Tuesday Aug 18, 2015
This is a translated version of the article located here.
3D Gunstar Heroes releases August 20 across North America and Europe!
Left, SEGA Producer Yosuke Okunari; Right, M2 President Naoki Horii
The popular “Gunstar Heroes” arrives at last in stereoscopic 3D
We are now on our 15th title in the SEGA 3D Remaster Project. Can you believe how time flies? And with each release, the know-how and ability of our teams to produce the content becomes greater and greater and we are now happy to deliver 3D Gunstar Heroes straight to your Nintendo 3DS!
Dividing backgrounds to 1,500 pieces to convert them to stereoscopic 3D and overcoming challenges with experience accumulated over years of working on the series.
We paid a visit to Mr. Yosuke Okunari (Left) and Mr. Naoki Horii to speak with them about this title!
– First, please tell us the reason why you selected Gunstar Heroes. It’s my understanding that Gunstar Heroes was, at the time of release, a title that combined all the tricks of the trade when it came to the Mega Drive’s capabilities. Were there any instances that you felt remaking this title would be impossible due to the advanced techniques employed?
Yosuke Okunari (Below YO): When we first began work on the SEGA 3D Remaster Project, we decided to go with a few arcade titles and a few Mega Drive titles. We believed that if we are able to perfectly emulate the console itself, similar to how we worked on the Virtual Console, we wouldn’t run into as many architectural problems and thus development would proceed according to schedule. Out of the eight titles during the first batch, five of the games were Mega Drive titles and the other three were from the arcade. The intention was to ensure we could actually develop (the much harder) three arcade titles. You see, we made the overall schedule easier to manage by buffering things with the Mega Drive games. Since arcade games tend to vary from game to game in the way they interact with the hardware, by adding these predictable Mega Drive games in, we could better handle delays caused by unforeseen issues on the arcade games. I mentioned this in a previous interview as well, but the reason why we picked the titles that have previously been ported to PS2 or Wii was also to mitigate any unexpected issues. But even taking that into consideration, just having these Mega Drive games in the lineup really helped lock in the schedule. That’s why we had those five titles originally. Since we successfully released the ports for the arcade titles during the first batch, we had a better idea of what the schedule would be for subsequent titles, and that gave us lee-way to work on titles we’d never touched before for the second batch, like Out Run. And now here we are releasing three new games for the second batch, games we decided to pass on the first time around for reasons other than hardware. These are titles that M2 actually refused to develop at the time.
Naoki Horii (Below NH): We discussed in our previous article about 3D Streets of Rage 2 as to whether or not we would actually be able to get the backgrounds into 3D or now, and one might expect, there were those who said that Gunstar Heroes’ backgrounds wouldn’t be convertible anyway, so it was removed from the list of porting candidates. For example, the background on the 4th stage is not a true isometric projection, but rather it’s just a simple 45 degree angle line going into the screen, and thus is difficult to put into true stereoscopic 3D.
– I was really surprised that the ground already had depth from the beginning of the first stage.
YO: Actually, there were titles during the first batch that had areas that were expressed in a similar manner, but we were able to hide them. For example, the surface of water in Ecco The Dolphin looks like it falls into the screen, but in the first batch, it was difficult to turn that visual into stereoscopic 3D. So we set it up similar to a wall in a fish tank and had dolphins swim in the area between the water surface and the sky graphic. We did not have the skill back then to create stereoscopic 3D that looked like a lid on the surface. It just wasn’t possible at the time.
NH: Yes, it was impossible. If I were to use a famous example, Street Fighter II has its ground tilted inwards in a similar way.
YO: Gunstar Heroes has its backgrounds drawn using perspective one way or another basically throughout the entire game, and if we tried to split it up like we did in Ecco The Dolphin, the 3D would look pretty lame. On the other hand, all of this is of course a lot of work, but a big part of what we are talking about is the fact that creating really compelling stereoscopic 3D is technically challenging to start with.
– The development for the first batch must have been very difficult. But still, you pressed on, learning new techniques and finally came to grasp solutions to these problems. And now, that’s what has finally led to getting the green light on Gunstar Heroes.
NH: Well, there was a lot of other things that happened as well, but one of the first things that happened was one of our programmers just went ahead and turned a particular multi-jointed character from the game into full 3D on his own. He then sent me a screen shot, and I have to say, it was really well done. Another key thing that happened was that we found a solution for the problem with background at the beginning of Stage 4: all we needed to do was divide it into 1,500 small pieces to create a flawless stereoscopic 3D effect. We knew that as long as we could clear that hurdle, we’d be able to build out the whole game. This is a highly anticipated game, and it’s a title that we very much wanted to port it if it was within out power to do so. And with that, we began development.
YO: Also, being able to release the game worldwide was a really big factor. To be honest, the sales for the Mega Drive titles just don’t generate as much hype in Japan, just like back in the days of the Mega Drive. But overseas, they are really quite popular. When we saw the results for the Remaster Project’s first batch, we decided that if we were to continue international releases from the series, we’d need to continue support of Mega Drive titles. So with that as the backdrop, we increased the development budget even more to cover the costs these extra efforts would require. And so, when we look at the workload for this 3D Gunstar Heroes, it was actually equivalent to the amount of work of three Mega Drive titles from the first batch.
NH: When we actually got to it, some were saying that it was even more than three titles worth of work. I thought that dividing the background into 1,500 pieces would end up being the most time consuming thing, but it turns out that there was a spot that we had to divide the scene up even further, to 2,000 parts. It was an unspeakable amount of work that, something that would take a single programmer nearly 14 months to do.
One of the nostalgic little touches we’ve come to expect. The screen mode toggle is also in the game.
– It seems like it took a lot of effort. And from more than a year ago? But you were already thinking of bringing it to market and that was all part of the plan, right?
YO: Nope. It wasn’t.
– Wait, it wasn’t!? Are you saying that there was a possibility that all this work would be for nothing?
YO: Yes, that would have been the case. I actually didn’t know that M2 was working Gunstar Heroes in the first place. Remember, this project was supposed be done when we finished up the second batch of Japan-targeted titles with Thunder Blade.
When the second batch started, we didn’t know if we’d be able to release the games overseas. However, right when everything was wrapping up, talks began about releasing this second batch internationally.
Back when we were getting this second batch off the ground, we selected titles that would resonate well specifically with the Japanese audience, and we concluded that Mega Drive games wouldn’t be feasible when you considered our budgets and sales figures. We also knew at the time that unless the sales from After Burner II through to Thunder Blade were exceptional domestically, Thunder Blade would be the last title for the project. My one hope was that if the first batch, which was released a year after the fact overseas, really resonated in the markets, we might be able to work on a second batch of Mega Drive titles as well, and M2 was also of the same understanding.
NH: On one side, we were told that we might be able to make more, and other side, we were already making one. We really thought it’d be nice to continue with the Mega Drive titles, but that’s just how development works.
YO: If you read the 3D Streets of Rage interview or the 3D Shinobi III interview, you might be aware of this, but Horii-san has always maintained that the “Giga Drive is amazing”, but that wasn’t only to our readers. That was a bit of an appeal to me that he wanted to continue to release Mega Drive-based titles.
NH: Oh, right, right! I guess I can say it now, but… well, I guess you all know.
YO: At the time, we were putting together the lineup for the second batch, and Horii-san was beating around the bush saying that he wanted some Mega Drive titles in the mix as well.
NH: That’s right. We’d come this far, after all.
– Some things never change. It’s that simple thought of “We want to make this!” is what gets things started. Though since you’re developing things from within the context of a company, there’s always the issue of what you can and cannot release.
YO: Well putting it that way, we were able to continue the development after seeing how things panned out in North America and Europe. It all went according to Horii-san’s plan.
NH: I am very grateful for that!
It’s a really tough job to get Mega Drive games to run on the 3DS! It would normally be impossible!
These guys gave me the in on behind-the-scenes stories as I was playing 3D Gunstar Heroes.
– So, back to the topic of Gunstar Heroes. Am I correct in that there was a great deal of a demand for the title?
YO: Gunstar Heroes has been ported to a variety of game systems to date. The number of times this game has been ported is testament to its popularity, and as far as priorities go, this game was on the top of the list and would have been in the first batch.
NH: Oh yes, absolutely.
YO: It’s just the process of converting a game into stereoscopic 3D is a step above normal porting. Originally, this project stemmed from wanting to make a Mega Drive Virtual Console, but these days just a straight port doesn’t really capture the attention of the 3DS audience. I mean, it’s been a rough time for the Game Gear Virtual Console games [on 3DS], you know. And so Gunstar Heroes was regrettable not chosen for a 3D conversion in the first batch.
– Conversely, because you were able to resolve the technological problems now later on, from the user’s perspective, it means that you were able to deliver a more polished product in the end, right?
NH: You are absolutely correct in saying that the level of polish has gone up. We knew that Gunstar Heroes would look incredible in stereoscopic 3D, but if we ported it during the first batch, I don’t think it would have looked as good as we had envisioned. We were able to make this happen because we brought to bear our technical tricks-of-the-trade learned from titles like previously mentioned Ecco the Dolphin and expanded the abilities of this hardware architecture we call the Giga Drive. We used these techniques for the first time during 3D Shinobi III’s development, the last Mega Drive title in batch one, so if we ported Gunstar Heroes back then, it probably wouldn’t have worked out very well.
YO: We went back and re-ported Space Harrier again for the SEGA 3D Fukkoku Archives* using these now well-aged techniques and you can really tell the difference when you compare games ported early and ones ported later. It’s not common that a consumer gets to experience a situation such as this, so overall, we’re glad that we’re porting this title on the third year of the series.
* SEGA 3D Fukkoku Archives is a Japan-only packaged title that features a collection of previously released SEGA 3D Classics, as well as conversions of the Master System games Space Harrier 3D and Out Run 3D. It also featured an improved version of 3D Space Harrier with more layers of depth.
To be honest, we did try something with Gunstar Heroes on the 3DS about three years ago, where we just had the character floating on top of a flat background, but it wasn’t something at a level you would show people. After that, even when we were picking titles to be included in the series, M2’s opinion was that Gunstar Heroes would have a very hard time meeting the schedule or budget.
NH: I really did believe it was impossible.
YO: What I’m saying is that I think you made the right call at the end of the day.
Of course, you can toggle between the Japanese and International versions of the game.
Some pretty hardcore sound settings.
– So you’re saying that there’s no problem porting the game, but converting the game into stereoscopic 3D is the problem. On top of the backgrounds you mentioned, were the multi-sprite characters also an issue?
YO: In the end it wasn’t a problem, but you shouldn’t forget that getting Mega Drive to run on the 3DS was already hard work. It normally wouldn’t be possible. You can’t just take a Mega Drive emulator for 3DS and simply toss ROM images on it and get them running.
Things just don’t run as easy on 3DS the way they do on Wii, so we figured if we were going to put all the work into getting them to run in the first place, we might bring something new to the table to drive the project forward. That’s how the SEGA 3D Remaster Project began.
NH: So, maybe around 40 frames per second?
YO: The current Gunstar Heroes runs as it does because of the various optimization-like skills and techniques we’ve picked up.
NH: Yes. Things like have a huge impact. If there are places where that kind of work can be done, it’s a huge deal for development.
YO: I mean, when someone asks me whether or not porting is simple, my immediate reaction is “It’s not simple at all!”
NH: Right. It’s not just a question of if it will run on 3DS, but if it’s something we can actually make a product out of.
– It sounds like it’s hard to make code run in a different machine.
NH: Having it run exactly how the original behaved is a very difficult part of the process.
– By the way, how exactly do you divide up the background into 2,000 pieces or 1,500 pieces?
NH: It’s very hard to explain, but in the backgrounds, there are backgrounds that are closer to the screen and backgrounds that are deeper inside the screen. The way we’ve done things up to now is applying 3D to both the foreground and the background. By dividing these backgrounds into very small pieces and setting how deep they will be placed, things become 3D. For each level of depth, we’ve split them up into 8×8 pixel parts, and used that to create the 3D effect.
I’m going to geek out on you for a second, but it’s all about what extensions and additional features were added to the underlying Mega Drive emulator.
YO: Is it something like the “Giga Drive Super GFX”?
NH: Not Super GFX, but I guess it’s more like Revision 2? It’s just the fact that we want to add 3D, but there’s only 64 KB there!
NH: Yes, that’s it. A real Mega Drive cannot access that space beyond the VRAM 64KB, but the TeraDrive* actually has RAM up there, so we just use it as we want. There are a few instances where that memory has been used before [in the history of the platform], but we’re using the excess RAM as a framebuffer for 3D processing.
And so, all this function is doing is sending out images that have been picked up from the original backgrounds and broken into squares. It doesn’t flip images, rotate them, or swap palettes; they are simply for making the stereoscopic 3D look more elegant.
* TeraDrive – A Japan-only DOS-based Mega Drive PC built by IBM that could play Mega Drive games. It was released in 1991.
YO: Originally, the Mega Drive could only handle scrolling two or three layers. The background where the player is moving within was one layer, then another as a static background, and from time to time there’s yet another foreground layer. We then take those multiple layers and repackage them into a stereoscopic 3D experience.
NH: And the hardest part, as I said earlier, was the background in the 4th stage with the angled perspective. It doesn’t converge on a point. The whole thing is diagonal, which makes the 3D conversion process very difficult. We really were at a loss on how to approach this, but I’ve mentioned, we were able to generate the 3D background by splicing everything up.
YO: Was this the same technique that was used for 3D Streets of Rage 2 as well, with its diagonal scrolling sections?
NH: It’s slightly different. Streets of Rage 2’s floors were level, but Gunstar Heroes’ floor was angled too, so we had no choice but to slice up the backgrounds.
– But you said earlier that you render the normal graphics then render them into stereoscopic 3D, which means that it takes twice, or three times the amount of processing, right? I’m surprised you got that running on 3DS.
NH: When you’re in there developing on it, you can really see that Nintendo is giving great consideration to things like power consumption while wringing out every bit of juice they can when they build these things. But the more we work on 3DS, it seems like there’s always room to get a little more out of the hardware. It’s really impressive. We constantly found ourselves saying, “Is this really going to work?” And well, it would!
– But Gunstar Heroes is a compilation of what you’ve learned to this point, right? Everything you’ve learned from developing other titles is in this one game.
NH: Yes. It’s the fruit of all of our knowledge, and our programmers put their soul into it.
YO: Truly. To use a rather mundane example, I would say that 3D Shinobi III and 3D Streets of Rage were Kaio-ken, this project is M2 finally going Super Saiyan.
NH: If we had set this as a goal from the very beginning, I don’t know if we would have made it. But Okunari-san kept coming back saying, “Come on, let’s just get to the next lamppost,” and eventually, we ended up running a full marathon together.
– I suppose that’s what having a passion for game development is?
NH: Of course we’re developing games because that’s what we love to do, and because we’re all like-minded individuals, no matter what comes up, there’s always an idea about how to resolve any problems we run into.
YO: I mean, it’s been four years since we kicked off development on 3D Space Harrier, the first game, after all.
Part 2 of the interview will be coming soon!
Posted by sara in SEGA on 9:05:20AM Aug 18, 2015
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