Monday Jan 12, 2015
This week we continue our series of translated interviews from Game Watch & Impress about the SEGA 3D Classics. These interviews detail the amazing amount of work that developer M2 has done to deliver the best possible versions of our classic SEGA titles on the Nintendo 3DS. These new interviews are much longer than our last batch, so we’ve opted to split them up a bit leading into the release of 3D After Burner II later this week.
Thanks again to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. Special thanks to our producer Sam for translating these interviews for everyone’s enjoyment.
Catch up on all our SEGA 3D Classics interviews
A Little about the Arcade Version of After Burner II
Following up on our previous installments, we’ve gone to visit M2, the developer of SEGA’s 3D Remaster Project. We will be speaking with the president, Naoki Horii, and the SEGA producer, Yosuke Okunari. We’ve also invited M2’s sound director, Manabu Namiki, to join this time.
After Burner was the first title to be released on SEGA’s “X-BOARD” arcade board, which made its debut in 1987. While it consisted of the same dual MC68000 and single Z80 processor set up as Space Harrier’s “Harrier Board,” it ran at a different clock speed. It featured sprites with enlargement capability, and it could display up to 256 sprites on the screen at the same time. It also was equipped with an YM2515 and PCM sound source.
The game had a number of arcade cabinet variations, starting with the “Double Cradle” (moved both forward/backward and left/right) and the “Single Cradle” (moved left/right). More variations were released later, including “Sit-down” and “Upright” variations.
The initial release of After Burner featured 18 stages. Two months later, the ROM was swapped out with After Burner II, which featured 23 stages. The first edition had its control stick (with buttons for firing) positioned in the center of the cabinet and lacked the throttle lever. For After Burner II, a new throttle lever was put in on the left side of the seat to allow you to control the speed of your plane.
For weaponry, the plane had an unlimited number of bullets for its vulcan cannon, and a limited stock of missiles. Players would lock-on to incoming enemy planes to fire missiles, which would then home in on their targets. This was a primarily differentiating factor from Space Harrier’s gameplay. Generally speaking, the stage layouts themselves were similar to that of Space Harrier, with both normal and bonus stages, but there were additional cutscenes where your plane would get resupplied with missiles either mid-flight or on the ground. Another differentiating aspect from Space Harrier was the fact that enemy planes and missiles would approach from behind and chase your plane, and the player could then operate the throttle to speed away or allow them to fly past. Additionally, you could also swing left/right on the control stick to send your plane into a barrel roll.
The game’s soundtrack is known for its PCM-based distorted guitars and drumbeats. While some songs were notable for their lack of melody, such as Stage 1’s “Final Take Off” and Stage 4’s “After Burner,” these songs saw melodies added into them with the later release of “After Burner SEGA GAME MUSIC Vol. 3.” The melody versions went on to be used in the PC Engine (TurboGrafx 16) version of the game.
A number of home consoles also saw releases of one or both of After Burner and After Burner II, including the Mark III (Master System), Famicom, FM-TOWNS, X68000, Mega Drive, PC Engine, SEGA Saturn, and 32X. But despite M2’s extensive porting background with SEGA, 3D After Burner II is the first time they have had an opportunity to work on the title.
As a special favor for this interview, Okunari-san has provided us with photos and movies of the After Burner II cabinet in SEGA’s permanent storage warehouse to help us remember what this machine was like. Before you play 3D Afterburner II, you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the original version. And for those who have played it in the past, we think you’ll enjoy this little trip down memory lane.
Taking all the know-how built up until now to deliver a new After Burner II
– So the 2nd round of the 3D Remaster Project begins with After Burner II. What was the porting work for this title like?
Yosuke Okunari (below YO): The arcade version of After Burner II was the first game for the X-BOARD. It was a more powerful piece of hardware that built on top of previous games like Space Harrier and Outrun. This was the first hurdle we had to overcome to make 3D After Burner II a reality. It was a predecessor to the Y-BOARD, which was what Galaxy Force used. As it turns out, we’d previously done quite a bit of study and analysis of the Y-BOARD when we ported Galaxy Force II to PlayStation 2. Despite that, we had a pretty tough time when we were converting all that work to 3DS. But since we had taken the work we did on the PlayStation 2 version of Galaxy Force II and previously brought that to the 3DS, bringing the X-BOARD to the 3DS actually went relatively smoothly.
Naoki Horii (below NH): You could say that it just slid right in. We didn’t need to bother you so much on this one, did we now?
YO: Not so much, I guess.
NH: That’s what I like to hear. (Everyone laughs.) I told him, “Hey! We got After Burner running! Even though you never asked us to work on it.” To which Okunari-san said, “What? The Mega Drive version?” I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt that he’d think we’d aim so low!
YO: Well, we were right in the middle of choosing the Mega Drive titles.
NH: Well, I laughed at the time, but I’m pretty sure doing a 3D conversion of the Mega Drive version would be no easy task. Not that we’ve tried (laughs).
YO: And with that, let’s just set aside Horii-san’s digression, and get back to the fact that our successes in the first batch were bearing fruit, and there we were starting development on 3D After Burner II. But just like everything else, simply running on the hardware isn’t good enough. So there we were finishing up 3D Super Hang-On and starting to turn our attention to 3D Galaxy Force II, and M2 had After Burner II running as a test. It was still really far from being a final product, by any measure, but I recall you guys had it to a point where it had 3D, right?
NH: Yes, that was around when we first showed it to you.
YO: But when I went to play it, I wasn’t able to lock-on to anything. Nothing at all. By putting in 3D, the game got much more difficult. This was the first gameplay hurdle with After Burner II. Let me explain things in the context of Space Harrier to help understand what the issue was. In Space Harrier, your character, which is in the foreground, is shooting bullets that track to enemies in the background. So you end up spending a lot of time focused on your character in the foreground. But in After Burner II, you also have to manually acquire lock-ons to enemies who are near the horizon line, so you need to constantly look at both the foreground and the background. Even though the games seem similar, it turns out the eye movements required of the players are quite different.
NH: It’s basically a game of “whack-a-mole” where you are having to keep two things lined up.
YO: “Bash the moles as soon as they appear. Avoid attacks from the moles you let slide through.” That’s the basics behind this game. But the act of locking onto things by lining up something in the foreground to these enemies that exist in the background becomes quite difficult once you put this into 3D. If you just turn down the 3D effect, you can play just like you would normally, but with it on, the enemies are far away and hard to lock onto. That was my impression of that initial test version. I couldn’t understand why it was so much harder, despite being the same game.
This was the first time I noted that while putting in 3D makes everything pretty and have depth, you’re going to have to make some adjustments for ease-of-play.
NH: Those “Adjustments for ease-of-play”… There are some situations that take a fair amount of work to correct, and there are ones that work out far easier than you’d think. After Burner II was a case where we had to do a fair amount of work. Including dealing with the issues caused by the 3D implementation.
– OK, wait. Can you go into a bit more about detail about the fact that the difficulty went up because the enemies appear farther away?
YO: So basically, when you play the game in 2D, your eyes can track your character in the foreground and the enemies in the background because everything is on the same plane.
NH: It’s like looking at something on a piece of paper. You just move your character to where the enemies are and lock on.
YO: But when you put depth into that, you’re not going to be able to focus on both your character and the enemies. Your brain knows, “This is depth inside the screen,” and so things don’t line up.
– So for example, and I don’t know if this is an adequate one or not, but let’s say you are looking at a game through a camera lens. When you are using a deep field of focus, it’s like playing in 2D. And when it’s a shallow field of focus, that’s 3D. Basically when you focus on a single thing, everything else becomes blurry.
NH: Your eyes move around quite a bit, even when you are just looking at a single screen.
YO: We put a number of adjustments into 3D Galaxy Force II to compensate for this, but I saw this test version of After Burner II before we finished Galaxy Force II. It got me thinking, “Man, this is something that’s going to need a lot of work.” As a result, due to M2’s work on 3D Galaxy Force II’s final stage and other parts that had a lot of depth, we built a pretty decent knowledge base on how to handle these issues. At this point, we’ve gotten the game to a point where you can play the game by looking at both the foreground and the background, just like if you were playing in 2D.
NH: We did make a lot of adjustments to make it easier to play, but there may still be some players who will find it hard to lock on to targets. If that happens, go ahead and reduce the difficulty level all the way down to one star. The lock-on area widens, and you’ll have the enemy dropping like flies.
YO: Well, for starters, the Y-BOARD had a 2D screen, of course, but it was capable of performing finer depth calculations than previous iterations.
– Well, in addition to that, Space Harrier had a floor and ceiling (depending on the stage), Super Hang-On had only the floor, and Galaxy Force II had basically nothing and instead had sprites flying around you. So that leads one to think that stages basically differ based on “how you build the box.” Judging from the responses from the web, I got the impression that people wanted to see some depth applied to the floor and ceiling in Space Harrier, in the same way that Galaxy Force II had. Though I understand it depends on a number of factors, such as how you go about applying the visual separation, how the 3D feels, as well as people’s own personal preferences.
YO: When you take photos in 3D, you have to put something in your foreground or you won’t get a sense of the 3D effect. It’s just like that. The more things you have at each depth level, the more you can feel the 3D. So in the case of Galaxy Force II, there are a lot of objects available, so that’s probably why people thought it was easy to get a sense for the 3D.
– That, and the game’s scroll speed is actually pretty different. Sorry, I probably walked into this without thinking about it too much, but it’s gotten me thinking about how it’s the various differences in the games that makes them feel different.
YO: And the Y-BOARD actually was handling Z-axis calculations internally.
NH: Yes, it makes a pretty big difference when you start off with Z values so your peaks are in 3D.
– You never have to fake it. Even if it’s a sprite, it has a precisely calculated depth value associated with it. That must have helped in the transition to 3D.
YO: After Burner II’s X-BOARD still had a number of those little “fake outs” in it, similar to Space Harrier, but After Burner II still made advances over Space Harrier because the 3D effect is being built from these multiple layers of objects. The improvement in the way the game screens were originally being expressed still comes through when put into 3D. And then there’s M2’s know-how when it comes to putting in depth, which has also made advances.
NH: There’s a broad horizon line that goes right back deep into the screen, and it has a lot of objects placed leading back to it. I really think we got it to a place where you think, “Aaah, I’m really flying through the air.”
YO: So for 3D After Burner II, more so than 3D Space Harrier, I really think you’ll get that sense of depth, similar to 3D Galaxy Force II.
NH: When it comes to adding depth to things, we took a rather conservative stance when we were working on 3D Space Harrier. It was the first one, after all. But now that we have this established framework, we’re much more flexible when it comes to adjusting and tweaking things.
This concludes part 1 of our 3D After Burner interview. Check back tomorrow for part 2 as we learn more about the audio in the 3D Classics and information on the new mode added to 3D After Burner II.
As always, your comments are appreciated, let us know what you think!
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