Playstation-to-Saturn Porting

(This document, provided by [Brandon], explains what changes--eroding or otherwise--were made when porting Symphony of the Night / Dracula X: Gekka no Yasoukyoku over to the Sega Saturn.)

The Lowdown:

The Saturn version of Dracula X is different from the Playstation version, clearly, in more ways than simply the added content. These are more technical differences, not as noticable but niggling, ever-present, and gameplay-affecting. How much these differences can be attributed to hardware capabilities and/or programming approaches is explored here. Please note that this is all theory and speculation. There are some facts mixed in here but they are just as likely to be heresay as verified. Maybe someday a Konami programmer will track me down and kick my ass for spreading lies and rumors and set me straight on the whole thing, but I doubt it, so for now I'm just going to assume I'm right.

The Engine:

The Playstation (henceforth PSX) cannot do 2D. "But," you say, "I've played 2D games on the Playstation. Of course it can do 2D. I've even seen specifications for the 2D capabilities of the Playstation in FAQs and other sources." This is misleading. The games you have played appear to be 2D because they are flat, not because they are 2D. While the Saturn has distinct hardware for displaying and processing 2D sprites and other 2D elements, the Playstation does not. In order to represent a 2D game, the PSX must have a 3D engine that creates a polygon, textures one side of it, and then keeps that side facing the same direction and manipulates that polygon as if it was a sprite. This means that doing 2D on the PSX is really just doing flat 3D. The specs you've seen in FAQs and on the net, then, are an estimation of the ability of the PSX to pretend to be doing 2D. This is unlike the Saturn, which has separate 2D and 3D capabilities that can be mixed when needed or utilized separately. In order to create Dracula X on the Playstation, the incredible 2D-looking game that it is, the programmers had to create a custom 3D engine. The theory, then, is that the Saturn Dracula X is a port of the PSX's 3D engine with modifications rather than a game reprogrammed to properly utilize the Saturn's 2D and 3D capabilities. While the Saturn version of the game has extra content and some reprogrammed or changed special effects, the engine itself was a direct port and the graphics were not effectively modified or touched up as a result.

The Slowdown:

The PSX version had limited slowdown. This could be a performance side-effect of the odd 3D engine used to render the game and fill rate issues as the PSX creates oodles of flat polygons to fill the screen. As the Saturn has lesser 3D capabilities, it makes sense the Saturn would struggle even more with the ported 3D engine, no matter how much the code of the engine was optimized for the Saturn. As such, the Saturn has even more slowdown as it attempts to power a non-optimal engine design. The Saturn also uses a higher resolution display setting than the PSX (see Graphics below for more details) which means that it has more screen real estate to fill and has to work harder there as well.

The Slower Loading and More Loading Breaks:

The Saturn has more RAM than the PSX. Theoretically it might take the Saturn a little longer to fill that memory. Additionally, the PSX can compress sound data and the Saturn cannot. It's possible the difference in loading time and load points is due to having to utilize more memory for sound data. Furthermore, the increased screen resolution of the Saturn version may play a role in this as it takes more memory to display more pixels. I cannot determine if the Saturn or PSX use any texture compression routines that may affect this. It should be noted that as the PSX is more 3D savvy, it's possible there are some memory-saving functions the PSX can utilize that the Saturn cannot.

The Transparencies:

The Saturn cannot do hardware alpha channel transparencies in 3D. That has to be done in software as some programmers have shown they have the ability to do. Transparencies can be done, I believe on a hardware level, in 2D operating modes. Several games have demonstrated this. The PSX-derived engine is 3D-based and thus interpolation/dithering had to be used in most cases to replace true transparency. When true transparency is used it is programmed in software and slows the game down greatly, as evidenced in the special weapon rooms.

The Graphics:

The graphics seem a little more blocky in areas and a little less distinct on the Saturn as opposed to the PSX. The best example of this is Alucard's cape. Watch as it flows. One minute the vertical outline is thin, the next it's thicker, something that doesn't occur in the PSX version. Also watch the metal lattices in the background of some of the early areas and you'll notice some of the vertical lines appear fatter than others. Have you ever noticed on a computer when you scale a picture up by 5% or 10% in a non-uniform manner? Some of the picture stays the same and some bits get a little chunky. Well, the PSX's resolution for Dracula X is most likely the lowest resolution available to the Playstation, 256 x 224, in order to keep the fill rate high as possible and the game as fluid as possible. The Saturn's closest matching resolution is 352 x 240. This means that the graphics are scaled up a little, and not uniformly, with a much greater increase on the horizontal. The 3D engine was ported without proper modification to maintain proper object and image sizes and as such, all the graphics are scaled to match the increased resolution.

The Big What-If:

The ideal Saturn Dracula X would have been a reprogrammed game, with an engine redesigned to be primarily 2D, using the Saturn's inherent scaling, rotation, and other hardware 2D functions to represent most of the game's objects and mechanics, with the Saturn's 3D capabilities tapped exclusively for the save coffins and a few other 3D effects. Either narrow black bars or increased screen viewing area would have been utilized instead of scaling to maintain proper graphics proportions. This kind of careful reprogramming and redesigning could have had stunning results. The Saturn version might still have had loading delays and more loading points, but the graphics would have been identically crisp, almost all of the special effects would have been preserved, with only minimal changes necessary, slowdown would have been eliminated altogether, and the additional content would not be tarnished by the alterations needed to bring the rest of the game to the Saturn. Basically, the Saturn version would have almost negligible changes to the negative, the improved hit detection and mechanical tweaks it currently exhibits, and the additional content. It would have been a better game in every way rather than a different game, better in some ways and worse in others.

This document is, I suppose, technically copyright myself (Brandon Walker) circa 2004. I have decided to apply the standard Creative Commons license to this document under the terms found here. General questions will probably be answered there on the site. FAQ-specific questions can be directed to me. And thanks to Mr. Perfect for hosting this little random tidbit where it is probably most useful. Maybe someday I'll crosspost this to gamefaqs, but for now, Mr. P has a lock on it.