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)”

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”

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”

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”

Demoscene, Developer Profiles, Interviews, Retrospectives

The Mega Drive Unleashed: Titan Demo Group

TitanIn the great console wars of the early 90s, no fight came as heavyweight as that between Sega and Nintendo. It was Sonic vs Mario, Mega Drive vs Super Nintendo, Mode 7 vs… err… the SVP chip, perhaps? Although the Mega Drive may have struggled to find an answer to the SNES’s graphical capabilities – not that it had a need to – it has recently become apparent that Sega’s 16-bit battler was a far more powerful machine than initially anticipated. In the first in a series of related posts, MegaBites uncovers the modern day pioneers who have discovered new hidden potential beneath the Mega Drive’s shiny back bonnet. First in line is Titan Group, with their incredible 16-bit demo Overdrive.

Through a fusion of fantastic graphical, audio and coding techniques, Overdrive combines a series of effects designed to push the Sega Mega Drive beyond its intended abilities. However, Overdrive is no game, nor is it a product of the 90s; it is a new breed of Mega Drive ROM – a demo to showcase Sega’s console not only as a games machine, but also as an art form. How is this possible you might ask? Take a look for yourself and read on…

Continue reading “The Mega Drive Unleashed: Titan Demo Group”

Developer Profiles, Memories, Retrospectives

Sega’s Soccer Secret – Revealed

world-championship-soccer-2-cover-secretIn July 2008, the metaphorical hammer went down on a rather unique eBay auction – one in which UK collector Stewart Greenwood parted ways with precisely £751.99 for, what has now come to be regarded as, one of the Mega Drive’s most sought after PAL releases. You’d be surprised to hear that this title was no limited edition box set, nor was it encrusted in gold. As a game that was originally pushed by Sega for a lightning-fast release, it sadly faded into oblivion at an equally rapid pace. As such, key information about this title has since been lost or shrouded in the utmost secrecy – until now. With exclusive input from the game’s Artist, Stoo Cambridge and Producer, Wallace Poulter, MegaBites presents the secret story of World Championship Soccer 2.

Released to coincide with the 1994 US football World Cup, World Championship Soccer 2 provided the gamer with a tournament-accurate choice of 32 international teams. With options for fully customisable tournament lineups and team formations, the game also provided a 16-bit-tastic menu soundtrack and the very best in 90s in-match music. In a rather interesting touch, World Championship Soccer 2 also provided the opportunity to go back in time to relive the past glories/disappointments of the 1990 and 1986 World Cup tournaments.

A little known fact…

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Although World Championship Soccer 2. Was branded under the Sega Sports name, it is a little known fact that the gaming super-giant had very little input when it came to the game’s development. A quick glance over it’s contributors reveals a credit for the ‘Mystery Chefs’ – a pseudonym that hides the true identity of the creative minds behind the game. But who were they?

World Championship Soccer 2’s development process was conducted by one of the era’s most successful British software houses, one that had firmly demonstrated its capabilities in producing pixel-perfect football titles, quite literally from the top-down. The ‘Mystery Chefs’ were none-other than Jon Hare and Chris Yates. The developer – Sensible Software. Continue reading “Sega’s Soccer Secret – Revealed”

Developer Profiles, Memories, Retrospectives

A Quintasensible Conversation

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 18.29.44Earlier this year, MegaBites posted an article on the legendary British developer Sensible Software. The piece concluded by outlining the imminent release of Sensible Software 1986–1999 – a Kickstarter-funded publication that gives a pixel-by-pixel account of the sights, the sounds and the software of this quintasensibly British gaming software house. Hot on the heels of the book’s release, MegaBites speaks to Darren Wall – the owner and Editor of Read-Only Memories publishing.

As a company etched in video gaming folklore, Sensible Software was headed by long-term school friends Jon ‘Jops’ Hare and Chris Yates, who went on to realise some of the late 80s and early 90s greatest gaming successes. Sensible Software provided gamers with unforgettable memories of incredible gameplay, quirky comedy and some of the catchiest theme tunes this side of the Bitmap Brothers. From the creation of Commodore 64 classics, to iconic Amiga adventures, Sensible also went on to create some of the Mega Drive’s most beloved ports, including Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Mega Lo Mania.

Dust off your disk drives and blow out your cartridges as we uncover the making of a book that gives an account of a software house so vibrant and so revolutionary, it was anything but sensible. 

MegaBites: Let’s start with the book itself. What is Sensible Soccer 1986 – 1999 and what were your main motivations in seeing it realised?

Darren Wall: It all started around six or seven years ago, when I made a few trips to Japan. Out there, they publish a lot of magazine-book hybrids called ‘Mooks’. There’s a large number of Capcom publications in particular, with incredible production art and paintings. I bought stacks of these books while I was out there, on Mega Man, Street Fighter II, R-Type and various RPGs.

The concept for the Sensible Book sprung from a conversation with a friend, who was in Japan with me at the time. I had a strong desire to see books containing similar production artwork for the games that I grew up playing as a kid – games by Psygnosis and titles such as Another World came to mind. I wanted to see books that documented the ‘feel’ of what it was like to actually play these games. Continue reading “A Quintasensible Conversation”

Developer Profiles

Sense and Sensibility

Welcome to the first in a series of company profiles, covering some of the Mega Drive’s greatest gaming developers.

First up… Sensible Software.

Sensible_software_logoEstablished in 1986, Chelmsford based Sensible Software went on to establish itself as a dominant force in the British software developer scene of the early, to mid 1990s. Following its demise at the end of the decade, the company has gone on to gain a cult following amongst gamers today.

Founded by Essex school friends Jon Hare and Chris Yates, Sensible Software was unique in its philosophy as an independent software house. A typically British sense of humor at its core, Sensible Software with its tongue-in-cheek gaming titles, and distinctive graphical style meant for a company who became synonymous amongst the video game industry.

Continue reading “Sense and Sensibility”