News/The Lost Street Fighter II: Champion Edition for Sega Mega Drive
Hello everyone, and happy July 4th! While the world is going to hell, how about a new prototype release? Today we have something to share that is very historically significant. This prototype has been a mystery for years, and hasn't resurfaced until now. Presenting, not one, but two prototypes of the cancelled Street Fighter II: Champion Edition port for the Sega Mega Drive! While a similar prototype has been dumped many decades a go, this is the first time the original non-bootlegged prototype has been made available. The history behind this port and its significance to the history of Sega and Capcom is shrouded in mystery, so this game has quite a story to tell. Keep reading on!
The original arcade version of Street Fighter II (known as Street Fighter II: The World Warrior) was released worldwide sometime in March of 1991. The game was a huge success, so much so that it quickly became a pop culture phenomenon around the world. At the time, the aging arcade industry was declining as it paled in comparison to the golden age of arcade games that occurred almost a decade before. The release of Street Fighter II brought life into the arcades again, and was so influential that it popularized the fighting game genre, giving birth to games like Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, and Tekken. What Street Fighter II did for the arcade industry can be compared to the likes of what Mario did for console gaming in the mid 80s.
At the time of Street Fighter II's release, Nintendo had developed a close third party relationship with Capcom. Despite being in the business of developing arcade titles, Capcom was also in the market of developing games for Nintendo's consoles and handhelds. Despite this relationship, Capcom also supported other platforms such as the Sega Mega Drive and various personal computers at the time by outsourcing ports to independent software houses. Capcom themselves usually did not develop these ports themselves and traditionally relied on contracting development to other companies. Some of these companies often had to port games from scratch with very little guidance from Capcom itself (if you were a software developer outside of Japan, that is). For instance, the Mega Drive ports of Strider and Ghouls'n Ghosts were actually reprogrammed from scratch by Sega of Japan's R&D 2 department and not by Capcom themselves.
Thus, a home console port of Street Fighter II was inevitable. The first console port of Street Fighter II was released on the Super Famicom (SFC) in Japan on June 10th, 1992 and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in the United States just five days later. Capcom had entered an exclusivity clause that guaranteed that the console port of Street Fighter II would be a system exclusive, meaning that no other console (aside from some personal computers) could have the game for at least a certain period of time (most likely six months to a year). This gave Nintendo a significant advantage in the console wars against Sega that year, especially during the impending holiday season. While Sega was beginning to capitalize on its success with original titles like Sonic the Hedgehog, Nintendo was riding the waves of the cultural impact that Street Fighter II had brought to arcades across the entire world. The SNES port of Street Fighter II was one of Capcom's largest financial successes, selling over 6.3 million cartridges worldwide easily making it their best selling game on the system. Street Fighter II was possibly one of Nintendo's largest system sellers, which guaranteed a larger pool of potential customers to sell their other software to.
Understandably, Sega wanted a piece of the action too! Negotiations with Sega in regards to bringing Street Fighter II to the Sega Mega Drive began sometime around the Summer Consumer Electronic Show of 1992. Capcom Japan were understandably against the idea of going against their relationship with Nintendo and were reluctant to work with Sega for specifically this reason. However, a deal was struck, and Sega was getting their Street Fighter II. Not only would Sega be getting Street Fighter II, Capcom would now become one of Sega's official third party licensees. To sweeten the deal, Capcom offered to port the then recently released Champion Edition which was a re-balanced version of Street Fighter II that allowed you to play as the four "boss" characters which hadn't been released on any console prior and was a significant improvement over Nintendo's port. Since Capcom were not equipped to handle Mega Drive development themselves, they decided to outsource this port to an unknown third party software house under Capcom's supervision (we'll go more into this later in the article). Why Capcom didn't get Sega of Japan's R&D department to port the game over instead is a mystery. However, it's possible that Sega of Japan was shifting development into creating their own original titles and were no longer offering to reprogram games for other companies.
Development on the port of the game began shortly after the deal was formed in 1992. Both Capcom and Sega were very secretive about the production of the port as well as the deal itself. Given rumors cited directly from Sega at the time, the game had actually been developed, finished, and play tested before the holiday season that year. There were also rumors that Sega was intentionally feeding rumors about the possibility of the game surfacing on a Sega console in an effort to stifle Nintendo's holiday console sales and to support their own.
In the Fall of that year, rumors began to spread of Sega's offering of Street Fighter II despite never being formally announced by the company itself. Many magazines were buzzing with excitement for the port, since the Mega Drive hardware could potentially facilitate the requirements necessary to produce a very accurate port of the game. The home console market for video games was very different back in the 80s and early 90s in comparison to today's. While consoles were home to many original titles that were made specifically for a certain console, consoles at the time were home to many ports of arcade games. Home console ports usually had to contend with the limitations and architectural differences of the hardware itself and this usually produced vastly different results in comparison to the originals. The dream of many gamers back in the day was to have "arcade perfect" renditions of the high quality, high budgeted arcade games that were produced on more expensive hardware. With the Zilog Z80 as a secondary processor for sound and the vastly superior Motorola 68000 CPU (which were coincidentally the same CPUs used on the original CP System arcade board) inside the Sega Mega Drive to power the Street Fighter II port, expectations were very high.
The earliest mention of a potential Street Fighter II port for the Mega Drive that we could find as of right now is a brief mention in the November 1992 issue of Mean Machines Sega. Most of these very early rumors were consistent in detailing three specific things about this port. First, every rumor stated that the game would be based on the Champion Edition. Two, it would be on a 16mbit cartridge. And finally, a special six-button controller and arcade controller would be produced specifically because of the port. Initially during this time, CVG UK and Mean Machines Sega were both confirming a February 1993 release (Mean Machines Sega cited an unknown American source for this claim). Rumors of a Sega CD port of Street Fighter II were spreading among many magazines during this time, but were never confirmed by Capcom. MEGA UK went as far as to mention that the game would be bundled with the Mega CD to push sales, and would be a completely new edition programmed by Capcom themselves. MEGA UK stated that the game would be coming out March 1st in their December 1992 issue (#3), and claimed that while Sega of Europe denied the rumors - "Sega HQ" confirmed that the game had been finished two months before publication of the article and was currently being play tested.
So if the game was ready to be released, where was it? In response to MEGA UK magazine that was printed in the January 1993 issue (#4), Mike Hayes (one of Nintendo UK's marketing representatives at the time) stated, "We've heard rumors about Sega, just like everyone else, but we're not worried about rumors. How can we let rumors seriously affect a £15 million ad campaign? Anyway, the real fanatical fans of Street Fighter II, the ones who would be affected by these rumors, will have bought a SNES version of Streetfighter2 on import months ago." Despite this, many of the magazines that reported the initial rumors of the Mega Drive port cited that legal issues were the primary reason for the game's many, many, many delays. Due to the initial exclusivity clause for the original home console release on the SNES, Nintendo obviously felt betrayed by Capcom for working on a lucrative deal with one of their biggest competitors. What followed were a series of "complications" that got in the way of the release and marketing of Sega's version of the game. While it can't be confirmed at this time, it's possible that Capcom and Sega believed that Nintendo's Street Fighter II exclusivity clause only applied to the original version of the game, and that the Champion Edition can be considered a new title by itself. It seems likely that the original projected Spring and Summer release dates were considered in the event that the timed exclusivity can expire, and that Sega and Capcom were trying to negotiate an earlier release date that fell through.
(image sourced from Sega Visions Apr/May 1993 issue)
Since the Sofitel was close to Sega of America's offices, it was often used for press conferences and company events throughout the 90s. At the event, Sega of America's Tom Kalinske and Capcom USA's Joe Morici broke bread and announced Capcom's newly founded third party licensee status. The Street Fighter II: Champion Edition port for the Mega Drive was announced and a prototype of the six-button game controller was shown at the event. A release date of June 1993 was announced and a cartridge size of 16mbit was announced as well. Members of the press from all around the world were flown in to participate in the event. At the conference itself, Capcom brought a few Street Fighter II: Champion Edition arcade cabinets and even a few playable prototypes of the Mega Drive port for people to play as well! Street Fighter was the only game announced at the conference, but there were promises of a lot more to come. Below is the original press announcement that quickly found its way to Usenet at the time:
REDWOOD CITY, CA (MARCH 10) BUSINESS WIRE - With news that will shape the future of the video game industry, Sega of America Inc., home entertainment innovator and leader of the 16-bit market, and Capcom, U.S.A. Inc., a major force in the electronic entertainment and amusement game industries, announced Wednesday their newly formed partnership with the June release of "Street Fighter II Champion Edition" for Sega's Genesis. This release -- projected to sell more than two million units nationwide -- marks the debut of the popular arcade Champion Edition for the home video game market and will feature all-new levels, characters and special moves. The newly formed Sega/Capcom alliance is pivotal for both companies. For Sega, the third-party licensee agreement with Capcom is a jewel in the crown of its growing business, reinforcing the company's tremendous growth and status as a major contender in the home entertainment industry. In 1989, Sega began its "David vs. Goliath" attack on its competitors as the first video game manufacturer to release a 16-bit system -- Genesis. Now, less than five years later, the company has achieved parity in distribution at retailers and is afforded the same software opportunities. "Sega's alignment with Capcom is a vivid illustration of the phenomenal growth that has brought us to the position of an industry leader," said Tom Kalinske, Sega president and chief executive officer. "Just two years ago, we had only 20 third-party licensees and one-fifth of the distribution. By year-end, we will achieve two major goals -- increasing our distribution to 17,500 retail doors and, aided by our more than 50 third-party partners, continuing to build the strongest software reputation in the industry. "The fact that Capcom is offering the Champion Edition for our Genesis system is indicative of the momentum that is propelling Sega into the future." For Capcom, considered the industry's premiere software developer and the company responsible for creating the most successful coin-operated video game series since Pac-Man, the partnership represents anticipated growth and expanded market penetration. Capcom anticipates an overwhelming response to "Street Fighter II Champion Edition's" release on Sega Genesis and is already forecasting future projects with plans to introduce additional Genesis software titles in 1993. "We're proud of our alliance with Sega and are already working on developing several other hot software titles for Genesis," said Joe Morici, senior vice president of Capcom. "The opportunity to produce top-notch products for a leader in the 16-bit category will greatly expand our audience and, with Genesis in seven million households, we see this alliance growing." The emergence of Sega as a force to be reckoned with has been a key contributor in the maturation of an industry that is here to stay, as evidenced by the fact that video game entertainment was a top-grossing entertainment vehicle in 1992. Projections indicate that 1993 will be an even bigger year, aided by the alignment of Sega and Capcom -- the top two game developers -- joining forces on Genesis. The overwhelming popularity of "Street Fighter II Champion Edition" in arcades points to the anticipated success of the Genesis home video game. Sega has captured market share lead in the key 16-bit video game segment and continues to be first to market with new technologies in the home video game industry. Since its November 1992 release, Sega CD -- the company's CD-ROM peripheral for Genesis -- has been selling out as fast as shipments can be delivered and the company recently announced the introduction of Virtua Sega for the 1993 holiday season, bringing virtual reality to the home consumer on a mass market level. Capcom USA Inc., a leader in the electronic entertainment and amusement game industries, is a designer, manufacturer and marketer of an award-winning product line. The company is based in Santa Clara, Calif. Sega of America Inc., which markets and distributes to North America, is a wholly owned subsidiary of $1.6 billion Sega Enterprises Ltd., Japan. Sega ia a worldwide leader in arcade and home video entertainment systems.
Since some journalists were at the event, a few pictures were taken as well. Here are some that we were able to find:
(image sourced from Diehard GameFan Issue #6 (May 1993))
(image sourced from Electronic Gaming Monthly Issue #46 (May 1993))
The journalists who reported on the event were pleased with what they played at the show. Many magazines reported that the game was extremely close and very faithful to the arcade original despite its supposed 'early' state. Electronic Gaming Monthly stated in their 46th (May 1993) issue that the version featured at the show was 75% complete, while the preview copy they received was 80% complete. Mega UK in their 9th issue (June 1993) also confirmed that the version they were previewing was 80% complete as well. The only compromises which were reported at the time were the backgrounds that lacked polish, some missing character animation frames, the opening sequence, and a weaker color palette. However, the gameplay was faster and more responsive in comparison to the original SNES release. When review copies were sent out, the press reported some sound quality issues for the voice samples as well. But overall, many non-Japanese journalists admitted that the Champion Edition was ultimately superior in comparison to the SNES release. Surprisingly, Japanese journalists were more critical but were ultimately still favorable to the new Mega Drive port (Dengeki Mega Drive in issue #3 pointed out the infamous black bars for instance). Despite everything mentioned by the media so far, it seemed that things were looking great for Sega!
...that is, until Capcom soon announced Street Fighter II: Turbo Hyper Fighting for the SNES...
Not long after the successful press conference announcing the partnership between Capcom and Sega, Capcom announced the 20mbit Street Fighter II: Turbo Hyper Fighting for a July 11th release in Japan, just one month after the release of Sega's Champion Edition. The Turbo Hyper Fighting version featured all of the changes made to the Champion Edition but also included the faster playing speed that became popular as an unofficial/unsupported bootleg hack of the arcade version in the form of the "Rainbow Edition". The earliest mention we could find of this in the form of an announcement was in the May 1993 issue of Diehard Gamefan, however it's likely that an announcement was made even earlier in Japan. Initially, Capcom USA denied that Turbo would see a release in the United States any time soon in the same Gamefan issue. This suddenly became untrue, as Capcom USA would formally announce Turbo at the Summer Consumer Electronic Show (SCES) of 1993, which was held on June 3rd to June 6th, with the last day open to the general public.
To make matters even worse, Capcom Japan suddenly became unsatisfied with the quality of the work being done on the Champion Edition port. Capcom became so dissatisfied with the quality of the port in comparison to the Hyper Fighting version that a decision was made to throw it all away. While it's unclear why Capcom decided to completely throw out almost all of the work done for the Champion Edition considering they oversaw the port throughout its entire development, the port was unceremoniously killed just around one month after the official announcement of the partnership with Sega. Ouch.
Things were so far along that official box art for the Champion Edition had already been made by Mick McGinty. This one even comes with a price of $64. Image sourced from Electronic Gaming Monthly #47 (June 1993) issue.
It's not known if Sega was aware that Turbo Hyper Fighting was in production during the time of the Champion Edition's cancellation. If they weren't, Sega were likely furious at Capcom for not only canceling the port that they were promised but for also creating a possibly superior version on a competitor's console while in the middle of working out a plan on the marketing and publicity for their own version. Capcom quickly came up with a solution by conjuring up the Special Champion Edition, born from various bits and pieces from Hyper Fighting and the recently released NEC PC-Engine port of the Champion Edition. This new version would include all of the changes introduced in the upcoming Hyper Fighting as well as some other minor changes to give Sega's version a slight edge. Unlike the Champion Edition which was programmed by an outside company in Japan, this version would be programmed by Capcom Japan themselves from the ground up, making this one of the very first games Capcom would ever develop themselves on another company's console that wasn't Nintendo. The game was also upgraded from a 16mbit cart to a whopping 24mbit cart to handle more data, features, and more. Despite being on a much larger 24mbit cartridge, the game retailed for the same price as Hyper Fighting on the SNES. The Special Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting, and the PC-Engine port of the Champion Edition (which still released in June) all shared roughly the same assets and were all developed internally by Capcom Japan themselves.
The media were somewhat perplexed as to what was happening. The majority of magazines received builds meant for review just in time for their June issues (which were put out in May). While most magazines were finishing their reviews, Capcom went ahead and announced the Special Champion Edition at SCES 93, the same month the original Champion Edition was set to release. Confused, many magazines withheld publishing their reviews while others published them anyway, thinking the game was just going through some small changes and was just receiving a delay for September (which at this point was to be expected). As a result, there were even some magazines that published "reviews" for the "Special Champion Edition" when it's very clearly the original Champion Edition (for example, SegaPro UK Issue #22 - August 1993). The July 1993 issue of Mean Machines Sega previewed the Champion Edition, but clipped the black bar/hud from the top of every screenshot featured in the preview inexplicably. Dengeki Mega Drive did a very extensive preview of the Champion Edition in their June 1993 issue, but it seems that they were uncertain even at the time of writing what the final version was going to be as they did not confirm the cart size and could not determine the release date. It got so bad that both Capcom USA and Japan issued statements to the press that the Special Champion Edition was coming out in September and not the Champion Edition, and specifically listed all the changes to expect (cartridge size, features, etc).
Picture of possibly the Turbo Hyper Fighting version for the SNES at SCES 93. (image sourced from CVG UK #141 (Aug 1993))
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition was formally announced for the first time at the Summer Consumer Electronic Show of 1993 on June 3rd that same year. The game was ironically shown side by side next to the newly announced Hyper Fighting version for the SNES as well. The game was playable at the show but was an extremely early prototype of poor quality. Mean Machines Sega revealed in their August 1993 issue that the prototype on display only featured two playable characters (Ryu and Ken) and one stage. Oddly enough, Chun Li was made available for the general public play session that occurred on the very last day of the show on June 6th. This suggests that the prototype was actually swapped mid show with a later build, which wasn't very common to do back then. One other report given by Jeremy Horwitz in correspondence with "The Next Thing" (which was an early Internet magazine focused on video games) over IRC at the time was that the prototype had four playable characters (Ryu or Ken on controller 1, Guile or Chun Li on controller 2), no one could choose the same character, had bad voice samples but the stage's music was "okay", and only Ryu's stage was playable instead. The CES build was not allowed to be photographed as it was in such an early state that it was possibly very unrepresentative of the final game. In comparison to the build of Hyper Fighting (which Jeremy Horwitz praised), it was not a good look for Sega.
The build that was present at the show suggests that development on the Special Champion Edition started at least a month before the show (possibly even a few weeks after the initial revealing of the original Champion Edition). In comparison to the Champion Edition, it's clear that the game had been completely redone from the ground up. All the graphics have been redrawn, all the music and sound was redone with a new proprietary sound driver, and the programming is unlike the original Champion Edition. It's effectively a brand new game. While it seems that it was initially targeting an August release in an attempt to come out at the same time as Hyper Fighting (according to Mean Machines Sega (July 1993) and MEGA UK #9 (June 1993)), the game would eventually hit its other targeted release date of September 27th that year.
However, there was one other problem that only some members of Capcom USA could see from far away...
...the home console release of Mortal Kombat...
Delaying the release of Street Fighter II for the Sega Mega Drive also came with the cost of competing against two other big hitters in the fighting genre market. The home console release of Mortal Kombat was scheduled to be released in the United States on September 13th, the same year and month Street Fighter II was scheduled to be released on the Mega Drive. Not only was Mortal Kombat coming out the same year, it was due to be released just 14 days before the release of Street Fighter II. In comparison, the marketing for Mortal Kombat's console release practically eclipsed Street Fighter's. To make matters worse, Eternal Champions (a direct competitor to the same style gameplay as Street Fighter II) was due for release in December, right in the middle of Street Fighter's holiday season. Now customers would have to make a choice between three fighting games for the Sega Mega Drive, a situation that even the best games would have difficulty gaining success in. It also didn’t help that Capcom essentially competed against itself with its decision to release Turbo Hyper Fighting around the same time.
Despite the constant delays, the Special Champion Edition was a decent success. While it certainly would have been better financially to release the Champion Edition in June while Capcom had the chance, many significant things happened that changed the course of what Capcom was allowed to do. Capcom was now a third party to Sega and was not tied to just Nintendo. As a result, Capcom started their own teams for creating games on various consoles, rather than just arcade cabinets and Nintendo consoles. It's likely that without the original Champion Edition deal, Capcom would not have put games such as Resident Evil and Mega Man on consoles like Sony's PlayStation and Sega's Saturn. The partnership with Capcom was a monumental achievement in Sega's efforts to secure their place as a strong competitor in the video game industry. It introduced the six-button controller pad for the Sega Mega Drive (which would become the standard for the Sega Saturn), and the Special Champion Edition was one of the very first 24mbit games on the platform, which paved the way for even bigger Mega Drive titles.
As time went on however, people simply forgot about the original plan for the Champion Edition. As quickly as it was announced it was dropped in favor of covering the superior Special Champion Edition. Despite the Champion Edition ironically receiving more press coverage, this version of the game faded into obscurity never to be seen again. Would this version ever see the light of day?
Little did anyone know at the time, some people didn't have to wait long to get their hands on the Champion Edition. However, it would come from a place in a very unexpected form...
******************************************** THE BOSS RELEASED: STREET FIGHTER II [TURBO] [SEGA/SMD/16] UPGRADE OF THE NORMAAL STREET FIGHTER II MADE BY SOME REAL FREAKS! ********************************************
On June 2nd, 1994, a relatively unknown group that went by the name "The Boss" uploaded BS-SF2U.LZH to a few pirate BBSes on the Internet...
Not much is known about The Boss. They were system operators of the Crossed Bones BBS line which originated in the Netherlands and sometimes supplied games released in Japan. Most of The Boss' releases consist of Japanese releases and one or two odd bootleg releases. They made their first three releases on May 27th, 1994. The three releases were Keiba Yosou Baken Renkinjutsu (BS-BAKEN.LZH), Crayon Shin-Chan 2: Dai Maou no Gyakushuu (BS-KURY2.LZH), and Kunio no Oden (BS-ODEN.LZH) for the Super Famicom - on the same day when all of these titles were released in stores in Japan. Their next release was made on the same day as the Street Fighter II: Turbo release, which was Thoroughbred Breeder II (BS-RAC2.LZH) for the Super Famicom (oddly enough, this release predates the retail release by six days despite being a final build). Their last releases were "Sansara Naga 2" (BS-SANSA.LZH) and "Ma Qiao E Mo Ta: Devilish Mahjong Tower" (BS-DEMT.LZH) on July 16th, 1994, which is an unlicensed mahjong game for the Sega Mega Drive. It seems that they were predominantly focused on zero day Asian releases and dumping Hong Kong/Taiwan bootlegs. Aside from the FILE_ID.DIZ associated with each release, not much is known about the group itself. After releasing the dump of the unlicensed mahjong game, they were never to be seen again.
The file name of the original Street Fighter II: Turbo ROM itself is MD16061.x, where x is the order number of the files which were broken into parts so that they could fit on to an individual floppy disk. The naming convention "MD16061" was commonly used to categorize various games for distribution within China/Taiwan/Hong Kong as bootlegs, almost like an earlier version of DATing ROMs. In this case, the first two letters denote the system ("MD" in this case referring to the Mega Drive), the next two numbers denoting the game size in megabits, and the last three numbers designated as a release number (in this case, this was the 61st ROM to be cataloged in the 16meg category). ROMs were often categorized and sold in sets on either floppy disks or CDs in flea markets around the world. Games could be organized into lists that would be packaged along with the CDs so that customers could easily find the game they wanted to play, since file systems back then often restricted how long file names could be. This all seems to suggest that the dump originated from the Chinese bootleg scene, possibly being dumped from an original pirate cart much like how the Sonic 2 Simon Wai dump might have originated from a pirate cart.
The original box art for the Turbo bootleg. (Source: DnA Vintage Collection)
Those who were curious to play the "Turbo" release were surprised to find a relatively competent rendition of Street Fighter II. However, there's nothing really "Turbo" about it, so what gives? Was this game the work of some insanely talented people who could rival Capcom's own efforts with the Special Champion Edition? For a bootleg, this game is certainly noteworthy in comparison to other original hacks that came from China or Taiwan. Just look at it!
For a bootleg, this game is rather strange too. Unlike most bootlegs that disguise their "originality" by hacking preexisting games, this game is completely unique and isn't based on the Special Champion Edition or some other fighting game on the same system. Unlike most bootlegs that would do everything in their power to remove any trademark or copyright information, this build contains a Sega logo upon start up. Despite having the Sega logo, the title screen lacks any copyright or trademark information whatsoever. Not every mention of Capcom had been erased, however, as references to Capcom are still present in various areas in the game itself. The game contains twelve playable characters plus alternate costumes that can be unlocked by pressing start. There are eight difficulty levels present as well as an options screen where you can configure a six-button controller. Despite earlier reports of missing frames of animation, the Turbo bootleg seems to consist of even more animation for the playable fighters (however, many of the backgrounds still seem to lack detail, such as the bats in Ryu’s stage). Most of the sound effects and the majority of the game's soundtrack is present as well, and it all sounds incredibly different in comparison to the Special Champion Edition. The music tracks for things such as the credits sequence are present despite never being used in the game itself. The game can be played through the end with each character, and each of the character's ending sequences are implemented as well.
Unlike the Special Champion Edition, this game utilizes a 16mbit ROM just like the reported Champion Edition. Taking a closer look at the ROM itself you'll find that the game's header belongs to a game called "ARM WRESTLING" and not to the actual game proper:
00000100 00000110 00000120 00000130 00000140 00000150 00000160 00000170 00000180 00000190 000001a0 000001b0 000001c0 000001d0 000001e0 000001f0
However, the ROM header itself can actually be seen in other games as well. The leaked prototype of the unreleased Ninja Gaiden for the Sega Mega Drive as well as the early prototype of the recently released Crying Dragon both contain this ROM header. This header was most likely a temporary header provided by the ROM authoring tool that was used to alter the game's header after the ROM had been compiled. What's very evident is that this game was not intended to be released in its current state and that it bears almost no similarity (in terms of programming, data, etc) to the Special Champion Edition, ruling it out as a possible ROM hack of that version.
Oddly enough, this wasn't the only bootleg that was based on this particular version of Street Fighter II. Sometime after the release of the Turbo bootleg, a publisher of unlicensed games for the Sega Mega Drive that went by the name Glorysun released another bootleg called Street Fighter III: 18 Person. This particular bootleg is a hacked version of the same ROM that was released as the basis for the Turbo bootleg. It's a somewhat sophisticated hack, as it goes as far as to replace the Sega screen upon start up with a Glorysun company screen instead. The game boots straight into the main menu with a custom version of the title screen. Six "additional characters" were added to the game, but they're nothing more than recolors of existing characters. Some additional changes were made due to the added characters, such as additional character portraits, flight patterns on the character select screen, and some new bugs introduced because of the hacks made to facilitate the changes. All of these changes were made to either preexisting data or data was added to padded areas of the ROM with offsets that were changed to read from these hacked areas. As stated before, this version is based on the original Turbo ROM, so aside from the changes themselves this is just a simple curiosity.
Ultimately, this "Turbo" version of the game was written off as a very sophisticated bootleg created by some very talented individuals. The exact origins of this version of the game in particular is a mystery, as the game was leaked after the release of the Special Champion Edition. The majority of prototypes/betas that were leaked during this time were always usually released before the retail version had hit the market. However, if Turbo were based on a prototype it would be one of the very few times a prototype was leaked after the final version had been released, which practically never happened. Releasing a game with the name "Turbo" doesn't make much sense either, as the Turbo versions were at the time reserved for Nintendo's consoles and were most likely never going to be released on any other platform at the time. From the research we did in preparation for this release, we could not find a single reference to a possible port of Turbo for the Sega Mega Drive. Because of the lack of information from this time, many disregarded this version of the game as nothing more than a very fancy bootleg...
...or was it?
Back in 2012, interest in the Turbo ROM was brought back on TCRF's RustedLogic web forum (Archive). Thanks in part to the convenience of YouTube videos, users were able to locate videos of the long forgotten original Champion Edition for the Mega Drive. This was the first time this version was seen in motion since the game was initially being marketed. If you pay close attention to both videos, you'll realize that the Turbo bootleg's distinctive version of the soundtrack is playing instead alongside that infamous black bar covering the top of the screen! But instead of the Turbo bootleg's version of the title screen, the game displays its proper Street Fighter II: Champion Edition logo along with the proper copyright and trademark information.
Things got a whole lot more interesting, as it appears that the Turbo bootleg was actually based on a prototype of the long forgotten Champion Edition the entire time! In comparison to the original Champion Edition, the Turbo bootleg contains a number of interesting changes in comparison.
|July 30th prototype
One very noticeable difference right off the bat is that the infamous black bar near the top of the screen has been removed. The font has been modified to compensate for this change as well, as the original with the bright yellow palette would've been too bright if laid on top of various backgrounds. Sound effects in the Champion Edition prototype videos feature sharp FM sound effects, while the Turbo edition features very subdued sounding FM sound effects instead. Since the removal of the black bar at the top of the screen is a significant change, it leads to wonder if this was a very nice hack done by those responsible for the bootleg or if the developers decided to make a last minute change as a response to the negative feedback they received from journalists in Japan. As we mentioned before, we didn't find a reference to a potential release of the Turbo version on the Mega Drive in any magazine. We also couldn't find a single magazine that included screenshots of a version of the Champion Edition without the black bar at the top of the screen.
In comparison to every released console version of the Champion Edition, this particular port is quite unique when it comes down to its graphics and sound. Since the SNES, PC-Engine, and Special Champion Edition were all developed by Capcom themselves, they all shared similar art assets with each other. Aside from some palette differences produced by the hardware itself, the character sprites are identical across all three. However, the Turbo bootleg features a slightly different take that seems proportionally similar to the sprites used in the Special Champion Edition:
From left to right: Turbo Hyper Fighting, Special Champion Edition, Turbo (this bootleg), and the original CPS1 sprite.
(Image sourced from Fuzn’s comparison post on RustedLogic. (Archive))
The background art also has some differences as well. Just like the character sprites, the differences range from subtle to drastic but overall seems to be based on the same set of data:
<img src="https://hiddenpalace.org/w/images/4/43/Sf4_stage_ce_vs_sce.gif" style="width:700px;height:400px;">
Even the game’s soundtrack got somewhat reinterpreted in the Turbo ROM. The Turbo bootleg’s soundtrack features much heavier drum samples and makes great use of both the YM2612 and the SN76489 inside the Mega Drive - making for a much louder and intense game. In comparison, the Special Champion Edition sounds far too quiet. The sound driver used in the Special Champion Edition hinders a lot of the sample playback, resulting in a very “thin” sounding game. Gens author and ROM hacker Stephane Dallongeville was even able to fix the PCM sample playback problems with a simple hack to the sound driver. Which do you think sounds better?
|Champion Edition (Arcade)
|Champion Edition (MD)
|Special Champion Edition (MD)
Due to this revelation, there was renewed interest in researching the origins of the ROM as well as the original Champion Edition. Just who exactly was responsible for bringing the Champion Edition to the Sega Mega Drive anway?
Since we can now assume that the Turbo bootleg is based on the abandoned Champion Edition port, we can use this to try and identify who Capcom outsourced the port to. We can assume that Capcom would've had to rely on a developer with previous experience in Mega Drive development. This company must have also had experience in porting arcade titles to the Mega Drive as well. The Turbo bootleg contains zero credit sequences despite the game being quite finished. Inside the ROM, however, there's a small group of names that the game loads to RAM at $F300. These names are T.Nagawa, S.Mizutani, Y.Umakosi, and A.Watanabe. None of these names are associated with the Special Champion Edition as well as any other Capcom game released during this time period. The game initializes $F300 in RAM with these names, but there are no routines that utilize this data for any purpose. Unfortunately, these are the only names that we can go by. Since the names themselves are relatively common Japanese names, and that the supposed first name isn't included, we can only guess who these people were.
The next step is to analyze the code to potentially identify the company behind the port itself. The Special Champion Edition sports a custom sound driver developed by Capcom themselves and would be used in The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey Mouse, Saturday Night Slam Masters, and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers. The Turbo ROM on the other hand is using a pre-SMPS Z80 based sound driver, which is a similar sound driver used in various Japanese developed Sega games. This proves that this was a Japanese developer, as only developers based in Japan used the SMPS audio driver in their games. This particular version of the driver seems to be the same as the one used in Jantei Monogatari, Metal Fangs, Ninja Burai Densetsu, Rent a Hero, Sword of Vermilion, and Wrestle War. Upon further investigation however, only Rent a Hero and Sword of Vermilion contain many of the same exact instrument patches/OPN programming used in the Turbo ROM, which were both games that Hiroshi Kawaguchi (of Space Harrier, OutRun, and After Burner fame) programmed the driver and composed music for. While this is still speculation, it's likely that the sound arrangements were handled by either Hiroshi Kawaguchi himself or a contempory within Sega of Japan.
Since other companies within Japan could also utilize the SMPS sound driver, we can't specifically pin the game on a specific developer using this fact. Instead, we must look at something that would've been proprietary to that specific developer. Since Street Fighter II would've been the kind of game to heavily utilize graphics compression to save space in the ROM, we decided to decipher the decompression routines that were utilized to decompress graphics such as the title screen. Since there were no open standards when it came to many aspects of video game development at the time, most developers would develop their own in house solutions for sound, graphics, compression, etc. In this case, we are going to assume that the developer would've used the same compression techniques in other Mega Drive games as well.
Shown above, the beginning of the decompression routines used for compressed art archives in the Turbo ROM.
Through a little bit of disassembly work with the help from IDA Pro, Exodus Emulator, and BizHawk, we were able to pinpoint the main subroutine that's used to decompress and load tiles along with any subsequent palette data. At $8508 in the Turbo ROM, the subroutine shown above is used to begin decompressing art archives as specified in certain registers before the routine is called. This function, up until $8526, doesn't depend on addressing or offsets for its opcodes and so the raw byte code that represents the first ten instructions of this subroutine can be used in combination of a "binary search" to find other ROM files that utilize the same function. We can use a truncated binary sequence that represents the first few instructions of this subroutine as the basis for our search (206F0004428010280003E14010280002222F00 in this case, represented in hexadecimal). Searching for this byte sequence within the entire Mega Drive and Mega CD sets yielded the following results:
- Street Fighter II Turbo (Sega Mega Drive, this game)
- Crude Buster / Two Crude Dudes (Sega Mega Drive)
- Captain America and the Avengers (Sega Mega Drive)
- Ninja Gaiden (Sega Mega Drive)
- Death Bringer (Sega CD)
- Eye of the Beholder (Sega CD)
Interestingly enough, searching for the byte code that represents the decompression routines returned Ninja Gaiden as one of the results. Ninja Gaiden was another unreleased game that was developed in 1992 but lacked an identifiable developer, as the prototype that leaked at the time lacked any credit sequences. Another thing to note is that all of these games were in development from late 1991 throughout 1992. All the games listed are Japanese in origin and three of the games are based on arcade games. Aside from Ninja Gaiden and Street Fighter II: Turbo which cannot be confirmed outright, the other four games have one (possibly two) developers in common...
According to GDRI (Game Developer Research Institute), Opera House Inc. is a Japanese development company that was established in 1989 that still exists to this day. It seems that Opera House at the time were responsible for handling development of game projects for other studios (rather than create their own original games). Opera House would normally subcontract out to various other companies to handle development in other areas (such as sound) in the efforts to create a complete project. On top of the previously mentioned titles discovered in the search, they were also responsible for Master of Monsters, Midnight Resistance, and Verytex as well. They often worked together with ISCO (Intelligent System Corporation) on various projects in the early 90s, including Captain America and the Avengers and Two Crude Dudes. However, only Opera House was credited for working on Death Bringer and Eye of the Beholder for the Sega CD which uses the same decompression routines as found in the other titles mentioned above. Both companies often didn't get credit for the arcade ports they worked on, and so many staff members can't be identified to this day. Taking the names found in the Street Fighter II: Turbo ROM and attempting to find matches in the credit lists provided by Opera House's games unfortunately doesn't seem to generate any matches. It's quite possible that there were many other companies and personnel that were subcontracted much like ISCO and Opera House that simply can't be identified. One other common theme with Mega Drive games developed by Opera House was that the audio was often handled by someone else, for instance. However, with this new discovery, we can at least confirm that Opera House had something to do with Street Fighter II: Champion Edition's Mega Drive port.
It seems that given the similarities between the artwork used in both the unreleased Champion Edition and the Special Champion Edition, it’s likely that Capcom themselves provided the artwork as well as some other data for the port. This was most likely possible since Capcom was also developing the PC-Engine and Turbo Hyper Fighting versions around the same time as the Champion Edition port, and most likely provided the data to ensure that the ports would be ready in time for a release in June. This also seems to provide a reason as to why the Special Champion Edition was created in a relatively short amount of time, since most of the data supplied for the original Champion Edition could be quickly repurposed for the Special Champion Edition with only the programming left to complete.
But, how did the "Turbo" ROM come about? While at this point you might be thinking that the Turbo ROM is nothing more than a ROM hack of a late Champion Edition prototype, analyzing the ROM further provides us with evidence to the contrary.
Keep in mind that ROM hacks were limited back in 1994 around the time the ROM would have been in circulation. Performing any form of a hack on a structured blob of code and data limits what you could actually do to a ROM. Without the ability to accurately reassemble the ROM, you can only perform a few changes on the ROM itself. For instance, if you wanted to modify code or data inside a ROM you would be limited to the current structure or placement of the data in the ROM itself. You can think of a ROM as like a premade house of cards, it's trivial to swap out one card for another but adding any amount of cards that drastically alter the original structure will most likely cause the entire house of cards to fall apart. Let's say you wanted to modify a string of text inside the ROM. You are limited to the formatting and length of the original string that you are modifying. Of course, one way around this would be to redirect where the text is being read to another location in the ROM that allows for more room to make changes in. ROM hacks usually relied on areas in the ROM where unused space is padded with non-consequential bytes. A ROM hacker could add the code/data that they wanted to change or add to these areas and then alter either the original offset or line of code that refers to the original location to the new "hacked" location. While this technique works, it would leave obvious evidence of being a ROM hack. We did not find anything like that. The tricky part when doing this is that the majority of finished retail games rely on data integrity checking to determine if the ROM has been modified, and then enact preventative measures in the event that this occurs. Games usually rely on a "checksum", or a value that is derived from an algorithm on the game's expected data. For Mega Drive games, this form of protection can easily be patched out or recalculated and the former was usually done for creating bootlegs or altered "scene" ROMs. However, things can get problematic when the data itself is obfuscated in some way, such as an instance where graphic data is compressed in a proprietary format. There will be case scenarios where a hacker would have no choice but to reverse engineer, analyze, and then re-implement certain data into the ROM in order to be altered. This usually never happened back in 1994. In fact, all evidence points to the Turbo ROM being compiled from source, not an actual ROM hack.
Now that we have the original, unaltered ROMs of the Champion Edition to compare to we can see that the Turbo ROM is not a ROM hack at least in the traditional sense. While most bootlegs based on finished games bypass the checksum check routines, the Turbo ROM completely lacks any checksum checking routines including the routines for when the checksum check fails. Despite being prototypes, our two releases both contain an actively used checksum check routine and even a region check to prevent the prototypes from being played on a NTSC-J system. While our two ROMs both contain a Capcom logo when starting up the game, the compressed art data is completely missing from the Turbo ROM (however the palette data still remains, possibly because it might be shared with the title screen). The area where its meant to be is instead filled with other used data instead, and isn't altered in any way. The title screen graphic is actually compressed, so a ROM hacker would've had trouble modifying the title screen if this were the case. But if we compare the Turbo ROM with one of the prototypes, we can see that there is no clear sign of tampering in the region where the compressed title screen graphic is:
Turbo bootleg (right), July prototype (left)
To get similar results to what is seen in the Turbo ROM comparison above, a ROM hacker would have had to reverse engineer the compression algorithm, decompress the art, modify the art, re-compress the art, and then transplant it back into the ROM while restructuring the data that comes after. This would take a lot of time even today with the knowledge and tools we have to work with, so it would've been next to implausible in 1994.
Given what we now know about the Turbo and Champion Edition ROMs, it's likely that the Turbo ROM was assembled straight from source code and not as a result of a sophisticated ROM hack. It seems that the Turbo ROM was based on possibly the very latest build of the Champion Edition before it was canceled but sometime after it had been publicized, as it's likely that some of the changes (such as the removal of the black bar at the top of the screen) could've been a response to the negative feedback they received from Japan. Since it's incredibly unlikely that someone or a group of people would go as far as to completely disassemble and reverse engineer an unleaked late prototype and make changes to it in 1994, there are two possibilities. It's possible that the Turbo ROM was an internal build never distributed for marketing that somehow leaked and sold as a bootleg. Or, someone stumbled upon the source code somehow and decided to make a bootleg cart to sell as a unique version of Street Fighter II.
Despite essentially having a prototype of the Champion Edition for many years, we were still lacking dumps of the originally intended version. Thankfully, we recently acquired two prototypes of the original canceled version and we were able to make accurate dumps of each for the sake of preservation. These two prototypes were burnt on EPROMs, and were both burnt after the press conference that occurred at the Sofitel on March 10th, 1993. The dates used to identify both prototypes are the dates specified on the EPROMs themselves, which are most likely burn dates and not build dates (at least for the July prototype). These EPROMs were most likely burned for previews/reviews for certain magazines in Europe. What's odd is that the July prototype is just a slightly more up to date version than the March one, containing mostly grammar changes and some tiny aesthetic changes to the sound, HUD, and title screen. It's likely that the July prototype was used for reviews for the Champion Edition but communication issues between Sega and Capcom prevented builds of the Special Champion Edition from being used instead.
In comparison to the Turbo ROM, the July prototype is mostly similar aside from the obvious changes made to the Turbo ROM. Another thing to note is that while the Capcom logo is present in the two prototypes, the Sega logo screen isn't. However, it was added into the Turbo ROM but with a slightly messed up trademark symbol. The Turbo ROM contains many other subtle differences in comparison to the July prototype as well. The Champion Edition ROMs both contain a publisher ID and product serial (which is the same serial as the Special Champion Edition) within the header, which indicates that both games had passed certification by Sega and were likely in the middle of being checked for Sega's quality standards before being finalized and sold. This is another indicator that the game was very close to being finished before it was cancelled. The fact that the prototypes use the Special Champion Edition's product code and not a completely unique code instead seems to suggest that Sega treated the Special Champion Edition as just a newer revision of the Champion Edition, for whatever reason.
Prototypes of games published by Sega of Europe weren’t normally distributed around the time the Champion Edition was about to be marketed. Around October/November of 1992, Sega of Japan caught wind of the leak of the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 prototype (whether it was CENSOR or the Simon Wai build is unclear). In Mean Machines Sega issue #5, Richard Leadbetter (who now works over at the Digital Foundry with Eurogamer) reported that Sega of Japan forced a policy on Sega of Europe that prohibited review samples from being distributed. Sega of America, on the other hand, were still able to distribute samples with no issue. This was because it was discovered that Sonic 2 had been leaked from a magazine based in the UK, and so an order was set in place to prevent further leaks from occurring. Throughout the first quarter of 1993, all magazines based in Europe had to visit Sega in order to play the latest builds of games in time for writing their articles. This decision caused a lot of issues for magazines that weren’t close to Sega’s offices in Europe, so a few magazines petitioned against it. Because of this, prototypes of this build of the game would have been very difficult to come by.
It's always interesting to see just how much of an impact one single game can make within an industry in such a small time period. While Sega was pretty much the only winner near the end of 1993, Capcom was able to walk away with something too. As we mentioned before, its likely that without the initial Champion Edition deal with Sega, Capcom might not have ever created games on other consoles. Perhaps without the original Champion Edition we may not have seen games such as Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and the Mega Man X series. The Champion Edition deal also came at a pivotal time during Sega's uprising within the industry and helped solidify their placement as a strong competitor. The home console release of Street Fighter II most likely also spurred console manufacturers to look more into increasing storage sizes to facilitate bigger games. For the longest time it seemed that we would've had to contend with the Turbo bootleg as the only remnant of this original deal. As such, it's rewarding to us that we were able to not only preserve the original prototypes of this long lost version, but to also retell the story of one of the most interesting moments that occurred within the video game industry for others to enjoy.
As always, we would like to thank all of our contributors for sticking with us so far. We know that things haven't been easy over the past few weeks and that things might not be great for the next few months (hopefully for just that long). We hope that we'll be able to provide more fun things for you to take a look at and enjoy for the months to come.
Until next time, stay safe!
Side note: We recommend checking out Nostalgia Nerd's great video on some of the history of this prototype as well. You can check out his website at NostalgiaNerd.com..
Also a very special thanks to Sazpaimon for streaming the prototype on our Twitch channel!