act 2's background has the darker palette implemented (but not the transition to the brighter palette after the miniboss), and the HUD is still shaded like the 1103 prototype.

Videos

Bill Nye EPCOT Innoventions Commercial

At about 0:25 of this 1994 commercial for the Innoventions held at Walt Disney World is some footage of a late prototype build of Sonic 3 likely dated a couple weeks before the final build. It shows a bit of the 2P stages like Azure Lake and Desert Palace, a Special Stage, and a tiny amount of Launch Base Zone Act 1.

  • The HUD appears to be unchanged from the 1103 prototype, though it's hard to tell from the video quality.
  • Desert Palace's background has fixed the erroneous black coloring in its palette, although the numbers and markers from the 1103 prototype are still in use.
  • Also in that footage, there is a proto HUD arrow at the bottom-left corner that can barely be seen.
  • The background for Launch Base Act 1 appears to match the final, though the water appears a bit more purple in the video. This is however more likely just the fault of the VHS quality.
  • The Special Stage appears to be finalized at this point.

Pre-Final VHS Footage

Hmmm...
To do:
Document any more differences you find.

VHS footage of a very late prototype of Sonic 3, possibly dated only a few days before the final build.

General Notes

  • The HUD matches that of the final game by this point.
  • The prototype compositions have been replaced with their final versions.

Special Stage

  • (3:40 - 4:48) With the introduction of the playable Special Stages since the November 3rd, 1993 prototype, the tape reveals a bug with the speed system that doesn't seem to have been fixed by the final build: by getting snagged in-between two bumpers and jumping out of them, Sonic is unable to go faster with the music. You can make Sonic get back to the proper speed by pressing Up on the D-Pad in the final game, but it's not known if the player didn't press Up or the bug simply had a workaround by pressing Up.

Angel Island Zone

  • Act 1
    • (1:40) In the opening cutscene, the blue and purple Chaos Emeralds are in opposite positions compared to the final game, matching a screenshot used for the US box art. In the final game, the positions of the two emeralds were likely swapped to prevent the blue emerald from blending in with the waterfall.
      • In the same cutscene, the screen boundary is set further to the left at $1300, whereas the final game has it further to the right at $1308.
    • (2:17) When the Fire Breath descends into view before setting Angel Island on fire, its flame jets appear to be rendered using bubble sprites for a few frames. This does not happen in the November 3rd prototype or the final game.

Hydrocity Zone

  • Act 1
    • (12:45) As Sonic goes around the final loop before the Act 1 miniboss, the lower part of the background becomes corrupted due to boss graphics being loaded over the background tiles. The final game fixes this by loading the boss graphics over a different part of the background that is off-screen.
    • (12:51) Big Shaker has been updated to use its final bright red and purple palette. However, its damage flash palette has not been updated, causing it to revert to the dark red and turquoise palette used in the November 3rd prototype after taking damage (12:57).
  • Act 2
    • (13:46 and 15:25) The trailing water splash graphics become corrupted when loading in from Act 1. This is fixed after the player exits a Bonus Stage.
    • (14:02 - 14:05) There are only four breakable walls after the wall chase sequence, along with doors that immediately drop into their places. In the final game, there are two sets of two breakable walls, followed by a set of six breakable walls, and finally a third set of two breakable walls for a total of twelve breakable walls, with doors only dropping down in place of only the first four breakable walls.
    • (18:15 - 19:28) Right before the boss, the water turns a solid color for the remainder of the stage due to a bug related to the Thunder Barrier, the water, and the palette fade in from black. This also affects the "SONIC" text on the life counter, which utilizes the enemy palette line.
    • When the bombs dropped by the boss explode, the explosion graphic is absent, displaying only a corrupted tile where it should be.

Marble Garden Zone

  • Act 2
    • (29:26) The two column platforms are already in their final positions despite Sonic or Tails never having interacted with the flywheel. This is likely due to the platforms having the same trigger ID as a puzzle from earlier in the Act, causing both puzzles to be "solved" after completing only one.

Carnival Night Zone

  • Act 2
    • (40:50 - 41:00) During the underwater "lights-out" sequence, two sets of balloons are absent in this build. The second set was most likely added to allow Sonic to hit one of them and regain horizontal control after being locked out of it after performing a Spindash (which funnily enough happens in this very tape!).
    • (42:29) There is a breakable wall next to the button where a set of ceiling spikes is in the final game. This was most likely changed as using Super Sonic and a well-timed jump, the player could jump over the button, burst through the wall with Super Sonic, and avoid turning the lights back on.
    • (43:57) Near the end of the Act, there is a Starpost that was moved further back in the final game (it is placed at around 43:50 in the final game).

IceCap Zone

  • Act 1
    • (45:49) After the snowboard sequence, a stack of breakable ice blocks was added to the cave's entrance in the final game.
    • (45:49) In this build, there are only two crushing columns in the cave's entrance. A third one was later added after the second one.
  • Act 2
    • (53:23) After defeating the boss, the snow does not stop falling like in the final game, causing the capsule to flicker during the Act results due to the large number of sprites on screen.
    • (53:39) The snow that Sonic rolls through in the transition cutscene makes a rumbling sound (CD in the Sound Test). In both the November 3rd prototype and the final game, the snow is silent.

Launch Base Zone

  • Act 1
    • (56:27) One of the Orbinauts in one of the spinning tube rooms is placed closer to the end of the room than in the final game.
    • (57:00) Near the end of the Act, there is a flamethrower present where a Ring monitor is in the final game.
  • Act 2
    • (1:02:05) After beating Ball Shooter, the timer stops, just like it does in Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Unlike S3&K however, the timer remains stopped until the end of the game. Sonic 3 alone "fixes" this by simply leaving the timer on during the cutscene.

Credits

  • (1:06:48) In the "Senior Programmers" section of the credits, Takahiro Hamano is in place of Hiroshi Nikaidoh with the name also properly centered.
(Source: Hidden Palace)

Early Sprites

For some bizarre reason, certain sprites of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles in the Game.com version of Sonic Jam are based on sprites from earlier builds of Sonic 3. This went unnoticed until 2020, after the release of the November 3, 1993 prototype. One set of sprites that differ from the final's (Tails' hanging sprites) are the same as they were in Sonic 3C 0408, and the early whistling sprite.

Sonic Jam Restored Sonic 3
SonicJamKnucklesSkid.png SonicJamKnucklesSkidRestored.png Sonic3KnucklesSkid.png

The second of Knuckles' three skidding frames is drawn like his November 3rd design, which is quite odd given that the other two sprites match the final version.

Sonic Jam Restored Sonic 3
SonicJamKnucklesLaugh.gif SonicJamKnucklesLaughRestored.gif Sonic3KnucklesLaugh.gif

An early laughing animation. The Sonic Triple Trouble version of Knuckles' laughing animation appears to be based on this one. It was replaced in the final with a chuckling animation.

Sonic Jam Restored Sonic 3
SonicJamKnucklesPush.gif SonicJamKnucklesPushRestored.gif Sonic3KnucklesPush.gif

Knuckles' pushing animation is more static, which matches up with Sonic and Tails'. While frames two and four are the same, one and three were redrawn to add more motion. Looks similar to Knuckles' walking animation in Sonic Blast.

Sonic Jam Restored Sonic 3 Competition Mode Sonic 3
SonicJamSonicHurt.png SonicJamSonicHurtRestored.png Sonic3CompetitionSonicHurt.png Sonic3SonicHurt.png

Sonic's arms in his "hurt" frame are more straight, and his right foot is slightly more to the right. This lines up with the competition sprites, indicating that this is sourced from an early build of the game.

(Source: Chainspike)

Early Angel Island Zone

Along with the early sprites coming from the Game.com version of Sonic Jam, pre-release images and footage of that game show quite a lot of differences to the final, including an early Angel Island Zone that predates the 1103 prototype. This early Angel Island contains a completely different ocean mountainous background and foreground than what is seen in Sonic 3. It also has a different layout than the retail Game.com version of Sonic Jam and the 1103 prototype as there is a Caterkiller at the start. The demo seen in the 1103 prototype is known to be an earlier layout too, with a Caterkiller being referenced at the start, although the rock seen in the early Angel Island is not referenced in the demo layout. However, it is currently unknown if these early Angel Island assets were sourced from a pre-1103 prototype, or are only native to the Game.com version. Though it is likely the former considering the development team behind the Game.com version would only be trying to port the game over instead of creating new art assets for it.

Another thing to note is that the hurt animation seen in the Sonic Jam Game.com prototype is not consistent with the earlier hurt animation where his arms are more straight and match up with Sonic 3's Competition Mode Sonic sprites, which ended up being used in the retail Sonic Jam Game.com game.

(Source: Sonic Retro)