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📝 Posted:
🚚 Summary of:
P0099, P0100, P0101, P0102
1799d67...1b25830, 1b25830...ceb81db, ceb81db...c11a956, c11a956...b60f38d
💰 Funded by:
Ember2528, Yanga
🏷 Tags:
rec98+ th01+ gameplay+ bullet+ jank+ contribution-ideas+ bug+ boss+ elis+ kikuri+ sariel- konngara+

Well, make that three days. Trying to figure out all the details behind the sprite flickering was absolutely dreadful…
It started out easy enough, though. Unsurprisingly, TH01 had a quite limited pellet system compared to TH04 and TH05:

  • The cap is 100, rather than 240 in TH04 or 180 in TH05.
  • Only 6 special motion functions (with one of them broken and unused) instead of 10. This is where you find the code that generates SinGyoku's chase pellets, Kikuri's small spinning multi-pellet circles, and Konngara's rain pellets that bounce down from the top of the playfield.
  • A tiny selection of preconfigured multi-pellet groups. Rather than TH04's and TH05's freely configurable n-way spreads, stacks, and rings, TH01 only provides abstractions for 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- way spreads (yup, no 6-way or beyond), with a fixed narrow or wide angle between the individual pellets. The resulting pellets are also hardcoded to linear motion, and can't use the special motion functions. Maybe not the best code, but still kind of cute, since the generated groups do follow a clear logic.

As expected from TH01, the code comes with its fair share of smaller, insignificant ZUN bugs and oversights. As you would also expect though, the sprite flickering points to the biggest and most consequential flaw in all of this.

Apparently, it started with ZUN getting the impression that it's only possible to use the PC-98 EGC for fast blitting of all 4 bitplanes in one CPU instruction if you blit 16 horizontal pixels (= 2 bytes) at a time. Consequently, he only wrote one function for EGC-accelerated sprite unblitting, which can only operate on a "grid" of 16×1 tiles in VRAM. But wait, pellets are not only just 8×8, but can also be placed at any unaligned X position…

… yet the game still insists on using this 16-dot-aligned function to unblit pellets, forcing itself into using a super sloppy 16×8 rectangle for the job. 🤦 ZUN then tried to mitigate the resulting flickering in two hilarious ways that just make it worse:

  1. An… "interlaced rendering" mode? This one's activated for all Stage 15 and 20 fights, and separates pellets into two halves that are rendered on alternating frames. Collision detection with the Yin-Yang Orb and the player is only done for the visible half, but collision detection with player shots is still done for all pellets every frame, as are motion updates – so that pellets don't end up moving half as fast as they should.
    So yeah, your eyes weren't deceiving you. The game does effectively drop its perceived frame rate in the Elis, Kikuri, Sariel, and Konngara fights, and it does so deliberately.
  2. 📝 Just like player shots, pellets are also unblitted, moved, and rendered in a single function. Thanks to the 16×8 rectangle, there's now the (completely unnecessary) possibility of accidentally unblitting parts of a sprite that was previously drawn into the 8 pixels right of a pellet. And this is where ZUN went full :tannedcirno: and went "oh, I know, let's test the entire 16 pixels, and in case we got an entity there, we simply make the pellet invisible for this frame! Then we don't even have to unblit it later!" :zunpet:

    Except that this is only done for the first 3 elements of the player shot array…?! Which don't even necessarily have to contain the 3 shots fired last. It's not done for the player sprite, the Orb, or, heck, other pellets that come earlier in the pellet array. (At least we avoided going 𝑂(𝑛²) there?)

    Actually, and I'm only realizing this now as I type this blog post: This test is done even if the shots at those array elements aren't active. So, pellets tend to be made invisible based on comparisons with garbage data. :onricdennat:

    And then you notice that the player shot unblit​/​move​/​render function is actually only ever called from the pellet unblit​/​move​/​render function on the one global instance of the player shot manager class, after pellets were unblitted. So, we end up with a sequence of

    Pellet unblit → Pellet move → Shot unblit → Shot move → Shot render → Pellet render

    which means that we can't ever unblit a previously rendered shot with a pellet. Sure, as terrible as this one function call is from a software architecture perspective, it was enough to fix this issue. Yet we don't even get the intended positive effect, and walk away with pellets that are made temporarily invisible for no reason at all. So, uh, maybe it all just was an attempt at increasing the ramerate on lower spec PC-98 models?

Yup, that's it, we've found the most stupid piece of code in this game, period. It'll be hard to top this.

I'm confident that it's possible to turn TH01 into a well-written, fluid PC-98 game, with no flickering, and no perceived lag, once it's position-independent. With some more in-depth knowledge and documentation on the EGC (remember, there's still 📝 this one TH03 push waiting to be funded), you might even be able to continue using that piece of blitter hardware. And no, you certainly won't need ASM micro-optimizations – just a bit of knowledge about which optimizations Turbo C++ does on its own, and what you'd have to improve in your own code. It'd be very hard to write worse code than what you find in TH01 itself.

(Godbolt for Turbo C++ 4.0J when? Seriously though, that would 📝 also be a great project for outside contributors!)

Oh well. In contrast to TH04 and TH05, where 4 pushes only covered all the involved data types, they were enough to completely cover all of the pellet code in TH01. Everything's already decompiled, and we never have to look at it again. 😌 And with that, TH01 has also gone from by far the least RE'd to the most RE'd game within ReC98, in just half a year! 🎉
Still, that was enough TH01 game logic for a while. :tannedcirno: Next up: Making up for the delay with some more relaxing and easy pieces of TH01 code, that hopefully make just a bit more sense than all this garbage. More image formats, mainly.