Monday Dec 23, 2013
Our final 3D Classics interview ends with Streets of Rage, which released last week across the Nintendo 3DS eShop. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these interviews as much as we have. Enjoy 3D Streets of Rage and all the 3D Classics!
Thanks again to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. Thanks to Siliconera for coordinating with us to help spread the word to SEGA fans across the web. And special thanks to our producer Sam for translating these interviews for everyone’s enjoyment.
As always, your comments are appreciated!
3D Streets of Rage: How to Make Perspective Pop!
Pictured: Yousuke Okunari, Producer, SEGA CS3 (left), Naoki Horii, President, M2 (right)
- Hi guys. Can we hear a little bit about what led you to select Streets of Rage to follow 3D Shinobi III in the line-up? Why not release Streets of Rage 2 and 3, for instance?
- Genre-wise though, this is the first remake of a beat’em up on the Gigadrive.
Yousuke Okunari (Below, YO): When we were selecting titles for the GigaDrive, all four titles prior to Shinobi III were what you could call “2D side scrolling platformers”, but of course there were other genres out there that we wanted to do. When I sat down with the development schedule though, I was pretty sure that any genres outside of platforming would take too long.
So I knew there would be risk associated with including anything other than a side scrolling action game in the 3D Remaster Series, but I really wanted to do a beat’em up. SEGA has a history of making beat’em ups with games like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, and I really wanted to bring that heritage into 3D. We just had to somehow do that within the confines of the schedule… More important than that though, M2 actually told me at the beginning that “an action side-scroller won’t work in 3D!”
- I see.
NH: There are a lot of strange perspectives baked into the backgrounds in those games. Take the diagonal scrolling parts for instance.
YO: If we tried to use the GigaDrive techniques we’d developed with earlier games, like those from 3D Sonic, all the characters would wind up floating on top of the backgrounds. While side-scrolling action games look like they have depth, the actual gameplay is completely 2D, and everything else is just a matter of placing graphics with a faux 3D perspective. That’s what you have to bring into stereoscopic 3D, and it wasn’t possible within the existing GigaDrive concept. So this wasn’t just going to be a matter of displaying existing MegaDrive backgrounds in 3D, like we’d done with other games. We came to the conclusion that our existing approach wasn’t going to work for a side-scroller.
That said, I still wanted to remake the Golden Axe or Streets of Rage series in 3D. I saw this as essentially intertwined with the future of the 3D Remaster Project, so I kept coming back to M2 with the idea. I’d say: “Hey, we can at least do one beat ‘em up, right?” and he’d tell me: “Side-scrolling beat’em ups have graphics with weird faux perspectives that you can’t just carry over into 3D. The normal approach doesn’t work.” After a bit, he came back and said, “Now the first Streets of Rage doesn’t have any paths that go up or down the screen, there’s just one path forward. We could probably make that one work.” That’s how I persuaded him to work on it… Then, as he was explaining that they still hadn’t tested everything out yet, I cut through the hemming and hawing and green-lit the project. (laughs)
- Seems like there’s always some kind of reckless story around these ports, but this one sounds like you’ve stepped it up a level. (laughs)
NH: Yes indeed.
YO: M2 had already turned the project down once, so….
NH: Well, we were still testing out code at the point when we had to decide on the lineup titles…so it’s partly our fault for being slow.
- You’re right though. The very first Streets of Rage was basically a single-route game. Most people don’t realize that unlike previous 2D side-scrollers, this game had a perspective that ostensibly looked down on your character and the floor, while letting you move in all directions. Objects and enemies were drawn in the same way… Those objects and enemies don’t have 3D handling; they’re just pretending to be 3D. Given how characters are standing on the floor, if the angle changes, all of that magic will disappear. That must be the hardest part of porting a beat’em up like this.
NH: That’s right, that’s right. If we were just talking about a 2D side-scroller, that’s fine, but when the game scrolls diagonally, that’s a new set of problems.
- With so many visual tricks used to create the illusion of depth in the original, I guess the challenge becomes how to bring them into 3D. Off the top of your head, you might think you could just give the backgrounds depth, push them back into screen and problem solved, right? That’s just what I imagine, I don’t really know how you’d deal with it.
NH: The developers at the time had to take what were ostensibly 3D scenes and flatten them into 2D, and use perspective to somehow keep them visually believable.
- Whereas you guys have to convert a faux 3D image into a real 3D image… I can see how that wouldn’t really work.
YO: I actually have an early test version of the game right here on hand, so you can what we’re talking about. (brings out a 3DS) Check out the 3D.
- Oooh, OK. So this is what the default 3D approach looks like.
YO: At first, you’re like “Seems legit! This is pretty cool!” But as you keep playing, you’ll come across places in the game which were drawn at the time with a specific background perspective, and didn’t take into account vanishing points etc. That’s why M2 felt that remaking the game in 3D would be impossible.
YO: What you wind up with are characters floating above the background. …Next let’s show you the finalized version that we remade after observing these issues.
- (While playing) Yeah, it’s completely different. Wow, this is impressive. When you move from the background to the front of the screen, you get a real 3D perspective.
NH: Even though the actual character’s size doesn’t change, right? Which is important in terms of the game system.
- For sure. Wow, this is cool. I never really noticed it in 2D, but my punches really hit hard now. That’s a big difference. Just walking around next to this phone booth is impressing me.
NH: I’m sure that line would be music to the ears of the person who drew it (laughs)
- OK, playing this, I’m seeing how hard it must have been to port a beat’em up into 3D.
NH: Still, there are going to be a lot of people who want this or that game in 3D. Galaxy Force remade in 3D was a beautiful sight, but this is great in its own way. If anything, I’d really like to spend some time and go to town on a game like this.
- Just seeing the street signs in 3D is really cool. You don’t so much feel it when your character and enemies are far away from each other, but once an enemy closes in and line up on your axis, and then you smack him, the 3D is really crisp. You can tell if he’s on a different level than you as he approaches. It’s something that’s easier to understand when you play it, I suppose.
YO: Knowing that this was going to be the title we’d struggle the most with amongst the GigaDrive games, I chose to move its development to the rear of the release schedule. In our previous interview about Shinobi III, I mentioned how that game could be thought of as a culmination of everything we’d done up until then, and that to finish it, we had to grind through a lot of tedious work. Streets of Rage is a dimension beyond Shinobi III, because we are remaking in 3D what were originally 2D images drawn to look 3D. Since both titles were developed concurrently, some of the discoveries we made with this game were brought over to Shinobi III, such as that game’s final stage or the stage start screen. Giving these parts of the game authentic 3D depth brought another dimension to them.
- And now the bar has been raised again.
YO: That’s why I chose Streets of Rage as the one beat’em up game to green light: it’s one of the most straightforward side-scrollers we had available. In a sense it was an experiment, but now that I know it was a hugely successful one, I think it’d be great if we could follow up on it. At least I hope we can… M2 might be sick of it all by now though. (laughs)
NH: Although it was really a tough project, once we had assigned depth to each raster line of the floor, we were able to see what specs we needed for the floor. We then positioned objects and enemies along those raster lines, and all of a sudden it felt like you couldn’t ever miss with your punches.
YO: Since the 3D actually affects how the game feels, it’s completely different from the type of faux 3D that we have in, say, 3D Altered Beast’s cave stage or the depth we created for 3D Ecco.
NH: We assigned position data to the same floor we’d assigned depth to. Then as the characters moved, we matched them to the position data, and essentially merged the character and the floor. And all of a sudden…
- That sounds like some really impressive tech.
NH: Once the depth information was assigned, all of a sudden we had a space, or box, built within the screen. It actually surprised me. This was our 5th Megadrive title, but in terms of gameplay it wound up being quite different from the others. All the other games had some really impressive visuals, but you never miss a punch with 3D Streets of Rage, and that feels awesome.
YO: In the other 3D Remaster games, the player character always moved on a single line. But in a beat’em up, your character can move freely from right in front of you to the rear of the screen. Enemies and objects too also have depth data associated with them. If you look back on gaming history and how action games have evolved, first they just had a single static screen, then they evolved into scrolling screens. Next we saw action games focused on jumping, which replicated gravity within their mechanics, and then the sort of faux 3D beat’em up sub-genre you see with Streets of Rage was born.
So that means that the evolution from 2D side-scrollers to “belt floor” beat’em up games was actually an evolution towards 3D, so to speak. It might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t followed or isn’t aware of the evolution of action games, so some people might not get what I’m saying. But you’ve played a bunch of action games, don’t you see a big difference there?
- What was once beautiful faux 3D becomes an albatross when you put it in real 3D.
YO: Indeed. If only the games were just made in 3D first, everything would be fine.
- And that’s why it made sense to remake arcade games which moved “into” the screen in 3D. However when it came to remaking Megadrive titles in 3D, you weren’t going to get away without doing a “belt floor” beat’em up game.
NH: I think the result is worth the work we put into it, and I hope people who play it will appreciate what we’ve accomplished as well.
- You can’t really get that across from just a screenshot.
YO: This is a game that we were able to do because we had the experience of the previous four titles. Of course we had an idea of what we wanted to do at the beginning, but unless you actually build it and see it working, you can’t fully appreciate what the game’s going to be like, you know? Once we got to work though, the game looked great.
NH: Really though, besides Streets of Rage, I really hope a lot of people will give all of the 3D MegaDrive remakes a try. I think the quality will surprise you.
- This came up when we were talking about Shinobi III, but is this title also compatible with the Gigadrive v2.0?
NH: Yes. Although there’s still room for growth there.
“If Shinobi III was the sum of everything we’ve accomplished so far, Streets of Rage is the next dimension.”
YO: Just like the other games, there were a few interesting stories around the process of getting the game into 3D. For starters, stage 3. If you play it in 3D on the 3DS, then you might not notice anything, but this is actually the first stage to be different in the GigaDrive version compared to the MegaDrive version.
NH: Yeah, the ocean’s draw priority is different.
YO: In the original version, the wave animations for the ocean are in the screen’s foreground, so they cover the player’s feet when they step in the water. When we dropped that straight into 3D, it looked off. The perspective was broken, and the waves looked like they were just popping up and down perpendicular to the ground. (laughs) Since we were remaking the game based around the 3D view, M2 went in and changed the waves’ sprite priorities. As a result, the animation is the same, but they’ve added perspective to it. Accordingly when you play the game in 2D, the draw priorities will differ from the original MegaDrive version.
NH: If only we had Z-buffers, then each pixel had its own depth information (when drawing objects in 3D computer graphics, typically every pixel on a surface has depth coordinates associated with it, so you can calculate how deep objects are relative to each other by pixel).
- That would earn you another dimension, wouldn’t it?
YO: Now, even though I’d agreed that we could get SoR 1 into 3D, there was one spot that I knew they’d have trouble with and that was Stage 7. Stage 7 is an elevator scene, and it’s a good example of something that was beyond what M2 had worked on up until that point.
NH: Take your pick: the perspective on the elevator, the background…I mean, just look at it…we did everything we could.
YO: … Well, since you managed to remake Stage 7 in 3D, I think that means you can almost do anything… (laughs)
NH: Yeah, but still…
YO: Up until the end this didn’t look right, and we really struggled with it. Well, M2 did, that is.
- Of course, the original development team would have had no idea when they were making the game that someone would wind up creating a 3D version.
YO: The same is true for Sonic and Shinobi III, too.
NH: Notice how as the elevator goes up, right around the middle of the ascent, the background perspective changes out of nowhere…
- And hey, as you throw enemies out of the elevator, you can sort of see the little visual tricks they used to make this part look 3D. (laughs)
YO: Still, I think that in the end, we got the 3D on this stage to where it needed to be.
- Yeah, there’s nothing “off” about it at all. It’s great. (laughs) And intriguing. When you’re moving up, you can see the little trick in there with the positioning of the wall on the left… This must have been very hard to remake in 3D. Things developers never would have given a second thought to back then wind up creating serious challenges for you guys.
YO: Yeah, the difference in the perspective of the left wall and the carriage looked strange when we put it into 3D.
- I just tried the special attack too, and it looks like you got the Stage 7 version into 3D as well. (laughs)
YO: Yes, of course! Including things like that tempted us to tinker even more with other stages. For instance, Stage 5’s background was originally a single graphic…
- Nice, even the background shown through the boat windows is properly 3D. I love it. When you dive this deep, it makes me wonder if you guys are OK with just $6 for this game.
NH: At the end of the day though, it’s still only the 1st Streets of Rage.
- This really works within the GigaDrive v2.0? Processing costs, and all?
NH: We did what we could to make it work…so yes.
YO: I want to point out one last place we had a hard time with, even though there were a ton of them. On Stage 6 where the pressing machine is, there was a perspective here that just didn’t work in 3D. This was a toughie.
NH: That graphic had a lot of conflicting elements. When we first started on the project, there were a lot of spots that we knew how to approach in 3D, and as we worked on it, new ideas on how to do this or that better kept coming up. Okunari-san would give us feedback on a daily basis on our new versions as well, offering suggestions and advice. He had some really good ideas that escaped us at first.
- Every time I hear these stories, it surprises me how far overboard Okunari-san’s demands goes…
NH: Those unreasonable demands can be fun. If only we had an unlimited amount of time….
YO: If we had an unlimited amount of time, M2 would go bankrupt. (laughs)
NH: Ah maybe… Ok, what if we had unlimited money as well! (laughs)
- Still though, it seems like the pace at which you’ve release these GigaDrive titles is pretty quick.
NH: Well, since the hardware they’re based on doesn’t really change, anything related to the controls etc. won’t either.
YO: M2 had built the GigaDrive architecture, which they could apply to multiple titles, and they focused a lot on its 3D functionality.
NH: Since we’ve allocated engineers to the 3D tech, we were able to work on several games at the same time. The folks adding the 3D have developed their own habits and “styles” for implementing 3D, which has been interesting to watch.
- And this isn’t just regular 3D compatibility; it also works for this side-scrolling beat ‘em up.
YO: Laying out the initial groundwork was the hardest part; everything was a slog until M2 built the GigaDrive. Getting the MegaDrive to run emulated on 3DS was the first hurdle, and once that was done, they had a platform from which to build the GigaDrive which was its own challenge. They then had an environment where an artist or programmer adding 3D could do so according to their own personal style… Since the titles overlapped, they were able to work more efficiently and cut down on the really laborious parts of the process.
- It sounds something you’d need a smart approach for.
NH: There’s a lot of ‘smarts’ being used in Streets of Rage.
YO: Up until Shinobi III, the focus for getting the 3D working was on the technical aspects of background scrolling. With Streets of Rage, pretty much everything was similar to what we did with the trees and construction signs in 3D Sonic [Link to Sonic interview], except that games had themselves evolved, and things that were drawn in faux “3D” for Streets of Rage pretty much had to be brought into real stereoscopic 3D in the remake. At first, you can only faintly imagine what the end product of that looks like, but what it takes to actually get there is mostly a thankless job.
- Having scrolling in 3D across multiple background layers is certainly the easiest way for people to communicate the 3D effect to people. But for Streets of Rage, all the original graphics have some kind of perspective applied to them, which can tempt you to try and actually make them 3D. But when you start down that road…
NH: There were also reasons back in the MegaDrive days that developers had to try to save on memory usage. So even if you had to break the perspective a bit, the graphic was fine as long as it looked like what it was supposed to be. There’s a lot of that going on in Streets of Rage, which was hard to deal with.
- You pop up the backgrounds in 3D, but then they conflict with how the characters are positioned. Fixing that contradiction must be a tedious process.
- How do I put this… Take monster movies for instance, where you’re like “wait is that a miniature building they’re using in the close-ups? The perspective is all off….but meh I guess it looks good!” However, when you see the same model in 3D, all of a sudden it looks totally off. What you guys are doing is basically fixing all the perspective problems with a miniature model by hand…
NH: That’s a good example.
YO: If Shinobi III was the sum of everything we’ve accomplished so far, Streets of Rage is the next dimension.
The only catch in “Fists of Death” Mode: No one-hit kills off a single throw!
- Alright, shifting gears a bit. Similar to previous GigaDrive titles, I’m assuming both the Japanese and international versions are available in the 3DS version?
YO: Yes, all the standard features of GigaDrive titles are included, so you can play the JP version if you want. And thanks to the features we included with 3D Altered Beast, the game supports local 2P co-op as well.
NH: Another small little bonus: the music that’s played when you select the icon on the Home screen? That’s a Manabu Namiki arrangement of Koshiro-san’s original Streets of Rage track. Well, not quite an arrangement, he just tweaked the track length so it loops properly. (laughs)
YO: Yeah, tracks for the Home screen have to be a certain length, you know. Previously, we’ve always had to pick a very short song or some kind of sound effect to go there, but we couldn’t find anything that worked for Streets of Rage. We tried a lot of stuff, but in the end this is what worked best. It’s kind of like when they make a short version of an anime theme song just for TV.
- So it’s basically a jingle.
NH: Hey look at that, when you’re playing 2P co-op, Adam isn’t on the bottom screen. He also doesn’t make an appearance in II or III… Coincidence!?
YO: We’ve also added something we call “Fists of Death” mode to Streets of Rage 3D. It’s a really simple and satisfying version of the game, where you get to knock out any enemy with a single punch. It’s the easiest way to get through every stage. You can also crank up the difficulty to “Hardest” and try it that way.
NH: “Hardest” is fun because you’re always in danger of dying, but you have to mow through piles of enemies. If you screw up, it’s game over. So you can raise the difficulty to get a real challenge, or lower it with Fists of Death just to have something to play around with.
The thing is though, creating the Fists of Death mode wasn’t actually that easy… When you get knocked out, notice how the ground around you vibrates a bit when you revive. This effect damages all characters on screen, and in early versions of “Fists of Death”, that was enough to wipe out all the enemies around you. So we had to go in and tweak the original programming to account for it, and in that process there was even a point where enemies would be knocked out by simply touching your character. Like you’re surrounded by a cloud of poison or something.
YO: Also, since the damage for throwing enemies is calculated slightly different from normal damage, we made it so you can’t defeat enemies with a single throw. Besides that, there are certain characters who crouch when you go to punch them, and they were tricky to deal with. M2 had to tweak each enemy so they’d actually keel over after one hit.
NH: At first we were like: “One-hit kill mode? Yeah we’ll have it ready in no time”…
- Still, you didn’t include Fists of Death because you thought it’d be easy to add, right?
NH: It seemed like it’d be a fun way to play, and we thought it wouldn’t take too much time to implement… It was a matter of combining what we knew we could do, and what we thought would be fun. Of course it’s still a blast to wail on enemies in the regular mode as well.
YO: We had a similar mode in the Golden Axe Collection for SEGA AGES ONLINE (Sega Vintage Collection).
- Sounds like you had to strike a balance around the game design between good ideas and efficiency.
NH: There were also situations in Fists of Death mode where you’d defeat enemies before the enemy appearance table was set to bring out the next wave, so sometimes enemies wouldn’t even appear. Even when you want to make the game easier, you really get put through the grinder, and this time was no exception. (laughs) We had to put a lot of work into the enemy generation code.
- The programming required is more involved, the characters are bigger, and you’ve got a lot going on in the backgrounds.
YO: When you put it that way, I think M2 are really the only ones who can really understand what that generation of developers had to go through. (laughs)
NH: Definitely. This is the kind of work where you have to track someone else’s footsteps, and get better every time at guessing what kind of challenges they endured on their journey.
- Sounds like you’re treading some murky waters. (laughs)
YO: In any case, “Fists of Death” turns out to be a really fun, satisfying new mode. Everyone should give it a shot. We also enabled the cheat code from the original to let you use the stage select and raise your life settings as well.
- I see.
YO: Oh, and you know the back attack you could do in the original by pressing B and C at the same time? We’ve assigned that to the R button, so it’s easier to do.
- Much appreciated!
Round one of the 3D Remaster Project, finished!
- At the end of the day, despite the games’ schedules overlapping, you guys never caught a break when creating these ports. (laughs)
NH: I guess not. But when you come this far…
- Incidentally, you previously mentioned that Streets of Rage was chosen to be your last title. Does that mean this project is finished?
YO: Yes, this brings the 3D Remaster Project to a close.
NH: Wait, really!?
YO: “Their battle has only begun.”
NH: I feel like you’re cutting us off here.
YO: “Look forward to the next episode from the team at M2!”
NH: Damn it! Then we might just have to order another season… that’ll ultimately be canceled…
YO: In any case, it’s the end of the first batch. We’re going back to the kitchen for awhile.
NH: … I don’t know if I can handle much more of this. Another 50 week sprint? A whole other year…
- So you’re saying that this is the end point for the titles you’d originally planned.
YO: Correct. The 3D Remaster Project started out as a project for the new 3DS hardware, where we’d have Virtual Console titles coming out along with “something new” the side. Something that wasn’t just a single game, that could become a series. We got started without knowing if we could even get the games we selected into 3D, so we had to stock the series with enough titles to ensure that it was going to be worth all the effort. Those were the 8 titles we’ve released, and they took two years. It was a long road, but I think we can draw the curtain on this installment.
- I’m a little scared to ask, but… What do you mean by the end of this series, and “going back to the kitchen”?
YO: Whether we can continue this project or not is really up to its reception by the fans. I emphasized this when we were discussing 3D Space Harrier, but it’s the truth. Thankfully, due to the support we’ve received in the 6 months after we released 3D Space Harrier in Japan, in other words the number of people who picked up the games, it looks like we’ll be able to carry on with the series.
NH: Wow! Are you sure that’s OK to say?
- Yee-haw! (Joy)
YO: The first batch is done, but for a second one, we need some time. For the Japanese market, we will be back with a second batch. For overseas folks, whether it gets localized or not will depend on the success of the first series. But the range of what we can actually do with a second batch of remakes is also dependent on the same factors.
NH: Now hold on. Are you saying that if people out there buy stacks and stacks of these remakes, I might be able to do Thunder Blade?
YO: … …
NH: Still no comment I see. I’d held off about Thunder Blade all day, so you were probably thinking I wasn’t going to bring it up again.
YO: Let’s just set aside whether or not Thunder Blade is a game that people want.
NH: In 3D, I know it will be awesome.
- (huge laughs)
NH: Saeki-san, you laugh, but it would really bowl you over.
-… Personally I’d definitely like to see it in 3D.
YO: We’ll be back.
NH: Yes we will.
YO: But first, we need to look at how Shinobi III and Streets of Rage fare in Japan and overseas. We’re in the kitchen, so just give us some time. Ultimately, whether we can exceed what we‘ve done in our first batch of games comes down to our fans. So I hope the first 8 titles are enough to earn their support.
NH: Yes, I hope so too. Until we can move onto the next series, I want to take this time to thank everyone. To the folks who were really impressed with 3D Space Harrier, thank you. I hope we can impress you again in the future.
- What a wrap up. Man, these interviews have been really exciting, so I’d really look forward to a second batch. It might be a bit late to ask this, but how has the reaction been to the project so far compared to your expectations for it?
YO: In terms of 3D Space Harrier, when the 3DS was announced, I knew I wanted to see it in 3D, and I think for SEGA fans and other people as well, this was a game people wanted to see in 3D. I’ve thought that ever since the 3DS launched, and I think M2 probably feels the same.
NH: For sure.
YO: I imagine the fans probably thought that if SEGA was going to put something out in 3D, it’d have to be Space Harrier. So in that sense, once Space Harrier was released, I feel we’d dished out something good enough to make you say, “Man, Space Harrier is still totally awesome.”
Fans have also been sending us a lot of different game names that they want to see ported, and we’ve been able to deliver some of those, some of which we didn’t think we could manage originally. Putting these games into authentic 3D was a first for us, but something we were able to do with the new direction 3DS was taking us in. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but we’ve also had a lot of fun that we never expected, as we’ve catalogued in these interviews. I hope everybody can find something to appreciate in each of the remakes.
For example, the gyro controls in 3D Super Hang-on, which is something that has nothing to do with the 3D, I think was implemented really well. Or like in 3D Streets of Rage, things that you thought would look one way in real 3D, have a little twist to them and give you a nice surprise.
For 3D Space Harrier, some parts went as expected, but beyond that I think I can say that we were able to enjoy the journey as much as the players can enjoy the fruits of it. If we had just dropped in extra features and 3D compatibility, folded our arms, called it a day and it meant nothing to anybody else, there would’ve been no point. Maybe the same feature works well with another game. Or maybe there are more discoveries to be made in the next batch of games. Either way we do think that players have enjoyed what we’ve done so far and it’s up to us to keep that going. Getting feedback directly from the fans helps us keep thinking about how to approach ports in the future.
NH: I think we’re going to see a big response to the 3D remakes, and that will be enough to let us put out Thunder Blade. My main task is thinking about what I want to work on after we wrap up Thunder Blade.
NH: Well, that goes without saying.
- Of course it does. (laughs)
YO: Wait, does that mean you managed to get those 250,000 signatures I told you to gather?
NH: Well, not signatures, per say. More like, you know, “smoke signals”, or vibes if you will. We both know it’s going to sell like crazy.
NH: Though I guess depending on cloud cover, it can be tough to see smoke signals.
- (laughs) Personally, Thunder Blade is one of those titles I wanted to see from the get go. I think it’d be great if future releases prompted people to revisit and revaluate games like Thunderblade, and up-ended expectations of classic titles.
NH: That’s the kind of potential I think Thunder Blade has.
YO: I realized this when we were working on 3D Space Harrier, but there are basically two main reasons that this project was so well received by fans. One is playing games in 3D. The second is the addition of new features. When I say ‘addition’, I don’t mean remaking the game into something completely different. It could be something like putting HAYA OH into the arcade version of Space Harrier, putting the Spin Dash in Sonic, or adding the Moving Cabinet modes to the arcade ports. We’re always trying to come up with just one more little bonus that we can drop in. Something that hasn’t been done yet. Since we’ve been able to deliver on that, I think the 3D Remaster Series distinguishes itself from what we put out on Virtual Console up until now.
Of course we also want to enable people to play their favorite games from yesteryear unchanged on modern hardware, so we’ll continue to support Virtual Console. But I want to do something beyond what we’ve already done in the second batch.
NH: We’ve got a lot of good ideas, and we’ve already got some impressive graphics in the works. Get hype.
- Over the course of these interviews, I think once you actually sit down with the games, the entire context you guys have been describing becomes that much clearer. I definitely look forward to seeing what else this project can give birth to.
YO: Perhaps an odd example, but it’s sort of like when they put out the first season of a TV anime and have to decide a half year later whether to follow up with a 2nd season, do a couple of OVAs, or just go ahead and order a movie version.
NH: If we did a ‘movie version’ of this project, what would that be like? Like using an Oculus Rift hooked up to a console or something?
YO: Hahaha, is that how you imagine it? (laughs) Well, the way forward again depends on how the games are received. At some point, we might come to the conclusion that the world just doesn’t need any more GigaDrive games. But in the end we hope everyone enjoys the games we’ve been able to bring out so far, and hopefully the ones we can bring out in the future.
- Thank you so much for your time, gentlemen! I look forward to your future work!
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 Translator’s note: This is a play on a common technique used for ending a serialized manga. When a comic loses popularity, they are often ended in rather sudden ways and perhaps halfway through a particular story arc. Instead of just ending the story, they often include text on the last panel that implies the story continued on even afterwards. Okunari-san is mimicking a typical copy pattern in those situations.
Tuesday Dec 17, 2013
Shinobi III is our second to last title in the 3D Classics series of interviews. As you’ll come to find, a lot of work was expertly done by M2 to bring this classic Genesis / Mega Drive game to the 3DS.
Thanks again to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. Thanks to Siliconera for coordinating with us to help spread the word to SEGA fans across the web. And special thanks to our producer Sam for translating these interviews for everyone’s enjoyment.
As always, your comments are appreciated!
How will this title from the MegaDrive’s late lifecycle make it into 3D!?
Originally posted 8/7/2013
Right, Naoki Horii, M2 President, left, Yousuke Okunari, SEGA CS3 Producer
“Effortlessly pulling off things which people assumed the MegaDrive just couldn’t do…”
- Thank you again for sitting down with me, gentlemen. To date, you’ve released 3D Sonic The Hedgehog, 3D Altered Beast, and 3D Ecco the Dolphin as “GigaDrive” titles. But I’d like to ask what prompted you to choose Shinobi III to represent SEGA’s library of action games. Because I remember that the previous installment, The Revenge of Shinobi, also made a big impact at the time.
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): The Revenge of Shinobi is of course the bigger title. However, when we released The Revenge of Shinobi as part of the SEGA Vintage Collection last year on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, we got a lot of feedback from people requesting the sequel as well.
Earlier on we had released Shinobi 3D on 3DS, which was a new title in its own right, and which in its own way paid homage to Shinobi III. So we thought that people who got to know the series through that game might better appreciate Shinobi III, since it has more variety in the actions you can perform compared to earlier installments.
We also wanted to keep popularizing some of SEGA’s more well-known games through the 3D Remake Project, which led us to include one title from the Shinobi series. Lastly, and you might know this if you’ve played 3D Galaxy Force II, we wanted to draw attention to how impressive sprite-based games can be when viewed in 3D compared to polygon-based graphics, like those used in Shinobi 3D.
Naoki Horii (below, NH): There are a lot of showpieces for the 3D within the game.
- Looking at your line-up after 3D Sonic, Shinobi III will be the fourth side-scrolling title that you’ve released using the GigaDrive, so I was thinking that maybe you chose Shinobi III based on how effective you thought the 3D would be.
YO: If you want to adapt what were originally 3D shooting games (such as Space Harrier) into stereoscopic 3D, porting the arcade versions is the most effective approach. Namely because the MegaDrive didn’t support sprite scaling. On the other hand, if you want to port 2D side scrolling games, there are a bunch of classics to choose from on the MegaDrive.
In terms of building up M2’s know-how as well, I thought we’d get better at the porting process if we focused on games of a similar genre to the ones we’d previously done.
- I see.
YO: Now Shinobi III is our fourth title that uses the GigaDrive, so I figured development would go pretty smoothly. Little did I know how wrong I was…
NH: That’s because MegaDrive games themselves evolved over time. By the time Shinobi III came out, games on the same hardware were really humming along, using sprites and backgrounds in very advanced ways, parallax scrolling backgrounds, all sorts of things. Developers around that time would do things like adjust sprite priorities (which determine what sprites display on top when sprites overlap) to spiff up a game’s backgrounds by making a single layer look like two or three.
YO: Looking back at the previous titles we released, we have Altered Beast, which was a launch title in 1988, then Sonic which came out in 1991, and finally Ecco and Shinobi III, which both released in 1993. Ecco’s biggest advancements were mainly in its impressive visual presentation, but Shinobi III’s advancements were programming innovations that changed how graphics were displayed. Since it had been five years since the hardware’s release, Shinobi III was at the point where it wasn’t just using all of the MegaDrive’s capabilities, it was effortlessly pulling off things that people assumed the MegaDrive just couldn’t do.
NH: We knew that remaking this kind of game in 3D was going be painstaking, but we also knew the final product would really impress people.
YO: When we were deciding on our MegaDrive lineup, both M2 and I felt that Shinobi III would make for a really fun game in 3D, so we went ahead and included it. We knew that the game had some parallax scrolling areas in it, and that it was also a straightforward side-scrolling action game, so we figured it would just be a matter of adding 3D to specific parts of the stage that really stand out, like we did with 3D Sonic. M2 agreed with me, and said, “OK, sure. Though, it just might take some work since it’s a game from late in the MegaDrive’s lifecycle…”
But when they actually got started, it was much harder than they imagined. For starters, there are a lot more stages in Shinobi III than other games from that time.
NH: Yeah, there are a ton of stages…
YO: We underestimated the game: there are seven rounds, and each round has three stages. That’s twenty one stages in total! Altered Beast had five. Ecco’s maps are big, but each one is one big image that’s almost like looking at an ant colony from the side. Which means that in terms of the visual presentation, similar graphics were used repeatedly, and you could use the same approach on them as you added depth.
NH: You’ll basically be fine doing the same thing over and over again.
YO: However, Shinobi III changes everything up in all its stages. The game progresses through completely different environments and completely different worlds, which meant we had to change our approach to creating 3D effects for each graphic in the game…
At first, we tried to do things the same way we were doing them previously, for example in 3D Sonic, where we added depth to the parallax scroll layers and objects in the background that had originally been drawn with a faux 3D perspective, and added 3D to previously flat backgrounds, like we did with Altered Beast or Ecco. But it just wasn’t enough.
- When you say “it just wasn’t enough”, you mean there was still something “off” about the graphics?
NH: At the end of the day, the MegaDrive was a console with two backgrounds and sprites on top of them, so the range of things developers were able to do was somewhat limited. Still, they did develop graphic swap techniques that let them make it look like there were three or four background images on the screen. Which means that even if we added depth to both background layers, or changed the priority of raster layers, it wouldn’t be enough; we’d wind up breaking the game’s presentation because certain parts of the game would look wrong. While we did make use of those techniques, we also had to touch up the graphics to give the game a real stereoscopic 3D feel.
If you’re parallax scrolling a background layer graphic that already has some sort of depth baked into it, the GigaDrive techniques aren’t going to help. There were a lot of places in the game for which we had to go in and add depth to by hand.
- Games around that time also had a lot of huge boss characters.
NH: That’s right.
- Those bosses may just be one big graphic, but depending on the perspective, you might be tempted to add depth to their arms and legs.
NH: When the bosses have multiple parts, people want to see depth on them, especially since a lot of stages have bosses with phases that completely change how they’re displayed on-screen .
The GigaDrive v2.0 is here!
- Some stages scroll vertically as well, don’t they?
YO: Vertical scrolling was one thing we really struggled with in Shinobi III. For example, stage 6-1. We ran some tests on this stage to see how 3D would look in one of the vertical parallax scrolling sections (hands over a 3DS).
We had a really hard time getting 3D working for the vertically scrolling rock wall here, as well as the elevator scene in 2-2. You might think the GigaDrive is transforming these scenes into 3D, but to make it work we actually had to upgrade the GigaDrive to version 2.0.
NH: That’s right, v2.0! The team members who built the GigaDrive thought that the features we’d implemented for 3D Sonic would be enough to support 3D in other MegaDrive titles, but they were wrong! It was like: “Oh boy, now we’ve got to deal with Vertical raster scrolling?!” Well, that’s not the right term, actually. Really we should call it “vertical multi-scrolling”.
YO: Raster scrolling is done using scanlines, so yes, the term “vertical multi-scrolling” would be correct.
NH: But everyone called it “vertical raster”. So one of the biggest changes to the GigaDrive for v2.0 was support for vertical multi-scrolling.
- The way you’ve added depth to these vertically scrolling parts of the stage really gives them a facelift!
NH: Yeah, it does.
YO: Late-cycle MegaDrive games became very focused on how to show visual depth within the MegaDrive’s limitation of only two background layers. Shinobi III is one of those games. So if you can take that onto the 3DS and add 3D to it as-is, it just enhances what was already there.
However, since M2 had to use a lot of different methods to create real 3D effects, there wasn’t a single method that could add 3D to all stages in all situations. This meant analyzing how the programmers for the original version had wrung out faux 3D effects from within the MegaDrive’s original feature set, one scene at a time. In order to remake those graphics in 3D, we had to go back to the GigaDrive itself and extend its capabilities.
This is the “grinding away in the pits” that we alluded to in our 3D Galaxy Force II interview. Shinobi III has twenty one stages, and of course you can’t get away with just one 3D effect per stage. Some parts of the stage are similar to each other, and some are completely different. Really, I’m just impressed that the project even finished.
NH: We did run a little over schedule.
YO: You did, but it was a battle with time.
NH: Because the 3D programming was looking like it might run over schedule a bit, we were able to add in a couple more 3D touches with the lost time. Since we’ve made so much progress with 3D vertical multi-scrolling, it makes me want to use it in other games. You know, after we get Thunder Blade out.
YO: The hardest part about this game was the final boss. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you see it, but it’s worth checking out the original in 2D first.
- This looks impressive even to the untrained eye…
YO: The original already had an extremely 3D-esque look to it, and it was rasterized to the screen to give it a wavy effect, despite being a single graphic. This is the kind of thing you’ve just got to remake in 3D.
- The original graphic was clearly drawn to give the impression that the floor and the ceiling start in front of you and then move into the background.
YO: It’s similar to the ground and ceiling graphics in Space Harrier. It’s the graphic designer telling you to look at something in 3D. But there’s no depth information of course. This was actually still 2D right up until just before the final version of the game. Out of respect to the original, we knew that we couldn’t just leave it in 2D, so the Shinobi project manager over at M2 worked hard on it, until the 59th minute of the 11th hour.
And… Well, here. Take a look at it again in 3D.
- Wow, it’s popping out of the screen, as if that’s how it was always meant to be. (laughs) I see what you mean. So the wireframes at the top and bottom of the screen and the wavy portions of the backgrounds are separate layers, right?
YO: Two separate scroll layers are rasterizing on the screen. We’ve added depth information to the single graphic of the undulating wire frame. With the GigaDrive releases up until now, we made background and foreground layers 3D by assigning them different depths, but in this case we’ve “knocked” the wireframe into the background to give it “diagonal depth”.
- (Laughs) So that’s what’s happening. Sounds like you had to pull out all the stops. It’s like always with you guys, you know it’s got to wind up looking like this, and then it does.
YO: The difference between adding depth values to two parallel layers, and thus making them 3D, and knocking the wire-frame portion diagonally into the screen was like night and day. The 3D effect of parallax scrolling is ultimately just like the 3D effect in Galaxy Force II: lots of sprites are overlapped among several different parallel levels. However, collapsing a graphic diagonally into the screen requires a totally different approach.
- So did you give each horizontal line on the screen its own depth value? That’s possible, right?
NH: It is, but it’s very processor-intensive.
YO: Similarly, when you’re at the stage start screen, there are stage illustrations hovering in mid-air with Joe Musashi standing right in front of you, and both of them are in different locations. The background and forest have been made 3D by collapsing the graphic into the background, which makes it look like the forest is extending to the horizon. Just getting this screen done was an ordeal on its own.
- I suppose collapsing a single graphic into the background diagonally was something you hadn’t done yet on the GigaDrive, and making it happen was quite a challenge.
YO: That’s right.
- Once people saw the parallax scrolling that we were just talking about in the last stage, it became a rather common technique used in games, didn’t it?
NH: Yeah it did. Just another tool of the trade.
- And the 3DS version shows what you can do with the same image in 3D.
NH: Of course, no one ever imagined it would be in 3D in the first place, right? They just wanted to give a 3D edge to the graphics. It’s that much more powerful in real 3D.
- It must have been quite the process.
NH: This was actually the first time the programmer who added 3D depth to the game had ever touched the GigaDrive. Up until then he had been working on Virtual Console Game Gear titles. So I asked him if he wanted to try adding some 3D to Shinobi, and all of a sudden he was adding it everywhere he could.
NH: He just didn’t know when to give up. He worked on it like a man on a mission, right up until we were out of time.
- Well, that’s the kind of project this is, I suppose. No one knows when to quit… (laughs)
NH: Yeah, exactly. (laughs) When I come into work, I’m always like, “boy, you guys seem to be having fun over there!”
YO: Now this is probably something most people wouldn’t care about, and something I didn’t even realize until it was explained to me, but some of the visual effects in this game were created with very elaborate programming tricks, and they’ll basically fall apart when you put them into 3D. An example would be 3-1.
NH: There’s a trick that other companies have used in shooting games, for example, where you take a square graphic and shift it one pixel at a time, which makes it look like it’s a single scrolling background graphic. The catch is that your background graphic has to be a single block. You could call it “cycling background cells”. We’ve added 3D support for techniques like this with the new GigaDrive v2.0. Stage-wise, a good example is the biological weapons research facility in stage 3-1.
- Huh. Yeah now that I think about, this does seem like something the MegaDrive shouldn’t be graphically capable of.
NH: At first glance, it seems like there are a ton of background layers, but this stage is actually just made of square-shaped graphics arranged around each other. Or rather, they look like a background because of how they’re placed. With this approach, you only have to shift a single block when it’s drawn, leaving fewer areas that you have to redraw. You save on memory as well as processing time.
What it took to make 3-1 3D
How 3-1’s screens are rendered by the GigaDrive.
* A & C move at the speeds they appear to move at.
* B is drawn on Extended BG4 with the same depth as C, but is animated by cycling cells, and scrolls at the same speed as layer A.
* It may be possible to freeze the cell animation and scroll at the same speed as background C, but doing so makes the background look different from the original.
(You may not notice it at first since the screen flickers in this section of the game, but if you watch layer B while your character is moving, you’ll notice that it doesn’t move in sync with C.)
Background Layer B is actually comprised of animation tiles that are laid out on-screen and rapidly redrawn to give the impression that they’re scrolling. The 3D version adds depth information to these tiles.
- Wooooow. That is a pretty smart approach.
NH: It is smart. The team really dug deep for this one. But if you use that technique to add depth the way we normally do for GigaDrive, it wouldn’t work right. So we had to extend our functionality for games that use cell cycling.
- I see. I guess that’s the only way to create 3D in a stage like this.
“When you know the original developers wanted to create a sense of space in the original game, it makes you want to push that even further.”
YO: We had underestimated what our original plan would require. However, from among the games we originally selected for the lineup, we thought that Sonic and our next release were going to be the toughest. We wanted to get the hardest games out of the way first.
NH: We were ready to stake the fate of the GigaDrive on Sonic…
YO: Yeah. For Sonic, the idea was “Let’s blow everyone’s socks off!” We figured that if we could bring the parallax scrolling portions of the stage into the background, it would impress people. But once we sat down to get started, we realized how off our calculations were. (laughs)
NH: Yeah we did.
YO: We should have spent more time with each game when we were choosing titles.
NH: When we were considering which parts of the game to remake in 3D, we figured, “Hey, we can do this, we can do that”, because we’d already done it on Sonic. That was a mistake. (laughs) If we’d moved Sonic to the rear, we could have drawn a reasonable line in the sand about what we were going to do with Shinobi III.
- (laughs) Well, you guys don’t really know when to give up either (laughs). I feel like even if the release order was reversed, you still would have convinced yourself that “Hey, we can do this,” or, “That’s going to be a snap.”
NH: At M2, we might have told ourselves that if we do Shinobi first, 3D Sonic would be out of this world.
- (laughs) Then again, if you went straight to late life-cycle MegaDrive titles, you might have had to delay the releases for the arcade and GigaDrive games, right? I mean so far, you’ve been developing titles one by one, and gradually improving your approach by taking the lessons learned from the previous game into the next game. As a result, you’ve been able to work more efficiently, but at the same time you find things you feel like really have to be included in the game as you go along. Considering that, if you’d done Shinobi III first, you might never have gotten around to the other GigaDrive titles, and there wouldn’t have been any games for a while after the 3D Super Hang-on release. (laughs)
NH: That’s definitely possible.
YO: In the end, I think that Shinobi III wound up being a culmination of all the things we’ve accomplished on the GigaDrive up until now.
NH: Yes, everything we’ve built into the GigaDrive to date has made it into this game. It’s got all the toppings.
YO: With Shinobi III’s development, the GigaDrive is finally complete…
NH: … That’s what I wish we could say, but there are still a lot of small problems and stuff that’s not quite there yet. For example, if we wanted to do Gunstar Heroes, we’d have to expand its functionality. (laughs)
- Yeah, that game has multi-jointed characters and other relatively unique specs since it came out at the very end of the MegaDrive’s life cycle.
YO: OK well, let’s say that with Shinobi III, the GigaDrive version 2.0 is finally complete. Beyond that, it’s all down to M2 working on the nitty gritty details to bring quasi-3D elements from the late-era games into true 3D.
NH: Well, the original MegaDrive-era graphical artists and programmers were also deep in the muck, and even though they were working on 2D CRT screens, they wanted to evoke “space” within the game to the extent that they could. When you know the original developers wanted to create a sense of space in the original game, it makes you want to push that even further.
YO: Those little nitty gritty details are the things I hope people notice the most in Shinobi III.
“It really is a second attempt, twenty years later, to deliver to the players that sense of depth, that sense of really being in the game.”
YO: Incidentally, just as we’ve done with all the other 3D Remaster Project games, this title also has two features that weren’t in the original game.
One is the stage select. Unlike 3D Sonic, this wasn’t in the MegaDrive version. You can now see every stage boss, from start to finish, right out of the gate. I say this every time, but we really want people to see how the 3D looks in all the stages, regardless if you’re actually able to clear the game or not.
- Did the original have three continues? I can’t remember. It’s great that you can jump straight to any stage.
NH: The continues are now unlimited as well.
YO: Another thing we’ve included is the “Expert Ninja Mode”. This is something that allows you to assign controls to each button. Both The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III essentially have the same basic controls: Jump, Attack, and Ninjutsu. But in Expert Ninja mode, you can actually assign separate buttons for the close range (kunai) and long range (shuriken) attacks.
We also included a guard button, so you can now guard instantly. In The Revenge of Shinobi, when powered up, you could block things with your two kunai, and use your katana to deflect shuriken, but in Shinobi III, you had to hold down the button to guard so Joe would toss out a shuriken first and your guard wouldn’t instantly activate. Guarding didn’t work the same way it did in The Revenge of Shinobi. In the 3DS version’s Expert Ninja Mode, you can now guard with the push of a single button. The guard hitbox is a bit tighter than it was in Revenge, but the fact that you can instantly block attacks now is huge for players.
You can assign the guard button to L, R, A, B, Y, or even X if you want. Use whatever works for you!
And actually, this isn’t the first time this mode has made an appearance. You might not be aware of this, but you could use it with a cheat code in the original. The game actually supported the 6-button gamepad for the MegaDrive, which at the time had just been released. Still, since we are porting the game to the 3DS, we’d run out of buttons if we left the 6-button support in there, so we needed to a proper implementation for this control scheme. And since trying to assign all these buttons with the button configuration we’ve had up until now would be a bit of a pain, we’ve adapted the controls into icons. Really, there probably weren’t a ton of people who knew about and used the cheat code for the original, so in this version, we’ve included the functionality as a default default. I think it brings a breath of fresh air to the gameplay.
- … People might think that the guard will make them invincible throughout the game, but that’s not the case.
NH: No, that’s not the case. It’s sort of like how people thought the original Street Fighter would be easier if you switched from pressure-sensitive buttons to a 6-button layout, but that wasn’t the problem in the first place.
- (laughs) It was the button inputs that made that game tricky.
YO: Playing Shinobi III with a guard button makes it totally different from what you’ve played before.
- In car terms, it’s like switching from an automatic to a stick shift.
YO: People who’ve mastered the normal control method, or played the normal style but got stuck somewhere along the way should give it a try. I think they’ll find it’s like playing a different game.
I’ve never asked the original development team, but I hear this game took a quite a while to develop and I have a feeling they wanted to make it so that the guard action was instantaneous. Perhaps they gave up when they were doing adjustments to the game balance or something. At the very end of the development cycle, they heard 6-button controller was coming out and implemented support for it, so I imagine that at that point it was too late to include the guard by default. Since we’re working on the port, we figured it was time to let that feature shine.
- It wouldn’t have been odd around that time to have a guard action. I think it’s a good idea.
YO: And since now you have your shuriken, which are limited in number, on a separate button, it makes you want to get in there and attack at close range.
- Yeah, it’s even more of an action game if you keep yourself from using your shuriken.
YO: Shinobi III also had two new close range attacks: dash slash and kick, in addition to the kunai attack. So trying to get through the game without using any shuriken can be fun in quite a different way.
- So Expert Ninja Mode wasn’t part of the original development plan?
YO: The idea at first was to include it as a hidden feature.
NH: Making it available by default came along later in development.
YO: I really wanted to highlight the fact that this command existed in the game. I always thought of it as a little hidden bonus, but if you know how to access it, it’s a lot of fun. So we brought it to the forefront with Expert Ninja Mode. You can think of the 3DS version’s guard as a bonus action like the Spin Dash we added to 3D Sonic. You could certainly play without shuriken if you want, but that sort of “self-restricted” gameplay is a little old school, you know. (laughs) Of course, if you want to play with infinite shuriken, we’ve left the original cheat code in as well.
- You can also select the difficulty, so people who are skilled at the game can tune the difficulty as they like. That’s also similar to the addition of 3D Sonic’s Spin Dash, I suppose.
YO: It’s actually the opposite of 3D Sonic since in this case, we’re taking things that were in an earlier game and adding them to the sequel. In this version, you can use the guard without powering up. One of the things we struggled with was updating the UI template with icons for the button config, which we were fine with up until then. But if we hadn’t switched the config over to icons, it would be really hard to figure out what you’re doing. It sounds minor, but this change actually wound up impacting our schedule. (laughs)
- Well, the control config is definitely easier to understand now that it’s more visual. I think it’s a nice addition that people will appreciate.
NH: It’s a modest upgrade, but we did put a fair amount of time into it. Definitely fool around with it.
YO: The international version is also in there too, although the only difference is the logo (and a little bit of text). (laughs)
- So the difficulty of the international version isn’t any different from the Japanese one?
YO: Apparently not.
- Alright gentlemen. Final words before we close up?
YO: Given that it was one of the MegaDrive’s later titles, Shinobi III is the most refined version of the 2D Shinobi series. I think that it’s a fine example of a well-executed action game. It’s also a showcase for how we’ve taken all the in-game effects from the original and remade them in stereoscopic 3D. If you’ve never had a chance to play this game, there has never been a better time.
When this game originally came out, there were a lot of other competing action games being released at the same time, and this installment didn’t have Yuzu Koshiro-san’s music, who was involved in the first game. So it had a couple of dings against it, and there may have been some people who passed over it. But in reality, the music is really good, and it’s highly regarded by action game lovers. So while there may be a good number of people who haven’t tried it, I think they’re really missing out. (laughs)
- It’s definitely a hard choice, but I think that The Revenge of Shinobi was a little more widely known. That said, I think Shinobi III is really polished, and something people should play through themselves.
YO: The dash is really fun. For the people out there who want to play The Revenge of Shinobi, I recommend you check out the version on Wii Virtual Console, or the SEGA AGES ONLINE (Sega Vintage Collection 3 overseas) version. (laughs) It’s a different console, but it’s on sale now and people love it! If you’re one of those who are just dying to hear Yuzu Koshiro-san’s on 3DS, then go and pick up a copy of the Game Gear version of Shinobi on 3DS Virtual Console. That one is a masterpiece as well, so if your interest in the series is piqued, please give it a try!
NH: Just as our predecessors tried to wring out every last bit of power from the MegaDrive to create amazing graphics, we also did our best to squeeze out every last drop of stereoscopic 3D that we could from Shinobi III. Please enjoy the fruits of our persistence. We think you’ll like it.
- Since you’ve relate all the trouble you guys go through to make it, I wind up empathizing with you guys as I play the games.
NH: I think that there were spots that people overlooked back then like, “Hey wait a minute. The MegaDrive shouldn’t be able to do three layers of scrolling!” By putting Shinobi III in 3D, it’s easier to see some of these impressive achievements. I hope people will get a kick out of wondering how some of this stuff was accomplished.
YO: The effort that they put in back then… it’s amazing how they were able to create such a sense of depth within the game, in terms of both programing skill and graphical design. And now M2 has taken up the reigns by turning it into 3D. It really is a second attempt, twenty years later, to deliver to the players that sense of depth, that sense of really being in the game.
- And it sounds like you have another title coming along in due time as well! So I look forward to talking to you guys again! Thank you so much!
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 The original Street Fighter machines had only two pressure-sensitive buttons: punch and kick. The strength of the attack was determined by how hard you hit the button.
Thursday Dec 12, 2013
Our next article is all about Galaxy Force II and is a must read for any old school arcade fan, or really anyone unfamiliar with the Galaxy Force game. They said it couldn’t be done, but M2 delivers an arcade perfect port of Galaxy Force II with full 60fps delivered in face melting 3D. It’s a sight to behold, we hope you enjoy both the game and the interview!
Thanks again to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. Thanks to Siliconera for coordinating with us to help spread the word to SEGA fans across the web. And special thanks to our producer Sam for translating these interviews for everyone’s enjoyment.
As always, your comments are appreciated!
Left, Naoki Horii, M2 President, Right, Yousuke Okunari, SEGA CS3 Producer
“It’s not going to run.” “Ok, then how can we get it running?”
- To start off, I’d like to ask how you went about deciding to bring back this arcade title. I recall you mentioned the last time we talked that there was a significant difficulty jump from porting Space Harrier and Super Hang-on to porting Galaxy Force II.
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): OK well first, when we were choosing the lineup for the 3D Remaster Project, we had to consider which games would really stand out. You know, which games would have the most impact if we put them into 3D. We wanted to do Space Harrier first, but once that was in 3D, I had to think about which game would be the most well-received, and…
Naoki Horii (below, NH): You settled on Thunder Blade, right?
YO: … Galaxy Force II was the obvious choice.
NH: You just totally ignored me!
YO: When we made the SEGA AGES 2500 version for the PS2, we were able to recreate the game with more modern touches by making some graphical improvements (increasing the resolution of objects by 4x, adding support for transparencies and widescreen) in the “Neo Classic Mode”. When I was getting the 3DS project off the ground, I thought that if we could add 3D to the game, it would remove the difficulty spikes you experience when you go into the cave sections of the game. From the beginning, I asked M2 to make that one of their goals.
M2 had some experience working on Space Harrier at that point so they had an understanding of how much work would go into the port. And they told me, “GF2 is out of the question.” The Y-Board that GF2 uses is about 1.5 times harder to port than Space Harrier. Still, M2 had spent about two years analyzing the arcade board for the PS2 version, so in some ways you could say they had made it their own at that point. I told them “you’ll be fine!”, and had them begin production.
NH: After finishing the PS2 version, I felt like I really wanted to make that version of the game portable. At the time, I was thinking PSP. You can use the PSP to view still images, so I made some mockup images of widescreen GF2 and put them on my PSP. And boy, they looked really stunning. Before you worry about whether a game’s going to run or not, you need to see if it even looks good, you know?
So then we tried to build prototype, but no one could get it running on the PSP. Though if we tried now, we probably could get it running. Regardless, I wanted to get GF2 running on a handheld in widescreen. That’s when Okunari-san said that he wanted to work on 3DS. It was like a godsend, so we gave it a shot. Now that I think about it, I should have realized that given how much trouble we had porting it to the PSP, we’d have just as much on the 3DS. But I was caught up in the fact that we finally had a chance to make a portable version.
YO: So then your whole team had to figure out how to make it work.
- Well, considering that you’d already finished your hardware analysis when you did the first port, it seems like everything would be OK…but you weren’t yet thinking about which hardware you’d wind porting it to, right?
NH: That’s right.
- So when you decided to bring it to 3DS, you must have known that it had three 68000s rather than the two that Space Harrier had…
NH: Well, we hadn’t started working on Space Harrier at that point.
YO: The idea was that the first project milestone was Space Harrier, and if that went well, then we’d move onto the next game. GF2 was one of those next games. We weren’t going to get anywhere if we couldn’t do Space Harrier. We’d already included stereoscopic 3D for Super Hang-on on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so it was just a matter of bring that over to the 3DS. So when we thought about which title we wanted to remake in 3D next, Galaxy Force II was the natural choice.
- So the three arcade titles were never actually being worked on in parallel then? You did them one at a time.
NH: That’s correct. But there are things we learned during the process, and as Space Harrier progressed, we came to realize that this aspect or that feature would probably be very difficult to do when we got to GF2.
YO: Up until just before its release, the processing that 3D Space Harrier required to maintain 60 frames a second wasn’t occurring in the frame time needed (when all the processing for a single frame draw does not occur in 1/60th of a second, it slips over into the next frame, delaying the frame draw. This creates what people perceive as ‘lag’). Then, despite all the work we put into 3D Space Harrier, 3D Super Hang-on wasn’t running at a perfect 60 FPS either up until about a month before release it because we added gyro controls etc. So when I was getting the project off the ground, I asked M2 when they’d be able to do GF2, and they told me that there’s no way they could get the game working. We had this big meeting, with M2 on one side saying, “It’s not going to run,” and me on the other asking, “Well, then how can we get it running?”
NH: Yeah, we figured that porting GF2 along the same lines as Space Harrier ultimately wouldn’t pan out. We’d have to take a completely different approach to how we were drawing to the screen, so we wound up assigning one programmer to create graphics for GF2 and write a specialized rendering routine for the Y-Board.
The idea was to run GF2 on the 3DS’s upper screen, and optimize the processing by outputting a graphical cache data to the bottom screen. Basically. So we went about painstakingly calculating ways to cache data that would avoid speed drops, and finally got where we needed to be.
- You had to throw out the methodology you’d struggled with on Space Harrier and start all over.
NH: Yes, we had to step up the way we were going about it.
YO: Simply put, we had to include the processing of a whole extra CPU in there. The last port barely ran when it was emulating two CPUs, and now we had three.
- So not only does the 3DS have to deal with that extra processing, the arcade board itself also had an added CPU and an increase in the number of sprites it could draw, because at the time, boards would double in power every time a new one came out, right? The GF2 arcade board had some specialized sprite-scaling hardware, didn’t it?
A picture of someone’s GF2 board sitting on a Micomsoft XAC-1 computer desk at M2.
NH: Yes, GF2 had a much more powerful board (compared to Space Harrier’s). It really was twice the game, and the board had 68000’s lined right up on it like bam, bam, bam, along with the ROM itself. You look at it and all you can do is cross your arms and frown. (laughs)
- All your efforts in optimization were offset by the performance increases with the more powerful Y-Board.
NH: Of course, you can’t just rely on ‘optimization’ to make up for the difference, you have to scrape together memory by saving calculation time and resources here and there. We optimize the rendering, and we can optimize the 68000-side code as well. The process is like filling a cup with 1,000 rain drops. Thankfully, our optimization had made some really incredible progress, to the point where it looked like we could squeeze sound emulation in there as well.
But in the end, there were some snags, and we got concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get the game running at 60 FPS. It just didn’t end up being that easy.
- I remember you said that the last two games used the internal sound processor to do BGM emulation, but are you saying that this one uses streaming instead?
YO: If you switch from emulated sound to streaming, you do save a little bit on processing power. For awhile during the early development, M2 was building the game without any sound playing. I forget, was there a time where you had sound emulation running?
NH: For this one? No, I don’t think so.
YO: At some point, they finally showed me a version of GF2 that was running at more or less 30 FPS with some slowdown.
NH: Here. This was a version we built just to see if the emulation engine would run, with no graphical optimizations or anything. (hands over a 3DS)
- Ooooh! Yeah the frame rate is a bit slow but the game works, that’s for sure. The sprites also aren’t displaying quite right but you can tell where you are. Right now I’m inside a cave.
NH: As you can imagine, this was the point we knew we wanted to make the project happen. The game looks like it’s running in slow motion, but we thought we’d be OK if we could just get it running twice as fast. We didn’t know if all the in-game objects would even fit into memory, but we did have some ideas on how to speed things up. We knew we couldn’t just drop the ROM in as-is, we had to adapt the code in a way that made sense for the 3DS hardware.
- So you were already thinking about it in a completely different way than you approached 3D Space Harrier. As if it was a totally new title.
NH: Well, 3D Space Harrier had a little more trial and error involved in it. And we had an easier time porting its data over as well.
- So once you ported the 3D Space Harrier ROM, getting its performance up to speed was the hard part?
NH: It took a while. Getting it to run at a smooth 60 frames per second was the hard part. There are places where even the original arcade board suffers from slowdowns and frame drops.
YO: Around the time of this version, Horii-san told me: “This is what we’ve got so far. It’s still pretty far away from a finished product.” But this is M2 we’re talking about, and they always get things to run lighter and faster over time. They already had this one working at 20-30FPS. M2 just had to press on with performance acceleration, so I convinced myself that we’d be fine. (laughs)
NH: Well it’s true, and Okunari-san knows this from working with us. We say things like, “Man, online play in Game Gear titles? That’s going to be rough,” or, “Ad hoc play working on a MegaDrive game? Yeah right!” And then we go and get GF2 running, it makes no sense. (laughs) I wonder why it runs!
“Bring the sprite quality up to Neo Classic standards”
YO: Anyways, so M2 had the game working. Kind of. And when they were telling me how they might be able to get sound emulation functioning, I turned around and said that hey, since the graphics are work, the next step is building the game to the Neo Classic version’s specs (the SEGA AGES 2500 version with enhanced graphics). Namely because it didn’t matter if we got the arcade version running. Fans would be expecting the Neo Classic version’s graphics. I didn’t want to have the 3DS port looked at as inferior. So I told them that the 3DS version had to live up to the Neo Classic standards or bust.
They came back and said, “Oh, you want transparencies? Not a problem.” “No, no, no,” I said. “Not just that. I want the pixel art the same as well.” M2 had redrawn all the graphics in 4x resolution for the PS2 version, so it would be a waste if we didn’t use those assets.
NH: But that meant that, we’d be putting object data four times larger than the original into a straight arcade port that we had barely got running. I.e. it’s going to take four times the memory! At that point, we had no idea if the arcade version’s data would even fit into memory, let alone with graphics 4 times their original size. It was fantasy land. But I knew what the fans would want, and personally, I thought, “We’re a decade into the 21st century, damnit! This is what people are expecting.” At the same time, the dev team had a kind of “what have we gotten ourselves into” feeling.
YO: The 3DS’s resolution is 400×240 pixels, so excluding the space to the left and the right, it’s pretty close to the arcade version’s native resolution. So M2 said hey, we can replicate the arcade graphics dot by dot at a 1-to-1 ratio, so why not just go with the original arcade resolution. The thing is though that in GF2, sometimes enemies will fly at you from behind and at other times you’ll fly through the background. I told them that I didn’t want to see any of that jaggy pixilation when objects were zoomed in on!
NH: Yeah. Afterburner is the same way. And I knew Okunari-san would say something like that, which is why I said, “Isn’t a port of the original game good enough!?” Now of course, the higher resolution graphics would of course look best if we could actually implement them…
YO: So I told Horii-san: “The higher res graphics are going to look awesome, just give it a try.” (laughs) I knew they wouldn’t have quite the dramatic impact they had in the PS2 version, but it would have some effect. What could it hurt?
NH: …This guy, I swear. Anyways, so here I was, not knowing if the game would run at 60 FPS or not, and I say, “OK, fine. We’ll do it.” So we stopped trying to load all the graphics for all the stages into memory as a single pack, and instead bundled the graphics into individual packs per stage. The project manager told me “we haven’t even got the basic framework working and you’re really going to do something way beyond it?”
YO: M2 had to rebuild the game so it would load the high res graphics a stage at a time.
NH: Thankfully however, it was pretty easy compared to the work we had to do to up-res the roughly 10,000 images we used in the PS2 version. The thing was though, that if we screwed up while packing the graphics, they wouldn’t show up on screen, so there was the danger that that we might get bugs that we couldn’t even locate because the graphics wouldn’t show up. At any rate, we went and split them up into packs anyway, loaded them per stage and then dropped them into the 3DS’s memory. It goes without saying that at this point we still didn’t know if we could get the game running at 60 frames a second.
- This sounds like it’s shaping up to be a rather reckless project. (laughs)
YO: What’s more, there isn’t enough time to load data between stages (when you start up GF2, you can choose which stage you want to play, which changes the stage order, and in turn affects what needs to be loaded). M2’s technical prowess keeps the load times short.
NH: Well, it’s more about the team’s hard work than it is technical prowess per se. I’ve seen some comments on the net saying, “Man, those guys must really be grinding away in the pits on this stuff,” and it’s absolutely true. It’s like collecting and saving pennies to buy something really expensive.
- Yeesh. (laughs) You can’t help but groan a bit.
NH: Okunari-san’s schedules are absolute. All while he’s saying, “Let’s do this. Let’s try that.” He is a shady guy. Really shady. I’m secretly studying his ways.
YO: (laughs) But you got the game running at 60 frames per second with high res graphics! It just took a bit longer than we planned….
NH: Ah! …Well, it didn’t take as long the PS2 version, at least. That one dragged on for a year.
YO: The 3DS version took about the same…
NH: … Er…Hmmm… In any case, the result is that the sprites don’t pixelate when they’re scaled. You might not notice unless you go out of your way to directly compare them, but the difference is tremendous.
YO: Oh yeah and once you clear the game, you’ll unlock the ability to select the original unaltered arcade version, where you can get a good idea of how nice the higher res graphics and transparencies are.
- Oh, you can play the original arcade version, too?
YO: Now don’t be surprised by the fact that the ending has no sound. (laughs) That’s how it was in the arcade. Anyways, thanks to M2, GF2 on 3DS is now the best replication of the game to-date. We thought that the PS2 version was the most complete version, but its one weakness was that it’s hard to know where you’re going in the caves.
A screen from Arcade Mode.
That’s where the stereoscopic 3D helps. We knew that if we added in 3D, the game would be easier to navigate. And as we were building, it was interesting watching our hypotheses get proven right before our eyes. It got faster and faster as M2 worked on it, from 15 FPS, to 20 FPS, to 30 FPS, and every time it got better looking. Once it hit 60 FPS, I thought, “Man, this is so much easier on the eyes!” The differences between the sprites are very clear when the graphics are displaying so fast due to the high frame rate. I realized that rendering the cave scenes at 60 FPS was a must in 3D.
M2 told me at first that the game might drop to 30 FPS when in the caves, due to rendering overhead and memory issues, but I said, “Well, as long as the game speed itself doesn’t slow down, I guess we’ll have to deal with it.” But in the end the caves runs more or less at 60 FPS, and the difference vis-a-vis 30 FPS is clear as day. It made me feel like the game really matched well with its rendering speed.
In 3D Space Harrier’s case, the blessings you get from bringing an old shooting game to 3DS are that you can now dodge all the pillars, and you know where you need to be to dodge or avoid getting hit by the second stage boss. The caves in GF2 are ALL pillars, so it’s very easy to see their boundaries now.
NH: Taking in how huge outer space is, or flying through one of the solar prominences like “ahhhh” feels amazing. It makes everything worth it.
YO: We knew this game would be great with 3D, but you could say it’s even better than we imagined. You really do feel like there’s a 3D space within the game. There is a feeling of substance, something that’s a little different from 3D polygons, that’s very well-realized here. This game design approach was popular right before the 3D polygon aesthetic became the norm, and it’s sort of a lost art from a transition period in the game industry. But when we put GF2 into stereoscopic 3D, it made me wish that this had been the way things had kept going. It almost has a steampunk type of appeal to it, you know what I mean? 3D created by overlapping sprites.
- The difference between Space Harrier and Galaxy Force II is that for GF2 during the cave scenes etc., there are sprites all around you to the top, bottom, left and right. In Space Harrier, the ground surface is just there and scrolls to give the game a sense of speed, but for the Galaxy Force II caves, sprites are drawn for all four directions, which gives the game a different look.
I believe this technique started with Afterburner. The sprites are scaled up as they fly towards you, but if they don’t move really fast, it starts to look a little strange, like the sprites aren’t connected to each other. If you don’t render the sprites well, the graphics probably will look pretty clunky in 3D even if you go to the trouble of adding depth information. It always bothered me when you get shot down in Afterburner and lose speed. Sometimes all the sprites wind up lining up in a horizontal line. (laughs)
NH: Now there were some polygon games as well that would start gradually rendering things from far off.
- That’s true, but it always felt off to me. When I played Galaxy Force II, I really got a sense of how important it is to balance depth, draw speed and sprite movement speed.
YO: I think another reason the game looks pretty is because we added the transparencies in. That makes it much easier to see things. The way the lava feels, the way the water flows, it all blends together beautifully and the backgrounds look amazing because of the transparent effects. When we built GF2 for PS2, we put everything in it that we could think of, and the result was the Neo Classic version. But since we’re on a new system now, the graphics are on a new level.
Left: Special Mode (widescreen), Right: Arcade Mode (widescreen)
NH: When we were working on the PS2 version, we actually tried to see if we could increase the number of sprites that fly at you by tweaking GF2’s original programming. Ultimately we weren’t able to do it, but we’ve been able to make the game easier to play in a different way: by adding in stereoscopic 3D.
- I noticed this when playing the last stage, but I think that you can really feel more aware of objects when you’re playing in 3D, versus 2D.
YO: The last stage has that part in the beginning where you’re flying out of a hyper-dimensional wormhole, the background is all windy and you feel like you are flying through some area with cool visual effects, but you don’t really know what’s going on and you run into the wall a lot at first. Now with 3D available, you can actually see what you need to do! You finally understand that there was a proper path after all! (laughs)
- Exactly. Personally, I always had a hard time distinguishing between space and the background on the last stage. Now that it’s in 3D, it’s like I can see the edges of planes, or like they say in polygon based games, I can see the invisible hit boxes around objects.
NH: Mmm hmm.
- It’s like I can see the borders between walls, there’s collision here. What is that?
YO: I think it’s just how human eyes work. Since we can perceive depth, we feel like this is a wall, and that we’ll hit it. Whereas when you’re playing in 2D, you can be aware of the game field as a single space.
- When you’re playing in 2D, the borders between sprites look like they run into each other, especially on the last stage. But when I’m playing the same stage in 3D, it looks like those borders are floating immediately in front of my eyes. It’s a strange feeling.
YO: I guess if your eyes can receive depth information, they can also sort through the objects on screen.
- I thought the same thing about 3D Space Harrier. When I play arcade games, I can’t completely keep up with what’s going on on-screen, and I end up dodging around in a number 8-shaped pattern. As a result, I end up completely overshooting when I go to dodge things like the Binzbeans in Space Harrier. However in 3D, I feel like I’m aware of where I am and can properly dodge things. It’s completely different.
YO: The same was the case for Space Harrier, but Galaxy Force II was too ahead of its time. In some ways, you could say that the game is now finally truly playable.
- There were some uncomfortable things about games back then. I felt like there was a disconnect from moment to moment in the experience. But now, maybe because of the optical illusion of 3D, it’s like you’re finally able to understand, and things connect.
Circle Pad Pro is also supported!
YO: That’s why I feel like Galaxy Force IIis finally complete.
- I see that.
NH: It’s said the same thing about 3D Space Harrier, but I definitely want people to experience the game themselves.
YO: Space Harrier was somewhat easy to play in 2D anyway, but I feel like the difficulty of GF2 has dropped considerably now that it’s in 3D.
NH: Control-wise, the game supports the Circle Pad Pro now too.
YO: Yeah, M2 said they weren’t going to include Circle Pad Pro compatibility at first, but then later on, they turned around and said they wanted to borrow my developer version. (laughs)
NH: The original Galaxy Force II had a control stick on the right, and a throttle on the left, and I really wanted people to be able to play it that way.
Backgrounds included for Moving Cabinet mode. They also have depth, so the background looks far away. This is the Super DX Cabinet
YO:You’re still able to change the controls around, so of course you can still move your character using the left thumb pad as well.
Even the background’s moving! Welcome to “Moving Cabinet Mode”!
- You know, it’s almost overwhelming how much easier GF2 is to play once you pick it up and give it a try. As you’ve said, this is the result of countless tiny tweaks adding up to shore up the processing speed. But I can’t believe you got a Moving Cabinet mode in here too, as that would just create even more rendering load.
NH: It does add rendering overhead. However the way we port arcade games and the way we port MegaDrive games is different, so it’s actually easier to put in cabinet modes for games that were originally ride-on cabinets. Either way, we built GF2 from the beginning with the idea that we would include a Moving Cabinet mode.
YO: M2 were the ones who included Moving Cabinet mode in the first place (refer to Space Harrier Interivew), after all, and since it’s in 3D Space Harrier, it had to be in 3D Galaxy Force II. Still, I knew that the base porting work alone was going to be tough, so my position was that it’d be nice if the mode made it in, but it wasn’t a must.
The thing is, the GF2 arcade cabinet really moved and spun around a lot. Following the releases of Outrun and Afterburner, ride-on arcade machine movement became more and more complex. So since the cabinet wasn’t going to move the same as Space Harrier, and we had to replicate it, we felt we needed to make some backgrounds in the same go. When we were working on 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on, it would have been nice to get the backgrounds in, but M2 said they couldn’t get them in because a lack of memory and rendering power.
The thing that I pointed out though was that for GF2, if there’s no background, you won’t be able to get a sense for how the machine is moving around… And so one day they were implemented in the ROM.
NH: You know, I just went and dropped in a picture I’d taken during while cherry blossom viewing at a nearby park, and it looked amazing. It was unreal, like I was playing GF2 in a sunny spring park. So then we got caught up in trying to get the backgrounds in.
YO: We made it so you can choose which background you want.
NH: Yes, you can choose either space or an arcade as your background.
YO: Thunder Blade is in the background of the arcade one. Horii-san’s favorite.
NH: It’s one step closer to my greatest ambition. (laughs)
- I know I’ve said this a dozen times, but it’s amazing you got the Moving Cabinet Mode in, despite GF2 being a more challenging port than Space Harrier, which you said was already tough on its own.
NH: Changing how we built the port was important. I’m confident that what we’ve done here is something other companies wouldn’t be able to catch up to. Not that anyone would bother to try though…
- (huge laugh) Really though, GF2, and its cabinet, were a sort of logical endpoint for the sprite-based games, right?
NH: A culmination of their best aspects, yes.
- Even so, even among the games that you’ve worked on, from that time, there weren’t many you could really call a “beast” in the sprites department. In other words, they aren’t quite sprite-intensive enough to give you the basis for bringing them into 3D.
NH: I wonder if other companies at the time felt that SEGA was working with just sheer force of will.
- SEGA made ride-on games back then by just adding on feature after feature, right?
NH: That’s where a lot of the momentum came from. From Hang-on to Space Harrier, Afterburner, Galaxy Force II. They went as far as the R-360.
- That was a serious accomplishment.
YO: It probably had a lot to do with the advancement of computers, and the economic boom that was happening in Japan at the time. We’re talking about an era where arcade kits would sell regardless of price.
- And these games’ arcade machines were very expensive.
YO: Yeah but, I don’t think GF2 sold that many units. (laughs)
NH: Regardless of whether it sold or not, I think people really remember the cabinet. They might remember it as the one that was a bit embarrassing to climb into. For the 3DS port’s Moving Cabinet Mode, we wanted to have people in background who you’d make eye contact with as you play, but we unfortunately wound up having to cut them out.
- Ah! You mean like when you’d get rotated in the cabinet, sense someone looking at you, glance away from the screen and make awkward eye contact with somebody, right? (laughs)
NH: Yeah, that’s the experience we wanted to port! (both laugh) Really wanted to. My staff used a picture of me while building the game, and tried building a version to that effect, but ultimately they weren’t totally happy with the result. So they ended up cutting it.
YO: Maybe we should have had Miis in the background.
NH: Even if we’d done Miis, it wouldn’t replicate the original awkwardness of it. We wanted it to be genuinely uncomfortable when your eyes met the other person’s, you know?
- The fact that when you were playing, the cabinet’s frame was the only protection from other people’s line of sight was definitely a really weird thing about this game.
NH: When you turned, you’d lock eyes with the people in line waiting to play. We weren’t able to port that this time, but personally I think it gives us material for a new port in the future.
YO: The backgrounds we have in GF2 were something we threw together in the final stages of development, so please forgive how they look. We do hope it can help you remember that time you were playing, made eye contact with somebody and then felt awkward. (laughs)
NH: Give it a shot. It’ll all come back to you: “Oh yeah. There was that one time that guy was watching me…”
- I’m sure my skill also had something to do with it, but the movement of the machine was probably one of the hardest things about that game, personally speaking. The uncomfortable moments when your head would move around as the machine moved and disrupt your line of sight to the game.
NH: That’s why it was an amazing arcade machine. You had to have some balls to get in it, since once you did, you knew it was going to be an embarrassing experience with people looking at you.
- On top of that, since it was chained off for safety reasons, it felt kind you were participating in some kind of show. Almost like: “Please do not touch the equipment.” (laughs) Of course you weren’t though.
YO: Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the idea for the Virtual On’s live monitors came about from the lessons of GF2.
- Yeah because with that game, other than the person actually playing, no one can really grasp what’s happening in-game by just staring at the screen.
YO: That reminds me. For GF2, the background was just a single-layer graphic, but we added depth information to it so it really feels like you are in the arcade machine. 3D Space Harrier’s frame was a single graphic, so we had to change it up. We also wound up having to include two different types of Moving Cabinets…
- Oh of course. (laughs) Because there’s DX and Super DX versions. Space Harrier and Super Hang-on had cabinets that moved and ones that didn’t, but the games after Afterburner had two different types of moving cabinets didn’t they?
NH: That’s why you’ve gotta just focus on the center of the screen. But backgrounds are something we’ll need to work on as we continue forward with this series. (grins) You know, in preparation for Thunder Blade and all…
YO: … … …
NH: No comment from Okunari-san, I see. (laughs) He’s not even interrupting me anymore.
The Deluxe cabinet faithfully reproduced!
YO: Since we are talking about arcade machines, let’s talk a little about what went into gathering assets for them. GF2 has the DX and Super DX versions, but we only have the regular DX version at SEGA’s storage archive. I really wanted to go see a Super DX version, but I was told that there aren’t any more left in Japan. So I poked around on the net and found a blog where someone wrote back in 2009 that there is a broken machine resting quietly in a ryokanup in Hokkaido.
So I thought, even if it’s not really working right, I can at least record some of the motor sounds. I gave the ryokan a call, but they didn’t really understand what I was talking about. They told me, “I’m not really following you, but it should be there.” So I put in a travel request to fly up there and check it out.
If it was just M2 and myself going, depending on how busted up the cabinet was, there was a possibility that we’d get there and be unable to get any recording done, so we decided to take someone who could fix the machine on the spot if needed. However, we didn’t have anyone at SEGA who could fix that particular machine, so I talked to Ikeda-san at the arcade Mikado in Tokyo’s Takada-no-Baba district, and Tsujisaka-san from Wavemaster. We even decided that if we got there and it looked fixable, then Ikeda-san would consider buying it. So we went ahead and put together an itinerary for the team. But at the last minute, when I went to make a reservation at the ryokan, the person who took my call said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. We threw that machine away.” So sadly, we had to cancel the trip. We were even considering asking you (Game Watch) to come as well. (laughs)
- Well, that’s just a shame…
YO: Still, even after that, Horii-san got a lead that there was a guy in Hokkaido that had a Super DX kit. While we’re sitting there wondering why the hell so many people in Hokkaido have Super DX machines, Horii-san reaches out to this individual…
- Wait, it wasn’t the one that was originally at the ryokan, was it?
NH: First, I had the guy send us some pictures. As it turns out, the guy had bought it from a merchant who had picked it up as scrap from the ryokan. But unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to get it working, and by the sound of things, it was going to need some restoration.
YO: And so I had no choice but to look for one by adventuring around the States via YouTube. (laughs) In the end, we had to refer to some bonus footage we’d collected for the PS2 version of the 1988 release of Galaxy Force, and used that to recreate the Moving Cabinet’s movement in-game.
For the motor movement sounds, we ended up having to use the DX sounds for the Super DX version as well. Just like with Space Harrier, we opened the machine up, turned off the loud fans, and covered everything with cushions to block out all the other sounds in the room. Every time it turns into a real endeavor.
- I see. But now that you’ve come so far with Galaxy Force II, I’m sure that from the players’ point of view, there are people thinking “Since they managed to port GF2, shouldn’t they be able to bring back earlier games?” “Surely they’ll port this game, or that game.” What do you say to that?
YO: We were able to port GF2 because we had experience building the PS2 version, but that doesn’t mean that any game on the X or Y-boards is a piece of cake.
NH: If we were to port another one, we’d have to go back and analyze the code from square one. Though of course we could leverage our previous experience.
YO: It would also take a lot of time. But hey, if we did, I’d want to port the best version of the game for porting, even if that takes awhile. When we announced 3D Galaxy Force II, it was a little disappointing that people thought it would be the MegaDrive version. Since we are choosing the best assets on which to build the 3D versions, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll use the MegaDrive version. For Altered Beast, we chose the MegaDrive version because it had multi-layered backgrounds, which we made 3D, and it let us add in “Random Form” mode. Even if the MegaDrive version would have run, it wouldn’t have been wide screen compatible, and there would have been other minus points.
NH: I guess the subtext of this is that you want us to add scaling features to the GigaDrive.
YO: I wouldn’t go that far. (laughs) I’m just trying to be completely open with Game Watch here. This interview is getting pretty long, so people will probably forget what I said afterwards. (both laugh)
- Oh, no no. I’m quite committed to these interviews. Every time I interview you guys and go back to write the article, I re-read previous articles to make sure I’m not letting anything slip by. Because of that, they do generally get longer and a bit sprawling, so yeah I’m sorry about that.
I was left with the strong impression that the GigaDrive concept was going to be a core element of any MegaDrive ports that followed after Sonic. So when I heard GF2 was coming out, I was inclined to think that you were working on the MegaDrive version. I think everyone got the most hyped when the article discussing the GigaDrive came out.
NH: I get hyped as well, and there are new titles coming down the pipe for the GigaDrive. Lots of games that are totally different once put into 3D. When I hear people getting so excited about things like the GigaDrive, it reminds me how many people there are out there who shared that era of gaming with me.
- The word “GigaDrive” itself turned out to be even more of a key word than I imagined it would.
NH: You haven’t seen the GigaDrive in full form yet. It’s been evolving across Sonic, Altered Beast, and Ecco. Just you wait and see.
- On that note, you could say that the peak of the arcade-based ports in the series, both difficulty-wise and in terms of the 3D implementation, is 3D Galaxy Force II, correct? Meaning that the Gigadrive’s returns have been huge.
NH: Not just yet. You won’t be saying that once Thunder Blade is finished.
YO: GF2 was released in 1988, the same year as the MegaDrive itself, so it’s been twenty five years. The PS2 version was released six years ago in 2007, but you could say that GF2 has finally been completed after twenty five years. It’s not quite the Sagrada Familia, but Gaudi didn’t build that all by himself, he had his disciples pick up the work. There was the arcade version, then the PS2 version, and now you can see its completed form in the 3DS version.
NH: For me, it would be complete if I could see it on a big screen.
YO: For me, the 3DS offers the best environment for immersion.
NH: Yeah, you can also take it with you on the road as well.
YO: I think the 3DS XL is the best hardware to play the game on as well, in terms of sprite resolution. If we put it on a bigger screen, we’d have to increase sprite resolution and density, and it would slowly move away from the original arcade version. We’d need to make a lot of adjustments.
- That is how things would have to go, for sure.
YO: Neither M2 or I have any idea what kind of GF2 we could make five or ten years from now. (laughs)
NH: There are a lot of potential approaches, like increasing the amount of depth in the backgrounds and whatnot.
- It’s impressive to see how powerful these “into the screen” scrolling games are when they’re remade in 3D. Thank you again for your time!
We snuck into M2’s development floor, which is wide open and easy to navigate. This is where ports and original titles are built!
This is Matsuoka-san’s desk, the director for the 3D Remaster Series. The design document on-screen outlines Game Pad Pro compatibility.
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 3D Galaxy Force II uses streaming for its music, and emulation for its sound effects.
 The R-360 was a fully rotational arcade cabinet built by SEGA.
 Virtual On has separate monitors that display the in-game action, so bystanders don’t have to watch the actual players to see the action.
 A ryokan is a Japanese-style inn.
Tuesday Dec 10, 2013
It’s our third week of SEGA 3D Classics, we hope everyone has enjoyed these interviews, and more importantly enjoyed all the great games. We’re continuing this week with Ecco the Dolphin! Some interesting details inside that I won’t spoil in the intro, do read and don’t forget to drop a comment in if you enjoy the article!
Super Dolphin Mode included to get you all the way through the game!
Yousuke Okunari: So straight away, I’ve brought 3D Ecco the Dolphin today, hot off the presses. Care to give it a try? I recommend “Super Dolphin Mode”, as you’re invincible and don’t need oxygen.
Naoki Horii: I agree, the original game was quite difficult to clear, so Super Dolphin Mode is a good place to start.
- Hmm. It does feel different now that it’s in stereoscopic 3D, doesn’t it? But that’s not just because of the 3D, right? There’s… There’s something else. The game looks different.
YO: Do you remember the first time you played a MegaDrive game? Seeing the two-layer scrolling backgrounds and thinking how impressive that was? Like when you’re playing Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle and you see that two-layer background and say to yourself, “This is awesome!” Seeing stereoscopic 3D on the 3DS is really close to the feeling of technology advancing I had when I saw multi-layer scrolling for the first time.
NH: I think it’s probably a similar feeling.
- I’m really impressed with how the water looks. It just seems unreal. The graphics are the same as they ever were, but with 3D Sonic the Hedgehog as well, I remember thinking the sky just looked beautiful.
NH: That’s because you can really feel the space and depth within the game world.
YO: Moving through the labyrinths feels kind of like looking at an ant colony from the side. If you use the Super Dolphin Mode, you can explore at your leisure without worrying about time limits. But we didn’t just dumb down the difficulty. Even though you’re invincible, all the puzzles are still the same. It’s just that now you can take your time while you figure them out.
- The raster scrolling is gorgeous! (Continues to play)
YO: The MegaDrive always had some really pretty scrolling features, and that’s why I think this looks and feels as nice as it does.
- Wow that was a lot of fun. (Ryoichi Hasegawa enters the room)
Ryoichi Hasegawa: Hey guys!
YO: We have a guest today, someone who was involved in the development of the original version. So let’s have him play it as well while we talk.
RH: (Already holding the game) Wow! The title letters are popping out of the screen! This is cool! Ooh, the surface of the water has depth now, and it feels like Ecco is poking his head up out of it. I’ve never paid attention to the water surface like this before. You can really see the depth when you jump. This feels great! … Ok, so what’s “Super Dolphin Mode”?
YO: Super Dolphin Mode is a super invincibility mode we included in the port so that anyone can pick up and play. (laughs)
RH: The sparking effect around him to show he’s invincible really looks like it’s moving around him. My DIY font is still there, I see. (laughs) Back when we were working on it there was no such thing as true type font, I used Ichitaro to make a handmade font dot by dot, and the developer added color gradation to it. I still think it looks weird. (laughs)
YO: Not only is Hasegawa-san one of the (original) developers, but he’s also one of Ecco’s biggest fans, so we’re really honored to be able to show him the 3D version.
- Alright, so the 5th game in the series is Ecco, and once again I think you’ve probably surprised a lot of people with this one.
YO: When we went through and start picking out popular MegaDrive titles, we inevitably wound up concentrating on 2D side-scrollers. For arcade titles, we focused on 3D games, but for MegaDrive games, we wanted to do side-scrollers. So that led us to make 3D Sonic, followed by 3D Altered Beast, but we also had an underlying theme in our mind for the 3D Remaster Project: “Getting people to challenge the game one more time”. Giving the gameplay a totally new feel by implementing stereoscopic 3D was a given, but we can also wanted to lower the difficulty a bit, something we saw the value of with 3D Space Harrier.
That said, Ecco is a game that’s widely known for its high difficulty. We thought, “If we lower the difficulty a bit, hopefully people will give it another try and get to the end of the game this time.”
NH: We figured that there aren’t that many people out there who have played this game to the end. In that sense, changing that situation is one of the reasons behind selecting Ecco.
YO: Ecco is a particularly notable title in the MegaDrive library due to its stunning visuals and just how good it feels when you’re moving around. The water graphics pop so well, and we just really wanted to see it in 3D. On the other hand, and I don’t mean any offense to Hasegawa-san here, but not a lot of people got to the end of the game. I think the feeling of just swimming around the first stage tends to satisfy people, but there’s a really amazing story that unfolds through the second half of the game. It takes some really crazy turns, which I think few have experienced.
NH: I definitely want people to enjoy the story.
YO: The whole concept of the 3D Remaster Project is based on two points: take what made the original great and bring that into 3D, while lowering the barriers to entry. So for 3D Ecco, the first thing we did to reduce the difficulty was removing Ecco’s biggest weakness: His need to breathe. We basically made him a fish.
The original game had a cheat code where you could access a “Debug Mode” and give yourself unlimited life, which meant you could run into enemies and not take any damage. With “Super Dolphin Mode” we take it one step further, and it’s basically the same thing as having an invincibility item all the time. So when Ecco runs into enemies or obstacles, they’re defeated or the obstacles break. So people can now focus on solving the puzzles and whatnot.
All the puzzles are still there untouched, like the cliff you can’t break until you run into all the shells, or the water current at the ocean floor you can’t dive through unless you use the boulder. You still need to do all that. If you made two or three mistakes while trying to do these puzzles in the original version, you’d run out of oxygen and die. That’s all gone now.
NH: People can now play the game as an action puzzler. Our goal was for people who have the game in their backlog for the past 20 years to see the improvements and finally get around to enjoying it.
RH: (still playing) Hmmm, yeah, now that you mention it, this puzzle where you guide the starfish with the sound waves would be too difficult for people these days because of the air limit. I think the decision to put in Super Dolphin Mode was a wise one.
YO: I want people to enjoy Ecco as an adventure game as well. Nowadays, you can see a video of the ending online, so I think there’s probably people out there who have seen it. But how many people have really beaten the game? My hope is that people will want to try to beat the game and see the ending themselves.
NH: You can also keep going on the same game too if you’re using the Save/Load feature. Incidentally, how many copies did the MegaDrive version sell in Japan?
RH: I seem to recall it being around 70,000 units or so.
NH: If that’s the case, the number of people who’ve cleared it are probably in the thousands, I’d guess. It’s possible a lot of people walked away from it just thinking, “Wee! Swimming in the ocean is cool!”
- I’m one of those players that ended with “Wee! The ocean in this game is cool!”
RH: But, you know how it was back then. You’d buy a game and play it to death until you beat it, especially if you are SEGA fan, right? So I’m sure the number of people who cleared it isn’t in the hundreds range. Still, I don’t think it’s in the tens of thousands either…
NH: I gave up halfway through myself.
YO: In any case, the hardest thing about Ecco‘s was running out of oxygen.
ALL: Yep, yep.
YO: With the air limit removed, it’s wonderful to just move around all you want. Everyone should try it out.
- And that’s what the 3D Remaster Project is for. You didn’t put this much work into it when the game was on Virtual Console, right?
YO: Well, the concept behind Virtual Console is to provide games as they were. There may be some situations where we want to add more or take something out, but we can’t. For the SEGA AGES ONLINE series we released last year, we were able to add in new ways to play with the idea of getting to people to compete, i.e. features like score attack which encourage people to master the game, but we didn’t do anything to the basic gameplay other than add save states.
For the 3D Remaster Project we’re working on now, we’re putting these games onto handhelds, which means that people will be using different controllers compared to the originals, and they’ll need to be able to play them in trains and other places, so the idea was to maintain the game’s original fun factor while bringing down the difficulty level. Even for 3D Sonic, we hear there are people who reload their save states over and over and have finally cleared the game for the first time. They play a bit, then immediately save, and by doing that over and over can clear the game. Since we’ve made Ecco easier as well, I’m hoping people will play it in a similar way. All while stopping to take in the gorgeous backgrounds.
The octopus graphics that Hasegawa-san praises is shown above. With Ecco’s emphasis on blues, the octopus is one of the game’s characters that really stands out with its color combinations. When he was first assigned to the project and saw it for the first time he was so impressed with the graphic, he sent a fax praising how awesome it was that said “As a Japanese person, it looks deliciously realistic!”
RH: (Still playing) You’ve got the animated bubbles from the water currents and the coral here in front all done up in 3D, huh. It’s not quite as in-your-face as it was for 3D Space Harrier or 3D Super Hang-on, but you really feel like you’re swimming through caves filled with seawater. And the octopus graphics still look as awesome as they always did.
YO: How awesome the octopus graphics look has nothing to do with the 3D though. (laughs) Wait, what!? You’re already at the octopus!?
A custom map editor created specifically for Ecco’s 3D.
YO: We think we managed to take care of lowering the difficulty pretty well, but similar to the previous games, when we first put the stereoscopic 3D in, it wasn’t all that great. (laughs)
NH: Yeah, it was similar to what we saw with 3D Sonic, but when we showed off the first ROM, it was bland enough that we thought SEGA might ask us to stop working on it.
YO: We touched on this in the 3D Sonic interview, but we added stereoscopic 3D by making the MegaDrive’s scrolling into multilayer raster scrolling to give the impression of depth. When we started on Ecco I thought, “Hey, this is pretty good,” but after getting a little bit further in and playing the ocean floor maze, the feeling of depth just vanished.
NH: Because there are parts of that area that have only one background layer.
YO: Since it’s a maze where a collision layer was placed over a single background layer, this part of the game reverted back into normal 2D Ecco. On top of that, it bothered me that half of the stage didn’t have any two-layer scrolling at all, so there was no sense of depth. I started thinking that doing a 3D conversion wasn’t going to be possible. Since the problem was too large on its own, we decided to push the development of 3D Sonic ahead of Ecco (Note: 3D Sonic and 3D Ecco had overlapping development schedules).
NH: Around the same time, one of our programmers started adding in 3D by directly messing with the binary itself. All by hand. And it was looked pretty good, too. Each stage is some fifty screens large, so having a programmer sit down with a designer and go through them all to do everything by hand was out of the question. Since we had no other choice, we decided that we should build a dedicated map editor, one that a designer could also use to a certain extent, so that we could add depth to 3D Ecco.
RH: Now that’s dedication!
NH: The end product would have been ‘meh’ if we hadn’t.
- (Laughs) Dedicated Ecco the Dolphin game dev, huh?
NH: The approach changes with every game, you know?
RH: Does that mean you could go and make new maps for an Ecco v1.4 or v1.6?
NH: Well, we probably could, but we’d have to go through all the trouble of modifying the maps themselves. (laughs) …but anyways. We wound up building the 3D map editor, Okunari-san gave us the nod to proceed and thus we were able to give the game a 3D feel.
- But even using the editor, don’t you still have to add depth settings by hand?
NH: Yes you do. For 3D Altered Beast, there were five stages and the scroll speed was slow, so there weren’t that many screens. So we managed to add depth to them. We also had an editor of sorts for 3D Altered Beast, but since everything moves so fast in Ecco, the maps are really big, and there are a lot of them. There were also places we had to put into 3D throughout the game. Even with the editor, our designer was dying.
YO: One stage in Ecco is bigger than all Altered Beast’s stages combined together.
NH: You speak the truth. (both laugh)
RH: That’s awesome.
- It’s true though. In the strategy guides of yore, they used to have to take individual pictures of screens and lay them all out. I remember that shooting games with high-speed scrolling had really long stages.
YO: By the time the MegaDrive came around, the use of illustrations rather than photos was on the rise for magazine maps. There was just too much to deal with.
- So you went in and added depth by hand to all these backgrounds.
NH: Well for the first stage, our designer was all fired up about it and did about 50 screens in a single night. And I started thinking, “maybe we can really put Ecco in 3D,” but you can’t expect that pace to go on for 5 days, or 10 days, you know?
- The maze parts just keep coming I suppose.
YO: Ecco does have a lot stages after all, so it was a slog, but once you start on something like this, you have to see it through to the end. You can’t back out. When we were working on 3D Sonic, we approached the game thinking, “we should add 3D to any of the game’s visuals that already have design depth,” or, “let’s add 3D everywhere there’s raster scrolling.” Yet for 3D Altered Beast, there were spots where we had no choice but to go in and add 3D by hand, like Stage 3. And Ecco was like that pretty much like that for half the game. So while I feel like the quality of our 3D implementation increases with every title, so does the amount of work we have to put into them.
NH: It’s like being buried in a really fancy coffin. When we picked out all the titles to port from the MegaDrive to the GigaDrive (refer to the article on 3D Sonic the Hedgehog for details on the GigaDrive), we made sure to choose ones that our staff wouldn’t have to die to finish, but Ecco left us in a predicament. Games like Gunstar Heroes, which lots of people ask for and I myself would love to do, would never see the light of day if we had to develop them under the circumstances in which we developed 3D Ecco. It’s not that we don’t know how we’d go about it at this point, but at the time we were making these decisions, it was completely off limits. We knew we needed to get much better at the basics first before something like that was even possible.
YO: Currently we have no plans for porting Gunstar, but it looks like Horii-san just thought up kind of plan for a 3D implementation, so if the MegaDrive series goes well, who knows?
The 3D version of Ecco comes complete with both the International (Original) and Japanese versions.
Development Woes Due to Differences between the Original and Japanese versions.
YO: In any case, we were able to move forward with production thanks to the level editor. But just when we were able to see the end of the work on the horizon, another big problem cropped up: differences in the ROM versions. The thing is, we slipped in both the Japanese and international versions for all the games in the GigaDrive series. This was the case for both 3D Sonic and 3D Altered Beast. But for Ecco, the actual content of the Japanese and original international versions is completely different. So one day, M2 contacts me and says, “Um, you know, these ROMs are different,” to which I responded, “Well, yeah. Didn’t you know that?”
NH: If we’d known that when we were picking out games, we probably would have pulled Ecco from the lineup. (laughs) That’s how different they are.
YO: In other words, we thought we were about to cross the finish line, but it was just the turnaround point.
NH: Given that we already had experience porting the game at that point, we thought we could probably work more efficiently, but there was still a long way to run.
- Huh. So since the games had different content, even if the map was the same, you’d still have to go back and add in the depth information all over again.
YO: The programming itself was actually a lot different than we imagined.
NH: We weren’t able to just take the data we’d done so far, drop that in, and touch it up. But I guess it’s is like when you lose all your work because you forgot to save, and then have to redo it all from scratch. You tend to move faster the second time for some reason. (laughs) It was kind of funny, looking back at it.
YO: Since M2 was working on the original and Japanese versions alternately, it was hard to determine if the differences in game specs were bugs or what. So right when we were stressing out over it, I went and paid a visit to Hasegawa-san here.
RH: He sent me a question via Facebook message, and I was like “What the-”
RH: At that point in time, I’d already left SEGA and was working for a different company. That’s how serious these guys were.
NH: But hey, the best way to find out the differences between the international and Japanese versions is to ask someone who actually knows, right?
YO: And you know, while the 3D Remaster Project was my project proposal, at the time Hasegawa-san was my manager, and he was the one who actually circulated it for internal approval after all.
ALL: (big laugh)
RH: It’s not like I had no idea the project was going on, you know? I thought “Oh ok, they’re doing Ecco, huh?”
YO: So that’s how I had my former supervisor transform himself into a living game design doc. Alright, Hasegawa-san, I think it’s your turn to talk, don’t you?
RH: Sure. Let me start by saying I don’t have a lot of them but I still have some of the faxes about the game from back then, because this was in the MegaDrive days when there was no email. All the communication with developers happened over fax. So I went and dug out my own copy of the game, and tried playing both of them side by side. I looked for differences, listed them up and sent them over to Okunari-san. Then he would check to see if the differences were bugs or not.
- Wow, Hasegawa-san! You must be good at holding onto things! (laughs)
YO: This “treasure map” put us back on the right track, and with his help, discovering differences between versions was easy. And there were quite a few differences.
NH: So Ecco’s localization must have been particularly memorable for you, then… It seems like it left an impression.
RH: Well, it was the first project I worked on after joining SEGA.
NH: If you hadn’t been there for us, 3D Ecco might not have made it as the 3rd MegaDrive title in the 3D Remaster Project.
YO: I know that when Hasegawa-san was localizing the English version into Japanese, he added some drama and flare to the Japanese translations of some of the staler in-game messages. But that’s just changing how the messages are worded, right? I had no idea that the difficulty and the way the game looks also changed during the localization work.
RH: I played a ton of games back when they first asked me to take charge of Ecco in the MegaDrive days. Despite that Ecco was a still considerably challenging game, even for me. I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to release (a Western version of) the game as-is, so I had the developer cut down the number of enemies, add in a few air points etc. You know, tweak things in here as much as I could.
Ecco’s developer was a Hungary-based company called Novotrade, and there were things that they could and couldn’t do. For example, I’d say things like, “This section is really hard, so let’s get rid of it” But they would reply, “There are internal flags that rely on it, so we can’t.” On the other hand, for the original English version, the text screens that appear when you talk to orcas and other dolphins can have limited amount of text, and they expanded that for Japanese at my request. So we were able to insert lots of hint-like features into the game text which really helped.
YO: Here are some examples of the differences between the original and the Japanese version:
* A dolphin call will play when the SEGA logo is displayed in the Japanese version.
* When you pause the game, the Japanese version shows PAUSE text on screen and the music stops.
* The Japanese version has more checkpoints. In the original version, if you lose a life, you have to start back at the start of the stage. The Japanese version lets you start halfway through.
* Places where you can lose objects you have to carry are different. In the original version, if you move the screen past an object, it will immediately return to its original position. But in the Japanese version, it won’t immediately reset even if you move away by a screen or so.
… etc, etc…
YO: So in this way, there wound up being some intricate adjustments to the game balance.
NH: I think (Japanese) players who cleared the Japanese version of Ecco should give the overseas version a shot.
YO: Also, and similar to the situation we had 3D Super Hang-on, there was an issue where our QA staff couldn’t clear the overseas version for a while.
RH: I can recall almost crying when I cleared the English version back then.
- How much time did you have to do all these localization and difficulty adjustments at the time?
RH: Not a lot, actually. If we had more time, there’s probably a lot more we could have done. We probably didn’t even get to spend one month’s time on the difficulty tweaking.
- And during that time, you had to get your head around the game spec in general, decide what to improve, build a plan, then check the implementation…
RH: And all that was done over fax.
- (laughs) Of course.
RH: Everyday, I’d type out text with Ichitaro, print it out, and then fax it over. But it was my first job so I was really into it. There was a time difference as well, and the peak time over at the developer was around 10pm in Japan, so I slept over at the office quite a few times. Back then, working late and sleeping at work felt like a responsible adult kind of thing to do. (laughs)
NH: I’m rather jealous that your very first job was swimming through Ecco’s beautiful ocean.
RH: When I saw those graphics, it sent a shiver down my spine. I was playing it on a company-issued TerraDrive, and it looked gorgeous on the RGB monitor. Rumors of it spread not only through our CS (Consumer Software, console development) group but also over to our AM (Amusement Machine, arcade development) group, to the point that I had graphic artists coming over from AM to our office asking, “Hey, I heard you’ve got some amazing looking dolphin game.” I’d say, “Yes, right over here gentlemen,” as if I’d made it myself. I can remember saying with all the confidence in the world, “The blues turns darker and then change to deep blue as you dive deeper and deeper to the ocean floor.”
NH: As we familiarized ourselves with Ecco, we came to see how much care was taken when the game was created.
RH: You know, one of the developer’s graphic artists once told me that when it came to the colors the MegaDrive could use, a lot of room was assigned to shades of blue, but the other colors didn’t have much gradation. There was some for reds and oranges, but most were allocated for blue.
A characteristic of Ecco is its color choices, with particular attention given to blue variants.
NH:Yeah there are just a few accent colors for the reds and oranges.
RH: The gradation for shades of blue is amazing. I think they really made a great call back then to focus on those colors. Oh, by the way, I actually brought the original release’s European limited edition with me. The game came with a T-shirt, a music cassette tape (featuring U2 and Erasure), as well as a letter of endorsement from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Meanwhile, one of the most obvious differences from the Japanese version is the package art. On the overseas version, he looks like he’s jacked up on steroids. He’s all muscly. It has some of the original ads in it as well, but if you open the flyer here from the Whale and Dolphin Society, you’ll see there are some pretty… visually explicit pictures of (violence towards) dolphins here. It seems like they mistakenly thought that the game was about world peace and loving dolphins so they gave it a letter of endorsement. This was a package created to memorialize that endorsement. I think they might have just played the first stage. They probably didn’t think you’d end up fighting aliens in the end. (laughs)
Comparing the Japanese and European versions
YO: But Ecco isn’t a game about a dolphin engaging in acts of brutality, it’s the story of a brave dolphin who saves his friends.
- You’ve got that right. (laughs)
Later in the game you can slide across the ice! Be sure to play the whole game!
YO: Anyways! So, we added a lot a stereoscopic 3D to Ecco, especially at the DNA part in the second half of the game.
RH: Aww crap. I can’t get that far right now, so I’ll have to buy it after it releases and play to the end. (laughs)
NH: We really did everything we felt we could do this time, so I sincerely hope everyone plays to the end.
YO: Unfortunately we weren’t able to include a stage select feature for this game. Since it’s an adventure game, we want to make sure players are able to enjoy the story in the proper order. However, all the cheat codes and other features that were there in the original are still there, like the passwords. So you can still use your passwords, if you still have them written down somewhere. Or you can probably look them up on the net, too. (laughs) If you hit a stage that you simply just can’t clear, feel free to go ahead and use those cheats to move forward. Still, I hope that players take the time to enjoy the story in the order it’s intended.
- I know where you’re coming from.
YO: Also, we’ve left Ecco’s controls untouched, so they may take a little getting used to. 3D Ecco reminded me what it was like to get sore thumbs from a d-pad. Even from just playing around with the game a bit.
RH: That’s right. You end up really pushing the d-pad hard, don’t you?
NH: Everyone needs to experience that.
YO: Like when you jump over the waterside boulders, or speed up to burst out of the water in the prologue area, which is where you can practice some of the technical moves or what we’d call a tutorial these days. And that may be a bit of a barrier to entry for this game, but we left it as-is. So unlike 3D Sonic, just because you are diligent using the save feature doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be able to clear the game.
- If you mess with the controls too much, it becomes a different game. I could see that if you start making adjustments to them, you might wind up never being able to release the game. (laughs) I think you’ve made good decisions on what to tweak and what to leave alone.
YO: The game requires you to make some really technical jumps from the mid-game on, but now you have a plenty of time to do it, and you can also save if you need to.
- Just the fact that you won’t drown now when you get lost is huge in my opinion.
NH: Yes, Super Dolphin Mode is a big game changer.
- Ah, it looks like our time is about up. Let me get a word about Ecco from each of you before we close.
RH: If I had to say one thing about Ecco it would be this: the small fish are delicious. (laughs)
NH: I’d say,”Ecco is a crazy game where really you should just be able to play around in a peaceful blue world, but all of a sudden, aliens! We’ve really done our best to make this an experience that everyone can enjoy. I hope players pick it up.
YO: With this game’s 3D features, you can experience that feeling you first felt when you played Ecco twenty years ago. Now’s the time to take on the game again and get revenge on your 20 year backlog!
- Actually now that I think about it, you guys also announced 3D Galaxy Force II at the same time as 3D Ecco, didn’t you?
YO: Yes we started developing 3D Galaxy Force 11 after 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on. It will be the third arcade port.
This game is one of the greatest SEGA arcade simulation games, and was a real challenge when we ported it to the PlayStation 2. I believe we had an interview back then as well, didn’t we? Well, it’s back! (laughs) Just to give you a simple comparison, the arcade versions of Space Harrier and Super Hang-on had two 68000 CPUs stack together, and were already at their very limit, whereas Galaxy Force II has three of them!
NH: At first we thought porting it to 3DS would impossible, but we’ve somehow managed to get the Y Board (Galaxy Force II’s system board) to draw 120 pictures a second. Chance of success? I can’t say it’s a certain victory, but we are definitely trying.
YO: Well, we’ve progressed to the point where we feel comfortable announcing the game. Our escape route is now blocked. While you’re waiting for the release, you can always practice up on the PS2 archive version of Galaxy Force II.
NH: Well, the road forward is blocked too, you know. But we’ll find a way to knock down the walls in front of us.
- I can’t wait! Thanks again for your time today!
 Ichitaro is a widely used Japanese word processing software program, especially in the 90’s when Windows Japanese text support was lacking.
 Known as Sega Vintage Collection 3 overseas.
 The TerraDrive was a PC built in cooperation between SEGA and IBM Japan. It was basically a IBM PC with an integrated MegaDrive.
 Since Hasegawa-san was the original localizer, his translation of the line “Charge small fish to feed and gain strength” into simply “Small fish are delicious” (kozakana wa oishii) is a line he is particularly proud of, since Japanese people, including himself, tend to think small fish are delicious rather than just a symbol of regaining energy.
Thursday Dec 05, 2013
We continue our series of interviews with developer M2 regarding the SEGA 3D Classics for the Nintendo 3DS – Today’s interview is all about Altered Beast. As with all of the articles, the Altered Beast interview has some pretty insightful info about the creation of these games onto the 3DS platform.
As always, if you read and enjoy this interview, please take the time to post a comment and let us know!
Out of Nowhere: A Web Interview for 3DS’s 3D Altered Beast?
We hear about new parallax scroll effects not present in the original, the new “Random Form” option, as well as what else is in store for the 3D Remaster series!
Altered Beast (arcade version) in the Sega Vintage Collection.
Wii Virtual Console (MegaDrive Version)
- I know you guys are busy, but thanks again for taking some time with me to talk about 3D Altered Beast.
Yosuke Okunari (below, YO): Honestly, I didn’t think you’d take the time to do an interview just for Altered Beast. (laughs) I appreciate it.
- Well, let’s get down to it! There’s an arcade version and a MegaDrive version of Altered Beast, and you’ve chosen to port the MegaDrive version for this project. Why is that?
YO: Well, we decided from the very beginning of this project that besides Sonic The Hedgehog, we wanted to port multiple games from the MegaDrive.
The project started two years ago (2011), and it took us more or less a year and a half to finish our first game, 3D Space Harrier. Once development for that game had progressed a bit, we started working on 3D Super Hang-on, which took just under a year. Despite the fact that these are both titles we’d worked on before, and were quite familiar with how they worked, development was pretty long.
Naoki Horii (below, NH): We had zero technical experience with the 3DS, and we needed time to remake these games to work well with the 3DS’ particularities. We also didn’t have a lot of engineers working on it, so it took a while to get the 120 frames per second for stereoscopic 3D working.
YO: That said, everything took far longer than we’d imagined. (laughs) If we kept going at that pace, our next title would have taken another year, which would’ve been very bad for the project. So we needed the MegaDrive games in the mix to stabilize the rate at which we could put out titles. When you port games from the same system, it lets you work more efficiently since you save time spent on analyzing the original hardware.
NH: If we were just porting a single game, sure we could probably get it working. But we figured that if we’re going to port something, we might as well do it in a way that lays a foundation for the next step. So we chose the path that offered the most opportunity down the road.
YO: When we looked at what games to port from the MegaDrive, we started with the games that were performing well on Wii Virtual Console, and from there narrowed down candidates based on popularity. One of those titles was Altered Beast. Maybe it’s because people find the bear really funny, I don’t know, but Altered Beast seems to be a pretty popular game!
- Is it now? Actually yeah, after the game was announced, I saw that ‘the bear’ started trending on Twitter. (laughs)
YO: Keep in mind that there’s an arcade version of Altered Beast, but unlike the arcade version, the MegaDrive version has two layer scrolling, and without those two layers, you really don’t have a foothold to start working on stereoscopic 3D. The arcade version basically doesn’t have any parallax scroll at all.
Another reason we chose the MegaDrive version of Altered Beast was the hidden feature in it where you can select which beast to transform into. Only the MegaDrive version let you choose which form to transform into on each stage.
Around the time the original game was released, there was a shortage of titles for MegaDrive users, so the ability to choose your beast form added a lot of replayability. When I used to play, I didn’t find choosing my transformation to be very fun, so I’d close my eyes and have my friend choose it for me. I wouldn’t know what beast I’d change into, and that added a lot of excitement to the experience. (laughs) I used to wish there was a way to do that automatically, so I had M2 add that in.
- So that’s the SPECIAL feature this time: the “Random Form”?
NH: We almost always overshoot our development cost estimates, but the “Random Form” was a miraculous feature that took far less time to implement than I thought it would. When you use it, you can really tell how certain beasts work better in certain stages. There are a lot of spots you’ll find you’re able to do something you never thought of before. Also, for tough spots in the game, our project director, Tsuyoshi Matsuoka, came up with the idea to let you use extra Spirit Balls to change form in a pinch. It took some time, but it was a lot of fun once we got it in. I’m really glad we included it. (laughs)
YO: ”Random Form” gives you a chance to come back if you happened to get to the boss in a form that’s not good for the fight. I think it really deepens the gameplay. (laughs) Like when you play single player, you’ll typically pick up three spirit balls and then arrive at the boss. So what I do is pick up only two spirit balls on the first “loop” of the stage, leave the third ball, and then when I got to the stage’s second “loop” part, I get two chances of getting the form I want at the boss. (laughs)
NH: Which means that if you get the wrong transform twice, it’s time to give up. (laughs) So it got us a pretty risky yet wonderful new feature. Debugging two-player co-up later on was a grind, but that’s a different discussion. Actually, we initially wanted to make it so that you can transform into different beasts when you’re playing two-player, but we only had so much time and weren’t able to get it to work in the end. That was a bummer.
YO: Since Spirit Balls drop everywhere in two-player, you’ll get situations where a player accidentally picks one up, you know? That causes both players to change into a new beast, where you’ll hear things like: “Why the hell did you pick up that Spirit Ball!? We were Weredragons, man!” It’s pretty fun. (laughs)
Defeating the white two-headed dogs will earn you Spirit Balls that power up your character. Picking up another when you’re in the third power-up form will transform you into a beast.
Two Player Co-op. Fighting the boss while transformed is a snap, but…
If you get to the boss in human form, it’s a much rougher ride.
Here, the player is transforming from the Weredragon to the Werebear with “Random Form”. The Weredragon can stay in the air, but as soon as he transforms into a Werebear, he falls to the ground.
YO: So, the result is “Random Form” mode. Actually, a lot of discussion went into deciding the Japanese name. The original name was “Random Form” [as it is in the English version], but the director said he wanted to change it.
When the mode got implemented, the name had been changed to “Impulsive Transformation”. I was a bit irritated with it at first since it’s a little goofy, so I told them that it needed to be changed. I said I’d think up something better, but after playing the game for two or three days I sort of got used to it. So in our meeting the next, I said: “Yeah, I guess it’s fine. Let’s leave it like that.” (laughs)
NH: We argued a lot over the name. Here are just some samples of the names we came up with. Take a look.
…and after an intense selection process, the surviving candidate was “Impulsive Transformation”.
- Wow, so much work for a single name. And you had so many name ideas… (laughs)
YO: I haven’t heard all of these either, but I do remember rejecting most of them. (laughs)
Dividing single image backgrounds into raster layers, and adding stereoscopic 3D!?
- So, this has been on my mind me since we talked about it in our last interview. Can you talk about how the GigaDrive-related components are included in 3D Altered Beast?
NH: We’ve made some pretty fundamental revisions to the GigaDrive at this point. Every time we try porting a new MegaDrive title, we gain insight into what kind of features and specifications we need for it, and we put more work into the 3D so that it works better with the Gigadrive, beyond what we had in previous iterations.
An example would be how we added support for vertical parallax scrolling, etc. How can I put this… Basically, the GigaDrive spec I showed to you guys last time was from its initial development stage. Once that was in play, our team members had lots of feedback about how it should function as we go forward. Maybe that’s how building real hardware works? Anyways, Altered Beast more or less uses the same v1.0 hardware draft that Sonic used. So it wasn’t so much the GigaDrive components, but more making the game itself work with the Gigadrive that we wound up focusing on.
YO: Originally, we intended to wrap up Altered Beast with a bit less effort, but once we finished 3D Sonic, there were a lot of things we wound up obsessing over. We started going out of their way to look for more spots we could squeeze more 3D in. (laughs)
NH: A lot of them were in these really ordinary but very detailed spots. Like how we wound up adding 3D to stage 3 when that wasn’t in the original plan.
YO: Some of these 3D touches would be hard on the eyes, so we’d have the designer toss the changes out and revert back to the original. We also made the sky in the last stage 3D, right?
NH: That was probably the most extreme fix for this game. In the original game, the sky was a single graphic. But it was just screaming to be broken up and raster scrolled. And so we fed it to the GigaDrive’s stereoscopic 3D. Now the original MegaDrive version we’ve made uses parallax raster scrolling as well. Too bad there’s no way to show it to people though. (laughs)
YO: Multi-layer scrolling effects were added when the arcade version was ported to the MegaDrive, and when we ported this version to the GigaDrive, we wound up adding even more. (laughs)
I’d also like to talk about some of the touch ups we’ve done to the sound reproduction. The sound artist Manabu Namiki joined M2 during the course of the 3D Remaster Project, and thanks to him, the sound reproduction quality for this series is even better than some of the titles M2 has worked on previously. Namiki-san had previously worked on sound drivers for the PlayStation 2 SEGA AGES 2500 series as an external contractor. But he’s been carefully supervising things for us now that he works at M2 as a sound director. From what I hear, he put a lot of effort into Altered Beast in particular.
NH: Namiki-san records music and sounds from the original hardware, and then compares it to the waveforms outputted from the 3DS. He looks for reasons things sound different, sees if there’s a way to fix it, and then tries to figure out if the fix in question is possible within the processing restraints of the 3DS. It’d be great if that was all there was to it, but the programmer who works on the sound driver has other important things he has to do for the other 3D projects. Like implementing HAYA OH in 3D Space Harrier (bonus content yes, but very important).
Still, despite how intensely busy the other 3D projects are, Namiki-san will still issue manifestos. Things like, “Where’s Altered Beast’s bass, damnit!?” I hope everyone gives the final result a listen.
YO: Given that Altered Beast was one of the first MegaDrive titles and it’s already being handled with this much care, we think Namiki-san will have a very positive impact on future titles.
The benefits of the local play feature
- So, this is going to be the first game in the 3D Remaster Project series that you can play two-player, correct?
YO: That’s right. It supports simultaneous two-player over local wi-fi. Really though, since this was in the original, it had to go in.
NH: You say that so casually.
YO: Actually I wasn’t sure if 2P co-op was something we would be able to do. I said to Horii-san, like I always do, “hey, since we had co-op in the Game Gear VC version, you can implement it in this version, right? Just do what you did last time.” Of course, that was not the case.
NH: Not only was it not easy when we did it on VC, but this time we’re running the game on a virtual machine with processing-intensive architecture.
YO: People who have played the local multiplayer in the VC Game Gear version are probably aware of this, but local multiplayer actually pushed right up against our memory limits, and because of that we had to limit some of the graphics functionality.
For example, the frame around the image we implemented for the VC Game Gear version wasn’t 3D-compatible. Since we have to sync the game on two separate systems, both games have to have the exact same settings, and when you add stereoscopic 3D to that, it’s not going to run at full speed.
NH: That said, of course we included 3D support for 3D Altered Beast local multiplayer. I say “Of course!”, but like I mentioned, it wasn’t something that we got up and running easily. (laughs)
- When we talked for the 3D Sonic interview, you said that when you brought games you’ve ported to the GigaDrive to the 3DS, the processing already was near the memory limit. How did you find the room to support local multiplayer?
YO: From the outset, Horii-san told me “I want to include local multiplayer in the game in some way, but let’s move the game to the rear of the release schedule”, and “Is it OK if it only runs at 30 frames per second in 2P mode?”
NH: I did.
YO: That’s because it was a GigaDrive title, right?
NH: Well, that’s not necessarily the reason. We built the GigaDrive so it could easily run MegaDrive games in 3D, but of course it doesn’t run lighter or faster than the MegaDrive did. Improving the performance just comes down to elbow grease. Basically, hard work (read: optimization).
- So the 3rd and 4th titles in the 3D Remaster Project are both MegaDrive games. What’s next for you guys?
YO: The next game is a MegaDrive title, too. Of course we’re working on some arcade games at the same time, but our next project has been a particularly challenging one.
NH: We’re having an unbelievably hard time with this title. The programmer who easily got Space Harrier and Super Hang-on working on the 3DS for had to call in an assistant just for graphic optimization… I don’t want to hype it up too much, so please wait for more info about it.
YO: In any case, we don’t want to have too much time between now and the next release. However, it’s still under development, so I can’t make any guarantees.
NH: Really at this point, we should be able to release ports one after another, but the 3D in 3D Sonic worked out so well that we wound up tweaking the GigaDrive’s 3D constantly for this next title. As a result, we’ve really invested ourselves, and it’s a bit too late to back out now.
YO: I think we’ve taken care of more than half the 3D effects for the next title at this point? Every week, more 3D touches get added. Keep an eye out for it.
- So it sounds like you aren’t going to stop at four titles like the fans seemed to be expecting. Personally, I want to see the 3D Remaster Project go on as long as it can.
YO: No one over here ever said anything about four titles. (laughs) Still, since people seem to expect the releases in batches of four, that made the process of getting these first four done pretty special. Thanks everyone.
Some of you might know this if you’ve been following these interviews, and others might not, but I want to reiterate that the reason we’ve been able to release titles at this clip is because they’ve been in development for two years. At any rate, it takes us about a year to develop a single title. (laughs) We were really happy that our first game, 3D Space Harrier, was so well-received and with everyone’s support, we hope we can keep porting.
Plus, if we get even more positive feedback, we’ll be able to use the knowledge base we’ve built up with the 3D conversions, and attempt even bigger projects. So we hope for your continued support.
NH: Titles we never thought would run on 3DS are now out in the wild. If we can keep this up, I think people will be pleasantly surprised with what we can do. I hope we can show you more in the near future.
- Hmmmm, OK well you’ve got my support. I look forward to dropping by and speaking with you in the future if there’s an opportunity. Thank you very much!
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 For about a month after 3D Altered Beast’s announcement, many Japanese game fans changed their Twitter icon’s background to the flame effect shown when transforming in Altered Beast.
 kimagure henshin, lit. ‘Impulsive Transformation’, in the Japanese version.
 Despite the common English usage, hentai has a couple of synonyms in Japanese, one of which means “to change form”.
 “GigaDrive” is the name M2 gives to the virtual hardware they’ve created through emulation. It’s essentially an improved MegaDrive that supports stereoscopic 3D.
Tuesday Dec 03, 2013
We’re back with more interviews from the ongoing series of SEGA 3D Classic interviews! This week touches on the challenges of creating a game like Sonic the Hedgehog in 3D, it’s quite the read and filled with a lot of technical details in crafting the game. As you’ve likely seen in our series, the M2 developers really put a lot of passion behind creating these games and making them as perfect as can be.
If you read and enjoy this interview, please take the time to post a comment and let us know!
The hard road from porting the MegaDrive version, to full 3D-ification on the 3DS! How’d they do that!?
- Thanks for having me over again!
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): So far with the 3D Remaster Project, we’ve put out Space Harrier and Super Hang-on. People might have been looking forward to another arcade cabinet game port, but our next release is actually a stereoscopic 3D adaptation of Sonic The Hedgehog.
As we discussed in our previous interviews, our previous two releases were games where the player “scrolls into the screen”, something easy for anyone to imagine in 3D. But for the next game, we wanted to put out a game that people wouldn’t expect to see in 3D. With that in mind, we considered multiple titles and in the end we chose Sonic’s debut game, because there’s nothing more SEGA than that.
Still, it took us awhile to settle on Sonic. First, as you may know if you’ve been following the interviews, there was quite a bit of time between when the 3D Remaster Project first started and when 3D Space Harrier was released. This put us essentially around the time when development had just started on Sonic Generations, which later released for the PS3/Xbox360. Generations included a completely 3D version of the Green Hill Zone stage which replicated the original very well and also included support for stereoscopic 3D.
So right then, there were some inevitable doubts about whether there was any point to re-making MegaDrive Sonic, and if a remake like that was needed. However, we came to the conclusion that “building something in 3D” and “taking something that was drawn in 2D and making it 3D” ultimately resulted in two different experiences, so we decided to move forward with a 3DS port.
Naoki Horii (below, NH): So when you asked us if there were any MegaDrive games we could remake in stereoscopic 3D, SEGA had already started development on Sonic Generations?
YO: That’s right.
NH: Interesting that Sonic survived the cut then.
YO: Once we’d decided to restore SEGA titles with stereoscopic 3D, I actually wanted to do some home console games as well. So when M2 and the North American and European SEGA staff decided on the lineup of games for the 3D Remaster series, which included Space Harrier and Super Hang-on, and removed Thunder Blade (laughs), Sonic was one of the titles on the list.
We started Game Gear development for Virtual Console at the same time that work on the 3D Remaster Project was going forward, and I was of course asking M2 about whether we could bring titles on SEGA hardware other than Game Gear to Virtual Console. When I talked to them about it, M2 told me “MegaDrive games probably won’t work out…” …And now, Sonic is up and running. (laughs)
NH: You’re leaving a lot of the story out. (laughs) The 3DS had a big change in architecture from the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advanced; it uses a GPU that specializes in stereoscopic 3D. When you bring software from an era when games were composed of sprites and backgrounds into an emulator on the 3DS, you wind up doing a lot of work in a very roundabout way. And that offsets the performance gains you get with the CPU. That’s why I said “they probably won’t work out.”
YO: So from the outset I was hearing that MegaDrive games on the 3DS would be hard.
NH: The MegaDrive for instance has two background layers and four pallets (color definition tables). Replicating that is the tough part.
YO: We had intended to get Game Gear games on Virtual Console from early on in the 3D Remaster Project, but I had to think over our approach for the MegaDrive titles, since we’d put them on the backburner after we were told that the games wouldn’t run on 3DS. One way was to use the ‘copy by eye’ method, where you rebuild the program from scratch but it looks exactly the same to the player. I figured M2 wouldn’t want to do it that way…but on the other hand, emulating the titles was going to be hard.
NH: I think the problem was that we didn’t have time to build a ‘copy by eye’ in the first place…
YO: Creating a ‘copy by eye’ does indeed take time. Not only do you need to do a complete analysis on the game from top to bottom to ensure that it’s accurately reproducing the original, testing takes ages because you have to make sure all the little hidden tricks in the game are in, and it’s easy to miss things that don’t run the same as the original.
NH: It’d be much quicker to make a Gradius ReBirth than remake Gradius by eye. (both laugh)
YO: Anyways, since this is supposed to be a “Remaster” project, we were in a bit of a bind. Horii-san had said “the games won’t run”, however he came back and told me “but there’s a way to make them run.” The same thing happened when we started on the SEGA AGES 2500 series for PlayStation 2. The typical emulation methods didn’t work at first, but after a while we were able to get a MegaDrive emulator running on the platform. He told me: “If we use the same approach, we might be able to get MegaDrive games running on 3DS too.”
NH: It’s not quite the same approach. The point was that if we struggled with it as much as we did for the PS2 games, it might work. Doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the approach. (both laugh)
- Did you wind up cutting MegaDrive features that weren’t being used in the game?
NH: We cut some of the fat, accelerated things by writing some assembly code and whatnot. However for the 3DS remakes, we wanted to effectively utilize the 3DS’s CPU resources as much as possible, so we wrote assembly where we needed assembly, and swapped out code as needed from the emulator, which was written in C. This took quite a bit of time, and turned into quite a magnificent bit of work. So we had to slowly cobble together performance speed by doing things like writing code that more easily hits the cache every time it’s called.
YO: It’s M2’s policy that any input lag is out of the question, which means they have to get the control response as close to the original as possible. Since that’s a project pillar, speed becomes a very complicated and important aspect of the program. They invested a lot in this point for the PS2 version, and the same amount of struggle went into the 3DS version as well.
NH: The older I get, the more exhausting it is. (laughs) I definitely have a hard time pulling all-nighters anymore. (laughs)
YO: So in the end, we decided not to do any straight MegaDrive ports for [3DS] Virtual Console. However, we figured that if we put in more resources and time than we would for a typical Virtual Console game, added in bonus content, and brought it to the table as a 3D Remaster Project title, then it might be worth doing. So we moved forward with several MegaDrive projects.
| The never-ending battle with slowdown.
YO: That said, after starting development, we immediately ran into problems. Unlike games like Space Harrier which were built in 3D from the very beginning, the difficulty of converting a 2D game into 3D was on a different level.
In order to give this an easy explanation, I’ve brought along the first version of the game we got working on the 3DS. Take a look. This is the prototype for 3D Sonic The Hedgehog. With this version, you can play from start to finish like you normally would.
Since the MegaDrive has two backgrounds layers and some sprites, the initial idea was to add depth information to the background portions, and then place sprites with depth info right in front of you. We thought that by doing so, the game image would come out in stereoscopic 3D. However, when you put the game in 3D like this, the screen looks empty. Compare it to the final version and you can see that the rasterized portions of the backgrounds look quite different. I wonder if the people reading this will get the picture. (laughs)
- The rasterized portions of the background in this first version don’t have depth information yet, right?
YO: That’s right. When we played the initial version, we found that playing it in 3D didn’t really add much impact or appeal. Even though we’d got it running, we even started to think to ourselves, “maybe this isn’t going to work. Maybe we should just give up on Sonic.” Since Sonic was the flagship game for the MegaDrive, it would need to have a new aspect of fun to it in 3D… but the initial version was just a simple implementation of the 3D. We DID get it working, but the fun wasn’t there yet. Especially the first stage, Green Hill Zone, didn’t feel 3D and thus wasn’t very exciting.
However for the loop-de-loops in the stage, there were places that would have broken the 3D effect when you look at it which M2 told me they had fixed by patching the original code. In other words, M2 had gone in and applied 3D processing to those parts of the level by hand.
As we discussed that approach, M2 mentioned that while they were researching stereoscopic 3D, they found that if they applied 3D processing to areas of the stage that use parallax scrolling backgrounds, it looked amazing. So I said, if that’s the case, maybe we should add depth to the clouds, the ocean and all that. M2 told me that doing so was certainly possible technically, but it was going to generate processing overhead, and require a fair bit of work. Still, I felt like we definitely had to do it, so I kept bringing it up.
What’s more, to keep the game speed up, they hadn’t yet implemented the FM Synth emulation. Every time the FM Synth made a sound, the program would generate slowdown, so it was as if I was asking them to make it lag even more.
A 3D-compatible Virtual MegaDrive: the Gigadrive Plan
- Something I was curious about when you mentioned how hard it was to get MegaDrive games to run on the 3DS was that, compared to the PS2 port,, it sounds like you have to squeeze out twice the framerate (60fps to 120 fps, 60fps x 2 eyes (left and right) = 120fps), all while not having any input lag. That sounds like a really tough goal, right? It’s pretty an amazing feat.
NH: Around the time we were building Super Hang-on for SEGA AGES ONLINE, Okunari-san told us to “make everything 3D,” so we put a bunch of different games into 3D and showed them to him. At the time, we’d actually built a development environment that allowed us to make and show off quick implementations of stereoscopic 3D at a pretty low cost. We figured we’d just run the same program on the 3DS and that’d be good enough. However on the 3Ds, a lot of things weren’t working (depth adjustments we’d made to the background and sprites were broken), so at that point, we knew going in and fixing each issue one by one would be no small task.
Let me give you an example. When you add binocular depth to the game (by creating two separate screens, one for the left eye, and one for the right), you tend to lose the right and left edge of the screen, since you can’t add art that never existed in the first place. Fixing little issues like this one by one gets pretty overwhelming.
Once we had decided to include depth in rasterized areas, we figured we might as well build a MegaDrive architecture that supports stereoscopic 3D, a new SEGA console we dreamed up, which we decided to call the “GigaDrive.” We figured that if we can build this new platform on the 3DS using emulation techniques, and then create a version of Sonic The Hedgehog that runs on it, all our problems would be solved! This would give us smarter and more flexible 3D compared to patching the MegaDrive game program. In that sense, you could say we’re just “patching” a patch for a GigaDrive game, which gave us a lot more latitude to work with.
- So that changed your approach to the port.
NH: That’s right. But at that point we still had no idea if the thing was going to work. (both laugh)
Inside this “GigaDrive”, we increased the number of background layers to four, gave each layer a Z-value (depth info), and gave each raster line a Z-value which allowed us to for instance, knock the lake into the background. Funny because I was just mentioning how hard it would be to port the game since the Megadrive has two background layers. (both laugh)
- I see what you mean.
NH: So, rather than patching a MegaDrive game, we approached the project with the idea of porting the game to new hardware (which was already running on the 3DS).
- Would that let you port the graphic-related data as-is?
NH: Yes, and we can also port over the game’s main routine.
- I guess that means you’re saving processing load at a lower layer then?
YO: All of these struggles with the code came about because of my irresponsible request. But after a while, they managed to get depth showing for the rasterized portions. At that point I felt like the effect was looking pretty good. In the stages after Marble Zone (Stage 2), there’s quite a bit of rasterized imagery, and once they made those areas 3D, I felt like the approach was going to work. We had finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel.
However, starting from this version the game speed dropped below 100%. (laughs)
NH: Yeah, we were consistently losing about two frames of processing.
YO: Now there was one bit of 3D processing M2 had included which I didn’t ask them for. It was the depth effect between Sonic and the trees in Green Hill Zone. You might not notice it when you play the MegaDrive version, but there are actually two types of trees there, ones in the background and ones in front of Sonic. M2 added depth difference to them. Which meant that suddenly it seemed like the area Sonic was running in had real depth. I said, “hey this is amazing, let’s use this,” at which point Horii-san looked at me with a deeply serious face and said, “On every stage?” (both laugh)
NH: Of course I did! I mean, we’re talking about EVERY STAGE! (laughs)
YO: Which means more processing load. And on top of that, since this was on the GigaDrive, it all of course had to be done by hand.
- Depth effects were created in the original game by just changing the sprite draw priority rendered on the same layer. But once you assign depth values to those sprites, you’ve got something completely different, right?
NH: That’s the gist of it.
- (smiles) And you’ve got to assign priorities one by one, right?
NH: One by one. And of course it’s different for each stage.
- I see…
YO: The last bits of 3D we added in were the electric lights and construction signs in Starlight Zone. There are some that are brighter and some that are dark, but this depth is baked into the graphic.
NH: We wanted to realize what the original graphic artist for these objects wanted to do. …and also everyone points it out, so we wind up doing it.
- In other words, since there are already objects that that feel like they have depth to them in the game it wouldn’t feel right if depth information wasn’t assigned to them… It seems that the original team on the MegaDrive was trying to create visual depth by using objects that are alternately lighter and darker. So when you remake the game 3D, they’d look off without depth information.
YO: These are the kinds of things that slowly build up as we argue over the details, even though we have to keep the game speed up…
- (laughs) So does adding depth increase the background layers?
NH: We added four background layers, and that’s a lot to process already, but changing the depth info on top of that adds even more processing and slows down the program. From the start, before we even thought about maintaining the framerate we were already short on processing power. So as we added things, we made speed improvements along the way.
- On one hand, you’re adding things that require more processing, and on the other you’re doing your best to reduce the processing load. Sounds like this project was also a constant struggle.
YO: For Space Harrier and Super Hang-on, the games themselves were built in 3D from the start, so all we had to do was add 3D based on the program itself and that was it. However in Sonic’s case, 3D depth data didn’t exist, so we had to survey the art and add depth as appropriate. Also, when you turn off 3D, it has to look just like the original MegaDrive version. The differences between the two are pretty interesting.
NH: With Sonic The Hedgehog, I think we’ve gotten the game to the level where if you went back and played the original, it feels like Space Harrier does, like it was built in 3D.
YO: Building Sonic like this, I feel like you guys really boosted your tech for porting MegaDrive games to the 3DS.
NH: Absolutely. Just looking at the finished game, you might not think we struggled much with it, but really the whole thing was a struggle. It all comes down to one thing: Adding priority to sprites that have depth, even if they’re part of the same graphic.
YO: It’s like they say in the animation industry: “We spent days on a 5 second cut.” (laughs) That’s very much M2’s style, and it’s what it took to get stereoscopic 3D working.
Just adding Spin Dash does not a finished job make.
- So what’s the ‘Special’ addition to this game?
YO: Alright, let me introduce some of the game design changes we made for the 3DS version. Looking back at the release of 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on, one thing that we were concerned about was the game difficulty. So for this game, we went in and implemented stage select as a standard feature, i.e. the one that was included in the MegaDrive version as a cheat code. If you turn ‘Special’ on from the very beginning, you’ll be sent to the stage select screen when you start the game.
Originally, you could go to the stage select in the MegaDrive version by inputting the cheat command at the title screen, but since it was a cheat code and Sonic being a twenty year old game, we figured we should just make it a standard feature. The ‘Special’ setting is off by default, but if you turn it on, you can play from any stage you like the first day you buy it.
The original (Japanese) manual and advertisements for Sonic The Hedgehog mentioned that the game had “a variety of stages.” Because of that, lots of people, including myself, played hard to get to the next stage. But the first game was pretty hard, with stages like Marble Zone (Stage 2) and Labyrinth Zone (Stage 4), and I think some folks probably gave up on the more technical stages. If the same thing happened in this version, you wouldn’t get to experience the fun of running through some of the later stages in 3D like Star Light Zone, which M2 has spent a lot of time on. And that would be a bummer.
- At the time, I probably didn’t give it any thought, but now that I think about it, there is a lot of stuff in this game.
YO: We’ve made the stage select a standard feature because we want players to see every stage, and for the people who gave up on the original to come back and give Sonic another try. One more thing is the Spin Dash. This was actually a lot of work to put in. These days, everyone knows the Spin Dash from modern Sonic, but it wasn’t in the very first game. So when people go to play the first game, they’re like, “Wait, what?” (laughs)They always try to Spin Dash right away.
The only version that included it was the version included in Sonic Jam for the Saturn. You can use the Spin Dash in that version, so when I asked M2 to put the Spin Dash in, I brought the program source along with me. (laughs)
- I see. (laughs)
YO: But Sonic Jam was a Saturn-era game, so it wasn’t running Sonic The Hedgehog via emulator.
NH: First off, we wanted to find out if there was some data in Sonic Jam that resembled the MegaDrive version of Sonic The Hedgehog, and if there was, we could just do a comparison to the original game, note the differences, and analyze them. But as we got deep into the code, we realized “there’s nothing like that here at all”, and that’s where the story starts.
YO: M2 told me: “we looked over Sonic Jam’s source code, but we don’t get it.”
NH: Well, it wasn’t so much that we “didn’t get it” but rather that looking through a couple gigabytes of data and picking out what we need would be super exhausting. So I asked Okunari-san, “We need to know where to start looking, so please let us talk with the original development staff.”
YO: I immediately went to Takashi Iizuka, the head of Sonic Team, and asked him who worked on that portion of the game, and he told me, “Oh, Yuji Naka did that part.” His name was in fact in the credits, despite being a department manager at the time. (laughs) So Yuji Naka himself added Spin Dash as a “fix” to the original MegaDrive version… I had no other options, so I wound up sending a mail to Naka-san, who is now the president of a company called Prope, and asked, “Sorry, but could you let us know how you added Spin Dash to the game?” And he replied with some sage words of advice.
- Oh, wow!
NH: There was a nice explanation and he basically said “It’s easy, give it a shot.” Which makes you go: “Easy!?…what the…” you know? Man, people from that era are really amazing. But thanks to his help, we were able to get the Spin Dash implemented. Still, it’s not like we just put it in and it worked perfectly. No, once we started playing with it, we ran into places in-game where we had to question whether it even worked with the game design. Once it was implemented, there was a ton of things to check.
YO: When it was first implemented, there were no animations or graphics for it. Since the action wasn’t in the original, the graphic wasn’t either.
NH: Sonic The Hedgehog already nearly maxes out the MegaDrive’s VRAM, so when you’re told to add in Spin Dash animations on top of that, you don’t have much space to work with. That’s when we decided that our new virtual platform, this thing we were calling the GigaDrive, needed a VRAM extension.
YO: After that, we were able to pull graphics and animations from Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and add them into the game. The next problem we ran into once the Spin Dash got implemented was that since it wasn’t an action in the original, there were places in the game where you would wind up flying off the screen and dying.
I sort of panicked, and was saying “oh, this is bad,” to which M2’s programmer said: “well, what’d you expect?” So I went back to Sonic Jam to see what they had done, and it turned out they’d addressed all those bugs in their version. That’s when we realized that we’d need to bring in not only the move’s action itself, but all the bug fixes from Sonic Jam that went along with it as well!
- Wait, so you mean that the Sonic The Hedgehog in Sonic Jam wasn’t using the original MegaDrive version’s data?
YO: No, it was based on the original data.
NH: It’s doesn’t run on an emulator; I think the original code was most likely adapted for the Saturn. It’s similar to how people got arcade games running on the X68000. It was a pretty common approach for titles in the latter half of the Saturn’s lifecycle. This is also similar to the method used to run Space Harrier on the Super 32X.
- So the changes made to the Sonic Jam version were useful as a reference point?
NH: Yes they were.
YO: The programmer at M2 knew early on. In an interim version of the game, I got really excited that the Spin Dash was working but he pointed out to me: that “yeah, it ‘works’, but that’s all it does…” Anyways, after a bit of a process and before I knew it, the Spin Dash had been implemented perfectly. Although it was really pushing up against our deadlines…
NH: You know, Okunari-san touched on this earlier, but since people assumed that the Spin Dash would be included by default, once you implement it again, they wind up thinking “well of course I can Spin Dash”. Whereas it’s something we were pulling our hair out over…
YO: Yeah, after M2 worked so hard to get the move in, they told me they wanted to make the Spin Dash the game’s “Special” feature. But I said, “No no no, in this day and age, people expect the Spin Dash. We should just slip this into the main game.” No one’s likely to turn off Spin Dash, other than those who just really want to play the complete original version. Not nowadays. So we quietly included the option to turn Spin Dash off in the back of the system options.
NH: And I was fine with that… Okunari-san always comes to us with these sorts of proposals, and we’re more than happy to implement them. But then… when we tell him, “Hey, um, you know this is going to take a while, right?” and start talking deadlines, he’ll tell us: “The deadline is iron-clad. If it’s not going to make it in time, then we don’t have to implement it.” That’s the spiel, but somehow every time, the changes make their way in…. Okunari-san has a lot of opinions that come from him personally, and not from a producer perspective. And I think that’s without a doubt been key in maintaining the quality of the 3D Remaster Project.
YO: As a result, they’ve managed to make 70% to 80% of the reckless ideas I throw at them happen.
NH: So when he says “Don’t do it if it’s not going to make it in time,” that’s generally what winds up happening.
| The 3D Remaster Project moves forward!
YO: Thanks to this support, Horii-san’s “GigaDrive” steadily presses on.
NH: From M2’s standpoint, since we’ve gotten away from the original plan to emulate the game in 3D, and instead wound up creating an extension of the hardware spec that makes it easier to put MegaDrive games into 3D, we think of the GigaDrive as an ‘unofficial’ new SEGA console.
The specs are very clearly defined, and someone out there with enough skill could make probably make the same hardware. That’s the level at which we’ve built it. In other words, if you (virtually) popped in a GigaDrive cartridge, you could play Sonic in 3D, and if you took an old MegaDrive cartridge and put it in, you could play that too; we’ve built it with that type of cross compatibility in mind.
Personally, this is something I care deeply about. I don’t know how people would react when they hear the word “GigaDrive”, I don’t know if they’d say “Huh? …what’s that?” or get totally hyped about it, but I’ll send you a spec sheet, so you can check it out for yourself. (laughs)
NH: I thought it would be pretty awesome to reproduce the ultimate MegaDrive on the 3DS. To keep the MegaDrive atmosphere intact, we made no changes to the art palettes. There are still four.
We did expand the background layer count by four… two each for the left and right eye. And these can hold Z-values for each render line. Sprites have Z-values as well. And, since there wasn’t enough VRAM for 3D Sonic The Hedgehog, we expanded the VRAM by another 64Kbytes, to twice the size of the original MegaDrive. With just a little more pushing, maybe we could actually build some hardware with it. Not that SEGA would sell it for us though. (both laugh)
YO: Well, there wouldn’t be any software for it, right? (laughs)
NH: Yeah, there wouldn’t be. We’d of course be happy to make some ourselves though. Incidentally, when I told people at the office that Project GigaDrive was our next project, they all started using “GigaDrive” in their weekly and daily reports, and getting really involved in the whole idea. So internally at M2, I think it’s been a really good thing. Maybe in a couple of years, we can get Power Drift running on it and put that out. (grins) That’d be cool.
- With regards to the GigaDrive’s architecture, what level of hardware are we talking about?
NH: We’ve expanded the flexibility of the MegaDrive, to a larger extent than for instance how the PC Engine Super Grafx multiplied the number of sprites and backgrounds that the PC Engine had, and added memory to it. With the GigaDrive, Video Display Processor functions were added for the expanded game functionality, there are more sprite tables, you can use six background layers, the backgrounds have depth, all objects have depth, etc. Once you’ve got all this working, you can build Sonic The Hedgehog in 3D.
YO: Honestly, since we were really maxing out the specs, there are a few things that we cut compared to 3DS Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on. One is widescreen support. We haven’t done anything to show what would be outside the normal screen, partly to maintain the game balance of the original. We also wound up not adding a frame around the game screen.
NH: We really wanted to put in a TV frame. But if we did, there wouldn’t have been enough processing power to handle the stereoscopic 3D. Since that’s another thing we’d have to draw, we gave up on it. Instead we added “Classic Mode” as an additional 3D mode, where we were able to replicate a CRT TV in 3D. This mode is pretty nice. Hopefully you’ll agree that it looks like an old TV. The graphics blur too.
YO: Other companies have done the same thing, so you might think, “Oh, I’ve seen that.” But if you look really hard, you can see how the colors blend.
NH: It blends like it would if you’d hooked up a console with composite cables. The red blends a little less than a real machine. Give it a shot when you have a chance.
YO: Yeah, it does a good job of replicating that sort of fuzziness you see with the MegaDrive over a composite connection.
- Does the process take a normal screen and apply a filter to it?
NH: That’s right. Well, it’s more like a shader than a filter.
- So you’re adding processing when the screen’s being rendered.
NH: Correct. Which means we just barely get everything into memory, and that’s why we weren’t able to include the CRT TV frame. We struggled on that one.
YO: We also weren’t able to include full screen support or replays. That’s how hard it is to get MegaDrive games running on the 3DS; it was more challenging than porting an arcade game.
NH: Well, we could have got the TV frame in if we’d cut the stereoscopic 3D. (laughs)
YO: Although the additions to the game wound up being a little simple, we were able to get the MegaDrive Sonic The Hedgehog running perfectly on the 3DS, and with 3D to boot. So we slotted it in our line up as release #3. That said, you can’t really get an idea of the 3D in this game from screenshots, even more so than 3D Space Harrier, which is a little frustrating. For those who want to see how the 3D turned out, it’s only 600 yen ($5.99/€4.99/£4.49) , so please buy it and give it a shot. I want people to see it in motion.
- Yeah I hope people check out the 3D effects on the rasterized parts of the game. People who were really impressed with the raster scrolling effect back then would love it. For those who have played the MegaDrive release, it’s kind of like a treasure hunt trying to find spots that are different from the original.
YO: The 3D makes you want to climb to the top of the stage just to look into the background. It’s the same game you played back then, but it looks completely different. In that way, I suppose it’s kind of like 3D Space Harrier. This year is the 25th anniversary of the MegaDrive, so I think it’s great that we’ve released Sonic in a milestone year like this.
NH: Parallax scrolling was often used by taking backgrounds and overlapping them with the intent of giving the impression of depth, so it’s perfect when you put it in 3D.
- It’s pretty crazy to think that those backgrounds now have Z-values.
NH: Yeah. It shows you that if you spend time on something, you can work out the problems.
YO: I just give the orders.
NH: You also need time. With every project, I always think “if only we had more time.” (laughs)
YO: Since we now have the MegaDrive architecture running on the 3DS, we will be using it as much as we can going forward. However, some games work well in 3D and some don’t, so we have to consider whether we can remake them in 3D within the standard development timeframe for a downloadable game. For example, Landstalker would be an incredible game in 3D, but it has a lot of stuff that looks 3D that are actually 2D. For that reason, it’d be faster to just build it again from scratch than remake it in stereoscopic 3D. It all depends on the work involved and whether the game will sell, you know? Unlike Virtual Console, these aren’t just ports. They’re hand-made 3D recreations, and since we have to consider whether they’re worth the effort, it’s always hard to choose what to green light.
- Oh, now that you mention it, when the 3D Remaster Project website was updated for 3D Super Hang-on, two more spots opened up. People were wondering if that means four titles will be released in all?
YO: As the Chinese saying goes: intro, development, pivot, conclusion. Which implies four titles to some people. But that would mean Sonic is the pivot. (laughs) In any case, 3D Space Harrier and 3D Super Hang-on earned us a pretty good reaction, and the people who played it have help spread the word. Thanks to that, this project will continue on a little longer… Really though, the next game is coming very soon. (laughs)
NH: Yes, the show goes on for a bit longer. We look forward to everyone’s support!
- Thank you very much for your time. Can’t wait to see what you have lined up next! Keep up the good work!
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 Gradius ReBirth is a WiiWare title developed by M2 and published by Konami in 2008/2009.
 Parallax scrolling is a technique where multiple images are scrolled horizontally at different speeds to give the impression of depth to the screen. While there are a few ways to do achieve this, the MegaDrive used a method called raster scrolling, which is specifically what Mr. Horii is referring to.
 Released as Sega Vintage Collection 3 overseas. Remastered version of classic SEGA titles for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
 Sonic Jam, for the Sega Saturn, featured a version of Sonic The Hedgehog that had Spin Dash.
 Kishoutenketsu, a common narrative structure based in Chinese poetry.
Wednesday Nov 27, 2013
We continue our SEGA 3D Classic interviews with Super Hang-On, which appears on Nintendo eShop tomorrow alongside Space Harrier. We’re really excited to get these games out to fans and hope these interviews bring all new insight into not only the creation of the games, but also the finer details inside.
If you read and enjoy this interview, please take the time to post a comment and let us know. We’ve got a lot of folks looking on reading the feedback, so don’t hesitate to post!
Originally posted 3/27/2013
Pictured: Naoki Horii, President, M2 (left), Yosuke Okunari, Producer, SEGA CS3 (right)
- Thanks for having me over again!
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): We got a lot of positive response from our 3D Space Harrier interview article, so we figured we should give it another try. (laughs) But I wondered why that article [was so popular], so I wanted to ask you. For example, it seemed to have a very different reaction compared to, say, the article about Jet Set Radio, a game we just released last month. I’m thinking it’s thanks to Horii-san here showing up. (laughs)
- I think there are several reasons, including the article being targeted at a different age group. Also, the fact that 3D Space Harrier isn’t just another port; it has full stereoscopic 3D, the moving cabinet mode and it reflects the freshness of what it was like to play the game when it was new. Something you often hear when it comes to retro ports is people saying “I used to be good at these, but I can’t play them anymore” or “It’s like being punched in the gut by reality”, but 3D Space Harrier nicely avoids these issues due to the ease of playing the game in 3D. As a player, it’s always a little embarrassing when you have to drop the difficulty or change the options around.
YO: When we were making 3D Space Harrier, we talked a lot about what we should to make the game more accessible.
Actually, what I argued with M2 the most about with 3D Space Harrier was the way we were going to have HAYA OH appear as the hidden last boss. At first, he would show up as long as you got to the end of the game, no matter what. But there’s no surprise to that, so I proposed that we add unlock requirements for him. The disagreement was with my initial suggestion, to set it up so you had to get to the end of the game with only three continues. I said, “Since players can create save points, this won’t be that hard.” But M2 was really against it. “Then not everyone is going to be able to fight him,” they said.
Naoki Horii (below, NH): I mean, these days, there are a lot of people out there who just play for 3 minutes and then they’re done playing for the day.
YO: So M2 proposed that if they start from the last stage and clear it without dying, HAYO OH should unlock, but I thought the challenge factor was way too low. In the end, we wound up putting both unlock conditions in. Seeing the reaction post-launch, there are certainly people like me who wanted it to be a little harder, but the majority seem to have been able to unlock HAYA OH by clearing the last stage without dying, so I feel that it was an appropriate difficulty setting in the end.
NH: If this was years ago, I would have gone with the harder conditions. As a player myself, I would want others to start from the beginning, go in focused and play to the end, just like the old days. My thinking hasn’t changed there. However nowadays, with people playing in trains and such, depending on how they play, they may not even see the stuff we’ve gone through the trouble to create, and the last boss may be out of their reach. I really wanted people to see it.
YO: On release day, I sat there watching Twitter to see when people would find it. And about one or two hours later, someone tweeted something like “Ah!” Two people were going off about it, and we knew neither of them. After that, more and more people popped up, and there was murmuring about whether or not they should keep it to themselves, this atmosphere like “should we talk about it at this point?” People were voluntarily restraining themselves from spoiling it from others, sort of like how people behaved after the movie version of Evangelion came out.
NH: That sort of unity is really cool.
YO: Seeing that, I feel like we were blessed with a lot of really considerate fans. It seems like those folks are the ones that really liked the previous article. So although it’s not quite the 8 years we put in for making Space Harrier, I figured we could have a chat regarding the 4 years it took to bring 3D Super Hang-on into being.
| From Virtual Console Arcade to SEGA AGES ONLINE, Making Hang-on without permission, and transforming Super Hang-on into 3D
YO: This all starts with developing Space Harrier for the Virtual Console Arcade (VCA). Shortly after its release, M2 came to me one day and said, “We finished Hang-on!” which I hadn’t even asked them to work on. They told me that, since Space Harrierwas playable with the nunchuk, “you can play this one with the nunchuk too!” They showed it to me out of nowhere when I was visiting their offices.
NH: We really wanted to keep working on VCA. We wanted to put out every SEGA game.
YO: Hang-on started a new era within SEGA machine architecture, as everything up until then was SYSTEM 1 or SYSTEM 2, which was 8-bit hardware. But this was the first title on 16-bit boards, which wound up influencing the subsequent SYSTEM 16 core. Hang-on was further modified to create Space Harrier’s “Harrier board”, which was subsequently slightly downgraded and generalized to create SYSTEM 16. Since M2 had ported Space Harrier’s arcade board, Hang-onwas highly compatible.
NH: Relatively speaking, yeah.
YO: So one day I went to M2’s offices and there it was, Hang-on. At that point it was about half-done. If we were really going to put it out, there were a lot of things we’d need to change, like graphics we can’t use now, etc. Also, since Hang-on’s horizon line doesn’t move up and down, and the course only moves left and right, it’s actually rather a plain game if you just play it as-is. I didn’t feel like playing it with the nunchuk really captured the fun of playing the original. So since Hang-on by itself wasn’t really clicking, I thought that maybe if we released it in combination with Super Hang-on, we could add some historical context to create something I could get SEGA interested in. So that’s what we talked about.
NH: That was the discussion, yes.
YO: In the end, there was a lot of back and forth, but we weren’t able to push Hang-on through the company. We did however get approval to move forward with Super Hang-on, and we released in on VCA. But releasing only on VCA wasn’t enough… so we wound up releasing it on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well. And that’s how SEGA AGES ONLINE was born, you see. If the Hang-on project had never happened, SEGA AGES may have never come into being.
- So that’s the background story.
YO: This is how Super Hang-on’s development moved forward. Shortly after the release of the Wii version, I went over to see M2 and they told me: “We made Super Hang-onin 3D!”
NH: Around that time, there was talk about Nintendo releasing a successor to the Nintendo DS, and it turned out to be the Nintendo 3DS, which displays 3D to the naked eye, a device we never thought would exist. I got so excited I went and got a pair of red/blue 3D glasses. (laughs) Much like Space Harrier, these games where you move forward into the game are perfectly suited for stereoscopic 3D. So we tried it out, and it worked pretty well.
- So you just built in stereoscopic 3D compatibility without asking anybody? (laughs)
NH: At the time, we hadn’t gotten to grips with the 3DS yet, so we wanted to know what the 3D would look like.
- Why Super Hang-on?
NH: Well, there’s the fact that in Super Hang-on, you move forward “into” the background, as well as the fact that’d we’d just worked on it for VCA. So it made sense. That and we thought how it looked in 3D display was awesome, which made other games less attractive… (laughs)
YO: Around that time, PS3 had just started to support stereoscopic 3D as well. We had no plans to include it, but when I gave it a shot, it was definitely fun.
NH: When you crash and the rider goes flying… that’s pretty out there.
YO: We started talking about how great 3D was, and I decided to move forward with including it in the project. As a result, we released not only the PS3 version but also the 360 version with 3D support.
NH: As long as 1stparties build protocols for us, any current gen console is capable of outputting 3D on televisions.
| With gyro controls and the moving cabinet mode, at last we have a recreation of the real arcade machine experience.
YO: As all that was going on, I figured, “hey, since Super Hang-on is already in 3D, let’s go ahead and put it out on 3DS.” So the Wii VCA version eventually linked into this 3DS version, which wasn’t planned for at the outset. That’s how we got started on the 3DS version.
NH: There probably aren’t a ton of people out there buying every single port of Super Hang-on, but to those who do, we really appreciate it.
YO: We had decided that our first 3D release was going to be Space Harrier. Then, one day when M2 was working on 3D Space Harrier, this “Moving Cabinet” mode showed up. It was M2’s idea, and they thought it’d be pretty fun to include. Ultimately we feel that it was a feature in 3D Space Harrier that fans were really happy about.
NH: Without a doubt.
YO: So we started wondering what we should do for Super Hang-on. Naturally, M2 had included the Moving Cabinet mode for Super Hang-on as well. However, when I played it, I blurted out: “Where are the gyro controls though?!” Haha, pretty mean, right? Gyro controls were never in any plans for the game from the outset. (laughs)
NH: Yeah well… look… the thing with gyro controls is that the control is nice and all, but at the time it actually required a lot of extremely heavy processing. Putting them in meant we wouldn’t be able to maintain 60 frames per second. It was one of those rock and a hard place situations. After all, when we put the arcade mode into Space Harrier, we weren’t able to keep it at 60 fps then either, but we made some speed enhancements at the very end.
YO: I mean, when you think Super Hang-on, you remember playing on those arcade machines that you lean on, right? I said, “How can you not support gyro? That’s so un-M2 of you.” Apparently M2 had a whole struggle with gyro controls on their side, which I wasn’t aware of, and I just kept saying “I want gyro controls in.” And what do you know, a little while later… it was gyro-compatible. That’s a little bit of M2 miracle working. But honestly, just because the gyro controls got in, the game still wasn’t that fun.
- What!? (laughs)
YO: I believe we’ve had a few games that support gyro controls, but there aren’t a lot of people out there who enjoy playing like that. And the reason is that it’s just easier to play on the slide pad or d-pad. That’s why, in order to make it a more satisfying experience, I asked M2 to link the Moving Cabinet mode and gyro controls up, so when you turn, the screen tilts in sync, you know? And once they did that, the game become so much more fun.
NH: I think the thing that makes it so engaging is the fact that objects on-screen react in tune with your own movements. I think.
YO: By including gyro controls with the moving arcade cabinet, I think Super Hang-on is the first time we’ve really reproduced the feeling of a player moving an arcade machine.
NH: Oh, for sure.
YO: People who played the games years ago probably know this, but SEGA’s arcade racing sims would be released in pairs, where one arcade machine moves on its own, and players move the other one. Examples of the former would be Space Harrier, Outrun, Afterburner, and examples of the latter are Hang-on, Enduro Racer, and Super Hang-on.
So I decided that if we were going to release something after Space Harrier, it should be a game where you move the machine with your body, so in that respect the release order makes sense. Syncing up the gyro and the screen creates an incredible simulation of moving the arcade machine. I’ve had a number of people play Super Hang-on, and while the person playing isn’t moving at all, to them it seems like they’re really moving around. For 3D Space Harrier, when you’re in arcade machine mode, you kind of sense that you’re tilting because the screen is tilting, but since 3D Super Hang-on has screen sync, you really feel as if you’re tilting. So yeah, I think we’ve reproduced that arcade experience.
Super Hang-on hadn’t been ported much up until we did the Wii version, so if you’re not the type who went to arcades a lot, you might get the impression that it’s a rather obscure game. Also, since the MegaDrive version was one of the first games to come out, it was a little on the plain side. The X68000 was able to use the Cyber Stick (an analog controller), and the port one after that was basically the Wii version. The Cyber Stick and Wii nunchuk kind of give that tilting feeling, but it’s not the same as the whole bike leaning back and forth.
NH: Like Okunari-san is saying, 3D Super Hang-on is the best there is in replicating that feeling of being on the arcade cabinet’s bike. But if you’ve been following us up to now, you have to realize that this is totally coincidental. (both laugh) We didn’t really aim for it to be this good, so we actually feel a little bitter at the result [because it was accidental rather than intentional]! If the whole gyro discussion was as easy as thinking everything out ahead of time and deciding how we were going to adjust each part of the game, building that into Moving Cabinet mode, and then saying “Here you go!”, we could feel like we accomplished what we set out to do. But it never turns out that easy… (laughs)
YO: By tossing the ball back and forth with M2 like this, I think we’re making some pretty interesting games. With SEGA AGES, we really managed to satisfy people with the quality of the ports themselves, but you know, it’s also about playing the game as it was when the original came out. I feel like the amount of people who appreciate the ports for their faithful reproduction of that original experience are on the decline, so the approach we have with the 3DS, of adding new ideas to the experience, is something I feel has a good resonance with our fans.
NH: You can take it with you, and pause whenever you want.
- Let’s hear more about some of the detailed work that went into 3D Super Hang-on. I’m going to play it while you guys talk.
* Additional Difficulty settings also allow for Time Attack
YO: OK, well, one of the things that M2 really focuses on is difficulty. The original arcade version had four difficulty levels, but this one has six. The VCA version was a straight port, but while we were working on that, we had a problem where some of our testers weren’t able to clear the game. The game was too hard. In the end, we managed to solve the problem, but in the SEGA AGESversion, we thought we should add some difficulty options that weren’t in the arcade version. So we wound up adding more time to the clock when you pass through a checkpoint.
NH: That’s right. We boosted the time bonus.
YO: For 3D Super Hang-on, M2 also disabled the hitboxes for opponent vehicles.
NH: Some might say at that point, why not just remove the enemy vehicles altogether? But if you do that, the screen looks really empty. So we left them in to keep the game screen lively.
YO: These settings weren’t in the original game, and you could almost call it a Time Attack Mode. Since you can hit your corners at max speed, the game is easier to clear. For people who’ve played the game before, putting it into the easiest difficultly level and just having a pure battle with the course itself is also really fun.
NH: And if you run into an opponent, it’s OK. (laughs) They won’t slow you down.
- So compared to the arcade version, you’ve basically added two difficulty settings lower than the original easy setting.
YO: That’s correct.
* Button Configuration Options
YO: We also added in the ability to configure your buttons. (laughs) This wasn’t included in 3D Space Harrier, but it was something we heard a lot of people ask for.
NH:Sorry about that. We figured that if we had rapid fire and all, no one would need a button config, but we got a lot of requests for it. We had a change of heart. (laughs) Sorry for underestimating everyone!
YO: M2 and I argued quite a bit on the button config defaults… Like, since you hit turbo with your thumb normally, I thought the Y button would be perfectly fine. I mean, strategically speaking, the Y button is the easiest to hit when you really need to push turbo rapidly. But it might be a bit tricky for people when they first pick it up if the accelerator isn’t on one of A/B/X/Y buttons, so currently the default is the R button. For those playing Time Attack hardcore, or people who play the game a lot, I would suggest adjusting the button config to find a setting that works best for you.
* Screen Size & Moving Cabinet Mode
YO: The screen size is the same as 3D Space Harrier, but for this game, the default view frames the screen. This is simply because we want people to play using the gyro sensor. This is the first time the game has supported wide screen, and it’s something we put a ton of work into, but since gyro mode is so fun we had to choke back our tears and pull widescreen from the defaults. If you play using gyro with widescreen, it just doesn’t feel quite right, you know? You have to see the edges of the arcade cabinet when the screen tilts. That’s why we set the screen defaults to framed. You can also choose between the Sit Down or Mini Ride On versions of the game, which will change the arcade cabinet graphics accordingly.
For the Moving Cabinet Mode, since you move the game yourself, we put three levels of “leaning” in the settings. When the game is in Moving Cabinet Mode, the gyro controls will be enabled. Note that once they’re turned on, the gyro settings will reset to their defaults. Also, per M2’s request, you can set it so the screen will lean in the opposite direction the control leans (normally, turning right will make the screen lean left, but you can make it so turning right leans the screen right). I don’t know if any of this is needed, but some people might like it that way.
NH: These are the kind of things that are just fun to include, you know?
YO: For the Sit Down type, since the original cabinet didn’t lean, we considered disabling the gyro controls, but… well that would be no fun, so for the Sit Down type, we made it move too. (laughs)
NH: The players can just turn off gyro controls if they want, you know?
YO: And this is digressing a bit, but when we were developing the Sit Down version for Wii, we went and looked at a real arcade kit. At the time, the only machine in the city or suburbs was one over at “Game Fuji” in Ichikawa. So we made the trek to take some pictures of it, and the photos we took are the ones we wound up using for 3D Super Hang-on’s Sit Down frame. (laughs) The cabinet might not even be there anymore, so we are really in those guys’ debt!
* Lap Times & Continuing
YO: In 3D Super Hang On, we made it so your lap times get recorded now. Oh and we added a stage select. So if you get a game over on any of the courses, you can restart from the nearest odd numbered stage. The reason why you restart from the odd stages is that the backgrounds change with every odd numbered stage, so the game itself is made as if each two-stage pair is a single course. We actually did try and see what it’d be like to start from the even stages, but some of the checkpoints would be right in the middle of a curve, so it didn’t give you a good start. Odd stages always start like normal.
* Sound & Arcade Sound Effects
YO: We didn’t include any arcade cabinet sound effects this time.
NH: Right because there wasn’t much to record.
YO: We talked about putting the banging sound from when you lean on the machine in, but that’d be it. So since it’d be kind of weak with just that sound, we cut it. Instead, you can play the background music as much as you want, and the equalizer screen’s buttons are much easier to use this time around! (laughs)
NH:Everyone brings that up. Things that get thrown in at the end get put in rather hard to find places. That was the first thing we heard about.
- (smiles) Yeah, when I was playing 3D Space Harrier after it was released, I had to kind of search for it. (laughs)
YO: In that sense, M2 is getting better at this. (laughs)
Oh, and on another unrelated note, when we first ported Super Hang-on, we had ROMs on file internally for both the Sit Down and Mini Ride On types, but the Mini Ride On type ROM still had copy protection on it. So when we were porting to the Wii, we had to use the Sit Down type ROM. However, the courses for the Sit Down and Mini Ride On types are different. And you know, back when Super Hang-on was in arcades, I think…
NH: … More people played the Mini Ride On type. Probably.
YO: So we decided that we needed to use the Mini Ride On type. For the Wii version, we were in a dead heat between M2 working to get the copy protection off, and hitting the schedule deadline. It was neck and neck for a while, and once we hit beta, we wound up swapping the ROM into the game. Our QA test team quickly came back to us and said: “Um, all the stages have changed.”
- Well, that would be a bit of a surprise if you didn’t know. (laughs)
NH: Since that would basically mean starting testing all over from scratch, the test team was furious. We appreciate all the hard work they put in.
YO: That said, switching the ROM had the side effect of helping them clear the game (The Mini Ride On type is a little easier). However they found a bug about four days before we were going to master up. If you ran over the curb for an extended period, the game’s music would cut out. Suddenly we had to figure out whether this was something that happened in the original version or if it was a bug in the port, meaning we had to do an urgent verification on actual hardware. At the time, there were two places in Tokyo where Mini Ride On cabinets were running: Club Sega in Akihabara, and Warehouse in Shinonome (which no longer exists), but they were both broken at the time. (laughs) So we didn’t have any choice but to ask a favor from the guys at the Akihabara store to take the machine they had, which was pulled to pieces in the arcade’s backyard, put it back together and do emergency repair procedures on the broken spots. Then, when we tried reproducing the bug, bam! It showed up! (laughs) Since it occrred on the original hardware, we left the bug in for the SEGA AGES version, but for 3D Super Hang-on, since this was supposed to be the final version, we fixed it just like we fixed the SFX bug in 3D Space Harrier.
NH: That we did. It had to do with sound requests. Once a sound started playing, it would keep going waiting for the next “key off”, or the other way around. It’s something that happens with a lot of SEGA games.
- (laughs) OK! So what’s the “Special” feature for this title, then?
YO: Our special feature for this game is the “World Course”. It was a part of the “Trials” mode in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, but this time, if you race all four courses, the “Special” mode will unlock. This was an idea I had back when we were working on the SEGA AGES version, but something that’s always bothered me was the background music. You see, when you played the World Course [in the PS3/Xbox360 versions], you’d have to listen to the same song for something like 30 minutes. Even if you really liked that song, you tend to get tired of it. But this time, the music will change when the course changes. I brought the issue up with our director on the PS3/Xbox360 version, and he told me with the saddest look on his face, “If only you’d told me a bit sooner…” So right from the start of 3D Super Hang-on, I was like, “You remember that thing we talked about?”
YO: Now you choose which song you want from the very first Africa course, and the other three songs will change in order. By the time you get to the end, it’ll have played all four songs.
NH: Hope you enjoy it. (laughs)
YO: Oh, and for the PS3/Xbox 360 version’s World Course, we used the Sit Down Type courses, but this time you can choose between Sit Down and Mini Ride On types.
There’s also a World Course ending, which is something totally new that M2 made. Hopefully people will get a kick out of it. It’s based on the pre-existing graphics, but it’s the first new animated sequence for Super Hang-on in 25 years. (laughs)
NH: Actually we apparently only made one new graphic. We needed to add something. If you know the game, you’ll recognize it when you see it. Definitely check it out!
- (laughs) I’m excited about the release now, as well as the credits!
3D Super Hang-on’s biggest selling point actually isn’t the 3D
YO: You know, as a game 3D Super Hang-on might be a little plain, but if you’ve played 3D Space Harrier, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy. We’ve got the 3D from 3D Space Harrier, and the gyro controls. I want people to give the gyro controls a shot, so we put the gyro control option right there on the menu where it stands out the most.
- You’re really pushing the Gyro! (laughs)
YO: I’m telling you, 3D Super Hang-on’s gyro control has a taste all of its own. A lot of the fans who played 3D Space Harrier said “I didn’t see the point of playing in 3D on the 3DS so I’ve been playing in 2D. But I turn the 3D on for 3D Space Harrier.” We felt really honored to hear that. For those who haven’t played with the gyro sensor on 3DS much, please check it out in 3D Super Hang-on. The difficulty of the game is up to the player, but comparing this version’s controls to those of earlier versions, including the nunchuk on the Wii VCA version, we firmly believe the 3D version has the best controls.
- When I played it with the nunchuk, I found it really easy to maintain my course. You can do that on an analog stick [like in the PS3/Xbox360 version], but personally, I felt that tight spots were easier to manage on the nunchuk. I found it really useful when you go into a corner and hit turbo for a speed boost, or when you want to yank the handle slightly, or pull it and then hold your course.
YO: Yeah, the gyro controls make it even easier to hold that mid-lean state.
- I noticed this when I played 3D Space Harrier too, but it’s really noticeable how easily the 3D allows you to see where things are positioned. The PS3/Xbox360 version of SEGA AGES ONLINE also supported 3D, but I think there probably weren’t as many people on those platforms who experienced it. The 3DS has 3D built in at the hardware level, so as long as you have one, anyone can check it out. Plus you’ve got the gyro controls for another, different experience.
NH: Yeah, exactly. You don’t have to add anything else.
YO: The biggest sales point for 3D Super Hang-on actually isn’t its 3D. It’s the gyro controls. It’s really Gyro Super Hang-on. The one unfortunate thing is that if you are going to use gyro, you should turn off the 3D. But that’s not something we can work around.
- That’s something that’s tricky with naked-eye 3D, I guess. It moves you out of the sweet spot.
YO: Yeah. If you’re playing in 3D, I recommend turning off gyro and enjoying the game in widescreen mode.
- You guys had to work hard to get 3D graphics working on 3D Space Harrier, but how about 3D Super Hang-on?
NH: Since we had stereoscopic 3D in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, it was just a matter of porting it to this version. And while we were initially concerned due to the fact that the arcade version of Super Hang-on had slightly different hardware compared to Space Harrier (the CPU clock was different, etc), we were able to get it running.
YO: I think we were able to get all the polish in since this is the same team that’s been doing these ports over and over. If this was their first port, there would have been no way to get all this content packed in within the timeframe we had. By linking the projects up and increasing their number, we were able to accomplish this level of quality. We’ve ported Super Hang-on to 4 different types of hardware at this point, and that’s what allowed us to add all these modes within the development time we had. If it was just a case of porting Super Hang-on to the 3DS as a one-shot, the best we could’ve done was get the game running and that’s it.
- Even though Space Harrier and Super Hang-on themselves haven’t changed much over the years, your porting these titles from previous releases on more powerful systems and adding new features, so it seems like that would be hard considering processing power. But despite that, you’re able to port them due to the amount of experience you’ve accrued.
YO: At first, when M2 told me “it’s not going to work,” I thought to myself “What kind of nonsense is that?”
NH: Even now, we pull him aside and tell him, “It doesn’t work. Sorry…” (laughs)
YO: But if you wait a bit, they always come back and say “Ok, it’s running now.” See Horii-san? You can do anything if you put your mind to it. (laughs)
NH: It’s funny, you know. We’ve been at it like this for years now.
YO: Really though, I hate the tough love approach. (laughs)
NH: I think we’ll keep making these gradual advances in processing speed and data reduction. Even then it will be a slow improvement as we go along.
- By building games like that, you build leverage for the next project. And sometimes there’s a big pay off by combining things in a smart way.
NH: Yes, there are times when it does bear fruit. On the other hand, there are a lot of games out there that never had their time in the spotlight, you know? Like, Thunder Blade, and… um… Thunder Blade… (laughs)
YO: If we’d just put gyro controls into Super Hang-on and that’s the end, you’d probably just think, “well, that’s cute I guess…” But since we’re carrying on with the ports while making new stuff like that cool Moving Cabinet mode from Space Harrier, we’re able to make a bigger impact by combining the Arcade Machine features with gyro controls.
NH: It makes me wonder what cabinets for Afterburner or Galaxy Force would be like.
- How would you go about replicating that? Even if you give it the same description as the Arcade Machines for the other two games, the development approach and how it’d feel to play are completely different. Replicating that really requires building things one step at a time.
YO: If we were to port those, first we’d need the actual arcade machine. This time we had the photos on hand for the Sit Down type since we’d gotten them on a previous project, so it makes me want to document everything we can get our hands on, while we still can.
- That would be a ton of work. You know, as I play this with the gyro controls, I really think you’ve done a great job replicating the feeling of the cabinet, the slight difficulty that the leaning cabinet created, and the feeling when you cut back and forth. When things got really tough, I remember putting my feet down on the floor and just tilting the arcade machine. (laughs)
YO: When we were doing 3D Space Harrier, we wondered just how many people would get on board with this crazy idea.
NH: I wondered at first who we were even building it for.
- Certainly there were more than 1000 people that felt nostalgic for the moving cabinet and environmental sound effects. (laughs)
YO: The combination of those two was key. So I’m not going to say Super Hang-on is a simple game without it, but I hope people check this mode out.
NH: We’re running out of things to do now, so we want to hear from everyone next time their suggestions as what to try.
- Does that mean an open call for ideas? (laughs) This remake series seems like it really has to balance both the technical difficulty of emulating the game screen and the hardware, and emulating the cabinet itself.
NH: It’s not just a matter of getting the game to run at a perfect 60 frames per second, it’s the part about reproducing the authentic ambiance of the original that’s hard… And since Space Harrier wound up working so well… Everyone’s really busting their ass here. (laughs)
- (laughs) That’s because you raised the bar with 3D Space Harrier.
NH: Well, you could say that we’re burning both ends of the candle in order to knock everyone’s socks off. (laughs) To say we’re ‘looking for ideas’ might sound a bit weak, but please send us your feedback. (laughs)
- If anyone has any ideas for M2, give us a shout! (laughs) (NOTE: This article was originally posted some time ago, but M2 is always open to your opinions and feedback. Feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org )
YO: That said, I think we’re already moving a little bit ahead of what everyone expects. I think the series is coming along pretty well. I think with3D Super Hang-on, people probably could have guessed we would do ‘3D’ and ‘gyro controls’, , but I think the game has enough to excite the people who played the original arcade machines and make them say “Hey! Look how they did that!”
- This series weaves together a lot of different technology, and I always admire how none of the work goes to waste.
YO: Yeah, it really doesn’t.
NH: You can build a mountain out of trash. Once it’s larger than Everest, it’ll be worth something! (laughs)
YO: I hope players get a new appreciation for the 3DS hardware.
NH: Personally I think it’s a really nice piece of hardware. Though developing for it is exhausting. (laughs) Still, for the players, it’s a really nice machine.
- I’ve asked every time we do this, but what’s in the future for the 3D Remaster Project?
YO: 3D Space Harrier has done quite well for us, and I feel like it’s lowered the barriers to doing what we want to do next.
NH: Thank you very much.
YO: This series will keep going after 3D Super Hang-on. Since we had Space Harrier in development ahead of time for research purposes, we are expecting to pick up the pace after Super Hang-on. The next one is going to be a lot of fun as well, so sit tight!
- Alright, well you’ve got me interested! Thanks so much!
Copyright ©2013 Impress Watch Corporation, an Impress Group company. All rights reserved.
 Known as Sega Vintage Collection 3 outside Japan.
 Vintage Collection 3 overseas.
 Super Hang-on has two arcade cabinet formats in Japan: Sit Down type, a more standard kit with a chair and handlebars, or Mini Ride On type, which has a small motorcycle that you climb onto and tilt back and forth to control. The overseas arcade cabinet had slightly different configurations, but generally they were the same.
 3D Space Harrier contains sound effects that mimic the sounds of the original arcade cabinet. See the 3D Space Harrier interview for details.
 “master up” refers to creation of the final version of the game for submission to 1st party manufacturers.
Monday Nov 25, 2013
We are extremely excited to present to fans a series of interviews on our upcoming 3D Classics on the Nintendo 3DS. The interview originally took place across the Game Watch and Impress website, featuring both Yosuke Okunari from Sega of Japan and Naoki Horii from the developer M2. These interviews show not only the care that went into making the absolute best versions of these titles on the 3DS, but also a lot of the technical challenges in creating 3D versions of our classic SEGA games.
Big thanks to Game Watch and Impress, Okunari-san, and Horii-san for their involvement in making these interviews available to our western audience. We hope you enjoy these interviews and encourage you to feedback with your own questions or comments. Let’s begin with Space Harrier and information on how the project got started…
- Alright, let’s start by talking a little about this company called M2. Horii-san, do you mind?
Naoki Horii (below NH): Talk to people in the game industry and you’ll find out that everyone was a “gamer kid”. We’re no different ourselves, and our company’s first actual game was a MegaDrive title called Gauntlet. That was a game that you could play with four people, and some friends and I from school and the local arcade got together and built a copy of the game from memory. We remade it exactly as we remembered it, took it to a company called Tengen, and finally got the money we needed to buy the materials we needed. Just like that. So our first game was a highly faithful port of the arcade version. You could call it a ‘copy by eye’ since we remade what we saw. That’s where I started, and here I am twenty years later, happy with what we’ve accomplished.
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): He just wants to port the game he loved…
NH: Back in those days, arcade games were expensive and you couldn’t just buy them. Not only that but you had to keep feeding 100 yen coins into them. Even if you went and bought a port, it wouldn’t be the same thing. You’d think to yourself “Something’s just different.” We wanted it to play games as close to the original as possible, and eventually we figured we should just do it ourselves.
 Gauntlet was an action fantasy RPG game released by Atari in 1985. The MegaDrive version was released by Tengen. The MegaDrive version was released in 1993 and was called Gauntlet IV overseas.
- So it all started with Gauntlet.
NH: Back then, there wasn’t a good port of Gauntlet, so you couldn’t play with four players at home yet. Everything started once we thought “hey, we probably know this game well enough to build it.”
YO: Then eventually they started working with us (SEGA).
NH: Back in the time of Gunstar Heroes on the Game Gear, there was a SEGA employee named Hiroshi Aso. He approached us and said “Wow, you made Gauntlet, huh? Well how would you like to work on Game Gear? Go ahead and pitch a couple games you’d like to do.” So we suggested a game called Edward Randy. If you think about it, Gunstar Heroes is just an improved version of Edward Randy. So porting that to the Game Gear was our first job with SEGA.
YO: Gunstar Heroes is often regarded as a game that really pulled out all the stops when it comes to the MegaDrive’s capabilities, and trying to port that to the Game Gear was no small task. By the way, the Game Gear version is available in the Gunstar Heroes: Treasure Box, on sale now via PS2 Archives. You have to use a cheat code to play it though… (laughs)
NH: So we had a break from working with SEGA for about 4 years, and then we worked on the Windows version of Sakura Wars. We also helped out a bit on the Dreamcast version as well. The first time I saw the Saturn version, I thought to myself “Oh boy, this game is just massive”, and I definitely remember how much of a rough time we had on that project.
YO: After the Dreamcast version of Sakura Wars, M2 was doing other projects for a while. Then a PS2 action adventure game called Project Altered Beast came along, and internally we had the idea of including the original Altered Beast in the game as a bonus feature. It just happened that M2 was working on a port of the arcade version of Altered Beast at that time.
NH: We were trying to port it by ourselves, you know. I just had a hunch that something like this might come up, so we went ahead and ported it without being asked to. That’s how we got started, right?
YO: Yeah, but the whole “put Altered Beast in Project Altered Beast” thing died on the drawing board. However, the fact that M2 could do ports got shared around internally at SEGA. So for Sega Rally 2006, the idea of putting the original Sega Rally in the game came up, and M2 was basically a silver bullet. Right around that time, AM2 was working on a port of Virtua Fighter 2 for SEGA AGES 2500, so we had a ported Model2 engine available. However, there weren’t any production lines open for Sega Rally and AM2 couldn’t get around to it. So then we asked M2 if they wanted to handle it.
NH: That was just learning from imitation, though.
YO: This wound up being M2’s first PS2 job with SEGA. For VF2, AM2 basically used an emulation-style implementation, but the Sega Rally’s arcade board was a later version than VF2, so it wouldn’t run as-is. M2 analyzed the game engine on their own, and rebuilt the game in the process of porting Sega Rally. In the end, it took a while to get Sega Rally 2006 released and it ended up coming out later than Space Harrier. VF2 had been received really well, and we decided to continue the ports this way for the SEGA AGES 2500 games. Right after I’d finished up on Dragon Force, we got the OK to continue on with the series. We were talking to a lot of developers in order to build the next lineup of ports, and that’s when I met them for the first time.
 Known as The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy overseas. Released only in Japan in 1990 by Data East.
 This a reference to Sega Ages Vol. 25: Gunstar Heroes: Treasure Box, a PS2 game only released in Japan.
 AM2, short for Amusement Machine R&D Department 2, is one of SEGA’s development teams. They are responsible for many of SEGA’s popular franchises such as Virtua Fighter, Shenmue, Daytona USA, Project DIVA Arcade games.
- Oh really? Wow that’s unexpected.
YO: So from there, the idea of porting Altered Beast for SEGA AGES 2500 came up. But just doing an Altered Beast port as a packaged title would be kind of hard sales-wise, so we ended up having M2 port S.D.I & QUARTET, although in the end there probably wasn’t much of a sales difference between the two. (laughs) Next we said, “Hey, let’s do Space Harrier. Its hardware is pretty close to SYSTEM 16.” From there, we had M2 work on a couple of titles for us. And that’s how SEGA AGES 2500 Space Harrier II was born, which was released on PS2 Archives about 7 years ago.
NH: It still impresses me how much we code in assembly even now. Our staff is really incredible…
YO: They showed me what were basically finished versions of Altered Beast and Shinobi running on SYSTEM 16, and though the sound wasn’t working yet, I figured if it was running this well, they’d have it up and running in no time. Boy was I wrong…
NH: When we tried to accurately reproduce all of SYSTEM 16 on a PS2, we couldn’t get the FM sound sources to fit in. When we thought about where to onload those, we remembered the PS2’s I/O Processor (33MHz) for the PS backwards compatibility feature. So we banged out some assembler code for it and got the FM sound source working. (For details check out Sega Voice Vol.15)
YO: It was Space Harrier’s 20th anniversary at the time, and since it’s a game from 20 years ago, we figured that the PS2 would have no problem running a game like Space Harrier. I mean, it ran on the Dreamcast after all (it was in Shenmue), but that’s just not how it worked out. The ins and outs of emulating things were still being figured out back then. Being new to this, even I thought we could churn out ports pretty quickly, but it turns out that wasn’t really the case.
It turns out that since the hardware is different, it takes quite a lot of machine power to emulate these games. M2 is quite fussy about these kinds of things, and they wanted to really get the controls right from the get-go. In other words, eliminating input lag. Around this time, people were really concerned about this term “input lag”. They’d say “really, the hard part is reducing input lag as much as possible.” Space Harrier is actually one of the easier titles in this sense, but for other games, reducing input lag is a big task and took up a lot of our time.
NH: There are a lot of situations where if we could just slow the processing down by a single frame, everything would be much easier.
YO: Sort of like how when you use a number of polygons at 60 frames per second, and then run the program at 30 frames per second, you can use twice the number of polygons?
NH: Yeah, it’s kind of similar, but with input lag, you have to grind away on a lower program layer. If you can get just 1 more frame worth of time, you can do what you can during that frame, which makes things easier.
YO: Also, while we were trying to port the arcade version of Space Harrier, I thought releasing the port for 2,500 yen ($25) might be a little tricky since a remake already existed. I wanted to have some other versions ported as well, and since M2 had made progress on MegaDrive and Mark III emulation, so we decided to make a bundle. But due to some concern that there’d be some confusion with the remake being released first, we added “II” to the title.
NH: We had this idea that if people thought the game was Space Harrier II from the MegaDrive, they might not pick it up. Actually, I remember Okunari-san saying “If we port this, people will be able to play it not only on the PS2, but on 3 and 4 as well.” Well, now you finally can play it on all versions on the PS3 I guess. (laughs) When the backwards compatibility feature was removed from the PS3, we were a little worried. (laughs) But now we’re in an age where all that work is available for 800 yen (~$8).
YO: The Game Gear version is also in SEGA AGES 2500 Space Harrier II as a hidden feature now, but at the start we had no intention of doing that. Namely because the Game Gear version is a downgraded version of the Master System one, and since it was built for a portable game system, the resolution wasn’t great for playing on a TV screen. Still, M2 said they wanted to include everything they could. However, since the hardware specs for the Master System and Game Gear differ, M2 couldn’t get the Game Gear version working and were about to give up on it. But we got it in at the very end.
NH: 7 years ago, my take on it was: “I don’t want to buy Space Harrier again.” I wanted to make a version that had everything you need. (both laugh) Then later on we wound up developing the Wii and 3D versions. At this point I hope I can just ask for everyone’s forgiveness since I buy them all myself. (both laugh)
YO: Yeah we’d not planned to develop the Game Gear version at the start, but once we got past beta it was like “Game Gear version got in on time! It’s done!” however it really wasn’t on time at all. (laughs) The manual was already done, and the release date was set so we couldn’t advertise it at all. So we wound up making it an unlockable feature and said: “Oh well, you get another game in there, it’s just hidden away.” But as a result, it seems that people thought that every installment of the PS2 SEGA AGES 2500 series had to have some sort of extra game in it.
NH: You were really brave to hear us out there at the very end.
YO: Well, you still send me outrageous requests even now… (both laugh)
NH: Oh I don’t know. I think we’ve gotten better…
YO: That’ll be the day! (laughs) But anyways, this theme of specs changing while M2 builds the ports certainly echoes down the line.
 SDI is a shooting game released in 1987 for Arcade and later the Master System. Quartet is a side scrolling shooter released in 1986 for Arcade and the Master System.
 SYSTEM 16 is a 16-bit arcade board released in 1985 that ran games like SDI, as well as Golden Axe, Fantasy Zone and Shinobi. Space Harrier runs on the same board as Hang-On, which is similar to System 16 but with more processing power.
 Assembly code is one step above coding directly in machine code. It’s generally considered very difficult to work with.
 Beta is a development milestone state that generally indicates the game is functionally complete, but there are bugs and glitches that need to be fixed before the game can be released.
- So the scene was set by SEGA AGES 2500 Space Harrier II.
YO: One of the most last-minute moments we had was with Fantasy Zone Neo Classic in SEGA AGES 2500 Fantasy Zone Complete Collection. Neo Classic was based on a game originally made by Sunsoft, so we had to rush to get a contract in place with them. (laughs)
NH: Oh really?
And the mysteries of Space Harrier keep on coming!
YO: Back to the subject at hand, Space Harrier was ported to the PS2 with M2’s considerable technical skill and all was grand. For a series based on older game ports, I thought we had a great launch, and we got a lot of feedback.
One instance that particularly surprised me was when we put S.D.I. & Quartet and Space Harrier II out for display at the Tokyo Game Show. Since it was our first time showing off the full version in front of customers, I was at the booth myself. The first people to stop by on the first day were M2’s first SEGA supervisor, Aso-san, who was also the developer for the original arcade version, as well as two developers from ”Game Rotsubo”, who ported Space Harrier for the Super 32x and Sega Saturn.
YO: I didn’t even have time to be surprised before one of the guys started playing. These guys are legends to me. They brought Space Harrier to the 32X and Sega Saturn, which had had much lower specs than the PS2. These guys played our PS2 version, with eyes as big as dinner plates. I mean, you know these guys LOVE Space Harrier to death, so of course they are going to be interested in people who work on it. So they played up to Stage 7 (Lucasia: where the mammoths come out), and then I heard one go, “Ah!”
So I got all nervous, thinking “Oh man, what…” and then asked them about their impressions after they’d finished. They gave it their seal of approval, saying “It’s really well done.” But then they said “There’s one thing. On stage 7, there are these slanting boulders in the background. The issue is with the background horizon…. you see the boulders are supposed to be on the ground, and are only supposed to be displayed below the horizon line, and when Harrier runs on the ground, they’re clipping into the horizon line. If the line goes up, there’s a bug where the color gets a little weird and turns slightly black. That isn’t happening on this PS2 version.”
NH: In this case you’re seeing the correct graphic on the PS2 hardware, but that’s because it differs from the architecture of the original Space Harrier’s hardware.
YO: That’s how the boulders in the first half of the 7 stage display. The original staff said “it’s a bug, but it was pretty how the boulders sort of twinkled.”
- Huh, how about that.
NH: I don’t know if anyone else has pointed that out, but their comment was the first time we’d heard about it.
YO: I think in the end, they were probably the only ones who pointed it out. In any case, being a newbie myself, I wound up thinking the port had a long way to go, and we could do even better. Oh and there was another problem that came up regarding the height of the horizon line. We addressed this with the “Harrier’s moving area” option in 3D Space Harrier.
When the PS2 version was released, we saw comments on the net saying that if the player sits at the highest position on screen, the horizon line’s uppermost position would differ from the arcade board. We thought “Well, we built the game to the exact spec of the original, so why are people seeing differences?” At the time, we had no idea why. That and the sound quality. People said that the sound isn’t the same as the OST CD or the arcade version. Amps and other equipment will make it different from the arcade version at a very basic level anyways, but since M2 wanted to make sure there was no input lag they had to use some of the game’s processing power to eliminate it, and that slightly weakened the sound quality.
NH: From that point on, there were probably some games we worked on where there’s a difference in audio between the game and the Sound Test menus. If you noticed that, let us know. It’s easier to lighten the processor load in a Sound Test menu.
YO: You can hear the difference in the hidden sound mode in PS2’s Fantasy Zone Complete Collection.
NH: Yeah, I seem to recall we did it there.
YO: M2 is getting better at this, and the quality’s also rising since we are devoting more of the console’s processing power to sound emulation.
- Interesting (laughs). So it sounds like in your experience, the game’s sound quality was limited by the power of the console, to the extent that you were performing calculations internally and then outputting the sound.
NH: When using streaming output, you can’t reproduce the behavior where some sounds would disappear due to sound effects being played. It depends on the game, but a lot of people actually like that effect. We wanted to cater to that need. But if streaming is the best option for a particular game, we’ll go with that.
- You used both approaches in Galaxy Force II, right?
YO: Well for that collection, there weren’t that many titles included, so we thought we’d give it a shot. So yes, there’s a streaming version and an internal sound source version. Oh, and an FM Towns version. (laughs)
NH: For the streaming version of Galaxy Force II, we had a guy at Wavemaster record it for us, so it turned out really nicely. At that point we found out that the original PCB version outputs the L/R channels backwards. (laughs) Since the original was backwards and thus ‘correct’, we matched this up with the arcade speaker specs.
 The FM Towns is a PC variant made by Fujitsu that specialized in multimedia applications. Galaxy Force was released on the FM Towns with CD-DA streamed music.
- There’s always something, huh?
YO: So anyways, after releasing Space Harrier II on the PS2 in 2005, we decided to release Space Harrier onto the Virtual Console Arcade in 2009. Being blessed with another chance to release the title, we wanted to make sure the Stage 7 bug could be reproduced, as well as put some extra effort into the sound. We also wanted to look into the Analog Stick and Horizon Line problems.
- So you finally got a chance to poke around this mystery, eh?
YO: On SEGA’s side, we have a Space Harrier machine that we keep for cataloguing purposes, so I actually went down and played it in the warehouse. And it’s true; the horizon line in the PS2 version is higher than the arcade version. It was different. On the original machine, the Tomos enemies that appear in the 1st stage are easier to shoot. I wanted to know why the arcade version was so different, so I went into test mode to take a look and noticed that when I pulled on the stick, the analog input wouldn’t max out. Which means that the controls were programmed that way to move the cabinet.
When we made the PS2 version, we did look at the original arcade board, but we didn’t actually look at the full arcade cabinet. That’s why it’s different. So for the Wii Virtual Console Arcade version, we took the arcade control differences into account. The Wii version can be controlled using the nunchuk, after all, so for us, the Wii version was the one we were most satisfied with.
- So finally that puzzle was solved!
YO: But even after implementing the control corrections, we still got comments saying it wasn’t right. Something was still wrong with the horizon line. Now it was too low! We had players saying “You got it right on the PS2 version, so why couldn’t you do the same for the Wii version?” I decided to visit as many arcades that had Space Harrier machines as I could, and studied the various videos that were posted to the net. And there were cabinets where the horizon would rise as high as it did on the PS2 version.
- So in other words, the PS2 and the Wii versions were both accurate ports?
YO: We puzzled over why the horizon line was higher on certain cabinets, and the dev team came to the conclusion that the sticks in the cabinets were probably loose. Our warehouse kit hadn’t really been used all that much, and it also gets maintenance from time to time, so it’s in pretty good condition. But the cabinets at arcades have been out there for over 20 years, and their sticks get worn out. When you fix an arcade stick that’s broken, its throw distance changes, and as a result the player’s movement also changes. When sticks loosen, you can move them further than you previously could, allowing you wider control of Harrier.
So anyone who plays the cabinet nowadays may be using a joystick that’s in poor shape, and they might find that the horizon line is higher than what they remember as the real Space Harrier, and we can’t deny that. Generally speaking, we were left with the conclusion that the Wii version is in line with what the developers imagined at the original release. As a side note, the 32X and Sega Saturn version differ in the same way, with the Saturn version’s horizon line staying low like the Wii version.
- Sounds like this one wasn’t all that straightforward.
YO: That’s why for the 3DS version, we believe we’ve addressed player concerns by putting in 3 levels of movement ranges.
What did it mean to add stereoscopic 3D to Space Harrier?
- OK Finally we are at the point where we can actually talk about 3D Space Harrier! (laughs)
YO: Three years since we released the Wii version and it’s finally here! (laughs) Sorry for the wait!
NH: Geez, that was a super long leadup! (all laugh)
YO: When the Nintendo 3DS was released, it included Virtual Console on it, which led us to start working on Space Harrier. At the same time, Nintendo indicated to us that they were looking for games that also use 3D. I thought, “Man, I want to do that.” So I went to Horii-san and said “We’ve got to do this 3D thing,” and he burst my bubble saying, “Oh come on, that’s ridiculous! Do you have any idea how much trouble that’d be to do!?” I took a look at the sample 3D version of Xevious provided by Nintendo for reference, and I really wanted to do something similar, but I kept being told that re-making 2D games in 3D was a pretty big effort.
- Remaking a game originally built in 2D into 3D… tell us about that.
YO: If you want an idea of how hard it is, just consider how M2 has been building games. They’ve been using emulator techniques that replicate the hardware since the PS2 days. That’s one way of faithfully reproducing the originals, but the drawback is that it’s really hard to go back and add things to the code. For example, you wouldn’t be able to add in extra bosses, or build new stages.
NH: That’s why you won’t see extra features that were added to console or PC ports of older SEGA arcade games in the SEGA AGES ports. They weren’t in the original game.
YO: Re-making games in 3D is almost impossible for similar reasons. When you take a character sprite that was originally in 2D and bring it into a 3D viewpoint, you have to build the graphic from scratch. So for example, back in the 8-bit era, very large enemies were often displayed as backgrounds. But if you did a simple 3D conversion of an enemy like that, it would end up being on a different plane from the player character and look like it’s out on the horizon. If you want real 3D, then it’s basically the same as rebuilding the game from scratch.
NH: Some things you can change, and some things you can’t. At the time I thought we could probably build a visual copy of the game in 3D, and I wanted to. But cost-wise, there was no way it was going to happen, you know? This was back just before the 3DS release.
YO: But when I asked Horii-san if there wasn’t some way to rebuild the game in 3D, he said “Let’s do it” (both laugh)
- You guys are crazy! (laughs)
NH: Well, if you pick up the 3DS version I’m sure you’ll understand, but you feel like you’re playing the definitive version Space Harrier when it’s in 3D, right? I know we’re already there, but when I played the game, I felt like we had finally arrived in the 21st century, that’s how much of a killer app Space Harrier3D was for me. Once we knew what it was going to look like, it really motivated us when we were working on it. The whole staff put a lot of thought into how we were going to get this into 3D because we knew that if we could get it done, it was going to be really cool.
YO: M2 told me that “This is going to be really hard to develop, so be aware of that,” to which I said “Let’s do it,” and so we did. Now of course, we’re SEGA, so if we’re going to make 3D games, we had to start with a 3D shooter, which of course means Space Harrier. So there we were, working on Space Harrier for the 3rd time.
NH: That’s how we got to 3D Space Harrier. We had to recreate the game world (called Dragonland, for those who don’t know) in 3D from the graphical depth of the original arcade cabinet, which wasn’t ever made in 3D. There were people who helped and worked with development who’d never played Space Harrier before, and some told me they couldn’t get good at the game. When I asked them what they have trouble with, they’d say it was hard to tell whether objects were right in front of their character or not.
Once we had the game in 3D, the same people came back and said “OK, now I get it! I can play it now!” Hearing that made me really happy we went through with the project. We started this game because I wanted to do it, so the sales didn’t matter to us, but moments like that really surprised me.
- So by making the game 3D, it was easier to understand where enemies and objects are placed.
YO: For the PS2 version, we included a version of Space Harrier 3D originally released on the Mark III that you could play by putting in a cheat code. That game is much easier to play in 3D. When you can see things in three dimensions, you see where the background stops, and you know what to dodge, so it’s a lot easier that way. When you play the same mode in 2D, it’s really, really hard. On the other hand, one could say that 3D Space Harrier’s difficulty is a lot lower than the arcade original. The stage where you dodge the fast scrolling pillars in particular is a lot easier. Dodging enemy bullets is simpler, and you know how long you can wait before you have to get out of the way.
NH: Being easier to play is certainly one aspect. One thing I also really want people to notice is how much more spacious and expansive the game world feels in 3D. Check out the screen.
- In 3D, you only have to worry about what’s right in front of you. For 2D games you have to watch the whole screen, so the gameplay definitely changes.
YO: Yes, it’s the same game but different.
NH: There are still a lot of games that we have fun ideas for. For this game in particular though, I want to say that playing with the 3D effect off is out of the question.
YO: It’s the same for movies. If you watch the same movie in 3D and 2D, you certainly watched the same thing. But it’s a totally different experience.
- When I saw Space Harrier in 3D for the first time, I think it was a modified “3D” version of the X68000 release. I think the programmer must have figured out the positions and behavior of the background and sprites to build the 3D. I’m no expert though, so I’m just guessing. Still, for 3D Space Harrier, I imagine M2 had to get in there and actually fiddle with the ROM itself to get the arcade version running. How did you create the 3D effect? You’d need to understand not only the architecture of the original hardware and software, but also understand the structure of the hardware you’re porting to, as well as modifying your emulation engine, right?
NH: Yes, that’s right. You have to understand the underlying game before you can add things on top. For this project, we did it all using a method that’s similar to emulation, however strictly speaking, it’s not emulation.
YO: At the core, there’s a program running that’s based on emulation techniques.
NH: Specifically, the code that ran on the arcade CPU, the MC68000, isn’t used in 3D Space Harrier. Replacing that code allowed us to finally get the 3D working.
YO: That’s what we mean when we say this game is the result of all of the hard work and technical skill developed up until now.
NH: Since we could take our time with Space Harrier 3D, we were able to do things like support wide screen.
YO: Wide screen support in this version is a first for any port of Space Harrier. The only other game we’ve done that supported wide screen was the PS2 version of Galaxy Force II.
NH: For game design reasons, Harrier’s movement range is the same as it always was, but it just feels better to play in wide screen.
YO: This is the 3rd Space Harrier I’ve requested from M2, and it might really be the last Space Harrier, or at least the last port. So we wanted to make it the definitive version. When we were interviewed for the PS2 version of Space Harrier II, we said that if you bought the PS2 version, you’d never need another version, but 7 years has passed, and well… turns out there was still a lot of work to be done. (laughs)
NH: I thought about it a lot, and after that the PS2 version was done, I told Okunari-san that I wanted to go and play the arcade kit in storage one more time. So I did, and while I was there, I put up a microphone next to the kit’s motor and recorded the motor sounds.
YO: Wait, you went just to record some sounds? (both laugh)
NH: Yeah, so? (laughs) When you play [3D Space Harrier] in arcade mode, you’ll hear sounds we put in, which are me hitting the buttons and the motor running. In that sense, this version’s got some funny quirks to it.
 The X68000 was a home computer made by Sharp Corp and released only in Japan in 1987.
 3D Space Harrier features the ability to turn on sounds the arcade machine makes as well as have the screen gyrate as it would if you were playing a real arcade cabinet.
- Maybe in the future, we’ll have consoles that let you play in 3D, and you can reproduce the whole cabinet and feel of the arcade in your living room…the ideas are endless.
NH: Since you can install games to hardware nowadays, something I’ve always wanted to do is take all the sounds from the games you own and recreate the cacophony of lots of attract screens in an arcade. You could make something like a virtual arcade.
- Recreate the entire atmosphere of the arcade, I see.
NH: It’s not in the cards at the moment, but it’s something I’d like to try one day. In any case, there’s tons of stuff I want to do. Like Thunder Blade or something. If there are 2,560,000 people out there who want that, I think SEGA would be happy to let us do that for them.
YO: Let’s consider it if 3D Space Harrier sells that many copies. Heck, 256,000 people would be fine. (both laugh)
- OK well it looks like our time is about up. Can you guys sum up the key points of Space Harrier 3D for us?
You can choose from 4 different display options: 4:3 like the original game, widescreen optimized for the 3DS, full screen, and an arcade cabinet mode that recreates the feel of the original machine.
YO: For Space Harrier 3D, it all comes down to the 3D support we’ve added that took so much effort as we described earlier. And it’s not a copy by eye, it’s based on the original code base, and it plays just the same. It’s also the first time Space Harrier has ever supported wide screen. And there’s also M2’s excellent arcade mode.
NH: I hope people reading this to give that mode a try. It’s fun and brings back a lot of memories.
YO: When that mode first went in, I said to Horii-san, “Since the cabinet’s chair moves with the monitor in the arcade version, the screen shouldn’t actually tilt, right?” Remember?
NH: Yeah yeah, I know. But, we’re talking about nostalgia here, you know? (laughs)
YO: So that part doesn’t quite match up with reality, but it definitely has an “ambiance” and it’s fun. Oh and the arcade kit sound effects are there too.
NH: The arcade cabinet’s motor watches the signals from the original arcade board, so it knows when you’re moving right, or when you’re moving left. The sound effect timing is all the same as the original.
YO: In addition, the background music quality has really improved, and we’ve finally put in an equalizer. We didn’t ask for it but M2 threw that in as an extra. (laughs)
NH: If you play around with the equalizer, you can get pretty close to the original arcade feel. Players can use it to recreate the same environment that they remember.
YO: There are presets too. I hope people give it a try.
NH: Okunari-san might think we had a lot of free time on our hands by including the equalizer. (laughs)
YO: Even just playing it as-is out of the box, I think this port probably has the best sound reproduction than any previous one. This is in large part due to Manabu Namiki’s involvement, right?
NH: Yes, Namiki-san checked the game until the very end. The extra song as well.
YO: Since M2 had hired Namiki-san around that time, he participated in the project as an internal staff member, and he was able to give the game really thorough oversight. The arcade environment sound idea started with him, right?
NH: Yeah, he had a lot to do with that. He’s the one who put out the idea for the arcade kit sounds. The motor and button sounds.
YO: For those sounds, you can’t just put a mic down and record them because there’s all these other loud sounds that get in the way, so we had to turn off all the cabinet’s fans and record the right, front and rear sounds over and over. Then we took the best samples out of those and included them. Same for the button sounds. Typical players might not care about this sort of stuff, but I hope there’s maybe one in a thousand who will really be into it. Every time this game is ported, people tell us “It’s not really Space Harrier without an arcade kit.” That’s totally true. However, since we can’t port the kit itself, we do what we can outside of that and this is how it turns out. So in a certain sense, 3D Space Harrier is our answer to that problem.
 Manabu Namiki is a Japanese video game composer.
- I see.
YO: Also, and this is a sort of down to the nitty gritty, but there was a bug in the PS3 and Wii versions where certain sound effects would play and not stop. It was in the original arcade game, and we’ve made the decision to fix it for this version. Up until now, we’ve prioritized reproducing the original arcade board as faithfully as possible, but now that it supports wide screen and 3D, the 3DS version no longer reproduces the original per se, and it wouldn’t be ideal for a first time player to run into a bug like that. So we fixed it. We also don’t force any sort of slowdown replication on the game. So I think it’s safe to say that this is the perfect version of Space Harrier.
- From what I’ve seen, I’m certainly hoping that’s the case.
YO: Lastly, if you watch the porting staff credits, you can find out all the names of enemies that appear in the game. We often heard from the fans that they wanted to know the enemy names, so M2 put in a little sequence that shows off the original character names. The names come from a 10 year old game called Typing Space Harrier, where you had to type in the character names. Most of the characters besides bosses didn’t have names at the time, so Yu Suzuki named them. So these are official enemy names from the game designer himself. I had no idea about this until the guy who made Typing Space Harrier told me. I think fans of Space Harrier will be really happy about it. I mean, I could just go on and on. (laughs)
- Alright, sounds like there’s still more to talk about.
Naoki Horii (below, NH): You know, for the Space Harrier arcade machine on the menu screen, what I really wanted to do was use the AR feature to put a Space Harrier machine in my room.
Yousuke Okunari (below, YO): We totally ran out of time for that one… (laughs)You know, when we were making the arcade machine’s model on the menu screen, we didn’t have any pictures of the cabinet from all three sides (front, back, side). I think we had the design layout for it, and pictures from certain sides only, but we didn’t have one from the front. However, awhile back, Dreamcast Magazine made a papercraft version of the cabinet, and wanted to put a picture of it in Space Harrier II’s manual for PS2. They had lent us some photos they were using to make the papercraft, which came in very handy. Thanks Umeda-san! (laughs)
… However, there’s actually a difference between the papercraft cabinet and the model in-game. Can you guess what it is? It might be hard because it’s spinning around.
- Hmm, I don’t know…
YO: See here on the back of the seat, there’s a little portion that looks like an exhaust pipe. On the machine in the warehouse that they photographed for the papercraft, it’s white. But on an actual arcade machine, there’s a light there which flashes red. It seems that the machine we keep in the warehouse is one of the first models, a prototype or a preproduction model, or something, but anyways there’s a light in the middle. Also, the one in the warehouse doesn’t have the gameplay instruction plate under the monitor. M2 noticed that later on and drew one up for us.
Other than the papercraft one, there was a toy version of the Space Harrier arcade cabinet built for UFO Catchers as well, and that one has the white portion as well. We went out to some modern arcades and took pictures, and when you compare them, you can see the difference. I also asked M2 to redo the cabinet on the title screen once as well. You can’t really tell by looking at two dimensional photos, but once it was put into 3D, the differences in the molding were pretty apparent.
 Often called ‘claw crane’ games in the West.
- So you had to make some more changes. You guys really get deep into the details. (laughs)
YO: Maybe we should talk about the controls too? The slide pad controls are similar to the arcade in the sense that once you let go of the slide pad, the stick goes back to neutral. But if you’re using a d-pad, it’s more console-like because when you let go, Harrier will stay in the same position. This has always been the case with previous ports. For people who played in the arcade, they’ll be used to having the stick return to neutral, but that’s not the case for console players. Oh and also, for this version, we’ve added touch screen support.
- I really appreciated having the slide pad and d-pad controls active at the same time, and being able to switch between them on the fly. Rapid fire is included as well, and playing on the touch screen is easier than one might expect.
The arcade version of HAYO OH, unleashed at last!?
- … What?
NH: We’ve added the final boss from the Mark III version of Space Harrier, HAYA OH, in true arcade style. You can call it a reward for players that push the game really hard. HAYA OH’s music is played through the arcade sound generator as well. I hope it’s a nice surprise when you run into him in game.
- Oh! Was that the ‘extra song’ that you referred to in our previous article?
NH: Yes, we were checking that track up until the very end.
YO: It doesn’t come out quite as crazy as the original… But you know, it seemed like there was some rule about the Space Harrier ports where HAYA OH would never be included in the arcade modes. M2 and myself really wanted to do something about that. At first we thought we couldn’t. But then we said, “let’s make it happen.”
NH: You know, if we hadn’t put HAYO OH in, we might have been able to get this game out last year… Just kidding. (both laugh) Anyways, he’s in there.
YO: This is what you get when you grumble about things for a straight year.
NH: We built HAYO OH per the original arcade programming. We basically went in and fiddled with the programs for SQUILLA and GODARNI and were able to get HAYA OH working. I think it’s pretty impressive if you consider that HAYA OH is working on top of the original program. Like, this would probably actually work on the original arcade board. That’s the level at which we built it.
YO: Did Mr. Namiki do the song arrangement?
NH: The main programmer, Akira Saito, made the arrangement, and then Mr. Namiki came in and advised on specific parts of the track. If you know their work and give it a listen, I think you’ll be able to hear the synergy between them.
 SQUILLA and GODARNI are the 1st and 3rd stage bosses, respectively.
 Mr. Saito is a programmer at M2, who was in the past was involved in creating sound drivers for the X68000.
- Sounds like a team-up that’ll make a lot of people happy.
YO: For the 3DS port, we’ve made changes to the game specs from the PS2 and Wii Virtual Console versions. We wanted to keep some of the gameplay tension, so we got rid of unlimited continues. So to get HAYO OH to appear, you need to get all the way to stage 18, starting from stage 1. You can change the number of lives and difficulty any way you want and use all 3 continues, but that’s the underlying condition.
We also put in a stage select for stages you’ve already cleared. So if you start on Stage 18 and beat VALDA without dying, you’ll fight HAYO OH.
If you can beat him, a menu item labeled “special” will show up. You can turn this off to prevent HAYA OH from appearing when you fulfill his requirements. Also, this options lifts the usual 3 continue limit and you’ll have unlimited continues. So it’s a bit more arcade-like that way.
- Sounds like something I can look forward to. So is the “SEGA 3D Remake Project” going to keep going?
YO: Well a lot of that will depend on how 3D Space Harrier does, but since we think it turned out great in 3D, we’re going to continue development along this line. Lots of people are guessing which games we might do next, and we want to make some of those titles happen. But there are going to be some titles that make people say: “What? You’re going to remake that in 3D?” I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction.
That said, as I mentioned early, actually remaking games in 3D is very work-intensive and difficult compared to putting games out on the Virtual Console. It’s similar to when we were originally porting things to PS2. It’s the same with porting Game Gear titles to Virtual Console, but the amount of games we can keep putting out depends on how fans react. Personally I keep we can just keep going and going.
We started developing the SEGA 3D Remake Project at the same time as the 3DS Virtual Console. Game Gear got started in March of this year , and there’s been over 10 titles that have gone up for it on Virtual Console. We want to keep working next year to get games out for the Virtual Console and the SEGA 3D Remake Project.
NH: Going forward, I want to put a lot of polish into the 3D, and take our time releasing whichever ones seem profitable. I want to take the games that people think would be fun to play in 3D, build them well and get them out in the wild. I hope everyone will support us.
 2012 was the date of this article, so March 2012 for the Japanese Game Gear Virtual Console.
- From here on out, do you expect the 3D remake work to get more efficient as you continue to release more of these games?
NH: Since we’ve built a shared architecture that’s the basis for our ports, we expect things to pick up. It also depends on the pros and cons of the particular game we are working on.
YO: Yeah, there are titles that people think would be absolutely amazing in 3D, but if you ported them, the graphics would look totally wrong in 3D. So to get a game like that into 3D, you’d be better off building it from scratch off a visual reference. So then the next question is what’s the most efficient way to do that. In any case, there are some follow-up games that I really want to get out, so the series won’t end with Space Harrier.
NH: There could be a game that has a ton of fan support, for which we’ll forego the shared architecture and spend the extra time remaking it on its own.
- If that happens, it might be hard to put a price on it, don’t you think?
YO: Well, Space Harrier is Space Harrier, so we wouldn’t be able to justify a significant price difference from what we already have on Virtual Console. We’ve heard a lot of people wonder how many times they can actually buy Space Harrier, but this time the game is in 3D, which really showcases how different it is from previous ports. We hope everyone gives it a shot.
YO: Thank you for your support!
- Thank you very much as well!
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