Adventures with Chaotix

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

  1. Robjoe

    Robjoe

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    I'm actually not opposed to working out the unused arms. I got self-conscious about dumping them all in here because I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested in something so subtle. But I guess I need to take what your signature shouts in big SEGA logo letters to heart!

    I think what I could do to work out what is and isn't used is to change the pointers of every sprite I know for sure is used to something ridiculous, like a character sprite. Then just go to town putting the characters in as many different situations as possible to make sure I don't see any normal arms, and if not, it should be fairly safe to say what is and isn't unused.

    Also, regarding Crackers sprites: I actually couldn't get Crackers' mapping/etc. loading SonMapEd, so I resorted to nabbing them off a sprite sheet. Is there a newer/better mapping editor out there that supports Crackers?

    EDIT: Good catch on the level 0's! I'll check the layout pointer lists in the final when I'm home tonight and see if they're pointing somewhere unique.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2021
  2. Robjoe

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    So, after investigating the level data offsets in the final, as well as double-checking by forcing my way in via RAM hacking, I can confirm Botanic Base 0 and Amazing Arena 0 access the same data as level 1. Boo.

    HOWEVER. I went looking through builds to see where they might've been removed, and found something very peculiar: In 1207, Techno Tower 0 seems to access the same data as level 1. But in 1227....

    TechnoTower0.png

    It's also a unique layout (you can tell straight away because Techno Tower never puts two quarter pipes next to each other like that). And surprisingly, as seen in the debug info, it's over 8000 (decimal) pixels tall - twice the height of any other known Techno Tower layout! It's background scrolls slower on the Y-axis to compensate, and you can see the bottom section of it, which is normally not visible in the first two levels.

    This, along with Botanic Base 0 and Amazing Arena 0, both exist until at least 0111 - 0119 is the first to stop letting you enter supposedly non-existent levels, so more research is required. The fact that Techno Tower 0 was added after 1207, however, suggests we might just want to check all level 0's and 6's in each individual build, just to be thorough. I may take a look at the stage select's code sometime to see if I can easily stop the function locking you out of certain levels in order to aid us (searching for its raw text makes it very easy to track down the tail-end of its code).
     
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  3. Azookara

    Azookara

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    Chaotix really does feel like it spent it's entire development in pure aimlessness. Ideas thrown around at rapid fire, things going in, things going out, and none of it elaborate enough to make anything solid. It really does feel like what it is: less than half of an elevator pitch that somehow passed, was forced through the pipeline to be a Saturn/32X premiere Sonic title, and was so half baked and disconnected from Sonic Team that various people in on the series like to pretend it never happened.

    I'd like to say this game deserved better, but I'm not sure there's any timeline where the tether mechanic (at least as the entire game) was going to bring a well thought out and well received game. It's nice to think of a proper 32-bit 2D Sonic game from the era, and the music/visuals/characters are VERY lovable, but I imagine after four (five counting S&K) major 2D games in 4 years there's no way it would've been a killer app for Saturn, even if it was top-of-the-line.

    All this said, I think this thread is fascinating and I applaud you guys for further and further unraveling maybe the strangest game under the series' belt. Major kudos, and godspeed!
     
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  4. Robjoe

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    Holy shit, I think you just perfectly encapsulated my feelings about this game. It really feels like some random person had a crazy idea for a gimmick in a Sonic game, and was allowed to go off and experiment for a minute. Then when it became obvious that games were needed to push the upcoming hardware, this random experimental side project had to suddenly fill itself out with content without much of a clear vision in mind of what it was supposed to be. It quickly became apparent this wasn't going to be the killer app they were looking for, and was promptly sidelined onto the 32X.

    On the one hand, I do feel there's a lot more you could do with the game. The movement and physics framework alone is very limited compared to the main series (you can't do things like clip onto a quarter pipe in the ceiling, even though they chose to round off so many corners, I mean come on), and the level layouts are just so half-baked, so I would like to see this game's concepts in a more fleshed-out Sonic game. But on the other hand, I feel the rubber band gimmick just destroys any of the integrity the platforming could have. Simple stuff like jumping over a set of spikes becomes a bizarre wrestling match with the physics, and yet once get good at it, you can literally fly forever with the throw and "hold" functions. This game needs better levels, but it would be an absurd experience to try and design them.

    We may never know the full story of this game's conception and development, but what we can glean from the builds we have, combined with the state it released in, makes it an almost surreal landmark in Sonic's history, and a testament to Sega's general disorganization and confusion coming out of the 16-bit era.

    And now in 2021, with all we know and have done with the classic series, Chaotix feels like the last undiscovered country. And there's always something weird to find in this thing.
     
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  5. Black Squirrel

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    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Eek, another one. Speed Slider 0 in 1227. The level dimensions don't seem to match the layout so it stops abruptly. The background also struggles because it doesn't know the difference between inside and outside.
     
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  6. Black Squirrel

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    1229 seems to have the same set of unused levels as 1227. And finishing any of these stages does wonders for the title screen:

    [​IMG]
     
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  7. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Can confirm that 0111 is also a match for 1227/1229.

    So I was wondering whether there were genuine plans to have six levels per stage rather than five. I now have a different theory:

    1207's Time Attack mode - the one that sometimes appears, but usually you need a savestate to access - this points to the 0th level of each stage. And of course you'd only notice this if you played more than a few seconds of Botanic Base or Amazing Arena, which I didn't at the time.

    This would explain why these stages are less complex - they were being set up as bespoke time trials, presumably because the "real" levels have things they don't want to deal with, such as bonus stages, time of day differences and maybe even enemies (although given the Amazing Arena one seems to set up a sub-boss, maybe not). I guess they were still building levels as late as December 1994 but had to cancel the idea, adpating the three Isolated Island levels for the "training" mode instead (and later adding a fourth).


    By 1227/1229/0111 four of the stages had time trial layouts. It's not known whether Marina Madness ever got one (unless 0119 tells us otherwise) - given nothing was done for Botanic Base or Amazing Arena for over a month, my money's on the idea being scrapped at this point.


    Mind you even if they had finished it, I'm not sure it would even work. You'd surely just get Charmy Bee to fly over everything.
     
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  8. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Crackers implied that level 0's were going to be hub areas, before it was decided to have a single central hub for the final game. That may explain the more basic layouts.
     
  9. Black Squirrel

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    [​IMG]

    A palette error that looks nice for once - Botanic Base 0 loads up the night palette for objects when played at sunset. I don't think any other levels do this.
     
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  10. Black Squirrel

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    Just got around to detailing the Special Stage jumping sprites on the wiki, and there was something fun missed:

    [​IMG]
    There's a couple of pixels missing from the middle jump frame for Sonic. His left hand is transparent when it should be grey.

    [​IMG]
    ...and they didn't fix it with Knuckles!

    Of course, Sonic would never actually look like this on a real TV:

    [​IMG]

    Like all the graphics in the Sonic CD special stage, Sonic is optimised for the 256x224 resolution... which would be stretched to 4:3 to make the jumping sprite circular. Chaotix runs natively at 4:3, so it'll never be a circle. You're also less likely to see those missing pixels in Sonic CD because you spend most of your time overlapping a grey road.
     
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  11. evilhamwizard

    evilhamwizard

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    I can't remember if I posted this anywhere, but I found this an extremely long time a go.

    Something Crackers related, there's some stage specific code that goes unused because a ret was added to prevent it from running. At 97E8, there's code that moves the background layer back and forth. Excuse the poor gif quality, this is probably why I never shared it in the first place:

    [​IMG]

    There's another piece of code at 999A that goes unused that I believe just locks the background layer in place, or something.

    [​IMG]

    There's definitely some interesting things in the Crackers code, iirc.
     
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  12. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    I've gone from "knew a bit about Chaotix" to "neigh-on Chaotix master" in the space of about three weeks, and given I've wasted spent years of my life playing with Sega Retro I think the main problem with this game... is the hardware.

    Frankly it doesn't fit into the 1994/1995 template of what a "32-bit" video game should look like - you don't see colour counts and special effects, you see a 2D video game that from a distance, isn't too dissimilar to the one we played in 1991 called Sonic the Hedgehog... and that's not acceptable for a new piece of hardware with a $160 asking price (+ $60 for the game itself). Perhaps that's why they tried to bury it, and the poor cost-effectiveness of developing a 32X emulator means it's still buried 26 years later. The internet likes to pretend "don't care" means "game sucks", but judged without the context of polygon counts and the price of entry, Chaotix performs... reasonably well. Pretend it's on the Mega Drive and not the 32X, and it might even be great.


    Though I agree that the levels really aren't engineered for the type of gameplay on offer. On the lead up to the main game, Isolated Island gives the impression that you're going to have to solve switch puzzles, and that things might be a bit methodical and slower paced, but none of the main levels really do this - it's "flap about" or "press a switch... then flap about". I can only think of one instance in this game where the combi rings are treated properly, and that's the Botanic Base boss, but levels are still forced to tailor for the new gameplay style, meaning a lot of zig-zagging and samey environments, and a very shallow difficulty curve. Arguably you've seen everything the game has to offer in the introduction section alone (other than the game's obsession with slow, automated lifts). Maybe even in Sonic Crackers.

    But there is an appeal to throwing Mighty around at high speeds and letting the physics break. Paired with pinball-style bumpers and flippers, I think it would have gained more traction, or at least an acknowledgement that the two characters are limiting each other's movements, as opposed to treating it like a standard Sonic game with twice as many Sonics. But I also agree it's difficult to know how they could have done things better - they had to innovate, and they did, but it's tough working out how to fill 25 levels-worth of unique content, especially when your employers are thinking more about the numbers.


    Actually that's a lie, I know exactly how to make Chaotix better - drop Charmy and the robots. While there is some sense behind Bomb and Heavy - forcing that struggle and encouraging you to actually bother with bonus stages, you can be lumbered with these things early on and it will sour your experience. Because of course you want to play with the robots - they're robots... it just so happens that Heavy is horrendous to control and Bomb kills you. It's better suited as a late-game change-up for those who have mastered the controls or are getting bored, though the randomised levels might work against that, so it's hard to say.

    And Charmy is just cheat mode. It's a constant temptation to remove any challenge or fun from the game, because yes, Chaotix is indeed pretty boring if you just fly or climb everywhere, dragging your partner with you rather than using him as an actual gameplay mechanic. But it's the game's fault for being designed this way - it's so frightened by its own ideas that it offers a means of skipping it all. But then it goes and delivers on the graphics and the music and I do like the Special Stages, so it's a tough one to hate.

    But I guess I am solving a problem that's just not there - it doesn't matter if pressing C makes Charmy materialise real money in front of the TV screen, if the audience is indifferent to Chaotix as a whole, it's never going to become a video game classic.
     
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  13. Robjoe

    Robjoe

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    So, reporting back on level 0's in later builds.

    Finally had a moment this morning to look into the Stage Select, and as expected, disabling the lock-out is super easy. I just searched its chunk of code for the "NO WAY!" sound effect call, and the instruction just beforehand is a conditional branch. Turn that into a standard "branch always", and boom (or be cheeky and reverse the condition for a menu that only allows entry into busted levels, hahaha). So, to recap, build 0111 is the last one that doesn't lock you out of levels. It has unique level 0's for everything except Marina Madness.

    After unlocking 0119's stage select, I can confirm that all four known level 0's still exist. I haven't thoroughly scoured them yet, but I checked for one obvious thing in Speed Slider: The level's boundaries are more appropriate here. When you reach the upper-right-most area, it's a dead-end with a screen lock, so perhaps this was intended as the end:

    SpeedSlider0-0119.png

    It's slightly too high, however. Solid ground is just barely off-camera, and this platform is also pretty narrow with a wall on the side. So I wondered if this was another level's screen lock, but it doesn't match with anything else in Speed Slider. In checking, I also realized this is slightly wider than any other Speed Slider level: This one is about X7200 long, where most of the real ones put their goalposts around X5700. Not as dramatic as Techno Tower 0 being twice as tall as the others, but neat.

    However, after checking all four known 0's, Marina Madness 0...

    MarinaMadness0-0119.png

    ... is a unique design as well! So 0119 has level 0's for all five "attractions" (still no proper object layouts or other such things), but is paradoxically the first build to start locking you out of levels. Also noteworthy, as pointed out in this topic's first post, 0119 is the last build to feature Time Attack prior to it being rebranded as the silly "Training Mode".

    After this, I moved on to the next build, 0202. It still has all five level 0's from the previous build, but they are in a noticeable state of "decay". Specifically, some objects cause the 32X processors to crash for whatever reason (the actual game logic still runs as it's mostly MD code, but 32X sprites are no longer drawn), and the 32X layer of Marina Madness's background no longer displays:

    MarinaMadness0-0202.png

    And then it's on to build 0208, where all level 0's have had their unique layouts removed, instead now pointing to their respective attractions' level 1 layouts. There are various visual bugs as well, mostly to do with backgrounds and not loading the proper MARS palettes for the objects. All of this lines up with how these levels work in the final build, so I stopped here for now as that's probably where all this "level 0" business ends, but it would be good to check the later builds just to be thorough. You never know!

    TechnoTower0-0208.png - Techno Tower 0's background is now garbage. Maybe something is wrong with its 16x16 tile ID's? They're clearly still laid out correctly.

    MarinaMadness0-0208.png - Something extra weird about Marina Madness here. Normally it looks like 0202, where it at least draws the MD background layer. But picking any combination of Mighty, "Tails", or Knuckles results in a completely blank background. Either character being Charmy or above results in the 0202 half-background. This oddity occurs in both 0208 and the final.

    If anyone's interested in looking for themselves, here's the "Action Replay" codes I made to disable the stage select's lockout:

    Code (Text):
    1. 006674:600A - 0119 (This is the best build - All 0 layouts are present and as functional as they ever got)
    2. 0772CC:600A - 0202 (Problems arise)
    3. 0772C4:600A - 0208 through 0213B (R.I.P. level 0 layouts)
    4. 0772BC:600A - 0214, 0216 and Final
    EDIT: Something I almost forgot that I wanted to mention. You can see from the addresses in the codes up there that in older builds (0119 and prior), the Stage Select code is very early on in the ROM, the BNE being at 0x006674 in 0119. Then in 0202, it's been moved much further in, with that branch landing at 0x0772CC. In fact, in 0202 and onward, the Stage Select is the last thing before the 32X's SH2 code starts (SH2 code runs from 0x077800 to 0x080800 according to the ROM's header). I wonder what prompted them to move it? Furthermore, in 0208, that branch comes eight bytes earlier than before, and then in 0214 (one of the last builds submitted to QA), it's moved back another eight bytes. So there were some, but very minute, changes in the game's "global" code at those points. Really inane, I know, but little things like this often fascinate me. :P

    So! If these were indeed intended to be Time Attack layouts, they were among the last layouts to be designed (or implemented, at least). And then just after they finally had a full set ready, they seem to have dropped the concept. Notably, 0119 (where the last one was added) is also the build to add the new Time Attack menu. But...

    TimeAttack-0119.png

    It only features four selections, and they all show Isolated Island. I'm starting to wonder if Time Attack's development went something like this: They decide at some point prior to 1207 that a full-scale Time Attack won't be feasible for whatever reason, and scale back to designing one special layout per stage to suit the mode, with the exception of having made three Isolated Island layouts for it as well (the primitive menu has three numbered Isolated Island selections, and only one for other levels). Then, perhaps just slightly before submitting 0119 to QA, they decide "no, screw doing special versions of the main five levels" for some reason (maybe time?), and scale further back to just doing Isolated Island for the mode, and design a fourth level of it. Then by the time of 0202, they've scrapped the whole concept all together, possibly because it'd have been disappointing not being able to run the real levels from the game. But for some reason they liked their extra Isolated Island levels and wanted to keep them, so they quickly adapted their brand new Time Attack menu into Training and called it a day. Perhaps this might explain why these Training levels don't really "train" you for anything that happens in the real game, apart from being physics sandboxes, I guess. What a saga this poor, ill-fated mode went through.

    Interesting idea, and while I really do wish this game had kept some form of hubs like Crackers wanted to have, these levels feel too linear to actually be hub worlds. Hard to say without proper object layouts, but I would expect hubs to be bigger, open areas that kind of loop around. These layouts however are similar enough in structure to the real ones, just a bit simpler and lacking a few features.

    Such a concept would be fun to explore for a mod project though! Anything would be better than the World Entrance and it's dumb roulette wheel sending you who-knows-where, making all the levels feel disjointed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
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  14. big smile

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    I haven't played Chaotix in decades, and I've only played the PAL version on actual hardware, but I noticed it suffers from slowdown, when there's too much on screen. Even something simple as both characters getting invincibility stars or using one those vehicles to break through walls results in a surprising drop in speed. I never understood why that happened as Sonic 2 can handle two invincible characters with no problems. I wonder if it was a result of the code moving from Saturn to 32X? It might explain why the level design was so bland. Perhaps they were frightened of having any features that would slow the game further (It might also explain Sonic's removal).

    Chaotix uses the rubber band to let two players stay on the screen, thus solving the problem of 1.5 mode in earlier games. But it doesn't seem to have any idea of how two player Sonic should function. Will the player be irritated if they lose their rings because the other player got hit? What happens if one player wants to spend more time on a section than another? How does having two players change the mechanics of obstacles? There's a sense that Chaotix doesn't have any good answers to these questions and so compensates by removing most of the challenge. Seriously, try and kill yourself by playing Chaotix. It's surprisingly difficult (well, if you ignore the "Metal Sonic insta-kill" that happens when standing still for over a minute).

    Ultimately the rubber band is too confusing to make for a decent two player experience. And the only good part of Chaotix, the special stage, doesn't even work with 2 players.

    I remember being sorely disappointed by Chaotix. It has all these characters, but unlike S3&K they have no real effect on game play, they are essentially difficulty settings with Charmy being easy and Mighty being Hard. Yet despite the disappointment, the title has enough oddities to be strangely alluring. The time system and the way it changes the layout of the levels is perhaps the most interesting, and I wonder if it was originally tied to the Saturn's clock feature.
     
  15. Blue Spikeball

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    I actually recall having a blast playing Chaotix with friends back in the day. The ring band made the game actually playable for the second player, while also incentivizing teamwork and coordination. Sure, the levels were kind of bland and didn't have many hazards, but it felt like the real experience came from working together to both overcome and take advantage of the tether mechanic.

    Of course, the ring band becomes a pain the the ass in singleplayer, where the second player is controlled by the AI and the teamwork aspect is gone -- the game turns into "standard Sonic, except it has weird level design and you have to deal with being chained to another guy". And since most people don't play Sonic for the co-op, Chaotix's appeal was extremely niche.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
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  16. Flygon

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    The 32x is really really slow at transferring data to the framebuffer.
    If too much is happening on the 32x layer of Chaotix, it's basically forced to run at 30/25fps.
     
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  17. Black Squirrel

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    I'd talk more about performance on the wiki but I just don't trust Kega Fusion. This is a high DPI monitor, so I'm running Fusion at 3x resolution so I can actually see what's happening, but it stutters from time to time and I can't tell if it's the game.

    And it's the only emulator that'll boot the older prototypes.

    When the 32X side is overloaded it goes out of sync with the Mega Drive so you get wobby graphics, but I'm not sure about the other way around.
     
  18. big smile

    big smile

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    It's weird my 2 player experience was the exact opposite. Getting two players to work together at the same time to do all the rubber band tricks was too annoying to be fun.
     
  19. Black Squirrel

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    I was correcting a mistake about training levels and noticed a thing:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I don't know what a "Secret Bonus" is, or how it's calculated (bearing in mind this is a training level that shouldn't have these things), but in 0119 (above) there's an "x", suggesting it might have been a multiplier. In 0202 (below) it's just a flat score.

    Which in turn means that x graphic might not be used in the final game. Dunno, these things get messy.
     
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  20. Robjoe

    Robjoe

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    I definitely want to do some more thorough comparisons at some point (if only my CRT and retro consoles weren't down two flights of stairs in the basement, right next to the loud heater), but I do know one Fusion inaccuracy off the top of my head (apart from weirdness involving Tails' dummied-out $FFFFFFFF sprite pointer). Go set up a game at Speed Slider, specifically level 3 or 5, with any combo of Mighty, "Tails", or Knuckles. When they first come spinning in, before the titlecard comes up, notice how badly they flicker. Certain other stages also do this to an extent, and different times of day result in different flicker patterns. Speed Slider 5 in the morning or afternoon is the worst I can find; not only do they flicker, they get stuck at certain parts of the screen, flashing back and forth between specific points and where they're supposed to be. (Also of note, this character combo is what further-shafts Marina Madness 0's background in later/final builds. Hmmm....)

    Meanwhile, on hardware, none of this flickering business ever seems to happen with any combination of characters, levels, or times of day. Perhaps some combinations are more demanding than others, and Fusion is struggling to keep up? I seem to remember hearing rumblings a long time ago about Steve Snake saying something to the effect that true flawless 32X emulation would require absurdly high CPU usage. No idea if it's really that difficult, or if it's just the fault of the particular methods he used (or where he even said this in first place), but there don't seem to be any more modern emulators interested in supporting the 32X (gee I wonder why), so technical details here are probably going to be unfortunately sparse until/unless someone goes nuts and works out what the hell is going on inside this crazy machine.

    The "Secret Bonus" seems to be awarded for entering a bonus stage. It's only ever 10,000 points, even if you enter more than one, so it's probably just a binary yes/no variable in memory (having guessed that, however, now I want to check. Could be that it supports higher numbers, but the game just doesn't bother updating it). It seems non-functional in 0119 however, so the multiplier aspect was likely never coded. I'd bet the programmer got lazy and assumed no one would notice or care about this bonus in the first place, and just made it a simple flat rate.

    May this information revolutionize the Chaotix high-score community. :V
     
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