Why Does Sonic The Hedgehog Run Slower In Australia?

Sonic is supposed to be fast. In fact, as an otherwise nebulous, frequently-rebooted character, that's really all that can be said about him for sure... unless you grew up in Australia, where that was never the case to begin with. In early games Sonic's land speed was markedly slower abroad, and it's all due to differences between PAL and NTSC. Don't get too worried about the acronyms, all you need to know is that they're two different ways of encoding colour information for analogue TVs. NTSC was mainly used in the Americas, Japan and South Korea, while Australia, much of Europe, Africa and chunks of South America used PAL.

So what? Well, these systems run at different frequencies, which meant that the same game running at 30 frames-per-second in the US would output at 25 in the UK. Hence, one slow hedgehog.

Of course, this is an oversimplification. Many games were PAL-optimised to run normally -- the first Sonic the Hedgehog just wasn't one of them. Also, thanks to digital TV, almost none of this stuff matters any more. Whether or not there's been a good Sonic game since the advent of digital TV, well, I'll leave that to the comments section to decide.

Originally posted on Gizmodo.


Comments

    Ah, the days of poor PAL ports. It wasn't just speed, PAL has a higher number of scan lines (resolution) so often ports would have big black borders. Even as recently as the Wii... I recall MadWorld having borders around the whole screen, like a window in a window..

    Kids these days don't know how good they have it.

      It's odd these days. I've got a Japanese Saturn in recent years, and along with JPN imports, I actually LOOK for the unoptimised pal games, rather than the the optimised ones. The unoptimised ones run at full-screen, full-speed on my Japanese Model 1. Never thought I'd ever be thankful for shitty PAL ports, but it saves me having both my PAL and Japanese units hooked up, haha!

      Of course, all of this could have been mitigated if there was a universal standard in the first place.

    I encountered this issue with the Xbox One TV Tuner. It took me a while to figure out that you had to force the Xbone to stay in 50 Hz or it would attempt to play a 50 Hz TV signal in 60 Hz. The results are like trying to watch TV through a poor internet connection. Choppy and annoying to watch. Force the Xbone to only display 50 Hz and it looks good.

      You would think that this kind of issue would not exist in this day and age.

    The article does a pretty poor job of explaining this, so let me elaborate.

    the same game running at 30 frames-per-second in the US would output at 25 in the UK

    This is easy to interpret in the modern sense, that you would just see fewer frames per second as the game ran and it wouldn't feel as smooth, in the same way that 60fps is so much nicer than 30fps. However, in the early, 16-bit and below, consoles, the computing resources were so low that everything was done on-the-fly in a very low-level manner. On CRT screens, the period between each frame being drawn on the screen was called the V-BLANK [the electron beam was literally turned off as it was reset to the top of the screen]. The V-BLANK period was used by many games to perform a lot of the computing and drawing of the frame to the display buffer ready for the next raster cycle.
    This means that the actual timing of the game and all of it's events was tied to the frame rate, literally. The programmers on the earlier games didn't bother to compensate between 50Hz and 60Hz versions of the game, so the timings were all still tied to this frequency.

    With this in mind, Sonic running on an NTSC system actually runs [maybe pun intended] 20% faster than on a PAL system. This includes the animations and also the music.
    As a child who grew up playing hours of Sonic, the first videos I watched of sonic on youtube years ago really caught me off guard. It's strange!

    There is a solution, though. PAL and NTSC mega drive/genesis console hardware is identical. The only difference is the voltage measured on pin 46 of the M68K CPU. If it measures 5V, it will be set to NTSC mode, 0V [ground] it will set to PAL. You can simply sever the trace, add a switch between ground and a 5V source from the motherboard, and you can change between display modes on the fly.

    The first time playing Sonic 2 at 60Hz was a revelation!

    Last edited 10/10/16 10:51 am

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