Monday Feb 09, 2015
This week we launch another SEGA 3D Classic on the Nintendo eShop with 3D Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Brothers! We also launch part 1 of our interview with Yosuke Okunari (SEGA of Japan) and Naoki Horii (President of M2) with a ton of new details about the creation of the game. We hope you 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.
A Little about the Arcade Version of Fantasy Zone
Fantasy Zone, the second game created for SEGA’s System-16 arcade board, was released in 1986. Comprised of a MC68000 and a Z80, the System-16 board was considered to be a more general-purpose version of the “Harrier Board” employed by Space Harrier, which was equipped with two MC68000 microprocessors. There were two versions of the board, labeled “A” and “B,” with the latter featuring sprite zooming capabilities (maximum of 128 sprites on-screen at once), though those features were not available when Fantasy Zone was released. The sound source was a YM2151.
Fantasy Zone is a side-scrolling shooter, somewhat of a rarity for a SEGA title, that features a single joystick with two buttons. The game’s protagonist, Opa-Opa, utilizes shots and bombs to destroy ten enemy bases located throughout each stage. Destroying these bases triggers the boss battle. Defeating enemies and bases causes them to drop coins, which the player can pick up. Once enough have been collected, a balloon-shaped shop will appear. By touching this ship, they player can spend coins on things such as upgraded guns, bombs, engines, and extra lives which can only be obtained via the shop. This feature was unique at the time, and gave the game its sense of originality. Technically speaking, there were four versions of the arcade ROM, with the OLD and NEW Japanese versions making an appearance in 3D Fantasy Zone. The other two international OLD/NEW versions, which are quite rare, featured the ability to continue.
This game was ported to a number of home consoles, including the Mark III (Master System), Famicom, PC Engine, X68000, SEGA Saturn, etc. This version is the second release of Fantasy Zone by M2, with the first being the Japan-only SEGA AGES 2500 Vol. 33 Fantasy Zone Complete Collection for PlayStation 2.
Fantasy Zone, in unrelenting 3D!
– Alright, so the second game in the second batch of the 3D Remaster Project is Fantasy Zone, so I’m here once again to chat with you guys about it. Thank you again for having me. Okay, first off, as always, why did you choose Fantasy Zone?
Yosuke Okunari (below YO): I may have mentioned this when we were talking about 3D After Burner II, but for the 3D Remaster Project’s second batch, we wanted to work on games that we knew would make the domestic Japanese users really happy. So the reason we chose Fantasy Zone was because it’s very Japan-focused. The reality is this game is practically unknown overseas. The arcade version was hardly ever distributed outside Japan.
Naoki Horii (below NH): It’s pretty impressive that you still know stuff like that.
YO: The people overseas who know this game probably played the Master System version. They probably never played the arcade version back when it was originally out. Most of them, at least. There is a ROM version that’s dubbed the “International Version (US ver.),” but compared to Japan, it saw very limited distribution. I get the impression that there was a board that was distributed with the intention of it being the “International Version,” but when compared to other titles that saw widespread circulation, like Altered Beast or Golden Axe, it’s pretty unknown.
However, on the other hand the game was extremely popular in Japan. There was the arcade version, and then there was a Mark III / Master System version released shortly after that was one of the driving forces behind that console’s hardware uptake. And then a year later, Sunsoft released a well-made version for the Famicom. This port onto the major hardware platform at the time helped drive the game’s popularity. Then there was another port to the PC Engine / TurboGrafx 16 a year after that, and this contributed again to its fame, similar to Space Harrier. Basically, its appearance on all of the major players of the 8-bit generation of consoles was the key factor in the game’s popularity.
NH: Huh. So that’s why everyone knows it.
YO: We are able to bring the arcade version back due to the strong domestic response to the SEGA 3D Remaster Project.
NH: So what you’re saying is due to the response to 3D After Burner II, it’s okay to go and pick up Thunder Blade, right…?
YO: Well, 3D After Burner II might need to work a little harder before we can do that…
– (laughs) In terms of genre, Fantasy Zone is a first for the 3D Remaster Project in that it’s a side-scrolling shooter
YO: SEGA didn’t have a lot of shooting games that weren’t played from a 3D perspective. In the arcade, there were Sonic Boom and Scramble Spirits for vertical shooters, and we had games like Astro Flash for our side-scroll shooter lineup.
– So there weren’t many of these standard side-scrolling shooters.
YO: Aurail and Heavy Metal. I mean, I can keep throwing these out, so it’s not like we didn’t have any at all. But if you try to narrow it down to the ones we made internally, there really weren’t many.
– And despite that, Fantasy Zone is remarkable in the fact that it was well-known and a SEGA-made side-scrolling shooter. That’s what makes it seem quite special.
YO: This time around, in addition to the staff who have been working on our projects up to now, we also added team members who worked on the System-16 version of Fantasy Zone II for the Fantasy Zone Complete Collection. The project began as a kind of follow-up to that version of Fantasy Zone II*.
* NOTE: Fantasy Zone II was originally developed for the Mark III / Master System, and when ported back to the arcade, it ran on a board called the System E. This board featured specs very similar to the Mark III / Master System, which was technically inferior to the System-16. The version of Fantasy Zone II in the Fantasy Zone Complete Collection is a remastered version that runs on System-16, and thus is of higher quality.
As far as stereoscopic 3D is concerned, we are pretty fixated on the details at this point now that we are on the 10th game in our series. Based on what we did with 3D Shinobi III, we put a lot of work into the 3D work for the backgrounds. There is a real sense of 3D now.
NH: Just looking at it, it seems as if every single pixel has some depth associated with it. However, from a technical standpoint, we didn’t have the leeway to actually go that far. We were able to split either the background or foreground into up to 4 layers, and we had a good deal of freedom in adding depth to the text, though it’s about 8 pixels tall.
YO: I suppose it’s a bit as if we brought the Giga Drive to System-16.
NH: Theoretically speaking, we can do a little more than the Giga Drive. We can assign each ‘cell’ to any of the 4 levels of depth, though there are some limits to that. And if you have a cell that crosses multiple depth levels, we can place individual ‘chips.’ It’s actually possible to go even further with the 3D-enabled System-16 (I call it the “System-16E”) but that’s as far as we went this time after we took the limits of our development tools and brains into account.
YO: When we talk about our previous 3D Mega Drive games, it’s important to note all those games were 2D action games. So we started by taking the side-scrolling screens and making them 3D. And that’s why we chose the Mega Drive version for our first game, 3D Altered Beast, since it used scrolling layers for a 3D effect. After we built up more experience with 3D Ecco the Dolphin, we were able to take the original single-layer backgrounds of 3D Shinobi III and add depth to them.
NH: Yes, so now we can take a single background layer, and split it up into multiple ones. And this time we’ve gone and done the same on System-16.
YO: This is pretty well-known by people who followed Fantasy Zone back in the day, but Denpa Shinbunsha (Micomsoft) X68000 version actually supported stereoscopic 3D*, with scrolling layers similar to what we did with 3D Altered Beast. But for 3D Fantasy Zone, we were able to create a look very close to multiple layer scrolling, similar to 3D Shinobi III and 3D Streets of Rage. We’ve really brought a sense of depth to what was originally a flat image.
* The X68000 had a 3D port, which required an adapter to connect the ‘Famicom 3D System’ Glasses, which employed ‘active shuttering’ using LCD to create the 3D effect. When Fantasy Zone was released, the adapter was not available, so Micomsoft published instructions on how to build the adapter from scratch.
NH: For example in Round 1, every plant in the foreground has depth. This is something we were able to do for the first time in this game.
– I was really surprised when I played it, but even the enemy bases are in 3D now!
NH: We were able to do that because we doubled the number of objects being used.
YO: The fact that the characters themselves are 3D is one of the interesting points this time around.
NH: The Round 1 enemy bases (called dorarinfura) have their center sections sort of popping out, and the bases in Round 2 (called baibaapu) have both hands sticking out.
YO: The 3D adds a sense of roundness to the characters.
NH: We actually wanted to add 3D to the bosses as well. We actually did have 3D on them. But when you would defeat one, the 3D would get messed up when they’d break apart. So unfortunately we had to give up on it. But there are some situations, like Round 2’s boss (Boranda), where we put in 3D processing since the parts don’t get messed up when they break apart.
YO: It’s something that’s easier said than done. What they’ve done here is even more work than what we did on the Giga Drive.
NH: Explaining the way the background 3D works is rather difficult with just words, so we’ve gone and prepared a graphic for you. Simply put, in order to show a 2D graphic in 3D, you have to show what’s behind things in the background and what things look like from the sides. Things that you couldn’t see in a single layer screen. That’s all got to be visible in the game.
And of course, those parts of the picture aren’t part of the original graphics. By bringing new parts into the background, as you see in this graphic, you can increase what is displayed without adding or redrawing a single pixel. It’s like a 3D puzzle.
NH: Next, when it comes to putting multiple layers into objects such as the enemy bases, there are some parts that we can’t really leave sitting in the background. For example, in Round 2, the bases have hands that stick out. So in that situation, we had to go in and actually make changes to the original graphic and remove the hands from the body, which is situated in the background.
Incidentally, it turns out that our programmer, Akira Saito*, had been secretly trying various things involving 3D-ifying in-game objects, and our main game designer, Koga, took an interest in what he was doing. And he plied Saito with gifts and forced him to put the stuff he was working on into the game. I’d like to encourage such arrangements going forward.
– (laughs) … Gifts, eh? Well in any case, it feels really fresh and new, so there are even more stereoscopic 3D things to look forward to.
YO: In terms of 3D, Fantasy Zone seems pretty run-of-the-mill at first, but there was a significant amount of work that went on behind the scenes. Consequently, you really can appreciate the colorful, vivid atmosphere of the game through its 3D. It will remind you of the way the original game blew you away when you first saw it. But it doesn’t feel like a dated game, at all. It really feels like a normal modern game you’d see on 3DS.
Oh, and I just want to throw this out there, but we tried a lot of different things to get widescreen support in there. Unfortunately, we were not able to get it in this time. It was sort of a situation where it was possible, but not really possible at the same time.
NH: Though, with enough time, nothing is impossible!
YO: Well if it was just adding in widescreen, we could have done that without any problem. But then there would be enemies that’d have to be drawn that wouldn’t be if the screen was 4:3, and this has an impact on game balance. You start having to make decisions on what to display and what not to display, and you end up with differences from the original game’s balancing. We gave up on it because we decided that our time would be better spent on other things rather than programming widescreen and adjusting for game balance. So instead, there’s a full screen mode that just stretches the 4:3 screen out, and it’s not bad at all, actually. And it doesn’t mess with the game balance. Be sure to give it a shot.
So instead of working on widescreen, we put our efforts into adding markers that indicate the locations of off-screen enemy bases. With these, you will now know the altitude of the bases, and as you get close, the arrows get bigger as well. It should help avoid situations where you accidentally run into a base while moving around, or where you totally overlook an undestroyed base.
Also, we’ve added the Classic Screen Mode like we had in the Giga Drive titles—the one that makes it look like you are playing on a CRT screen. I highly recommend trying it. If you happen to own a black 3DS, try setting it on a table and watching a replay using this mode. It really feels like you are playing on a table-style arcade cabinet.
– That’d be quite a throwback for those who played on those back in the day.
YO: For anyone who happened to visit the No Continue Kid and Game Center CX collaboration cafés in Shibuya, you’ll get a taste of that at right in the comfort of your home. (laughs)
– And the lower touchscreen is being used this time as well, right?
YO: Well, it’s not like we’ve been ignoring the lower screen in previous games. There have been a lot of things we’ve wanted to do with it. It’s just…
NH: We haven’t had the processing power. We are talking about drawing three screens worth of stuff (the upper screen has to process 3D, which is two screens worth of processing). Internally, I’ve always told the staff that any attempts to draw to the lower screen while drawing to the upper screen will be treated with extreme prejudice. But hey! Now you can see details about how many more bases you need to beat. You can see the boss character, too! How about that?
Similar to what I was talking about earlier, our designer, Koga, was sneaking peeks at the game design for 3D After Burner II, and started saying, “Oh man, this is bad. We haven’t got any upgrades for Fantasy Zone. Okay, let’s do something fancy with the lower screen.” I have to say, the programmer really was not in good shape at that point.
YO: You can kind of use it as a tactical guide. If you’re not familiar with the game, you can look at the upcoming boss and get an idea of what weapons you should purchase.
– Though if you get really into the game, you’re not really going to have time to look at the bottom screen, especially if you’re not familiar with it. (laughs)
YO: That is true. (laughs) But the fact that the lower screen has more going on makes it feel more like your typical 3DS game, you know? (laughs)
NH: We heard some people saying that just having the menu on there was rather lacking.
A slight digression, but drawing to the lower screen causes your processing speed to take quite a hit. We put a lot of effort into the staff credits this time, and we were getting a lot of frame dropping on the upper screen so we had to draw the lower screen at around 15 frames per second. And despite that we still frame drop on the upper screen.
– (laughs) Sounds like trying to replicate System-16 on the 3DS uses as much processing power as the Giga Drive.
NH: Yes, it does. In some aspects it’s even harder than Mega Drive. From the developer perspective, there are some really crazy things that have to happen. Though none of that ultimately concerns the end user.
– Alright, so I’d like to ask you all about some topics other than the porting itself, such as the game system. It sounds like you’ve added a lot of things into the game’s design itself.
YO: The ability to bank coins is probably the most ground-breaking addition, considering all the numerous ports that Fantasy Zone has seen. As you play the game, the coins that you collect with Opa-Opa are basically placed into a savings account. The amount you use in-game isn’t counted; it simply counts the coins you collect.
This ‘Coin Stock’comes in handy when you use the now standard Round Select feature. This helps address the issue where if you start a later round with no coins, it’s pretty impossible to clear because you can’t buy anything from the shop. So now you can withdraw from your Coin Stock.
– It’s a lot easier to pick up where you left off from the Round Select.
YO: Right. You’ll start the game with the money you withdrew and it makes it a lot easier to get going on any round. However, you need to decide by yourself how much to take out, and any left over money will just disappear if you game over. So you’ll need to be careful not to use too much and think about how much money is appropriate to take out.
But if you are too stingy with your cash, you might feel like you should have taken out more while you are playing. By adding a ‘bank’ into what is ultimately a game based on capitalism, in some ways it’s even more Fantasy Zone-esque than previously.
NH: If we go on to make III, let’s have the player pay back that loan. You know, Fantasy Loan… *buh dum tss*
– Something like Hero Bank*, right?
NH: Yes, I suppose so.
YO: You know, there’s actually a hero outfit in Hero Bank called “Segalion” that has Opa-Opa as its helmet. (laughs)
But Wait, there’s more!
Join us tomorrow for part 2 of our SEGA 3D Classics interview about Fantasy Zone in which we discuss the new UPA-UPA mode! We hope you enjoyed our first part and all of our SEGA 3D Classics interviews. As always, we love to hear what you think of these articles, feel free to post in the comments below.
Posted by Julian in SEGA 3D Classics on 1:06:34PM Feb 09, 2015
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