Speed Highway downgrades

In the original Sonic Adventure, Speed Highway was one of levels that showcased the graphical capabilities of the Dreamcast to the fullest. When playing this level, you could feel that every little detail in it was designed to be a visual spectacle – much like in the rest of the game, but this particular level just pushed the hardware to the very limit. It was gorgeous to look at, with all the crazy lights, the roads going upside down, helicopters and the police chasing after you. The scene with Sonic running down the side of a building is one of the most memorable moments in the entire game.

Unfortunately the SADX version of the level suffers from a significant number of downgrades and problems. From the start you can see how the lighting sets a completely different tone for the stage, making it darker and eerie green for some reason. The PC version’s lighting is almost non-existent:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

The eerie green theme doesn’t fit the level too well. The buildings look fine on the Dreamcast because the windows are lit up, but on the Gamecube/PC it looks like there’s a blackout going on. It would’ve been easy to make the windows brighter – it’s a single material flag:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

The breakable glass has almost completely lost its environment mapping effect, as well as its unique texture. It is now using a green texture similar to the rest of glass surfaces elsewhere in SADX:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

In all versions except the Dreamcast original there is a bug with the red transporter. Its model has a material flag that enables transparency where it isn’t needed, making parts of level geometry visible through it. It’s especially noticeable in motion.

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The grabber basket that brings Sonic to the upper level has lost its shiny surface (environment mapping) and is now properly textured instead.

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The helicopter went through a similar transformation, only retaining the shiny effect on its windows:

Dreamcast
Gamecube

Here’s another example of this change from Act 3: the cars are no longer shiny and use the same green glass texture as many other areas in SADX:

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The Dreamcast models use a low-resolution texture and distort it to get a “metallic” looking surface. This effect is used by many models in SA1 and SADX – the lion in Casinopolis, icicles (SA1 only), window reflections in Station Square, cars (full models in SA1, windows only in SADX) etc. The Dreamcast version certainly relied a lot on this effect.

It could be argued that the SADX models added more detail by replacing this effect with proper textures. However, the models themselves were not improved and are still low-poly. The removal of environment mapping in this particular case is both a good and a bad change: although the textures allow for more detail, the shiny effect (which is characteristic of metal surfaces) is gone, and the model ends up looking like a plastic toy.

Speed Highway has several objects with blinking lights, which are seen more often in Tails’ level. This radar/satellite dish tower has a glowing light at the top, for example. However, in SADX the light was disabled.

Dreamcast
Gamecube

Another missing effect is the rotating lights inside the bottom part of this type of platform in Tails’ stage:

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The lights are still there, but you can’t see them because SADX is struggling with transparency.

The lights on Eggman’s missile were not removed, but for some reason their blinking is broken in the PC version:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

If you look closely, you can see that the smoke effect looks lower resolution in the PC version. This is caused by alpha rejection, more on that in the Transparency section.

Texture quality suffers again, especially in the PC version, where some textures are half of their original resolution in addition to having been recompressed multiple times:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

Act 2 has also lost a lot of ambience: the red fog near the bottom is gone, and the updated glass texture doesn’t fit the level’s theme:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

The colorful ambience of the original level is darker and washed out in the ports:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

Minor complaint, but at the end of Act 2 there are no rings to collect using the magnetic shield that you get slightly earlier.

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The buildings in Act 3 had two effects in the Dreamcast version: you could see the skybox and parts of the level through the windows because they were semi-transparent (so it looked like a reflection), and the texture on the windows themselves had environment mapping:

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The SADX version of the level has no such effects. Although the game still supports environment mapping, all windows in the stage use a static opaque green texture that never changes regardless of where the camera is. For a supposedly “enhanced port”, this kind of quality degradation is unacceptable.

Act 3 in general appears to have lost a lot of its original atmosphere. Here’s a comparison of the starting point as Knuckles. The Dreamcast version sets a different tone for this level. The PC version, apart from washing out the already simplified Gamecube lighting, adds fog that makes it look even worse:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

If you walk around the stage a little bit, you’ll notice that the advertisement boards on the roof look broken in SADX. The model’s layering is incorrect:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

Since the PC version processes material colors even when it’s not necessary, the broken container bottoms have a green tint, which is not a downgrade per se but still a result of a bug rather than a design choice:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

The fountain uses a different model in SADX to mask issues with self-blending objects and transparency order. The Dreamcast fountain’s shape is a little more original:

Dreamcast
Gamecube

The Dreamcast version had dynamic fog in this level, which got thicker in some areas (possibly to improve framerate), but subdued in other areas to improve visibility. Even when the fog got thicker, the areas close to the player were not obscured by it. The Gamecube version gets rid of the fog altogether, while the PC version brings it back, but fog distance is never adjusted on PC, which makes it wash out the colors:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

Here’s an area where the fog goes away on the Dreamcast. As you can see, the colors in the level are constantly washed out in the PC version because the distance where fog begins is much closer to the player:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC

The Master Emerald pieces have lost their shading in SADX and look a lot brighter and less transparent overall:

Dreamcast
Gamecube
PC*

*Not a video but you can still see it doesn’t have proper shading either.

Speed Highway is one of the most severely downgraded levels in SADX. With Lantern Engine you can enjoy this level again with original lighting, and with Dreamcast Conversion you can have this level reverted to the original version with all transparency effects restored, as well as tweaked fog for better visuals. Check out the “Fixing the PC version of SADX” to find out how to install these mods.