(UPDATE) Rumor: Demos surface for future Sonic Adventure project?

(UPDATE) Rumor: Demos surface for future Sonic Adventure project?

by January 6, 2020

It’s hard to believe that it was almost 22 years ago that Sega unveiled Sonic Adventure at the Tokyo International Forum. And, over the last 18 months, rumors have begun to swirl around the idea that Sega could be remaking Sonic Adventure. Takashi Iizuka has been on record about wanting to remake the game, Sega re-hired the original Adventure Field designer in April of last year, and the brand as a whole seems to be pivoting away from Classic Sonic nostalgia to Sonic Adventure nostalgia. Tee Lopes remixed “Welcome to Station Square” and Sega just dropped a new animated short involving the fake “Chao in Space” film first seen on billboards in Sonic Adventure. They say things come back around in a 20-year cycle, and it’s definitely feeling like Sonic Adventure’s time to re-enter the spotlight.

On the night of January 4th, we at TSSZ received a particularly interesting email through our news tip system. The source chose to register a fresh, anonymous email address as to protect their identity, and for that reason TSSZ cannot definitively verify the source’s identity. In this email, they wrote to us:

…This is a live rehearsal recording with Mr. Ezio Sakamoto in Tokyo for a concert about a big Sonic Adventure event late this year I created using a recorder. I managed to record, but I don’t know the details. [….] The idea was to recreate a live Sonic Adventure “Open Your Heart” demo live for old feel at the event. There was a new rendering of Sonic and his friends in the studio. Maybe Sonic Adventure port. Some notes about the recording, Mr. Ezio Sakamoto has problem with the lyrics, and his voice has too much delay and reverb, the drummer played some parts improvised with new fills, and the band had technical problems while introducing the song. Johnny Gioeli track was reference in background. Second file is adjusting audio gain. Sorry for bad english, used translation tool.

Included with the email were two MP3 files: sametry.mp3 and sametry2.mp3. We’ve gotten our fair share of so-called leaks over the years, some of which we’ve reported on, others we’ve debunked. We’ve tried to provide you with the most accurate info we can over the years, but sometimes it’s difficult to do that. These files are different from our usual fare, so we’re taking a different approach.

Part One: What are those audio files?

sametry.mp3

Sametry.mp3 is two minutes and ten seconds long. It sounds like a handheld recording at a studio or a venue, as Sonic Adventure’s “Open Your Heart” can be heard. What’s different is which version of “Open Your Heart” this is: it’s the Eizo Sakamoto version. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably familiar with Crush 40’s version of the song. But there used to be a time where lead singer Johnny Gioeli was not part of the band. In those early days, Eizo Sakamoto did vocals, something he sung live in 1998 when Sega first announced Sonic Adventure. Eizo Sakamoto is perhaps most famous for his work in the Japanese metal band “Anthem.” He also founded a band known as “Animetal” that dealt exclusively in heavy metal covers of anime and tokusatsu theme music.

Between that announcement concert and Sonic Adventure’s release in December of 1998, Johnny Gioeli came in and recorded the now-iconic version of “Open Your Heart” used in the final game. But the version heard during Sametry.mp3 doesn’t have Johnny’s vocals, it has Eizo’s. The drums are also louder than usual.

sametry2.mp3

Sametry2.mp3 is much shorter, at only 19 seconds total. Here, the backing track is harder to hear, but you can still hear Eizo’s singing and the drums clearly.

Part Two: Analyzing the audio
After that original concert, Sega published an MP3 of Eizo’s version on their website, and video of that performance was shown on a VHS recording of the event sold in Japan. To analyze the audio, I synchronized both versions — the leaked version, and the 1998 MP3 — so that I could listen to them both at the same time in order to spot any differences. The original 1998 version comes through the left speaker, and the leaked audio comes through the right speaker. For the most part, Sametry.mp3 sounds identical to the Eizo Sakamoto version of “Open Your Heart” from 1998.

sametry.mp3 audio comparison – left channel: original audio, right channel: leaked audio

…Until you reach 1:10. There’s some microphone noise, and the vocalist falls out of sync with the audio briefly before finding the beat again and resuming singing. At 1:57, the leaked version of the song also includes some extra vocal flourishes that weren’t present in the original 1998 MP3. Finally, right before the leaked version cuts off, at 2:08 the drummer starts a different drum fill in the lead up to what would be the end of the song. The fact that so much of the leaked version matches the original Eizo Sakamoto performance, but does not match it 100% exactly, makes it noteworthy. It would be a lot of effort to fake these arguably subtle changes (so subtle that I didn’t even notice them until I listened to both versions side by side).

sametry2.mp3 audio comparison – left channel: original audio, right channel: leaked audio

Using the same left/right synchronization process to analyze Sametry2.mp3 also produces some interesting results. This clip starts somewhere in the middle of “Open Your Heart”, and it’s here you can really tell that the vocalist sounds like Eizo Sakamoto. Except that at the 0:09 mark, his singing seems to stop, or at least get quieter, leaving just the drums and a muffled version of the “Open Your Heart” backing track playing before the clip ends a few seconds later.

As a hobbyist audio producer for the last 16 years, faking these kinds of acoustics is not impossible, but it’s also not easy, especially this accurately. This really does sound like some kind of a practice session where Eizo Sakamoto and at the very least a drummer are trying to perform a rare version of “Open Your Heart” that hasn’t been heard in 22 years.

Part Three: Doubts and inconsistencies
If we take the audio on its own, it’s very strong evidence. Paired with the email, questions begin to arise.

The first inconsistency: The email mentions they are practicing to Johnny Gioeli’s version of “Open Your Heart”. Near as I can tell, they are not — the vocalist is practicing to Eizo Sakamoto’s version of the song, which would make sense, given the email claims that the vocalist doing the practicing here is also Eizo Sakamoto. A simple mistake? Or is this actually Eizo’s voice overpowering Johnny’s recording during practice? It’s hard to say. To my ears, the whole thing sounds like Eizo’s version.

The second inconsistency: The leaker claims “sametry2.mp3” is with the gain adjusted, but as far as I’m aware, gain mainly deals with audio amplification. The higher the gain, the louder the audio is, and the more it “clips”, which is a term used to mean what happens when the audio goes beyond the loudness threshold supported by the device (clipping audio is very, very loud in other words). The differences between “sametry.mp3” and “sametry2.mp3” don’t seem to have anything to do with the gain. It sounds like either the person recording the audio changed positions, or the audio itself was digitally altered to try and get rid of the backing track to emphasize Sakamoto-san’s vocals and the drums, given the actual, original “Open Your Heart” audio sounds more muffled in the second clip.

The third inconsistency: TSSZ has reported on a lot of news from Sega of Japan over the years, and some of it is never translated in to English. In times like that, we must rely on machine translation like Google Translate (or similar services). As such, you become very familiar with the quirks of a Japanese-to-English machine translation, and to put it bluntly, the email we received is shockingly natural sounding — almost too much. The leaker sounds more like a native English speaker for how clearly a lot of it reads. Also strange is the misspelling to “Ezio Sakamoto.” Translation tools can sometimes spit out words and names with different vowels (“Gouku” instead of “Goku” for example), but it’s rare to see errors like this. Given the little bit I know about Japanese writing structure, a typo mistaking an “Ei-zo” sound with an “Ez-io” sound might actually be impossible. This is the kind of mistake you more often see in comment sections on news articles, like when English-speaking people out write “Shiguro Myamoto” instead of “Shigeru Miyamoto.”

Part Four: Conclusion (Is This Real?)
This is the reason I’ve chosen this format for this article, because the simple fact of the matter is I don’t know if this is real. As I said earlier, the audio files are very convincing. Speaking as someone who has seen a lot of hoaxes… most of them are not subtle, because it’s not fun to make something subtle. Subtle is also hard to get right. And the audio files emailed to TSSZ are subtle in all the right ways, something that’s extremely rare. As I said earlier, if it was just the audio files by themselves, it would almost be open and shut for me, but it’s the way the email was written that has me ever so slightly suspicious. It’s mainly that third inconsistency — the English seems just a little too good for a machine translation, and if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.

At the same time, we don’t know the language of origin from this leaker. Though he said he recorded these in Tokyo, is the person in question a native Japanese speaker? That might not actually be the case, and other languages translate to English in completely different ways, which could explain the unexpectedly accurate English translation and even the “Ezio” typo. The person in question may even be doing this to help cover their tracks and protect their real identity.

I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but that in mind, I’m personally leaning more in the direction of these clips being the real deal.

TSSZ even took the two pieces of media shared with us to an audio engineer. He independently shared many of the sentiments expressed in this article.

“This seems pretty legit,” the engineer told TSSZ over Discord, later adding “It seems to good [sic] to be true, but I think it is true.”

When the question was posed as to whether something like this could be faked, he did agree that could be a possibility, and suggested taking things with “a large grain of salt.” In other words, even though it seems like it’s real, it’s healthy to keep doubt in mind.

Which leads us to ask one final question: if this really is the real deal, what kind of performance is this practicing for? It’s easy to read too far in to something like this, to tie in to the narrative that we might be getting a Sonic Adventure remake at some point in the future. After all, the last time we heard this version of this song, Sega was announcing Sonic Adventure. Surely the only reason they’d drag this version of the song out is to announce Sonic Adventure again, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. Sega has been putting on performances with something known as the “Sonic Adventure Music Experience” for nearly four years now. Their first concert was in 2016, for the Sonic 25th Anniversary, and they also played at MAGfest in 2018. In 2019, they played two more concerts in Japan, followed by one in the UK just a few weeks ago. Typically, they involve more than just music — never-before-seen Sonic Adventure concept art has been shown at these concerts, where there are sometimes Q&A sessions to close things out.

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Digging up rare, pre-release Sonic Adventure ephemera is just what the Sonic Adventure Music Experience does, and it would be a great hook to sell concert tickets if they boasted a rarely-heard version of “Open Your Heart” with the original vocalist. Previous concerts have also been for instrumental music only, but given that the Sonic Adventure Music Experience played three venues last year, it could be that they are ramping up to expand the concert with some vocal songs.

Additional correspondence with the source suggested reveals more interesting details. According to the source, these recordings are dated around October or November of 2019, before the Sonic Adventure Music Experience UK concert, and that more musicians were present at the practice session than just Eizo Sakamoto. The source identified the drummer in this version of “Open Your Heart” as Act., along with the bassist, Takeshi Taneda. Both are performers typically seen playing in Sonic Adventure Music Experience. Jun Senoue was allegedly on site as well, though the source says he was not playing any music — he was taking more of a directorial role, instructing the other musicians in the session. The only other musicians our source would name at this session was Johnny Gioeli, who was practicing other music. The source implied there may be even more musicians involved in this project, including some from “other countries,” but was not specific.

The source also clarified that these clips were from a single practice session, one of many at numerous locations off-site from Sega. No professional recording equipment was used, just musicians practicing songs together. The source told us that though the setlist changed for every session, they were mostly sticking to popular Sonic Adventure music, naming Emerald Coast, Windy Valley, Speed Highway, and Final Egg as examples of music he heard. Many of those songs are mainstays of the Sonic Adventure Music Experience. Despite merely being a practice session, our source suggested there were way too many sound engineers present at this practice session for the typically-small concert numbers that are drawn to the Sonic Adventure Music Experience. Perhaps they’ll be sharing the stage with another band, much like at the Japan Game Music Festival where they played a set along side SQ F.O.E. in June of 2019.

I tell you these things only so that we might not be let down when the truth ends up being less exciting than the fiction. Everyone is positively burning for news about a Sonic Adventure remake, but even the clips, as shared to us, are labeled “sametry.” If you shorten Sonic Adventure Music Experience down to just an acronym, you get S.A.M.E. It’s not impossible for this to be tied to some kind of game announcement, but it’s important to be pragmatic, too.

If there’s any comfort to take away from this rumor, it’s the fact that if they are indeed already practicing to prepare for some kind of Sonic Adventure event, we’ll probably learn that truth sooner rather than later. If we don’t, then… well, that’s an answer in its own way. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground, folks. One way or another, we’ll know the truth.

Special thanks to Elliot and Nolan for helping with some of the analysis used in this article.


Update (01/07/2020)

Since the story’s original publication, our source has contacted us again to clarify some of what was stated in this article in an effort to dispel some of the doubts that were outlined.

Regarding whether or not they were practicing to Johnny Gioeli’s version of “Open Your Heart”, our source writes:

I can almost hear Mr. Johnny Gioeli vocals on recording, but was more apparent live. If you only listen to right channel, you can hear more on 1:00, 1:39 and 1:52. There are 3 tracks at once Live vox, Original 98-99 vox, and Gioelli for fixing rhythm mistakes.

This makes sense to me. Musicians obviously practice to masters of their own music when they are preparing to perform live, and in this case, we’re dealing with two different versions of a single song. According to our source, there were multiple versions of “Open Your Heart” playing simultaneously — both Johnny Gioeli and Eizo Sakamoto’s version were playing together, as well as a loop back of the vocalist’s practice vocals. It’s hard to to separate all of that out in the audio provided, though, so we’ll have to take their word on it.

Regarding the definition of gain, our source says…

Gain is level input, volume is level output. Gain does not mean louder or clipping or distorsion every time. So gain is microphone in and mixer volume is microphone out. You could confuse with amplifier gain used in guitar amp. Like you can see here https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/pzEAAOSwCRxcqfo0/s-l640.jpg. Yes it can clip but it can too go quite if at minus db https://www.cablechick.com.au/blog/why-does-my-amplifier-use-negative-db-for-volume/ .

And fair enough. I’ll cop to that. As I stated originally, I’m just a hobbyist — most of what I’ve learned about music production has come from tinkering in FL Studio. A lot of what I’ve come to understand has been picked up naturally by messing with settings and dials in the software itself, and though you learn a lot over 16 years, being self-taught leads to small gaps in understanding terminology. This was definitely my mistake.

Finally, regarding the “Eizo” typo…

I wrote Mr. Eizo name wrong here, its is 英三 or えいぞう but mixed え and い E and I in my head (english e and i sound similar in native language like ~E~lectric and bra~i~n so is hard to translate name) . First I only said “Sakamoto” but wanted to be specific so I quickly wrote “えいぞう” and mix E and I by mistake. When I send mail to Dreadnux I wrote correctly because I realized after google search for paste. It is not google translate error. I only use google translate when not confident in English (first mail), I studied English so I can understand and write but wanted to be more exact. I can’t say if I am Japanese but I am not native English speaker. Some people present were from other countries.

Again, this makes total sense. Something I almost wrote out in the original post above is the fact that maybe our leaker speaks some English already, but uses a translation tool to help their language skills.

As one last thing, our source provided their own timestamps for Sametry.mp3 for things that took place during the practice session.

Also other differences are 1:30 drum fill, 2:00-01 drum mistake and 1:14 rhythm of vocal ~we had problems there.

That should be it for now. Should any more news break regarding this, we’ll let you know.