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Archive for May, 2015


   
 

My Last Day at SEGA

The Events

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I wanted to exit SEGA on my last blog update. This is my second time around at the company, with 11 years under my belt all total. Two SEGA buildings, shipped over sixty titles, and five different job titles. I’ve seen and done a lot. I’ve met some amazing people and forged lifelong friendships. I’ve worked on some outstanding projects, truly some of the best games in the industry. I’ve had a ton of fun.

I figured the best way was to celebrate the fun we had over the years, so I’ve pulled together a few moments that will always make me smile.

Remember that Time We Recreated Green Hill Zone Inside the Office?

Aaron in the Sonic Cubicle

We had a rule at SEGA – when you take a vacation for at least two weeks, you are fair game for pranking. We take a lot of pride in making a prank have a lasting impression. With Aaron away on a European vacation, we carved out a little time each day to dress his cubicle up like Green Hill Zone. Because of course we did.

Built with a budget of $100 and a lot of love, the results were fantastic.

Remember That Time We Grew Mustaches for Charity?

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I don’t remember exactly how or why we decided to do Movember, but I’m pretty sure one of the reasons was so we could look back on us all having mustaches. We also raised a lot of money for a good cause and had a good time doing it. We even got the internet to vote on my boss’s mustache style, and Avalanche Studios chipped in to support along with us. Oh and Kate was there, hi Kate!

Remember that Hoodie? Or that Poster? Or those Lanyards?

The Giveaways / MerchThe Giveaways / Merch
Our posters are a huge hit!Free Stuff Friday - May 16th 2014

The Community Team has made a lot of cool stuff over the years. For events, or promotions, or just for fun. I’m just as much a fan of SEGA as you are, so getting a chance to make some official merch – totally awesome. If nothing else, I’ll always be warm with one of the various SEGA hoodies!

Remember That Time When I Ended my Ice Skating Career?

Kellie does. She made sure to show everyone in the office. She posted it to our official YouTube account. The video even aired at our holiday company meeting, which was hosted that year in a movie theater. I’ll play myself out…

Remember that time, at that event, where that thing happened?

The Events

I love events. I’m a big fan of all things gaming and I nerd out for E3, for PAX, for in-game events, or for local stuff in our office. How can I not though? Working to build these big programs, lots of stuff to reveal, activities planned, merch created, developers on the floor, and a ton of fans to meet. Walking on the floor in your team colors, seeing the unexpected, the travel, the food; it’s like nothing else. Here’s a random selection from some of my favorite moments at SEGA:

The EventsThe Events
The EventsThe Events
Wouter and Tokuhara-san

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The EventsThe Events
The Events

The EventsThe Events
Our friends from Australia, with a very special E3 delivery.The Events
The Events

Sally Acorn and Eggman with Sonic at San Diego Comic ConSonic fans came from all over to check out GenerationsTotal War: Rome II at San Diego Comic ConSan Diego Comic-con 2013

Remember That Time, in That Game, what was it called?

I’ve had the good fortune of working on a ton of titles. There’s too many to count and too many to list here. So I’m picking a few titles that may have slipped under your radar over the years. Not really a top 5, just a solid group of awesome SEGA titles that you might have missed out on.

Alpha Protocol
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Obsidian Entertainment makes some of the best RPGs in the industry and they created the absolute best choice-based RPG to date. Yes, I know you are thinking of that other game, but no, this is the one that actually has player choice as the centerpiece. It’s not good / bad / neutral; instead a branching storyline with every conversation choice. Play it once, then play it again and make the opposite choices for everything you did previously – I promise you’ll be surprised by the outcome!

Shinobi 3DS
Shinobi 3DS
Do you like 2D old school games, hard as nails gameplay, unlockable challenge maps that are nearly impossible? This is totally the game for you. Shinobi 3DS is a massive throwback to classic titles, something that every SEGA fan should check out. Can you beat it at the hardest difficulty? I can’t, but there’s a surprise unlock if you can make it through.

SEGA 3D Classics
3D Sonic the Hedgehog
Calling these ports is doing them a massive disservice. These 3D Classics are some of the best versions of SEGA titles every released, often besting the arcade or console versions with new features. Don’t believe me? Check out our interviews! The 3D effect is not a gimmick, it completely enhances all of the games and brings in some cool features. Play Galaxy Force II or Outrun and marvel at how fantastic they run, how still completely impressive the games are after 20 years.

Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation DLC - The Trigger

Consider that the Alien has been seen in movies, TV, as cartoons, toys, and more. You know what the creature is, you know what it can do, and yet Alien: Isolation will scare you silly. That’s a pretty big feat and an incredible achievement. Play with the lights off, headphones on, hardest difficulty, don’t kill any humans, and don’t die. Not impossible, I did it on my 2nd playthrough and it was insanely challenging and fun!

Vanquish
Vanquish
PlatinumGames makes some awesome titles, but Vanquish is my personal favorite. Arcade-style gameplay, fast and extremely tight combat, and a total adrenaline rush; it really is the essence of classic SEGA titles. Master the speed of dashing around the battlefield, then hone your skills with the slowdown mechanic. If you can beat each of the challenges, you have my ultimate respect!

Thank you!

To the fans of SEGA, on the blog, social media, the forums, at events, on email, anywhere at all – thank you. One of my primary goals has always been to help surface your words, concerns, and excitement into every area of the SEGA company. I’ve met some amazing people, carried out some intense conversations, and built some lifelong friendships. The SEGA community is awesome, I’m sad most of all to not have the opportunity to work within it.

If you had a special memory or fun experience with SEGA social, with me personally, or anything related to SEGA – I’d be honored if you’d share it in the comments. Thank you!

 
   
   
 

Alien: Isolation and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Ultimate Edition in PSN Extended Play Sale

Alien: Isolation

As part of PlayStation Network’s Extended Play sale, we have two SEGA games discounted for you, with special deals for PlayStation Plus members. Please keep in mind these sales are for the Americas only!

Game Platform Original Price Sale Price Sale Price (PS+)
Alien: Isolation + Season Pass Bundle PS4 $89.99 $45.00 $36.00
Alien: Isolation + Season Pass Bundle PS3 $79.99 $40.00 $32.00
Alien: Isolation Season Pass PS4 $29.99 $15.00 $12.00
Alien: Isolation Season Pass PS3 $29.99 $15.00 $12.00
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Ultimate Edition PS3 $29.99 $15.00 $12.00

Alien: Isolation

 
   
   
 

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX Gets a Special Launch Edition; Will Release in September

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX, the unique 3D rhythm game developed specifically for the Nintendo 3DS, will now launch on Sept. 8, in North America and Sept. 11 in Europe. The game will be available in stores and digitally on the eShop for the originally announced price of $39.99.

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

In North America, we will offer a special physical Launch Edition at retailers nationwide. This launch edition of Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX will include the game, premium outer box packaging, and a 3-foot wallet chain designed after Hatsune Miku’s iconic belt – a simple and stylish way for fans to represent their love for Miku. All copies of the game will include 19 double-sided augmented reality (AR) cards that show off additional dance moves and costumes.

In collaboration with Good Smile Company, a popular Japanese figure company, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX features Miku and all of her friends in their Nendoroid figure style. The game features 48 full-length versions of fan-favorite songs players can challenge themselves with by trying to match the rhythm in “Tap Mode” and “Button Mode,” each with multiple difficulty levels, which can be further augmented with challenge and support items.

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

But the rhythm game is just one facet of Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX – players can also customize a virtual apartment for their favorite Miku character with decorations, seasonal items, and more. The Mirai Theater has replay functions so players can watch their favorite videos and add scrolling commentary. Choreograph entirely new routines by making new moves in the Dance Studio, and compose brand new song phrases in My Tune. This info can all be shared on customizable Profile Cards, which can be shared via StreetPass and kept current via SpotPass.

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX will launch on Sept. 8 for North America and Sept. 11 in Europe in stores and digitally on the eShop.
For more information about the game, please visit our website. For more images, visit our Flickr album here.

 
   
   
 

3D Thunder Blade Now Available For Nintendo 3DS

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade

We announced today that 3D Thunder Blade, re-mastered exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS, is now available to download in the eShop.

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3D Thunder Blade is a recreation of a one-of-a-kind combat helicopter arcade machine originally released in 1987, re-mastered for the Nintendo 3DS hand-held system. In 3D Thunder Blade, players control a helicopter and use guns and missiles to destroy enemy vehicles while flying between buildings, through caves, and into enemy bases. The re-mastered version boasts stereoscopic 3D visuals, support for the Circle Pad Pro or C-Stick, and adds a host of new features including two options for gyroscopic controls, adjustable difficulty settings, and a mode that recreates the look and feel of the original arcade machine with additional sound effects. Replay saving and stage select are also available!

Unlocked by completing the Arcade Mode, a Special Mode allows players to replay the game with upgraded attack powers, increased numbers of enemies with placements in new locations, all-new enemies, and an additional stage that was developed specifically for this re-master. 3D Thunder Blade also introduces brand new remixes of the original in-game music that can be toggled ‘on’ and ‘off’.

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SEGA 3D CLASSICS - Thunderblade

3D Thunder Blade is available now for download in the Nintendo eShop on Nintendo 3DS.

For more information on the creation of the SEGA 3D Classics, head over for an in-depth interview with the M2 Developers.

 
   
   
 

SEGA 3D Classics – 3D Thunder Blade – Part 2

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade

It’s here! Part 2 of our 3D Thunder Blade article is even longer than part 1. Covering off everything from music, technical design challenges, and of course the secrets inside Special Mode.

As always, your comments are appreciated, I can assure you we geek out as much as you do on these articles and love to hear what everyone else thinks of them. Enjoy!

But Before We Get To The Special Mode

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Background: Naoki Horii, President of M2. Foreground: Yosuke Okunari, SEGA Producer

– So before we talk about the Special Mode, I wanted to ask you about something I was wondering about. So the original Thunder Blade ran on the X-BOARD, the one that After Burner used, so I think you probably had the same struggles with this port as you did with 3D After Burner II. I heard you began working on this one in earnest after you finished the work on 3D Out Run, so it seems like you had some limitations on the time you had to get it done.

YO: We did a lot of the typical straightforward optimization work that we normally have to deal with, but we didn’t encounter anything new or special on this project. I heard there were a lot of under-the-hood issues that you can’t directly see, like cleaning up bugs from the original.

NH: Because of the structure of the original code, we had more issues getting the game to 60 FPS than I can go into here. But the core essence of Thunder Blade is included in the program structure, so once we got it to run at 60 FPS there were no further problems with recreating the game. But it took us a lot of work to get our heads around the internal details to allow us to remix things for the Special Mode.

YO: First, we did a straight port, then we went on to do the 3D parts, and then we worked on widescreen…

NH: The widescreen implementation was hard, but at this point everyone expects us to do it, so there isn’t really much to tell there.

– Even so, there’s a lot of work that goes into that. When you put things into widescreen, you can see things that you weren’t able to see before, right?

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
SEGA’s Storage Warehouse for Arcade Cabinets. From left to right: Thunder Blade, Out Run, After Burner II, Galaxy Force II, Space Harrier.

NH: That’s right. For example, you can see things that weren’t in the original game, like on the title screen. We had to have Iuchi* go in and build out parts that didn’t exist for widescreen.

*Hiroshi Iuchi: A game creator who has worked for companies like Konami and Treasure. Known for shooting classics like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. He is currently working with M2 and was involved in 3D After Burner’s Special Mode

– Since there are two perspectives in the game, some parts of the game were like 3D After Burner, but some parts were different, right? There’s a lot more to draw, especially in the top-down views. The buildings are made up of something like 7 layered sprites, so how did you get that into widescreen?

NH: That part actually worked out okay.

YO: Thunder Blade is made so you basically move left and right freely within the background, so the graphics already existed. Though, there were a few problems…

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The bridge had to be lengthened to accommodate widescreen mode (Special Mode screen)

NH: Like the bridge in Stage 3, which wasn’t long enough horizontally, so we had to address that. Also in the top-down parts, there were inner parts of the building that you weren’t supposed to be able to see, so we had to hide those as well.

– I believe I asked this in the first half of the interview, but you did have access to the source code, right? Did you have access to the source for After Burner II?

YO: There was no source code left for Out Run or After Burner. We did get the program source code and the sound source for Thunder Blade, however.

– Is it the same data that was used for the retail version?

NH: That’s a little hard to answer. Thunder Blade has both a Japanese version and an International version. The International version, which released after the Japanese version, had a lot of additional work that went into it and is quite different. However, the source data we got is something sort of in between those two versions.

YO: After the arcade version had finished, they were working on an upright version for the overseas market, and they made some tweaks for this upright version. Basically, the ending is different, and positions of obstacles and enemies are different. In Stage 1 and 3, I believe?

– So it had some adjustments in it.

YO: It’s a little like the “fixed” version of Out Run.

– Since they had a little extra time in the schedule for the overseas version, they were able to go back and fix a few things.

YO: That was probably the case.

– So it’s just that you don’t know at what exact point this source data was from.

NH: Back then, they probably didn’t have the strict version control systems that we have now. In any case, when we opened it all up, we didn’t know which version we were looking at, and there were a couple of spots were felt we needed to get it running on an arcade board to check. It was really helpful in the end, though, so I’m thankful we had it available to us.

– Like data locations… It serves as a good guide, at least, right?

NH: That’s right. It does serve as a good guide, but if you just blindly follow it, you may find that the result is different from the retail version. But it did act as a blueprint for when we were pulling the game apart, and that was significant. It’s like looking at the actual building while looking at the blueprints at the same time. I think we had a similar situation back when we were working on the SEGA AGES 2500 version of Virtual-On.

YO: In any case, having the program source code available really was a good thing for our Special Mode.

Unearthing the Sound, as Always

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
GALAXY FORCE II & Thunder Blade Original Sound Track

YO: So let’s go into the sound source. As a matter of fact, one of the things Thunder Blade was relatively well-known for was its sound. A lot of people have forgotten about the game itself, but the first SEGA soundtrack CD* that Scitron released, Galaxy Force II, had Thunder Blade on it as well. Only the CD version. The songs that Kouichi Namiki made are very cool, and as a result the game became well-known as well… But the reality is that the music on the CD is actually different from the arcade version.

* GALAXY FORCE –G.S.M.SEGA1- : Released in 1988, this CD had music from Galaxy Force, Thunder Blade, and Altered Beast.

When we ported Galaxy Force II to the PS2, Wave Master reissued the soundtrack as well*, but it was the first time we had recorded the music straight off the arcade board, and that caused a small stir among the folks who noticed. The arcade version and the Scitron versions were different, and the arcade version is slightly simpler in some of its details. It seems that the arcade version and the Scitron version were made separately at the same time. Like, an intro that was cut from the arcade version was restored, and there was stereo panning added in. So in a way, the Scitron version was the “complete version.” And after that, for the Mega Drive version of Super Thunder Blade, they followed the soundtrack version’s example and included the intro.

* GALAXY FORCE II & Thunder Blade Original Sound Track : A soundtrack CD released in 2007, containing versions of Galaxy Force II & Thunder Blade music recorded straight off the arcade board. You can get these on iTunes or Amazon.

And so while the soundtrack is very well-known, the arcade version of the song is even less well-known than the “no melody” version of After Burner’s theme.

NH: And since that was the case, of course we wanted to not only have the arcade version, but the soundtrack version of the music in our port of the game.

YO: But we didn’t know where to find the alternate version sound data. Of course this data wasn’t left on the retail arcade board.

So we started by asking Kouichi Namiki-san if he knew if the data had been saved and in what format. He told us that at the time, he had submitted the data to his supervisor, but he didn’t know what had become of it after that. Naturally, this wasn’t a surprise.

NH: This is data from 20 years before, at a previous job, after all.

YO: So then we asked Takenobu Mitsuyoshi*, who is part of the R&D 1 sound team, to see if he could locate the data that Namiki-san’s supervisor had left. And he was able to salvage it for us. We then handed it over to M2, converted it to an X-BOARD sound ROM, and after a number of tries, finally got it working. When it sounded just the like the soundtrack, we were super excited.

* Takenobu Mitsuyoshi: A classic SEGA composer and vocalist. You may know him for his work on Daytona USA!

NH: At first, that is. (laughs)

YO: But, once we started listening closely, we noticed something was…off. Listening further, we noted that the song was about 95% the same as the sound track version, but that remaining 5% was different.

– So it wasn’t the final version?

YO: Actually, it was even further refined than the soundtrack. And on top of that, it didn’t loop—instead, it would play through and finish. It was a version that was completely intended for performance. (laughs) So we went back to Kouichi Namiki-san and asked him, “So we got this data back, do you have any idea what this is?” And he said…

“I have no recollection!” (laughs)

– Well it was a long time ago.

YO: Well, if you think about it from the way it’s made, this new data was probably in fact the final version. So we decided to put it in. And thus, the Extra BGM that’s in 3D Thunder Blade has 3 additional main tracks, including the version that was further remixed past the soundtrack version. We currently have no plans to put this version on a CD or release it digitally, so if you want to hear it, you’ll have to go pick up the game. (all laugh) It’s in the Sound Test as well.

– Well, well…

YO: In addition, the 3D Thunder Blade version is clearer than the older soundtrack version.

– What a complicated situation, with the song being ever so slightly different from the OST… (laughs)

A Special Mode Based On the Overseas Enemy Placements; Shoot, Save, Get More Lives!

– Alright, are we ready to talk about the Special Mode?

YO: Absolutely! The Special Mode is basically what we would consider the final form of Thunder Blade. It’s really the complete version.

So first off, only one arcade version of Thunder Blade was ever available in Japan, so we didn’t really worry about the differences between the Japanese and International versions for Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode is the Japanese version, pure and simple. But everything that changed for the International version has been included in the Special Mode.

So while the base is the International version, the enemy placements have of course been further changed for Special Mode. The concept behind our Special Mode is to take the concept that is Thunder Blade and make the game more interesting while still maintaining that core Thunder Blade-ness.

So in order to further refine what makes Thunder Blade fun as a game, we did what old-school ports called…

NH: Yes, a Power-Up Port.

YO: It sort of like how for the Mega Drive and PC Engine, they went in with the intention of not only creating a faithful port, but enhancing it for home console platforms. You could say that it’s close to Micomsoft’s X68000 port. We wanted to add some content to make the game more fun, and the result is our Special Mode.

We put a lot of ideas into the Special Mode, and we even considered letting people play the Special Mode right out of the box, but in the end we felt that we needed the players to really understand how the original version was first, and then try the Special Mode. So just like 3D After Burner, you’ll need to clear the Arcade Mode once first to unlock the Special Mode.

– Was the design for the Special Mode decided soon after you began development?

YO: We were discussing what the Grantanoff was going to be this time around, and I threw out the crazy idea that I wanted to see more stages.

* “Grantanoff” was character added to the Mark III version of After Burner. Okunari-san wanted this character added to 3D After Burner II, asking M2, “Where’s Grantanoff?” on a weekly basis. Okunari-san dubbed it “Project Grantanoff.” Unfortunately Grantanoff didn’t make it into 3D After Burner II, but it became a code word for adding extra content to the games, such as HAYA OH in 3D Space Harrier, or the moving arcade cabinets.

NH: That you did. And I believe Saito agreed with you.

YO: And this game, while it has 4 stages, you could actually say it has 12 stages in total if you include the boss stages. But it’s presented as four stages. You know, when Galaxy Force was upgraded from I to II, they added that last stage, right? That stage required no additional graphics, and was built from graphics repurposed from other parts of the game.

So we discussed whether it would be possible to build a new stage by taking existing backgrounds and graphics and putting them together in a different way.
Adding stages to a port used to be a very tried and true convention, but these days you don’t really see it too much. “Come on, Horii-san. We’re talking about Thunder Blade here. You can do this, right? ::nudge nudge wink wink::” (laughs)

NH: Yeah, but I couldn’t do it alone. Fortunately Saito wanted to do it, too. While we were working on the first batch, I remember Okunari-san saying, “Why would we want to port such a short game?” So I’d been thinking, “Fine, we’ll just make it longer, then!”

– (laughs) I see…

YO: And with that, we started with the idea that the Grantanoff was going to be a bonus stage. So at first, it wasn’t the Special Mode, but just an extra stage.

NH: I think there are some people who have been reading our interviews who might step in and say that Thunder Blade is in and of itself a Grantanoff.

– (laughs) I’d be inclined to agree.

YO: Then as development progressed, Matsuoka-san, the director, and Saito-san continued analyzing the game and the game balance gradually started to change.

NH: You mean quickly started to change.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Hyper missiles fly quickly long the ground after being fired.

YO: When you take the arcade version and think about it in terms of a console game with a regular controller, there’s lots of things that make it hard to play. Like reloading your missiles is sort of slow. So there were a lot of tweaks that we wanted to make here and there. And even more basic, the missiles were hard to use in the first place.

Wasn’t it Saito-san who changed the missiles to air-to-surface missiles?

NH: It was. They were hard to hit with, so he fixed it because he could.

YO: Even in the Arcade version, there were places that you had to make a distinction between using your missiles and your cannons. You’d use the large explosions to do damage with the missiles, but we made a clear change to that. Super Thunder Blade had lock-on style missiles, but story-wise that was because it happened 3 years after the arcade version, wasn’t it?

NH: That’s correct.

YO: The idea was to power up everything so it felt like it was in a place somewhere between the arcade version of Thunder Blade and Super Thunder Blade. So while we were thinking about what to do with the stages, Saito-san was working on increasing the helicopter’s actual abilities.

By just increasing the helicopter’s core abilities, it made the game really easy. You could clear the Special Mode without much of a challenge. In particular, the missiles were just overpowered. So then the discussion turned to tweaking the game balance to compensate. That was Saito-san too?

NH: Correct. When he upgraded the missiles, he had already decided to change the enemy placements. Basically he had free rein to do what he wanted.

YO: The enemy placements create a totally new game balance and it’s much more of a “shmup” now. The enemies attack harder, but you can attack harder back. Once you get used to the Arcade Mode controls, it’s time to test your mettle on the Special Mode. Arcade Mode is more unassuming, but once you get used to the controls it’s been made simpler and we think you’ll enjoy it. But the Special Mode is much better suited for exciting gameplay.

I mean, when I first saw that tank on top of a building, I was like, “Whoa, what’s a tank doing there?!” The Special Mode came in rather late, but it saw some huge strides there at the end.

– Enemy placement just totally changed. I definitely felt there were more enemies.

NH: Yes. I’m just glad the processing and framerate worked out.

– If you were to take this Special Mode and burn it into a ROM, would it run on the original arcade board?

NH: Similar to what we did with Fantasy Zone II, we have hardware that was slightly enhanced. There are more character banks, since more stages means more characters. If there was a custom SEGA board that had more banks in it, it would run, though widescreen support wouldn’t be possible.

– One of the benefits of this second batch of games is that you’ve gotten better at data placement and program optimization, so I would think that at this point, you’ve got more time and energy to devote to things like that, right?

NH: In general, we’ve been doing a pretty good job for this second batch, but Thunder Blade was one of the rougher ones.

– Especially for the 3D bits, it really feels like you’ve gotten a handle on how it all works. Though I sometimes get the feeling things are fairly tight on the rendering end.

YO: This is our second time working on an X-BOARD project, after After Burner. Super Hang-On was based on the Out Run board, after all.

NH: From the point of view of the people making the games, the Out Run Board and the X-BOARD were pretty similar, but from the point of view of those porting them, they are actually quite different.

– Hmm, I see. Does it make a difference that this one was developed by the former AM1 group, as opposed to AM2?

YO: Yes, there’s that, too. There’s a difference between games programmed by Yu Suzuki, and those that aren’t.

– Since you had the source code this time, did it help with your analysis and let you fiddle with the internals more?

NH: Yes, I suppose it did. It’s like knowing the cardinal directions on a map, and we can where the major roads go if we don’t go in and mess with them. A lot of the details ended up being different, though. But regardless, the difference between having the code and not having it is night and day.

– As a culmination of everything you guys have done, a “port with more,” I’m sure there are a lot of touchups in there and you guys have had to put a lot of work into it.

NH: In a way, it’s an extension on Space Harrier, where we added in widescreen, moving cabinets, and the boss HAYA OH. But even with that comparison, yes, there’s a lot of things we had to get our hands into. We added in a whole new stage this time, so yes, we have definitely “got a handle on it,” as you say.

YO: There’s some representation of everything we’ve done to date in here.

– Did you feel like trying to come up with an interesting Special Mode for Thunder Blade was harder than you expected?

NH: We had a lot of separate ideas thrown out there in the meetings, like more stages.

– Personally, I always felt like the arcade version was lacking, but never could quite put my finger on it. I feel like there would have been a lot of different ideas and approaches that came up until you arrived at “the answer.”

NH: Well, I think there are many ways we could have done it. But we ultimately decided to raise the gameplay density in relation to the amount of time played. Some people stayed away from the game for a variety of reasons, including the feeling that the pace was too slow. So we took it in a direction where you basically are continuously shooting enemies. It’s rather close to 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode. This time, it’s “kill enemies, get lives.”

YO: For 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode, it was all about really going after that satisfying feeling of launching tons of missiles, and so we moved the enemies around to enable that. For 3D Thunder Blade, we are taking it one step further and upgrading your weaponry. In 3D After Burner II, we went a little bit beyond a remix, but we’ve gone even further with 3D Thunder Blade.

– Like there being a new enemy fighter in STAGE 3.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
To the right side of the screen is an enemy that was hidden within the ROM.

YO: Well, that was an unused enemy character we found in the ROM during the analysis. We wanted to set him free, as it were, and he was added towards the end of the development cycle. A week before the final version, even.

– (laughs)

NH: There are times when it’s a good idea to do that, and times when it’s not. Usually, it’s not. We made changes here and there this time, though.

YO: I’m sure there was a reason that enemy didn’t make it into the original game. But this time, we just said, “Go go go!”

– So the data in the ROM was finished, rather than being incomplete?

NH: It seemed like it just wasn’t being used.

YO: I think it was a case of running out of time to place that particular enemy. We’ve also added some additional effects, like enhancing the sense of distance by making far-away graphics whiter.

NH: It’s sort of like fog.

YO: Saito-san really does get into the details.

NH: Even though he was always saying he doesn’t have any time. While he was helping out on Fantasy Zone and Out Run, he was always saying, “When am I going to be able to just focus on Thunder Blade!?”

A Totally Newly Created STAGE 5!

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Past the fortress waiting at the end of STAGE 4 is where the new Special Mode happens.

– So please tell us about this new STAGE 5.

YO: So in Thunder Blade, when you reach this dead-end at the end of STAGE 4, the boss appears and that’s the only 3D boss fight in the game. When you beat it, that’s the end. But we wanted to give people a little more closure, so for the Special Mode, we went and added a whole new stage. That fortress? Well now it’s just the entrance to the fortress.

– That’s a pretty interesting way to integrate it. The boss for STAGE 4 is just guarding the entrance.

YO: Since that’s the fortress gate, now you proceed into the sort of inner citadel. As far as the last stage is concerned… I’m sure they initially planned a lot of tricks and traps, but they just kept coming up with more and more. Like now a train cannon appears, and the train has all the proper animations. Thunder Blade never had anything like that during the rear-view style gameplay…

NH: No, it didn’t. We actually had to call in support for additions like that. We called in the assistance of a Mr. Haima Fuyuno, who used to do pixel art at Zoom*, and recently has been working at Shooting Game Side. Fuyuno-san and Saito-san formed a tag team of “precise insanity.” When you take “insanity” and put it together just right, you get something truly amazing.

* Zoom: A game studio that created titles such as GENOCIDE and PHALANX (X68000) as well as ZERO DIVIDE (PlayStation).

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
A Train Cannon awaits in STAGE 5.

YO: Since you can hover in Thunder Blade, there are now shutters that block your way through a gate. That’s new. There are also enemies you need to defeat to progress. They fit very well within Thunder Blade. If you are good, you can defeat them without stopping.

It’s not really like STAGE 4, which is kind of like the EP4 Death Star Battle. It’s more like the EP6 one, with a newly added final stage.

– I was very surprised when I heard there was a totally new stage.

YO: At first, we were thinking we would just reuse graphics in the same way Galaxy Force II does. But then they said, “Nah, we are going to draw our own.” I thought, “You’re gonna what?” But because they went through the trouble, we now have the new train, the shutter door, and some other set pieces as well.

NH: It’s not piecing together stuff that’s already there. It’s really a new stage built from new resources. It’s completely new.

YO: Some people might find a lot of satisfaction in learning that Fuyuno-san did pixel art at Zoom.

NH: Fuyuno-san put a lot of effort in making sure it all melded with the SEGA style.

– To me personally, nothing felt out-of-place at all. Now that you mention it there are a few things that make more sense to me now, but the new art blends right in with the existing world.

YO: In any case, it’s brand new.

– It retains the appearance of being an extension of STAGE 4, but it looks like STAGE 5 has an enormous volume of content packed in there. It’s surprising that hardware back then could even do something like this.

NH: That’s an understandable reaction.

YO: Well, you don’t have to worry about size limits on the ROM, right?

NH: Yeah, but there’s a lot of restrictions here based on the programming side of things. We aren’t doing anything that’s above and beyond what the original X-BOARD could do. It’s similar to the System-16 version of Fantasy Zone II; things like the number of character patterns we could display at the same time are subject to the same limits that existed on the original board.

YO: Limits on things like color palettes or number of characters.

NH: That’s correct. If the original board had unused sockets available, we could use them to make additions, but we can’t go beyond that and increase the number of sockets.

– Actually, now that I think about it, why didn’t you include a top-view segment in the new stage?

YO: Because we felt that it was the back view stages that people wanted to play more of. So we opted not to make a top-view part so we could focus on back view gameplay. We wanted to build on the drama and tension from STAGE 4 right on through STAGE 5.

– You’re right. By just continuing forward in back view, there’s more continuity from STAGE 4 to STAGE 5. What about this stage’s background music (BGM)?

YO: It’s the soundtrack version of the boss song, BURNING POINT.

We wanted to take full advantage of the boss music’s long intro for the final stage. That’s why the stage structure is built the way it is. Actually, that song is the STAGE 1 BGM in Super Thunder Blade for the Mega Drive. And though I don’t think the director Matsuoka-san did that intentionally, personally I think it sort of leads into Super Thunder Blade. It’s an intro that really works well in a shooting game.

NH: It works well, I think. It turned out great, though I’m not sure that was the intent.

YO: The main draw for STAGE 5 is brand-new gameplay—a “physical experience” game no one has ever seen before, rather than a remix.

– Shooting down enemies and getting more lives definitely makes it feel like a similar concept to 3D After Burner II’s Special Mode. But there’s more—a whole new stage, and a better sense of closure now, for sure.

Revenge of the Gyro Sensor

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Gyro Sensor has Tilt and Spin modes. Which flavor will you pick? Moving the control stick or feeling the arcade machine move?

– So based on everything you’ve said, this really is a grand culmination of all your work.

YO: Another reason you can call it a “grand culmination” is that it also has gyro controls for the moving cabinet. We’ve only used gyro controls once with 3D Super Hang-On, but since this is one of those games where you had to move the kit yourself, we felt this was another chance to give gyro controls a shot. We discussed if we could really recreate that aspect of jerking the control lever and how it never worked quite the way you’d expect. Well, the result is that there are two options to choose from, which you can see if you go to the Options screen. There are controls for acceleration and tilt.

If you actually try to play the game this way, it has that inexact feel that the original arcade machine did. It helps you understand how the original was rather hard to play. There aren’t a lot of these machines still out there in operation, so it’s quite hard to do a side by side comparison.

NH: Yes, I imagine one would be hard to find.

YO: We weren’t able to combine both the feel of swinging the control stick and the movement of the kit at the same time. Basically, you have to choose which aspect you’d like to try.

– I recall you mentioned that you had to battle with processing overhead when you did gyro controls for 3D Super Hang-On. Did you have any issues this time?

NH: Oh yeah, that. Since we’ve done so much work on these at this point, we didn’t have that much of an issue this time. We didn’t have to worry about that so much.

– You were saying the X-BOARD was tough to work with, but no issues this time even with gyro, huh?

NH: We’ve gotten to the point where we can do it if we try, I suppose.

YO: Also, one of the things that makes the Special Mode really special this time is that the movement and environmental sounds for the arcade machine are different from the arcade version. It’s actually based on a self-moving arcade machine like Space Harrier.

NH: We made that happen on the 3DS.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The first self-moving game since 3D Super Hang-On. Set Gyro Controls to Moving Cabinet, and…?

– Hahahaha! A dreamed-up arcade machine!

YO: The moving arcade machine in Special Mode is a new thing we made ourselves. It’s got motor sounds and all that, and we added in some additional sounds from After Burner II’s cabinet motors. I don’t know whose dream it is though. (laughs)

NH: A fictional arcade machine.

YO: If Thunder Blade had a moving arcade machine, this would have been it.

NH: Thunder Blade is a game that deserved a machine like that. Just putting it in 3D and flying between buildings is just amazing. I’m really glad we did it.

YO: It’s not quite an alternate universe timeline, but it will take you back to the 1980s for sure. The Special Mode is there to take you back for a taste of what might have been.

NH: Please give it a shot.

On To The True Finale of the SEGA 3D Remaster Project

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
These three ‘physical experience’ titles have made an appearance in Batch 2. They have all been ported as part of the SEGA 3D Remaster Project, and are all playable on Nintendo 3DS!

– So, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people are going to have fun with Thunder Blade. You guys finally had the chance to do it.

YO: (In Japan), we’ve set it to a 1000 JPY* price point, so while it’s a little more expensive, but we’ve put that much more work into it as well.

* Note that NA/EU region price is $5.99/£4.49/€4.99.

NH: If we sell a crap ton of copies, then I’ll go and make Power Drift by myself. (all laugh)

– (laughing) But you guys really made it this far.

NH: We did. We did. By ending the second batch in the SEGA 3D Remaster Project series with Thunder Blade, I feel like we’ve achieved a lot of things we set out to do with it. I’m really very satisfied. We were able to take the kind of 3D we wanted to do, and make it a reality.

YO: I think everyone out there probably knows that the series would end if Thunder Blade was released, and wanted him to wait a little longer.

– Yes, there are those who were saying that. “Do it after releasing these other games!” (laughs)

NH: Though Saito was always saying, “If it’s OK to delay the release, then give me more time!” (all laugh) “There’s things that I still want to work on!”

YO: You have to end development at some point—even the original development team ran out of time to create a proper ending.

– Ah, it looks like our time is up.

YO: This is the end here, so I just want to sincerely thank everyone for supporting the series. Because of you, we were even awarded a CEDEC AWARD for Engineering for the work on the project.

NH: All because of this interview series!

YO: Thank you so much.

NH: Yes, and thank you.

– No no, I’m glad things went so well. This wasn’t supposed to be a series in the first place. (laughs) Not only were they a big hit with the users themselves, but they also caught the eye of your fellow developers.

YO: The second batch ends now, with these five titles. The last interview for the first batch, we were also able to announce this second batch at the same time. But that isn’t the case this time. We do not know the future of this series, and we just want to see how things go going forward for the time being.

In any case, this interview series has continued for a long time, from the release of the first 3D Space Harrier to the release of 3D Thunder Blade. To all those who have taken the time to read these very lengthy entries, I’m very thankful.

I do want to say one last thing…

“The SEGA 3D Remaster Project will not perish! It will live on, again and again! The power of 3D is the dream of mankind!”



Wait, I feel like we just triggered an internal game over flag…?

NH: Thank you very much!

– Thank you very much!

The SEGA 3D Remaster Project will not perish!

With the end of our 3D Thunder Blade interview, Okunari-san, Horii-san, Sam, and I wanted to take some time and thank everyone who has helped make these titles so much fun to work on.

From my side, as Community Manager at SEGA, this has been by far one of the best series of titles I’ve worked on. Not only are the 3D Classics always surpassing my every expectation as a fan, with every update I’m constantly reminded of why the SEGA community is so awesome. With every release, we see an overwhelming amount of support from old fans of these games, and new fans discovering them for the first time. It’s a great thing, and I look forward to seeing it with Thunder Blade.

This is not the end! There’s even more 3D Classics coming this summer in the form of Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I’ll be in line for each on day one, right alongside everyone else!

Naoki Horii – President of M2
And with that, our long-running 3D Remaster Project drew to a close for a time. And because took the long and patient road, we were able to take games that seemed like they would be interesting with 3D and used every trick in the book to remake them. Games like Thunder Blade, and Thunder Blade… and Thunder Blade (laughs).

This was a SEGA game that I would have done anything to see in 3D, so I’m really hoping that everyone enjoys it as much as I do. If you don’t, well, then we’ve got an awkward situation of me mixing business with pleasure, now don’t we? (laughs)

We will be sure to continue our take-no-prisoners attitude with our future technical and gameplay endeavors, so I hope you all will continue your support!

Yosuke Okunari – Producer, SEGA of Japan
People of the world, thank you!

Up until this point, the SEGA 3D Classics were supposed to draw to a close here in Japan, but thanks to all your support, we were able to add three more titles onto the list. They are all very famous titles that are unforgettable to any game fan who played them back in the early 90s. We here on the development side are all extremely excited to turn them into 3D. Each is being built with love and care, so please tell all the friends you played the originals with back in the day, and get together and play them co-op again now 20 years later!

Sam Mullen – Producer, SEGA of America
I just want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to read our translations of the Game Watch Impress articles. I personally learned a lot from working on them, and I hope you did as well from reading them! I also want to thank Okunari-san, Horii-san, and Saeki-san for such delightfully insightful interviews. I hope you have enjoyed the SEGA 3D Classics to date, and are looking forward to the three new titles coming out this summer!

Thank you!

 
   
   
 

Final Batch of Downloadable Content for Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd is Now Available!

HatsuneMikuDIVAF2nd_Addon_Angel

The last of our downloadable content rollout for Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd is available today worldwide. Content available today includes the Rhythm Game Songs Electric Angel by Yasuo and Though My Song Has No Form by doriko. On the Costume Module front, “Tyrol” designed by nezuki “Angel” designed by Tomio, and “P-Style CD” a gold-themed costume are available for Hatsune Miku.

HatsuneMikuDIVAF2nd_Addon_Tyrol

HatsuneMikuDIVAF2nd_Addon_SongHasNoForm

HatsuneMikuDIVAF2nd_Addon_PStyleCG

HatsuneMikuDIVAF2nd_Addon_ElectricAngel

Costume and Song Club

For fans who want to own every piece of content, SEGA has two great sales initiatives; the Costume Club and Song Club, both of which offer more than 25% savings and are available for purchase now on PlayStation Network. All Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd downloadable content is cross-buy enabled, meaning that content purchased on either platform functions on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, and can be purchased individually on PlayStation Network.

 
   
   
 

SEGA 3D Classics – 3D Thunder Blade – Part 1

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade

In what has now become a long-standing tradition, we once again join SEGA Producer, Yosuke Okunari, and President of M2, Naoki Horii, to discuss a title that has been treated with some hostility in our interviews to-date: Thunder Blade. Since the feelings surrounding this game cannot easily be summed up, we will spend some time discussing them today.

3D Thunder Blade releases on May 14th across North America and Europe!

About Thunder Blade

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade

Thunder Blade was the seventh in the “physical experience” arcade game series from SEGA, released in 1987. The arcade machine featured a control stick that controlled the cannon and missiles, and a throttle lever on the left side similar to After Burner. When you moved the control stick left and right, the entire seat would move along with it. However, the monitor, which was located low on the machine and locked in place, required the user to turn their head the opposite way when they would make big movements to avoid incoming fire. It was also known for the fact that the weight of the control stick would change depending on the weight of the player.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Front part with the coin box.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The open form of the helicopter-styled arcade kit made it stand out.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The logo for Thunder Blade is taken from the design on the back of the seat.

In addition to the Deluxe kit above, there was also an Upright arcade kit.

As far as arcade hardware is concerned, the game ran on the same X-BOARD utilized by After Burner (II), featuring the same dual MC68000 and single Z80 processors, allowing for 256 sprites on the screen at once, with specialized scaling hardware. The sound was driven by a YM2151 and PCM.

The sound was done by Kouichi Namiki. The guitarist’s unique bass and drum sound combined with his work on Super Hang-On, and later Galaxy Force, went on to generate a new wave of SEGA music fans.
A port for the Sega Master System was released in 1988, and in the same year Super Thunder Blade was released for the Mega Drive as a launch title. Yuji Naka was involved with Super Thunder Blade.
Since the release of the PC Engine (Turbo Grafx-16) version and then the X68000 version, the game has not seen a release in Japan.

You Have To Know About This Game

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The screen, with gauges above it for looks (they don’t do anything).

Yosuke Okunari (below YO): It’s been less than a month since we left you with our little cliffhanger. Thanks for waiting (laughs).

– For all the people who have been reading the interviews to date, and yourselves, of course, asking the question “Why did you choose Thunder Blade?” would be rather silly. In any case, congratulations!

Naoki Horii (below NH): Thank you, thank you! So let me rattle some things off for starters. First, we’ve had Thunder Blade running at 15 or 20 frames per second since the early stages of the 3D Remaster Project, but it was really quite a mess. But even at that point, it already looked pretty amazing in 3D, which is why I’ve always been talking about how we couldn’t pass up making Thunder Blade, and how it would actually look really cool in 3D.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The control stick with its red lamp. The white button fires missiles, and it also has a trigger for the cannon.

YO: Back during the first batch, we had absolutely no plans to do it. Then when we started the second batch, there were three titles everyone wanted to make—After Burner, Fantasy Zone, and Out Run. But we wanted to do more than just those three titles, so this was one of the two we added on. It would be a little weird to say we just do what M2 wants, but that’s kind of what happened here, similar to Fantasy Zone II for the PS2. Or maybe I just sort of got caught up in their enthusiasm.

After we ended the first batch and went on to the second, they started working on this secretly behind the scenes—one last game to make Horii-san’s dreams come true.

NH: In the end, while Thunder Blade is the last game, I’m just glad it got done.

YO: And now we can make it available to everyone. We were able to bring it out as the last game in the series only because of everyone’s support for the 3D Remaster Project.

NH: Indubitably.

YO: That’s what we believe. Speaking of that, did you guys at M2 get any mail from the fans saying, “We want Thunder Blade”?

NH: No mail, but every time I mentioned Thunder Blade on Twitter, people would reply.

YO: I’m sure everyone thought you were joking.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Moving the control stick shifts the player in relation to the screen.

NH: Possibly. I don’t think people were taking me seriously.

YO: The only people who were serious were probably Horii-san and maybe 10 other people.

NH: Yes, 10 others.

– Ten people…

NH: Well, if that’s all, then the sales are going to be rough.

YO: So this time around, we are using Thunder Blade as a means to showcase everything M2 has done to date with the release of 3D Thunder Blade. And it’s quite a showcase at that. To be exact, the team members that were involved in 3D Fantasy Zone II W didn’t work on this game, but the people involved with the other games in the series, from 3D Space Harrier to 3D Out Run, have come together to showcase their skills.

NH: It is most certainly a showcase! In addition to the core staff, there was another programmer who has been persistently focused on the Thunder Blade programming behind the scenes, thinking “Is this game really going to come out?” So it’s like our full strength + 1. The programming for Thunder Blade really wasn’t suited for running on 3DS in the first place, after all.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The throttle lever is on the left side, similar to After Burner II.

YO: This is true. When we started batch 2, we went and got the source code from the dev group that used to be AM1*. When they handed it over, they said, “You should be able to do something as long as you have this, so give it a shot,” but from the beginning it ended up being an arduous task on a scale we were not expecting.

* AM1 – One of SEGA’s former arcade development groups. They are currently called dai-ichi kenkyuu kaihatsu bu (1st R&D Department), but SEGA employees are still often called AM1 internally anyway.

NH: The way the programming is written is like BASIC… I’m not sure if that’s even the way to describe it. It just executes on and on, and it’s really hard to get at (hard to convert into Assembly code).

YO: It was a lot of gritty, detailed work to analyze the original software, all while doing normal dev work.

NH: Yes, very much so. It’s a miracle we even got the code itself rewritten. I almost just want to take the original code, change it into text, and post it for everyone to see, just so people could see what we did. The amount of work we did isn’t normal—people would tear up if they saw the sheer amount of effort we put into it.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The kit had two headphone jacks.

YO: They were working on it while doing After Burner, and when that was done, they were working on it during their breaks. Then on to Out Run, and working on this on the side.

NH: Pretty much. We were working on it little by little in the background. It’s as if the final puzzle piece just happened to turn out to be Thunder Blade. Though I always suspected that would be the case. I’m glad it’s all closing out with this.

– Certainly.

YO: There’s this gentleman who’s really been a main player behind the scenes for the 3D Remaster Project. His name is Saito-san*, a programmer who we’ve spoken about in the interviews before. Had he not been around, this project may have never existed.

* Akira Saito: A programmer at M2. He often comes up in relation to the sound work.

NH: When I would have meetings with Okunari-san, I would say, “We’ve come this far, and if we don’t make Thunder Blade, Saito is going to flip a table.” He really would have (laughs). I had to have something to keep him motivated (laughs). When you hang the carrot in front of the horse, he’s gonna go for it, you know?

YO: You sure that’s something you want to say in this interview, as the president of the company?

NH: Well, I hung the carrot in front of myself, as well. It’s a little odd doing that to yourself, but anyway. I mean, I like the other titles and all, and I played them a lot. But we’ve been at this marathon for near two years now, right? The reason we’ve been running is because Thunder Blade is waiting at the finish line.

I mean, when is there ever going to be another chance for this? So here we are, getting Thunder Blade into this second batch. No one else out there is just going to say one day, “Hey, you know what we should do? We should port Thunder Blade.”

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
And stereo speakers.

YO: You’re right.

– I see.

NH: Back when the arcade version was originally running, I always felt sorry for the game. It’s sort of how you really feel for the kid who never quite makes it. You know, the unpopular kid. It was the kid at the arcade who never got the spotlight. But the game itself, the way it is presented, the technology used, it’s all really amazing. People who port these games, or people who do remakes or knockoffs, they will understand what I’m getting at. It’s one of those games “you have to know about”, and I feel a sense of duty to shine the spotlight on it.

Back then, there wasn’t anything for it on home consoles, so you couldn’t buy it and pass it around between your friends. And even if you went to the arcade, your friends would want to play other games, so it just wouldn’t happen. So we’ve come this far carrying this desire to let everyone else know about the game. But suddenly there was this opportunity—the possibility that Okunari-san might actually let us do it if we pushed hard enough. So the time had come for Thunder Blade’s day in the sun.

– You’ve been talking about Thunder Blade since the start of the 3D Remaster Project. Seriously, I went back and looked. You were talking about it back during 3D Space Harrier.

NH: Yup.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
The head restraint had a light that would flash.

Times Thunder Blade has been mentioned in the interviews to date

Interview Title Number of times Horii-san mentioned TB() means others mentioned it
3D Space Harrier 1
3D Super Hang-On 2
3D Sonic The Hedgehog 1 (1: Okunari)
3D Galaxy Force II 4
3D Shinobi III 1
3D Streets of Rage 4 (1: Okunari 1: Editor)
3D After Burner II 1 (1: Okunari)
3D Fantasy Zone 2
3D Out Run Part 1 1 (1: Editor)
3D Out Run Part 2 1 (2: Okunari 1: Namiki)

– Even if you had been maybe working on it behind the scenes back then, the possibility was still really slim that it would actually happen.

YO: Nothing was decided during the first batch. We didn’t even know we were going to be able to do a second batch.

NH: We had it running on the 3DS hardware, and while the framerate was still really bad the game showed a lot of promise. I really felt that it was something we would have to do at some point. And in order to plant the seed for people to buy it if it DID come out, I made sure to bring it up as often as I could.

– So you were planning for it the whole time?

NH: Sort of, yes.

– So up until you started working on the second batch, there wasn’t even a possibility that this game would happen.

YO: Yup.

NH: It’s always Okunari-san’s style to mix one or two games into the line-up that he would say these games would usually never happen, but now is just the right time. And thus they get a remaster. For the PS2 SEGA AGES 2500, it was Fantasy Zone II. This time it’s Thunder Blade.

YO: Yup.

NH: It’s not easy to make it happen, after all.

A Look Back at the History of Thunder Blade

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Arcade version’s Cabinet Screen

YO: I want to spend some time going over the history of Thunder Blade here. When you talk about SEGA’s “physical experience” series, they were really the stars of arcades back then. The first game, Hang-On, had its signature red bike kit, and then Space Harrier had its moving arcade cabinet. They both generated a lot of conversation around them. Then along the same lines as Hang-On, Enduro Racer came out with an arcade kit that you controlled yourself, followed by Out Run and then Super Hang-On. After that, After Burner. So at this point, you could say things had pretty much reached a peak.

NH: Out Run and After Burner were the pinnacle of glory.

YO: And the next game was Thunder Blade. Speaking from the point of what the arcade kits did, Hang-On was one where you moved the kit, and Space Harrier was the first one where the kit moved itself. Then Enduro Racer again was one you moved yourself, and Out Run’s kit moved itself. Then Super Hang-On was one you moved yourself. So they were basically alternating like that, okay?

Then came After Burner, which improved on Space Harrier and Out Run’s formulas with its Double Cradle cabinet. They have one at the Huis Ten Bosch resort in Nagasaki, where one of the main displays in the Huis Ten Bosch Game Museum in their Game Kingdom. You can play it on certain days… Anyway, so this cabinet came out. And there’s no other places you can play it anymore, but at the time of its original release it was everywhere and people were really excited about it.

So after that, it was said that a helicopter game was going to be released next, and people thought it would be an even more amazing game than After Burner. That game was Thunder Blade. Following the pattern of the preceding releases, it was a game that you would move yourself.

I myself was a gamer going to the arcades back then, and I haven’t talked to any of the development staff about this, so I don’t know anything about the background. But if I had to conjecture, I’d guess that the reason they would alternate between arcade kits that moved or had to be moved by the player was due to the space available to place the kit at the location. Basically, there are two types of arcades: very small, compact places and larger sites. So I get the impression they basically targeted those two sectors separately. And back then, small scale arcades were quite common.

NH: For those places, basically there was only room for compact kits outside table-style cabinets.

– That was the case, wasn’t it?

YO: So if an arcade didn’t have room for Out Run or After Burner, they could have Enduro Racer and Super Hang-On. So perhaps they wanted to provide some kind of vehicle game that wasn’t a bike for a low cost. Back then, I imagined that they released Thunder Blade to satisfy that market.

– I see.

YO: Thunder Blade shipped far fewer units than After Burner, but quite a few units still got out there. Probably something like 3 times as many as the 8th title in the series, Galaxy Force. More than Power Drift, even.

– I do seem to have the recollection that it was very common at the time, actually.

YO: However, the fact that you had to move it yourself, combined with the unique control style required of a helicopter, the feeling of speed… You know, with After Burner, that game makes you feel like you’re moving fast and a lot of its impact comes from that, but if you try to get that kind of speed out of Thunder Blade, you’re just going to be running into enemies and smashing into buildings… But if you slow down too much, the game loses some of its impressiveness, and you become a target for enemy fire. The game is hard. And then throw in the way the kit is built, and it’s just a hard game to move around in the way you want.

So I think that’s why it had such a hard time on the market. And with After Burner out there at the same time, I figure most people just opted for that game instead. That’s probably why it wasn’t in the arcades for very long. At least that’s my impression.

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade

– There were a lot of Thunder Blade kits out there, but for me, I just didn’t see many people getting all that into it. I actually remember sitting in it the first time and being really impressed, but… I never came back to it. I don’t really recall having put much money into it. I think I probably spent more time watching other people play once in a while.

YO: Thunder Blade required you to overcome some pretty high hurdles to play. At the very beginning, it’s like, “TAKE OFF,” but you have no idea what you need to do. That’s where you START at. Racing games had their own hurdles, like having the gear shifter and no automatic option. You wouldn’t know when you were supposed to switch gears. But despite that, for Out Run at least, you could still move and focus on the steering wheel and the accelerator. And with After Burner as well, you could at least play, regardless of speed.

Thunder Blade tried to take the feeling of flying a helicopter and simplify it, but also recreate that atmosphere of being in the cockpit. But for most people, that was just a pretty high hurdle.

– But that said, it was a really interesting game because it had a two-perspective loop that it would progress through. And in the 2D top view, you could change your altitude as well. There were a few helicopter games like Kyukyoku Tiger (aka Twin Cobra) out at the time, but not many of them let you change your altitude, and the fact that the Thunder Blade kit would react to your weight was really interesting. From the point you took off, it really felt like you were moving it yourself. But whether that was easy to play or not is a totally different discussion. (laughs)

YO: They were being very serious when they built it, that’s for sure.

Thunder Blade Stage Layout
STAGE1 City(TOP)→ City(BACK)→ Ocean Fortress(TOP)
STAGE2 Valley(TOP)→ Cave(BACK)→ Moving Fortress(TOP)
STAGE3 Ocean(TOP)→ Wetlands(BACK)→ Air Fortress(TOP)
STAGE4 City (Night)(TOP) → Industrial Area(BACK)→ Command Fortress(BACK)

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Stage 1 Boss (Top View)

– But watching other people play, the ending is super short and there were only 4 stages. It was such a weird little game. That said, each stage has top and back view parts that it switches between halfway, so if you actually play it, it’s pretty long.

YO: I’m just guessing, but I think the ending probably just didn’t make it schedule-wise.

NH: No game has enough time.

– Whether it’s Out Run or After Burner, they all had proper (?) endings, you know? So when I saw the ending to Thunder Blade, I was a little confused.

YO: The games back then were made very quickly. You could build one out in three months. That’d be unthinkable these days.

– It doesn’t have a second playthrough. It just ends suddenly. So in that sense, it left quite an impression.

YO: After that, in the year following the arcade version (1987), it was ported to the Sega Mark III, and was released for the Mega Drive as a launch title as Super Thunder Blade. Since it was a Mega Drive launch title, Super Thunder Blade got a lot of attention, and would see a number of ports in the future… And even Yuji Naka, who would go on to work on Sonic and Phantasy Star II, worked on it as a programmer. I hear he banged it out in about three months.

– And around this time, there was a pretty big gap between arcade machines and home consoles like the Sega Mark III and Mega Drive. It was a time when arcade ports played starring roles on the home console lineups. But starting with “physical experience” games like Hang-On and Space Harrier, porting turned into a creative exercise. People were really curious how that experience could be recreated at home.

NH: Finding creative ways to reconstruct the experience was a really interesting thing to watch play out.

SEGA 3D CLASSICS - Thunderblade
Stage 2 (Back View)

– And because of that, gamers at the time would pay a lot of attention to magazines and other sources to stay on top of those developments. In a way they were being educated so they could appreciate what the ports were doing. Myself included.

YO: Yeah, back then magazines like Beep would explain technical topics in a way that even elementary or middle school kids would understand. “How were they able to port Space Harrier to the Mark III?” “Why is there a frame around it?” Things like that. Like how they approached the technical side of things, such as, “We draw the character as a BG layer so it looks huge.” You’d think, “I dunno what a ‘BG’ is, but that’s what they said!” I think people who remember that are the types of people who are our main supporters for the SEGA 3D Remaster Project.

– Especially with the “physical experience” arcade games, the creative approaches to overcoming the gap in software and hardware capabilities helped to educate and mature the SEGA fans. They got to see all kinds of interesting attempts—many of SEGA’s ports made valiant efforts to recreate the arcade experience, but not all of them were successful. (laughs) Sometimes the attempts just left you with a vague feeling of sadness.

NH: Like “Ouch, you shouldn’t have done that.”

– That’s right. So for like Fantasy Zone, which I know isn’t a physical experience game, I thought, “Wait, where’re the background graphics?” But at the same time, I kept thinking how amazing it was. I think SEGA fans have been honed that way, bred that way even. So then with the SEGA “physical experience” games, which have you flying into the background with the scaling technology making sprites flow at you, I remember thinking “Man, there’s no way they can port this,” despite not really knowing anything at all. And when ports actually came out, I noticed that a lot of them were pretty different from the arcade versions.

Maybe it’s because of that, but it took a pretty long time for Thunder Blade to be released for the PC Engine and the X68000. The porting quality was higher than others, but it had taken them a lot of time and effort.

Perhaps it was the time gap, or maybe other factors, but the ports just stopped happening after that. And because of that, the game sort of fell off everyone’s radar. At least that’s my personal impression of the situation.

NH: Really, and I hear that a lot. But the way the game overlaps its sprites to enhance the space the game happens in and the way it shows depth creates an amazing experience in flying a helicopter… It really is a piece of work. The experience is very convincing. It did so many things right, but it was just close, you know. It’s really that kid who should have been, but wasn’t. That’s all I can say.

3D Thunder Blade, Easier to Play Than Ever!

SEGA 3D Classics - 3D Thunder Blade
Game Settings Screen. Just like the Arcade version, there is a Flight Training option that allows you to take no damage for the first portion of gameplay, but if you change the difficulty to 1 star, you won’t die anymore if you run into a building.

YO: So I thought that maybe Thunder Blade was tough because of its controls. Perhaps that pushed people away. And now since we are porting it, we aren’t only going to reproduce it exactly as it was, but M2 has also gone in and made a number of adjustments as well.

The easiest one to notice is the speed adjuster. Pressing the L button will cause you to speed up, but now if you release the button you’ll maintain your speed. You don’t need to hold it down, so once you set your speed, you don’t need to worry about it anymore and you can focus on your controls.

In addition to that, if you turn the difficulty down to one star, you won’t take any environmental damage. This is pretty ground-breaking for this game.

NH: It is. In the original, if you hit something you would just crash and lose a life.

YO: This was one of the reasons Thunder Blade was so hard—the fact that compared to After Burner, there were also obstacles in the background that you had to avoid as well. And they are hard to dodge, which I think was exacerbated by the tricky controls.

– Crashing into buildings was definitely one source of deaths in the game.

YO: In Galaxy Force, you’d take damage to your speed and energy, but for this game, when you lower the difficulty to the easiest setting, running into an object just stops you in place, so flying is less stressful. Now you can just focus on moving your helicopter and shooting enemies. It’s much simpler as a shooting game. I think this change really makes a big difference.

– I tried playing with the difficulty set to one, and it was perfect for me since I was so out of practice.

YO: If you think, “man, this is hard,” while you’re playing, you can just drop it down a notch.

– Well, I think there some hardcore people out there who will refuse to do that though. (laughs)

YO: If you set it so you don’t take damage and get used to it, you stop getting hung up on the stage layout. The layout isn’t really that tricky in the first place, honestly.

– Back when you had to feed money into it to play, it was a really high hurdle to get past since you really needed to understand the stage layout to be able to progress. The stage itself attacks you.

NH: Like in the cave.

– You can run into the buildings in top view if you drop down to low altitude. You get shot at too. You’ve got to control your speed really well if you want to progress, which isn’t that hard, but it used to take a lot of money until you got the hang of it. It reminds me of Galaxy Force, too. You can really start playing that game after you realize it’s a racing game that you shoot in.

YO: Well, on that front, that’s where the Special Mode comes in. It’s this game’s “real deal.”

– Oh no! Here we go!

Continued in Part 2!

Join us tomorrow for the conclusion of our 3D Thunder Blade interview and a look into the Special Mode. As always, we do love hearing your feedback on these posts. If there’s something you are looking forward to, or even something you learned, let us know and share with your fellow fans!

 
   
   
 

SEGA Mobile Game Closures

SEGA Logo

At SEGA we are committed to making fun, high-quality mobile games and it is with our fans’ best playing experience in mind that we announce the removal of a number of games from our back catalogue. It is important for us to ensure that all of our fans, regardless of platform or operating system, have a great playing experience and after evaluating our complete list of titles, we have determined that a number of them no longer meet our standards. As a result, we will be removing these titles from the App Store for Apple devices, the Google Play Store, the Samsung App Store and the Amazon App Store over the next few weeks. While we have nothing to announce at this time, given the right situation, these titles may return in an updated form.

If you have already purchased a game that is being removed from the store you will be able to continue to play it after it’s been taken down. It will remain in your purchased apps where you will be able to download it again if you delete it or acquire a new device until the game becomes incompatible with the latest phone operating systems or hardware.

Thank you to all our customers for sharing what they love about our games and helping us to continue to improve everything we make.

 
   
   
 


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