Tuesday Jan 13, 2015
We hope you are as excited as we are for the release of 3D After Burner II this Thursday! Today we continue our SEGA 3D Classics interview, talking about sound design and an all new mode for After Burner II. Enjoy.
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.
As always, your comments, posts, and replies are always appreciated. Let us know what you think of these interviews, and the games themselves!
A Present from Hiro-shishou: Sound Data with a Melody!
– Alright, let’s bring in the sound director, Manabu Namiki, to join the conversation. Can you tell us about making the sound for 3D After Burner II?
Manabu Namiki (below MN): Similar to past projects such as 3D Space Harrier, 3D Super Hang-On, and the Giga Drive games, I’ve been overseeing the sound efforts. We started by recording the sounds from the After Burner II arcade cabinet itself. For all the previous titles, my colleague Chibi-Tech, and Matsuoka, the director, would take a trip down to SEGA’s long term storage facility and record all the sounds that the motors, buttons, and triggers make. But for After Burner II, I had a chance to go with them and climb into those machines, trigger the sounds, and record them.
This was different than what we’d done in the past, since I was able to see the machine myself and record things in the best conditions possible. With the help from Wavemaster’s Tsujisaka-san, I was able to actually to turn off the cooling fans as well, which are always a source of noise. But the way the cabinet is designed, some of these fans aren’t easy to just turn on and off. There’s the risk of electric shock, and you might even get injured because the cabinet itself moves. So we weren’t able to get them ALL off, but enough to get a clear recording.
– I see.
MN: If you turn on the environmental sounds in 3D After Burner II, when it’s idling, you can hear the fans, as well as the machinery that drives the cabinet. This is actually recorded from a real machine. This too is part of the environmental sounds.
– You had those in 3D Galaxy Force II as well. Those sounds are really cool. Personally, I think having them makes all the difference, and really leaves you with a different impression. When you hear them, it really gets you excited.
NH: Though, there are those who just want to hear the game’s sounds unaltered.
MN: And for those users, all you have to do is go into the game options and adjust the balance and volumes to your own preferences.
– Now that you actually attended the recording yourself, was there anything different that you noticed?
MN: There weren’t any big surprises, but we really were blessed by the location itself and the condition of the cabinets. The SEGA staff at the warehouse even took considerations to provide us with a room that didn’t have too much acoustic reverberation. And as a result, I think we were able to get a better recording than previous attempts.
YO: Now that you mention it, we had earthquakes or rain during past recordings. It was pretty rough.
NH: Though we made efforts during the recording so you’d not notice.
– Like when you put blankets over the cabinets for the Galaxy Force II recording.
YO: Oh, and here’s a little something that some fans have been asking for, but in 3D After Burner II, you can actually adjust the balance of the background music (BGM) and sound effects (SE) for the sound source emulator. So now the equalizer and balancer actually coexist.
MN: That’s the result of the work of Saito, our programmer.
YO: When we released 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-On, we got feedback where users would say, “The SE is too loud, I just want to turn the SE down a bit.” This is a very common feature in modern games. But when you talk about emulated games, the truth is this isn’t something that’s typically possible.
MN: In 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-On, both the BGM and SE are played through the same sound source just like the original hardware, so there isn’t a clear distinction between the two in the first place. So there’s no separate volume controls.
YO: However, we streamed the background music for 3D Galaxy Force II, with the SE being run through the internal sound source, so it was possible to change the balance between them. But you couldn’t use the equalizer since streaming is just playing back a recording.
MN: But for 3D After Burner II, our programmer set out to make it a reality. This is a pretty big step forward on the sound front for the 3D Remaster Project.
NH: One might ask why we don’t just create two sound sources, one specifically for BGM and one for SE. But this poses a problem for speed and optimization, so having two ultimately isn’t very realistic.
MN: From a software point of view, there is no distinction between the SE and BGM, so we had to go in and say, “This is a sound… This is music…” Then we mark the places where it seems like we would be able to control the volume, and go in and swap out the code and data. It’s just the result of all the previous work and know-how we’ve accumulated on these projects, combined with old-fashioned hard work to find a way to make it happen.
There is this aspect of the 3D Remaster Project where we can’t do something initially, but as we handle more projects we find a way to do it. We knew that we couldn’t do everything right out the door, so we accomplish them one by one, knowing that accomplishments now will enable future accomplishments. Knowing that last time, we couldn’t do something, but this time we nailed it. It’s like one long road, and we’re traveling down it in a quest to achieve the ultimate remastering.
– 3D Galaxy Force II utilized streaming for its music, but you’ve gone back to emulating everything for 3D After Burner II. Was there anything different work-wise for you on 3D After Burner II?
MN: Since I’d built up experience working on Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and Galaxy Force II, I feel like I was able to bring all those experiences and apply them to After Burner II, a game that was between Super Hang-On and Galaxy Force II in the timeline. I had a lot of trouble with Galaxy Force II.
NH: Trouble, was it? (laughs) That’s putting it lightly.
MN: There are things I’d not have cued in on if I hadn’t worked on Galaxy Force II first, but I can now. And this isn’t just me. I think it goes for the rest of the development staff as well.
YO: Yes, it’s been multi-year process going back to the PlayStation 2 days.
MN: There’s one more point from the sound team about 3D After Burner II I want all the users out there to know about. We’ve implemented a low-pass filter for the first time in the “physical experience” game series in the 3D Remaster Project.
A “low-pass filter” is something we actually put into the Giga Drive* titles about halfway through. On 3D Altered Beast, we were working on the Mega Drive’s rather unique “DA,” a component of the PCM that sounds really rough and scratchy. When we got that working on the 3DS, though, it didn’t sound the way we were expecting.
* For more information about the Giga Drive, please refer to our previous blog posts: http://blogs.sega.com/2013/12/03/sega-3d-classics-%E2%80%93-3d-sonic-the-hedgehog-interview-with-developer-m2/
YO: We touched on it a bit during the 3D Altered Beast interview. For the first game, 3D Sonic the Hedgehog, it didn’t sound particularly off when we played it straight, but for 3D Altered Beast, Namiki-san said, “This won’t cut it.”
MN: Yeah. So I was thinking about how to go in and adjust that. For the FM sound source as well, I noticed that the emulated sound and sound that I recorded straight off an actual Mega Drive sound quite different.
NH: It made it much better.
MN: Only people on the development team heard what it was like before we put the filter in, so let me try to explain what the differences are to the users out there. When it wasn’t in, the treble was pretty strong and it sounded like things were almost too clear. Some people might feel that’s OK, but when you play the sound off a board and compare it to a recording off the 3DS, there’s a difference. By putting a filter on After Burner II, I feel like it’s much closer to the actual machine itself.
With the sampling frequency used on arcade boards from the After Burner II era, the ROMS back then weren’t all that large, so for things like distorted guitars, percussion sounds, or sound effects, they had to think about what level of sound quality they wanted. And while I think Hiro-shishou* probably put a lot of work into it, the sound quality possible on the original hardware, and the quality we can currently get through software simulation is quite different. So I think this is a worthwhile point of pursuit.
There is a soundtrack released by Wavemaster called AFTER BURNER 20th Anniversary Box. I think we’ve got the 3D After Burner II sound to a point where if you take the arcade version sound off that soundtrack and compare with sound from the headphone jack on a 3DS, you’ll think it was pretty close. I think it’s very close to the sound we recorded straight off the arcade board. I’m pretty happy with what we were able to do. The low-pass filter has some constraints on it, so we can’t use it everywhere we might want to, but it still makes a big difference.
– What exactly causes the output to change if you are faithfully emulating the FM sound source and bringing in the PCM data from the original chipset?
MN: The sounds are always converted to analog through the board’s circuitry, but the digital-to-analog converter and the wiring after that can have a pretty big differentiating effect on the sound. It can be a challenge to do this through software where you are replicating the analog circuitry due to CPU power restraints, even with the know-how we’ve built up. If you want to get very detailed, you’d have to emulate all the various components of the circuitry, such as the condensers and the individual resistors. We’re talking about silicon-level emulation here. So instead of all that, we tried 3DS’s pre-equipped low-pass filter instead.
– And you found that to be pretty effective, it seems. Not only where you able to achieve the sound quality you were looking for, but it sounds like you were able to revive two songs that had melodies through the internal sound source?
MN: Well, that story started with our director, Matsuoka, telling us that we were going to be emulating the music this time for After Burner II.
NH: It’s always better when a game’s file size is small*! This is something that our main programmer, Saito, worked himself to death over. If the file is really big, it eats up time during our own functionality checks. Saito exploded at one point saying, “That’s just unacceptable!” and demonstrated his prowess with a lot of optimization work, which ultimately saved us a lot of time overall.
– It’s also nice for the consumers because it doesn’t eat up a lot of space on their SD cards.
NH: It certainly took more time to download 3D Galaxy Force II from the eShop compared to the other games in the series, so that was another reason Saito attacked this problem with a vengeance.
MN: I had no problem with taking the emulation route [for After Burner II], but when they started talking about these ‘melody versions,’ then it was sort of a problem. As we mentioned, there were soundtrack CDs for After Burner II that were released, and these CDs had BGM versions with melodies that were not present in the arcade version. These ‘melody versions’ did not actually exist in either the Japanese or overseas versions of the ROM. This leads one to believe that they existed only in the original developer’s data. I thought that this data may well be lost to the world and didn’t exist anymore. But surprisingly, it did still exist and Okunari-san provided it to us.
YO: It turns out that the CD version of AFTER BURNER 20th Anniversary Box was digitally re-recorded, and these ‘melody versions’ were supposedly the hardest part of the remastering effort. The original composer, Hiro-shishou, actually had the original 1987 data. That is, on an ancient 8” floppy disc (laughs).
– An 8” floppy!? (laughs) Wow, that takes me back.
YO: The fact that the original data was even saved in the first place is a bit of a miracle, but playing it back was quite a task. After a lot of work from the Wavemaster staff, they were able to retrieve the data off the floppy and restore the sound data. They then used that to re-record the tracks for the CD Boxset. We subsequently received a request from M2, who thought there must be some data since it had gone through a new recording. So I was able to give them the music without having to deal with the trouble of getting the floppy to play the data.
NH: In order to use a song that didn’t exist in the original game, we needed to reach out to Hiro-shishou and get his permission to use the data. Once we did that, we converted it to a ROM that’d run on the original arcade board.
YO: When we say “sound data,” we mean that back then they used the ICE (in-circuit emulator: hardware that emulates embedded circuitry; aka. a development kit) to build the data out, but they didn’t go so far as to build the ROM data that would actually run on the machine.
MN: I had them show me the data they recovered from the floppy, and it wasn’t final data that could be burnt onto the final ROM, or play on a mass-produced arcade board. I think what they had on that first CD was a recording off a development board that used an ICE. That’s probably what the final melody version was. So what I had to do was go and convert the data to something that would run on a mass-produced arcade board, and that’s what’s being emulated on 3DS.
YO: So the version in there with the melody included is without a doubt the original data. You could take our version and swap it in with the sound ROM on an actual arcade board and it would actually play.
NH: Though we’ve never actually burnt a ROM.
YO: We are talking about emulation here, so you can actually toggle the extra BGM on and off mid-game. You can’t change the songs while it’s playing, but you can switch it without resetting. For example, if you switch it ON while you’re playing the first stage, it will play the melody version of “After Burner” when you get to stage 4.
– So you’re saying that you’re not just muting the melody for the no-melody version, but there are actually two separate versions in the game?
YO: That’s right. And if you want to get really specific, the difference doesn’t stop at whether or not the melody is playing.
MN: Yes, that’s right. Even I don’t have a complete grasp on all the full contents of the data.
YO: It seems like they probably built and finished the one with the melody first, and then when they cut the melody out for production, they went back and touched up spots that seemed off to them.
MN: It’s probably not just the melody channel being muted, but rather it’s properly adjusted so that other things are using the track that the melody portion was residing in. They are completely separate pieces of data.
YO: It’s like you can see the progression of the sound from After Burner, to the completed melody version, to After Burner II.
MN: In my head, I feel like they went back and put a little more work into it when it was going to be put on the album. Even for the version without the melody, the volume balances are a little different, though it’s quite subtle. But the differences are so insignificant you could hardly call it a different piece of data. And if we’d not actually gone and opened up the hood and peered inside, we never would have known. And even now that we have opened the hood, we still don’t really know the whole story. (laughs)
NH: Basically we took the parts we thought were the most important, converted them into data, and got them running on 3DS.
MN: Yes, that’s right. And as a result, you can switch between versions with and without the melody while you are playing the game. It’s something we weren’t able to do before, but we were able to do it this time.
NH: I’m glad we got that in.
– This is sort of like how you guys got HAYA OH in for 3D Space Harrier, so fans of the game back then are going to be happy to hear this… And the fact that these things that could actually run on the arcade boards are being emulated.
YO: I heard once they dropped the melody out because the noisy environment of an arcade would have drowned it out, and they also wanted to capture what at the time felt like a real, gritty battle. But I think it really works on a 3DS now that I’ve played it. It feels natural when you are just casually playing the game in your home. By default, it is set to the arcade spec with no melody, but you can set it to how you want, whether you want to relive the arcade days or try something new.
– This is sort of a unique situation because it was the 80s when this music was originally made.
MN: The music back in 1987 was heavily influenced by this strong interest in Western music, especially hard rock, so there was a strong preference for that kind of sound. Music has gone through a lot of transitional changes over the past 20 years, and people have much more refined tastes. What I mean is that I think people are a little more open-minded when it comes to music. I’d like to think people would naturally think ABII is just fine with a melody in it.
– A lot certainly has happened.
MN: I think it’s going to be hard for those out there who are playing After Burner II for the first time, for those who have never sat in an original arcade cabinet, to really understand the environmental sounds. But for those who know what it was like back then, for people who have sat in the arcade machines in the 3D Remaster Project and know what it’s like, 3D After Burner II takes things to the next level. From the actual motor sounds, to the sounds of the thing moving, there’s more in there than any title to date. We went in and thoroughly balanced all the control sounds and the sounds from the game itself, so I want everyone to go in and try playing it with headphones, with the environmental sounds on while in the “Double Cradle” arcade cab at least once. It really gives you the feeling of sitting in the machine and playing the game. When I play it myself, my body remembers what it was like to feel the machine move, because the whole thing felt so real. I feel like I can even remember how the machine smelled. Though, I have a fresh memory of it since I got to play it recently when we went to SEGA’s storage warehouse.
– Thank you so much.
Rearranging Game Resources to Create a New Game Experience with the Special Mode!
– Alright, I think it’s about time we talk about the Special Mode for this game.
YO: You could say it takes After Burner II’s gameplay and makes it more interesting. It certainly extends the gameplay.
– I’m not sure how to put it, but it sounds like you’ve added a “Burst” to the game while keeping the missile management and lock-on controls close to the original version. Similar to After Burner Climax, “Burst Mode” slows down the action, right?
NH: That’s right.
YO: The fun of After Burner II is all about locking on to enemies and shooting them down, so we really focused on that. Basically, we’ve gone and turned up the rhythm a bit. We’ve adjusted the enemy squadrons so they keep rushing at you as you blast through the stage.
We’ve also made locking on to things much easier. Horii-san mentioned earlier that if you are having trouble locking onto things, just lower the difficulty. But in Special Mode, the lock-on box is always the same as Arcade Mode’s easiest setting. So you can easily lock on to everything. It’s tuned so you can just keep locking on and firing missiles until you run out.
– It gives everything a new rhythm.
YO: There’s also a “rival” plane.
– You took the original game’s bonus stage, and added a rival plane. (laughs)
NH: It is most certainly not a bonus now. (laughs)
YO: Well, it was a bonus in the original game. (laughs)
– You can’t just sit there and fire off missiles and get by, right?
YO: Well, if you use your missiles wisely to set off chain explosions and build the Burst Meter…
– So you’re saying that it lends itself to a play style where you address enemy groups one by one. I certainly felt that it had a different kind of gameplay compared to the arcade version. So this is the first “Project Grantanoff”* aspect of this second round of games.*
YO: For 3D After Burner II, I wanted to do something different than just the stereoscopic 3D and the moving arcade cabinet, which we’ve done before. The idea behind “Project Grantanoff” is that we need something in there that hasn’t been in a port to-date, and this special mode is M2’s answer. It’s different than HAYA OH. It’s more of a remixed version of After Burner II.
– When we originally discussed HAYA OH, Horii-san spoke about how you took existing boss routines and recombined them, but for 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode, you actually had to remake all the enemy squadrons and change the sprite palette to monochrome for the Burst Mode. You basically had to do a thorough analysis of the original After Burner II and build a completely separate mode that might even run on the original arcade board.
NH: Yes, that’s right. We were able to dive pretty deep into it due to the results of our analysis. You could say it gave us an oxygen tank for the dive, in a way.
YO: Not only can you enjoy playing a port of the original game, you can experience this new presentation as a 2013 version of After Burner II. It also really brings out what makes After Burner II interesting. If you go back and look at interviews with the developers back then, they talk about the things they wanted to do but couldn’t. One of those was “dog fights.” They said they ran out of time to do it. They talk about how fighter planes are all about dog fights.
– Hearing you guys talk about this is reminding me of the SEGA AGES 2500’s System-16 version of Fantasy Zone II, but this is still a little different, isn’t it?
YO: That System-16 version was built around the idea of “what if this game existed in the 80s?” So while we were working within the limitations of yesteryear hardware, we weren’t applying modern game design concepts. Let me give you an example: these days having a boss that has two forms would be a given, so if M2 did their best, they might be able to make a boss that had two forms with various kinds of attacks, even on the System-16. But in the 80s, bosses having only one attack pattern was the norm and characteristic of the style of the time, so you have to stay true to that. That’s the difference between that game and the concept behind 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode.
The concept behind this Special Mode does little to change what made the game originally interesting, but instead brings it out in a modern way. On the other hand, After Burner II does actually have a sequel: After Burner Climax. That game was praised for the fact that it kept the fun of After Burner II while adding in Climax Mode. That’s something we took into consideration as 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode took shape.
NH: Yeah, it’s sort of like putting the pieces back together in a different way.
– That said, I feel like if there was a Special Mode back then, then this would have been it. And in that way it feels similar to the “what if?” aspect of Fantasy Zone II. But on the other hand, it also feels like what you get if After Burner Climax’s Climax Mode was redone in a world of 2D sprites.
YO: Well, it’s not as if we set out trying to remake it.
– Figuring out how to use this new system seems like it’ll be a point of enjoyment for people. Spending time to figure out how to attack each stage is sort of cathartic in its own way.
YO: The Special Mode isn’t something made by Yu Suzuki, After Burner II’s original designer. Out Run has a sequel called Turbo Out Run that runs on the same architecture but was made by a different designer, and they are pretty different in terms of gameplay. In the same way, 3D After Burner II and its Special Mode are pretty different. But unlike Turbo Out Run, we didn’t change the game itself, but instead further brought out and expressed the good aspects of After Burner II.
NH: We were able to take a fresh look at this game and do what we did because of the efforts of our main programmer, Saito, and this guy named Hiroshi Iuchi, who is a designer who comes from a different background.
– Wait… What? You’re saying that the Iuchi-san had a hand in working on this Special Mode?*
NH: Both Saito and Iuchi added their own content into the Special Mode. Iuchi joined mid-way through the project. While Saito said he wanted to put in something similar to Climax from the very beginning, Iuchi came along and said, “I wanna see some dogfights.” So in the end, both got put in and Iuchi did the balancing.
YO: There’s some interesting chemistry going on there.
– Wow, this has gotten pretty serious.
YO: 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode is a great example of a “Grantanoff” for this second round of games.
– Even I’m really interested to see how the players are going to react to it. HAYA OH sort of came out of nowhere, but at the same time people thought it was awesome. For this Special Mode, the base game is still After Burner II but the gameplay is different. It’s quite a different beast.
YO: While the base concept behind a port is the same as Nintendo’s Virtual Console, for the 3D Remaster Project, we want to make sure there’s one or two twists in there. This project started from the idea that adding stereoscopic 3D would fundamentally change a game. But we need to be offering something new that makes you want to go and play these games again, even though some of them have been ported many times in the past. So we need to put in something to make that happen.
The same goes for movies; you buy a DVD for a movie you love, and you watch it over and over. But then it comes out on Blu-ray and it has special scenes, interviews, and other content. People love that. But having worked on the PlayStation 2 era SEGA AGES and SEGA AGES ONLINE series, I realize that the time of impressing people with just collector content has passed.
It’s not a given that the fans are simply going to be satisfied with what you bring out. You need to bring something they haven’t done before. You need surprises. It’s all about peeking into this world unknown, like the players who were surprised and delighted when they stumbled upon HAYA OH in 3D Space Harrier, or people who played 3D Galaxy Force II and realized for the first time, “Wow, so this is what Galaxy Force II is” because it was something new now that it had 3D. That’s what we are going for. I want to see more of this.
3D After Burner II’s Special Mode will make you think, “I never realized you could make this kind of fun with After Burner II,” and, “Now I can enjoy an After Burner II I never knew.” There’s fun in that. And on the other hand, if you’ve only played After Burner Climax, then you can play this version as well.
NH: By putting things in that don’t necessarily follow what you remember about the game, you ensure that people will spend more time playing it. Yes, it’s sort of a bonus side feature, but for an early game such as After Burner II, if you don’t go about it correctly, it’s ultimately probably not going to feel right.
And going forward, the concept behind this second batch is that we can continue to provide you with consistent deliveries of these sorts of games, all at a competitive low price. We have multiple projects running in tandem with different designers on them, so we hope you guys stay tuned to see what kind of “Grantanoffs” we deliver next.
NH: Just you wait and see!
YO: We’re going to go on another dive, so stay tuned. Next up is the 10th installment.
NH: Oh damn it! I forgot to bring up Thunder Blade this time!
YO: And of course, the 10th game is not Thunder Blade. Neither is the 11th. So no need to stay tuned for that.
– (laughs) Thank you very much, gentlemen. See you all next time!
Posted by Julian in SEGA 3D Classics on 9:54:27AM Jan 13, 2015
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