sonic_cd_titleThis certainly has been an interesting last couple of days, between Sega's challenge to gamers to come up with what game to make next and then Christian Whitehead's surprise response unveiling a remarkable Sonic CD proof of concept port created with his own Retro Engine Development Kit.

Eager to know more about both Sonic CD and the iPhone Retro Engine and Retro Engine Development Kit (or RDSK), we fired off a series of questions. The interview is totally worth a read, but beware, it will only make you want Sonic CD and other games produced by the RDSK even more.


Eli Hodapp: How flexible is the RSDK? Is it tied to a game like Sonic or would something like Castlevania with RPG elements be possible?

Christian Whitehead: All of the actual Sonic CD logic is script driven, so the Retro Engine is more than capable of different styles of gameplay. A game like Castlevania would definitely be possible, since the engine excels at handling 2D side scrollers. Stuff like top down RPG's would be fine too, I wouldn't count it on doing something like a full on 3D racing game though!

rsdk1

EH: What is involved in building a game in the RDSK? Does the it somehow interpret the ROM file to generate levels and sprites automatically? Can you tell us how closely your RSDK relates to the original ROM code?

CW: Using clean reverse engineering, I've been able to extract the level layouts and sprites in a pretty automated fashion. The formats in Sonic CD (especially the PC version) were pretty easy to deduce. I haven't touched the original ROM code though... I don't have that level of understanding of Motorola 68k assembly.

EH: How much research did you do on the Sonic CD game? The physics in your demo look spot on, what was the trick behind that?

CW: Quite a lot to be honest, it owes much to my many years as a Sonic fan. If you go to http://www.sonicretro.org/ you'll see a community that's very interested in dissecting the original games. That's why the demo was made in a short time, I know Sonic inside out, and so have a very clear understanding as to how it can be recreated. It involved a lot of frame by frame analysis of the game running in an emulator to observe how the game (and all its objects) behaves in detail. I could go on and on, but y'know... trade secrets? ;)

rsdk2EH: On your site you mention putting together the Sonic CD proof of concept in a month. Does that count development of the Retro Engine and RSDK, if not, how long did those take you to do?

CW: Officially, the Retro Engine and RSDK have been in development since March 2008. However, the iPhone version of the engine actually only took a week to set up!

EH: During your month long process of porting what you have so far of Sonic CD, what was your average work day like?

CW: I'm a freelancer and a musician too, so it was sort of in between a lot of this stuff. Lot's of late nights, and giving up partying! But yeah, it certainly wasn't some insane crunch period you hear about at some of the big name studios.

EH: What is the work flow of starting a new game in the RSDK? Say you wanted to remake Gunstar Heroes, what would be involved?

CW: To create a game like Gunstar Heroes, or to literally port it? Obviously a literal port requires a degree of reverse engineering to find out how stuff like level layouts and sprites can be extracted first. But creating a new game in the style of Gunstar Heroes would just be a normal game development process. One thing I want to make very clear: The Retro Engine and RSDK are not magic, it will NOT instantly port a game for you (or toast your bread either). All it does is provide a fast and efficient 2D framework, which has features very similar to what were present in many 2D games of the 'golden' 16 and early 32 bit era along with a nice editors and powerful scripting system. It takes the hassle out of having to set up API's, you can just get down to business.

rsdk3

EH: What are your plans for the future with the RSDK? Has Sega been receptive to your Sonic CD demo? Ideally would you want to sell them the RSDK technology or just a perfectly ported copy of the game?

CW: Personally, I'm only marketing end product Sonic CD to SEGA, not the actual engine. I'm proud of my work and it'd be a shame to let it go and not be able to develop it further for my own future endeavors. The pitch was made to Sega about 2 weeks ago, and after an initial response, I hadn't heard back until they made that blog post. That's what made me decide to show it publicly, they asked what to port and I wanted them to see a clear answer.

ddici_01EH: In 1990, John Carmack and Tom Hall built a similar demonstration based on their own game engine running the first level of Super Mario 3 titled "Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement." Nintendo politely refused their offers to make a Super Mario port for the PC and they went on to use that same engine for Commander Keen. Do you have any similar contingency plans if Sega gives you the cold shoulder and/or sends you a cease and desist?

CW: Gary the Porcupine anyone?... Seriously though, I do have my own game ideas that I'll be pursuing if this all folds up. I really like the iPhone as a gaming platform, so it wouldn't be the last you'd hear from me.


And there you have it! Sounds like amazing technology, and I can't wait to play a game built with it whether it's Sonic CD or some other game. Since we first posted about it, their comments have been flooded by people demanding Sonic CD. If you want to see Sega explore the Retro Engine instead of their current barely-playable emulator, let them know.

  • http://scifly2.com Josh Rosen

    Thanks for the interesting interview. Seems like Christian has a great future ahead!

  • http://scifly2.com Josh Rosen

    Thanks for the interesting interview. Seems like Christian has a great future ahead!

  • Pitch_Blak

    It's quite amazing how many comments and responses requesting this are in Sega's blog post and Facebook.

    And Sega's Twitter mentioned it will bring up the demo video during the meeting, so fingers crossed.

  • Pitch_Blak

    It's quite amazing how many comments and responses requesting this are in Sega's blog post and Facebook.

    And Sega's Twitter mentioned it will bring up the demo video during the meeting, so fingers crossed.

  • http://mattplays.com/ Matt

    Sega shouldn't brush this off. They really should check out the RSDK and see if it would truly benefit them. I would love nothing more than to play many of the classic Sega games (Phantasy Star IV is my fave) enhanced to support the iPhone platform. Sega has been looking to make more of a name of themselves for the past decade. Well, now's their chance -- become a huge publisher and developer of iPhone games that allow us to relive the glorious past of 16/32-bit gaming.

    Perhaps even a Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection; it'd be the best games collection on the iPhone by far. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic's_Ultimate_Genesis_Collection

  • http://mattplays.com/ Matt

    Sega shouldn't brush this off. They really should check out the RSDK and see if it would truly benefit them. I would love nothing more than to play many of the classic Sega games (Phantasy Star IV is my fave) enhanced to support the iPhone platform. Sega has been looking to make more of a name of themselves for the past decade. Well, now's their chance -- become a huge publisher and developer of iPhone games that allow us to relive the glorious past of 16/32-bit gaming.

    Perhaps even a Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection; it'd be the best games collection on the iPhone by far. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic's_Ultimate_Genesis_Collection

  • crsrc

    So essentially, Christian is hoping to release games made with his rsdk through Sega and get a percentage of the sales? Sounds like a win/win to me. I wish he'd work on the control scheme though. Virtual d-pads just do not work for me since you basically need to look where your thumb is before you press it.

  • crsrc

    So essentially, Christian is hoping to release games made with his rsdk through Sega and get a percentage of the sales? Sounds like a win/win to me. I wish he'd work on the control scheme though. Virtual d-pads just do not work for me since you basically need to look where your thumb is before you press it.

  • http://www.christianwhitehead.com Christian Whitehead

    Don't worry too much, the D-Pad is only one method of control, there will definitely be some alternative control methods on offer. Remember this is only a proof of concept, it's just meant to show the game can be converted successfully to the iPhone.

  • http://www.christianwhitehead.com Christian Whitehead

    Don't worry too much, the D-Pad is only one method of control, there will definitely be some alternative control methods on offer. Remember this is only a proof of concept, it's just meant to show the game can be converted successfully to the iPhone.

  • http://mattgillingham.com/software Gillygize

    What about licensing the Retro Engine to other developers? Any possibilities of letting others use it for their games?

  • http://mattgillingham.com/software Gillygize

    What about licensing the Retro Engine to other developers? Any possibilities of letting others use it for their games?

  • Ape lover

    good read.
    i would not "letting others" to use engine though, noone wants a horde of clones. rather make some joint ventures, instead of. or just license the thing for anice fee and if there are demand, your future is bright.

  • Ape lover

    good read.
    i would not "letting others" to use engine though, noone wants a horde of clones. rather make some joint ventures, instead of. or just license the thing for anice fee and if there are demand, your future is bright.

  • http://www.metzener.com/davemblog/ Dave M.

    Man, I would kill to see Commander Keen on any platform again. I loved that series back in the day and would love to see a re-imagining of the game now. There was always talk of a "256" color version of the series that never happened. It would be great to see that game with today's computer technology.

  • http://www.metzener.com/davemblog/ Dave M.

    Man, I would kill to see Commander Keen on any platform again. I loved that series back in the day and would love to see a re-imagining of the game now. There was always talk of a "256" color version of the series that never happened. It would be great to see that game with today's computer technology.

  • Tim

    Christian - whether SEGA hires you or not, you should still produce your own games. You sir, have the heart and soul of a gamer - therefore, I have no doubt that you will produce top notch games.

  • Tim

    Christian - whether SEGA hires you or not, you should still produce your own games. You sir, have the heart and soul of a gamer - therefore, I have no doubt that you will produce top notch games.

  • DotComCTO

    So, the one thing that pops out in my head - and all due respect to Christian, because he's done a great piece of work - is that Sega has all the original game source code; they also have plenty of experience in emulation (though you wouldn't know if from their current iPhone ports). So, do they really need RDSK to having Sonic CD running on the iPhone?

    Hey - I'd love to see Christian do well and make some bucks, but it feels like a strange business proposition.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Either way...best of luck to Christian! Nice work! :-)

  • DotComCTO

    So, the one thing that pops out in my head - and all due respect to Christian, because he's done a great piece of work - is that Sega has all the original game source code; they also have plenty of experience in emulation (though you wouldn't know if from their current iPhone ports). So, do they really need RDSK to having Sonic CD running on the iPhone?

    Hey - I'd love to see Christian do well and make some bucks, but it feels like a strange business proposition.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Either way...best of luck to Christian! Nice work! :-)

  • http://forumninja.com LorenK

    So now he needs to hook up with the iD folks and do Commander Keen.

  • http://forumninja.com LorenK

    So now he needs to hook up with the iD folks and do Commander Keen.

  • http://www.christianwhitehead.com Christian Whitehead

    I suppose the best answer to your question is this:

    Even though SEGA have the source, they'd still have to write a new graphics rendering front end and stuff to get it working nicely on the iPhone. Would they be bothered to do it properly? That's the million dollar question. My version is ready for development now, all I have to do is add the remaining zones and features.

    Also, The original version of Sonic CD had a lot of redundant data. Every single zone was it's own piece of code/executable, with multiple copies of the same sprites in some cases. By using a different engine, I've gone through stuff like that and removed it, so it takes up less space etc.

  • http://www.christianwhitehead.com Christian Whitehead

    I suppose the best answer to your question is this:

    Even though SEGA have the source, they'd still have to write a new graphics rendering front end and stuff to get it working nicely on the iPhone. Would they be bothered to do it properly? That's the million dollar question. My version is ready for development now, all I have to do is add the remaining zones and features.

    Also, The original version of Sonic CD had a lot of redundant data. Every single zone was it's own piece of code/executable, with multiple copies of the same sprites in some cases. By using a different engine, I've gone through stuff like that and removed it, so it takes up less space etc.

  • Johnie

    Nice work, Christian! I hope Sega takes you up on your offer. If not, I look forward to your original ideas on the App Store!

  • Johnie

    Nice work, Christian! I hope Sega takes you up on your offer. If not, I look forward to your original ideas on the App Store!

  • spiffyone

    While Sega does have the sources and ability to create optimized emulators, the fact is that they have yet to do so for this platform.

    And, iirc, the emulator that they have been using since the Sega Smash Pack back on Dreamcast (and which they ported to other platforms, like the last gen consoles, PSP, and now iPhone/touch) was created by someone outside of the company and Sega secured the rights to said emulator. So it's not like something like what Christian is proposing hasn't been outside the realm of possibility.

    Would they do profit sharing with Christian? Most likely their offer would be to buy the engine and kit from him lock, stock and barrel. They would most likely wish to avoid profit sharing on software sales, and wish to take total control of Christian's offerings. Perhaps a deal could be struck where he would be in their employ, as tech assist on any development using the engine.

  • spiffyone

    While Sega does have the sources and ability to create optimized emulators, the fact is that they have yet to do so for this platform.

    And, iirc, the emulator that they have been using since the Sega Smash Pack back on Dreamcast (and which they ported to other platforms, like the last gen consoles, PSP, and now iPhone/touch) was created by someone outside of the company and Sega secured the rights to said emulator. So it's not like something like what Christian is proposing hasn't been outside the realm of possibility.

    Would they do profit sharing with Christian? Most likely their offer would be to buy the engine and kit from him lock, stock and barrel. They would most likely wish to avoid profit sharing on software sales, and wish to take total control of Christian's offerings. Perhaps a deal could be struck where he would be in their employ, as tech assist on any development using the engine.

  • spiffyone

    BTW, Christian:

    Using the Retro Engine and RSDK, would it be possible to have new games available using micro transactions? That is, you buy Sonic CD, and there's an in app download via micro transaction down the road for, say, Shining Force CD. Going by what you stated in the article, these are all new builds using assets of the original games. In that case am I right to assume it wouldn't be as open to or as easy to possibly implement new game micro transactions as Sega's (currently unoptimized) emulator?

    Perhaps then the better path for Sega would be to optimize the emulator they currently have, or start a new one specifically built for iPhone/touch in mind for Genesis/MegaDrive (and possibly SMS games). Sega CD, however, is an entirely different beast altogether to emulate, and quite difficult, so perhaps for those sorts of games, and Sega's System 16 arcade games, your engine would be the better fit.

  • spiffyone

    BTW, Christian:

    Using the Retro Engine and RSDK, would it be possible to have new games available using micro transactions? That is, you buy Sonic CD, and there's an in app download via micro transaction down the road for, say, Shining Force CD. Going by what you stated in the article, these are all new builds using assets of the original games. In that case am I right to assume it wouldn't be as open to or as easy to possibly implement new game micro transactions as Sega's (currently unoptimized) emulator?

    Perhaps then the better path for Sega would be to optimize the emulator they currently have, or start a new one specifically built for iPhone/touch in mind for Genesis/MegaDrive (and possibly SMS games). Sega CD, however, is an entirely different beast altogether to emulate, and quite difficult, so perhaps for those sorts of games, and Sega's System 16 arcade games, your engine would be the better fit.

  • The Verlinator

    I have 2 words for you: Gunstar Heroes...

  • The Verlinator

    I have 2 words for you: Gunstar Heroes...

  • Pachi

    to Christian Whitehead:
    The million dollar question for me:
    Are you including both US and JAP soundtrack? I really like the US version also.

  • Pachi

    to Christian Whitehead:
    The million dollar question for me:
    Are you including both US and JAP soundtrack? I really like the US version also.

  • SpeedingHedgehog

    Christain, what happened to the vid and the website?

  • SpeedingHedgehog

    Christain, what happened to the vid and the website?

  • xaaxa

    The web not runs:
    http://www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html

    Cached: http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache:Tj0D_QjHzfUJ:www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html+http://www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

    The problem:
    “”Sorry kids, hope you enjoyed looking at it, and hopefully you’ll see it again soon ;) Remember, if you would like Sonic CD, let SEGA know”"

  • xaaxa

    The web not runs:
    http://www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html

    Cached: http://209.85.229.132/search?q=cache:Tj0D_QjHzfUJ:www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html+http://www.christianwhitehead.com/soniccd/view.html&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk

    The problem:
    “”Sorry kids, hope you enjoyed looking at it, and hopefully you’ll see it again soon ;) Remember, if you would like Sonic CD, let SEGA know”"

  • kesus

    amazing. in one month. :)

    and the guy at invelos is not able to port dvdprofiler to the iphone for 1 year.

  • kesus

    amazing. in one month. :)

    and the guy at invelos is not able to port dvdprofiler to the iphone for 1 year.

  • SpeedingHedgehog

    Did he get picked up be SEGA, becouse the screens were replaced with screens of Sonic Retro XG, another game being developed with his engine.

  • SpeedingHedgehog

    Did he get picked up be SEGA, becouse the screens were replaced with screens of Sonic Retro XG, another game being developed with his engine.

  • http://twitter.com/GoldenHedgy Stephanie Torres

    I'm honestly not a big fan of the engine... for some reason Sonic CD isn't playing the way it seems and it glitches way too much x.x

  • Jeremy Deutsch

    Sonic CD is awesome! Thanks, Christian!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YO7R7CJF4PIVWRYCZDPA3T2S4Y Jose

    I guess he got the go ahead from Sega for the port since it is available on the iTunes store right now. Thanks to iCloud, i have it on both my iPad and iPhone without having to sync it to my iMac. It plays great! Thanks Christian for all your work.

    Glad that Sega wised up and realized that this was going to be a great game.