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”

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”

Memories, Retrospectives

Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 2

Finding-The-Hidden-Palace-Part-2As this humble blog continues to expand its horizons, fans of Sonic the Hedgehog can read the latest episode of MegaBites’ Finding the Hidden Palace on RetroCollect.com.

In a continuation of part one’s epic tale, the second chapter in the series picks up from the events following the fabled ‘Sonic2s Day’ – the North American and European release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. After months of publicity, previews and speculation, the 1992 release of Sonic 2 hailed the release of what is arguably the series’ finest release.

Homing in on the period 1992–1999, part two continues to document the myths, unravel the cryptic clues, and decode the conundrums, behind one of Sega’s greatest hidden enigmas; Sonic 2’s unreleased level – Hidden Palace Zone.

And here’s a little taster for you:

It was early 1999 and Canadian Sonic fan Simon Wai embarked on an online Sonic beta hunt. As far back as 1992, in Hong Kong, Simon had been one of the early few to play a black market copy of the Sonic 2 toy show beta. Now, seven years later, he had a renewed determination to rediscover it.

Beginning his journey on Chinese ROM sites, Simon soon came upon a lone Geocities page. It was here where he located the rather a inconspicuous file named ‘MD8123.smd’ – uncovering the syntax of which provided valuable insight into the file’s origin and identity.

‘MD’ stood for Mega Drive, ‘8’ represented an eight-megabit file, ‘123’ identified the file as the 123rd in its sequence and the ‘.smd’ extension identified it as a file created by a Super Mega Drive – a piece of hardware with the ability to extract a Mega Drive cartridge to floppy disk. It was only when he came to load the file that its true identity was revealed. Simon Wai’s memories came flooding back in an instant.

(Read more on RetroCollect.com.)

Be sure to visit MegaBites soon, as we have a further set of ‘mega’ exciting posts lined up, which you simply will not want to miss!

Memories

Greg Martin – A Tribute

MegaBites has just learnt of the passing away of Greg Martin, who died on the 21st May 2013. As a prolific and gifted artist, Greg was the man behind the EU/US box art of Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic CD, as well as a host of countless other multi-platform video game classics.

Beginning his career at Hanna Barbera, Greg worked on shows such as the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Yogi Bear and numerous other shows by the US animation studio. He was also credited as the creator and illustrator of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series’ characters. Amongst numerous high-profile colleagues with whom he worked, most notable was Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame.

In his later career, Greg worked for Sega, Nintendo and other video game developers, where he was responsible for some of the early-to-mid 90’s most iconic cover art designs. Each artwork was painted and airbrushed, measuring a huge 24–30 inches in height, taking just a week to complete – some in only 3–5 days!

Remember the cover for Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball and that giant fold-out Sonic poster that came with numerous Mega Drive/Genesis releases? They were all Greg Martin. Continue reading “Greg Martin – A Tribute”

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”

Memories, Retrospectives

MegaBites vs BoxedPixels.co.uk – A Christmas Challenge

Xmas MB BPWhat do you mean it’s Christmas 2013? Where did 2012, 2011 and 2010 go? More to the point, whatever happened to the 90s? I was only just getting started!

As fleeting as time may be and as swift as the passage of time may pass, Christmas 2013 marks a significant milestone here on the MegaBites blog – my 20th anniversary as a Mega Drive gamer.

The 25th of December 1993. It my first day in ownership of the Sega’s black-boxed bombshell – a day overloaded by pixels, platformers and gaming perfection. Such a shame that my little brother got carried away with the sweets and vomited down the cartridge slot. But let’s not dwell on that little saga.

As I pondered how I might celebrate this Christmas on the MegaBites Blog, I received a rather interesting Christmas request from a fellow blogger – one with a passion for a console that evokes such venomous rivalry, I can barely bring myself to write its name in full-sized text. This blogger was Julian Hill, the owner of BoxedPixels.co.uk – a website dedicated to the Super Nintendo. That’s right, the Super Nintendo. .

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Boxed Pixels: MegaBites, my Sega-gaming nemesis, it’s Christmas once more – a time of goodwill and cheer to all. This in mind, I thought I’d transform you into Kris of Super Play fame. How do you like your new look?

MegaBites: Kris? Super Play? Wasn’t that a Super Nintendo magazine?

BP: It’s what people had instead of blogs twenty years ago. Although, it was much more effort as you had to turn these things called ‘pages.’

MB: Perfect, just perfect. Happy Christmas to me and a Merry Mode-7 holiday to you!

BP: I see that this Christmas marks your 20th anniversary as a Mega Drive gamer. Any intention of getting your younger brother to mark the occasion as he did in 1993?
MB: You’ll be happy to know that Christmas 2013 has every intention of a being vomit-free affair. That is, unless you plan on bringing the SNES over…

BP: You leave my majestic white box alone!

MB: You see, although the unfortunate events of that Christmas still haunt me to this day, I fondly remember Saturday 25th December 1993 for one thing – the day my obsession for all things Sega Mega Drive began. That entire day was an epic 16-bit odyssey, one that ultimately shaped my future as a gamer and all round Sega obsessive. How was the 90s Christmas experience from across 16-bit enemy lines?

BP: For me, Christmas was the one time I got to see my games on the big-screen TV – if you indeed consider 22″ to be ‘big’. Donkey Kong Country looked fantastic on it. You’ve heard of Donkey Kong Country right?

MB: Donkey-who?

BP: You know, it’s that game with pre-rendered graphics that would never have been possible on your beloved Mega Drive.

MB: I’m sorry, I must have been too busy eagerly anticipating the blast-processing prowess of Ristar. That’s right blast-processing!

BP: I’ll let you in on a little secret MegaBites, Donkey Kong Country was the last thing I ever got from Father Christmas. For that reason alone, it holds a special place in my heart. Why don’t you give it a go?

MB: MegaBites? Nintendo? Are you mad?… Only if you promise me one thing.

BP: Name it.

MB: I’ll play your Donkey Kong if you play Ristar and write all about it on this blog. Deal?

BP: Deal.

MB: Where’s the sick bags? Continue reading “MegaBites vs BoxedPixels.co.uk – A Christmas Challenge”

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”