Retro Chats: The New 8-Bit Heroes
Anyone in the retro gaming community has heard the term “homebrew” at some point. Whether you are a fan of them or not, you can definitely appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into creating these games. When I heard about The New 8-Bit Heroes and their project called “Mystic Searches”, I was intrigued. From what I saw, it was a new fantasy game being developed for the NES. When I saw the video introducing the project, I was… Well, here. Take a look.
Obviously, this is not your everyday homebrew game. The Kickstarter will go to funding not only the game, but a documentary as well as tutorials for creating your own NES game! The film will document the creation of Mystic Searches and feature many leading figures in homebrew development and the retro gaming world. This project screams “nostalgia” with the game based in designs created by Joe Granato during the heyday of the NES. I reached out to Joe, the mastermind behind the project, to find out more about this awesome game and film.
Retro Dustbin: Not many people can say they actually created a game they dreamt up from their childhood. Did you always know you would make a video game, let alone one you thought of as a child?
Joe: Actually, I never stopped making video games. I used to design games as a kid, but even in my early teens, I was playing around on Hypercard, an old presentation tool for mac. I would use it to make little point and click adventures. In fact, there was a point and click “Mystic Searches” adventure game from when I was eleven or twelve years old, but the drive of the computer I created it on died. My interests did turn more to music in my teens and early twenties, but I found myself doing web design and building small flash games for clients. That activity pulled me right back in. I went on to teach game development at the high school level in Baltimore City Schools, and helped to shape the curriculum for the state of Maryland. But it never occurred to me to actually bring Mystic Searches to life, let alone actually create a legitimate NES game for it. Not until I found those old sketches.
RD: What were your gaming inspirations from your childhood and now? How did they influence Mystic Searches?
Joe: I was a huge fan of the mechanics of adventure games like the Legend of Zelda and the sprawling narratives of early RPGs like the Dragon Warrior series and the Final Fantasy games. At the time, these games were my foray into fantasy, and naturally what I wanted to create was a loose mimic of the games that I knew and loved. There is no doubt that Mystic Searches will loosely be inspired by those games from a mechanics standpoint. Fortunately, with the help of a tremendous team of creatives I can put a little distance between me and the juvenile ideas I had when I was seven years old, which is helping the virtual world evolve a bit. This will give some padding to what we create and the sort of mimicry I’d probably have created at seven years old.
RD: What are the advantages of making a game for the NES so many years after its run?
Joe: There are no advantages of making a game for the NES. None. Not one I can think of. In fact, it’s creatively crippling! It’s archaic. It’s limited. It’s unintuitive. Most people don’t have hardware to play it on. Even the people that do don’t have televisions that it will look good on. It’ll take a year to do what I can program in a few days using modern tools with a deliverable that everyone and their mother could download and play on their phones. Cartridges are expensive to produce where digital deliverables would cost nothing at all. Yet here you are, intrigued enough about the creation of a new NES game to be asking me questions to blog about. This demonstrates two things…one, it is about more than just nostalgia. You yourself have absolutely no connection to this intellectual property from your past, yet the prospect of it interests you, and you’re in good company. There’s a significant difference in our emotional attachment to those NES cartridges than there is to modern games. I compare it to the difference between that album that you own and the mp3 that’s on your iPod. If your iPod gets stolen, you’re upset because you have to replace the iPod and you might have to go through the annoying effort of redownloading the songs, but you never really had any emotional connection to that data. Re-downloading the song and putting it on your new media device solves the problem, and there is no loss. But if someone were to steal your favorite album, the one that you grew up listening to and have memories and emotions attached to the physical, tactile experience of playing, it can be all out traumatic. I think our connection with NES cartridges is like that. Creating a new game on a NES cartridge is about as illogical as a band recording a record on analog tape and producing a vinyl album…the imperfections and the limitations are dramatic. But there is just something about it that makes it more personal.
RD: Mystic Searches has some really innovative aspects to it. Can you explain how the NES game will work with the PC/Mac game?
Joe: We’re still toying with that, actually. What we have done is ascertained that we can, in fact, make communication between the two happen, and that’s a great starting point. I am not the hardware guy, so I won’t be speaking too intelligently about this, but essentially, we are accessing the same internal mechanism that allowed NES games to save to RAM and just doing something different with that information by interfacing it with flash memory that can be accessed by a computer via USB. We’ve concocted a few potential narrative scenarios as to how the games will interface, but it will be completely dependent on how the mechanics end up working. In a way, that is very fitting. Even though we’re talking about using that flash memory to store a more modern game, we’re developing its story and its world based around the mechanics that will be possible. That is exactly the approach many NES developers took!
RD: Sorry, but I have to ask. Do you have a favorite game?
Joe: Favorite game? Oh…if I had to pick one game it’d be A Link to the Past. I’m also a big fan of games that are exploratory and develop their narrative through visual cues and game mechanics rather than standard dialog or cut scenes. Journey and Limbo come to mind. Honestly, it’s just a terrible question with no easy answer, because I love many games for many different reasons. I know that is a copout answer, but it’s the truth!
RD: What are your next steps with the film, game, and tutorials?
Joe: The first priority is making sure that the Kickstarter kicks. Every creative project costs money, and there is no way we can complete this set of projects without a budget. But day one after the project kicks, we will be launching into development. In the meantime, we’ll be posting a lot of fun stuff up on the Kickstarter site for folks to enjoy.