Thursday Dec 12, 2013
Our next article is all about Galaxy Force II and is a must read for any old school arcade fan, or really anyone unfamiliar with the Galaxy Force game. They said it couldn’t be done, but M2 delivers an arcade perfect port of Galaxy Force II with full 60fps delivered in face melting 3D. It’s a sight to behold, we hope you enjoy both the game and the interview!
Thanks again to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. Thanks to Siliconera for coordinating with us to help spread the word to SEGA fans across the web. And special thanks to our producer Sam for translating these interviews for everyone’s enjoyment.
As always, your comments are appreciated!
Left, Naoki Horii, M2 President, Right, Yousuke Okunari, SEGA CS3 Producer
“It’s not going to run.” “Ok, then how can we get it running?”
- To start off, I’d like to ask how you went about deciding to bring back this arcade title. I recall you mentioned the last time we talked that there was a significant difficulty jump from porting Space Harrier and Super Hang-on to porting Galaxy Force II.
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): OK well first, when we were choosing the lineup for the 3D Remaster Project, we had to consider which games would really stand out. You know, which games would have the most impact if we put them into 3D. We wanted to do Space Harrier first, but once that was in 3D, I had to think about which game would be the most well-received, and…
Naoki Horii (below, NH): You settled on Thunder Blade, right?
YO: … Galaxy Force II was the obvious choice.
NH: You just totally ignored me!
YO: When we made the SEGA AGES 2500 version for the PS2, we were able to recreate the game with more modern touches by making some graphical improvements (increasing the resolution of objects by 4x, adding support for transparencies and widescreen) in the “Neo Classic Mode”. When I was getting the 3DS project off the ground, I thought that if we could add 3D to the game, it would remove the difficulty spikes you experience when you go into the cave sections of the game. From the beginning, I asked M2 to make that one of their goals.
M2 had some experience working on Space Harrier at that point so they had an understanding of how much work would go into the port. And they told me, “GF2 is out of the question.” The Y-Board that GF2 uses is about 1.5 times harder to port than Space Harrier. Still, M2 had spent about two years analyzing the arcade board for the PS2 version, so in some ways you could say they had made it their own at that point. I told them “you’ll be fine!”, and had them begin production.
NH: After finishing the PS2 version, I felt like I really wanted to make that version of the game portable. At the time, I was thinking PSP. You can use the PSP to view still images, so I made some mockup images of widescreen GF2 and put them on my PSP. And boy, they looked really stunning. Before you worry about whether a game’s going to run or not, you need to see if it even looks good, you know?
So then we tried to build prototype, but no one could get it running on the PSP. Though if we tried now, we probably could get it running. Regardless, I wanted to get GF2 running on a handheld in widescreen. That’s when Okunari-san said that he wanted to work on 3DS. It was like a godsend, so we gave it a shot. Now that I think about it, I should have realized that given how much trouble we had porting it to the PSP, we’d have just as much on the 3DS. But I was caught up in the fact that we finally had a chance to make a portable version.
YO: So then your whole team had to figure out how to make it work.
- Well, considering that you’d already finished your hardware analysis when you did the first port, it seems like everything would be OK…but you weren’t yet thinking about which hardware you’d wind porting it to, right?
NH: That’s right.
- So when you decided to bring it to 3DS, you must have known that it had three 68000s rather than the two that Space Harrier had…
NH: Well, we hadn’t started working on Space Harrier at that point.
YO: The idea was that the first project milestone was Space Harrier, and if that went well, then we’d move onto the next game. GF2 was one of those next games. We weren’t going to get anywhere if we couldn’t do Space Harrier. We’d already included stereoscopic 3D for Super Hang-on on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so it was just a matter of bring that over to the 3DS. So when we thought about which title we wanted to remake in 3D next, Galaxy Force II was the natural choice.
- So the three arcade titles were never actually being worked on in parallel then? You did them one at a time.
NH: That’s correct. But there are things we learned during the process, and as Space Harrier progressed, we came to realize that this aspect or that feature would probably be very difficult to do when we got to GF2.
YO: Up until just before its release, the processing that 3D Space Harrier required to maintain 60 frames a second wasn’t occurring in the frame time needed (when all the processing for a single frame draw does not occur in 1/60th of a second, it slips over into the next frame, delaying the frame draw. This creates what people perceive as ‘lag’). Then, despite all the work we put into 3D Space Harrier, 3D Super Hang-on wasn’t running at a perfect 60 FPS either up until about a month before release it because we added gyro controls etc. So when I was getting the project off the ground, I asked M2 when they’d be able to do GF2, and they told me that there’s no way they could get the game working. We had this big meeting, with M2 on one side saying, “It’s not going to run,” and me on the other asking, “Well, then how can we get it running?”
NH: Yeah, we figured that porting GF2 along the same lines as Space Harrier ultimately wouldn’t pan out. We’d have to take a completely different approach to how we were drawing to the screen, so we wound up assigning one programmer to create graphics for GF2 and write a specialized rendering routine for the Y-Board.
The idea was to run GF2 on the 3DS’s upper screen, and optimize the processing by outputting a graphical cache data to the bottom screen. Basically. So we went about painstakingly calculating ways to cache data that would avoid speed drops, and finally got where we needed to be.
- You had to throw out the methodology you’d struggled with on Space Harrier and start all over.
NH: Yes, we had to step up the way we were going about it.
YO: Simply put, we had to include the processing of a whole extra CPU in there. The last port barely ran when it was emulating two CPUs, and now we had three.
- So not only does the 3DS have to deal with that extra processing, the arcade board itself also had an added CPU and an increase in the number of sprites it could draw, because at the time, boards would double in power every time a new one came out, right? The GF2 arcade board had some specialized sprite-scaling hardware, didn’t it?
A picture of someone’s GF2 board sitting on a Micomsoft XAC-1 computer desk at M2.
NH: Yes, GF2 had a much more powerful board (compared to Space Harrier’s). It really was twice the game, and the board had 68000’s lined right up on it like bam, bam, bam, along with the ROM itself. You look at it and all you can do is cross your arms and frown. (laughs)
- All your efforts in optimization were offset by the performance increases with the more powerful Y-Board.
NH: Of course, you can’t just rely on ‘optimization’ to make up for the difference, you have to scrape together memory by saving calculation time and resources here and there. We optimize the rendering, and we can optimize the 68000-side code as well. The process is like filling a cup with 1,000 rain drops. Thankfully, our optimization had made some really incredible progress, to the point where it looked like we could squeeze sound emulation in there as well.
But in the end, there were some snags, and we got concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get the game running at 60 FPS. It just didn’t end up being that easy.
- I remember you said that the last two games used the internal sound processor to do BGM emulation, but are you saying that this one uses streaming instead?
YO: If you switch from emulated sound to streaming, you do save a little bit on processing power. For awhile during the early development, M2 was building the game without any sound playing. I forget, was there a time where you had sound emulation running?
NH: For this one? No, I don’t think so.
YO: At some point, they finally showed me a version of GF2 that was running at more or less 30 FPS with some slowdown.
NH: Here. This was a version we built just to see if the emulation engine would run, with no graphical optimizations or anything. (hands over a 3DS)
- Ooooh! Yeah the frame rate is a bit slow but the game works, that’s for sure. The sprites also aren’t displaying quite right but you can tell where you are. Right now I’m inside a cave.
NH: As you can imagine, this was the point we knew we wanted to make the project happen. The game looks like it’s running in slow motion, but we thought we’d be OK if we could just get it running twice as fast. We didn’t know if all the in-game objects would even fit into memory, but we did have some ideas on how to speed things up. We knew we couldn’t just drop the ROM in as-is, we had to adapt the code in a way that made sense for the 3DS hardware.
- So you were already thinking about it in a completely different way than you approached 3D Space Harrier. As if it was a totally new title.
NH: Well, 3D Space Harrier had a little more trial and error involved in it. And we had an easier time porting its data over as well.
- So once you ported the 3D Space Harrier ROM, getting its performance up to speed was the hard part?
NH: It took a while. Getting it to run at a smooth 60 frames per second was the hard part. There are places where even the original arcade board suffers from slowdowns and frame drops.
YO: Around the time of this version, Horii-san told me: “This is what we’ve got so far. It’s still pretty far away from a finished product.” But this is M2 we’re talking about, and they always get things to run lighter and faster over time. They already had this one working at 20-30FPS. M2 just had to press on with performance acceleration, so I convinced myself that we’d be fine. (laughs)
NH: Well it’s true, and Okunari-san knows this from working with us. We say things like, “Man, online play in Game Gear titles? That’s going to be rough,” or, “Ad hoc play working on a MegaDrive game? Yeah right!” And then we go and get GF2 running, it makes no sense. (laughs) I wonder why it runs!
“Bring the sprite quality up to Neo Classic standards”
YO: Anyways, so M2 had the game working. Kind of. And when they were telling me how they might be able to get sound emulation functioning, I turned around and said that hey, since the graphics are work, the next step is building the game to the Neo Classic version’s specs (the SEGA AGES 2500 version with enhanced graphics). Namely because it didn’t matter if we got the arcade version running. Fans would be expecting the Neo Classic version’s graphics. I didn’t want to have the 3DS port looked at as inferior. So I told them that the 3DS version had to live up to the Neo Classic standards or bust.
They came back and said, “Oh, you want transparencies? Not a problem.” “No, no, no,” I said. “Not just that. I want the pixel art the same as well.” M2 had redrawn all the graphics in 4x resolution for the PS2 version, so it would be a waste if we didn’t use those assets.
NH: But that meant that, we’d be putting object data four times larger than the original into a straight arcade port that we had barely got running. I.e. it’s going to take four times the memory! At that point, we had no idea if the arcade version’s data would even fit into memory, let alone with graphics 4 times their original size. It was fantasy land. But I knew what the fans would want, and personally, I thought, “We’re a decade into the 21st century, damnit! This is what people are expecting.” At the same time, the dev team had a kind of “what have we gotten ourselves into” feeling.
YO: The 3DS’s resolution is 400×240 pixels, so excluding the space to the left and the right, it’s pretty close to the arcade version’s native resolution. So M2 said hey, we can replicate the arcade graphics dot by dot at a 1-to-1 ratio, so why not just go with the original arcade resolution. The thing is though that in GF2, sometimes enemies will fly at you from behind and at other times you’ll fly through the background. I told them that I didn’t want to see any of that jaggy pixilation when objects were zoomed in on!
NH: Yeah. Afterburner is the same way. And I knew Okunari-san would say something like that, which is why I said, “Isn’t a port of the original game good enough!?” Now of course, the higher resolution graphics would of course look best if we could actually implement them…
YO: So I told Horii-san: “The higher res graphics are going to look awesome, just give it a try.” (laughs) I knew they wouldn’t have quite the dramatic impact they had in the PS2 version, but it would have some effect. What could it hurt?
NH: …This guy, I swear. Anyways, so here I was, not knowing if the game would run at 60 FPS or not, and I say, “OK, fine. We’ll do it.” So we stopped trying to load all the graphics for all the stages into memory as a single pack, and instead bundled the graphics into individual packs per stage. The project manager told me “we haven’t even got the basic framework working and you’re really going to do something way beyond it?”
YO: M2 had to rebuild the game so it would load the high res graphics a stage at a time.
NH: Thankfully however, it was pretty easy compared to the work we had to do to up-res the roughly 10,000 images we used in the PS2 version. The thing was though, that if we screwed up while packing the graphics, they wouldn’t show up on screen, so there was the danger that that we might get bugs that we couldn’t even locate because the graphics wouldn’t show up. At any rate, we went and split them up into packs anyway, loaded them per stage and then dropped them into the 3DS’s memory. It goes without saying that at this point we still didn’t know if we could get the game running at 60 frames a second.
- This sounds like it’s shaping up to be a rather reckless project. (laughs)
YO: What’s more, there isn’t enough time to load data between stages (when you start up GF2, you can choose which stage you want to play, which changes the stage order, and in turn affects what needs to be loaded). M2’s technical prowess keeps the load times short.
NH: Well, it’s more about the team’s hard work than it is technical prowess per se. I’ve seen some comments on the net saying, “Man, those guys must really be grinding away in the pits on this stuff,” and it’s absolutely true. It’s like collecting and saving pennies to buy something really expensive.
- Yeesh. (laughs) You can’t help but groan a bit.
NH: Okunari-san’s schedules are absolute. All while he’s saying, “Let’s do this. Let’s try that.” He is a shady guy. Really shady. I’m secretly studying his ways.
YO: (laughs) But you got the game running at 60 frames per second with high res graphics! It just took a bit longer than we planned….
NH: Ah! …Well, it didn’t take as long the PS2 version, at least. That one dragged on for a year.
YO: The 3DS version took about the same…
NH: … Er…Hmmm… In any case, the result is that the sprites don’t pixelate when they’re scaled. You might not notice unless you go out of your way to directly compare them, but the difference is tremendous.
YO: Oh yeah and once you clear the game, you’ll unlock the ability to select the original unaltered arcade version, where you can get a good idea of how nice the higher res graphics and transparencies are.
- Oh, you can play the original arcade version, too?
YO: Now don’t be surprised by the fact that the ending has no sound. (laughs) That’s how it was in the arcade. Anyways, thanks to M2, GF2 on 3DS is now the best replication of the game to-date. We thought that the PS2 version was the most complete version, but its one weakness was that it’s hard to know where you’re going in the caves.
A screen from Arcade Mode.
That’s where the stereoscopic 3D helps. We knew that if we added in 3D, the game would be easier to navigate. And as we were building, it was interesting watching our hypotheses get proven right before our eyes. It got faster and faster as M2 worked on it, from 15 FPS, to 20 FPS, to 30 FPS, and every time it got better looking. Once it hit 60 FPS, I thought, “Man, this is so much easier on the eyes!” The differences between the sprites are very clear when the graphics are displaying so fast due to the high frame rate. I realized that rendering the cave scenes at 60 FPS was a must in 3D.
M2 told me at first that the game might drop to 30 FPS when in the caves, due to rendering overhead and memory issues, but I said, “Well, as long as the game speed itself doesn’t slow down, I guess we’ll have to deal with it.” But in the end the caves runs more or less at 60 FPS, and the difference vis-a-vis 30 FPS is clear as day. It made me feel like the game really matched well with its rendering speed.
In 3D Space Harrier’s case, the blessings you get from bringing an old shooting game to 3DS are that you can now dodge all the pillars, and you know where you need to be to dodge or avoid getting hit by the second stage boss. The caves in GF2 are ALL pillars, so it’s very easy to see their boundaries now.
NH: Taking in how huge outer space is, or flying through one of the solar prominences like “ahhhh” feels amazing. It makes everything worth it.
YO: We knew this game would be great with 3D, but you could say it’s even better than we imagined. You really do feel like there’s a 3D space within the game. There is a feeling of substance, something that’s a little different from 3D polygons, that’s very well-realized here. This game design approach was popular right before the 3D polygon aesthetic became the norm, and it’s sort of a lost art from a transition period in the game industry. But when we put GF2 into stereoscopic 3D, it made me wish that this had been the way things had kept going. It almost has a steampunk type of appeal to it, you know what I mean? 3D created by overlapping sprites.
- The difference between Space Harrier and Galaxy Force II is that for GF2 during the cave scenes etc., there are sprites all around you to the top, bottom, left and right. In Space Harrier, the ground surface is just there and scrolls to give the game a sense of speed, but for the Galaxy Force II caves, sprites are drawn for all four directions, which gives the game a different look.
I believe this technique started with Afterburner. The sprites are scaled up as they fly towards you, but if they don’t move really fast, it starts to look a little strange, like the sprites aren’t connected to each other. If you don’t render the sprites well, the graphics probably will look pretty clunky in 3D even if you go to the trouble of adding depth information. It always bothered me when you get shot down in Afterburner and lose speed. Sometimes all the sprites wind up lining up in a horizontal line. (laughs)
NH: Now there were some polygon games as well that would start gradually rendering things from far off.
- That’s true, but it always felt off to me. When I played Galaxy Force II, I really got a sense of how important it is to balance depth, draw speed and sprite movement speed.
YO: I think another reason the game looks pretty is because we added the transparencies in. That makes it much easier to see things. The way the lava feels, the way the water flows, it all blends together beautifully and the backgrounds look amazing because of the transparent effects. When we built GF2 for PS2, we put everything in it that we could think of, and the result was the Neo Classic version. But since we’re on a new system now, the graphics are on a new level.
Left: Special Mode (widescreen), Right: Arcade Mode (widescreen)
NH: When we were working on the PS2 version, we actually tried to see if we could increase the number of sprites that fly at you by tweaking GF2’s original programming. Ultimately we weren’t able to do it, but we’ve been able to make the game easier to play in a different way: by adding in stereoscopic 3D.
- I noticed this when playing the last stage, but I think that you can really feel more aware of objects when you’re playing in 3D, versus 2D.
YO: The last stage has that part in the beginning where you’re flying out of a hyper-dimensional wormhole, the background is all windy and you feel like you are flying through some area with cool visual effects, but you don’t really know what’s going on and you run into the wall a lot at first. Now with 3D available, you can actually see what you need to do! You finally understand that there was a proper path after all! (laughs)
- Exactly. Personally, I always had a hard time distinguishing between space and the background on the last stage. Now that it’s in 3D, it’s like I can see the edges of planes, or like they say in polygon based games, I can see the invisible hit boxes around objects.
NH: Mmm hmm.
- It’s like I can see the borders between walls, there’s collision here. What is that?
YO: I think it’s just how human eyes work. Since we can perceive depth, we feel like this is a wall, and that we’ll hit it. Whereas when you’re playing in 2D, you can be aware of the game field as a single space.
- When you’re playing in 2D, the borders between sprites look like they run into each other, especially on the last stage. But when I’m playing the same stage in 3D, it looks like those borders are floating immediately in front of my eyes. It’s a strange feeling.
YO: I guess if your eyes can receive depth information, they can also sort through the objects on screen.
- I thought the same thing about 3D Space Harrier. When I play arcade games, I can’t completely keep up with what’s going on on-screen, and I end up dodging around in a number 8-shaped pattern. As a result, I end up completely overshooting when I go to dodge things like the Binzbeans in Space Harrier. However in 3D, I feel like I’m aware of where I am and can properly dodge things. It’s completely different.
YO: The same was the case for Space Harrier, but Galaxy Force II was too ahead of its time. In some ways, you could say that the game is now finally truly playable.
- There were some uncomfortable things about games back then. I felt like there was a disconnect from moment to moment in the experience. But now, maybe because of the optical illusion of 3D, it’s like you’re finally able to understand, and things connect.
Circle Pad Pro is also supported!
YO: That’s why I feel like Galaxy Force IIis finally complete.
- I see that.
NH: It’s said the same thing about 3D Space Harrier, but I definitely want people to experience the game themselves.
YO: Space Harrier was somewhat easy to play in 2D anyway, but I feel like the difficulty of GF2 has dropped considerably now that it’s in 3D.
NH: Control-wise, the game supports the Circle Pad Pro now too.
YO: Yeah, M2 said they weren’t going to include Circle Pad Pro compatibility at first, but then later on, they turned around and said they wanted to borrow my developer version. (laughs)
NH: The original Galaxy Force II had a control stick on the right, and a throttle on the left, and I really wanted people to be able to play it that way.
Backgrounds included for Moving Cabinet mode. They also have depth, so the background looks far away. This is the Super DX Cabinet
YO:You’re still able to change the controls around, so of course you can still move your character using the left thumb pad as well.
Even the background’s moving! Welcome to “Moving Cabinet Mode”!
- You know, it’s almost overwhelming how much easier GF2 is to play once you pick it up and give it a try. As you’ve said, this is the result of countless tiny tweaks adding up to shore up the processing speed. But I can’t believe you got a Moving Cabinet mode in here too, as that would just create even more rendering load.
NH: It does add rendering overhead. However the way we port arcade games and the way we port MegaDrive games is different, so it’s actually easier to put in cabinet modes for games that were originally ride-on cabinets. Either way, we built GF2 from the beginning with the idea that we would include a Moving Cabinet mode.
YO: M2 were the ones who included Moving Cabinet mode in the first place (refer to Space Harrier Interivew), after all, and since it’s in 3D Space Harrier, it had to be in 3D Galaxy Force II. Still, I knew that the base porting work alone was going to be tough, so my position was that it’d be nice if the mode made it in, but it wasn’t a must.
The thing is, the GF2 arcade cabinet really moved and spun around a lot. Following the releases of Outrun and Afterburner, ride-on arcade machine movement became more and more complex. So since the cabinet wasn’t going to move the same as Space Harrier, and we had to replicate it, we felt we needed to make some backgrounds in the same go. When we were working on 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on, it would have been nice to get the backgrounds in, but M2 said they couldn’t get them in because a lack of memory and rendering power.
The thing that I pointed out though was that for GF2, if there’s no background, you won’t be able to get a sense for how the machine is moving around… And so one day they were implemented in the ROM.
NH: You know, I just went and dropped in a picture I’d taken during while cherry blossom viewing at a nearby park, and it looked amazing. It was unreal, like I was playing GF2 in a sunny spring park. So then we got caught up in trying to get the backgrounds in.
YO: We made it so you can choose which background you want.
NH: Yes, you can choose either space or an arcade as your background.
YO: Thunder Blade is in the background of the arcade one. Horii-san’s favorite.
NH: It’s one step closer to my greatest ambition. (laughs)
- I know I’ve said this a dozen times, but it’s amazing you got the Moving Cabinet Mode in, despite GF2 being a more challenging port than Space Harrier, which you said was already tough on its own.
NH: Changing how we built the port was important. I’m confident that what we’ve done here is something other companies wouldn’t be able to catch up to. Not that anyone would bother to try though…
- (huge laugh) Really though, GF2, and its cabinet, were a sort of logical endpoint for the sprite-based games, right?
NH: A culmination of their best aspects, yes.
- Even so, even among the games that you’ve worked on, from that time, there weren’t many you could really call a “beast” in the sprites department. In other words, they aren’t quite sprite-intensive enough to give you the basis for bringing them into 3D.
NH: I wonder if other companies at the time felt that SEGA was working with just sheer force of will.
- SEGA made ride-on games back then by just adding on feature after feature, right?
NH: That’s where a lot of the momentum came from. From Hang-on to Space Harrier, Afterburner, Galaxy Force II. They went as far as the R-360.
- That was a serious accomplishment.
YO: It probably had a lot to do with the advancement of computers, and the economic boom that was happening in Japan at the time. We’re talking about an era where arcade kits would sell regardless of price.
- And these games’ arcade machines were very expensive.
YO: Yeah but, I don’t think GF2 sold that many units. (laughs)
NH: Regardless of whether it sold or not, I think people really remember the cabinet. They might remember it as the one that was a bit embarrassing to climb into. For the 3DS port’s Moving Cabinet Mode, we wanted to have people in background who you’d make eye contact with as you play, but we unfortunately wound up having to cut them out.
- Ah! You mean like when you’d get rotated in the cabinet, sense someone looking at you, glance away from the screen and make awkward eye contact with somebody, right? (laughs)
NH: Yeah, that’s the experience we wanted to port! (both laugh) Really wanted to. My staff used a picture of me while building the game, and tried building a version to that effect, but ultimately they weren’t totally happy with the result. So they ended up cutting it.
YO: Maybe we should have had Miis in the background.
NH: Even if we’d done Miis, it wouldn’t replicate the original awkwardness of it. We wanted it to be genuinely uncomfortable when your eyes met the other person’s, you know?
- The fact that when you were playing, the cabinet’s frame was the only protection from other people’s line of sight was definitely a really weird thing about this game.
NH: When you turned, you’d lock eyes with the people in line waiting to play. We weren’t able to port that this time, but personally I think it gives us material for a new port in the future.
YO: The backgrounds we have in GF2 were something we threw together in the final stages of development, so please forgive how they look. We do hope it can help you remember that time you were playing, made eye contact with somebody and then felt awkward. (laughs)
NH: Give it a shot. It’ll all come back to you: “Oh yeah. There was that one time that guy was watching me…”
- I’m sure my skill also had something to do with it, but the movement of the machine was probably one of the hardest things about that game, personally speaking. The uncomfortable moments when your head would move around as the machine moved and disrupt your line of sight to the game.
NH: That’s why it was an amazing arcade machine. You had to have some balls to get in it, since once you did, you knew it was going to be an embarrassing experience with people looking at you.
- On top of that, since it was chained off for safety reasons, it felt kind you were participating in some kind of show. Almost like: “Please do not touch the equipment.” (laughs) Of course you weren’t though.
YO: Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the idea for the Virtual On’s live monitors came about from the lessons of GF2.
- Yeah because with that game, other than the person actually playing, no one can really grasp what’s happening in-game by just staring at the screen.
YO: That reminds me. For GF2, the background was just a single-layer graphic, but we added depth information to it so it really feels like you are in the arcade machine. 3D Space Harrier’s frame was a single graphic, so we had to change it up. We also wound up having to include two different types of Moving Cabinets…
- Oh of course. (laughs) Because there’s DX and Super DX versions. Space Harrier and Super Hang-on had cabinets that moved and ones that didn’t, but the games after Afterburner had two different types of moving cabinets didn’t they?
NH: That’s why you’ve gotta just focus on the center of the screen. But backgrounds are something we’ll need to work on as we continue forward with this series. (grins) You know, in preparation for Thunder Blade and all…
YO: … … …
NH: No comment from Okunari-san, I see. (laughs) He’s not even interrupting me anymore.
The Deluxe cabinet faithfully reproduced!
YO: Since we are talking about arcade machines, let’s talk a little about what went into gathering assets for them. GF2 has the DX and Super DX versions, but we only have the regular DX version at SEGA’s storage archive. I really wanted to go see a Super DX version, but I was told that there aren’t any more left in Japan. So I poked around on the net and found a blog where someone wrote back in 2009 that there is a broken machine resting quietly in a ryokanup in Hokkaido.
So I thought, even if it’s not really working right, I can at least record some of the motor sounds. I gave the ryokan a call, but they didn’t really understand what I was talking about. They told me, “I’m not really following you, but it should be there.” So I put in a travel request to fly up there and check it out.
If it was just M2 and myself going, depending on how busted up the cabinet was, there was a possibility that we’d get there and be unable to get any recording done, so we decided to take someone who could fix the machine on the spot if needed. However, we didn’t have anyone at SEGA who could fix that particular machine, so I talked to Ikeda-san at the arcade Mikado in Tokyo’s Takada-no-Baba district, and Tsujisaka-san from Wavemaster. We even decided that if we got there and it looked fixable, then Ikeda-san would consider buying it. So we went ahead and put together an itinerary for the team. But at the last minute, when I went to make a reservation at the ryokan, the person who took my call said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. We threw that machine away.” So sadly, we had to cancel the trip. We were even considering asking you (Game Watch) to come as well. (laughs)
- Well, that’s just a shame…
YO: Still, even after that, Horii-san got a lead that there was a guy in Hokkaido that had a Super DX kit. While we’re sitting there wondering why the hell so many people in Hokkaido have Super DX machines, Horii-san reaches out to this individual…
- Wait, it wasn’t the one that was originally at the ryokan, was it?
NH: First, I had the guy send us some pictures. As it turns out, the guy had bought it from a merchant who had picked it up as scrap from the ryokan. But unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to get it working, and by the sound of things, it was going to need some restoration.
YO: And so I had no choice but to look for one by adventuring around the States via YouTube. (laughs) In the end, we had to refer to some bonus footage we’d collected for the PS2 version of the 1988 release of Galaxy Force, and used that to recreate the Moving Cabinet’s movement in-game.
For the motor movement sounds, we ended up having to use the DX sounds for the Super DX version as well. Just like with Space Harrier, we opened the machine up, turned off the loud fans, and covered everything with cushions to block out all the other sounds in the room. Every time it turns into a real endeavor.
- I see. But now that you’ve come so far with Galaxy Force II, I’m sure that from the players’ point of view, there are people thinking “Since they managed to port GF2, shouldn’t they be able to bring back earlier games?” “Surely they’ll port this game, or that game.” What do you say to that?
YO: We were able to port GF2 because we had experience building the PS2 version, but that doesn’t mean that any game on the X or Y-boards is a piece of cake.
NH: If we were to port another one, we’d have to go back and analyze the code from square one. Though of course we could leverage our previous experience.
YO: It would also take a lot of time. But hey, if we did, I’d want to port the best version of the game for porting, even if that takes awhile. When we announced 3D Galaxy Force II, it was a little disappointing that people thought it would be the MegaDrive version. Since we are choosing the best assets on which to build the 3D versions, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll use the MegaDrive version. For Altered Beast, we chose the MegaDrive version because it had multi-layered backgrounds, which we made 3D, and it let us add in “Random Form” mode. Even if the MegaDrive version would have run, it wouldn’t have been wide screen compatible, and there would have been other minus points.
NH: I guess the subtext of this is that you want us to add scaling features to the GigaDrive.
YO: I wouldn’t go that far. (laughs) I’m just trying to be completely open with Game Watch here. This interview is getting pretty long, so people will probably forget what I said afterwards. (both laugh)
- Oh, no no. I’m quite committed to these interviews. Every time I interview you guys and go back to write the article, I re-read previous articles to make sure I’m not letting anything slip by. Because of that, they do generally get longer and a bit sprawling, so yeah I’m sorry about that.
I was left with the strong impression that the GigaDrive concept was going to be a core element of any MegaDrive ports that followed after Sonic. So when I heard GF2 was coming out, I was inclined to think that you were working on the MegaDrive version. I think everyone got the most hyped when the article discussing the GigaDrive came out.
NH: I get hyped as well, and there are new titles coming down the pipe for the GigaDrive. Lots of games that are totally different once put into 3D. When I hear people getting so excited about things like the GigaDrive, it reminds me how many people there are out there who shared that era of gaming with me.
- The word “GigaDrive” itself turned out to be even more of a key word than I imagined it would.
NH: You haven’t seen the GigaDrive in full form yet. It’s been evolving across Sonic, Altered Beast, and Ecco. Just you wait and see.
- On that note, you could say that the peak of the arcade-based ports in the series, both difficulty-wise and in terms of the 3D implementation, is 3D Galaxy Force II, correct? Meaning that the Gigadrive’s returns have been huge.
NH: Not just yet. You won’t be saying that once Thunder Blade is finished.
YO: GF2 was released in 1988, the same year as the MegaDrive itself, so it’s been twenty five years. The PS2 version was released six years ago in 2007, but you could say that GF2 has finally been completed after twenty five years. It’s not quite the Sagrada Familia, but Gaudi didn’t build that all by himself, he had his disciples pick up the work. There was the arcade version, then the PS2 version, and now you can see its completed form in the 3DS version.
NH: For me, it would be complete if I could see it on a big screen.
YO: For me, the 3DS offers the best environment for immersion.
NH: Yeah, you can also take it with you on the road as well.
YO: I think the 3DS XL is the best hardware to play the game on as well, in terms of sprite resolution. If we put it on a bigger screen, we’d have to increase sprite resolution and density, and it would slowly move away from the original arcade version. We’d need to make a lot of adjustments.
- That is how things would have to go, for sure.
YO: Neither M2 or I have any idea what kind of GF2 we could make five or ten years from now. (laughs)
NH: There are a lot of potential approaches, like increasing the amount of depth in the backgrounds and whatnot.
- It’s impressive to see how powerful these “into the screen” scrolling games are when they’re remade in 3D. Thank you again for your time!
We snuck into M2’s development floor, which is wide open and easy to navigate. This is where ports and original titles are built!
This is Matsuoka-san’s desk, the director for the 3D Remaster Series. The design document on-screen outlines Game Pad Pro compatibility.
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 3D Galaxy Force II uses streaming for its music, and emulation for its sound effects.
 The R-360 was a fully rotational arcade cabinet built by SEGA.
 Virtual On has separate monitors that display the in-game action, so bystanders don’t have to watch the actual players to see the action.
 A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn.
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