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Why is the MSX port of Fantasy Zone explicitly based on the SMS version?

Discussion in 'General Sega Discussion' started by Cooljerk, Apr 7, 2023.

  1. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    In the 80's, lots of Sega games got ported to other computers and systems, but they were almost always the arcade ports of the game. The only major exception people know about is the NES version of Shinobi, which is based on the SMS version with a life bar instead of the arcade version. Nearly every other game is explicitly a port of the arcade versions of Sega games, not the Master System port. For example, Wonder Boy -- on nearly every computer, it has the arcade status bar which the SMS version lacks. Or Choplifter, the NES version is a port of the Sega arcade version which is slightly different than the SMS version (the SMS version lacks level 4, which the NES version has).

    The biggest example of a game series which has seen numerous unique ports is Fantasy Zone. Fantasy Zone got *two* NES/Famicom ports, plus ports to loads of computers like the x68000. And all of those are based on the arcade version, because the SMS version is actually quite a bit different.

    Over on SMS Power, there is evidence that Fantasy Zone might have been the very first Sega Master System game made, and was definitely made in-house at Sega of Japan. Because of this, it features a number of pretty unique differences, such as:

    *The generation bases in Level 1 Plaleaf are drawn very differently from the arcade version. In the arcade (and all other versions), the bases are circular and animated, their bottom half of the base blooms outward and opens up to release enemies, like a flower. The SMS version has no animation for the bases, so they instead drew them with the bottom base always opened, but in redrawing it this way, the bottom of the base is shaped in a way completely unlike any frame of animation in the original. They now resemble spikes turned downward instead of hinging pedals. Also note that the background is different, the patterns shown on the mountains and flowers don't exist in that exact arrangement in the arcade or any other port, but are identical on the SMS and MSX (and this goes for all backgrounds in the game):

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    *Volanda, the boss of Level 2 Tabas, only has 3 rotating weak points in the SMS version, instead of the 8 of the arcade version:

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    *Level 3 La Dune features numerous different enemies from the arcade version. Bol-Bol, the enemy that the generators drop, seemingly does not exist in this port, and instead the generators drop Puyolon, the enemy dropped in level 6 Mockstar. And, even weirder, an enemy NOT in the arcade game appears in this level too, a bird-like enemy that appears in groups. I've captured screenshots of both enemies appearing in each game:

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    *Crabumger, the boss of level 4 Dolimica, has been completely changed owing likely to sprite limit. Instead of a boss with two long multi-sprite arms, it is instead a square shark-looking bright monster that shoots teeth at you:

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    *Winklone, the boss of level 6 Mockstar, is also omitted. Instead of being a cloud with multiple arms, it is replaced by a turtle which shoots bullets of its back:

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    *every boss's backgrounds change to a solid color. While multiple ports did this, the SMS port has each boss background change to a different, unique color.

    *the SMS and MSX endings sequences are different than the arcade and other port endings. All endings to Fantasy zone feature the same text, but the arcade endings features a static screen with a graphic for the word "the end" at the bottom and no credits. The SMS and MSX versions feature scrolling text, with no "the end" graphics, and immediately are followed by credits listed in the same order (Staff: Programmed by, Designed by, Music By, Directed By, Special Thanks, Produced by {Pony /} Sega). The only difference is the pseudonyms used in each credits:

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    All these changes are revered in every other home port of Fantasy Zone, *EXCEPT* the MSX port. The MSX port contains all these same weird oddities, but is *NOT* identical to the SMS port. It is very clearly a different port, because it has it's own unique features:

    *Obviously all the color counts for sprites is massively reduced owing to MSX hardware

    *Poppoos, the boss of level 5 Polaria, is different. Instead of multiple rows of increasingly sized snow men, you now fight one single snow man, who shoots other smaller snow-men out of it's beak.

    *Ida 2, the boss of Level 7 Pocarius, is similarly different. Instead of scaling in and out of the screen in multiple sprites, it now is one solid object that shoots smaller versions of itself out of it's mouth.

    Other than these changes, all the unique changes to the SMS version is included in the MSX version, including the background colors for the bosses, and weird changes like the enemy changes and unique not-in-arcade enemy in La Dune.

    The MSX version is made by Pony Canyon, who made lots of other Sega ports to the MSX. Unlike Fantasy Zone, though, all those ports are based on the arcade versions of the Sega games, not the SMS version. Indeed, it seems like this MSX port of Fantasy Zone is very unique among other Sega ports.

    Why was Pony Canyon allowed to follow the SMS version when all others didn't? Why did Sega share their in-house changes for Fantasy Zone with another company? Very strange stuff indeed.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2023
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  2. Chimes

    Chimes

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    The MSX has been a hub for the strangest choices for ports. This port actually got lucky, because it would've turned out like Altered Beast, Power Drift, Alien Syndrome, or After Burner where those four were ripped kicking and screaming straight from the ZX Spectrum.

    The MSX didn't have the luxury of a succulent British tape to feast off from, so the SMS version was used, it seems. Although... the SMS and MSX actually DO have connections via the Korean market where developers threw their hands back and forth in the two systems. Super Boy, anyone?
     
  3. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    That's pretty different than what's happening here. The SMS-MSX Korean connection is really a connection between the SG-1000 and MSX, the same overlap that the colecovision shares with both. In the case of Korea, it's MSX games being adapted to the SMS as SG-1000 games through VDP Mode 0, where the SMS basically becomes an SG-1000, which is a clone of the Colecovision just like the MSX. So the work flow there is MSX -> SG-1000 -> SMS. That's why, for example, Super Boy on the SMS uses tile-width scrolling, because the MSX lacks horizontal scroll registers.

    In this case, it's the opposite. It's an SMS game, one that uses the VDP mode of the SMS that the MSX lacks, and is ported backwards. This is SMS -> MSX, and it's important to note that this is the *original* MSX, not the MSX2 as is the case with the SMS -> MSX2 port of Fantasy Zone II or Outrun also by Pony Canyon. It is significantly much more work to go from the SMS -> MSX, as opposed to going from the MSX -> SMS. That's what makes the port so curious, the amount of work it takes to go from the SMS -> MSX is significant enough, that you'd expect them to just rework the bits from the arcade version instead, since it's tantamount to the same amount of re-engineering on the VDP side of things. There's no real hardware benefit of going from the SMS VDP assets to the MSX like you'd get from the opposite direction conversion.

    When you go from MSX to SMS conversions, you'd typically expect them to share code and use the same VDP assets, but that's not what is happening here. MSX Fantasy Zone plays very differently than SMS fantasy zone, to the point where I doubt they are sharing code, and the assets aren't the same, it's more that they built MSX assets specifically by eyeballing the SMS assets. That's what is so weird, they're the same assets as the SMS version, just redrawn in MSX spec. Look at the background to planleaf -- they're clearly inspired by each other, each dip in the mounts in the background are accounted for, but it's not machine conversion. It's like someone looked at the SMS version, then redrew it by hand. The individual details, like the speckles in the mountain, are completely different despite being similar in motif.

    Also, the MSX conversions from ZX Spectrum games you speak of were primarily released in European markets. I have, for example, the MSX version of Power Drift and it was published by activision in spain on a cassette, and seemingly never got a Japanese release. This version of Fantasy Zone explicitly got a Japanese MSX release, on a cartridge:

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    And in fact, I have trouble finding info on the MSX version releasing in Europe.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2023
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  4. Blastfrog

    Blastfrog

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    I'm not familiar enough with Fantasy Zone to really comment in detail, but my base assumption is that since they both share the Z80 CPU it might've been a bit easier (though you say you doubt they share code, but like I said I'm not familiar). Shadow of the Beast ZX Spectrum version seems to share a lot in common with the SMS version, FWIW.
     
  5. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    The question then becomes why? Why would Sega allow pony to use their code? Sega games were ported to other Z80 based systems all the time, and Sega never let them use their code. All the other examples of Sega games being released on non-sega systems are examples of licensed games being reprogrammed by another company, similar to how Sega would reprogram capcom's licensed games on the Genesis, or how NEC would reprogram Sega's games for the PC Engine.

    As noted, Sega would license games to other Z80 machines like the ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC all the time. Even among Japanese computers, the MSX was not unique. Sega games went to other Z80-based Japanese computers like the Sharp X1 and weren't based off of SMS versions of their games.

    Pony themselves handled a number of MSX ports of Sega games beyond Fantasy Zone, and yet Fantasy Zone is the only one explicitly based on the SMS version.

    This specific case is a curiosity. And FWIW, I don't think they share code.

    EDIT: Even more curious, the packaging for the MSX version of Fantasy Zone completely lacks any sega identification. Comparatively, the Sharp X68000 port of fantasy zone, which was done by dempa, a company whose x68000 ports often were direct conversion of Sega Genesis ports handled by the same team, lists Sega prominently all over the box:

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    Last edited: Apr 8, 2023
  6. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel

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    There is a big distinction to be made between the British and Japanese conversions. Over here, it was about Activision or U.S. Gold or Elite winning the license to produce home versions of arcade games, which they'd then sub-contract to development teams. If they were lucky, they'd be given an arcade machine, maybe a cassette with the music on it... and that's it. No design documents, no source code, just look at the arcade cabinet and try and copy things by eye. Pray that the service menu has a graphics viewer.

    I know there were cases of reverse-engineering the arcade board but that requires expertise and time that these studios didn't generally have. It's amazing any of these things are recognisable.

    (and just the other week I was introduced to Elevator Action's home ports, which were made in developers' free time. Because the game was old, resources weren't allocated to make a proper conversion, just have one or two guys spend a bit of time on making something vaguely similar)

    Sega never really cared about these ports, it was just another source of income from a far off land.



    In Japan, Sega did actually share real source code and assets with third-parties, which is why the conversions are generally more accurate. And in the MSX's case, it wasn't a "lazy Spectrum port for the Spanish market" situation - it was a viable and popular home format.

    I don't know how close the relationship was with Sega and Pony Canyon, but there were loads of SG-1000 -> MSX ports, and a couple of Master System ones, such as High School! Kimengumi and (I think?) Fantasy Zone II (maybe OutRun too - I'd have to re-check how close it was). None of Pony Canyon's releases were ports of arcade code - I imagine they realised the SG-1000/Master System was a better base to work with.
     
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  7. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    There is a huge caveat with this, which is why I'm making such a big note about the MSX version of Fantasy Zone: in the other cases where Sega "shared" code with a third party company, like Dempa, those instances came where the same third party company handled Sega's console ports too. Example, Dempa with Afterburner 2.

    From what I can tell, Pony did NOT contribute to the SMS version of Fantasy Zone at all, which is why it's so weird.

    These are all ports to the MSX2. Again, fantasy zone is unique, in that it's a port from the SMS to the MSX1. All of Pony's ports to the MSX1 are based off of SG-1000 ports of existing games, except Fantasy Zone. Fantasy Zone is the only port of an SMS game to the MSX1.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2023
  8. Pirate Dragon

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    Surely it's just an issue of timing, Fantasy Zone MSX port came out after the Mark III release, so they could base it off of that version. After that they moved on to MSX2.
     
  9. Cooljerk

    Cooljerk

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    Then why were the nes/famicom titles based off the arcade version instead of the sms version? Why werent any of the numerous other sega releases on rival systems based off the sms versions?
     
  10. Pirate Dragon

    Pirate Dragon

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    Different developers made different choices.
     
  11. Gryson

    Gryson

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    Somewhat tangentially related, but this calls to mind Yuji Naka's story of developing the Mega Drive port of Capcom's Ghouls 'n Ghosts.

    He went to Capcom, said he wanted to make a port of the game, and they negotiated a deal. Then, Capcom gave him all of the original arcade source code, ROM data, and even the graphics tools that they used. It's hard to believe that a company would give its rival the source code to one of its games like that, but it was the 80s and there was definitely a different attitude back then.

    Incidentally, Naka's idea for Sonic (the game, not the character) came about due to the sloped ground of Ghouls 'n Ghosts. He messed around with increasing the movement speed of the character on the sloped ground and realized it made for a cool game mechanic.