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Sega releasing a cancelled Golden Axe prototype stirs unpleasant memories for some of its makers

Sweaty men face off in a Golden Axed screenshot.

Sega yesterday announced plans to celebrate their 60th birthday by giving away a number of small retro-y games, including a Streets Of Rage-style demake of Yakuza and the prototype of a cancelled Golden Axe reboot. That last one has turned out to be a big surprise for some of the people who worked on it, who do not have good things to say about their experience of trying to resurrect the side-scrolling fantasy stabber. Not quite the pleasant nostalgic jaunt Sega had hoped for, this.

Update: Sega have responded with a statement saying they didn’t mean to “dredge up painful memories” or “appear disrespectful”, and have changed the Steam description. Read it in full below.

“Golden Axed may be janky, may be buggy, may be an artifact of its time, but 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,” Sega said on its Steam page, unaware the curtain would soon be thrown wide open to reveal much tumult.

“Woke up to the surprising news that Sega is releasing the Golden Axe prototype I coded in 2012 under crunch conditions,” programmer Tim Dawson said on Twitter. “At least I’m not alone – this appears to be a surprise to everyone I know who actually worked on it.”

That kicked off a Twitter thread where he talked about frustrations with 14-hour days, management expectations, the daft idea that they could casually branch the prototype to concurrently make a Streets Of Rage pitch too, and other unpleasantness. It’s unexpectedly candid and sure shifts the tone of the digiparty.

“This project was my personal nexus of nightmare hours, inept management, industry realisations and heroics achieved with a small team under unreasonable conditions, so it’s an odd feeling to see it surface eight years later without context, credits and with a joke title sequence,” he said. The thread is quite long, so start here for the full story. And he ended strong:

While Sega say they “reached out to some of the original development team to bring this dusty gem to light,” it’s certainly a surprise to others. Sanatana Mishra added, “For what it’s worth, 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?”

Mishra has been tweeting other bits about the development, including the surprise of being “told, explicitly, that there was no difference at all between how Golden Axe and Streets Of Rage played, and no point trying to research that.”

Golden Axed, as Sega now call the prototype, will be available free on Steam on Sunday the 18th. The other games coming in their celebration are new: a Yakuza demake with Kiryu and Majima in Streets Of Rage-y action; a shoot ’em up inspired by Fantasy Zone and Amplitude’s Endless games; and a top-down tank battle game using Company Of Heroes art assets.

Dawson and Mishra later founded indie studio Witch Beam, who made twin-stick shooter Assault Android Cactus and have house-moving game Unpacking out next year.

Sega have now sent us a statement:

“Sega Europe reached out to former members of the Golden Axe: Reborn dev team to produce this prototype of the game for Steam as part of our 60th Anniversary celebrations. We wanted to bring the work of the developers at the time to light and celebrate it as a part of our history. Something we didn’t get the chance to do first time around. We certainly didn’t mean to dredge up painful memories for Mr. Dawson and his former colleagues or appear disrespectful. We’ve removed the line from the Steam copy that could have been taken as a slur on the development and would like to reassure everyone that it was intended as a comment on the build we had ported to PC, not the quality of the original work. We’re hoping lots of fans play the prototype and can appreciate the work he and his colleagues put into this developing this prototype.”

They’ve cut the bit saying it “may be janky, may be buggy, may be an artifact of its time”.

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Alice O'Connor

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