Features Interviews

Interview: Stephen Frost (SOA Associate Producer)

November marks the release of a very special collection for Sega Genesis fans. For the first time, Sega will be offering a compilation of more than two dozen of its biggest Genesis titles (with a few obscure games tossed in for variety) in a set simply called the Sega Genesis Collection. With twenty-eight games, unlockable arcade titles, and behind-the-scenes interviews with developers of the era, this is the most comprehensive Genesis-era collection ever sold.

Not content with merely buying and playing the heck out of this great compilation, Sega-16 decided to talk to the man responsible for making it happen. We landed an exclusive interview with associate producer Stephen Frost.

Sega-16: Retro compilations are a common occurrence in today’s market, and it seemed only natural that Sega would tap its back catalogue of console hits. How did this project get started? Are there any diehard Genesis fans still at Sega?

Stephen Frost: This project started as most do around Sega. Basically, we try to come up with game ideas or project concepts that we would want to buy and play ourselves. There are a lot of people here at Sega who have very fond memories of classic console systems, namely the Genesis, so we’re always looking for ways to capture the excitement we have and bring it to today’s gamers. And we’ve got an amazing library of old Sega games which felt like they would be fun and enjoyable for gamers to re-experience or get introduced to if they didn’t play them in their previous form.

Sega-16: Genesis emulation has been pretty spotty since the mid ’90s, and there have been some hits (Sonic Jam, Sonic Mega Collection Plus) and some misses (Sega Smash Pack on Dreamcast). How well would you say this collection emulates the real thing?

Stephen Frost: I think the development team at Backbone managed to do an amazing job on the emulation side of things. We knew it was important to capture the look and feel of the original games as precisely as possible and, due to that, we were definitely our harshest critics. Since we included the first two Sonic The Hedgehog games, as well, it was crucial to make sure that they played exactly the same as people remembered. To help us out in that regard, we worked with Sonic Team to make sure that the speed and handling of the Sonic character was dead-on.

The PSP version was a bit more challenging than the PS2 one since we included wireless support for a good number of the games, but I feel that all the hardships were worth it. Being able to play Sonic 2 or Golden Axe with a friend on two different screens is definitely awesome and a great way to spend the day.

Sega-16: How many people were involved in the development?

Stephen Frost: When you consider that there were test groups in multiple territories and a development team that spanned countries, it ends up being quite a few people who helped out with this project. You’ll see what I mean when you look at the credits. However, as far as the actual day-to-day development and production teams go, there were around only a handful or so of people with the key person being one very tired programmer who put all his energy into this project.

Sega-16: As producer, did this project present any significantly different challenges than if you had been working on a new, stand-alone title?

Stephen Frost: There are always issues that arise when putting together a compilation, but it generally boils down to the main challenge of being able to emulate the classic games as precisely as possible. If you can’t do that, then what’s the point of making a classics collection? Adding to that challenge was the fact that we decided to include ad hoc support to games that were originally not designed for it.

Sega-16: How much freedom were you given in regards to the game selection? Did Sega require that any specific titles be included?

Stephen Frost: We had quite a bit of freedom in choosing the games we wanted in the collection, but Sega did want to include at least one Sonic game, given it’s the blue hedgehog’s 15th anniversary this year, and we actually included two: Sonic 1 and Sonic 2. Other than that, we simply tried to include a good variety of genres and threw in some our own guilty pleasures. Basically, we just wanted to include as many great titles as possible, so we went through a long list and spent a lot of time narrowing it down.

Sega-16: Did any of the original developers take part in the development of this compilation beyond the interviews?

Stephen Frost: There was great interest in this title from all over Sega mainly because it contains so many great games, so there was a lot of pressure on us to make sure the games were emulated properly. A lot of people from the original development teams gave us their input, which was great, and it was amazing to see how many of them were willing to take the time to grant us new interviews. Their willingness to help really added a lot to this project and made it something truly special to everyone involved.

Sega-16: There’s an exceptional collection of titles on this disc, and it’s great to see both VectorMan games as well as the entire Golden Axe trilogy; however, the one question all Genesis fans are asking is “where is Streets of Rage?” Some have speculated that fear of an “M” rating might have been an issue. Is this true? Is that why Eternal Champions didn’t make it in as well?

Stephen Frost: The “M” rating was definitely a concern going into this project as we wanted to make sure that we were able to reach the largest number of gamers as possible, including ones who might not have had a chance to own a Genesis. It didn’t make sense to have one or two mature titles when the rest of the games in the collection were rated Teen or lower.

Sega-16: Why weren’t either of the Shining Force games included?

Stephen Frost: There were many candidates that just didn’t make into this release, chalk it up to having too many great games and not enough time or space this go around. But hopefully we’ll revisit these, including Shining Force, in a future compilation if Sega produces another one. [Grins]

Sega-16: Were there any titles that were considered but rejected due to licensing issues, such as Castle of Illusion or Spider-Man vs. Kingpin?

Stephen Frost: There were some titles that we chose not to include due to licensing and/or other challenges.

Sega-16: After being conspicuously absent in the Game Boy Advance Phantasy Star Collection due to cartridge limitations, Phantasy Star IV is included here, which gives American and European gamers the first re-release of the Genesis trilogy on a post-Genesis console. Why has this particular installment never been made available before now?

Stephen Frost: That’s a good question and one I don’t really have an answer for. Maybe it all has to do with timing. Regardless, I’m glad we were able to include IV in this collection.

Sega-16: It’s great to see all three Golden Axe games included. Why only the one import title though? Fans would have loved to have seen Pulseman or Super Fantasy Zone.

Stephen Frost: Golden Axe is a personal favorite so I’m glad that we were able to include all three games for gamers to enjoy. Other than that, we tried to just mainly include games there were released in the U.S. so that there would be a sense of familiarity with gamers. It’s hard to convince gamers to pick up games that they don’t really know anything about, especially older games.

Sega-16: Capcom and Midway have had great success with their compilations. Is there any chance we’ll see a second installment if this one does well? Perhaps a Master System collection?

Stephen Frost: I would love to be able to put together another collection of games, as I loved working on Sega Genesis Collection immensely. I was reminded how much fun simple gameplay mechanics can be even without all the fancy graphics attached to them. It just goes to show you that games these days might just be too complex and that we need to look towards simpler designs in order to draw in a broader gaming audience.

Sega-16: Sega has recently expressed a desire to revisit some of its classic franchises with remakes and even new installments. Could this set be a springboard to more revivals?

Stephen Frost: I certainly hope so. We’ve already announced Golden Axe, as well as new versions of several of our top franchises and I’m sure there are plenty more surprises in the works. Sega has such a rich game-making history so there’s so much to get inspiration from. I know I have a lot of ideas for remakes so who knows what the future may hold.

Our thanks to Mr. Frost and Denny Chiu from Sega for making this interview possible.

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