🎉 After almost 3 years, TH04 finally caught up to TH05 and is now 100%
position-independent as well! 🎉
For a refresher on what this means and does not mean, check the
announcements from back in 2019 and 2020 when we chased the goal for TH05's
📝 OP.EXE and
📝 the rest of the game. These also feature
some demo videos that show off the kind of mods you were able to efficiently
code back then. With the occasional reverse-engineering attention it
received over the years, TH04's code should now be slightly easier to work
with than TH05's was back in the day. Although not by much – TH04 has
remained relatively unpopular among backers, and only received more than the
funded attention because it shares most of its core code with the more
popular TH05. Which, coincidentally, ended up becoming
📝 the reason for getting this done now.
Not that it matters a lot. Ever since we reached 100% PI for TH05, community
and backer interest in position independence has dropped to near zero. We
just didn't end up seeing the expected large amount of community-made mods
that PI was meant to facilitate, and even the
📝 100% decompilation of TH01 changed nothing
about that. But that's OK; after all, I do appreciate the business of
continually getting commissioned for all the
📝 large-scale mods. Not focusing on PI is
also the correct choice for everyone who likes reading these blog posts, as
it often means that I can't go that much into detail due to cutting corners
and piling up technical debt left and right.
Surprisingly, this only took 1.25 pushes, almost twice as fast as expected.
As that's closer to 1 push than it is to 2, I'm OK with releasing it like
this – especially since it was originally meant to come out three days ago.
🍋 Unfortunately, it was delayed thanks to surprising
website bugs and a certain piece of code that was way more difficult to
document than it was to decompile… The next push will have slightly less
content in exchange, though.
📝 P0240 and P0241 already covered the final
remaining structures, so I only needed to do some superficial RE to prove
the remaining numeric literals as either constants or memory addresses. For
example, I initially thought I'd have to decompile the dissolve animations
in the staff roll, but I only needed to identify a single function pointer
type to prove all false positives as screen coordinates there. Now, the TH04
staff roll would be another fast and cheap decompilation, similar to the
custom entity types of TH04. (And TH05 as well!)
The one piece of code I did have to decompile was Stage 4's carpet
lighting animation, thanks to hex literals that were way too complicated to
leave in ASM. And this one probably takes the crown for TH04's worst set of
landmines and bloat that still somehow results in no observable bugs or
This animation starts at frame 1664, roughly 29.5 seconds into the stage,
and quickly turns the stage background into a repeated row of dark-red plaid
carpet tiles by moving out from the center of the playfield towards the
edges. Afterward, the animation repeats with a brighter set of tiles that is
then used for the rest of the stage. As I explained
📝 a while ago in the context of TH02, the
stage tile and map formats in PC-98 Touhou can't express animations, so all
of this needed to be hardcoded in the binary.
And ZUN did start out making the right decision by only using fully-lit
carpet tiles for all tile sections defined in ST03.MAP. This
way, the animation can simply disable itself after it completed, letting the
rest of the stage render normally and use new tile sections that are only
defined for the final light level. This means that the "initial" dark
version of the carpet is as much a result of hardcoded tile manipulation as
the animation itself.
But then, ZUN proceeded to implement it all by directly manipulating the
ring buffer of on-screen tiles. This is the lowest level before the tiles
are rendered, and rather detached from the defined content of the
📝 .MAP tile sections. Which leads to a whole
lot of problems:
If you decide to do this kind of tile ring modification, it should ideally
happen at a very specific point: after scrolling in new tiles into
the ring buffer, but before blitting any scrolled or invalidated
tiles to VRAM based on the ring buffer. Which is not where ZUN chose to put
it, as he placed the call to the stage-specific render function after both
of those operations. By the time the function is
called, the tile renderer has already blitted a few lines of the fully-lit
carpet tiles from the defined .MAP tile section, matching the scroll speed.
Fortunately, these are hidden behind the black TRAM cells above and below
Still, the code needs to get rid of them before they would become visible.
ZUN uses the regular tile invalidation function for this, which will only
cause actual redraws on the next frame. Again, the tile rendering call has
already happened by the time the Stage 4-specific rendering function gets
But wait, this game also flips VRAM pages between frames to provide a
tear-free gameplay experience. This means that the intended redraw of the
new tiles actually hits the wrong VRAM page.
And sure, the code does attempt to invalidate these newly blitted lines
every frame – but only relative to the current VRAM Y coordinate that
represents the top of the hardware-scrolled screen. Once we're back on the
original VRAM page on the next frame, the lines we initially set out to
remove could have already scrolled past that point, making it impossible to
ever catch up with them in this way.
The only real "solution": Defining the height of the tile invalidation
rectangle at 3× the scroll speed, which ensures that each invalidation call
covers 3 frames worth of newly scrolled-in lines. This is not intuitive at
all, and requires an understanding of everything I have just written to even
arrive at this conclusion. Needless to say that ZUN didn't comprehend it
either, and just hardcoded an invalidation height that happened to be enough
for the small scroll speeds defined in ST03.STD for the first
30 seconds of the stage.
The effect must consistently modify the tile ring buffer to "fix" any new
tiles, overriding them with the intended light level. During the animation,
the code not only needs to set the old light level for any tiles that are
still waiting to be replaced, but also the new light level for any tiles
that were replaced – and ZUN forgot the second part. As a result, newly scrolled-in tiles within the already animated
area will "remain" untouched at light level 2 if the scroll speed is fast
enough during the transition from light level 0 to 1.
All that means that we only have to raise the scroll speed for the effect to
fall apart. Let's try, say, 4 pixels per frame rather than the original
All of this could have been so much simpler and actually stable if ZUN
applied the tile changes directly onto the .MAP. This is a much more
intuitive way of expressing what is supposed to happen to the map, and would
have reduced the code to the actually necessary tile changes for the first
frame and each individual frame of the animation. It would have still
required a way to force these changes into the tile ring buffer, but ZUN
could have just used his existing full-playfield redraw functions for that.
In any case, there would have been no need for any per-frame tile
fixing and redrawing. The CPU cycles saved this way could have then maybe
been put towards writing the tile-replacing part of the animation in C++
rather than ASM…
Wow, that was an unreasonable amount of research into a feature that
superficially works fine, just because its decompiled code didn't make
sense. To end on a more positive note, here are
some minor new discoveries that might actually matter to someone:
The laser part of Marisa's Illusion Laser shot type always does 3
points of damage per frame, regardless of the player's power level. Its
hitbox also remains identical on all power levels, no matter how wide the
laser appears on screen. The strength difference between the levels purely
comes from the number of frames the laser stays active before a fixed
non-damaging 32-frame cooldown time:
Frames per cycle (including 32-frame cooldown)
The decay animation for player shots is faster in TH05 (12 frames) than in
TH04 (16 frames).
In the first phase of her Stage 6 fight, Yuuka moves along one of two
randomly chosen hardcoded paths, defined as a set of 5 movement angles.
After reaching the final point and firing a danmaku pattern, she teleports
back to her initial position to repeat the path one more time before the
phase times out.
Similarly, TH04's Stage 3 midboss also goes through 12 fixed movement angles
before flying off the playfield.
The formulas for calculating the skill rating on both TH04's and TH05's
final verdict screen are going to be very long and complicated.
Next up: ¾ of a push filled with random boilerplate, finalization, and TH01
code cleanup work, while I finish the preparations for Shuusou Gyoku's
OpenGL backend. This month, everything should finally work out as intended:
I'll complete both tasks in parallel, ship the former to free up the cap,
and then ship the latter once its 5th push is fully funded.
So, TH02! Being the only game whose main binary hadn't seen any dedicated
attention ever, we get to start the TH02-related blog posts at the very
beginning with the most foundational pieces of code. The stage tile system
is the best place to start here: It not only blocks every entity that is
rendered on top of these tiles, but is curiously placed right next to
master.lib code in TH02, and would need to be separated out into its own
translation unit before we can do the same with all the master.lib
In late 2018, I already RE'd
📝 TH04's and TH05's stage tile implementation, but haven't properly documented it on this
blog yet, so this post is also going to include the details that are unique
to those games. On a high level, the stage tile system works identically in
all three games:
The tiles themselves are 16×16 pixels large, and a stage can use 100 of
them at the same time.
The optimal way of blitting tiles would involve VRAM-to-VRAM copies
within the same page using the EGC, and that's exactly what the games do.
All tiles are stored on both VRAM pages within the rightmost 64×400 pixels
of the screen just right next to the HUD, and you only don't see them
because the games cover the same area in text RAM with black cells:
To reduce the memory required for a map, tiles are arranged into fixed
vertical sections of a game-specific constant size.
The actual stage map then is simply a list of these tile sections,
ordered from the start/bottom to the top/end.
Any manipulation of specific tiles within the fixed tile sections has to
be hardcoded. An example can be found right in Stage 1, where the Shrine
Tank leaves track marks on the tiles it appears to drive over:
The differences between the three games can best be summarized in a table:
Tile image file extension
Tile section format
Tile section order defined as part of
Tile section index format
0-based ID × 2
Tile image index format
Index between 0 and 100, 1 byte
VRAM offset in tile source area, 2 bytes
Scroll speed control
Part of the .STD format, defined per referenced tile
Full tiles (16×16)
Half tiles (16×8)
Rows per tile section
Maximum number of tile sections
Lowest number of tile sections used
5 (Stage 3 / Extra)
8 (Stage 6)
11 (Stage 2 / 4)
Highest number of tile sections used
13 (Stage 4)
24 (Stage 3)
Maximum length of a map
320 sections (static buffer)
256 sections (format limitation)
14 sections (Stage 5)
20 sections (Stage 5)
15 sections (Stage 2)
143 sections (Stage 4)
95 sections (Stage 4)
40 sections (Stage 1 / 4 / Extra)
The most interesting part about stage tiles is probably the fact that some
of the .MAP files contain unused tile sections. 👀 Many
of these are empty, duplicates, or don't really make sense, but a few
are unique, fit naturally into their respective stage, and might have
been part of the map during development. In TH02, we can find three unused
sections in Stage 5:
These unused tile sections are much more common in the later games though,
where we can find them in TH04's Stage 3, 4, and 5, and TH05's Stage 1, 2,
and 4. I'll document those once I get to finalize the tile rendering code of
these games, to leave some more content for that blog post. TH04/TH05 tile
code would be quite an effective investment of your money in general, as
most of it is identical across both games. Or how about going for a full-on
PC-98 Touhou map viewer and editor GUI?
Compared to TH04 and TH05, TH02's stage tile code definitely feels like ZUN
was just starting to understand how to pull off smooth vertical scrolling on
a PC-98. As such, it comes with a few inefficiencies and suboptimal
The redraw flag for each tile is stored in a 24×25 bool
array that does nothing with 7 of the 8 bits.
During bombs and the Stage 4, 5, and Extra bosses, the game disables the
tile system to render more elaborate backgrounds, which require the
playfield to be flood-filled with a single color on every frame. ZUN uses
the GRCG's RMW mode rather than TDW mode for this, leaving almost half of
the potential performance on the table for no reason. Literally,
changing modes only involves changing a single constant.
The scroll speed could theoretically be changed at any time. However,
the function that scrolls in new stage tiles can only ever blit part of a
single tile row during every call, so it's up to the caller to ensure
that scrolling always ends up on an exact 16-pixel boundary. TH02 avoids
this problem by keeping the scroll speed constant across a stage, using 2
pixels for Stage 4 and 1 pixel everywhere else.
Since the scroll speed is given in pixels, the slowest speed would be 1
pixel per frame. To allow the even slower speeds seen in the final game,
TH02 adds a separate scroll interval variable that only runs the
scroll function every 𝑛th frame, effectively adding a prescaler to the
scroll speed. In TH04 and TH05, the speed is specified as a Q12.4 value
instead, allowing true fractional speeds at any multiple of
1/16 pixels. This also necessitated a fixed algorithm
that correctly blits tile lines from two rows.
Finally, we've got a few inconsistencies in the way the code handles the
two VRAM pages, which cause a few unnecessary tiles to be rendered to just
one of the two pages. Mentioning that just in case someone tries to play
this game with a fully cleared text RAM and wonders where the flickering
tiles come from.
Even though this was ZUN's first attempt at scrolling tiles, he already saw
it fit to write most of the code in assembly. This was probably a reaction
to all of TH01's performance issues, and the frame rate reduction
workarounds he implemented to keep the game from slowing down too much in
busy places. "If TH01 was all C++ and slow, TH02 better contain more ASM
code, and then it will be fast, right?"
Another reason for going with ASM might be found in the kind of
documentation that may have been available to ZUN. Last year, the PC-98
community discovered and scanned two new game programming tutorial books
from 1991 (1, 2).
Their example code is not only entirely written in assembly, but restricts
itself to the bare minimum of x86 instructions that were available on the
8086 CPU used by the original PC-9801 model 9 years earlier. Such code is
not only suboptimal
on the 486, but can often be actually worse than what your C++
compiler would generate. TH02 is where the trend of bad hand-written ASM
code started, and it
📝 only intensified in ZUN's later games. So,
don't copy code from these books unless you absolutely want to target the
earlier 8086 and 286 models. Which,
📝 as we've gathered from the recent blitting benchmark results,
are not all too common among current real-hardware owners.
That said, all that ASM code really only impacts readability and
maintainability. Apart from the aforementioned issues, the algorithms
themselves are mostly fine – especially since most EGC and GRCG operations
are decently batched this time around, in contrast to TH01.
Luckily, the tile functions merely use inline assembly within a
typical C function and can therefore be at least part of a C++ source file,
even if the result is pretty ugly. This time, we can actually be sure that
they weren't written directly in a .ASM file, because they feature x86
instruction encodings that can only be generated with Turbo C++ 4.0J's
inline assembler, not with TASM. The same can't unfortunately be said about
the following function in the same segment, which marks the tiles covered by
the spark sprites for redrawing. In this one, it took just one dumb hand-written ASM
inconsistency in the function's epilog to make the entire function
The standard x86 instruction sequence to set up a stack frame in a function prolog looks like this:
In functions without local variables, BP and SP
remain identical, and a single POP BP is all that's needed in
the epilog to tear down such a stack frame before returning from the
function. Otherwise, the function needs an additional MOV SP,
BP instruction to pop all local variables. With x86 being the helpful
CISC architecture that it is, the 80186 also introduced the
LEAVE instruction to perform both tasks. Unlike
ENTER, this single instruction
is faster than the raw two instructions on a lot of x86 CPUs (and
even current ones!), and it's always smaller, taking up just 1 byte instead
of 3. So what if you use LEAVE even if your function
doesn't use local variables? The fact that the
instruction first does the equivalent of MOV SP, BP doesn't
matter if these registers are identical, and who cares about the additional
CPU cycles of LEAVE compared to just POP BP,
right? So that's definitely something you could theoretically do, but
not something that any compiler would ever generate.
And so, TH02 MAIN.EXE decompilation already hits the first
brick wall after two pushes. Awesome! Theoretically,
we could slowly mash through this wall using the 📝 code generator. But having such an inconsistency in the
function epilog would mean that we'd have to keep Turbo C++ 4.0J from
emitting any epilog or prolog code so that we can write our
own. This means that we'd once again have to hide any use of the
SI and DI registers from the compiler… and doing
that requires code generation macros for 22 of the 49 instructions of
the function in question, almost none of which we currently have. So, this
gets quite silly quite fast, especially if we only need to do it
for one single byte.
Instead, wouldn't it be much better if we had a separate build step between
compile and link time that allowed us to replicate mistakes like these by
just patching the compiled .OBJ files? These files still contain the names
of exported functions for linking, which would allow us to look up the code
of a function in a robust manner, navigate to specific instructions using a
disassembler, replace them, and write the modified .OBJ back to disk before
linking. Such a system could then naturally expand to cover all other
decompilation issues, culminating in a full-on optimizer that could even
recreate ZUN's self-modifying code. At that point, we would have sealed away
all of ZUN's ugly ASM code within a separate build step, and could finally
decompile everything into readable C++.
Pulling that off would require a significant tooling investment though.
Patching that one byte in TH02's spark invalidation function could be done
within 1 or 2 pushes, but that's just one issue, and we currently have 32
other .ASM files with undecompilable code. Also, note that this is
fundamentally different from what we're doing with the
debloated branch and the Anniversary Editions. Mistake patching
would purely be about having readable code on master that
compiles into ZUN's exact binaries, without fixing weird
code. The Anniversary Editions go much further and rewrite such code in
a much more fundamental way, improving it further than mistake patching ever
Right now, the Anniversary Editions seem much more
popular, which suggests that people just want 100% RE as fast as
possible so that I can start working on them. In that case, why bother with
such undecompilable functions, and not just leave them in raw and unreadable
x86 opcode form if necessary… But let's first
see how much backer support there actually is for mistake patching before
falling back on that.
The best part though: Once we've made a decision and then covered TH02's
spark and particle systems, that was it, and we will have already RE'd
all ZUN-written PC-98-specific blitting code in this game. Every further
sprite or shape is rendered via master.lib, and is thus decently abstracted.
Guess I'll need to update
📝 the assessment of which PC-98 Touhou game is the easiest to port,
because it sure isn't TH01, as we've seen with all the work required for the first Anniversary Edition build.
Until then, there are still enough parts of the game that don't use any of
the remaining few functions in the _TEXT segment. Previously, I
mentioned in the 📝 status overview blog post
that TH02 had a seemingly weird sprite system, but the spark and point popup
() structures showed that the game just
stores the current and previous position of its entities in a slightly
different way compared to the rest of PC-98 Touhou. Instead of having
dedicated structure fields, TH02 uses two-element arrays indexed with the
active VRAM page. Same thing, and such a pattern even helps during RE since
it's easy to spot once you know what to look for.
There's not much to criticize about the point popup system, except for maybe
a landmine that causes sprite glitches when trying to display more than
99,990 points. Sadly, the final push in this delivery was rounded out by yet
another piece of code at the opposite end of the quality spectrum. The
particle and smear effects for Reimu's bomb animations consist almost
entirely of assembly bloat, which would just be replaced with generic calls
to the generic blitter in this game's future Anniversary Edition.
If I continue to decompile TH02 while avoiding the brick wall, items would
be next, but they probably require two pushes. Next up, therefore:
Integrating Stripe as an alternative payment provider into the order form.
There have been at least three people who reported issues with PayPal, and
Stripe has been working much better in tests. In the meantime, here's a temporary Stripe
order link for everyone. This one is not connected to the cap yet, so
please make sure to stay within whatever value is currently shown on the
front page – I will treat any excess money as donations.
If there's some time left afterward, I might
also add some small improvements to the TH01 Anniversary Edition.