Demoscene, Developer Profiles, Memories

Overdrive 2 – A Voyage to the Boundaries of 16-Bit (Part 2)

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A GIGANTIC construction moves serenely through space where, though the night never ends, there’s always enough light to see strange objects… shots of blinking instrument panels, of wildly bleeping computers, of cryptic messages clattering in square type-faces across television screens… a gothic set in space‘.

…So were the words of Vincent Canby of the New York Times in his 1979 review of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’. Fast forward some 40 years and the same passage could equally be applicable to a work of its own groundbreaking nature – welcome to the final part of Megabites’ series, describing the behind the scenes tale of the making and release of TiTAN demogroup’s Overdrive 2 for the Sega Mega Drive.

In part one of this article we left the group on a cliffhanger. Nigh on two years had been spent by TiTAN’s members to realise a sequel to their groundbreaking demo ‘Overdrive‘, a pulverising powerhouse of a demo, whose follow-up saw its genesis with the discovery of a groundbreaking graphical technique hidden deep within the recesses of the Mega Drive’s video chip. New discoveries, new possibilities, stunning graphics, and nail-biting deadlines ensued. TiTAN had an awe-inspiring 16-bit vision. But could it possibly be realised?

Let’s dive straight in and catch up with the group members Kabuto, oerg866, Medo, alien and Neoman. Overdrive 2’s first public unveiling at Cologne’s Evoke 2016 demo party was mere hours away. Yet, a tough decision had to be made.

A revision to the plan

oerg866: Neoman, Kabuto, Medo and I sat down at a quiet table in the corner of the Evoke party hall and discussed what to do with the demo.

Kabuto: With still only 60% of the demo fully complete, we simply had to postpone. We didn’t have a good feeling about the demo and we felt that we could do way better. It was a tough decision.

By then we had two Evoke-themed artworks, which we had no choice but to drop and eventually redesign.

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And so the group set about their work, working relentlessly to do their sequel justice. The next opportunity to showcase their demo was the Revision 2017 demo party in Saarbrücken.

Medo: In the week leading up to Revision, we rented a house in Alkmaar in the Netherlands to really bring the demo together. After days of furious around-the-clock coding, pixelling, animating and testing, we’d made a lot of progress. Large parts of the demo were in a shape that we were happy with. However, when the time came to pack up and leave for Saarbrücken, we still had quite a few loose ends to tie up. There were bugs, the music didn’t match the flow of the demo in some parts, and the final scenes and the ending didn’t fit together well. It was clear that a lot of work would still needed to be done at the party.

To make matters worse, on the drive to the party, the car that myself and oerg866 were sharing got rear-ended. There were no injuries, but the car was totalled and we were stranded in the Netherlands for many precious hours.

oerg866: While we were there, I managed to push code through a 3G network courtesy of Medo’s phone. We ensured Kabuto had the final version of my 3D logo scene (the one with the tiled head and the ‘infiltrating’ text) to be placed in the final demo sequence. To tell the truth, I would never have wanted to miss that experience. Things aren’t so bad when you’re in a tough situation with a friend.

I’m grateful that my parents were able to ditch all of their plans so they could pick us up and drop us off at the demo party location.

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Medo: At the party, the closer the demo came to completion, we found that less and less of us could actually help. Figuring out the remaining important issues and finalising the timing of the last scenes of the demo wasn’t something that you could delegate easily.

Kabuto: When we arrived at Revision there was still a lot to be done. While we were finishing the demo I was surprised how well everything fell into place. Not even that car accident which caused important parts of my equipment to arrive late could stop us.

Once we had all arrived, everything seemed so seamless – oerg866 had the idea to add an outro to the demo (inspired by the credit roll of the ‘Desert Dream’ demo by Kefrens). TiTAN group member Lilibox did an awesome job of modelling those scenes. Despite my music code being a horrible mess, it didn’t fail and Strobe found enough time to expand the music sequence.

Medo: The deadline came, but we still needed more time. Fortunately, the organisers turned a blind eye. We were still able to submit the demo despite uploading the entry long after we should have.

I remember going up to the organisers to finally get the demo recorded, only three and a half hours before the competition was scheduled to start. When it was running and recording, a few organisers gathered around to watch. It was really elating, and we all had huge grins on our faces.

Kabuto: Finally! Our hardware was working flawlessly. Oh the look on the organisers’ faces! What a huge relief.

oerg866: It was so funny. The whole recording team applauded.

And so the moment arrived. Overdrive 2 was screened to the anticipating public.

Medo: There’s is nothing quite like seeing your demo in a competition. It was in development for years and I’d seen it countless times, but now everyone else had the chance to experience it for the first time. Watching it run on the huge screen, the powerful sound system of the party hall and hearing the cheers of the audience as they appreciated scene after scene was a great feeling.

The result? Overdrive 2 won first place in the Oldskool Demo category. And it didn’t stop there…

alien: Overdrive 2 won both Best Low-End Production of 2017 & Best Technical Achievement of 2017 at the Meteoriks Awards 2018, which was just the icing on the cake. Personally for me though, the true highlight was the Revision demoparty – although I wasn’t able to be there – seeing the reactions live on the stream made me very proud.

Back on the map

oerg866: I’m proud of the group and I’m proud of myself for being able to leave a mark on a scene full of people – legends – that are far more talented than I am. I have ultimately proven to myself that you don’t have to be the brightest programmer, graphician or musician to make it in the demoscene. Overdrive 1 was my child, if you will, which I poured my heart and soul into, and I helped with Overdrive 2 wherever I could. Being on the big stage – not only for winning the competition – but also for winning the Meteoriks awards a year later was more than I had ever hoped for.

Ultimately I’m proud of this chain of events and that it had such a massive effect on all fronts. Both Overdrive 1 and 2 have put the Mega Drive and TiTAN back on the demoscene map and have turned the group into one of the big players.

So, what does the future hold for TiTAN demo group?

Kabuto: Back when we wrote Overdrive 2, we were more than sure that this project was our last one. But in fact, our Mega Drive journey is still going on. We’re preparing the final version of Overdrive 2.

Plans for the final version include lots of effect improvements and glitch fixes, a 7 MB ROM size for better flash cart compatibility, but no NTSC compatibility.

People often ask why Overdrive 2 is PAL only. That’s because most of us (and the demoscene in general) operates in PAL regions. PAL also offers a number of technical advantages (more CPU / graphics transfer time per frame). Although we could fix Overdrive 1 for NTSC, for Overdrive 2 this would just be impossible to do without either a major downgrade of most of its effects or a shrinking the screen size.

I’m not sure about any further TiTAN Mega Drive demos – if there’s going to be any, they’d be small productions, nothing as huge as Overdrive 2.

alk: Definitely nothing as huge.

oerg866: Never say never!

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Many, many thanks to alien, alk, Jorge, Kabuto, Medo and oerg866 and all members of TiTAN demo group for all their time, feedback, insight and fantastic imagery. Long may your exploration of the Sega Mega Drive continue!

Find TiTAN online at titandemo.org

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Demoscene, Developer Profiles, Interviews, Memories

Overdrive 2 – A Voyage to the Boundaries of 16-Bit (Part 1)

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Saturday 29th October 1988, a time when 8-bit was at its pinnacle, a time of the Famicom, a time of Mario – a time that was dominated by three awe-inspiring syllables, Nin-ten-do. Saturday 29th October 1988 – Super Mario Bros 3 was only seven days old, and a Nintendo console could be found in one in three Japanese homes. Saturday 29th October 1988 was the day that all of that would change – the day that saw the release of the Sega Mega Drive.

It would be two years before Nintendo would respond with the release of the Super Famicom – a machine that boasted a superior palette of 32,768 colors, advanced audio, increased RAM and pseudo-3D rotating graphics. On paper at least, the ensuing console war could arguably have turned into a one-horse race.

For years, the Sega Mega Drive simply had no viable (or at least affordable) response to the raw graphical capabilities of its Nintendo counterpart. Sure, hardware innovations such as the SVP chip, the Mega CD and 32X all brought advanced graphical capabilities to the humble Mega Drive base unit – but at a significant financial cost.

Little did we all know, that under the Mega Drive’s sleek exterior sat dormant hardware capabilities with the power of equaling, and possibly surpassing the SNES’s graphical wow factor. Even now, some 30 years after the console’s release, the Mega Drive is still revealing its true potential – all thanks to modern day programmers, coders, composers and artists such as the TiTAN demo group. Continue reading “Overdrive 2 – A Voyage to the Boundaries of 16-Bit (Part 1)”

Memories, Retrospectives

The Continuing Future of Retro

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The eagle-eyed among you will notice this blog has had a bit of a spruce up – a touch of white here, a new logo there, mobile and iPad compatibility. How very swish!

Would you believe it’s been three years since the last post on this site? Importantly, I’d like to thank the many tens of thousands of you that have continued to pour into the site, even over its dormant period. Thank you all and thank you for the stream of comments and emails that have continued to hit my inbox.

Three years may be an eternity in the world of technology, but over that time, some of the most exciting developments in the Mega Drive’s modern history have been witnessed. It’s 2018 and the Mega Drive still lives on. Incredible.

So, welcome dear retro gamer to the all-new Megabites Blog! Come on in, blow the dust from that cartridge, hit the power button and let’s begin this new game.

So what’s changed over the past three years?… Continue reading “The Continuing Future of Retro”

Retrospectives

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2 – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

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Avert thine eyes! Nintendo alert! Once more, this site is graced with imagery of Sega’s mortal enemy, and for that I apologise. However, it’s all for a good cause – MegaBitesBlog.com’s latest article on RetroCollect.com – ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2’.

During the early-to-mid 1990s, the bitter rivalries between the console superpowers were hard to ignore. It was Sega vs Nintendo, plumbers vs hedgehogs and Mega Drive vs Super Nintendo. Amongst these battles, one gaming format had risen to the top to rule supreme over the video game industry – the cartridge. ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge’ is the story of that medium, and with it, the incredible lengths taken by developers of that age to topple the competition and reshape the gaming market forever. Continue reading “Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2 – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com”

Developer Profiles, Memories, Retrospectives

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

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Mega Drive fans, for what you are about to read, I sincerely apologise. MegaBites Blog has written about Nintendo. Shock, horror, blasphemy! I know, I know… But it’s for a good cause; my latest contribution to RetroCollect.com – Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One. Despite such treachery, you’ll be glad to hear that the piece is evenly balanced with a heavy dosage of Sega goodness, and a brief appearance by our Lord and saviour, Mr Tom Kalinske. Phew!

During the console generations spanning the 8-16 bit era, no matter if your allegiances sat with Sega, Nintendo, SNK or NEC, as gamers we all shared one thing in common: the cartridge medium – video gaming in its most physical form. Continue reading “Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com”

Memories, Retrospectives

Sega and the Console from Mars

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Misaligned, mistimed and ultimately misunderstood, sadly, the Mega Drive 32X will forever go down in history as one of the greatest failures in video game history. Although the tale of the 32X’s release and its rapid downfall remains a well documented piece of gaming folklore, much less is known about the hardware’s earliest conceptions. Read on as MegaBites takes a tantalising glimpse behind the closed doors of Sega of America’s development labs, to reveal a previously forgotten piece of hardware from a time before the 32X as we knew it – the Sega Mars Development Aid System.

It was the evening of the 8th January 1994 – the eve of that year’s Winter CES – as Hayao Nakayama (Sega CEO), Tom Kalinske (Sega of America President), Joe Miller (Sega’s Senior Vice President of Product Development) and a host of other top-level Sega personnel gathered in a Las Vegas hotel room. The night’s discussion centred around Sega’s strategies of introducing the gaming public to the brave new world of 32-bit gaming. Continue reading “Sega and the Console from Mars”

Retrospectives

Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com

2017-finding-the-hidden-palace-part-4Regular visitors to this site may have been aware that, since January 2014, I’ve been compiling a rather special series of articles on RetroCollect.com. I’m now proud to announce that this epic Sega saga has finally reached its conclusion…

MegaBites Blog presents Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com – the Internet’s first fully compiled account of the 21-year hunt for Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s mysterious deleted level, Hidden Palace Zone.

Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Casino Night and Mystic Cave… Just a few of the legendary zones that make up one of the greatest games to ever be committed to cartridge – Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yet, for every spike pit, for every loop, for each pinball flipper and hellish underwater section – unbeknown to Mega Drive and Genesis gamers everywhere – there was one vital zone that had been sorely omitted. Continue reading “Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com”

Developer Profiles, Retrospectives

Solving the Korean Console Conundrum

The Sega Mega Drive – one console, a thousand variants. During the 90s, amongst a host of hardware releases, the combined forces of Sega’s worldwide divisions brought us a vivid spectrum of gaming machines – the Sega Genesis, the Multi Mega, the CD-X, the Mega Jet, the Tera Drive, the Wondermega and the Nomad. From Europe, to the US, Japan and beyond, the list of licensed Sega upgrades and alternatives went on… and on. Yet, during that time, and far beyond the console war battlefield, an Asian tiger prowled its own territory. This was a land where the Sega name was all but a whisper – a video game market operating in a seemingly alternate reality, in which Samsung and Hitachi ruled the console roost, and where Sonic the Hedgehog called the mysterious Super Gam*Boy and Super Aladdin Boy consoles his home. This was South Korea – a country that also concealed one of the 16-bit era’s most obscure gems: the Sega ‘New Mega Drive’.

It was during a spot of online ‘retro’ research that I stumbled upon a website that detailed a system I had never seen, nor heard of before. “Very little is known about this product,” the website read. “It is assumed that it was released into the South Korean market quite late and was less successful than previous models. It is currently unknown who is responsible for this console or whether it had official backing.Of course, I was intrigued – even more so when I saw the image that accompanied the text. Could it be? Was this really a Sega Mega Drive? Continue reading “Solving the Korean Console Conundrum”

Retrospectives

Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 3

imageIn what is fast becoming an epic ‘Sega saga’, MegaBites is proud to reveal the third instalment of its RetroCollect.com series Finding the Hidden Palace.

Unraveling the twists, the Tails (get it?) and the mysteries behind Sonic 2’s infamous deleted level, Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 3 picks up the story in Christmas 1998. As a period otherwise marked as the death of the 32/64-bit era, the Sonic community had never felt to alive. At last, their holy grail had been unearthed – the ‘Simon Wai Prototype’, one of Sonic 2’s earliest beta revisions. Not only did this prototype reveal Sonic 2 in one of its most rough and raw forms – unveiling long lost Badniks, and unreleased zones – for the very first time, it also provided gamers their first opportunity to play the mythical Hidden Palace Zone. Continue reading “Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 3”

Demoscene, Developer Profiles, Interviews, Retrospectives

The Mega Drive Unleashed – Bad Apple

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Believe it or not, this screenshot is taken from an animated demo sequence on the Sega Mega Drive. Entitled Bad Apple, and based on the Japanese indy vertical-shooter Touhou, this demo is arguably one of the strongest examples of full-motion video and near CD quality music on the Mega Drive. That’s right, the Mega Drive! In the latest addition to the Mega Drive Unleashed series, MegaBites catches up with Stephane Dallongeville – the man behind not only Bad Apple’s 16-bit Sega conversion, but also a rather special Mega Drive port of a SNES Super FX chip classic.

More on the ‘enemy’ later… First, here’s Bad Apple:

Continue reading “The Mega Drive Unleashed – Bad Apple”