Thursday Mar 05, 2015
3D Out Run arrives on Nintendo 3DS on March 12! While translating this month’s interview from GameWatch & Impress, we realized it was incredibly long. Much longer than our normal blogs are, which are already pretty lengthy. To help break everything up into a more digestible format, we’re posting the interview across four updates leading up to the release next week. The first two parts cover the game with Yosuke Okunari (SEGA of Japan) and Naoki Horii (President of M2). The second two parts features Manabu Namiki and focuses on the sound and music design.
If you love these interviews, post and let us know! We really feel passionate about being able to deliver such an in depth technical look into how these games are created. Thanks for reading, enjoy part 1 …
A Word About The Original Arcade Version
The racing game Out Run began operating in 1986 as the forth entry in SEGA’s series of “physical experience” games. The gameplay follows a man and woman as they throw their car canopy back and race across the countryside, crossing checkpoints within the given time limits. Players need to avoid running into other cars and off-course obstacles or else be violently thrown from their vehicle. The pyramid-like course structure resulted in 16 possible routes.
The arcade cabinet came in Deluxe, Standard, Cockpit, and Upright versions, with an accelerator and brake at your feet, and shifter with HI/LO positions on the left side of the seat (the Upright kit’s is on the right). The Deluxe and Standard cabinets moved with your steering, and when you ran off course or crashed.
One of the ground-breaking features of the game at the time of its release was the ability to choose from three radio songs before you started playing: MAGICAL SOUND SHOWER, SPLASH WAVE, and PASSING BREEZE.
There was also a time when players of Out Run were particularly focused on speed runs of the game, and a bug was discovered where you could maintain speed even when running off course by rapidly changing the gearshift, which came to be known as gear gacha. This play style led to many of the arcade cabinets seeing a shorter-than-expected lifespan, due to wear and tear on the gear shifter.
The arcade board itself was an evolution of Space Harrier’s, and was dubbed the Out Run Board. It used two MC68000 processors and a Z80 for sound control, and was capable of displaying 128 sprites at one time. The sound itself was done with a YM2151 and a SEGA proprietary PCM, which were not only used for sound effects, but also for the rhythm parts for the background music.
Setting A New Standard For Ports
– It’s finally Out Run’s turn for the 3D Remaster Project. Shall we start?
Yosuke Okunari (below YO): It’s the third game in the 3D Remaster Project’s second batch, and the 11th game overall. Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be able to continue this far. But it is time to release what some consider to be the climax of the series, 3D Out Run. I want to thank you and everyone else for supporting us.
YO: Actually, I was thinking this game would come out sometime in the summer of 2014 (the title released in the spring of 2014 in Japan). Last year’s series finished up in the summer, after all. I’m glad we were able to keep on track.
NH: Is this a compliment? Or are you saying you didn’t think we could do it?
YO: Well, we got some help from various groups, and as a result you can all take a drive during Golden Week*. I’ve always timed arcade game releases to coincide with long break periods, so personally I think it really worked out.
* Golden Week is a period at the beginning of May in Japan where three national holidays line up and the public takes advantage of this to take up to a week and a half off.
– I think Out Run is a title everyone’s been waiting for.
YO: You know, people always ask why we didn’t put the really famous games from SEGA’s physical experience lineup, like Out Run and After Burner, at the front of the series rather than the end.
And thanks to you all, we have received very positive feedback on 3D Space Harrier. And with this second batch, we started by releasing games that were of particular interest to the Japanese users. The reason we didn’t do After Burner II and Out Run in the first batch is that these are games that M2 hadn’t worked on in the past, and would be much more difficult to develop, as well as the fact there’s a lot of other “paperwork,” so to speak, that these particular titles required prior to being released.
For Out Run especially, there’s a number of reasons we cannot simply release the original arcade version as-is, and thus it’s previously been considered “unportable.” But we’ve heard so many people tell us, “Release Out Run!” And of course, it’s a title we want to release as well. I mean, if you are going to have Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and Galaxy Force II, it’d just be strange if we didn’t also have After Burner II and Out Run.
NH: Well, won’t it be strange if we don’t have Thunder Blade!?
YO: You really just don’t give up on that. Would it really be that strange if we don’t?
NH: Wouldn’t it? I mean, the game really does stand out.
YO: It only stands out because you keep bringing it up in these interviews.
– Well, I’d like to see you guys put out Thunder Blade.
YO: Anyway… We knew that if we were going to do a second batch, we knew that we’d need to see if these two games were going to be possible. So with that decided, we started with After Burner II and went through the things we needed to confirm one by one. Ultimately we were able to bring out 3D After Burner II in a form meeting everyone’s expectations, more or less.
Next was Out Run. 3D Out Run was basically being done in parallel with After Burner II, with the same core staff doing the development. And let me just preemptively answer the question that’s burning in the throats of all the hardcore fans reading this interview: the car design is not the same as the original.
Since we knew that we couldn’t do a 100% reproduction of the original, we had to ask ourselves if we should even bother doing the port. This was the first hurdle we had to clear. Can we really retain the essence of Out Run? What are the things we can do?
We took a hard look at the porting history of this title such as the Sega Saturn version, the Dreamcast version, and the Xbox version, and decided to aim once again to not only port this game again, but set a new standard by retaining the good stuff—everything that was within our ability to do so.
I said this back when we started the SEGA AGES 2500 series (Japan-only), but we’ve continued to deliver games that capture the experience and feeling of playing the games back when they were originally released, resurrecting these famous SEGA titles for the current generation. We’ve done that by doing faithful ports, or with new ideas such as moving arcade cabinet modes and environmental sounds recorded off the cabinets themselves.
Everything we are now capable of, all the ideas that we’ve come up with to get you as close as possible to that original arcade experience, all the ways we can extend the fun, all the results of our trial and error… We’ve brought it all to 3D Out Run.
– There was some doubt when the news came out about the fact that the player’s car would be different from the original. But it seems like there was a bit of a situation surrounding that. Personally, as long as it’s not something that changes the gameplay itself from the original, I don’t think some amount of change is a big problem. But I wonder how our readers feel about it.
YO: If it were a budget or schedule constraint, then there might have been something we could have done, but that wasn’t it. So we appreciate everyone’s understanding for 3D After Burner II and 3D Out Run.
Run everything we can at 60 frames per second! A better-than-the-original Out Run.
– So tell us a bit about any technical hardships you guys had this time with the porting work.
YO: If you’re someone who’s been reading all our interviews to-date, perhaps you’ve noticed that there seems to be less talk about our trials and tribulations with the porting work for the second batch of games.
YO: This is because about half of the talk during the first batch of interviews was about how M2 told us that a game wouldn’t run, but then they used their technical know-how to make adjustments to the program optimization and data organization and make something that basically runs just like the original, pushing the 3DS to its limits.
First Horii-san said Space Harrier wouldn’t work, and then he said Galaxy Force II most certainly wouldn’t work. But in the end they were able to get them running, so for the second batch with After Burner II and Fantasy Zone, they were able to get things started relatively smoothly because of the breathing room we’d created with our previous achievements.
NH: Our hard work is paying dividends.
YO: That said, that hard work came back once again with Out Run. When was it that you showed me Out Run working for the first time?
NH: It was quite some time ago. Wasn’t it back in the spring of 2013?
YO: It’s worth noting that our second title, Super Hang-On, ran on the same arcade board as Out Run (commonly known as the “Out Run Board”, though it was the 2nd game on the system). So when the work on Super Hang-On was finished, M2 figured that with a little more effort, they could get Out Run working as well.
NH: Super Hang-On had an Out Run Board version as well, so we had a rough idea as to the work that would be involved.
YO: So with that, I had them show me the game running. But I immediately rejected it saying, “No. This isn’t going to work.” And the reason was because the port was running at 30 frames per second.
NH: Yes, but the arcade version rendered at 30 FPS as well.
– Oh, the original runs at 30 FPS, too.
YO: Out Run is the only game from that era of SEGA arcade “physical experience” games that ran at 30 FPS. All the other ones ran at 60 FPS. Out Run used a new arcade board that was a souped up version of Space Harrier’s Harrier Board, but I think because the development team put an extreme amount of work into the visual aspects of the title, the game was released running at 30 FPS. I don’t think anyone complained at the time, and it never bothered me personally until the Sega Saturn version was released.
– The Sega Saturn version! Wow, that was a really amazing port, wasn’t it?
YO: When you played the Sega Saturn version normally, it would run just like the arcade version at 30 FPS, but by putting in a cheat code, you could run the game at 60 FPS. It was a true testament to Rutubo Games, the developers, and I bet it caused those who played in this mode to “see the light,” as it were. I was actually in charge of the marketing for that game back then, and I was really impressed with Rutubo’s work the first time I saw it.
So when M2 first showed told me the game and said, “We got Out Run working,” I thought back to that and said, “This is going to have to run at 60 FPS.”
NH: Even though rendering at 30 FPS was being faithful to the original, there was a precedent for 60 FPS.
YO: The reasoning was that since the Saturn version ran at 60 FPS, the fans are undoubtedly going to want to see it running at 60 FPS. And since M2 is the sort of company that gets fixated on things like running at 60 FPS, it’s really a must-have.
NH: Well, you know… You aren’t wrong, but in order to get it rendering at 60 FPS, you need to get it running at around twice the speed of the arcade version.
– It reminds me of when we were talking about the Neo Classic version for 3D Galaxy Force II (that game’s Special Mode).
YO: Oh, yeah. It’s exactly like that. (laughs)
NH: Even if something’s impossibly difficult, if we keep whispering in the dev team’s ear, somehow it ends up happening.
YO: Though in that situation, we were talking about putting in graphics with twice the resolution of the original, all while the memory usage was already redlining.
– What you’re saying is that for 3D Galaxy Force II, it was a battle with memory management, but for 3D Out Run it’s a battle with using the machine power efficiently.
YO: That’s back when we were working on 3D Galaxy Force II and M2 was telling me that it was impossible. (laughs)
– So nothing ever changes (laughs). M2 just simply tells you it’s not going to happen.
YO: …Well, that’s what they said, but later when we finally got around to doing the second batch, we talked about how we were going to do Out Run this time around, but M2 would have to bring their best and get it running at 60 FPS. They never promised that they could, but we just kind of ignored that and gave it the green-light anyway.
– You once again “cut through the hemming and hawing,” as you put it? (laughs) Well, I guess there was a precedent for it working out in the end.
NH: Yes, and we ended up agreeing to it…
YO: The development started, and the first version that M2 uploaded didn’t have anything running at 60 FPS. Though, to be exact, there was a switch that simply read, “Smooth.” (laughs)
– (laughs) “Smooth Mode” was what they called the cheat in the Sega Saturn version, wasn’t it?
YO: I said to the director, Matsuoka-san, “The fact that you have this switch here… This means you’re going to get it running at 60 FPS, right?” And he said, “Well, we’ll do our best, but I’m not in a position to say that we can actually do it.”
NH: That’s why I like Matsuoka. “I’ll do my best.” In my case, I just say, “Yeah, I guess we have to do it, don’t we?” And it just ends in hardship for everyone.
YO: So then some time went by and the alpha version arrived. When you turned on this Smooth Switch, everything rendered quicker. I got all excited, saying “Wait, what!? It’s running at 60 FPS! Matsuoka-san, you did it! All you had to do was put your mind to it!” But Matsuoka-san said, “No, look closer.” It turns out only the road was being drawn at 60 FPS, and all the other objects like the billboards and other cars were still running at 30 FPS.
NH: We were able to get everything running at 60 FPS by addressing each spot one by one.
– I see.
YO: So then some time passed and the in-game started to run in 60 FPS, starting with the other cars, then the billboards, and so on. Director Matsuoka was telling me, “We are gradually putting what we can into 60 FPS, one thing at a time.”
NH: And it’s not just a split between background and foreground objects. There are more detailed categories than just those. So every time we put something new into 60 FPS, we’d send the ROM around internally and ask, “Can you tell what’s different?” And a discerning colleague would spot the new area. That was our “60 FPS Evaluation Committee,” as it were.
And by repeating this process, we were able to get the ending and the startup scenes up to 60 FPS as well. The Saturn version left those portions at 30 FPS. Though I’m not sure there’s a point to running those scenes at 60 FPS!
NH: We were on a mission to run every part of the game at 60 FPS. However, we eventually started running out of processing power, so we ultimately had to go back to the way the Saturn version was and run the ending at 30 FPS. I guess there are reasons why Rutubo did things the way they did. (laughs)
YO: In any case, we had a talk and decided that we’d just keep working on upgrading individual parts, and if we run out of time that’s the best we could do, and that’s fine. Once we had the objects running at 60 FPS, we went and took this “Special” mode that we created and just made it the default, in the same way we did with 3D Galaxy Force II. We want the user to experience Out Run in all its glory right out of the box, and the best way to do that is at 60 frames per second.
NH: Though making that the default made life a lot harder for us.
YO: Taking our Special content and making that the default was sometime just before beta, wasn’t it?
NH: Yes, it was quite recent.
YO: When we showed Nintendo what we were working on, it was still in a state where the 30 FPS and 60 FPS bits were mixed half and half. Later we had something that was mostly running at 60, but there were still bits like the crash scenes that were still at 30. There were a number of 30 FPS scenes still in there, actually…
But when you get it to that point, you start thinking, “Isn’t this good enough?” But in the final stretch from beta up to the final version, more and more bits and pieces of 60 FPS kept creeping in. And before I knew it, everything was running at 60 FPS. Toward the end, I couldn’t even tell what was being changed in the last few updates.
– Speaking from a render processing standpoint, you guys saved a lot of machine power in 3D Galaxy Force II because you made the upfront decision to use streaming for the music, right? But for 3D Out Run, you’re emulating the music as well. Did you ever consider changing your initial plans to emulate everything
NH: Not really. We figured that we got things to work with the Y-Board, and it didn’t really seem right to stream the music to achieve double the rendering on the Out Run Board.
YO: If you want to reproduce the music through streaming, you end up with a much larger data size. Most users get by with using the SD Card that their 3DS comes with, which would be a 2GB card for normal 3DS and 4GB for the XL. Since we are releasing a lot of games in this series, we want the users to be able to line them all up on their 3DS at one time, you know? So we want each title to be as small as possible. M2 is especially keen on this. I asked them if they were really okay with no streaming, and they were very obstinate about wanting to do it with emulation.
NH: We didn’t know if we could get everything running at 60 FPS, but we knew we wanted to do the sound via emulation. That never changed.
YO: We had the intention of doing everything through emulation from the get-go, but then I had this fixation on getting everything running at 60 FPS, so I was raising the bar even further. (laughs) We support widescreen this time as well, like it’s no big deal. But that means things not displayed in the original need to be rendered on screen, and this requires more rendering power. For 3D Galaxy Force II, the original version always displayed wide so it was doable, but for After Burner II and Out Run, if you just widen the display area it causes empty spots where sprites aren’t being rendered, so you have to fill that in. That caused a bit of trouble on our part, didn’t it?
NH: Yes, that’s right. And you can see things you weren’t supposed to see.
YO: For After Burner II’s take-off and landing scenes, the aircraft carrier takes up the entire screen in 4:3, but when you display it in 16:9 it looks strange if you don’t show the ocean on the sides. And when you land on the carrier and come to a stop, the movement of the water has to stop, but in the original 4:3 the water keeps flowing off screen. So you have to make efforts to stop that, too. Basically you have to put work into fixing things that you never noticed in the original.
The original ran at 4:3, so by displaying in widescreen, portions that were not previously rendered are now visible, which requires data to be displayed there as well as increasing the area that needs to be drawn, which in turn increases processing requirements.
– There’s additional work that occurs because you have to clean up stuff that was not visible in the original because it was outside the screen frame.
YO: Like if you were watching a movie, and you saw something off the set, it sort of kills the magic.
– You have to hide backdrops and mic booms and all that off-camera.
NH: Hide all that piano wire for the fight sequences!
YO: Throughout the entire development process with Out Run, the graphics guys were pursuing any means possible to get rid of any differences with the original, while the programmers we focused on doing whatever possible to increase speed. Running things at 60 FPS of course creates bugs and glitches as well, so those also had to be addressed. In that sense, this was the most difficult project out of the second batch of ports.
NH: Upgrading every single little thing so it runs at 60 FPS took the most time. If you could just tweak the clock of the entire system and turn everything up to run at 60 FPS, well, that would be easy. But you can’t do that with this.
– I have one thing that’s been bugging me I’d like to ask about. To get a game that originally ran at 30 FPS to run at 60 FPS, it’s double the number of screens you have to draw, so you have to draw two frames for every one frame the original drew. How are you synthesizing these new additional frames? You’re not just drawing the same frame again, right?
YO: We didn’t have the Saturn source code available to us, so we weren’t able to thoroughly investigate how Rutubo went about handling it, but the Saturn version’s 60 Frame Mode had this aspect where everything ran really smoothly, but it also lost its sense of speed. 3D Out Run does not suffer from that.
NH: The game itself is running at the same speed as the original, so once the game finishes drawing a frame, the next image—the image displayed 30 frames later—is also finished drawing. At 60 FPS, we are basically calculating where the background and objects will be placed between the previous frame and next frame, and adding that additional frame in between.
– So it’s the same technique that TVs employ for screen smoothing.
NH: This is what I’ve been talking about, getting every single little thing to render at 60 FPS. The Saturn version probably used the same idea. Since the speed you move at is known, you can use that to calculate that in-between frame.
– Oh, I see. So adding on to that, the scrolling is sync’d with the car’s movements, so if for example the car slows down, couldn’t it break the 3D? For example, if you got a game over during a fork in the road, it’d just freeze the screen like that, right?
YO: People who don’t read these interviews might just drive through those parts and think nothing of it. That certainly was the case with me. But for those out there who are reading these interviews, I want you to know that M2 put a lot of work into the forked road sections to make them so they look natural in 3D. I’m sure they’d be happy if you remembered them when you are taking those turns. (laughs)
NH: Just as Okunari-san is saying, obviously we have to make it look 3D. I feel like asking the people out there reading the interview to think that it’s really amazing is a bit futile, because it’s so obvious that it needs to be there. (all laugh)
– If you didn’t take a still screenshot of it, I don’t think I would have noticed it either. This isn’t the sort of thing you’d notice if you hadn’t been taking screenshots back in the day when everything was interlaced. When you take games that use line buffers and bring that onto games that buffer the whole frame, you run into a lot of tough issues. Though this isn’t something that matters much to the average player.
YO: I’m sure people who know what we’re talking about are grinning right now. (laughs) The kind of people who watch the transition between scrolling left and scrolling right in Fantasy Zone with one eye closed.
What we did in Out Run was built on what we did on After Burner, and that was built on what was done on Galaxy Force II, Super Hang-On, and Space Harrier. The technology we’ve built up over past projects is what makes the next project possible.
– Most people, including myself, would think that once you got Galaxy Force II working, it would be trivial to get any of the other “physical experience” titles working on the 3DS.
NH: Well, you wouldn’t be wrong. Of course, there are certain exceptions to that, like adding 3D and whatnot.
– Not to mention things like the System-24’s rather strange architecture.
But Wait, There’s More (and more, and more)
This concludes the first part of our translated interview from Game Watch & Impress. Tomorrow we’ll close our part two with a look at the extra features and updates in 3D Out Run. On Monday, we’ll kick off our translated interview with Manabu Namiki on the game audio. Thanks for reading!
Posted by Julian in SEGA 3D Classics on 12:45:26PM Mar 05, 2015
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