Sonic 2 - Dust Hill: Desert...Debunk...Debate!

Written by: QJimbo

The Name
Ok, lets track back to the start of the Internet Sonic Community, which was probably in 1997-1998. Noone at this point had played the Sonic 2 beta ROM, however they had collected strange magazine scans. These most notably included pictures of Hidden Palace Zone, however one of the most famous Sonic 2 pictures was found as well.

This picture, although appearing in a few magazines, never featured a caption saying the levels' title, everyone just knew it as a desert zone.

When the Sonic 2 beta was released however, things changed. People, hoping to see this desert zone, quickly found that it didn't exist, however a name that caught people's eye on the level select text was Dust Hill Zone. When people selected this, they were greeted by what we call Mystic Cave Zone. This fundamental point is where the community went wrong, they presumed that Mystic Cave Zone was incorrectly named, and that the Dust Hill text was a left over from the deleted Desert Zone. Why not, doesn't Dust Hill perfectly describe a Desert Level?

Calling the Desert Zone Dust Hill was based entirely around assumptions. There is no hard evidence to prove that the Desert Zone featured in that pic is Dust Hill. Some people in the community disputed the name, but it was lay to rest due to the Brenda ross interview...

The Interview
ICEKnight made a ground breaking discovery when he found the email of Brenda Ross. Brenda Ross was the level artist for the Desert Zone, and ICEKnight, in his excitement, made the email address public. Suddenly Brenda Ross, out of the blue, was flooded with a ton of emails from crazed Sonic fans. Thankfully she did answer one of them, where she herself called the Desert Level Dust Hill...

11. How far into the design did desert zone see? Was a boss for that level ever created?
I think that Dust Hill was completed entirely, and woods zone was mostly done. Once you have the initial key pieces, you can go fairly far with building a level.

So is that all the proof we need? Possibly, but there were some problems with the interview.
1. Brenda's inbox was flooded with loads of email. You can pretty much guess that all of them featured the words "Dust Hill". This means we cannot be certain she wasn't influenced by these people.
2. There's one little item that could possibly mean she was influenced that ICEKnight spotted:

3. If you could would you recreate the desert and woods zone? Later, in one of the other questions, she assumed that it was the correct name and she said:
I think that Dust Hill was completed entirely, and woods zone was mostly done.

However, before you say Brenda is a fraud...
Did the desert, winter, and woods zones have specific names?
Desert was dust hill. I donít remember the rest.
The fact is she doesn't remember Wood Zone's name anyway, and presumed it to be correct. At face value the answer to the question seems honest.

The Lost Sprites
This episode was the first real knock on the head about Dust Hill. When people started hacking the Sonic 2 beta rom, many unused sprites were found. These included a "splashing" animation and a flame torch mounted on a wall. Since the flame torch looked like it was for a cave, and the splashing animation for a large object, people automatically assumed that these were sprites that were used in the Desert Zone, however in 2004 Nemesis revealed a shocking discovery in this post...

First of all, I'll just state that there is no actual evidence that the desert level that was planned for S2 was called Dust Hill at all. As a matter of fact, first glance at S2B makes you think that Dust Hill was simply an earlier name for Mystic Cave, and it could easily be. I'll refer to the desert level as Dust Hill throughout this anyway, simply because that's what everyone knows it as.

For years the rumours of Dust Hill have been flying around. These rumours have been based off two main peices of evidence. First of all, the screenshot that was published in magazines.

Now, I know it's been said that this screenshot, and the matching one for HPZ, were doctored up for the press. I agree to an extent. I think it's very likely that they simply took what they had at that time, and shoved together a little artificial scene for a nice screenshot. It's obvious however that the art they used already existed, and at least in the case of HPZ, they used an area that was part of the actual level they had in mind, even though we can see that alterations were made later. It's a pretty fair assumption to make that they also based the screenshot of DHZ on an area that they already had planned to be in the level. This isn't exactly ground-breaking information, as we already know that the art was made, and you probably wouldn't have art assets made before you had a rough idea of what you were going to do with the level. What that means is that at one time there was probably a rough level design planned for DHZ, and there was a reasonable amount of level art made for it.

The second thing that has been considered evidence that DHZ may have existed are a collection of lost tiles found in the S2B rom that do not fit in with the style of any other known level from S2, and could possibly fit in with the level shown in that screenshot. I'd imagine that everyone is familiar with these images:

These are two peices of art that are present in the S2B rom, in regions that had not been written over by that perticular build of the game. There is also other art there that appears to be compressed that BMF located, which can be seen in this image:

As I said, this data has been thought to possibly belong to DHZ. In fact, that has been the generally accepted theory. Well, in that case, I give you Dust Hill Zone:

Today I isolated a section of this lost data, and ran a search of my entire genesis rom collection for a match. I found one. These screenshots were taken from the game "Chiki Chiki Boys", quite possibly one of the most shit easy (and just plain shit) games I have ever played. From what I can tell, all the currently unidentified areas of lost data belong to this game. It would seem that the flashcart used to hold S2B previously held a copy of this game, much the same as was the case with a Ninja Turtles game being used for the cart that Sonic Crackers came from. So yeah, that solves that mystery. Just for the disappointed, if it's any consolation, the leftover data from Chiki Chiki Boys is from a prerelease =P.

Where that leaves us is right back at the start. We know that Dust Hill was planned, and we have a screenshot that tells us roughly what the style of the art for it was. We don't have anything else. We have no actual data from DHZ in any of the S2 roms, and in fact there is no evidence that the zone was ever included in a build of the game at all. I perrsonally believe it was, but the simple fact is that if such a build exists, we don't have it.

The Debate
Although a lot of people accepted this hands down, others challenged this. How does this prove Dust Hill didn't exist? It just says we have no evidence to prove that Dust Hill existed.

Thats when more and more things came out about Dust Hill, namely these 2 images...

The first one quite clearly shows a newer prerelease, and they're still naming it Dust Hill Zone. However that still doesn't 100% prove anything.

Possibly the last debate on the issue at SWS2B happened here.
Wetflame posted with some important point which covered most of the evidence suggesting the Desert Zone was call Dust Hill:

It's just about authority and some of the more "intelligent" members being asses. I'm not even sure that Neo Green Hill was the name for Aquatic Ruin - I think it overwrote another level. Lets look at some points - - Brenda Ross herself called it Dust Hill. Now, Sonic 2 is one of the best known games of all time. If you work on it, chances are you'll eventually say "Hold on" when someone incorrectly names the level you drew art for. - Dust Hill is a fitting name for a Desert level, and not a cave level. - Mystic caves, in our "beta", appears to ahve only just been implemented; it is an odd mishmash of all the different obstacles in the stage, showing that it was an early test version, probably just after the art was implemented and after the code was written. This leads me to believe it is indeed a very new stage. - Green Hill was used as the name of the stage in Sonic 1, yet re-used for a different stage in Sonic 2. So, it's not unreasonable to assume they left the name as a working name. - * Hill is nearly always obviously descriptive or related to the game. Green Hill, Emerald Hill, Mushroom Hill, Hill Top, Windy Hill... All the early names are basically descriptive. No fancy names that you have to guess at, such as "Dust Hill" somehow referring to a build up of Dust in a case (This is starting to sound like many of the bad GCZ ideas) - When concept art was completed, it would NOT have been difficult to implement a basic version of the zone based on the art. - Wing Fortress was able to completely overwrite the Sonic 1 Special stage, with no problems. It was only later on that they got sloppy; as they were most liekly rushed and had more freedom earlier on, which is a fair thing to assume. - Okay, this is the not-quite-as-big-as-the-big-one-one; the Hidden Palace screenshots; the mockups appear to be from the same "version". It should be noted that Hidden Palace probably was not really worked on any since those shots. Why would Hidden Palace have been made into a level, and not Dust Hill? Dust Hill being a more standrad level. - I believe there was a document written along time ago that showed how some of the old pointers have not been updated yet; and actually point to the wrong slots. I'd like someone to dig that out, if they could. - Furthering that point; and this is the big one. Look in Hidden Palace Zone. See that Tails Icon? I proved a long time ago that in Sonic 1, they had 2 seperate Sonic head icons. In Sonic 2, they overwrote one with Tails. All the other levels, except Hidden Palace, had been updated with this. It still pointed to the same location; which was now overwritten with a Tails head Icon. Sound familiar? This proves the case that it is *possible* that the pointers had not yet been updated, even at the time of later screenshots, thus debunking the irritating "Automatically proven wrong" argument that people like Bob from Sclassic so annoyingly use. They were probably thinking of scrapping HPZ at the time, thus why it wasn't updated. So we have a beta in the middle of level removal. - Little extras, 01 was probably originally Neo Green Hill Zone since it came straight after it; it was probably originally Green Hill's future if the Time Travel theory is true(no reason not to believe it). Not sure why they moved it. I personally think 09 was probably GCZ's real slot; as the music in that slot appears to be Sky Chase Zone's which actually somewhat suits it.
After a lot of discussion Wetflame actually contacted Brenda Ross AGAIN!

WetflameG: Hello, Ms. Ross? Brenda Ross: hello? WetflameG: Ah hello. ^^ Could I talk to you for a minute, if you're not too busy? WetflameG: I have a couple of things I want to ask. Brenda Ross: sure. How can I help you? WetflameG: Okay thanks ^^ Brenda Ross: and who am I speaking to? WetflameG: I like your hair by the way XD WetflameG: Oh, my name is Leigh Walsh WetflameG: I'm interested in an interview you did a few years back, well an email you answerred. WetflameG: About some art you did for Sega many years ago. WetflameG: Well, that's the first thing anyway. Brenda Ross: okay WetflameG: See, a bit of an argument broke out on a message board WetflameG: Over the name of the Desert Level WetflameG: People always gave it one name Brenda Ross: okay ask your question WetflameG: Yes WetflameG: Epople are arguing over the name of the desert levels. Brenda Ross: you want to knw if there was anohter name for the desert level? WetflameG: Yep WetflameG: People say it's not the name it was WetflameG: and that you said that name, because in a previous email someone had mentioned it WetflameG: and I thought it was a little insulting to presume that happened, so I'd double check with you. WetflameG: Well, I mean to say it happened for definite. Brenda Ross: you know when you're working on a movie, and you haven't yet decided on a name, so you use a working name? WetflameG: Yep? Brenda Ross: desert level WetflameG: Was the name Dust Hill ever actually used? Brenda Ross: the art was never put in the game Brenda Ross: as you know WetflameG: Yep Brenda Ross: yasuhara Brenda Ross: the designer Brenda Ross: really liked it Brenda Ross: I also had a winter level WetflameG: Why did it get the can? Brenda Ross: with christmas trees and stuff WetflameG: Were the trees reused in Hill Top zone? WetflameG: Also, there is a level in Sonic CD, Quartz Quadrant, which is quite similiar. WetflameG: Craig's level, hidden palace, which was scrapped, had a background reused in Sonic Spinball Brenda Ross: no because we ran out of time and I was the last artist assigned to the project, so mine was the stuff that was cut - we had no choice WetflameG: That sucks! The Desert level is the Sonic community's favourite lost level Brenda Ross: craig must have recycled the art since it wasn' used WetflameG: It's really nice art :-) Brenda Ross: yes, yasuhara and I were not too happy Brenda Ross: we all worked so hard WetflameG: Shame =( WetflameG: Oh, by the way WetflameG: If it makes you as Yasuhara happier, the level has been recreated WetflameG: using your editted art from a screenshot WetflameG: in a ROM edit Brenda Ross: oh cool WetflameG: I'll take a pic :-) Brenda Ross: :-) Brenda Ross: thanks Brenda Ross: i have to go. I'm in the middle of a bunch of work WetflameG: oh, oaky WetflameG: will you be on later? Brenda Ross: do me a favor, Leigh? WetflameG: Yes? Brenda Ross: please dont give this IM to anyone WetflameG: I won't Brenda Ross: or you'll force me to change it Brenda Ross: i only use this for work Brenda Ross: and i'm busy enough all day long Brenda Ross: you know it's funny WetflameG: I'm sure you are. Sorry if I took up too much time =/ Brenda Ross: people always ask me and Craig questions about Sonic 2 Brenda Ross: but they never ask for Tim Skelly WetflameG: Yes, because you're the only ones we can contect XD WetflameG: Tim Skelly? Brenda Ross: he did the bonus rounds WetflameG: Oh! Brenda Ross: i can give you his email Brenda Ross: he's agreed to talk to you guys WetflameG: That would be GREAT WetflameG: Thanks Brenda Ross: he was the art director on the project, I think WetflameG: But can you remember is the level may haveb een intended to call Dust Hill? Brenda Ross: i think it was, yes Brenda Ross: i always called it the desert zone or desert level WetflameG: And it's not just because people flooded you with emails asking about "Dust Hill" :-) Brenda Ross: sure
Still not full confirmation... and the debate still goes on...
If you'd like to suggest any alterations or improvements for this article, please Email Me.

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