Before Sonic Mania, There Was Sonic Project Mettrix: A Short Biography of Simon Thomley

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2008

Much as Thomley’s original Sonic project outgrew the confines of AppleSoft Basic, Project Mettrix was outgrowing it’s original DOS engine by 2003. Thus, he set to work creating a new engine for the game, while simultaneously getting the original build of the game, re-christened “E01”, to a mostly complete state. The final E01 release of Mettrix still had a few major issues.

Sonic Project Mettrix (Simon Thomley, 2005)

The last E01 versions of the game finally received ports to Microsoft Windows. However, due to the game’s non-standard screen resolution, it most likely will not run on newer versions of Windows. Thankfully, these final builds would also receive DOS releases, and thus can easily be played on modern computers using an emulator such as DOSBox.

In 2006, Thomley unveiled his new game engine, known initially as “E02” and later rebranded as the “Headcannon Game Engine”. Along with this came a demo version of Project Mettrix, featuring two updated zones from the E01 release, along with a test zone and a fully recreated version of Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1. It ran flawlessly on modern computers of the time, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy Thomley.

Splitting his time between numerous projects, Thomley continued working on E02 and the new version of Mettrix, with the hopes of someday re-completing the game in a bigger, better package than ever before. By 2008, E02 and the new Mettrix demo were playable not only on PC, but also on Linux, MacOSX, and most impressively, via homebrew mods on both Sony’s PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo Wii.

His sights soon returned to one of his older projects: his port of Sonic 1 to the Sega CD. That particular project had never panned out as he had hoped. Now, he wanted to combine what he had learned working on that with his work on Sonic Megamix. Near Christmas 2008, he presented a working Sega CD version of that game to the members of Team Megamix. To say the least, they were thrilled.

Sonic Megamix, after version 4.0, could run on real Sega CD hardware! (Sega CD Startup, 1992)

Project Mettrix once again fell more and more on the back burner as focus once again returned to Megamix. After the release of Megamix 4.0b in 2009, a massive overhaul of the game was attempted. This would include new graphics, character modifications, 3D special stages, and even a new, CD quality soundtrack featuring the talents of video game composers such as Leila Wilson, who would later work on the Freedom Planet games.

However, Megamix itself would find itself take more of a backseat later that same year, when popular Sonic fan-game creator Christian Whitehead discovered the Headcannon Game Engine. Thomley and Whitehead had previously briefly met in 1997, when Project Mettrix itself served as Whitehead’s own inspiration to create a Sonic fan project of his own. Despite the two having fallen out of contact until this point, he had paid close attention to Thomley’s work throughout the years.

Impressed by the versatility of the engine and Thomley’s years of experience in porting games, he asked Thomley for help on perhaps his most lucrative Sonic project yet: he needed help creating a demo smartphone version of the 1993 title Sonic the Hedgehog CD. This demo, in turn, would be presented to Sega themselves to pitch a re-vamped re-release of the classic title on modern platforms.

Thomley went ahead and reverse engineered several aspects of the title, including the first boss of the game. This particular boss had been specifically requested by Whitehead for his pitch. In the meantime, Thomley started work on his own port of Sonic CD. Instead of being for platforms such as the iPhone and Xbox 360, Thomley’s pitch demo was for the Nintendo DS.

Sonic Classic Collection for Nintendo DS (Sega, 2010)

Ideally, he had hoped that his version of the game could serve as part of a Sonic the Hedgehog collection for the DS. In addition to Sonic CD, this would feature the mainline Sega Genesis titles as well. Unlike the Sonic Classic Collection, which was ultimately released by Sega for the system, Thomley’s versions would be proper ports instead of games being run on an emulator.

Whitehead’s version of Sonic CD was picked up by Sega and was released to critical acclaim in 2011. As for Thomley, due to bureaucratic reasons, he never got a chance to make his pitch.

 

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About James Christensen 8 Articles
James Christensen is a writer, content creator, and social media marketing nerd currently residing in Victoria, British Columbia. He’s written about people, technology, and the environment, along with creating the online documentary series “The Art of Failure”. Feel free to check him out on Twitter and on YouTube!