As part of SEGA’s 60th Anniversary it’s tantalisingly releasing four never before seen free-to-claim mini-games on Steam, including Streets of Kamurocho, a retro cross between the popular Yakuza franchise and Streets of Rage, and Golden Axed a single proof of concept level from the never-released Golden Axe Reborn.
The Steam page description for Golden Axed reads:
“On the occasion of SEGA’s 60th Anniversary, as a special treat to say “Thank You!” to our fans, SEGA is releasing a working prototype of Golden Axe Reborn, a single level created as proof-of-concept, or what’s known in the industry as a “vertical slice.” We’ve dubbed it, tongue in cheek, as Golden Axed.”
“We reached out to some of the original development team to bring this dusty gem to light, and they are proud that this project could be revived in some form to be shared with you, the fans.”
That all sounds grand. There’s only one problem. The latter sentence isn’t quite true according to two developers involved in its development. Both were more recently involved in the development of 2015’s ace Assault Android Cactus+.
WTF sega is releasing the golden axe prototype @ironicaccount and I made (with the help of several talented artists). Please be aware this was roughly two weeks work and our weird bosses wouldn’t let us spend more than a day on combat design https://t.co/JUGkfFoVtW
— Sanatana Mishra (@SanatanaMishra) October 14, 2020
woke up to the surprising news that Sega is releasing the Golden Axe prototype I coded in 2012 under crunch conditions
At least I'm not alone – this appears to be a surprise to everyone I know who actually worked on it https://t.co/MRmuSFgMlA
— Tim Dawson (@ironicaccount) October 15, 2020
“For what it’s worth, Tim programmed the entire thing from scratch and I was in charge of design,” says Sanatana Mishra, “so when they say they reached out to the team that made it I don’t really know who that means?”
Tim Dawson also commented on that particular line, saying “At least I’m not alone – this appears to be a surprise to everyone I know who actually worked on it.”
That omission isn’t the only issue presented by this release. Dawson’s thread also exposes the horrendous crunch involved in the prototype’s creation, saying:
“This project was my personal nexus of nightmare hours, inept management, industry realisations and heroics achieved with a small team under unreasonable conditions, so it’s an odd feeling to see it surface eight years later without context, credits and with a joke title sequence.”
As for whether you should still play it, however, Dawson and Mishra are united. “If you’re excited to play an old prototype, that’s fine! Bunch of people including me worked hard on it,” Dawson reassures commenters. “…you should play it, check out a slice of history,” says Mishra.
“We still put ourselves into it (assuming it’s the version we made??) for the purpose of people playing it, just know the reasons why it isn’t what anyone wanted it to be.”
A Sega spokesperson has now issued a statement to Eurogamer on the matter, saying:
“Sega Europe reached out to former members of the Golden Axe: Reborn dev team to produce this prototype of the game for Steam as part of our 60th Anniversary celebrations. We wanted to bring the work of the developers at the time to light and celebrate it as a part of our history. Something we didn’t get the chance to do first time around.
“We certainly didn’t mean to dredge up painful memories for Mr. Dawson and his former colleagues or appear disrespectful. We’ve removed the line from the Steam copy that could have been taken as a slur on the development and would like to reassure everyone that it was intended as a comment on the build we had ported to PC, not the quality of the original work. We’re hoping lots of fans play the prototype and can appreciate the work he and his colleagues put into this developing this prototype.”
This isn’t quite the reaction I’m sure Sega were expecting nor wanting for its celebration week, but it’s a fascinating if somewhat depressing insight into the toxicity and trials and tribulations developing a prototype can involve. One of the more bizarre reveals came from Mishra, who said Tim, despite having to crunch on programming the prototype, was an animator and not a programmer at the time!
Let’s just hope the other three mini-games don’t have equally bad stories to tell or it’s not going to be a very happy birthday for the developer and publisher.
The prototype will be available to claim on October 18.