If you were a Nintendo kid in the 90s, you were probably blown away by how star fox and its SuperFX chip could render full 3D worlds on 1993 SNES hardware. If you return to play the game today, however, you’ll likely be disappointed with the game’s choppy frame rate, which maxes out at 20 fps .
Enter for a long time star fox rom hacker kandowontuwho is responsible for the many features Star Fox Exploration Showcase To hack. This week kando released a patch that unlocks 30 or even 60 fps modes in an emulated star fox (Where Star fox 2em) ROMs. The result is an extremely smooth experience that’s probably closer to the rosy memories you have of the early ’90s. star fox than the original game ever could.
A design problem
Acceleration attempts star fox are nothing new in the hacking and emulation communities. For years gamers have overclocked SuperFX chips or run emulators at higher speeds to try and increase the frame rate of the game.
But while these methods do star fox run faster (and smoother), they also speed up the game’s internal logic to the same extent. This means enemy ships and your Arwing fly much faster than Nintendo intended, an effect that also desynchronizes the game’s excellent music with the auto-scrolling action on the screen. Tripling the game speed to a 60fps experience makes it blazingly fast in every way.
The design and limitations of the original SuperFX chip make it a tricky problem to solve. In a game like star fox, the SuperFX chip can take two full frame cycles to transfer its 3D images to the system’s video RAM (and this despite only using 75% of the available screen space). Add render time for game logic, enemy movement, etc., and the game renders a fresh frame at only a third of the standard SNES 60 fps rate.
“SuperFX games are kind of a special case,” the author of the near (aka byuu) emulator told Ars in 2019 while discussing an overclocking-focused update to their focus-focused emulator. bsnes precision. “Since they tend not to run at 60fps due to the requirements of software rasterizing entire screens on the SNES, the game logic is designed around frame rates. So even if you speed up star foxthe game engine will seem to be running too fast now.”
Slow your roll
To work around this, the kando hack first reprograms the game to execute three instruction frames (measured in IRQ routines) within one frame cycle (or two game cycles for 30 mode fps). But to prevent the gameplay itself from speeding up, kando programmed its version to only recalculate game logic (or “strats”) every three frames (or every other frame for 30 fps mode). “It slows the game down to its ORIGINAL pace,” kando writes.
Unfortunately, kando notes that this hacked version of the game still needs the help of an overclocked SNES processor and so, will not work on original SNES hardware. Even in emulators configured to run in overclocked mode, kando warns that in 60 fps mode, “when there are a few objects on the screen, the FPS becomes very variable between 30 and 60 fps (there also seems to be problems with the speed of music playing at 60 fps) .
Limitations aside, it’s great to relive star foxThe action-packed gameplay of without the nauseating framerates inherent in early 90s 3D graphics (or the nauseating game speeds of previous framerate hacks). We’ll be playing it this weekend alongside our upgraded SA-1 copy without slowing down Step 3 to try to relive the best version of our childhood.
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