Mike Wallis Interview
Thanks goto Pachuka for conducting this telephone interview.
courtesy of Blaze Hedgehog and Pachuka.
Pachuka: Do you
remember who was on your team for that project?
Mr. Wallis: Uhm, yeah I think on that
one website, uh it had basically everybody who was on the
team. So it was a pretty accurate list. You know which
one I'm referring to, right?
Pachuka: Uh, not a clue, actually.
Mr. Wallis: It was the one... well, I'll
have to find you a link and send it to you, because yeah
off the top of my head I don't remember everybody who was
on the team, but when I looked at that website that
talked about Sonic Xtreme, it was accurate. Actually,
lemme see... I know Chris Senn was the Lead Designer, I
was the Producer, Rick Wheeler was the designer, Ofar
Alon.. he was the lead programmer, Chris Coffin was a
programmer... Jason Kuo was the designer, Fai Chang, the
artist... Andrew Probert was an artist.... Howard Drossin
was the music guy, and those are the only people I can
remember. But yeah, that's probably the core team. There
were additional support people as well.
Pachuka: And this was through STI,
Mr. Wallis: Yeah.
Pachuka: Did you work on any other games
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, I was the Associate
Producer on Comix Zone, that was my first game at Sega,
and then I was the Producer of The Ooze...
Pachuka: I remember that one!
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, that was a good game.
(clears throat) And after that I did.. uh, after that STI
was pretty much dissolved... we became Sega of America,
when Sega of America became SegaSoft. So, you know alot
of the history behind Sega?
Pachuka: Quite a bit of it, yeah.
Mr. Wallis: Okay, good. So you know what
I'm talking about then. So yeah, STI became Sega of
America, and when that happened I worked on Decathaletes
for the Saturn, NBA Action '98 for Saturn and PC, Sonic
3D Blast for the Genesis and Saturn, Sega Rally.. I did
about six or eight games for Sega.
Pachuka: Did you happen to work on
Chaotix at all?
Mr. Wallis: No, actually, that was done
through Sega of America when STI was still there.
Pachuka: Ah, okay. Let's see here, we've
got some questions that random people sent in.. I'm
trying to put them in some sort of order.. (Both laugh)
So they make sense, otherwise I'm just jumping around...
Uhm... ah, here we go. How long was the development cycle
of Sonic Xtreme from like, the time they brought you onto
the project to the time they actually canned it?
Mr. Wallis: With Sonic Xtreme, it was
strange.. because at the time, Sega was looking to do a
new system.. so Sonic Xtreme actually first started out
as a 32X Game. And then, you know when that system came
out and sort of tanked they switched it to... there was
an intern system before the Saturn, it was Nvidia
technology based... now, alot of people don't know this
because it was just on the drawing board. But Sega had a
partnership with Nvidia technologies for their very first
RIVA, TNT Card.. Sega was going to make a cartridge based
machine to compete with the N64 rather than a CD-ROM
based machine. So we had some early techology and Xtreme
basically went on THAT platform, it was going to be a
launch title. And then Sega of America said "No,
We're going to do a Saturn." Well, actually Sega of
Japan came over and said "We're not doing that
machine, we're doing the Saturn". It was weird
because SOA would do their own thing and SOJ would do
their own thing and then eventually SOJ would come in and
say "No we're gonna do this" so Sega wasted
alot of money and alot of resources on hardware
development and software development for machines that
eventually would never see the light of day.
Mr. Wallis: So, I mean, Xtreme was going
on when I got there in November of '94. Although it
wasn't called Xtreme at the time, it was just supposed to
be "another Sonic game". But you know, it just
kept going and going and going and eventually they just
finally said, "we're going to do Xtreme on the
Saturn", or "We're gonna do a Sonic game for
the Saturn. We'll call it Xtreme" But I guess by the
time they canceled it in I guess March-ish of '97
maybe... is that right? .... what do your notes say on
when Xtreme was canceled? It was probably earlier than
that, it was probably October of '96.
Pachuka: Yeah, there's no real specific
date of when it was canned because that's the main reason
everybody was curious it was just canned and there's all
Mr. Wallis: You know, it was sometime in
late summer, so I think it was September of '96 when
Bernie Stolar had come on to Sega as the CEO around July
of '96. He came over from Sony. And he said, "Look
you guys. I want you to get a core team together,"
he told Roger Hector who was at the time the head of STI,
and he said "I want you to get a core group together
and we're gonna lock them together, away from everybody,
and we'll feed them, we'll bring in cotts and matresses
and they can sleep there, and I don't want them to have
any outside contact and get them whatever support they'll
need. I want just this core team to do Sonic
Xtreme." 'cause we needed it to be out there in time
for Christmas of '96. So we took the core group -- oh,
Ross Hariss is another, he was one of the animators... so
we took the core group and they basically locked us
(chuckles) into the first floor in.. oh God, what was the
address? ...of Sega at the time.
Pachuka: Lemme look it up here... (both
laugh) I don't have the specific address, but it was
Redwood City, right?
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, there were two
buildings. One was 255 and one was 275, I think they
locked us into the first floor of the 255 building, which
was the old STI area and you know, they'd bring in
breakfast, lunch and dinner and people would basically
work like, 15-16 hour days. And it kind of sucked,
because Bernie Stolar made us alot of promises that he
couldn't deliver on. He was brand-new and he said,
"Look, what do you guys need to do this by
Christmas?" and we said "Well, we need the
NiGHTS engine, because we can't develop the technology,
it would take too long." ... so he said,
"Alright! You got it." So, you know, they
shipped us a NiGHTS editor, a level-based editor and our
designers where familiarizing thereselves with that, and
after about two-weeks, Yuji Naka who was the designer of
NiGHTS, and one of the original SonicTeam, had said
"No". There was a big rivalry between SOJ and
SOA and Yuji Naka hated SOA..
Pachuka: Yeah, I had a feeling.
Mr. Wallis: So he said he came to Yuri
Maguire (sp?) who was the head of Sega, SOJ at the time,
and he said "Look. I don't want these guys to have
the NiGHTS engine. I do not want them to have the NiGHTS
technology. If you give it to them, I quit." and so
Yuri Maguire came back to Bernie Stolar and said,
"I'm not giving you anything. You're gonna have to
do it without it." So.. Bernie had to come to us
"Sorry guys, you're gonna have to do it without the
NiGHTS Technology." So at the time, Ofar Alon was
developing this game; he was developing Xtreme on the
PC... with the intent of porting it to the Saturn. He
wrote these great development tools and everything, and
it looked great on the PC. But the problem was so
processor intensive that when it went to the Saturn, it
was running at like, 2 frames a second. So independantly
of that, Chris Coffin, who was the lead programmer for
the Boss Levels -- you know, the boss levels were
supposed to be like, these Arenas...
Pachuka: Yeah, I've seen Pictures of
Mr. Wallis: Yeah. And that was the one
we showed at E3 and everything that people could play...
so Chris was developing this Technology, and I think Yuri
Maguire had come out to Sega at the time, sometime during
the summer and he saw both, he saw the one running on the
PC and then he saw the boss level one and he said,
"Oh I like this one much better." (Chris
Coffin's Boss level techology) and he said, "I want
you to make the whole game like this, using this
Pachuka: And that was the fish-eye type
Mr. Wallis: No, the fisheye camera was
the main-game thing, but we still had to implement that.
I mean, the idea was to still implement that type of idea
in the main game, but just using the boss-level
techology. And Chris, he was like at the time 25, he was
this hot-shot programmer, great guy.. and he litterally
moved into Sega. He moved out of his appartment, moved
all of his stuff into a storeroom at Sega, and he moved
his bed there, and he slept there. And he'd work... he
was like a human Dynamo, is what he was. It was basically
all hinges on him because Ofar got very pissed off and he
said "I'm off the team" because, you know. Yuri
Maguire.. Ofar had this huge ego as well and Yuri Maguire
said "I don't like this, I want you to use the boss
level techology" and Ofar got really pissed off and
he quit Sega and he left. So it was all basically hinging
on Chris. Chris, for about 7 or 8 weeks worked about..
I'd say, 20 hours a day. And there was a shower there and
everything... the guy was insane. And he basically worked
himself into the ground.. and then he caught walking
pnemonia sometime in late August, and he basically came
to me and said "Mike, I can't do this
anymore.", he was so sick and he really was. I mean,
the guy looked like a Ghost. So I said, "Alright.
That's it. We're not gonna do it. We're not gonna get it
done, the project's over." and I went to Bernie
Stolar and I said, "We can't do it. You know it was
all hinging on Chris? And the guy has basically worked
himself into the ground. He can't do it, it's over. We're
not gonna make Christmas." and Bernie said,
"Well, you know, we've been working on these backup
plans." Which turned out to actually be Sonic 3D
Blast. So he said "I want you to be the producer of
3D Blast, and we'll go ahead and scrap Xtreme." So
that was basically the long and short of the whole thing.
Pachuka: Ah, so you where the one who
finally pulled the plug on the whole thing?
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, you know. I had to. I
had no engineers to do it and I couldn't get ... SOJ was
not being cooperative, and I had a great relationship
with SOJ. But you know, there were just so many internal
political workings going on between the two companies...
I really should right a book on it (chuckles) .. because
it'd be quite an amazing read.
Pachuka: Yeah, I'm not if the other
gentlemen told you but I currently work for Sega, that's
partially why I understand this alot more.
Mr. Wallis: So what do you do for Sega?
Pachuka: I'm a Q&A Jocky, I
basically test games.
Mr. Wallis: Okay, cool.
Pachuka: There's a gentleman there his
name is (Cut), he runs the equipment lab, I forget what
his name is, but apparently he and another gentleman
still have a copy of the game floatin' around.
Mr. Wallis: There are some, yeah, I
think that I actually have a copy.. I know Chris Coffin
has some, you know, before he left.. he made dupes of his
build, and stuff. So there are some copies floating out
Pachuka: How many builds where there
before the project was canceled?
Mr. Wallis: Well, we did like, weekly
builds.. so there were probably quite a few. But uhm,
most of them were destroyed. We didn't keep a lot of
Pachuka: Yeah, I had a feeling. I had
heard that the most the project had gotten to in a
playable Saturn format was about one level.
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, we had one playable
level, the Green Valley.. I don't know, I can't remember
the name, but it was you know, green fields where Sonic
runs over hills, picks up Rings, there were actually some
enemies.. there wasn't alot of animated flora and fauna,
but there was some. But there wasn't a whole lot of
gameplay in there. The boss levels were much farther
along, because that was the technology that Chris had
built first, and I think we had a Metal Sonic level in
there... a Fang the Weasle level in there, I think we had
two bosses in there working, they had AI and everything.
Pachuka: Cool. There have been other
sources that have just like, dropped little hints and
such, somebody came along and they dumped all the sprites
from the game and we have sprites from it. It looks like
the game itself, like the levels were all 3D based but
the actual characters were sprites.
Mr. Wallis: That's correct. Except for
the boss levels. The bosses were all 3D. But all the
characters in the game were Sprites. Sonic was a sprite,
and all the objects and everything were sprites.
Pachuka: I finally found the rest of my
notes here, uhm.. let's see...
Mr. Wallis: Uh yeah. I saw Jason Kuo at
E3, and he still works at Sega...
Pachuka: Who was that?
Mr. Wallis: Jason Kuo. He was the
designer for the boss-levels. And I think he's a
localization producer right now, he works with Keith
Palmer. He's been at Sega quite awhile. I think that he's
the only one left from that original group, because
everybody else is pretty much gone.
Pachuka: Yeah, let's see. I've got a
listing of different names here, this article here.. this
comes from different articles that I've clipped out of
different magazines... the four known zones are
"Jade Gully", "Crystal Frost"
"Red Sands" and "Galaxy Fortress"...
and those are all --
(It cuts here? Silence for two seconds...)
Mr. Wallis: Hard for me to remember, I
actually have most of my notes and design docs actually
boxed up somewhere, but that sounds right.
Pachuka: And let's see... could you also
explain a little bit about this character I came across,
her name is Tiara, I believe?
Mr. Wallis: They, like, Chris Senn
wanted to give Sonic this love interest, or a means to..
I guess.. she sort of would have fit in, like, maybe
Robotnik would have captured her and then you know, Sonic
would rescue her and you know, she's this good lookin'
character, and you know there'd be this sort of... love
tension possibility between the two of them, so that was
one of the new characters that Chris had designed.
Pachuka: Also this article here, which
while talking to you I realize is completely incorrect,
this one claims that a month before the game's release,
Sega of Japan pulled the plug on it.
Mr. Wallis: No, no... not at all.
Pachuka: I'll have to send them an email
and correct them.
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, Sega of Japan was
actually not involved with Xtreme at all, other than
saying that they would initially provide the NiGHTS
engine, and then pulling it from us. Other than that,
they were not really involved, because I think they were
part of the backup plan with Sonic 3D Blast, and
Travellers Tales did the game and SOJ did the Bonus
Pachuka: Here's the most-asked
question... do you have a copy of it?
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, I do somewhere. Yeah.
Somewhere in my "Sega Archives"
Pachuka: And then there's the secondary
question, which you probably can guess... it's "Are
you willing to donate it"?
Mr. Wallis: Uhm... you know, I've... I
probably wouldn't. Because of Sentimental reasons. Not
for anything else. But uh... I would have to find it
first. (Both laugh) That would be the hard thing.
Pachuka: Yeah, I figured. This is insane
at Sega right now... it's like, (cut)
Mr. Wallis: Actually, Chris Senn, after
the Xtreme project stopped... Chris Senn and Ofar Alon
actually worked on the PC Version, between the two of
them. Because Chris was an Artist, and also an Audio Guy
and a designer, so he's a pretty talented guy so
basically it was a two-man team they did something like
three or four different levels with enemies and stuff
still using the fisheye view, running it on the PC and
they tried to pitch it to Sega Entertainment, which is
the PC group.. and they tried to get the PC group to pick
it up. But at the time, Greg Swoarez (sp?) he was running
the PC group at the time and was "Nonono, I'm not
gonna spend money on this" .. all they basically
were content with doing was ports. So he was like,
"I don't wanna... I can't fund this at all."
But yeah, the PC game was actually pretty far along ...
and I unfortunately don't have a copy of that, but it was
pretty far along. They had several different levels
Pachuka: I'll have to contact him next.
Mr. Wallis: Yeah, Chris Senn might
actually be able to give you a much better idea of the
idea of the progress of the PC game. You know, I might
actually have his card here.... ..... ....Why don't you
go ahead and ask the next question and I'll -- oh! Here
Pachuka: What's his name again?
Mr. Wallis: It's Chris Senn, and his
email is... (cut) so he could probably fill you in a lot
more on the progress of the PC side.
Pachuka: And another question someone
asked, which you probably answered was what were the
problems between SOA and SOJ, So I don't think I need to
go through that... oh! The moves. The moves in the game.
I have a listing here of the moves, see if you can
remember them and what they did... the
"SpinBash" a quick forward attack, modified
from the Spindash.
Mr. Wallis: Ah, I dunno. Because we
never actually got far enough along
to do any sort of tuning on the moves other than just
Pachuka: So there wasn't any collision
or anything on them?
Mr. Wallis: No, no. There might have
been some basic collision, but you know, there really was
no differentiation at the time between that and the
Spindash. So yeah, I don't really remember much about the
moves, although the moves that were listed on the website
were correct. Those were the moves we were planning to
Pachuka: Oh! It's not my website, it's
actually the other guy's.
Mr. Wallis: Blaze.. Hedgehog.
Pachuka: Uh, do you know (Cut) .. he was
working Q&A at the time?
Mr. Wallis: The name is vaguely
Pachuka: Yeah, he took over the
department now. I was talking with him and he said he had
seen it before it got unplugged and I'm not exactly sure
about his answer on this, but he said it was eventually
turned into Sonic Xtreme, which I highly doubted...
Mr. Wallis: Uh, which one?
Pachuka: He said, oh! I'm sorry. Sonic
Mr. Wallis: Oh. Well, you know I don't
know about that. Because Sonic Adventure was as far as I
know.. a fully... that's for Dreamcast, right? I think
Sonic Adventure was a fully SOJ development. So I don't
believe they'd have utilized any sort of technology from
Pachuka: Yeah. It's kind of hard with
these questions because a lot of people don't know the
difference between STI and Sonicteam.
Mr. Wallis: Right. I don't think they
would have wanted to use anything from SOA.
Pachuka: Alrighty... and I guess that's
all the questions we've got right now. One last quick
question, I dunno if you'd know or not, but did you ever
hear of a project called "Sonic Crackers" while
you where working there, that was turned into Chaotix?
Mr. Wallis: Uhm.. I did not, no. That
doesn't ring a bell.
Pachuka: Alrighty. And that would be it.
Mr. Wallis: Okay, cool. If there's
anything else you think of later, feel free to ask me.
The reason I wanted to do it over the phone is because
the questions Blaze originally asked me I would have to
ask follow up questions to, so it was just better doing
it over the phone.
Pachuka: Yeah, I'm much more experienced
with like, journalism type stuff, so I think that's one
of the reasons he picked me. Alright! Thank you very much
Mr. Wallis: Take it easy.
Pachuka: You to.