Ed Annunziata from Ecco Team was nice enough to answer some questions regarding the Ecco game series and earliest known Ecco prototype. He is Ecco’s creator and producer of the MegaDrive/Genesis Ecco games. I’d like to thank Mr. Annunziata for helping us out!
Questions Regarding the Ecco II Prototype Version “E2A” (Unofficial Designation)
Question: Do you know what approximate stage of development this was? The ROM header reads SEGA GENESIS (C) 1994 FEB ECCO 2.
Ed Annunziata: Looks like it was pre alpha to me.
Question: What exactly led up to this release, was it meant as a demo to show at a convention? The feature to edit and play demos seems like it’d be great for that use. Or was it meant to be given to magazines or previews, or testers to try something out?
Ed Annunziata: I really don’t know. During development there are many iterations of the game, each getting closer and closer to the end.
Question: Was this meant to really be the layout for the full game and just needed a lot of changes and fixes, or was it just put together as a demonstration / test? The levels link to others that don’t really work in terms of the story. Was the story different at this point, or uncertain?
Ed Annunziata: The general ideas of the story were decided by the end of ecco 1. I think the version you are asking me about is just a pre-alpha version.
Question: We’ve been calling these enemies ‘crabs on a string’ for awhile. Were these removed because they were too unrealistic, too annoying, or did they lag the Genesis 68000 too much? Or were they just an early version of the Magic Arm that was made into an enemy for the demo version?
Ed Annunziata: Crabs on a sting is funny. Actually they are in the final game as enemies. These were just examples, using the crab sprite – the Lead Programmer (Joszef Molnar) would often make algorithmic examples with
place holder art. In this case the algorithms were done before the art work.
Question: Why were the shark sprites done before Ecco’s new sprite? Was extra work put
into it, so it took longer to finish?
Ed Annunziata: The sharks only bite, and swim left and right. It was easier to make them first. Ecco swims in all directions, flips, etc. So he was saved for last. By the way, Zsolt did 99% of the art in both Ecco 1 and 2 – I am sure he is the best pixel artist in the world. I think he was 19 when he did Ecco 1!!
Question: When the baby orca leads you around this level, where was he supposed to be taking you? Or was it just for demonstration?
Ed Annunziata: Demo, like the crabs on a string.
Question: When the shell falls into the bottom of Moray Abyss and releases the asterite’s first 2 globes, why does he say ‘SING TO THE SHELLED ONES AND THEY WILL HEAL YOUR WOUNDS’? Does it just trigger a message # that had leftover Ecco I data?
Ed Annunziata: Hmm, I don’t know for sure, maybe it was just left over.
Question: These images show what we think is an early Vortex Future stage .. was that what this level was meant to be? Or did it fit into the story somewhere else, maybe a stomach level like Innuendo, Inter, Inside, etc.? What is the dolphin/shark-like vortex machine? How did this fit into the game, and why was it removed? Also, part of the thruster on the back of it isn’t colored in in half of the frames, I guess it just wasn’t finished?
Ed Annunziata: Yes, If I remember right that is actually a cyborg dolphin… I don’t remember what happened to him. Sorry.
Question: Did this right-angle machine piece have a purpose, or was it just leftover junk from level development?
Ed Annunziata: The latter. I see that is from the Welcome to the Machine level in the first game.
Question: What is this purple thing the Vortex Queen is eating? The sprites she sucks up look random, I think I saw a teleport ring or a glyph go into her mouth at one point. Here is a better image:
Ed Annunziata: Thats pretty creepy, I don’t remember…. If we ever do another Ecco (and I design it) I’ll make sure to tie that in.
Question: What are the stars she spits up supposed to be? Anything meaningful?
Ed Annunziata: I think that was to be the sea life that she pukes up when she’s beaten.. Or they are obstacles to avoid.
Question: In the alpha, the Vortex drones can shoot poison bubbles like Ecco can when transformed, why was this ability removed?
Ed Annunziata: I can’t remember.
Question: Were these walls of crabs just early versions of the shattering stone barriers in Crystal Springs and later levels? I suspect the rock sprite wasn’t done. It also looks like the rock wasn’t done here, because bubbles fall from the ceiling .. but the rock sprite is finished, it’s in one of the levels. Did the level designers just never get around to changing those 2 things?
Ed Annunziata: Yes they look like the rocks. – place holder art I am sure.
Question: Was there a reason the Tube of Medusa ended with an exit to the strange Vortex Future level?
Ed Annunziata: There was missing levels in between …….. I think.
Question: One of the levels seems to be leftover from the Sega CD Ecco 1 version, The Lagoon. Why was this?
Ed Annunziata: So we’d have a familiar place.
Question: Why does Level 12 let you swim through VRAM contents?
Ed Annunziata: No collision detection in that part yet. Maybe it was useful for the team to look at how vram was arranged while the game was running.
Question: A friend of mine found this by holding buttons and hitting start during the intro sequences, and it lets you make, load and play demos .. it’s hard to understand, though. Was this meant to let people show off the game at a convention or something? Do you know what the options here do? I’m having trouble understanding how to use it properly.
Ed Annunziata: Its not fully functional there (I think) – the reason for it was to make in game story sequences and most important, the demo mode for the final game. Back then we still called it the “Attract Mode”.
Question: Does that Demo Editor menu exist in the final version? Is there a code to get into it?
Ed Annunziata: I don’t remember, I think it may be there since I remember we made the demos the very last minute. I don’t remember the code though.
Question: One dolphin in Home Bay leads you around and says to you, “FOLLOW ME ECCO, I KNOW WHERE IS THE CAVE”. What was he talking about? The Sea of Darkness? I think he just leads you to the exit of the stage, which is a 3D level.
Ed Annunziata: I am sure that didn’t make it into the game. The dolphin speak was designed to sound different not bad like that…
Questions Regarding the Games’ Final Versions
Question: What does the secret password when you beat the game do?
Ed Annunziata: If we were to make ecco 3 I was going to make is so that if you entered that password you’d get something special. I really wanted to connect parts 2 and 3. but I never got a chance to make part 3. I did the same thing in Warriors of the Eternal sun – The D&D game for the Genesis. but I never got a chance to make a sequal to that one either.
The password had some information about how you played the Tides of time game. For example in the code the next game would know if you beat the Tides of time and if you did it in Easy or Normal mode… This info was to be used to trigger thematic events in the 3rd game. The basic idea was that you would SEE back into the tides of time…
Question: What was the meaning of the Vortex integrating with life on Earth?
Ed Annunziata: The vortex queen escaped into Earth’s past… way back… She gave rise to exopods and arthropods… Ants, scorpions, roaches, crabs, lobster, spiders… all the children of the vortex. These creatures or intertwined and INTEGRATED in the biosphere of earth.
Question: How did the Vortex Queen use the time machine when “only recognized ones could travel through time”?
Ed Annunziata: The time machine is a doorway in time. A serious and dangerous mechanism. To prevent cross temporal infestations the machine was programmed to only open for creatures who had specific genetic signatures. The queen, more clever than even the atlanteans realized, was able to sample Ecco’s genetic code during the final battle, and use it – Like a key.
Question: Where did you get the idea for Trellia’s form?
Ed Annunziata: I imagined Trellia as an angel. an angel needs wings…
Question: Is there any sort of backstory about the Asterite? If it was supposed to be native to the Earth or an alien life-form, where it came from, et cetera? How did it tie into life on Earth (was life created by the Asterite? It almost seems implied, given that it is DNA shaped.)
Ed Annunziata: The Asterite was the first lifeform on the earth. The first strand that all life unwound from. Its origin or biogenesis is a mystery.
Question: A very obvious question, no doubt everyone wonders about. What was Ecco’s reasoning behind using the time machine at the end of the second game, rather than destroying it as the Asterite instructed him?
Ed Annunziata: He went to join the atlanteans — there are specific reasons I reserved for the 3rd game – I may still make that episode so I’ll keep that stuff to myself.
Question: What was the reason for the Vortex Queen’s change in appearance from her insectlike form resembling a beetle on Vortex, and her more amorphous form attached to the machine on Earth?
Ed Annunziata: The vortex evolved a special characteristic that makes them very dangerous: they evolve very fast. The can adapt to any environment and absorb other lifeforms and use them to make new creatures. The Vortex is kind of like an organic BORG from Star Trek
Question: The Dark Vortex Future is very empty, and the only things that are alive there seem to be scavengers, like the amoeba-like blobs. Had the Vortex race migrated somewhere else after killing off most life on Earth? What were the “magic arm”-like creatures in the Vortex Future that had the long spiked black tails and metallic looking heads? I noticed in the prototype version [E2A], Earth oceans were full of them in the Present and Good Future, although they were Crabs then.
Ed Annunziata: We liked that algorithm and the way the sprites looked lifelike – so we used them as enemies. There are other creatures and snake like things that use variations on that theme.
Question: What were the Magic Arms? Vortex lifeforms of some sort, or something terrestrial?
Ed Annunziata: A genetic mix of terrestrial and extraterrestrial
Question: Were Trellia and Ecco related or was Trellia Ecco’s ‘ancestor’ being descended from modern day dolphins? That would insinuate, if Trellia was Ecco’s direct ancestor, that he did not vanish into time as the ending suggests. I have a theory that a second Ecco was left behind when Ecco travelled into the past to save his pod in the first game, and that Ecco may have removed himself from the time stream to stop further splitting, and left behind the ‘original’ Ecco in the process. Perhaps that second Ecco is the know-it-all dolphin who drops in to tell you about teleporter rings and Ecco losing his powers in ‘Fault Zone’? ..
Ed Annunziata: Trellia is from the future making Ecco her ancestor. My lips are sealed regarding the split time streams.
Question: Why was the Dark Vortex Future in the sky? Did the Vortex have a practical reason to build in the air, when they seem to be primarily water-dwelling?
Ed Annunziata: Life in general reaches out in all directions. Even the Dolphinkind built structures into the sky. Like we do with our sky scrapers and space stations. Life has a fill the entire universe tropism, including the Vortex.
Question: Why do Vortex drones bring Ecco to the Dark Future, seemingly helping him? Also, would they not have had to COME from the Dark Future? Perhas it has something to do with how the Vortex Drones seem to blow up when they come too close to the surface in Dark Sea– sensitivity to sunlight?
Ed Annunziata: Those particular drones are deep sea drones that are “built” for the extreme pressure of the deep
Question: Had a third title been developed (like the fabled 32x/Saturn games that never came to fruition), did you have any sort of story in the works? I’d love to hear it if you did.
Ed Annunziata: I have a full notebook, filled with ideas and some decisions not yet made. As I mentioned above if there ever is another ecco (that I make) I will pick up the story from the end of Tides of Time.
Question: You mentioned a while ago, that you wanted to be able to feature the dolphins’ migration to the ocean and if I recall correctly, to in some way incorporate the land-dwelling dolphin ancestors in the game. How did you envision them? I’d like to know what you would have done had this idea been implemented more thoroughly in the games.
Ed Annunziata: I saw some paintings of what they may have looked like during my research. … I just took some time to find some of those images but could not. I guess you have to use your imagination.
Question: What was the symbolism if any, behind the marks on Ecco’s head– were they a map to Vortex, resembling a constellation? I do not immediately recognize a pattern.
Ed Annunziata: Its the constellation Delphinus, “The Dolphin”, located just west of Pegasus. The planet Vortex by the way is in the constellation Pegasus. http://www.dibonsmith.com/del_con.gif
Question: A friend noticed some runic symbols from a long, long time ago in Atlantis, and was reportedly able to read some of them; something about the closing of one path, opening of another? (the tube, and travel through the time machine to vortex?) Are these runes indeed hiding bits of the story? Did you design that or is it something Zsolt slipped in?
Ed Annunziata: I don’t remember so your Zsolt theory is a good one
Question: Who had what roles in the design/completion of the games? I know the team’s basic roles but it would be interesting to know how you guys came together to work on them, who wrote out message screens, implemented what, designed what, et cetera. I know, that’s really vague. Sorry about that.
Ed Annunziata: I really defended the game in terms of NOT adding humans and fishermen and whalers and oil slicks (all marketing suggestions) we all worked together as a team to bring the game together creatively. I had the easy job for sure.
Question: What inspired you to come up with the (amazingly creative) ideas for the story? e.g. A dolphin as the main character, the Vortex, Asterite, the Atlanteans and their history, so forth.
Ed Annunziata: Books: Lightning by Dean Koontz
The Sounding by Seals (inspired the Seeing with sound idea!!!)
Center of the cyclone – by John Lily also other lily writing.
The terminator movies
Question: A friend of mine found these sprites in the final versions of Ecco 1 and 2, but they’re unused. Do you happen to recall what their purpose was, or what the seemingly snakelike creature was meant to be? (images)
Ed Annunziata: I don’t remember
Question: I found some odd text in the game ROM by picking around with a hex editor. Right above where the Asterite’s speech is, is the line “PLEASE DO NOT KILL ME ECCO”. Do you recall who was meant to say this? I also found some weird things that look like easter eggs, they read “HELLO WORD”, “HASTA LA VISTA BABY”, “OPERATING SYSTEM”, “WILCOMMEN IN DER” and “STAFF ROUND ONE FIGHT”. I suppose one of the programmers left these? Was there any meaning behind any of them you can recall? They just sound like jokes.
Ed Annunziata: Inside jokes, ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US
Question: When Ecco 2 was first being developed, were the 3D jump through the rings’ stages meant to be for time travel instead of for long-distance travel? I ask because I noticed that in the early prototype, the rings don’t actually take you forward (the scenery doesn’t change and enemies don’t vanish). A magazine article I saw called them “Temporal 3D stages”, which would suggest time travel, and in the Game Gear version you use a 3D stage almost every time you travel through time. If so why did it change?
Ed Annunziata: I don’t remember.
Question: I know you had nothing to do with the Game Gear version. But was the Game Gear team working from a prototype given to them as reference? After playing through Ecco 2 for GG, I noticed there are almost no levels that aren’t in the extremely early pre-alpha build of Ecco 2 for MD/Genesis, the weird glitchy aspects of the prototype are often present, and
some other strange similarities– like how the bloblike segments that made up the Queen’s tongue in the prototype, are what the Queen spits at you in Ecco 2 GG. It almost seems like the GG team used the MD version as reference before the game was even done.
Ed Annunziata: Can’t remember
Question: Thank you very much for all of your time and effort!
Ed Annunziata: No problem.