News/Sonic 3 and Feel Preproduction VHS Tapes
Hello everyone! See? I told you we’d be back sooner than you thought!
Today on Thanksgiving eve, we’d like to share something a bit out of the ordinary. As you may have noticed, we have become a bit of a one-note group by only specializing in video game prototypes. The truth is we have always wanted to dabble in various other preproduction or other video game-related things like asset, art, audio, and video preservation. We also wanted to provide not only an avenue for sharing and cataloging various other things about video games but we wanted to preserve them with a high-quality standard while also guiding those who wish to follow in our footsteps. There are many things besides video game prototypes out there that need to be preserved properly, and in the realm of preproduction things, there are many things that have yet to be explored let alone documented.
A few years ago, we were allowed to purchase a few (SECAM) VHS tapes from someone who used to work in the video game industry. We purchased a few intending to accurately transfer them to a digital format using the best, professional methods available to us. The tapes themselves were in decent condition considering that they haven’t been viewed in almost 30 years, around the time they would’ve also been recorded and viewed. When we received these tapes, we had every intention to transfer them as accurately as possible with any means available to us at the time.
Before and after.
Upon receiving the tapes, we went to a video production house local to the area to have the tapes professionally transferred to retain as much information off the degrading tapes as possible with the intention of having a release during Sonic month a few years ago. When we received the transfers they did after a few days, we found the result to be less than ideal. The video wasn’t deinterlaced properly, there were severe upscaling and compression artifacts, and a weird attempt at softening the image with some kind of filter which destroyed the already faded quality of the tape. The result wasn’t good enough for us, so we shelved the tapes until we had the resources to try again.
Over the years there have been some great developments in accurately preserving video from magnetic tape or other analog video formats, more specifically due to the efforts of the Domesday86 project, in this case, the VHS-Decode project which is based on the work done on the LD-Decode project, which aims to provide pit-perfect backups of LaserDiscs in a digital form. The VHS-Decode project aims to do a direct video head capture of the RF VHS signals off a tape, rather than using a standard audio/video cable from the back of a cassette player. This way you can bypass any interference caused by external factors that could affect the video’s final output. Research and development of these methods are constantly ongoing and are mostly used by enthusiasts in video archival and restoration, which go beyond the capabilities of a traditional video production outhouse.
However, the development of capturing PAL SECAM VHS tapes wasn’t as further along as NTSC VHS and LaserDisc at the time when the tapes were purchased. There was also a rarity of owners that had VHS cassette players capable of playing PAL SECAM VHS tapes. So we decided to wait until the opportunity presented itself when we could transfer the tapes more faithfully.
A few months ago, we contacted Kineko Video for help in faithfully transferring the VHS tapes. Kineko Video has been in the business for two years now transferring 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film prints, Laserdiscs, and VHS tapes while also providing faithful restoration work as well. They recently did work on a full 4K restoration on Super Mario Bros: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach! based on surviving film elements. The tapes were sent to Japan for restoration work done by nappasan, who opted to do a high-quality direct line capture via a frame synchronizer using two high-end SECAM SVHS decks.
The raws we're providing today are interlaced lossless captures, 4:2:2 subsampling, 720x576 at 25fps, the SECAM standard dimensions, and framerate. All of this is important The codec used is MagicYUV, a mathematically lossless codec known for smaller file sizes and greater performance. While we recommend you help the project out with a paid copy (it's totally worth it), their prior releases are free for use.
For this release, and going forward, we want to offer the raw video transfer as well as a high-quality version for easy viewing. Due to the size of the raw video capture, they'll likely be too big to host on the site itself, so we are going to utilize the Internet Archive to store the raw as well as watchable high-quality versions away from our main server. For easier viewing, we'll also upload a clean, bob-deinterlaced encode, algorithmically upscaled to 4K to reduce Youtube's compression.
Without further ado, here’s a brief synopsis of the two tapes we have to offer you today.
Tag your Ristar!
First up, we have a rare, internal-use-only tape showing off various early production design options for the main character in Ristar back when the game was originally called Feel. We displayed this tape in its entirety almost two years ago during our Sonic Month 2020 stream showcasing Sonic Adventure 2 as a small bonus. The footage at the time was based on the original transfer that was done by the local video production company, so we didn’t want to fully release the video on its own without at least giving it another go.
Ristar (also known as Feel, Dexstar, and Volt: The Voltage during development), much like his brother Sonic, was another character designed with the involvement of all branches of Sega in the effort to create a character that had the same mass appeal to the same audience level that Sonic had. In late 1993, shortly after the game had started development, a demo reel showing off color choices, designs, and some animation work was produced by Sega of Japan and shown to executives and producers within each branch of the company to vote on. The design of Ristar in this early preproduction tape was shown in brief prerelease screenshots of the game when the game was still titled “Feel” across all territories. The design for Ristar would continue to be refined even after the game was released, making many of the character designs a little tougher to appeal to the Western market.
Sonic 3 appears once again in November!
Lastly, we have a rare, almost complete look at an extremely late prototype of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The tape consists of two almost complete playthroughs of Sonic 3 spliced together to represent each zone right up until the end credits. The purpose of the tape itself is unknown. The owner of the tape said that the tape was meant for progress reports for those living outside of the West during the original development of the game. However, we think that the tape served a different purpose instead.
During 1993, Sega of Europe began limiting access to video game prototypes after the leaks that occurred in late 1992 where multiple prototypes of various first-party titles (including two prototypes of Sonic 2) were leaked onto bulletin boards and used as the basis for mass-produced bootlegs. Journalists interested in reviewing or previewing games had to fly directly to Sega of Europe and play the games in person to write their coverage of the games. Sonic 3 has to have been no exception, to not repeat what occurred the year prior, Sega was much more protective of the game than any other game produced during this time. To compensate due to demand on wanting to cover the game, Sega possibly offered journalists a temporary VHS tape that contained footage of a playthrough of Sonic 3 that journalists could use to grab frames and write coverage on instead. This way, the game can receive mostly complete coverage without having to risk the ROM being spread all over the internet days before the release date.
This tape proved to be the most troublesome to capture, as the tape was starting to show signs of aging while also having its share of baked-in defects caused by the recording itself. The recording suffers from bad quality especially near the halfway mark during the Carnival Night Zone run which affects both the audio and video. The audio however is consistently bad throughout the entire recording. The audio will often dip in volume throughout the tape and is mostly over-amplified and unbalanced. We think this was due in part to the audio possibly being passed through an audio amplifier or a defective audio/video cable. There is a possibility that the audio can be repaired, however, we wanted to at least share the original raw footage before any major restoration work is done.
The prototype featured on the tape is extremely late, possibly just a few days before release. Despite this, we can determine quite a several differences that were changed or fixed at the last moment before the game was finished. Be sure to check out the article for more information! The write-up was done by our good friend fredbonze, who is known for his excellent Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Unlocked blog which details the inner workings and oversights in the original game. Be sure to check it out!
That’s it for right now! As we stated before, we wanted to look into opening the site a little bit to cover a lot more than just prototypes. Video is just the start, but we’re hoping others will take a serious attempt at making sure video game-related videos can be backed up accurately and preserved in the same manner with the same standards we provide for the prototypes we have. With this release, we hope to provide others a start in seriously looking into the best way to preserve video. The video restoration community has gotten much bigger since we originally bought these tapes, and there are many more options out there currently that one can take advantage of.
For those who have video game-related media on tape or film, whether it be commercials, preproduction, outtakes, or commercially released or promotional, please consider getting into contact with the kind folks at Kineko Video. Since we want to strive to follow in their footsteps in video preservation and standards, please get in touch on our Discord as well and we’ll be sure to help you out. We’d like to thank Tanks from Kineko Video as well as napasan for their work and research in getting the most out of these aging tapes. We’d also like to thank the original owner of the tapes for giving us an opportunity (and hopefully more) to preserve these tapes so that others have a chance to see them for the first time. We hope we can revisit many old videos that were sourced from tapes and breathe new life into them with proper deinterlacing, capture quality, and resolution so that these won’t have to be revisited in the times to come.
Stay tuned, however, as we have one more little surprise to share with you tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving!
Until next time, see you tomorrow!