Origins of the Sonic 1 water effect revealed

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Gryson, Mar 3, 2021.

  1. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Background: Recently I published this guide to the graphics of the Mega Drive. I included a page about mid-frame palette swapping, of which perhaps the most famous example is the Sonic 1 water effect:

    [​IMG]

    The effect is also seen in Gaiares, which came out six months before Sonic 1:

    [​IMG]

    You can see videos of these in action on the 2nd link I posted above.

    I speculated that the water effect in Gaiares might have served as inspiration for the Sonic version. The way they both hide the CRAM dots with flashing wave sprites is very similar. Oh, and the Japanese version of Sonic 1 features a line scroll ripple effect under the water, similar to Gaiares (this ripple effect was not included in the earlier international releases).

    So, today, Japanese Twitter user @Va_HARA informed me that he had done an interview recently with Yasushi Yamaguchi (aka Judy Totoya) and Naoto Ohshima, published in a Phantasy Star dojinshi, and the topic of the water effect came up. I happened to have this dojinshi but had not yet read the interview. Here is a translation of what is said (brackets indicate my comments):

    As I speculated, the effect seems to have been inspired by Gaiares. It's interesting to think what it would have looked like to do the water entirely with checkerboard dithering. Some games did use such dithering for water, such as the waterfall in this scene from Castlevania: Bloodlines (just the waterfall--the water on the lower part of the screen is done with palette swapping like Gaiares):

    [​IMG]

    One thing's for certain: If the water was done with dithering, it would be a lot harder to play on an LCD nowadays!
     
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  2. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Guess that explains the air rooms in proto LZ. They were originally going to use dithering for the water, then they switched to the mid-frame palette swap method and had to scrap them.
     
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  3. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Good point - They must have made the switch quite late in development. Gaiares was released Dec 26, 1990 in Japan, and who knows when Yamaguchi actually saw it. The late implementation is also why the ripple effect was not included in the international releases.
     
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  4. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    Sonic already uses dithering for its waterfalls - it just uses vertical lines rather than checkerboards. The 8-bit version does water in a similar way to what Ohshima suggests the 16-bit version was doing though.

    Worth noting of course our prototype doesn't have water in it, and that'll be about 3-5 months after the final build of Gaiares, so the times do add up. Nice find!
     
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  5. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Oh, right, as you say the SMS version does have checkerboard dithering water (at 3:59):

     
  6. Hanging Waters

    Hanging Waters

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    Hmmm, very cool find!! It's cool to see how something as simple as water relied on (what seems like) some pretty innovative techniques for the time. I definitely prefer this over the ugly dithering effect in the GG / SMS version.
     
  7. Flygon

    Flygon

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    The interesting thing is, Labyrinth proper for the SMS/GG version actually relies on raster effects also.

    Of course, they also came out after the Mega Drive version.
     
  8. Traversal

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    You know, I wonder: if they were going to use a checkerboard dithered layer for the water then how did they originally plan to handle the background layer? The Mega Drive VDP only supports two background layers right? Perhaps it would've been handled similarly to Labyrinth in the 8-bit versions.

    I also imagine the existence of some sort of background layer in the proto we do have means they had scrapped their original plans for the water layer at that point, although with how rough Labyrinth as a whole is in that it's hard to tell.
     
  9. ICEknight

    ICEknight

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    How do Quackshot and Castle of Illusion do it?
     
  10. Traversal

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    Well yeah, I guess you could put it on the foreground layer, though that'd still impose some decent limitations in design they'd have to work around. I was just stuck on it being a full layer in my head, ala Mario World or something like that.
     
  11. Blue Spikeball

    Blue Spikeball

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    Did a quick mockup of what LZ might have been originally intended to look like:
    [​IMG][​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
  12. Traversal

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    Yeah I'd imagine that'd be close, aside from the lower foreground tiles not being dithered. For reference, here's a example of the effect Iceknight mentioned in Quackshot:


    (About 17:00 in)

    The water would just be dithered tiles in the foreground "filling" in all of the space between the level geometry. The issue with that though comes with any of the foreground decorations that'd have to exist within the water itself, along with any non-blocky geometry tiles. Honestly if that was their original approach to water in Labyrinth I think it'd go a long in explaining why the level design is so blocky in that particular level.
     
  13. DoodlesYT

    DoodlesYT

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    How I first saw it was that they just put a greenish-bluish look, and slapped a wavy effect and bam, job done. I didn't know it was THAT complicated. It DOES make sense, due to the limitations of the mega drive back in the day.
     
  14. Metalwario64

    Metalwario64

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    I'd love to see a hack with these air pockets, the proto background and the dithering. Just to have a glimpse into how the zone could have been.
     
  15. Vangar

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    Fucking called it over a month ago on the HP discord

    [​IMG]

    Love when my theories are correct. Lots of people around here are quick to shoot me down but i've been around long enough, I put serious thought into what I say.
     
  16. ICEknight

    ICEknight

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    That's probably how it looked except for the water line, which might have been created to hide the CRAM dots.

    Now that I think of it, they'd need to store both regular and underwater graphics for the vines and crystals. I wonder if they just decided to make the crystals bigger to fill the VRAM space they didn't need for the underwater ones anymore.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
  17. YuTwo

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    Since you didn't necessarily link to the exact post the Twitter user made I'm going to link it here for any body in the future who will come across this thread:
    https://twitter.com/Va_HARA/status/1367099767642234883

    An archived version of the post will be here: https://archive.vn/yTDOQ

    That Twitter user also seems to show a part of the page where the interview with Totoya is:
    https://twitter.com/Va_HARA/status/1367133793673388034

    Also archived here: https://archive.vn/YYa6b

    [​IMG]
    Image archived here: https://archive.vn/kR4kK/4380a60304fb9a4107fd444f637d2268575d4b74.jpg
    As you seem to have the dojinshi too, as posted here: https://twitter.com/MegaDriveShock/status/1367140817207492614 [https://archive.vn/MJcy7], would it be possible for a scan of the interview with them? This is very important information in regards to the programming of the game. I also understand if you may not be able to scan at all either.
     
  18. Gryson

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    I understand the desire to preserve the interview, but it was just published two years ago and is still available for purchase. The interview itself is very long and is one of the main features of the book, so scanning it would be disrespectful to the many people who worked very hard to put it all together. There's probably no greater harm to future projects like this than people uploading scans while it's still available for sale. In addition, the interviewer has made it clear in the past that he does not want his works scanned without approval.

    That said, I will look through it and see what other new information there is to be had.

    The book is text-heavy so probably not that interesting to anyone who can't read Japanese, but if you'd like to purchase it from outside Japan you can use a proxy service like From Japan to order it from Beep.
     
  19. YuTwo

    YuTwo

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    Okay then. As I said before, I'm completely understanding if you aren't able to scan it especially if it's still under sale. I also respect the wishes of the interviewer. This actually reminds me of the time during the Sonic 1 prototype thread when the Retro Gamer magazine had an article for the prototype and it looked it was being shown around until the moderator, Overlord, had to step in and stop it.

    I would also like to say thank you Gryson for providing this information to us and to the Twitter user (@Va_HARA) for showing it you in the first place. There is always something new to learn about these games.
     
  20. Diablohead

    Diablohead

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    the old water checkerboard would have worked fine on old crt tv's with anything under s-video quality, once you go past that it would be a bit of an eye sore, sonic 1's shield is a good example.

    Also if you think about the background, if they were to use a checkerboard overlay then the background would have to be shaded in a way to work, the final version of it's BG has dithering for shading and that would looked wrong with every other pixel being water.