Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sega Game Cards

Western arcade gamers were accustomed to overflowing pockets of loose change, but Japanese arcade centres had a more elegant solution: Game Cards. These were magnetic cards, pre-loaded with credits and read by a card reader attached to the arcade cabinet. As the card was used, the reader punched holes to denote the number of credits used.


Two types of card were common: 500 cards provided 12 credits and 1000 cards 24 credits. Most games were set to 2 credits per play, although this was variable. For ¥500 you therefore gained credits and a collectable card to keep.

Cards were branded by game, but could be used with any compatible machine. It was common for game centres to add their personal branding to the cards and many variants exist. The system was reportedly not successful in the long-term (source: Sega Arcade History).

The Sega cards were numbered as follows. I'll complete missing entries as I find out more information.

1 SPACE HARRIER (Number not shown on card)
2 FANTASY ZONE (Number not shown on card)
3 OUTRUN
4 ALEX KIDD
5 SUPER HANG-ON (1000 version)
6 DUNK SHOT
SUPER HANG-ON (500 version)
8 AFTERBURNER
9 SUPER LEAGUE
10 HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP
11 THUNDER BLADE
12 HOT ROD
13 GALAXY FORCE II
14 POWER DRIFT
15 UNKNOWN

16 UNKNOWN

17 TURBO OUTRUN

18 SUPER MONACO GP

19 G-LOC (1000 Version)

20 G-LOC (500 Version)

21 R-360

Cards were also available exclusively at the AM and AOU trade shows from Sega booths. Some example follow.

24th AM SHOW (OUTRUN & HOTROD)


25TH AM SHOW (HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP & THUNDER BLADE)

87 AOU SHOW (SUPER HANG-ON, then HANG-ON II)

88 HAPPY NEW HARRIER
SEGA ATTRACTIONS

OTHER GAMES



Special thanks to Sean Tagg for helping me with images and information for this post. Don't let this man spend any more money on game cards. Or at least donate him some for free! 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Thunderblade: Patch for AfterBurner Hardware


Here's a quick EPROM patch, so that a ThunderBlade PCB can be run in an AfterBurner cabinet without rewiring the controls. Usually the X-Axis controls are inverted, so you'd have to rewire the cabinet. This should make the two PCBs interchangeable.

The patched files are decrypted, so will require a standard 68000 CPU fitted to the PCB, as opposed to the FD1094 security processor. 


Thursday, August 30, 2018

CannonBall comes to the Nintendo Wii

CannonBall was recently ported to the Nintendo Wii by Wuerfel_21 of IRQ Interactive!

She writes, "You may ask why one would want to port to such an irrelevant system. The answer being the possibility of arcade-perfect 240p video output."

The port also runs at a full 60 fps and supports GameCube controllers.



The port and source code can be found here.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Best OutRunners: Who Made OutRun?

Video game publishers were secretive in the 1980s. In a highly competitive market they didn't want star developers poached by rivals. Whereas by the mid 90s, titles like Daytona USA included a full credits list, the 1980s saw developer credits constrained to Easter Eggs and cryptic initials on the high score table.

Unfortunately, as a result of this, many developers remain uncredited for their work. Nevertheless, it's a fun challenge to establish the development story of an influential title like OutRun! 


Youji Ishii, who joined Sega in 1978, first worked with Yu Suzuki on Hang-On. He is notable for his hands-on role developing Flicky and Fantasy Zone. He project managed OutRun and handled other elements of the production. He was effectively Yu Suzuki's boss. His role would be equivalent to an Executive Producer or studio head in western development terminology. In Szczepaniak's interview in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Vol 3, Ishii humbly credits much of the creative vision for OutRun to Yu Suzuki noting, "I mostly left things up to Suzuki. So it's actually correct to say Yu Suzuki was the one who deserves credit". Ishii doesn't receive a credit on the high score table despite managing the project. 

Sega's development studio in Haneda, located next to Sega HQ. This is where OutRun was developed.

OutRun was developed by a small team over the course of eight to ten months. The team consisted of four programmers, five graphic designers and one sound creator. (The Making of OutRun). Space Harrier's code contains a hidden November 1985 date, and OutRun's September 1986. So presuming the core team moved straight from Space Harrier to OutRun, that confirms a 10 month development cycle. There are remnants of Space Harrier's assets in OutRun including the Space Harrier font, and a sound sample so this seems a reasonable assumption. 

Photo Credit: John Szczepaniak [Buy his book here]

In April 1986, approximately 5 months into production, Ishii and Suzuki embarked on a European roadtrip to scout locations for OutRun. The original plan had been to travel to New York and cross America, due to the influence of The CannonBall Run movie. But Ishii claims Hayao Nakayama, the head of Sega, thought this would be too dangerous. (Untold History Vol 3). Suzuki's recollection of events differs, "I realised, once I’d arranged everything, that the scenery along the [pan-America] course actually doesn’t change very much, so I revised my plan and decided to collect data in Europe instead." (The Making of OutRun). This change in focus mid-development perhaps explains why OutRun starts with the California influenced Coconut Beach, before becoming more European in nature. Both Ishii and Suzuki cite the Romantic Road in Germany as a particular influence. It's reasonable to assume that Coconut Beach was developed before the trip took place, as there's an early test variant of that level still present in the ROMs


So now we come to decipher the cryptic Best Outrunners list, which offers seven entries from the overall team size of ten. Like all good games, it starts easily enough, but soon gets tough!

1. First up, needing no introduction, is Yu Suzuki (YU.) Yu Suzuki acted as the creative lead and planner on OutRun, but was also a hands-on programmer. He mentions, "I wrote all of the important planning and programming parts myself; I don’t think anything was really influenced by the development staff." (The Making of OutRun).


However, the creative influence of the OutRun team was perhaps more prominent than Suzuki recalls, as we shall see. There's no doubt that Suzuki was the lead visionary from a technical and creative standpoint. It's his name that's present in the Easter egg, indicating his role in developing the program code. With such a small development team, it's clear that many of the individuals wore multiple hats as a result and Suzuki is no exception. It should also be noted that Suzuki composed a couple of the music tracks for Space Harrier including Ida and Valda. The Sega teams contained multi-talented individuals. 


Suzuki's creative reference points included The CannonBall Run movie, his European roadtrip with Ishii and the art of Hiroshi Nagai. And within Sega there was a business objective to better Namco's Pole Position, which arguably it did depending on which set of figures you believe. Some cite over 20,000 OutRun machines sold, whereas others over 30,000

Suzuki in a BMW 520, the car used for the European roadtrip. Photo dated 1986.

2. The seconds entry reads BIN. This is Satoshi Mifune, who likes to be known as Bin-Chan. (4gamer). He joined Sega in April 1985, and would have been just 18 years old at the time. (AM2 Web Archive).

Satoshi Mifune testing OutRun. [Credit 4gamer]

His first project was a supporting role on Hang-On, where he first worked with Yu Suzuki. From there, Mifune programmed high profile projects including Space Harrier, OutRun, AfterBurner, Dynamite Dux, Turbo OutRun through to Virtua Striker and even Shenmue! 


As we've covered on this blog, he's credited in hidden debug text within the game relating to the colour palette.



3. KAG is possibly Takafumi Kagaya, an AM2 designer credited on Daytona USA, Virtua Cop and Virtua Figher amongst other titles. Entering KAG on the Daytona USA high score table plays a hidden jingle. It's not unreasonable to assume he could have worked on OutRun, but I've not seen concrete proof of this. 

4. MIY is Hiroshi Miyauchi, more commonly known as Hiroshi Kawaguchi. One of Sega's longstanding and prolific composers, if not one of the most famous video game composers of all time. Continuing the multi-talented trend of the team, Hiro originally joined Sega as a programmer, impressing Yu Suzuki with his assembly skills at interview. It was common for composers to manually transcribe their music into assembly macros and even write sound drivers at Sega during this period, so perhaps this isn't surprising. (The Rock Stars of Sega). 


In terms of creative decision making, there is light-hearted disagreement with regard to who suggested certain features, contradicting Suzuki's claims that he didn't rely on the development team for input.



During a revealing interview fellow Sega composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi jokes that Suzuki usually liked to assume ownership of ideas. Hiro laughs when he recalls "Yu Suzuki used to say he came up with [the idea of OutRun's music select] himself." Before adding, "but I seem to remember the designer creating that radio screen and saying, 'hey, if this is a radio, you should be able to select your own songs!' I do remember, however, that the screen originally didn’t show the hand. The original design was just the car’s dashboard. But once you were able to select songs, I asked Yu Suzuki whether we should have a cursor or some indicator on-screen to show people they could choose their music. Ultimately I'm the one who decided we didn’t need to do that, though." (The Rock Stars of Sega).



Hiro references Naoya Matsuoka and Cassiopeia as direct influences on OutRun's soundtrack. "If I had not heard Mr. Naoya Matsuoka's songs, I don't think OutRun's music would have been born" (Sound Creator Interview).

The following image shows Sega's offices around the development of OutRun (Twitter). Hiro can be seen in the foreground playing the keyboard wearing casual clothes, unlike his colleagues. On the right is Mr. Yamamoto who was responsible for transcribing the sound data for OutRun.



5. MAT is programmer Tetsu Matsushima. Like many others on the team he worked across Space Harrier, OutRun and AfterBurner. (MegaDrive Collected Works) He went onto work for Rutubo games, which produced the arcade perfect Saturn ports of the aforementioned titles.

Whilst Suzuki claimed, "The [OutRun] game development team was made up of people who happened to be available at the time, so I wasn’t able to assemble the team according to my wishes", (The Making of OutRun), this must be taken with a grain of salt given Hiro, Mifune and Matsushima appear to be a close-knit unit migrating from Space Harrier onto OutRun, before decamping to their skunkworks Studio 128 office to develop AfterBurner. (AfterBurner II - Developer Interviews). The pixel art style of these three titles is also consistent, which would suggest many of the artists moved from one project to the next.

6. IKA and A.O

Sadly, I can't establish who these individuals are. Maybe they were members of the art team, of which I can find no information at all. Even when John Szczepaniak directly asked Youji Ishii, on my behalf, for the remaining developer credits during an interview in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Vol 3, he was unable to recall all the names. For now, the road sadly ends here.

Hopefully one day I'll uncover more information and update this article. If you have any further information, please let me know in the comments below.

Timeline

1978 - Youji Ishii joins Sega
1983 - Yu Suzuki joins Sega as a programmer
1984 - Hiroshi Kawaguchi joins Sega as a programmer
Apr 1985 - Satoshi Mifune joins Sega as a programmer to work on Hang-On
July 1985 - Hang-On Released
July 1985 - Space Harrier Development Starts
Sep 1985 - Space Harrier concept with jet plane displayed at AM show
Sep 1985 - Development relocates to 'Office 2', next to their HQ. Used until Feb 9th 2019
Nov 1985 - Space Harrier Released
Sep 1986 - OutRun Released
Dec 1986 - AfterBurner Development Starts. Team relocates to Studio 128.
July 1987 - AfterBurner Released
Oct 1987 - AfterBurner 2 Released

Studio 128. The team decamped to this small premises to develop AfterBurner and Power Drift

Monday, August 06, 2018

OutRun Steering & Shifter Assembly

Some handy OutRun component diagrams, created back in 1990. These are much more useful than anything in the arcade manual itself.

Retrieved from a CD I found in my parents loft!