Adventures with Chaotix

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Black Squirrel, Jan 23, 2021.

  1. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    Sega Retro is locked down so tackling the old prototypes of Chaotix has become my thing. At least for now. Also I don't want to clog up the supreme topic of other knowledge any more.

    In February 2008 drx released 12 prototypes of (Knuckles') Chaotix, but by March the world had lost interest. Being a (now very expenisve) 32X exclusive means comparatively few people have played Chaotix compared to Sonics 1, 2 and 3 - I had played through it once or twice through emulation out of curiosity, but like everyone else for 13 years, I avoided getting caught up in the prototypes because it's an inherently complex and faffy video game. But that was when we were allowed out of the house, so


    Out of the 12 prototypes (ignoring Crackers), only the first dozen are really all that interesting, namely 1207, 1227, 1229, 0111, 0119, 0202 and to a lesser extent, 0208. 1229 is the one I'm aiming for because this is a candidate for having been shown at Winter CES 1995, but I've started at 1207 and am working my way up. Unlike other Sonic prototypes, Chaotix had a habit of adding things in one prototype... only to take them away again for a bit... and then re-add them later. It's an odd story.


    Anyway 1207 - it is said that Vector has no special abilities yet. That's not quite true:

    [​IMG]

    You can climb, but you need to let go of the jump button, move towards the wall, and press jump again. And half the time it doesn't work (unlike Knuckles which works every time).


    [​IMG]

    You can also really break this build. There's no limit on time, or on the amount of times you can recall your partner by pressing A. You can get less than -999 rings, which causes the HUD to invent new numbers with whatever graphics it can find, and should you die in this state, strange things can happen.


    [​IMG]

    You can force your way into "locked" levels by holding A and Start. This is Techno Tower 6, a small stage with corrupted parallax backgrounds.


    [​IMG]

    0119 is the last build to talk about "time attack" mode. It would be replaced with "training", which in itself is a bizarre feature. Four special levels on Isolated Island with features not found anywhere else in the game... different to the semi-automated tutorial you can skip, and different to the other pseudo-training levels on Isolated Island that you're forced through before the main game. I had forgotten they even existed until yesterday.

    One even has Labyrinth Zone-style water slides and vertical wrapping... which I don't think any of the main levels have(?)
     
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  2. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    Chaotix doesn't do anything special with six button controllers... says the US and EU manuals.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Not true! Holding X lets you either change the output between stereo and mono, and holding Y lets you change the tempo of the song. The Japanese manual tells it how it is, but elsewhere these buttons are explicitly stated as being unused.

    Z does nothing as far as I can tell... but once upon a time it did. In the 0202 prototype, Z toggles between normal and "fast" versions of a song (for power sneakers?). X and Y don't work in that build (or previous builds), and wouldn't work until 0213 (the same time Z functionality was taken out).
     
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  3. Prototype

    Prototype

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    I'm so glad someone else is tackling the Chaotix protos. I commend you for finding something new after all this time!

    The usage of the XYZ buttons fascinates me for some reason. I guess because Sonic always relied on a simple ABC+Start setup, and I always wondered why they didn't use 6 Button controllers with dedicated button effects for debug purposes.

    I can understand not mapping key game functions to those buttons in general, due to the possibility that kids only had the original 3-Button controller. The 6 button controller was mainly for Arcade-style fighters, right? But it always seemed odd that it was never used for debug and other non-critical game functions. I suppose by the time Chaotix was out, 6-button controllers were commonplace.

    Good find, dude!

    Oh, and the actual Training levels are accessible in 1207 by going to Stage "INTRODUCTION" 4 and 5 normally, and "INTRODUCTION" 6 by holding A+Start, completely separate from the actual "TRAINING" option.

    Weird thing is, they seem to be completely different to the Training stages accessible through Scenario Mode, lacking any curved surfaces. Seems to just be some level wrap tests. In any case, the ability to pause and move around the stage unhindered is turned off in these stages. Any way to turn it back on?
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2021
  4. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Something easily missed - bonus stages are affected by the time of day, and from the stage select, you always get the same layout (at least at the start). It was the 0202 prototype that introduced this default layout - previous builds have a different default, presumably because the combi catchers and level selects weren't sorted.


    Speaking of which, I assume there's no legitimate way of spawning in the World Entrance without a partner through the stage select - actually testing if combi catchers work is a bit of a faff.
     
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  5. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    Special Stage evolution:

    [​IMG]
    1207

    [​IMG]
    1227

    [​IMG]
    1229

    [​IMG]
    0111

    [​IMG]
    0119

    [​IMG]
    0202

    [​IMG]
    0208

    [​IMG]
    Final


    [​IMG]

    There's subtle physics and animation changes throughout these prototypes - it could support a wiki on its own.
     
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  6. Prototype

    Prototype

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    Given the ability to select levels 0-5 for all stages including the Special Stage, does that affect anything? Say for example, in 1207, does shifting the number change the Special Stage layout?

    Because that'd multiply the findings a fair bit.

    I think if that is the case, you're right about Chaotix needing it's own wiki!
     
  7. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    There's some noise on the internet that "**********" or "Tails" (or "Wechnia" if you're wrong) doesn't instantly crash the game when touching the floor in some levels. This is a lie - emulation inaccuracies might be breaking things quicker, but there are no special levels where the character magically works, or works "better" than others. If you land on an object you might last fractions of a second longer than solid ground, but it's a fool's game - the thing is broken in every prototype we have (discounting Sonic Crackers) and the final game. The Bonus and Special Stages load Mighty - that's about as "fixed" as you're going to get.

    (this might seem obvious but you'll be surprised how many places have out of date information)

    So how do we know it can fly? Because the character spawning points are rarely on solid ground and through the stage select, you can move their X and Y coordinates by pausing the game. Start a level, move well above the floor, press jump, hold up:

    [​IMG]

    Speed Silder 1 is a good candidate if you want to do this at home.

    1227, 1229 and 0111 builds have flight, but the feature was removed by 0119. 0119 is also the build that removed the character placeholder from the NPC select (but not the player select), and crucially, introduced the "change" monitors, allowing for different characters to appear mid-level. Problem is, it doesn't always work - the change only applies to the partner character, and it might have some trouble changing back. In fact, it seems to be the same issue as above - load in a garbage character and break as soon as you touch the floor.

    There's a change monitor quite close in Amazing Arena 1, which I've been experimenting with. During those experiments, I managed to create a Knuckles with the same palette as above... but you'll have to take my word for it because I can't reproduce it. What I can reproduce is my own original character do not steal:

    [​IMG]

    I call it "Arsecrack the Crocodile" and he has a wife and two kids and enjoys playing squash and shouting at old people. He is yellow because he's super.

    Sometimes (but not always), when a partner changes into Vector, this happens on the way out. If Vector is the player as well, he too will change this colour.
     
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  8. The Joebro64

    The Joebro64

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    One thing I've never seen mentioned anywhere is that Vector's sprites in some of the prototypes are different and less detailed than the ones in the final - which might be a leftover from when they were developing on the Genesis. I think it was brought up on these very forums a while back, only to get buried.

    EDIT: found the post: https://forums.sonicretro.org/index.php?posts/960359/
     
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  9. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Tails is supposed to crash the game when touching the floor? Am I misreading this? He works just fine for me in the protos (except for the graphics of course, as he doesn't have his own sprites). I just loaded 1229 with the Kega Fusion edited for Chaotix and I get no crashes when playing as him.
     
  10. Prototype

    Prototype

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    Has anyone ever tried to implement the unused Tails control scheme (requiring UP to fly) into another Sonic game to compare how it handles against the regular Tails movement scheme?
     
  11. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    Then we've got emulation issues, because I'm pretty sure the latest Kega Fusion (3.64) is meant to incorporate those changes (though it's been ten years and I haven't gone hunting for details). Although the point still stands - it behaves the same on every level.
     
  12. Prototype

    Prototype

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    As a personal note, the recieved wisdom is that Kega Fusion 3.64 is meant to run the prototypes when you have "Fast 32x Timing" enabled, but for me personally it works very inconsistently and the protos fail to load even more than running them in the Kega for Chaotix revision does. I use the Chaotix build exclusively for those ROMs for this reason.
     
  13. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Yeah, I can vouch for the build edited for Chaotix working better. I just tried 1229 with 3.64 and I get crashes as Tails, although they're unrelated to touching the floor. It seems jumping triggers a delayed crash.
     
  14. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    [​IMG]
    The 0208, 0209 and 0210 prototypes tell you to "TO GO NEXT" when you leave the bonus stage.


    As for older combi catchers... they absolutely do work - stand in the platform area and press down.

    [​IMG]

    The first build to support this feature, 0111, is the weirdest. I want my partner to be a shield monitor please.

    [​IMG]

    And then it gets stuck. Is this the only recorded case of the "time" icon being used?

    Polish aside, 0119 works as expected and things get progressively better as the builds go on.
     
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  15. Hez

    Hez

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    Funny enough, he matches VERY well (although I do 100 percent believe its coincidence) with Sonic 1's second line palette in Green Hill Zone.

    [​IMG]

    but IIRC they changed the color of the flowers because of a badnik?

    EDIT: Actually, the art style matches closer to crackers with the missing third shade of gray, but style being closer to S1.
     
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  16. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    The 0202 prototype is when the team start giving a damn about the training levels. Training level 3 (which is training level 2 in the final) even has rings and objects. The wrong objects.

    [​IMG]

    In the final game, training is all about finding flowers. But in this build, they have a signpost instead. This is bad.

    [​IMG]

    Because with signposts come special stages, and as the training levels aren't normal levels, the game can't cope. You get a completely black special stage as the game tries to work out how many blue spheres you need. It counts up (or down?) until something breaks, using whatever it can in the HUD code to try and render numbers. Is "attack" one of the unused graphics? I forget.

    For the record, the other training stages are empty shells, and the final's training 4 doesn't even exist yet.
     
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  17. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    To answer an earlier question of mine - there doesn't seem to be any point in history where Chaotix is marked as a single-player only game. Although how well two-player works, I can't say (yet).

    And in the early days, there was a mysterious third play style:

    [​IMG]
    (1227)

    I assume this is two-player alternating, but you can only select these play styles after making a save... so would the save track two sets of progress? I don't think it ever actually worked so who knows.

    [​IMG]
    It was around for a while. The last build to feature it is the 0208 prototype, which hides the graphics, but still lets you select it. Perhaps there's still remnants of it in the final.

    While we're here - the background tiling here was better in the earlier prototypes than it is in the final game. I don't know if that's a space saving tactic or a genuine error, but there was more detail in 1994.




    The save system as a whole is... interesting. Maybe as a result of using the stage select, you often find yourself with three cleared save slots. So what happens if you try and play a save when all the levels are done?

    Up until 0119, not much - the game crashes shortly after moving right in the world entrance. But the fun begins in 0119 - it lets you select a stage, and then has a breakdown:

    [​IMG]

    Techno Tower, "level Botanic Base", set in Marina Madness. One of five possible broken levels that might load (though some crash pretty quickly). Cameras don't work but there are rings and objects loaded from somewhere, so maybe you can finish these levels? If you were insane? Other prototypes crash at different points and by 0216 it doesn't seem to want to give you completed save slots for free, so I haven't checked what happens there.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    0208/0209, 0210, 0213

    Coping with a completed save is probably one of the last major pieces of work done on Chaotix. Which is strange given that you're given three of them for free back in 1227.

    As I say, it's not obvious how the saving system works - some of the earlier prototypes seem keen on pairing me up with Espio at night. You can clear saves but maybe they come back? Dunno, it's just more likely I'll have a finished save than an empty one.
     
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  18. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    It's not just Chaotix that was/is under-documented, it's the 32X hardware as a whole. I've made a mistake that affects a decade's worth of wiki screenshots, and you might have too.

    [​IMG]

    The colour test screen. What was its point?

    https://info.sonicretro.org/index.php?title=File:Chaotix_32X_JP_manual.pdf&page=17

    The US manual says little more than "the mode exists", the Japanese manual talks about screen calibration, which is probably being generous. I would guess it's more of a reference for the game's artists, should they be wanting to move Sonic and Tails from the Mega Drive side to the 32X palette. Why it stuck around so long is anyone's guess - yes it was used for cheats, but these didn't arrive until quite late in development, presumably well after any Mega Drive -> 32X conversions had taken place.

    Problem: the screenshot in that manual doesn't match up with Kega's output. While the emulator is crucial for running the old builds of the game, it's technically drawing them incorrectly, and I hadn't realised until it was far too late. It matters, but not hugely - I'm not sure anyone will notice in practise and in real life televisions and monitors are going to be all over the color gamut, but it's annoying and I hate it.

    [​IMG]

    This one on the wiki is ancient and was probably taken in Gens, and it proves my point that nobody cares because the shades are actually green, but it does give a better impression of what the game should look like. Are other emulators better with colour? Absolutely, but they can't run these old Chaotix builds. The good news is that pretty much all Mega Drive emulators released in the last 20 years are more accurate with colour than those for most other systems - there's no agreement among the main SNES emulators, many NES emulators let you load in your own "accurate" palette, and nothing has captured the look of an original Game Boy (assuming you even want that). So that's something.


    I was half under the impression that Kega Fusion's inaccuracies were reduced to just a few edge cases - something I was willing to sacrifice for decent performance (spoilers: that was a huge issue on my last PC). But between this and crashes with "Tails" (which supposedly don't happen on real hardware), it's clearly not an ideal situation.

    So yes, colour test - probably pointless on real hardware, but a great tool for emulator development.
     
  19. Robjoe

    Robjoe

    Member
    Wow, someone else gives a shit about Chaotix. Nice! Of course, it's understandable that most people couldn't care less, seeing as the game is frankly kind of barebones, but its incomplete nature is precisely what fascinates me with it. For the past three years at this point I've made an on-again-off-again hobby of investigating certain parts the game's code and content, mainly the final version for the sake of a small personal project, but I have also looked into the prototypes here and there and found a few interesting things that I didn't recall seeing documented anywhere. Many of them were things you've now found, but I think I have a thing or two I can contribute here.

    First, regarding the Tails crashes. Spoiler'd because it got rather lengthy and detailed. I checked multiple builds on hardware via my Everdrive, and these were my results!

    I did some tests on real hardware a while back, and went ahead and tested various builds again after reading your post (my flashcart is a Mega Everdrive X7 for reference - is the Everdrive reliable for this, or is it inaccurate in some way?). I can confirm that builds 1227 and 1229 do not have any crashes with Tails - until you break a growth or shrink monitor and trigger the sprite scaling routine. His non-existent standing sprite does indeed crash when it's scaled. This is typical for Chaotix in my experience: Normally the game is sort of lenient with sprites' header data not being set up perfectly, but throws a fit as soon as 32X effects like sprite scaling involved.

    I couldn't get 1207 loading at all (goes nowhere, just plays garbage noise on an empty screen) even though I thought I'd seen it running on hardware before. However, 0111 and 0119 actually do crash, and I can tell you why: In every known 32X build of Chaotix, all character-related pointer indexes have their second entry reserved for Tails. Most of these just point to the same place as Mighty's/Sonic's, but in the sprite index, Tails' pointer destination is four bytes before Knuckles' (four bytes being the length of a single pointer). So there is space reserved for a single frame of Tails, but it points nowhere. In the December builds it's 00 00 00 00, and 0111 and onward change it to FF FF FF FF, which apparently makes the difference. This is what the game is reading for Tails' standing sprite, and is why it crashes specifically when he touches the ground. (Sidenote, changing Tails' main sprite pointer to point to Knuckles', in order to dodge that dummied-out frame pointer, is all it takes to fix this crash in any build.)

    Finally, I tried 0202 and the final release, and they also crash... but in a different way! 0111 and 0119 come to a complete screeching halt, but in 0202 and beyond, only the 32X side crashes. That is, 32X sprites stop updating and the music's PWM samples die, but the main game logic, level animations, and the rest of the sound driver all still work (because of course, Chaotix barely uses the 32X processors outside Special Stages). You can keep playing, but the Mega Drive processor will eventually hang at the end of the level, when it attempts to communicate with the now-dead 32X side. This kind of crash is what I'm more accustomed to seeing when something goes wrong with a sprite. I have no idea why 0111 and 0119 crash the whole game here, but I *do* know that the 32X sprite pointers changed location between 0119 and 0202: Earlier builds have it at 0x080000. Later and final builds have it at 0x0A0000 instead, and 0x080000 now falls in the space used for the 32X's SH-2 code. So... whatever that's worth.

    ... And then, in the process of writing this, I went and checked various builds in Fusion (3.64, with "alternate timing" enabled) and never saw a single crash. Not anything like I saw on hardware, nor anything like Blue Spikeball described. I know I've seen Fusion choke on Tails before, but suddenly all is well now? Who knows, maybe I changed some obscure setting....

    Also related to real-hardware testing, I had a look at the color test while I was at it and can also confirm the MD palette is brighter than the MARS side. In fact, the maximum MD white looks brighter than even the max MARS white! I'm slightly surprised I've never noticed this before, but I guess I always did feel like colors looked brighter on the real hardware. It seems Fusion is rendering MD colors at what their color values imply they should be - That is, it caps at $E, and $E0 is 224 in decimal, where $FF or 255 is actually full brightness (by comparison, MARS seems to cap at 248, closer but not quite full). I guess the actual hardware is "rounding up" the MD shades to reach "full" brightness. I think this is what Fusion is trying to account for with its odd "Brighten" setting ("Monitor" is darker, and "TV" is brighter), but it's still inaccurate because it also brightens the MARS palette, while real hardware only seems to do this to the MD side. (Also, excellent idea that this screen might've been used to recreate MD palettes from that phase of development in the new MARS format. I assumed the artists were still coming to grips with how the MARS format represents its colors in the data, but transfering Sonic and Tails might be the specific reason why they made it in the first place! Fascinating!)



    A small note about 6-button controller support: While doing hardware tests just now, I stumbled upon a debug feature I'd never seen, specifically in build 1229: In levels, pressing X makes your character grow, and Y shrinks you. It's not in 1227, and it's gone by the next build, 0111, but the growth and shrink monitors are already fully functional as of 1207, so who knows what they were testing in this brief window of time.


    Moving on, I see on the wiki's page "Chaotix (prototype 1207)/Hidden content" that it shows the Sonic and Tails icons, as well as the old-style monitor sprite. But! Does it mention anywhere that these sprites, along with a few more, are loaded into the MD's VDP during the primitive "NPC SELECT" screen in the early Chaotix builds? I assembled this in SonMapEd a while back using a VDP dump:

    Chaotix Genesis.png

    I think I saw a few other tiles as well, but couldn't figure out what they were for. Also interesting is the palette loaded on this screen:

    NPCSelectPalette.png

    In that image, the top row of character icons, the monitor and its contents use the first palette line, and the bottom row of characters and the yellow/pink explosion use the second line. So, we have MD-format art and palette data for a monitor, its contents, its explosion, and maybe an enemy explosion as well, implying Crackers at least saw monitors and enemies added before the transition to 32X, not all that surprising. But, I noticed Sonic and Tails' palette is identical to Crackers here, and looking at Crackers' VDP in mid-level...

    CrackersPalette.png

    There's Knuckles and Vector's line in Sonic Crackers, just as we see it on the "NPC Select"! I'm now convinced that Knuckles, Charmy, Vector, and probably Bomb and Heavy, were planned during the MD Crackers era. A bit crazy to think they wanted to draw levels using only two palette lines. Not impossible, but it'd certainly be more constricting compared to Chaotix's levels getting the whole MD palette all to themselves.

    Then Joebro64 brought up that early, less-detailed Vector sprite I've never seen before (thanks!), and I eagerly tried matching it to the Crackers palette. My best effort was...

    VectorCrackersPalette.png

    ... all right, but not solidly convincing. There's actually only three real greens in the Crackers palette, so the best I could do was replace the brightest Chaotix green with Crackers' yellow. He's definitely brighter overall (slightly more than he should be - this came from a Gens VDP shot and I don't have time to redo it with better colors, but it gets the point across for now), buuuut it's plausible.



    That's about all I can think of at the moment. Apologies for the length, or if any of this was already documented somewhere. It's great to see someone else digging into this entertaining mess of a game: These prototypes are a fair bit juicier than their currently spotty documentation lets on.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2021
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  20. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

    this is what KLF is about Wiki Sysop
    Nicely done!

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    That monitor graphic is unique but many of the icons themselves come from Sonic 1 (or maybe Sonic CD is more accurate since that also had a blue ring).
     
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