This month, it’s going to take a ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ turn. Instead of one game from my past, it’s a series of games that could have taken a different path.
There’s going to be some games you played non-stop throughout your childhood, but never knowing that there were complete levels scrapped, or even, it was to be a completely different game altogether.
The first two games are seen as ‘holy grails’ of the unreleased community, while others will be briefly mentioned, perhaps an enemy or even a stolen product that you never knew existed, is all going to be shown.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – Mega Drive.
This version of Sonic 2 began back at a toy fair in July of 1992 in New York. A preview cartridge of the yet to be released Sonic 2, was being shown to attendees and journalists, with demonstrations by its creator, Yuji Naka. During a break of one of these demos, the machine was broken into, and the cartridge stolen, with it not being able to be found at the fair, until 1998.
Browsing through a common forum website, a gentleman by the name of ‘Simon Wai’ came across a post that was said to have a cartridge of Sonic 2 with a different sticker. After paying some money towards it, he was able to obtain and play it, and noticed some rather large differences from the final version.
He then uploaded it to a website he was hosting, and it showed an even more larger amount of differences, the one major highlight being two completely new zones.
He decided to create a site that could bring a group of people together to see what else could have been uncovered.
That site is still on going, and can be found here.
By pressing ‘A + Start’, it brings you to a very rough level select. Some zones can’t be completed as they’re not finished in this build, so this makes it much easier to access.
There’s a lot of big and small differences across this version, from an alternate title screen, to whole new zones appearing. Two appear in some state with their own art.
Hidden Palace Zone.
Remember when you’d input the level select, and play each tune from the numbers below, ‘1B, 0A’ and etc?
Remember one tune that was present, but you couldn’t find it anywhere in the game?
That was meant for Hidden Palace Zone.
There’s only one ‘Act’ of this that can be played, but the art and the layout seem close to final.
As the screenshots show, it’s almost similar to the ‘Hidden Palace Zone’ that was in Sonic 3, with the underground cave setting, the illuminous bridges, the similarities keep on going. There’s even a ‘dinosaur’ enemy that is completely unique to this level as well.
In an interview with Sonic’s creator, Yuji Naka, it was supposed to be accessible once all of the ‘Chaos Emeralds’ were collected, and once there, a cutscene was begin to show Super Sonic.
Unfortunately due to time and space constraints on the cartridge, it was scrapped very late into development.
But it still remains in the final game. Using a ‘Gameshark’ device, you can go into the zone, and but all the art is deleted, but the music meant for the level plays. Using debug mode, you can explore the zone, but it’s not much to look at.
As the name implies, its set in a forest, with wooden twists and turns, with conveyor belts. This was probably a placeholder name at the time.
There was no new music for this level, with the ‘2 player’ version of ‘Casino Night’ playing as a placeholder instead. You can play the first quarter of Act 1, but you reach an inaccessible ramp.
Using ‘debug mode’, you can reach conveyor belts and enemies not present in the final game, but as with Hidden Palace, there’s no boss or playable Act 2.
With the level select shown earlier, it shows names of zones that were not present in this build.
Names such as ‘Dust Hill’ and ‘Genocide City’ zone are shown, and ‘Neo Green Hill Zone’ for what would be ‘Aquatic Ruin Zone’.
Dust Hill would simply show ‘Mystic Cave Zone’, but a mockup image in a magazine around the middle of 1992 was shown to have an idea of what it would look like:
Selecting Genocide City would just result in this.
But as it turns out, it actually exists in the final game, but as Act 3 of Metropolis Zone.
A developer once said, that they had already finished the layout, but there wasn’t enough time to create the art for the zone, so instead, they just put the existing art for Metropolis Zone, and put it as Act 3.
There were other differences, such as an earlier version of music for ‘Death Egg’ zone, and an enemy in ‘Emerald Hill Zone’ not seen in the final version.
There is also an early version of ‘Casino Night’ Zone that features a completely different palette to what was shown in the final version, but with it being only around 10% complete, it’s very easy to fall to your death.
There were rumours that, as Sonic CD was being developed around the same time as Sonic 2, it was said to feature time-travel as well, with ‘Mystic Cave’ Zone to be an early version of ‘Hidden Palace’, or ‘Wood Zone’ to be a past version of ‘Emerald Hill’ Zone. No proof has been shown of this, but looking at the zones, it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Since it’s release by Simon Wai back in 1998, it’s been seen as the holy grail of beta versions. Zones that would ultimately find its way to Sonic 3 in the form of ‘Sandopolis’ and ‘Hidden Palace’ Zone, but to see what could have been is an exciting prospect.
Additonally, with Sonic 3, this and ‘Sonic and Knuckles’ was going to be one game, but was split due to time. It was going to be called ‘Part One’, which why on the box art, Sonic is giving the ‘One’ sign.
A limited edition cartridge was going to be released to have the whole game, but was scrapped, most likely due to the cost at that time of how much a 24MBit cartridge was.
Resident Evil 2 – PlayStation.
This is a unique version, as this was a completely different game to what Resident Evil 2 became. It was scrapped when it reached around 80% completion, mainly because its director, Shinji Mikami, was not happy with the direction it was taking.
Screenshots from magazines were shown across the web, and second to the Sonic 2 Beta, was considered a holy grail as to what could have been. Instead of just missing sections, this was a completely alternate game to what was released in 1998.
In March of this year, it was announced by a group that they had obtained a 40% complete build of what was now known as ‘Resident Evil 1.5’, and had released it. Since then, there have been many efforts to restore what has been analysed in this version, and cut scenes and weapons are still being uncovered and implemented into a patch as recent as last month.
A simple search on Google and YouTube can show the fruits of their efforts.
Upon starting the game, you can choose between Leon Kennedy, or instead of Claire Redfield, Eliza Walker.
This implies that with this version, the game was going to come on just one disk for both characters, instead of one of each for the final version.
Starting with Leon, you start on top of the police station at the helipad, running past crows and going downstairs.
With Eliza, you’re brought into a section of the police station, holding off a hoard of zombies with a gate.
The police station, compared to what would be shown in Resident Evil 2 and 3, was completely different, with shades of blue all over the building. With this released build in March, you can only access a few rooms, but with the efforts of devoted fans, more rooms and weapons have been made to be accessible.
In the final version of Resident Evil 2 in the beginning, when you first run into a gun shop for cover, you’re confronted by the owner wielding a shotgun, and dependant on if you just leave or stay for some ammo, he is then overrun by zombies crashing through the window.
In ‘1.5’, he appears throughout, from the helipad, to the roof of the station as shown above. It’s said that he appears even more in some cut scenes, but they’re yet to be accessible at present.
Comparing this version to what the public received, the graphics are more reminiscent of the original game, with this being a sacrifice in order for more enemies to be shown on the screen.
It seems that even after only playing a 40% complete version, it makes sense that we all got a better game in the end. This version is, although fun in its own way, just seems like a retread of the original, with an emphasis on action much more than puzzles. The very slightly-improved graphics don’t hold it’s case either, with unimpressive effects for its time. There were features such as ‘ripped clothes’ when the player took damage over time, but it’s a very small price to pay for what we eventually got in 1998.
The mantra for ‘less is more’ holds well for the final version of Resident Evil 2, and as great as it is to see an alternate version, the bold decision to start over with only 9 months to go was a gamble that paid off.
Worth a Mention:
Over the years, there have been screenshots of many games that had features taken away due to time or just technological brick walls. Below are two more.
Banjo Kazooie’s now infamous ‘Stop N’ Swop’ is feature that is still being looked into today.
Over the course of the game, you were meant to acquire these eggs. Once you did, you were given a key to unlock hidden characters or features in its sequel, Banjo Tooie.
To do this, you would pull out the cartridge of Banjo Kazooie, and with a time limit of 10 seconds, you would insert Banjo Tooie into the N64, and you would acquire these items.
But, a revision to the N64 in 1998 had been released, where this feature was reduced from 10 seconds, to a mere second, and no one would be able to swap the cartridges in time.
Because of this, it was deleted, but a team called ‘The Rare Witch Project’ were able to unlock the features partially over a number of years, and their efforts can be seen here.
The feature was fully restored with the two games’ releases onto Xbox Live with their Arcade re-release, and it enabled the player to have items in the third game, ‘Nuts N’ Bolts’.
Half Life 2
Half Life 2 was an eventful leak, in that it was stolen by a german hacker in mid 2004.
This was a highly-anticipated game, as it was the sequel to a critically-acclaimed predecessor in 1998 that changed how a first-person shooter could be played.
With Half Life’s 2 announcement in 2003, anticipation reached a level that forums and news sites were screaming for a release date and more information.
But the full truth of its then-current state was to be painfully unveiled.
In September 2003, only four months after its announcement at E3, a german hacker by the name of Axel Gembe was able to access Valve’s CEO, Gabe Newell’s e-mail and network account. Using this, he was able to download a barely complete version of Half Life 2, and uploaded it for anyone to download.
It showed a game that was in no way in a final state for it’s release of November 2003, with levels barely playable, and NPC characters that had no animation or speech assigned.
The full details of the leak can be shown here , but some videos can be shown of what was to be an early state of the game’s Episode 1 and 2, with an enemy that was to be shown to be completely useless.
Here, Alyx is shown to be wearing a green shade of her final clothes, and a level that faintly resembles the prison in the final game. With ‘Hydra’, it was a scripted event, but with no method of how to defeat this enemy, it was scrapped.
Levels such as the ‘Borealis’, a name that has since shown up in Portal 2 and Episode 2, is shown to be a playable level, with a ship in an Arctic landscape.
Even though this video is shown to be from a mod, ‘Missing Information’ only uses the assets that the leaked beta used, so what you’re watching, is a restored state of a mix of non-workable NPC’s and enemies.
In the future, hopefully Episode 3, or ‘Half Life 3’ will finally show the resolution of Half Life 2’s story, but 6 years after Episode 2’s release, it doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.
With all of these betas, there’s still so much to be uncovered, with a beta of Sonic 1 still being hunted down, to deleted items in the first Tomb Raider such as dynamite. Curiosity will lead someone to discovering one of these undiscovered gems, but for now, we can simply enjoy the final versions of what the developers wanted us to play.