Originally posted May 29th, 2013 on Impress Watch. Siliconera is coordinating with SEGA to share these in-depth interviews about classic games like Altered Beast and the Sega MegaDrive. Translated by SEGA. Edited by Siliconera.
|About Altered Beast:|
|Altered Beast is an action game that was released for the MegaDrive on November 27, 1988 in Japan, and later overseas.
The story is based around two Greek warriors who have obtained the power of the beast from Zeus, and set forth to free the goddess Athena, who has been kidnapped by demons. The game can be played by two players simultaneously and was initially released in arcades. It was subsequently ported and released on the MegaDrive.
The player can obtain “Spirit Balls” by defeating two-headed wolves, which will cause him/her to transform through different body phases: Man, Giant Man, and then Super Man. Obtaining a Spirit Ball while in the Super Man form will transform the player into their titular Beast form.
The Beast you transform into depends on the stage you’re in. There is the Werewolf, powered by fire; the Were-dragon, king of the skies; the Were-bear, who can petrify its foes with its breath; and the Were-tiger, who can attack with vicious shockwaves. Transforming allows you to use a variety of new and more powerful attacks. These transformations are extremely important when facing stage bosses.
LEFT: Altered Beast (arcade version) in the Sega Vintage Collection. RIGHT: Wii Virtual Console (MegaDrive Version).
“We needed MegaDrive games in the mix to stabilize the rate at which we could put out titles”
Plus, the “Random Form”
I know you guys are busy, but thanks again for taking some time with me to talk about 3D Altered Beast.
Yosuke Okunari, Producer (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, President of M2 (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.1 (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”?2
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.
|Rejected names for “Impulsive Transformation”:|
|“Chef’s Selection” Transformation||“Roll the Dice” Transformation|
|Heart-racing Transformation||Gamble Transformation|
|Lottery Transformation||Shocking Transformation|
|Schrodinger’s Transformation||Mysterious Transformation|
|Adlib Transformation||Chaotic Transformation|
|Try your Luck Transformation||Dark Transformation|
|Daily Special Transformation||Miracle Transformation|
|Ambiguous Transformation||Dream Transformation|
|Fuzzy Transformation||Abnormal Transformation|
|Some curve ball names:|
|Shuffle Beast||Zeus’ Pranks|
3. Despite the common English usage, hentai has a couple of synonyms in Japanese, one of which means “to change form”.
…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-related4 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
The next title is a MegaDrive game, and also the most challenging one yet?!
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 third and fourth 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.
Hmm. 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!
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