Propeller Arena Sega Dreamcast, a prototype with the discovery of a test menu
Development of Propeller Arena for the Dreamcast was undertaken by AM2, a division of SEGA. The game was designed to exploit the console's online capabilities and offer a unique online multiplayer experience.
Propeller Arena was to offer players the chance to pilot different aircraft in intense aerial combat. Online multiplayer features were to be included, allowing players to compete in real-time aerial battles.
Unfortunately, development of Propeller Arena was interrupted by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, when airplanes were used as weapons in terrorist attacks in the USA. Due to the sensitivity of the situation and the game's content, SEGA took the decision to cancel the release of Propeller Arena out of respect for the victims and their families.
Despite its cancellation, prototype versions of Propeller Arena were discovered and posted on the Internet, allowing curious players to discover a part of the game that could have been published.
Video of the prototype
With this new prototyped version of Propeller Arena, seven different builds (including an early prototype and a demo version for E3) are now available for free download from the game's main page: Seven new Propeller Arena Dreamcast prototypes on the horizon.
Propeller Arena (Apr 3, 2001 Prototype)
This new prototype shows Propeller Arena in an intermediate state. The file dates indicate June 15, 2001, 3 months before what’s considered to be the final PA version, September 11, 2001 (a tragic date). The build is also 2 months after the earliest known version, that of April 2001. This prototype of AM2's game opens the door to development functionalities for testing various in-game features (sound check, motion viewer etc.). For the purposes of this beta analysis, only the most important points will be highlighted, since the April build had been examined in detail, and some of its features will be repeated here.
When the game starts up, the layout and description used for the information screen on memory card, save and load data differ. This prototype requires 5 free blocks on the VMU to save a game, as opposed to the 10 blocks required in the final version. It should be noted that the April 2001 build required only 4 blocks.
The famous title menu
The copyright on the title screen refers to "CRI/SEGA, 2001" as opposed to "SEGA - AM2/SEGA, 2001" on the September 2001 version.
Propeller Arena's entire voice cast, regardless of the dubbing actor, was not yet implemented in the prototype. However, voice recordings are present in the game files. A feature in the build allows you to listen to them.
In the main menu, whose options are aligned higher than usual, the Propeller Challenge game mode should be called Training Arena.
This prototype of Propeller Arena Dreamcast features a new "Auto Save" setting, enabling you to activate or deactivate automatic saves. To change it, simply go to Game Settings in the main menu options.
This prototype was to be the moment when the AM2 team had to add the HKT-770, Air Ship (Air Shark in final) and Plane (Lil'Susie in final) aircrafts to the game, which could be unlocked by progressing through the final version of PA. In Championship mode (comparative photos below) or in Quick Battle mode, in the menu for selecting the aviator and his aircraft, the main differences can clearly be seen for these 3 new aircrafts.
An unidentified Dreamcast controller was spotted in the sky (final)
This view will be removed
A VMU falls from the sky (final)
On starting a new game in Championship mode, when the game asks you to choose a pilot, the Eagle Jam character used in this build as a temporary character model for the HKT-770, Air Ship and Plane aircraft, appears to the right of each of these three aircraft. No representation of a character model should normally be displayed for them. Perhaps it was the developers' intention to create a dedicated pilot for each of these three new aircraft, something that will ultimately not be realized...
All aircraft and battle arenas are available without the need to progress through the game to unlock them.
In the pilot selection menu (QB), the SEGA logo precedes the HKT-7700 designation for the plane in the shape of a flying Dreamcast controller, while it doesn’t appear in the final version. Usually in Quick Battle mode, an image shows the type of aircraft flown by each aviator. As for the three plane not yet included in the April 2001 build, there are as yet no photos depicting them.
When the player's aircraft is destroyed, the game shows a short animated sequence with the aircraft's pilot parachuting through the air. During this animation with the HKT-7700 aircraft, a VMU normally acts as pilot. On this prototype, the model of the DC memory card was certainly not yet designed. As a result, for this cutscene, the developers chose the Eagle Jam pilot and its animation.
The aircraft whose temporary title on the prototype is Plane has an interior view. This is not the case in the final version. It will be removed.
The prototype's major in-game particularities are strangely linked to the three aircraft not yet implemented in the April 2001 build. Perhaps these three planes were a last-minute addition not initially planned...
Propeller Challenge (Training Arena)
At this stage of Propeller Arena's development, when the three game modes of Propeller Challenge (Training Arena) did not yet exist in the April 2001 prototype, there was still nothing definitive, and many important elements of the fundamental gameplay were still being tested.
In the event selection menu for each of the 3 game modes of Propeller Challenges (Training Arena), the last 2 missions are normally bonus missions to be unlocked after successfully completing those available by default. On this prototype, they are available from the start. They are not named EXTRA:1 or EXTRA:2, but simply LEVEL + their assigned numbers (9 and 10 in this case), like the names of the basic missions in the final version.
No matter which Propeller Challenge mode you're playing (Trick, Extreme or Laps), once you've selected an event, the window presenting the mission objective is always the same (a temporary screen). Only the icon of the combat arena in which the mission will take place will change on this one. So it's impossible to know what to do before embarking on the adventure.
If the player doesn't pass a test, he'll be taken to the Continue screen. This screen has a different layout to the familiar one (different color, larger text). If the player refuses to use a Continue, the Game Over window (recurring problems with text size and color) will replace the Continue screen. Instead of taking the player back to the mission selection screen of the game mode previously played, the prototype returns to the Propeller Arena title screen.
Names not yet definitive
It's all unlocked
In principle, each mission has its own specific aircraft. On the prototype, all events are played out with the Eagle Jam aircraft.
The point at which the aircraft appears in the mission environment may differ from one version to another.
Quite often, the timers for completing a challenge on the prototype are not set correctly and do not correspond to the time allowed in the final version. This can make challenges seem more difficult than usual.
Trick, which is the equivalent of Propeller Stunt in its final version
The aim of the missions in this game mode is to complete the figures displayed on screen, by reproducing a button combo displayed in a box provided for this purpose on the left-hand side of the screen. On the prototype, no button combo appears, making this game mode's missions, as they stand, unachievable. There are no rings either.
Extreme, which is the equivalent of Propeller Challenge in its final version.
Unlike Trick mode, the basic gameplay mechanics of Extreme mode were implemented. Despite an unpolished player interface and some missing or unusual information on screen (such as the number of missiles destroyed or the number of missiles missed in the first round), it's perfectly playable.
Laps, which is the equivalent of Propeller Agility in its final version
The missions of this game mode consist in passing through all the checks points, represented by luminous rings, as quickly as possible and before the end of the assigned time. Some information, such as the number of rings the plane has crossed so far, is missing from the screen. Checkpoints are arranged differently and in different places for some events than in the final version. This changes the path the aircraft must take.
The AM2 team responsible for the design of Propeller Arena was in the process of implementing the game modes of Propeller Challenge (Training Arena) on this prototype, fine-tuning them and making them more enjoyable to play. This build shows them as a rough outline of what they would become once the product is finished.
Thanks to this new Propeller Arena prototype, it is now possible to naturally access certain elements of the Online mode (lobby, online game chart etc.). This version of the game probably just skips a large part of the server authentication to get to the lobby, but this was easily bypassed anyway on other known PA versions. The game automatically disconnects when you reach the Propeller Arena lobby.
While some Dreamcast games have been brought back online over the years, Propeller Arena has yet to do so, as the Dreamcast community (the Dreamcast Live site) is currently unable to bring the online features back. Apart from the server software itself, the only thing that could help is the game's source code. Shuouma was able to take a look, and unfortunately this new PA build doesn't open the doors to the joys of online multiplayer, despite being able to access previously inaccessible options.
It's almost a cut-and-paste of the Outtrigger server before the AM2 developers further customized it for Propeller Arena.
Option Entry Ranking
Network Login (chart d'utilisateur)
Network Login (choix du serveur)
Déconnexion une fois dans les lobby du jeu
There's no longer any need to hack the game in order to see some of the components of Propeller Arena's Online mode. Even if it's still not playable online, it's better than nothing....
The Free Camera development option
The trick to accessing the Free Camera is to pause the game in order to walk freely through the PA environments. By pressing the "B" button on Player 1's controller, the message "Debug Camera" will appear on the screen. The "Left" and "Right" triggers are used to move forwards and backwards, while the Joystick is used to orient the camera in the desired direction. By holding down the "B" button and then using the Joystick directions, the camera will move sideways or up and down.
To remove the START menu from the screen, press the "X", "Y" and "B" keys at the same time, and in the opposite direction to display it again.
The TEST MOD
The TEST MOD functions are located in the game's options menu. This option, used by developers to check and test certain parameters of their title, was locked on the prototype dated April 3, 2001. It's a pleasure to have it unlocked on this build, and to be able to try out the seven applications it contains:
The TEST MOD sub-menus
OBJECT TEST : Display textures, or sets of textures, objects and elements, or sets of objects and elements, that appear in-game (explained in a separate section).
SPRITE TEST : Show graphic elements that can move around the screen in-game
SCROLL TEST : Display graphical elements that can scroll on the in-game screen
FONT TEST : Ttest the keyboard writing system for online mode, for example
SOUND TEST : Listen to the sound effects, tones and music of the game (explained in a separate section)
MOTION TEST : Test character animations (explained in a separate section)
FILE TEST : Unknown function
To exit a TEST function and return to the main TEST MOD menu, press all 4 controller buttons "A "+"B "+"X "+"Y" (the Flycast emulator does not support this button combo) at the same time. The most interesting features, in my opinion, are detailed in a separate section.
OBJECT TEST :
When OBJECT TEST is opened, the prototype provides a number of different selection options, such as SEL2, ETC, EFF, PLN0, PLN1 and so on. You have to choose an entry to reach the main menu of this TEST function. In any case, these object classifications can be changed from the OBJECT TEST main menu.
The SEL2 and Co. sections correspond to a category or group of objects that OBJECT TEST's on-screen functions can reveal.
For example, the assortment of textures offered by VSSTG (1/2/3 etc.) + the number corresponding to the desired game arena allows you to view the map elements or the entire level concerned from above. The categories PLN (1/2/3 etc.) + the number corresponding to the desired aircraft in the game show the parts that make up the aircraft, enabling you to see the stages in its modeling.
The evolution of aircraft modeling
The OBJECT TEST menu is divided into seven distinct modes: LIGHT, STGCHK, ANIMATION, TEXTCHG, MODEL, CAMERA and VIEWPORT.
The STGCHK mode is certainly the most interesting for those for those of us unfamiliar with the process of developing a video game. In a way, it's the equivalent of the most popular development option, Free Camera. As such, it allows users to freely explore every corner of a combat arena environment. It differs from the Free Camera hidden in the START menu once the game has been paused in that the Maps are emptied of pick-up items, flying aircraft, the player interface and the animation of certain scenery components. In short, this is the raw level.
Operating instructions (Controller in port A of the console):
Left" and "Right" triggers: zoom in or out on the element on screen. If it's an entire map in STGCHK mode, these keys are used to move forward or backward, as with the Free Camera option.
Joystick directions: orient the element on screen in the desired direction. If it's an entire map in STGCHK mode, these keys are used to move the camera in the desired direction. Can also be used to modify parameters as in LIGHT mode.
X" button: change background color (gray, turquoise, beige and black)
A" button: change the elements to be displayed on screen, in several modes
D-Pad directions: Navigate submenus and modify certain settings, e.g. for ANIMATION
START + D-Pad "Up" or "Down" button: change OBJECT TEST mode (MODEL, CAMERA, TEXTCHG etc.)
START + D-Pad "Left" or "Right" button: Change the category of elements to be displayed on screen, in MODEL mode. Changing the battle arena in STGCHK mode
Y button + "Left" or "Right" trigger: Faster forward or reverse movement speed in STGCHK mode. Increased speed for moving on-screen elements in other modes.
Follow what is written on the screen for certain modes of this menu. It's not easy to understand, and will take some time to get used to.
A complete arena seen from the top
You don't want to be there
Other key combinations can certainly exist, and might include a way to hide the OBJECT TEST menu interface.
This MOD TEST feature lets you see, observe and test all the character animations in this prototyped version of Propeller Arena Dreamcast.
Normally, each aircraft pilot has his or her own movements. With this tool employed by AM2's developers, all the game's animations - 54 in all - can be played, regardless of character. Some must be new and unique to the build. They need to be analyzed in detail.
Operating instructions (Controller in port A of the console):
D-Pad directions: Navigate the menu and activate (or deactivate) certain parameters.
A" button: Activation key in certain cases.
Joystick directions: Orient camera to desired angle.
Left" or "Right" trigger: Zoom in or out on the character.
How to enjoy the character animations
Compared with OBJECT TEST, the MOTION TEST menu is easy to use.
This MOD TEST program lets you listen to all the music, sound effects, recorded voiceovers and special audio effects included in this Propeller Arena Dreamcast beta.
All the game's sound effects and music are here
Some of the sound effects are new
The sweet melody called wenzai (to be heard in BGM TEST) does not appear to have been used in the final version. They are also not to be found in the April 2001 build. Tunes whose title begins with TRACK (+ a number) had a non-definitive name which would later be changed, e.g. TRACK1 would be renamed Wake_up_with_a_smile.
For the same sound effects, there are several different sounds. It's the same for recorded actors' voices: for a word, a group of words or a phrase, there are several different intonations. The team in charge of creating Propeller Arena was undoubtedly experimenting large array of sounds of all kinds, to find out which sound effects best matched the action on screen, or which intonation of the dubbing actors best rendered in-game.
The SOUND TEST menu is divided into four sections: AUDIO TEST (stereo adjustment etc.), SOUND TEST (sound effects with instant sound), ICS TEST (sound effects with continuous sound), BGM TEST (music and recorded voice) and BGM PLAY TEST (music only).
As far as how to use this feature is concerned, everything is explained on the screen!!!!
The TEST MOD menu is similar to the Debug Menu, but better. The possibilities it offers are many and interesting, especially when it comes to Propeller Arena audio. Try it and you'll love it!
You can download this build of Propeller Arena Dreamcast below:
If you'd like to download more Propeller Arena prototypes - seven in all - and read a detailed article about AM2's game, you can visit the game's homepage: Seven new Propeller Arena Dreamcast prototypes on the horizon
Special thanks to:
Vince for the English correction of the text of the article.
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More than 200 prototypes, documents and presskits have been dumped or scanned, and are available for free download in the "Releases prototypes and documents" section