TSSZ: For those unfamiliar, what exactly is Sonic 3 A.I.R.?
Euka: It’s a Windows PC port of Sonic 3 & Knuckles with various enhancements. The goal was to create something comparable to the Sonic 1/2/CD remasters by Christian Whitehead, including full 16:9 widescreen support and other technical improvements, but this time for Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
TSSZ: Is the game a mod, or built from the ground up?
Euka: Technically speaking, it’s a mod for the Steam version of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. But it’s also a standalone Windows application that on first glance works like an emulator: Put in the ROM, and play the game. The difference to emulators is how A.I.R. works internally: The ROM is needed solely to get the game data like graphics. All of the game logic is part of A.I.R. itself instead of the ROM. This is mostly a replication of the original game code, brought into a form that made it easier for me to make changes. Especially those changes that an emulator or even Sega Mega Drive / Genesis would not allow for.
So the best term is probably: It’s a port. And that’s what makes the main difference to comparable Sonic fan game projects and remasters. You would usually take an existing Sonic engine or make a custom one and build your own game with it. As far as I know, that was the case with the Retro Engine, which was used to recreate Sonic 1/2/CD and make Sonic Mania. When starting A.I.R., I chose to try going the other way round, by taking an original game and building an engine around it that would make things like widescreen possible.
TSSZ: It’s easy to compare this project to Sonic 3 Complete and the Whitehead release that never came to be. Did A.I.R. draw any inspiration from these?
Euka: That would be hard to deny! Though I have to say, in many cases, it’s not that much inspiration, but more of a need of including features that over time became de-facto standards for Sonic gameplay. Take, for example, Tails Assist from the Whitehead remasters and Sonic 3 Complete. Today this just has to be in any classic Sonic game featuring Sonic & Tails co-op gameplay, or something is missing. Similar to excessive game options, a pause menu, a Super transformation button, and Super cancel. All the things we got used to after hacks, remasters and fan games established them.
But aside from the must-haves, both Sonic 3 Complete and all of the Christian Whitehead remasters and games, including Sonic Mania, have lots of cool ideas. In the end, A.I.R. is trying to create a best-of of all of these, and I’ll happily add some of my own experiments into the mix.
TSSZ: It’s quite apparent that a lot of hard work went into this project. Was this a solo effort, or a collaborative experience?
Euka: You could say that it was all a one-man project, but that wasn’t true. First of all, there’s DJ Spindash, who created a very faithful remastered soundtrack. I waited very long before finally accepting his work to be incorporated directly into A.I.R. instead of him making it all a music mod, but his new credits medley was something I just couldn’t go without. I also have to mention the huge amount of previous works by other developers that I could build upon, including fan projects like Saxman’s ProSonic and all of the documentation on how the classic games work. That all helped me a lot getting A.I.R. started in the first place. And last but not least, after first going public in May 2018, I received increasingly huge amounts of feedback and support by people on Twitter, YouTube, SFGHQ and other forums. All that helped to improve the game and kept me motivated to get the project done.
TSSZ: As development proceeded, was there anything you struggled with? What was the most fun?
Euka: For the fun part: Everything was fun! I was having the time of my life exploring the insides of my favorite game and getting a chance to iron out the small details that have been bothering me for over 20 years. One thing in particular that overwhelmed me was extending the screen area to 16:9 for the first time. At that time, back in early 2018, I had two zones mostly ported and working, but wasn’t even going for making a widescreen remaster. I just wanted to port the game to make an engine out of it. So just for fun, I tried it out just to see if it could even work. And it did with a few code changes in the right places. After only some hours, large parts of the two zones basically worked in widescreen. You can imagine, this changed a lot in the project goals.
Ironically, it was the widescreen changes that also gave me most of the trouble. While the main parts of the stages were no big problem, every single one of the boss fights and cutscenes needed their own bunch of fixes and adjustments. In the end, THAT was the real work that went into A.I.R.
TSSZ: Are there any planned updates for the future, and can we expect a similar treatment for other games in the series?
Euka: In some way, the full game release was just an update like various others before. Okay, the first content-complete one, and the feedback basically knocked me out. But now, I’ve got still many points on my to-do list, from bug fixes to new features. People keep asking me about more Sonic 3 Complete features to be added, for instance. Plus I also like to make some more of my own experiments with the now completed game code. Maybe extending on the Time Attack mode, maybe a mobile port. Time will tell! It’s also possible that I’ll leave Sonic 3 & Knuckles behind at some point. Certainly not too soon. But then, I could imagine taking some other Mega Drive / Genesis game, maybe not even a Sonic game, and port it.
TSSZ: Well, that about does it! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us, Eukaryot.
Euka: Thank you as well, it was a pleasure!