Sega has been called out for releasing a canceled Golden Axe prototype that was created under crunch conditions.
Writing on the Steam page for the prototype, which has been rebranded as ‘Golden Axed,’ Sega said it “offers a unique glimpse into the prospect of a project that could have been, and a rare peek behind the curtain at the sometimes tumultuous world of video game development.”
The publisher explained it decided to release the vertical slice as a thank you to its fans. It also claimed to have “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.”
While that may be the case, some who worked on the project have hit out at Sega for choosing to release a project that was created under immense pressure and hostile work conditions.
Tim Dawson, who coded the prototype back in 2012, said the launch came as a “surprise to everyone I know who actually worked on it,” and recalled how working on the project was a grueling experience.
“This project was my personal nexus of nightmare hours, inept management, industry realizations and heroics achieved with a small team under unreasonable conditions,” he wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread, “so it’s an odd feeling to see it surface eight years later without context, credits and with a joke title sequence.”
He explained how management assured the team they could develop the prototype their way, but also mandated a “darker, bloodier, Golden Axe.”
“This would have been a difficult line to walk at any time but we had two weeks and no time to iterate,” he continued. “So we made do, just really attacked the design knowing we wouldn’t be able to course correct much, but luckily we had a talented team of artists, animators and sound designers.
“Much less luckily we also had the lead designer who thought he was designing it, and sometimes Sanatana Mishra (a former Sega designer who also worked on the project) would have to physically block him from reaching my workstation or he’d start explaining insights he’d received playing the mobile port on the train on the way to work.
“He took to inventing arbitrary challenges like ‘management want to see an attack animation playing in game by the end of the day or they’ll think the project is in trouble’ while I was busy coding enemy ai and the soft lock combo system simultaneously.”
Dawson also recalled how, when asked to showcase the latest build of the prototype to management, they proceeded to lambast the weeks-old project for lacking a “wow factor” or not being comparable to other mega-franchises like God of War.
At this point, Dawson said he had an epiphany. “Either they couldn’t see what was in front of them or wanted me to feel bad because it’s the only way they knew how to manage. I was ‘the guy who makes playable prototypes’, I had over delivered and if they didn’t want that, they had screwed up,” he wrote.
“I had been working 14 hour days but I went home on time that day. I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling. They didn’t want it. They wanted something else entirely I came to my conclusion – they didn’t matter, I would continue doing exactly what I intended to do and try to deliver what Sanatana and I had planned in the beginning.”
Responding to Dawson’s thread, Mishra praised his former colleague’s candid retelling, and noted “there are still so many fun anecdotes he had to gloss over, like that time we were told, explicitly, that there was no different at all between how Golden Axe and Streets of Rage played.”
They also questioned who exactly Sega had reached out to, explaining that “Tim programmed the entire thing from scratch and I was in charge of design, so when they say they reached out to the team that made it I don’t really know who that means?”
Although there are clearly some issues with how the prototype came to be, Mishra still believes people should check it out. “We still put ourselves into it (assuming it’s the version we made?) for the purpose of people playing it,” they wrote, “just know the reasons why it isn’t what anyone wanted it to be.”