As a developer who grew up in the 90's, I wasted many hours dreaming up game ideas for the NES, SNES and N64. These were the platforms that I was exposed to at the time, and these are the systems that dictated my career choice. By the time I finally learned the skills needed to actually develop games, these systems had become relics of the past. With such powerful technology available, and platforms that are easier to work with, why bother launching a game on a "dead" system? The game industry moves forward, why would you even consider going back?
Turns out, some people are interested in going back. A new age has dawned, and a movement of game developers who are going back in time to relive those elementary school fantasies is taking place. They seek to make games for platforms that an entire generation of gamers grew up with. They have a burning desire to bring life back into systems that have laid dormant for decades.
Haunted: Halloween '86 is launching on a familiar grey plastic cartridge, and can be played on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. A sequel to Haunted: Halloween '85, this retro style game has blown past its original pledge goal, proving that people are interested in reliving the glory days. We got the chance to speak to Tim Hartman to discuss his game.
Who are you? How did you get into game Development?
Tim Hartman (IBtiM) from Retrotainment Games.
The game was dreamed up and created by myself and my business partner, Greg Caldwell. We both personally love cartridge games, in particular NES games. Since we were kids, we always wanted to make an NES game.
We didn't think it was possible. While perusing the internet, Greg stumbled upon NintendoAge, and after learning about the homebrew community, we immediately knew what we wanted to do…make a real NES game! We like platforming and action games, and I am a Halloween nut, so the choice was pretty easy to make. I knew what kind of game I wanted to make.
Programming started in Spring of 2015 and with the help of Paul at infiniteNESlives.com, the game was released on October 17th 2015 at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo.
How did Retrotainment Games start? How many people are working on the project, and how did you guys get together?
We started off attempting to make a very basic game, but as we progressed, we realized we could really push the limits, and make a better game if we brought on a a better programmer, an artist and a chiptuner. We sought out chiptuner HumanThomas (Thomas Cipollone), programmer Damian Yerrick and pixel artist Zachary Curl, and that was the beginning of the Retrotainment Crew.
From what I understand, this is a sequel. How did the first game come about, and what drove you to make the second game? How is the sequel different from the first game?
As I mentioned, we have a love for Halloween and NES. It was a perfect fit. Throw in some childhood memories, nostalgia and local lore, and there you have it. We had to make a second game. The story is not finished, and people have taken to Donny Johnstown and his town of Possum Hollow.
Tag Team Technology:
A brand new technological marvel that allows you to now play as Donny or Tami, and take advantage of their individual strengths. They work as a team by traveling together, and staying by each other's side. Tag them in and out throughout the game, but keep them both alive!
Radicool New Moves:
Donny has a bunch of bitchin' new moves to go along with his original punching attacks. Tami kicks butt, literally. Her feet are fierce, and she doesn't take crap from any hosers or wannabes. They both have a standard combo of attack moves, and as they make their way through Possum Hollow, they'll acquire special moves of your choosing. Some are defensive, some are evasive and some are powerful attackers. If you pay close attention and learn the secrets of Possum Hollow, these two can be powered up to the point of total bit-kicking, bad asses!
Expanded Story Line:
Donny and Tami will be taken to parts of Possum Hollow that they've never been to before, where they'll learn secrets of the town's past that have been buried beneath the surface for decades. There are clues around every corner, and mysteries that must be solved if they hope to stop Harry and his haunted henchmen.
Harry is up to his old tricks again, but this time he's increased his haunting powers. Some old wasteoids will return, but in '86, there will be even more deadly haunts to battle, and obstacles to avoid.
Totally New Environments: Possum Hollow has been around for hundreds of years, and there are many dark places where evil can fester. Donny and Tami will see them all... Dungeons, Abandoned Mine Shafts, Barges, Trains, Orchards, Caves and the depths of the Town Hall basement, where new light will be shed on old mysteries.
The wizards at Retrotainment Games have conjured up some breath-taking new graphics that push the limits of the hardware. They're so life-like you'll think you're actually there!
Interactive Background Objects:
Break your way through rocks, crates and other destructible objects; you may even find something hidden inside.
Pick up and smash crates to see what's inside, or use them as weapons by hurling them at enemies. Rumor has it that a special power up will give you the chance to seek revenge on those heinous Poison Pumpkins; it's like a siamese dream... ;)
Certain enemies may be too dangerous to get close to, it's a good thing there's small rocks and crab apples throughout Possum Hollow that can be whipped at them from a distance.
You are designing the game as an actual physical cartridge for the original Nintendo System. What problems did you face when working with the limited memory and color pallet of the NES system? How did those limitations influence gameplay and level design?
The limitations are both a blessing and a curse in making an NES game. They keep you in check, but limit you in the same breath. There are features that we wanted to include, but were just too much for the processor to handle. Since we are upgrading our mapper for the sequel, we are looking to fit some of those missing features in. The pallet restrictions are very difficult, but Zachary did an amazing job hiding the grid, and creating cool environments.
This one is a doozy. So we are starting to see more developers create games for "dead" systems, such as Star Versus and The Incident both for the NES. What is the appeal? Why go back and design a cartridge for a thirty year old system? What do you think spurred this movement, and where do you think this will lead to down the road?
People love retro games. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing. On top of that, there is no loading time, no system updates. Just grab the cartridge, insert, and you are on your way. There is something about a physical cartridge in the digital age.
Where it leads, that is a doozy. Game creation is on the rise. It is a hot topic. Will it last? Who knows, but video games are not going anywhere, and if we can help it, they will always exist in some physical form, which is hopefully a gray plastic cartridge.
What is the future for Haunted Halloween and Retrotainment Games? What do you have planned for the future? Are you going to continue developing for the NES, or possibly look into launching new games for other older systems?
The aforementioned sequel is the big thing for us. It is on Kickstarter now, and is nearing our last stretch goals. We have already started building assets, planning out levels, and storyboarding the game.
It will also be released on cartridge for the NES. We’ve concurrently been working another game that should be a lot of fun, again for the NES. I think you can see the pattern here… we love making NES games!
We’re also currently porting HH85 to the PC, by building it from scratch in Unity. We’re matching it up with the NES version so that it plays the same on any platform. We are Greenlit on Steam, and going to bring an actual NES game to the PC that is true to form. Since a lot of people can’t find or afford a working NES, we are making the effort to give them an alternative option to play the game. We are in talks with other companies to bring the Haunted Series to their platforms as well.
NES is our focus right now, but I would not rule out other retro consoles in the future.