A look on FutureVision formats

As you all know, this is a studio known primarily for the Harvester game and while that’s not a game I’d like to play I still decided to take a look at it. What do you know, the formats for both music and video are documented. The music format is supported by Game Audio Player since ages and the video format was documented on The Wiki more than a decade ago by the guy responsible for reverse engineering most game formats, Vladimir Gneushev (or simply VAG). And yet there are nuances in them…

Music format is based on IMA ADPCM with minimalistic file header and the default predictor. Which means it needs some time to adapt to the actual coming signal amplitudes. In result the old format description based on reverse engineering recommends skipping first 7-57 bytes right after the header because of the garbage sound it produces. When I looked into the binary reference (an adventure that will be described in an upcoming post), it turned out that in certain cases they simply zero out the first 50 decoded samples.

Video format is rather typical of its time: divide frame into 4×4 blocks, depending on coded flags either skip updating it, read full block data, or read two colours and 16-bit pattern telling how to paint them in a block. No additional compression, even audio is stored as PCM. There is one thing though: the lowest row should not be decoded (and the game does not do it either). It is probably an encoder bug but e.g. for skip frames it codes just bit flags that all should be zero and yet last byte there contains some non-zero garbage. Or in a frame containing changes and not just skip blocks you also have some weird block flags that would signal you need to read block data past the end of the input frame data. This does not matter much since most of the videos in the game have not just 320×200 resolution but also large black borders as well. The only exception is credits.fst which is 640×400. Another fun fact is that I got a North American version and (since the company is North American as well) it has virginlogo.fst with Merit Studios logo (plus some videos mention the company as Future Vision and others as DigiFX Interactive). I know they had changed name in the process and had different European publisher but it’s still fun discrepancy.

Meanwhile I’ve also documented DERF format used in Stupid Invaders game (video format there is based on 8×8 DCT for block coding and motion compensation that involved block division and transforms like flipping the source, which may be in the same frame too). While neither of the codecs is complicated it is still a nice change from looking at the mainstream codecs of today (it’s not that there are many non-mainstream codecs survived to look at either).

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