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Origin of Sonic Epoch

Contents

Platforming


I was able to grow up with Super Mario Bros. on the NES, much like many kids of the late 80s - early 90s. I instantly fell in love with the whole platformer genre. I used to doodle imagined levels for Super Mario Bros. 3 ... my own World. It would be many years before hackers would actually provide the means to make custom levels, and until then I could only dream. (I finally achieved that dream for myself in 2014; see Super Mario Bros. 3Mix on the navigation menu!)

The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were the next big things, and Sonic the Hedgehog quickly wound up as a new favorite. (I never chose a side, Mario and Sonic both have their own compartments for me, and heck, they're practically "friends" now.) Somewhere along the line, both of them wound up with a few cartoon series. However, given TV was antenna-bound when I was a kid and the ABC network did not tune well, I only knew of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. The one that fans would later call SatAM -- to the point of it being practically official -- was completely missed by me during its heyday since it aired exclusively on ABC at the time.


Game Programming


I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to figure out the mystery of how my favored video games work. From somewhere around age 10 until mid-teens, I struggled with concepts and programming languages, never having formal training, reading several books and just trying to understand ANYTHING that might get me a Mario Bros. type game engine. Somewhere about 15-16 I finally had a working, scrolling single-layer VGA-compliant engine that would move 32x32 pixel blocks about the screen.

During idle periods in high school, I began conjuring an image of a Sonic "fan game" (before I even knew of the term), that featured something along the lines of Chaos Emeralds powering a Time Machine (somehow I missed Sonic CD's Time Stones), and it was more or less set somewhere using the game's universe and the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog universe. I actually began to hack together a prototype, known only by its executable name "StageSelect", which featured a very crude Sonic sprite mostly stolen from official Sega art. My sister found me working on this and asked, "Are you going to put Sally in it?"


SatAM


My sister's question led to a complication. I didn't really know much about Sally. We had a few Sonic-themed picture books that featured the character, but I didn't know what to think of those. Especially since Robotnik was sometimes his AoStH self and sometimes this strange, mechanically-imbued fella. I decided I'd better use this newfangled Internet thing to go research Sally's character. Little did I realize that she was part of an entire TV series ... one that looked like more serious and dismal than the bright and goofy AoStH. It looked incredibly interesting, and I wanted to find out more. The only thing I found for a while is that it had been canceled some time before and was no longer airing anywhere. I managed to find only one VHS tape in a video store -- but from that tape alone, I learned a ton about this "Sally" character and became obsessed with finding more of this series.

Several video stores later, with no results, I suddenly came upon a website hosting what claimed to be RealMedia encoded version of the first 12 episodes in their entirety. No way! (Remember, this is WAY before you could torrent entire series and movies through illegitimate websites that exist all over.) But indeed, they were there, and I was able to catch up a great deal on the series. Another website later yielded the remaining. This now defined the ultimate path that what was now known as Sonic Epoch ("Epoch" inspired by the SNES game Chrono Trigger's time machine) was going to take.


Sonic Epoch


Sonic Epoch was eventually released as a two-stage demo on Sonic Fangames Headquarters, a site which still mostly persists today. (At some point it sort of merged with Sonic United, but that was well after my time there.) Sonic Epoch was a hit back then with the original owner, Rlan, who always spoke of it fondly and tended to follow it closely. For a while, it was a respectable topic anywhere I went, and even if I was among those who were not fans of the SatAM variant of Sonic, I was still "respected."

While it initially started off as SatAM-mostly with a tinge of Sega game mechanics, I eventually decided on SatAM being "oppressed" by the Sonic fans at large. I forget what a lot of the original arguments were, but for the most part "Amy" was "Sonic's True Love", not Sally, and the cartoons deviated from the games, some other things along those lines. True fact that the U.S. produced cartoons were not faithful to the Japanese source, each incarnation less so. But I felt that it deserved to stand for the sake of itself, and became a thorn in many sides.

Sonic Epoch then started to become known as a rebellious piece. It was used to cement position in fan wars. So knowing it could produce shock value, extra blood and Tails constant cursing was added in, a lot of it for no reason other than to be shocking. I look back on it and realize it got away from me. If I could do it over, I definitely wouldn't make needless creative decisions like that. But hey, what teenage Internet dork doesn't at some point imagine making their favorite fiction "RADICAL with ADULT ELEMENTS"!

Some years into it, when it was quite well progressed, personal life dramas caused me to give up on it abruptly. I tried to pass it off to someone, and they didn't want to work with it. I eventually buried and hoped it would be forgotten by everyone, including me. But something this large refused to die.


Sonic Epoch Advance


During my first couple years of college, I spent some time learning to program for the Gameboy Advance. During that time, I got a feeling that I wanted to retry Epoch; use as much of the source as I could, and get it done.

It started off okay, but somewhere along the line I started to allow in a lot of the garbage that went wrong the first iteration, for example Tails incessant cursing. Sally was also way overdone, dramatically speaking. These poor choices led to searing reviews, which eventually caused me to panic and rush the latter half of the game. It was released without polish and suffered from ridiculous plot resolutions and low quality game levels. This also inspired a series of flash cartoons known as "Sonic Epoch", where episode zero made fun of Epoch Advance directly. (Further episodes had little if anything to do with it, as far as I know.)


Today


My friend known to the Internet as "Hedges", who worked heavily on the plot and quite a bit on some of the game levels, was able to find positive attributes of the original and GBA version, so none are worth discrediting entirely. He has pointed out that the original was really "the" Epoch, and if you remove the Tails cursing and other dialog changes, basically taking it back to its original "pure" days, that is pretty much the game Epoch is supposed to be. The GBA version did fix SOME of the mechanical problems that affected the original, and also did a much better job at "Sonic Speak."

However, what many consider a major failing point on either the original or later GBA Epoch is the fact it just doesn't play like a Sonic game. Really it doesn't play much better than any fairly generic tile-based platformer. (And at many times is worse, being clunky and difficult.) I love to imagine having Sonic gameplay inspired by the old Sega Genesis/Megadrive games mixed with elements from the show (i.e. fast paced action, SatAM style!), and also have Sally do her own show-inspired gameplay that's quite a bit different (probably more of a puzzle-solving angle or something.) I'm personally hoping for an opportunity one day to revisit Epoch and "get it done right", but I can't commit to that today. If I ever find myself committed to it again, the Internet will know.