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Interview with Craig Stitt, the mind behind Sonic 2's Hidden Palac

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Laura, May 14, 2014.

  1. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Some of you may remember my original email. Unfortunately, I was unable to collect questions as this was not permitted on Sonic Retro unless it was done by official Sonic Retro staff. I decided to ask my own questions and make it my own interview. Well, Craig got back to me and was very generous with his time.

    The interview is rather lengthy and features some very interesting info! It's obviously not as mind-shaking as IceKnight's fantastic interview, but it's something!

    Here are pictures of our email correspondence:



    Now, onto the questions!

    What was the main theme or motif you wanted to create with Hidden Palace Zone (or was this suggested to you by other members of Sonic Team)? Where there any inspirations on Hidden Palace Zone?

    I remember right, the actual art/look of Hidden Palace was left up to me. I was given a map, but it was just laid out as rough blocks and paths. I can't remember if I was asked to make it underground or not. I don't think it even had a name until after I had finished it. If it had I probably would have made it more 'Palace' like.

    The one thing that was just a given was that it had to match the general look and feel of the Sonic Universe. I wanted to d0 something a little different. Back then you were REALLY limited by how much unique art you were allowed, and how may colors you could use. 'If' I remember right, I was allowed 256 8x8 pixel blocks and probably only 8 colors on any given screen (there were ways you could fake more colors, I.e. the underwater color shift. These 8x8 blocks where then put together to make larger tiles (I believe 8x8 if the 8x8s... but I can't remember exactly)

    ]I wanted to do something 'crystalline' in nature. The color palette was left up to me. The crystalized look did not have anything to do with gameplay or story. All the 'power crystal' stuff came after I was no longer working on Sonic.

    The big problem was creating a crystalline pattern that would repeat without looking too much like wallpaper. Also I needed to come up with a way of doing the classic Sonic loops and slides. Made even more complicated since some of them needed to have running water. I can't remember what the 'super tiles' were really called, nor do I remember how many of these 'super tiles' I was allowed, but it was not very many. Fortunately you could flip and rotate the tiles for 'free'. Back in the days of 'cartridge' based games, it was all about memory limits!

    I'm trying to remember what I used for inspiration. I believe I saw a stylized painting of geometric rocks/shapes and the was 'springboard' for the general look of the gold colored rock. By far the hardest part of that level was the far background. I don't remember how many backgrounds I tried but it was a lot. Color and size limitations were REALLY tight on the background. Plus Sonic, the enemies, and everything else had to stand out. I'm never was completely happy with the background I ended up using, but I was out of time.

    The Zone that has been recently released is very similar to what I built back in 1992. A few changes were made. The biggest one I noticed was the addition of the boss screen/room. This is something that was not on the original map I was given.

    One of the most die-hard rumor/myths about the level was the giant crystals that Sonic has to smash in order to gain access to tubes and other areas. Various forums were full of people convinced that these were somehow related to the 'Chaos Emeralds' found in later Sonic games. When I made the Hidden Palace Zone, the concept of Chaos Emeralds did not yet even exist. They were just meant to be a big, interesting way to block Sonic's path.

    As for why HPZ did not make it into the original Sonic 2... it simply came down to poor planning and a lack of time. The art was done for the level and as far as I knew it was going to be in the game. It wasn't until about 2-3 days before we shipped the game that I found out HPZ had been cut. At the time I was told because there wasn't room on the cartridge. Of course we all know that was not the truth, since an 'unfinished' version of HPZ is in fact on the original Sonic 2 cartridge. The truth is that they did not have time to finish programming and testing the level. Even now, the art I did for HPZ is some of my favorite art I've done for a video game. I was VERY excited that it was FINALLY going to see the light of day.

    Most all of the Japanese were a joy to work with. One person who never was given the credit he deserved was Hirokazu Yasuhara. He was the lead game designer behind Sonic, and if you ask me Yasuhara was the reason Sonic was the game it was. Naka wrote the engine to move graphics fast, but Yasuhara created a game that made it fun. Without Yasuhara there would be no Sonic, at least not like we know it. Also Yasuhara is one of the nicest guys you can know.

    Do you remember any levels you worked on/had ideas of that also didn't find their way into the game? You said in a previous interview with a member called ICEKnight that you worked on a circus level? Do you remember anything like this?

    I was not the only person to have levels cut. Actually, I'm fortunate that mine even made it into the game, even if it was not originally playable. There were several other levels, created by another artist, that were cut AFTER the art was done. I can't remember all of these levels. I know one of them was a forest level, one was a desert level, and I do have some vague memory of a circus level. I know the forest and desert levels were all but finished when they were cut. The Circus level I can't remember much about. I can remember doing some concept drawings for it, but I can't remember much else. It's been too long

    Are there any things you would have done differently to how they worked in Sonic Team?

    What would I have done differently. That pretty much goes back to what I was saying about Yasuhara. I don't know what I really would have done, but I would have done my best to make sure Yasuhara got the credit he deserved. On the other hand, Yasuhara is a very quite and humble guy. He may not have wanted the attention, I don't know.

    The thing I definitely would have done differently is how the transition of Sonic to SEGA's new platforms was handled. Then again, at that point, SEGA was releasing new platforms so fast it was impossible to make games to support them.

    Did you prefer your time working on Sonic 2 or Sonic Spinball? Which game was the more rewarding to work on, so to speak.

    Although Sonic 2 was a blast to work on (I was very fortunate to have two levels make it into the game, IF you count HPZ... Oil Ocean is also mine). So it was very exciting to be working with people like Yasuhara and Mark Cerny (actually, Mark is who originally hired me in 1990 for SEGA) But back to your question... the two games were rewarding in different ways. Sonic 2 was a HUGE game, and the opportunity to work on it was incredible... but it had it's down sides. While Sonic Spinball was rewarding because I had a little more say in what was going on.

    I don't know if there was any 'direct' influence from working on Sonic to working on Spyro or Ratchet, other then just experience of what worked on screen and what didn't. Back in the days of Sonic, an artist, to a certain extent, placed EVERY PIXEL you see in the game. By the time we got to Spyro or Ratchet, there were still limits, but you just painted textures. Memory and frame-rate were still issues, but noting like the limitations you had during the era of the 8-bit systems. That's not to say a LOT of time was spent optimizing art for Spyro or Ratchet. Not so much so it would 'fit' on the disc... but so that the game would maintain a steady frame-rate.

    Finally, I noticed that you haven't been credited on a game since Ratchet and Clank: Deadlocked in 2005. Have you decided to leave the video game industry?

    Deadlocked was in fact the last game I've worked on. When we made the first Spyro game (which I consider 'my baby' since the initial concept/design was mine), we made the game with about 6 people. By the time I left Insomniac I had almost 20 people under me and there was something like 165+ people at the company.

    I love to work with a small group, where everyone bounces ideas off each other.

    Right now.... I'm still taking a break. I doubt very much I'll go back to making games, unless I can find the right people working on the right game. Although I my degree is actually in Art Education, so if I had my way, I'd love to teach art to kids between the age of 12-18 years old. Probably because it was an art teacher when I was 17 that really did change the course of my life. I would have never seriously considered going into art with out her support.

    I asked Craig for permission to use this interview, he was very generous, allowing me to post the interview in most of its entirety, and even gave me some extra info!

    Hello Laura!

    I'm glad I was able to help with your questions.

    Actually... let me tell you a little more of the story. You can add it in as Question #1b - or 'Why was Sonic 2&3 made in the United States.

    When I started at SEGA, actually, 'technically', I worked for "SEGA Technical Institute".. part of SEGA of America, but we had a certain amount of independence. The group was started by Mark Cerny (now well known as one of the video games greatest designers/programers/Producers, and most recently for his role as the lead architect in the creation of Sony's PS4. Mark wanted to create a group in the US, but one that made games the way he wanted to make games and bring into that the skill and style that made all the Japanese games (at that time) far more successful then American made games.

    STI was SEGA's first design group on US soil. Mark's plan was to bring over a handful of artists, designers and programmers from Japan, and at the same time, send over artists, designers and programmers from the States to Japan, so that we could learn from each other. Unfortunately, the 'exchange' only ended up going one way, with Japanese coming to the US. (I was really hoping for a chance to live and work in Japan for a couple of years. I did get to visit for a week, but no one was ever transferred over there to work. But there were many Japanese sent over to STI.

    The first game STI did was Richard (LOL, the filter blocks it) Tracy on the Genesis. The first game I worked on was Kid Chameleon, STI's second game. SEGA was looking for a 'mascot' (like Nintendo's Mario). Mark, and the rest of us a STI, hoped that Kidd would be that game.

    At some point we got this very early version of a new game called 'Sonic'. It was rough and unfinished. Great character, great background... but it just wasn't fun. Everyone spent a couple of minutes 'playing' it and then handed the controller to someone else.

    Then some time later, we received what I am guessing was the beta of Sonic. The first version did not have the rings scatter when you were hit. This version did, and it made all the difference in the world. Now people were lined up to play, and it was hard to find time when someone was not playing the game. There were also lots of technical aspects of the game that had even Mark impressed. Unfortunately, we also now knew there was a very good chance that Sonic would become SEGA's mascot, and Kid would be just another game.

    At this point STI was located miles away from SEGA of America... but SEGA wanted us to move closer, so Mark finally gave in and we moved to Redwood City.

    But let me back up a little. Before anyone knew that Sonic was going to be the stellar success it was, Yasuhara had already finished his work on Sonic 1 and was in the US working at STI.

    So the lead designer and the lead programmer were both at STI, which is why Sonic 2 was done in the US. Everything to do with Sonic 3 is a bit more complicated, and I was not on the 'inside' on that one.

    One funny story....

    We were busy making Sonic Spinball while they were making Sonic 3. We finished Spinball first and were having a 'wrap party'. Everyone was partying, eating and drinking (while Spinball was playing in the corner). Yasuhara asked us how we got permission to use the original Sonic theme music. We didn't understand what he meant... until he explained that SEGA did not own the rights to the music!!! It was done by some band in Japan, and SEGA had paid them to use it JUST in Sonic 1 and then for Sonic 2. Between Sonic 2 and 3, the band became very successful in Japan, and they wanted a lot more money for the SEGA to use their music. SEGA refused to pay, so the Sonic 3 team was informed that they could not use it and needed to come up with their own theme. No one ever told the Spinball team this! We found out because Yasuhara happened to hear the opening scene music to Spinball... the DAY BEFORE we were scheduled to ship the finished game! Our sound guy RAN from the room and started composing music as fast as he could so he could swap it out in time to still make out deadline!! He did it.

    I wish there was a good way to prove that I am 'the' Craig Stitt.

    Here are some simple graphics from Kid Chameleon. The first 'character' is ME. (the entire STI team is seen as these little avatars, either at the beginning of the game or at the end). The others are some of the first characters I did. All the other digital art I have from Kid or Sonic I've pulled off the internet. Back when those games were made, there was no good way to 'copy' the art, and I didn't have a computer of my own for several years to come.


    I don't know if this would constitute 'proof' that I am who I say... but the license plate on my car reads "GO SPYRO", and the plate on my motorcycle reads, "GO SPARX" (and yes, the same motorcycle I laid down and busted up my shoulder. I can take pictures of the plates if you want.

    Or I could take a picture of me wearing the very limited edition 'STI' jacket... or the Sonic 2 denim jacket that I believe was only given to team members.

    A few months ago, I did an interview with an individual who is writing/publishing book on the early years of the Genesis, and told him much of the same that I have told you. Not sure when it's set to be published. I believe he was in the U.K. as well.

    I guess if people believe, they believe, if they don't... they don't. (although a while back, I did have someone on FaceBook pretending to be me!??)

    Which reminds me of a few quick stories...

    Kid Chameleon had JUST hit the stores, so I went to a game store to see it on the shelf (kind of a rush the first time you see something like that). But better yet, they had a kiosk where you could play the game. I walked up to it and there was this +/- year old kid playing the game. He was literally banging against a wall, trying to jump over it. I watched for a moment, saw he wasn't getting anywhere, so I leaned forward and told him how to get past the wall. He looked at me, said 'What do you know about games" and went back to beating his head against the wall. Little did he know who I was and that the level he was on was one I had done the art for.

    A few years later the whole STI/Sonic 2 team was in New York City, for a big press conference/release of the game. The day of the event, I went down to the waiting limo. When I got in I noticed that Jonathan Taylor Thomas (from the TV show 'Home Improvement') was in the car. (SEGA had brought a handful of kid celebrities to play the game for the cameras). When I got in the car, he asked me if I was security. I told him I was one of the artists on the game. He then asked for MY autograph! Ever since then, any time I see him in something I think that he asked for my autograph.

    On that same trip, one of the other kid celebrities was a kid named Dustin Diamond. He played a character named 'Screech' on a TV show "Saved by the Bell". That night a few of us had dinner with him and his father. When we got back to the hotel, I went to my room and turned on the TV. By pure coincidence, 'Saved by the Bell' was playing, and there was 'Screech'. It was a rather surreal moment.

    Well, I hope this helps. If you come up with a good way to verify my identity do you readers, just ask. Of course I've aged 'a bit' and sometimes I have a beard and sometimes I don't. Actually, I've had a beard for the past couple of years, but just shaved it off since trimming it with only my left hand was getting to be far too much work!

    Take care

    - Craig

    I hope you enjoyed this interview. I would like to take this opportunity to say how gracious and friendly Craig was. He deserves all our thanks!
  2. ashthedragon


    Sonic Paradise Researcher
    Sonic Paradise & Sonic Ages
    This is really interesting! Thanks for it, Laura
  3. E-122-Psi


    It's nice to hear the original creator was satisfied with Taxman's rendition of Hidden Palace. Makes me wonder if the team had some resources to help develop it.

    Didn't know the guy also made the first Spyro. I always loved the first game, it had a mystique and charm the others lacked.

    I'm intrigued by him mentioning the desert and forest levels were close to completion.
  4. Covarr


    Sentient Cash Register Member
    Trapped in my own thoughts.
    Two stageplays, a screenplay, and an album
    I'm going to assume either he means the concept of the master emerald, or he's flat out remembering wrong. Unless he made this zone well before Sonic 1, this doesn't make a lick of sense.
  5. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    It's probably a mix of both. He's obviously going to misremember some facts. It's been a long time.
  6. Endri


    Officer I don't have my drivers license with me. C Tech Member
    Absolutely wonderful! Craig Stitt is one of my favorite Sonic level artist. And what a gentile and nice guy he is. I particularly like how he went out of his way to give details of his personal life in order to assert the authenticy of his identity.

    Thank you, Laura and Craig Stitt!

    Also, even though I agree that Hirokazu Yasuhara-san should be given more credit, level design alone doesn't make a great game; his level designs only worked the way they did because Yuji Naka-san's engine was incredibly well designed! Yuji Naka really extracted milk from stone there. Yasuhara'san's designs only worked because the two worked together and the levels were design around what the engine was capable of doing.

    Another person who doesn't receive the due credit is the person (whose name I don't recollect, nor I'm bothered to look for right now) who created the Sonic's universe story (the original, Japanese story, that is) that the pre-'99 games followed.
  7. TimmiT


    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Member
    I'm surprised that no-one has asked this yet: what's with the censorship?
  8. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Certain parts of the interview were sensitive and I felt Craig might have told me a bit too much info on certain topics. We agreed to not release this stuff. It's very little info though, but since he was so nice to give me this interview I felt it best to respect his decision.
  9. Endri


    Officer I don't have my drivers license with me. C Tech Member
    The op said that Craig allowed her to publish "most of" the interview, so there you have it. Those are probably private details he didn't want to go public over the web.

    EDIT: Err, beaten to it.
  10. Overlord


    Now playable in Smash Bros Ultimate Moderator
    Long-term happiness
    Especially because the first image's set is badly done enough that you can read the text of it. Seems that it's stuff that makes Sega look bad.

    EDIT: Whoops, double ninja'd.
  11. GeneHF


    SEGA-ier than you'll potentially ever be. Site Staff
    Scenic Studiopolis
    Complete Global Conquest
    Can't say I'm surprised stuff needed to be redacted. Sometimes, when you let people just talk and they get comfortable, they'll let a few things slip. It's one of the fun basics of the art of conversation.

    That said, I'd probably put solid black bars on those images since you can still somewhat make out some of the sentences. You know, for full redaction.

    Otherwise, nice job. Please understand that we're usually wary of people going off and doing their own questionings of dev people since there have been cases in the past where it's happened and the people got overwhelmed and refused to be talked to, essentially going radio silent. A certain infamous segment in an old SAGE would be a good example. So, at least for us at Retro, we try to keep things a little more locked down.

    You did rather well, and while some of the info is indeed duplicate (which at least goes with testing validity), there are some interesting stories and I like his mention of praising Yasuhara. I've heard stories about how he'd slave away at designs for levels and basically redid Metropolis multiple times. Lot of the smaller guys in development rarely ever get direct appreciation since people don't really tend to think about it.
  12. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Thanks for the praise! I tried as hard as possible to be as courteous and polite as possible, respecting his wishes. He just so happened to be an awesome guy! It jiust seemed to be the perfect time for a new perspective, with the Hidden Palace port by Taxman.

    He really liked Yasuhara, I think it's the main point he wanted to get across.

    As for the black bars, the first set is badly done, but he didn't want that explicitly retracted, I just blanked it because I think he would have done. Still, you are right, I could have done a better job censoring it.
  13. TimmiT


    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Member
    Yeah, I mean I can read everything about Yuji Naka being racist against Americans back then in those censored parts. :v:/>
  14. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Lol, seriously though I have censored the lines properly. I haven't even screen shotted what Craig wanted private, since I knew I would mess it up :p

    It's actually about Michael Jackson and Sonic 3. Shh, our little secret!

    I've linked Craig to this page, I'm sure he's going to like the responses he sees!
  15. ICEknight


    Researcher Researcher
    Nice interview, it's always nice to read stories about the development of these games.

    + - Now I'm wondering about the censored stuff   .
  16. GeneHF


    SEGA-ier than you'll potentially ever be. Site Staff
    Scenic Studiopolis
    Complete Global Conquest
    I thought it was pretty established that Naka wasn't keen on working in the West, since he largely went scurrying back to Japan after Sonic 2, and didn't particularly play well with STI.

    See: Sonic X-treme
  17. Hukos


    Nice interview! Nothing too special, but there are some nice tidbits, as was mentioned before.
  18. ICEknight


    Researcher Researcher
    Oh, was it just that? Meh.
  19. qwertysonic


    creating the biggest sonic collection
    Is he saying that the phantom of the opera boss was not part of the original plan (We do know that that is true) or that the original plan was to not have a boss at all? The latter would make sense if Hidden Palace was just meant as a cut-scene zone for sonic to turn into Supersonic and fly out as Laura has insisted.

    This is some interesting sonic 1 beta information. Did we know that the alpha didn't have Sonic losing rings when he was hit? I wonder what else Craig Stitt remembers about the Sonic 1 Beta.
  20. Laura


    Brightened Eyes Member
    Craig Stitt has been reading this thread and he has some answers for some of the questions brought up:


    Just read through the blog. I have to agree with what someone said about once you get someone talking, they may say more then they mean.

    And to clear up what I said about the Emeralds/Crystals whatever... it basically comes down to me simply not remembering exactly what everything was called back then. Hate to admit it, but I finished Sonic 1 and 2, but really had no interest in playing any of the Sonic games after that, or following their story line. My comment about the large breakable crystal in HPZ has to do with rumors I heard over and over (before the release of HPZ) about how the those crystals where somehow related to whatever crystals came up in the story after Sonic 2. In Sonic 2, the crystals were just art, and meant to tie in nicely with the look and feel of the Sonic Universe. There was no deeper meaning when I did the art.

    As for the addition of the boss room. I don't know what the original plan was 20 years ago. Maybe they had plans for a boss, maybe not, I do not know. Looking back at it, it is strange that there was no boss room on the original map I was given, and the original art I created.

    I am sure there are Sonic fans that know WAY more about the story and Sonic then I do. On the other hand.... a lot of what I read online about what this or that means or meant is simply guess work and/or supposition, and is wrong. There is a lot I don't know, but there I some things I know because I was there.

    As for Naka heading back to Japan at the end of Sonic 2... wrong. It is true he did not want to do Sonic 3, but was convinced to stay. I only heard rumors as to what made him stay. More then glad to tell what I know as fact, but nothing I did not have first hand knowledge of. I know why he did Sonic 2... but I only heard rumors as to why he stayed for Sonic 3 (although I know he wanted to leave... somewhere about that time Mark was left SEGA, and Mark had a lot to do with Naka coming over from Japan to do Sonic 2.)

    Feel free to clear up that decades old rumor that Naka did not like working with Americans, he didn't. But I would NOT call him a racist. He just did not like speaking English (he liked working with Mark Cerny, but Mark speaks fluent Japanese), and I am sure Naka had other reasons. I.e. Sonic 3 was an all Japanese team but built here in the U.S. at SEGA of America in Redwood City, CA.

    To be honest... it was a real synergy between Naka's engine and Yasuhara's game. The only problem I really have is that Yasuhara really did not get the recognition he deserved, no did he get the money he deserved.

    There was also mention about a visit by Michael Jackson. I was there that evening, and in the conference room when MJ was introduced to the Sonic Team (not 'TEAM SONIC'), but the people who had worked on Sonic 2. He was very nice, very quite and very complimentary towards the team. He never took off his hat or his sunglasses, he did however have a crutch. (I heard he had twisted an ankle while rehearsing)

    I head the reason he was at SEGA, was SEGA wanted him to do the music for Sonic 3. I believe all was going well, then MJ's life hit the fan with all the Court case against him. At that point SEGA distanced themselves as much as possible. But it was an very exciting honor to meet him, and a unfortunate loss. It would have been great to hear what he could have done with the music for Sonic 3.

    Unfortunately I really do not remember many specifics from playing the alpha and beta of Sonic 1 (IF that is in fact what they were). I clearly remember the first version we played did not have the rings scatter... and there were still collision bugs etc. Also, I do not believe it was not a copy of the entire game, just the first level/zone. All I can remember playing was the first level. And that goes for the second version we played as well. There could have been more, but I don't remember.

    I helped make 5 games at SEGA; Kid Chameleon, Sonic 2, Sonic Spinball, ComixZone and The Ooze (although I had little to do with the last two).

    When I moved to LA to start with Insomniac, I did 8 more games; Disruptor, Spyro 1-3, and Ratchet & Clank 1-4. I have worked on 13 games, 9 of which went multi-platinum.

    As much fun as it was to have the luck/privilege to work on a game like Sonic, Spyro will always be my baby!