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My interview with Tom Kalinske (July 2011)

#1 User is offline drx 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 11:52 AM

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This is a phone interview I conducted with Mr. Kalinske in July 2011. I would like to thank Mr. Kalinske for taking the time to speak with me. I edited it for clarity.




drx: First of all I would like to ask you about the animosities between Sega of American and Sega of Japan. I talked to some other people, and I noticed that there was some sort of conflict between Sega of American and Sega of Japan. For example, Sega of Japan had an entirely different console – the Saturn – and Sega of American which had its own project, the 32X. And maybe you can shed some light on that.

Tom: Okay, I see it a little bit differently. There were certainly cultural differences, and I think the biggest cultural difference was when I first came on board the Genesis. And you know I went to Japan after having worked for a few months on this and said to the Japanese board “We have to be successful in the United States, we can't include Altered Beast because…”

drx: I heard the story, yes.

Tom: Yeah you heard about that story. “…we had to lower the price, we gotta include Sonic the Hedgehog, and we gotta do more sports titles and we gotta do them in the U.S and do American licenses and we're gonna take Nintendo on with our advertizing” and they said “Oh, we don't agree with anything you said and (Hayao) Nakayama got up and leaved and at the end he said “Well, but I hired you to make the company successful so do what you want”. In many respects, they may have been conflict they also basically let us do what we wanted for a long time, and I think the 32X is another example of that. At the end of the Genesis’ lifecycle, we knew that other competitors were working with 32bit technology. And we were really simply trying to expend the life of the Genesis. We knew that the 32x wasn't a significant new platform, everyone knew that, the idea was that we could at least make a claim of 32 bit technology to extend the life of the Genesis. I actually thought that it worked pretty well, because the Saturn wasn't ready to enter, in fact it wasn't ready next year when we had to introduce it. I would say that that was bigger time of conflict with Japan we were basically gonna be forced to introduce Saturn, there wasn't enough software available for it, the price of the chipset (…) was too expensive, there was limited production capacity, we couldn't get enough units to do a introduction that would satisfy all retailers in the United States. So we had to say “Okay, we'll do a limited introduction and we'll only introduce it with the top three retailers and we'll lead everyone else out.” They won't get any profit. Well, that made everyone very upset.

drx: Right, I can understand that.

Tom: You know, it was a ridiculous thing to do frankly. But, I would say that was the bigger conflict, not the conflict over whether to do a 32X or not.

drx: That's quite interesting. Speaking of the Saturn console, I know that there was a 2D Sonic project, Sonic the Hedgehog, that ended up being Knuckles Chaotix, it originally started as a Saturn game. It wasn't released on the Saturn, but on the 32X. I know it was supposed to have the Sonic & Tails characters and they were cut from it as well. What was that about, do you remember?

Tom: Yeah I remember it. It was another one of these things where we needed titles because we didn't have enough. The original game was long and it was taking too long to get done, so the decision was made to cut it into parts and introduce it quickly on 32x and that was – you know, it was basically a simple decision because there were too many needs to have more products on the 32X it wasn't going to be ready on Saturn, it was too big, it was taking too long, it was over budgeted, it was behind schedule - all those reasons.

drx: You managed to have a partnership with Michael Jackson. I know that was part of the strategy to include famous people into games and such. Did you reach out to Michael Jackson? Or did he like Sega very much and just came into the office, or…?

Tom: No, we really reached out to him. We made visits to him to get him interested in doing basically Thriller on the Genesis. And then he ended up liking it so much, and was quite involved in the development process, and he used to often come up to the office quite frequently not just uh (this was after Thriller was done and released) and he would just come up and play different games, he loved Sonic the Hedgehog. He would just come up to the office and sit in the R&D area and play different games as they were being developed. So, he actually had a kind of a view of what was coming out in the future well before when most other people did.

drx: So I understand it was quite a shame when the whole scandal broke out and you had to remove him. Because I know he was somewhat involved with the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and I guess it must've been a terrible disappointment that his work had to be taken out. But I'd like to ask if that was a decision made lightly like, was it straight forward? Like, “Okay so there's this scandal, so let's avoid it" – so his stuff was cut from the game? Or was there a different reason?

Tom: Well, I don't know quite who you're talking to; you got a bunch of things wrong in there. There were decisions made that were created by Michael and his lawyers and basically it was neutral. It wasn't Sega's wishing idea that we would dissociate from him at all. There were many factors involved and several different aims involved and the decision was neutral that until he resolved his legal issues, which he was quite confident he was gonna be able to do, that we should stop collaborating together for a short period of time. And that's basically what happened.

drx: Okay. So that clarified things up a bit.

Tom: A little bit.

drx: That brings me to another question. Have you have you tried to bring someone like Michael Jackson and failed for some reason? I understand that you have to reach out to many people and not everyone will come aboard. But, was there any story that, for example, almost happened but didn't, or something like that?

Tom: I can't really remember, you know. We had so many celebrities involved with us. We had MC Hammer involved with us, we had of course Joe Montanna, we had (…), we had many many different affiliates we had (…), Muhammad Ali. We had many different celebrities involved with us on different games.

drx: I understand. Going back to Sonic the Hedgehog. I know this was 20 years ago almost.

Tom: Yeah… Actually it was exactly 20 years ago…

drx: Do you remember the first time you saw Sonic? Actually, I should ask you first - was it your initiative or was it a developer who came up with the idea of Sonic and just happened or was it part of strategic to find a mascot?

Tom: First of all when I came on board, Sonic's development was already under way. But when I came on board in late 89, it was one of the things that I said the company needed to do. I felt that the company really needed to have an equivalent to Mario to represent Sega. I was told that they agreed in Japan and they agreed in the U.S and that those efforts were underway and that research was underway on many many different characters. And I saw a lot of that very shortly after I joined the company. It was your usual cast of characters – dog characters, and rabbit characters, and bear characters - all kinds of different characters. And the hedgehog was one of them. And that turned out to be the one that I think everybody was most interested in for a variety of reasons. One was that it was a very unusual character, and second was this whole idea that Naka had of making him move faster than any other character. So you know, the team of Naka and a team of really…did a good job of initial position of the character to make Sonic so fast and to make him sort of a smart-aleck. So that part of it we all liked. There were other parts we didn't like – the initial Sonic that I saw was “too edgy” I would say for the United States market at the time. He had fangs, very sharp fangs, and looked menacing. He had sharp spikes down his back. So we didn't like that. So we asked Japan, actually based on research, to tone that down and to get rid of the fangs and the sharp sharp spikes. He had a girlfriend that was really busty named Madonna and we said “no, that's not a good idea someone would sue us”, and it's also not a good idea to have a sexy girlfriend. If you're trying to develop a character that's like Mario, appealing to all age groups – boys and girls. So there was a lot of stuff like that that has to be changed, and they did it. But, they kept the strength of the character, he was a little bit edgy, a little bit of a smart-aleck and he was certainly faster and more controllable than any character there have ever been. It was also simple to draw Sonic. I don't know if you realized that, but most of the great licensed characters, even true to this day, are really simple draw.

drx: You mentioned Madonna. Was it just a concept art or was Madonna in the game?

Tom: She was going to be in the games, she was going to be his girlfriend and be in almost all the games. And she was the wrong girlfriend for him to have and actually changed it to another girl character who was much less “sexy” if you will. I can't remember her name though; she's in a lot of the games.

drx: You might be referring to Amy.

Tom: Amy.

drx: Okay, I guess that would be it for today. Thanks very much for talking to me.

Tom: Sure, good luck on your article!

drx: Thanks!

Tom: Well thank you!



The 2D Saturn Sonic project I mentioned -- I guess this is as good a time as any to mention this. What ended up as Knuckles Chaotix was at first a true Sonic 2D game (think Sonic 4) for the Sega Saturn. It was instead ported to the 32x and Sonic & Tails were cut and the rest is history. I know this from talking to people involved in Sonic Saturn / Chaotix developers. The sad part, I almost snagged a Saturn proto of this, but it was sadly lost.
This post has been edited by drx: 02 May 2014 - 11:53 AM

#2 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 12:54 PM

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So Chaotix was started on the Megadrive (crackers), then moved to the Saturn, then moved to the 32x? Crackers was dated April, the earliest Chaotix protos you dumped date to 1994 December, so it probably spent a few months on the Saturn most likely during 1994 Autumn?

#3 User is offline JaxTH 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 01:21 PM

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Knuckles Chaotix even briefly being on Saturn just blew my mind.

Mostly because I think it would be a bit more recognizable if it had appeared on Saturn. Sucks that you missed out on a proto of it.

#4 User is offline drx 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 01:22 PM

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View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 12:54 PM, said:

So Chaotix was started on the Megadrive (crackers), then moved to the Saturn, then moved to the 32x? Crackers was dated April, the earliest Chaotix protos you dumped date to 1994 December, so it probably spent a few months on the Saturn most likely during 1994 Autumn?


I don't know if Crackers was before or after the Saturn version. Could be just as well that Crackers was a work in progress of the Saturn -> 32x port.

#5 User is offline Walnut 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 01:58 PM

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There was some really good info in this, thanks for sharing

In particular for me the difference between how we viewed the conflict between America/Japan previously and how it was really more of a case of time/cost was an eye opener.

#6 User is offline Endri 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 02:54 PM

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Wait, did someone say Knuckles' Chaotix?!

This is the game I'm mostly interested in knowing its development! I'm shocked to realize that it originally was a true 2D Sonic game for the Sega Saturn, perhaps the Sonic 4!

Crackers being a work in progress of the Saturn to 32X port makes so much sense, more than anything else.

Thank you very much, drx, for doing this research!

#7 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 03:50 PM

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View Postdrx, on 02 May 2014 - 01:22 PM, said:

View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 12:54 PM, said:

So Chaotix was started on the Megadrive (crackers), then moved to the Saturn, then moved to the 32x? Crackers was dated April, the earliest Chaotix protos you dumped date to 1994 December, so it probably spent a few months on the Saturn most likely during 1994 Autumn?


I don't know if Crackers was before or after the Saturn version. Could be just as well that Crackers was a work in progress of the Saturn -> 32x port.


If the crackers ROM indeed dates to april 1st, then it cannot be on the Saturn in any other form except theoretical, since they had no working silicon till May/June, and no assembled dev units for likely some more weeks after that.

#8 User is offline Endri 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 04:36 PM

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View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 03:50 PM, said:

If the crackers ROM indeed dates to april 1st, then it cannot be on the Saturn in any other form except theoretical, since they had no working silicon till May/June, and no assembled dev units for likely some more weeks after that.
You don't necessarily need the actual target platform in order to be able to develop to said platform. I don't know if this could have been the case back then, but, for example, I've been working on a Xbox One game project as early as 2011, when Microsoft started sending Durango SDKs to game development studios, and we hadn't assembled unities until 2013! If they had working Saturn dev units in May, they certainly could have had Saturn SDKs—and therefore the alleged game—already up and running in the PC. Although a completely different example, if Sonic X-treme could be any indication, the game remained in PC form for months, and only then they sat down to actually port it to the Saturn SDK, only to realize that the originally planed game was too slow because of the Saturn's vertex pipeline, and, therefore, that idea wouldn't be possible (at least not with that time frame).

#9 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 06:01 PM

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View PostEndri, on 02 May 2014 - 04:36 PM, said:

View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 03:50 PM, said:

If the crackers ROM indeed dates to april 1st, then it cannot be on the Saturn in any other form except theoretical, since they had no working silicon till May/June, and no assembled dev units for likely some more weeks after that.
You don't necessarily need the actual target platform in order to be able to develop to said platform. I don't know if this could have been the case back then, but, for example, I've been working on a Xbox One game project as early as 2011, when Microsoft started sending Durango SDKs to game development studios, and we hadn't assembled unities until 2013! If they had working Saturn dev units in May, they certainly could have had Saturn SDKs—and therefore the alleged game—already up and running in the PC. Although a completely different example, if Sonic X-treme could be any indication, the game remained in PC form for months, and only then they sat down to actually port it to the Saturn SDK, only to realize that the originally planed game was too slow because of the Saturn's vertex pipeline, and, therefore, that idea wouldn't be possible (at least not with that time frame).

On the Xbone you are developing for an API that runs on both a PC and on the Xbone and outputs (close to) the same on both. This type of development only became possibly recently, with the maturation of crossplatform APIs (such as, in the case of the Xbox, DirectX). On older hardware you were coding straight to the metal.

We have devkits available for the Saturn and the earliest library dates present for that are May 1994, and even those are preliminary things handling a beta BIOS (which they kept updating till late September, until production of the machine started).

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 06:09 PM

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So, am I to assume that Japan had no Sonic games lined up for Sarurn and this freaked SEGA of America out?

#11 User is offline Endri 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 07:02 PM

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View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 06:01 PM, said:

We have devkits available for the Saturn and the earliest library dates present for that are May 1994, and even those are preliminary things handling a beta BIOS (which they kept updating till late September, until production of the machine started).
Interesting! And now, the plot thickens. The possibility of Sonic Studium being a WIP of a port of an alleged Sonic game for the Saturn seems less likely now. However, quoting the X-treme example, Ofer Alon's Sonic X-treme engine prototype was writen using the Win32 API and Direct3D. Maybe they could have had a similar kind of prototype? Then again, at this point, this sounds more like wishful thinking, as drx clearly said "a Saturn proto".

#12 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 02 May 2014 - 07:20 PM

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It's not impossible that they had Sonic Crackers/Studium/Chaotix running on the Saturn at one point. If the December 32x protos are the first actual 32x versions of the thing, then it may have been running on the Saturn for as much as 3-4 months.

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View PostEndri, on 02 May 2014 - 07:02 PM, said:

View PostMeat Miracle, on 02 May 2014 - 06:01 PM, said:

We have devkits available for the Saturn and the earliest library dates present for that are May 1994, and even those are preliminary things handling a beta BIOS (which they kept updating till late September, until production of the machine started).
Interesting! And now, the plot thickens. The possibility of Sonic Studium being a WIP of a port of an alleged Sonic game for the Saturn seems less likely now. However, quoting the X-treme example, Ofer Alon's Sonic X-treme engine prototype was writen using the Win32 API and Direct3D. Maybe they could have had a similar kind of prototype? Then again, at this point, this sounds more like wishful thinking, as drx clearly said "a Saturn proto".


The pitch for Sonic xtreme (or sonic Mars or whatever) was made on an Amiga 1200, to let you know the sort of hardware they were working with.

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 10:54 PM

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I WANT TO READ SO MUCH MORE.

My god this is interesting.
- How did you go about getting this interview?
- Why did you wait until now to post it?
- Is there more?

#15 User is offline drx 

Posted 08 May 2014 - 05:16 AM

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View PostTrunks, on 07 May 2014 - 10:54 PM, said:

I WANT TO READ SO MUCH MORE.

My god this is interesting.
- How did you go about getting this interview?
- Why did you wait until now to post it?
- Is there more?


I contacted Mr. Kalinske and asked for a phone interview (given that he is a busy man), and he graciously agreed.

I intended to post the interview as soon as I conducted it, but real life intervened.

I have more interviews (with other people) that I plan to post, but I need to edit them etc.
This post has been edited by drx: 08 May 2014 - 05:16 AM

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