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I started working on Sonic: The Fated Hour in 1999 at the age of 16. In the intervening years, it has seen a lengthy and drawn-out development cycle as I've repeatedly delayed the project either to recode it from scratch (to improve the game's code base or due to data corruption/loss) or to focus on other projects. I am now back to work on this project full-time, having either canceled, postponed or finished all other projects. I want to finish it, once and for all, before I end up working on it for ten years solid.
I've been working on this game for a long time. But, really, just how long? Join me as we run through the first three years of TFH's development.
Posted by BlazeHedgehog on Jan 4th, 2009
You have have noticed that I've said that TFH has been in development for nearly ten years. That's no lie - in some form or another, Sonic: The Fated Hour has been "in production" since around December 1999.
Now, ten years is a long time to be working on something - but in order to defend my own sanity, know that it has not been ten solid years. I have a real bad habit of getting needlessly side-tracked with side-projects: You may have heard of The House, for example. That is one of the few projects I've actually managed to finish in my 11-12 or so years working with Multimedia Fusion. Super Mario: Blue Twilight is probably my most famous release, getting me pretty decent coverage in some game magazines. But throughout all the side-projects (most of them unfinished), Sonic: The Fated Hour has remained a constant project I go back to.
I was only 16 years old at the time. After school, I was hanging around a community website built specifically for Sonic the Hedgehog fangames called SFGHQ (Sonic Fangames HQ). It was around this time I was in the middle of my first-ever game project, called Sonic Infinity. Sonic Infinity was the result of me analyzing the "top game" at SFGHQ (a game called Sonic Robo-Blast) and realizing that I could do better. After some 15 minutes of deep consideration, I figured that blending two popular game franchises together would result in an even more popular game - and I chose MegaMan X and Sonic the Hedgehog. Thus, Sonic Infinity was born, a game that took place thousands of years in the future, where you played as Sonic the Hedgehog in Megaman X armor. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but the project limped along for a year as I created sprites and built horrible, unplayable levels.
It was then, one night in November 1999, that an idea struck me. Sonic Fangames, up to that point, had not really had very good storylines. The majority of them were simply re-hashes of the Sonic 3 & Knuckles "The Death Egg is back... again!" plot. They were, quite simply, embarassing to read. So I decided, with my infinite teenager knowledge, that I would create a fangame where storyline came first. The game would kick off with Tails being murdered by a mysterious figure (Void from Sonic Shuffle) and Sonic spending the majority of the game following clues to the identity of the killer. In other words, I was writing bad Sonic fanfiction in the only way a teenager knows how: Killing off a main character in the opening moments of the story in a desperate attempt at seeming "mature". At the time, I honestly considered myself some kind of genius. A Cinematic-only demo was created and released on November 18th, 1999, showing off my hand-drawn artwork for the game's opening cutscene.
It was around this time that a friend of mine named DM Ashura (for those of you who play Dance Dance Revolution - yes, that DM Ashura) came to me with a radical concept for a Multimedia Fusion game. The default "Platform" Movement code for Multimedia Fusion was pretty much totally worthless. Riddled with bugs and all sorts of control problems, it was basically impossible to use it to create anything more complex than Pitfall on the Atari 2600. Ashura's idea involved using multiple invisible "Sensor" objects that the player sprite was then attached to in an effort to work around some of MMF's Platform Game limitations. This became one of the first known usages of "Sensors" in a Sonic Fangame at SFGHQ, a concept that is still at the core of most Sonic Fangames to this day.
Though the concept proved to be successful, a large portion of development was dedicated to working out the problematic collision detection issues it faced. To fully test the capabilities of this concept out, a massive, maze-like level was constructed, based off of Chemical Plant Zone. Work continued on this variation of the engine all the way through the year 2000 and midway through 2001.
With very little progress being made to clear up Chemical Plant Zone's collision detection problems, that version of the engine is scrapped and work begins on a new engine, utilizing the same concepts, but with cleaner execution. This time, the test level was built around a remastered version of Green Hill Zone (with a brand new, custom-made Sonic sprite), created to celebrate Sonic's 10th Anniversary. Work on the engine goes quickly, and the "Sonic 10th Anniversary Green Hill Zone" demo is released.
Around this time, TFH shifts from a standard, linear Sonic the Hedgehog game to more of a free-roaming Metroidvania Adventure game. A month later, for the third annual Sonic Amateur Games Expo (SAGE), the first official TFH demo is made public, utilizing a modified version of the GHZ Demo Engine to implement the Metroidvania concepts, complete with an RPG-style "level up" system (pre-dating Sonic Heroes by nearly 3 years). As should be expected for something created hastily in only a month, the demo suffered from a serious lack of polish: after sitting through a four minute opening cutscene, the player had to contend with poor controls that generally ended up with them dying the moment they encountered their first enemy.
Join me in Part 2 as we go over the remaining development time for Sonic: The Fated Hour, where development slows down, but we inch ever closer to TFH's current incarnation. We'll see the vastly-improved 2002 and 2003 demos, and catch glimpses of TFH's engine in 2004, all the way up to present day. Are you one of those people who never understood what "Sonic Worlds" is? You'll find out!