Sonic 2 ROM size was increased at the last minute + other info (new interview with Masaharu Yoshii)

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Gryson, Mar 19, 2021.

  1. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Last year (February 14, 2020 to be exact), a lengthy oral history interview was conducted in Japanese with former Sega employee Masaharu Yoshii. Yoshii worked at Sega from 1970 to 2000. For the latter part of that time, he was a senior business manager in the consumer software department. When the Genesis came out in 1989, Yoshii transferred to Sega of America, where he worked for five years. Most of the interview focuses on the business aspects of developing software (licensing, working with third parties, etc.).

    However, you might recognize Yoshii’s name from the credits of Sonic 2, where he is listed as “Director.” In the interview, he describes his connection to Sonic 2. I’ve translated some limited excerpts of what he says. The full interview is far too long for me to translate (~75 page transcript!), but I’ve tried to get the more interesting things related to Sonic 2.

    TLDR:
    • Yoshii temporarily took over STI when Mark Cerny quit halfway through the development of Sonic 2. His job was to ensure solid progress was being made on the game.
    • Unlike Japan, most of the developers did not/could not work late hours, even though time was tight.
    • Yuji Naka announced just before the final deadline that the game didn’t fit the ROM size they had been allocated.
    • Sega president Hayao Nakayama OK’d a last-minute increase in the ROM size rather than risk the game being delayed, despite the higher cost.
    • Yoshii was most impressed by the 50 staff at SOA hired solely to do bug checking. In Japan, this tedious work would have been done by the developers themselves.
    The interview excerpts:
    His memory seems to be slightly off about the ROM size, but these events did happen 30 years ago. If I stumble upon any other interesting bits, I'll try to post them here.
     
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  2. Brainulator

    Brainulator

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    I sincerely wonder if increasing the cartridges' ROM sizes had anything to do with the decision to not use holographic labels for Sonic 2, given that production costs factored into both.
     
  3. Blastfrog

    Blastfrog

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    Hm, perhaps the decision to fully cut HPZ was in fact (at least in part) due to space issues, before they got approval to increase the size. Also, that's insane that they wanted to cram it into 512kb just like Sonic 1. There's just too much content, and compression can only take you so far.

    EDIT: I dunno about this claim, even the Nick Arcade build is a megabyte.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
  4. tokumaru

    tokumaru

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    That doesn't sound right, they couldn't possibly have expected to fit an extra playable character, more animations, more levels, more songs, etc. in the same space as Sonic 1. And even if this was the case, the size bump would definitely not have happened at the last minute...

    He's probably misremembering something... Just the fact that he keeps mentioning the final game is 6Mb goes to show that he doesn't remember things that well.

    I'm also not convinced that having two or three 2Mb chips in a cartridge would be any cheaper than having a single 8Mb chip, specially when talking about Mask ROMs rather than off-the-shelf parts...
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2021
  5. Diablohead

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    I can't imagine sonic 2 planning to be the same rom size as sonic 1, not when we have development sketches and concepts showing a lot of new zones and things.
     
  6. Gryson

    Gryson

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    I suggest trying to interpret his statements within the facts as we know them. Obviously, he is probably off about the specifics--he was a business manager who was only involved in the latter half of development in a 'hands off' way, but I doubt he is mis-remembering having to ask the president of the company to allow them to use a larger ROM size (that's one of those 'oh shit I'm screwed' moments in the life of a Japanese businessman that he's not likely to forget).

    So, if we take for truth that the ROM size was increased:

    They were probably aiming for 768 KB. That's why he remembers that originally they were going to use two ROM chips (512 + 256). If they were aiming for 512 KB, then it still would have been one chip (although he might have been remembering the 256 KB EPROMs they used for prototypes). Obviously they didn't bump the size estimate from 512 KB to 1 MB at the last minute - there's no way Yuji Naka would risk that.

    How to account for the Nick Arcade prototype size of 1 MB? It's unoptimized code, full of empty data. But...

    Most importantly: I suspect there was also the usual fight between the developers and management over ROM size. Yuji Naka probably wanted 1 MB, designed the game for 1 MB, and at the last minute gave management the ultimatum: ship it on 1 MB or I'm going to have to spend weeks cutting stuff out and risk missing Christmas. I mean, it wouldn't be the first time that happened. Remember Phantasy Star II?

    Yuji Naka on PSII: “The monster data and the dungeon data wouldn’t fit into the 4meg cartridge at first, so I begged at an executive meeting to have the cartridge upgraded to 6Mb and promised them that I would make the deadline no matter what. This eventually became the reason I was able to make it within 2.5 months, and I learned the lesson to be careful on what to say in front of high ranking officers at meetings.”

    So, yes, it's possible that management set some arbitrary target ROM size of 512 KB or 768 KB and it was completely ignored by Naka.

    And the cost difference of 256 KB was probably millions and millions of dollars at the scale we're talking about for Sonic 2, so it was a huge issue and I'm sure management wanted to keep it as low as possible to maximize profits.
     
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  7. Overlord

    Overlord

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    512+256 makes sense to me, and was later changed to either 512+512 or 512+256+256. Likely they were working with a 1MB size with the proto boards simply to make life a bit easier and intended on compressing towards the end of the game's cycle, then had a "fuck, we don't have the time/space to get this back down to 768" towards the end. MD games exist with a 768KB ROM size.
     
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  8. Clownacy

    Clownacy

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    Yuji Naka ignoring management and targetting 1MiB from the get-go makes the most sense to me: Sonic 2 barely fits in 1MiB as it is, let alone whatever other size they were apparently thinking of. Do you know how many spare bytes there are at the end of the ROM? 20. Yes, there are a couple hundred bytes wasted elsewhere on padding which can be reclaimed, and there is some unused data that could have been deleted, but not enough to fit the game on a smaller ROM chip.

    The devs already compressed practically everything they could - how would three weeks have made a difference? They'd already gone as far as modifying the SMPS driver to support compressed music data, and trimming the ends off the DAC samples to save space. If they were going that far just to fit in 1MiB, I can't imagine how they'd fit something smaller - they'd have to cut content.

    EDIT: Looking at the prototype ROMs, it seems that the compressed music data was added at last second - between the September 14th prototype and the CENSOR prototype. That's within just two weeks of the final build of the game. So I guess some last-minute size optimisations did occur. Without compressed music, the game wouldn't have fit in 1MiB.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2021
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  9. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Yeah, it's hard to believe Yuji Naka didn't know what was going on. I think it's likely he was going to get his way regardless of what management said--they really didn't have any control over the matter when he could essentially hold the game hostage. We're also talking the end of 1992. I think most big games were 1 MB at that point, and the first 2 MB games had even started to be released.
     
  10. SystemsReady

    SystemsReady

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    hahahahah god even Phantasy Star had this kind of shit? what even was Sega in the 90s...

    (an aside: the dungeons in PSII are way too damn long, so honestly I'd love to see the alternate universe version where they trimmed that annoying stuff down)
     
  11. Xiao Hayes

    Xiao Hayes

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    I beat PSII despite the game asking you to not play it because it gave me kind of a unique weird feel. It was a bit like the "Darkest Dungeon" of that era. Also, I remember screenshots or mockups of pseudo-3D dungeons like in the first game but with better graphics, that could have been great if they had the chance to do it.
     
  12. SystemsReady

    SystemsReady

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    oh yeah, I beat PSII also, albeit with a walkthrough constantly up because seriously, those dungeons. But it's a game that totally stayed with me due to its aesthetic and feel. I love the battle screen, with the 80s grid and the intense details on the enemies.
     
  13. Beamer the Meep

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    I believe those mockups were for PSIV actually. From what I understand, the team never felt confident implementing the 3D dungeons in PSII because Naka had his hands full with Sonic and he was the one who programmed them in PSI. I digress though.

    Based on what I've read of the man, it seems fairly plausible that Naka played hardball with the management in order to get his way. If I recall correctly, he was planning on leaving Sega for good right before the development of Sonic 2 started, so management placated him by giving him STI and whatever team he wanted to bring over from Japan. He knew he could get away with it because he was the indispensable man at the time. I'm not sure how accurate the claims are, but his supposed quarrel over STI using his engine for Xtreme also comes to mind...
     
  14. Blue Spikeball

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    Oh man, I'm counting my blessings that they didn't bring back the faux-3d dungeons in the MD PS games. Those were incredibly repetitive and a pain in the ass to navigate :psyduck:
     
  15. SystemsReady

    SystemsReady

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    hahahah I admittedly love the hell out of it, both the normal dungeons and the first-person ones needed walkthroughs on hand as they were equally labyrinthine, but at least the latter looked super interesting (to me). Probably the earliest in-game realization of monsters and the dungeon being integrated in a turn-based setting...you basically literally running into them. (I could also go on about how damned cool it was that you could communicate with certain enemies to bypass fighting altogether but that's not related to this)

    aNYWAY,

    (seriously though I'm kind of amazed that it's not just Sonic that gets those major time problems within Sega, especially given that it's not like Phantasy Star was super, super huge like Sonic was)
     
  16. The Joebro64

    The Joebro64

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    Hey @Gryson do you think you could tell me the page numbers that this excerpt of the interview is found on? I'm currently planning a rewrite of the Sonic 2 Wikipedia page and I'm looking to include this info.
     
  17. Gryson

    Gryson

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    The first, longer excerpt is on pp. 13-16 of section 2-2 (here).

    The second, shorter excerpt is on pp. 20-21 of section 2-1 (here).