Last week, Sega announced and launched Sega Forever, an initiative aimed at bringing classic Sega system games to Android and iOS platforms. The first lineup of games went live, offering Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star II, Comix Zone, Kid Chameleon, and Altered Beast in free ad-based versions. Players could also pay to remove the ads completely.
It sounded good on paper, but fans noted that the performance of the ports wasn't up to snuff. Those fans have complained by about poor frame rates, with the ports not reaching the games' original spec despite running on way more powerful hardware. There have also been issues with input lag, desynced audio, and controller support. It's perplexing, given Sega's previous efforts with the Mega Drive Classics on 3DS.
Some point to Unity as the issue, notably RetroArch emulator developers Libretro, who noted they were in discussion to offer their emulator to Sega for the project before a deal fell through.
"This feels kinda like watching a trainwreck unfold. Sorry to all the people that are experiencing subpar performance with this Unity thing; they could have been using RetroArch right now if they hadn't been so stubbornly insistent on demanding we relicense our entire program to something that would strip us of all our rights, on top of some other unreasonable things like not showing any branding, etc. Hell, they could have had this running on the desktop right now on top of consoles and maybe some netplay as well," they wrote on Twitlonger.
DO NOT TOUCH those Sega Forever games. Lousy emulation in a Unity wrapper. Not good at all.— John Linneman (@dark1x) June 21, 2017
In an interview with Eurogamer, Sega Networks' chief marketing officer Mike Evans said that RetroArch wasn't used due to corporate and proprietary reasons. He also defended the use of Unity for the initiative.
"One of the developers we're using, a company called GoGames, they'd been in talks with Libretro on the RetroArch emulator," said Evans. "That particular emulator is under a GPL, a general public licence. From a Sega perspective, we can't bundle GPL software with Sega proprietary games, because we lose certain rights within the games - it's a corporate policy for us. If we'd have known those conversations were going on we couldn't have acted on it anyway."
"We looked at a number of different things, and what we decided was Unity allowed us that broadness and we could piggyback a lot of the updates as well," he added. "We use Unity not just on these games but on a portfolio basis across many of Sega's apps. It enables us to broaden it - mobile's the start of what we're doing and we're focussed on getting that right, but it opens up other commercial opportunities for us with Apple TVs, desktops and the Switch as well."
For its part, Sega remains committed to fixing the issues. Evans dodged on the idea that the problems with Sega Forever are as widespread as reported, but said that the fixes for some issues have already gone out in patches.
"We've been actively listening to all the reviews and trying to figure out if there is an area that we need to address. Phantasy Star is the title where we need to have the most work, if we're honest, we had a couple of challenges with Sonic out of the gate with users not being able to disable ads, we submitted an update yesterday and that fixed it. We've actively been going back to individual consumers one on one to address those issues. We want them to have the best experience possible," said Evans.
"I think that whilst we're continually working to improve on quality - we have to understand the context of mobile in that sense - if you look at the vast majority there's a lot of very delighted fans out there. We're going to continue to improve, the core is very important to us as well, and make those changes so we're happy and they're happy."
Further new releases in the Sega Forever program will be coming every two weeks.