Chao Garden downgrades

Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking. How could the Chao Gardens in SADX be worse than in the original game? For the most part, at least as far as the gardens themselves are concerned, they aren’t. However, much like everywhere else in the game, the improvements made in SADX are far outweighed by the incredible amount of downgrades not only to the gardens, but the Chao system itself. Let’s see what’s wrong with SADX Chao, but first let’s get the positive and neutral differences out of the way.

The Dreamcast version of Sonic Adventure was the first game allowing you to raise Chao. The Chao breeding system in SADX is very different from the one used in the original game. There is a lot of evidence (leftover animation data, Chao Karate textures, data structure similarity and model format seldom used elsewhere in the game etc.) suggesting that the SADX Chao system is the SA2B system slapped on top of SADX engine. I’m no Chao expert and there are much better resources like the Chao Island where you can learn about Chao differences between different games, including SA1, SADX and SA2B. This blog post isn’t going to focus on smaller details like behaviors learned from different animals or new stats. Instead, here’s a list of basic differences between SA1 and SADX Chao:

  1. Chao Adventure vs Tiny Chao Garden. The original game used the Dreamcast’s VMU for a minigame called Chao Adventure. You could put your Chao on the VMU using the VMU Transporter to “take it out for a walk” in Chao Adventure, where you could increase the Chao’s stats and find different fruits. The minigame was also the only way to name the Chao and see its stats in the Dreamcast version, while in SADX you can see the stats when you pick up the Chao, and there’s a name machine in each Chao Garden. The Gamecube version has a different minigame called Tiny Chao Garden (which requires a Game Boy Advance) that has music, colored graphics and more interaction than Chao Adventure. There are different versions of Tiny Chao Garden that come with SADX, Sonic Advance and Sonic Advance 2. The PC and nextgen console versions don’t have any of the minigames.
  2. Chao Daycare vs Black Market. SADX has SA2B’s Black Market, where you can buy Chao eggs, fruits and other items with the rings you’ve collected in Action Stages. You can also get fruits from the Tiny Chao Garden. The original Dreamcast game had an online feature called Chao Daycare, which let you download other people’s Chao and upload your own Chao, and the fruits you could get from Chao Adventure. Although the Dreamcast system had a few cool features (like mating the Chao on the VMU by connecting the VMUs together, or purchasing rare Chao on the online Black Market for emblems – a Japan-only feature), a lot of people prefer the SADX system because you are no longer forced to play the minigames to get fruits that increase specific stats of the Chao, and new Chao eggs can be obtained easily through the Black Market. There are also hats for the Chao to wear.
  3. Chao variety. The original game has fewer Chao breeds. The SADX system has more variety allowing you to raise Chao of different colors and shiny/jewel combinations, as well as Hero and Dark Chao. There are also Tails, Knuckles and Amy Chao that are no longer easy to obtain legitimately. On the whole the SADX system has more genetic combinations, which makes it more fun.

Now that we’ve outlined the main differences between the Chao systems, let’s move on to the gardens themselves. Many people prefer the SADX Chao Gardens, and for a good reason – they have some advantages over the gardens in the original game. Although this is rarely the case for the rest of the game, the Chao Gardens in SADX also have some graphical improvements that don’t look too terrible. For example, look at the water in the Station Square garden, which is pretty good on the Gamecube and kind of okay (just a bit “acidic”) in the PC version. Also note how the columns have more detaled lighting in SADX. Hard to believe, I know!

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The fountain on the Dreamcast looks empty and lifeless, while in SADX it has a Chao statue and running water. Interestingly the Dreamcast version’s SET file has a fountain object defined for this area, but it never shows up ingame. I restored that object’s model (with a different texture) in the Dreamcast Chao Gardens mod, so you can check it out if you’re interested.

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The VMU Transporter was redesigned to look like a Gameboy Advance in the Gamecube version, and like a more generic Chao transporter in the PC version. It also has less collision issues than the original. However, the VMU-related status screen was lost, and the PC version’s unnecessary material colors give half of the machine a weird bluish tint:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The Transporter has a rough-looking menu in the Dreamcast version, while SADX uses a cleaner SA2B menu. The PC version looks similar to the Gamecube version except that it no longer has the “Drop off” and “Pick up” options.

Dreamcast

Gamecube

The garden teleporters have received some redesign, but what happened to their effect? It looks odd now without the colorful animation of the original:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

Interestingly the transporter on the Egg Carrier still has the effect, although it looks less vibrant in SADX because of transparency issues and different lighting.

Speaking of the Egg Carrier, the egg found in the prison cell has lost its texture and is now completely black in SADX. This is related to the change in the Chao system, where all black eggs have a solid color instead of a texture. Why not give them a texture, though? The Dreamcast original looks pretty good.

Dreamcast

Gamecube

The palm trees have been redesigned and the basic fruit’s texture is more “cartoony” in SADX:

The palm tree redesign and the added flowers made the transparency issues more obvious than they would’ve been:

Minor quirk, but on the Dreamcast the fruit had a differently colored texture depending on how big it had grown on the tree, but in SADX the fruit’s color is always the same:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

Let’s move on to the Mystic Ruins garden. From a quick look the SADX version of the garden doesn’t seem bad at all (except the sky, which looks somewhat terrible in the evening and night versions). This is one of the locations where SADX uses vertex colors to really enhance the look of the scene:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The terrain and objects are lit the same way regardless of the time of day in the Dreamcast version. This is because the Dreamcast Mystic Ruins garden always loads the day palette file even though there are evening and night lighting files for this stage. It appears to be a planned feature that was disabled due to some issue, or just never completed. You can still see what the stage looks like with those palettes if you play the PC version with Dreamcast mods. Anyway, the original game doesn’t make use of evening and night lighting for the Mystic Ruins garden, and only changes the sky texture. In SADX the developers have split the Mystic Ruins garden’s geometry into three separate versions for every time of day, which allowed to make use of much better lighting unique to each version. This also would’ve helped a lot in Station Square or the Mystic Ruins, but unfortunately the Mystic Ruins Chao Garden is the only area in the game that has different level geometry for different times of day. It’s still less efficient than palettizing a single version of level geometry, but given that the Dreamcast version doesn’t even do that in this stage SADX is the winner here.

The water could’ve been handled better, though. The Dreamcast version uses a water texture that is consistent with the pool in the Mystic Ruins main area. The SADX texture is too transparent to be visible, although the Gamecube’s distortion effect makes up for it somewhat. The PC version’s texture is a mess that looks especially awful during the day and in the evening:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The Dreamcast version has a non-animated background water texture that doesn’t fit well with the sky, SADX attempts to fix that but it still looks a bit awkward. At night it looks almost as if there is no sea at all. In addition, the PC version’s blending mode makes it look pretty awful during the day:
Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

The waterfall in the Mystic Ruins garden looks pretty awful in SADX:
Dreamcast

Gamecube

The Egg Carrier garden’s redesign is a lot less problematic. In the original game it was the most buggy and strange looking garden, creating an impression that it was unfinished. Some level geometry around the seashore didn’t stick together, parts of the sea weren’t animated, the bottom of the sea had strange textures and the collision was a bit wonky. Here’s a video demonstrating some of those issues:

In the Gamecube version the seashore received a much cleaner look, with green vertex colors instead of sea wave textures, some decorations in the background and a cool tide effect with distortion:

This looks great (except the ugly color banding in the sky and the alpha rejection issue that makes the water splashes look awful – DC vs GC), but in the PC version there’s a problem. As expected, it lacks the distortion effect of the Gamecube version, but what makes it even worse is that the ocean is completely static. This bug was never fixed in any later ports of the game. How could this even get past quality assurance tests?

The original version of the garden had a few problems – for example, it was possible to drown in the ocean, and sometimes it was difficult to pick up the Chao because they could swim too far. The SADX redesign of the garden fixed the above issues by making the island flatter and the ocean more shallow, which unfortunately also means the variety of terrain features is less impressive in the ports:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

Finally, let’s discuss the part of the game which is undeniably worse in SADX – the Chao Race. There are many Chao Race downgrades in SADX, so first let’s have a look at a typical Chao Race in all three versions of the game. Watch the three videos while also checking the list below:

Dreamcast

Gamecube

PC

There are many things going on, so here’s a list of problems with the SADX Chao Race:

    1. The Chao Race lobby (Chao Staduim) was playable in the original game. It didn’t serve much purpose, but it was fun to walk around the room and interact with the bowing Omochao. In SADX the interactive lobby was replaced with a non-playable room with a simple menu. The lighting was much better in the original, too.
    2. The menu to select the course and the Chao has a rougher appearance in the original game in comparison with the cleaner menu from SA2B, but there are things it did better. For example, each of the courses had a spinning 3D model of the corresponding jewel (pearl, amethyst, ruby, emerald). The Chao made sounds in the selection screen and reacted with emotions and animations when you selected them. This doesn’t happen in SADX.
    3. The Party Race (Multi-Entry) menu was removed in the PC version. Why?!
    4. Before the final prompt to start the race, the Chao do a little dance animation in the Dreamcast version, while in SADX they do nothing.
    5. The Chao no longer have their name badges floating above them during the Chao Race. They also have two shadows that overlap each other and cause Z fighting.
    6. The “Start” and “Goal” graphics from the original are missing.
    7. Some background sounds are missing, such as the water gushing sound near the waterfall. Some sounds were replaced, for example the jingle at the start of the race is now a barely audible clap/shot.
    8. On the Dreamcast, the Chao react to obstacles and the environment around them, displaying a range of different animations and emotion icons. This doesn’t happen in SADX.
    9. A lot of decorations are missing, such as butterflies and white flowers. SADX attemps to compensate for it by adding a dome with spinning stars and different flowers, but it looks nowhere near as lively as the original game. The Dreamcast version had cheering Omochao standing alongside the track, they are also gone in SADX. Interestingly the code for all these objects is still in the game, but they are never loaded because the game ignores the Chao Race SET file.
    10. In the Dreamcast version the Chao sometimes stop in one area to pick up toys and play with them. This never happens in SADX.
    11. The sky texture is worse in SADX and has atrocious color banding:
      Dreamcast

      Gamecube

      PC
    12. The sea in the background is not animated in SADX. The parts in the foreground that do have animation look awful because the texture itself scrolls instead of a proper water animation like in other parts of the game using that water texture.

There are even more Chao downgrades (for example, the Chao generally make less sounds in SADX despite having a bigger soundbank), but the above are the most obvious. You’d think that porting over the Chao system from a newer game would result in improvements, but unfortunately the SADX Chao system was handled just as poorly as the rest of the game.