They had been left to die, but is it time we give these consoles another chance?
While some are perfectly content to let their Sega Genesis sit in the back of a dark closet collecting dust, a small development team in Iowa calling itself WaterMelon Co. had other ideas. Many had resigned themselves to rose-tinted memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Phantasy Star, but the dedicated men and women at WaterMelon Co. weren’t willing to wallow in nostalgia. To them and others like them, the Genesis was still a viable system. They didn’t let the fact that the last major release for the Genesis was in 1998 deter them. In fact, this probably made them want to revisit the system even more. So the team got to work on a new game for the Genesis.
Working on outdated technology and constrained by the amount of data a Sega Genesis cartridge could hold, the team still vowed to make the biggest game the system had ever seen. They wanted to make a sweeping fantasy epic that would serve as a love letter to the RPGs of yesteryear, and they wanted it to be authentic looking. They found a factory to make Genesis cartridges that wouldn’t look out of place next to cartridges for Vectorman or Toe Jam & Earl. They created heavy clamshell boxes to put the game in, with beautiful artwork and a full color instruction manual.
They called the game Pier Solar and the Great Architects. Before the game was even complete, they began taking pre-orders for the title. They figured the game would sell modestly in the retro minded community, and they probably wouldn’t make much money. But they didn’t care. It was a labor of love.
After five years of grueling work, Pier Solar and the Great Architects was finally released on 20th December 2010.
And it sold spectacularly. Pre-orders on the game ensured the first pressing completely sold out, and the subsequent reprint sold out in 12 days. The reviews touted the game as a wonderful addition to the Genesis’ library, with its graphical style evoking the look of Genesis standards like Landstalker and the unrelenting difficulty ensuring it could stand toe-to-toe with classics such as Phantasy Star. It became so talked about that several gaming publications covered the game despite many not having reviewed a game for the Genesis since the late 90s.
With gamers clamoring for a chance to play the game, WaterMelon Co. decided to give the game a wider release. Along with reprinting the game again to satiate the retro gamers, the team also announced that the game would be released for Xbox Live Arcade, PS3, PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac, and, surprisingly, the Dreamcast. Finally, everyone would get a chance to play the little game that could.
But WaterMelon Co. isn’t alone in it’s pursuit of getting new out of the old. NG:DEV.TEAM, a team from Germany founded by two brothers, released a Turrican-inspired run and gun game for the Neo Geo called Gunlord. A developer/gonzo artist out of France calling himself Furrtek released a WarioWare-inspired collection of mini-games starring Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-un, and Joseph Herring for the Gameboy titled Super Connad. Teams from all over the globe work tirelessly on outdated technology to realise their vision of a great game for a system from yesteryear.
This is the retro developing community, and it is growing.
Everything old is new.
While big studios like EA churn out military shooters for the latest consoles, small teams of purists are turning to the systems everyone left behind to create games. While thousands of developers work together to achieve cutting edge graphics, teams composed of a couple guys that taught themselves how to code create games that are pure labors of love. While big studios create games that are guaranteed to sell millions of copies, small teams release crazy games with titles like Invasion of the Zombie Monsters.
One of these teams is Super Fighter Team, based out of San Diego, California. Founded in 2004,the team has released titles for systems such as the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Atari Lynx, including a 2013 PC re-release of the obscure Taiwanese MS-DOS fighting game that the team got its name from, Super Fighter.
Super Fighter Team’s most recent release, Nightmare Busters, is a run and gun game for the Super Nintendo about two leprechauns taking on the forces of darkness. With beautiful animations and fast gameplay, Nightmare Busters has been praised as a great addition to the Super Nintendo’s library.
But what makes teams like Super Fighter Team develop for outdated systems? Why not just make retro inspired games for current generation systems, a la Mega Man 9 and Retro City Rampage?
“This isn’t about reaching the masses and making millions. It’s about passion,” says Brandon Cobb, president of Super Fighter Team. “We get our kicks by going against the grain and endorsing machines that can no longer be found on store shelves.”
“We’re the kind of people who like a challenge,” Cobb continued.
“What better challenge than having a grand vision of the perfect game, only to find yourself slaving over a hot processor trying to work around all the limitations of some antiquated hardware? And it’s so satisfying when you get results from that hardware that few, if any, thought possible.”
In addition to creating a product that looks authentic, retro publishers have to ensure their game can be enjoyed globally. Because the Sega Genesis varies from the Sega Mega Drive overseas, retro publishers have the unique problem of making a game that can be enjoyed on systems regardless of territories.
“We don’t just support one region. We support the world,” Cobb said. “We have to consider that for the final product. When working with the Super Nintendo for example, we have to make one product design that fits in, and works with, all of the American, Japanese, and European machines. That way, no one is left out.”
Once a cartridge has been created that can be enjoyed all over the world, the team must create a package that looks authentic. For Nightmare Busters, Super Fighter Team created a sturdy cardstock box to contain the game, and made a full color instruction manual to really make the game look like it could be found on the shelf at Funcoland in the 90s.
But this authenticity comes with a steep price tag. Publishers have to find factories capable of making cartridge games, and have to acquire all the necessary components to make the game work. Because of this, the games normally retail for around sixty dollars, which is about the same as current releases
While not everyone would be so enthusiastic about paying $60 for a Super Nintendo game, fans gladly put down the money for the title. The game has managed to move over 1,200 copies as of this writing.
There are plenty of hurdles that retro developers have to overcome, but they don’t seem to mind. While there will always be those who crave the new, there are also those who turn to the past to get their kicks. Perhaps they’re doing it as a way of honoring the consoles that have laid the foundations for the current generation, or maybe it’s to do with the inimitable nostalgia that game cartridges offer, or maybe these guys are just gaming’s version of thrillseekers, getting their rush out of pushing antiquated hardware to it’s limits. Whatever the root cause may be, the gaming community should be grateful that these developers exist, as they exemplify the extremity of dedication that the video game medium.