Since Buck & Miles is heavily inspired by games from the 80’s and 90’s we’ve been spending a lot of time picking apart our experiences growing up with them. One thing that has become abundantly clear is that beyond the games themselves, the promotional material, advertisements and product placements surrounding these franchises played an almost equally important part.
Most (if not all of us) grew up reading the cheesy and anatomically incorrect Mario- and Zelda-comics in Nintendo Power back in the day, not to mention that we were exposed to all sorts of nutty commercials intended to hook us. Whether we enjoyed it or hated it, it did become a part of the experience, so Buck & Miles needs to somehow reflect that too.
Before we can determine what to do, we need to break down what existing 16 bit-era franchises had in common. One factor we believe had a novel effect was the foreign aspects of most video game companies at the time being Japanese. At a time when household internet had yet to be invented, this was the first time a lot of us were exposed to completely foreign elements in a way that contrasted our world of children’s entertainment that mostly consisted of Disney- and Saturday-morning cartoons.
Quirky elements like the Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 was for instance inspired by the Tanuki, or Japanese Raccoon Dog, and many changes were made both in- and out of these games due to international miscommunications or localization problems. As an example, when Nintendo debuted the Kirby character, he was featured as pink on Japanese game covers and white on the American box art due to the latter party basing their design on black-and-white Game Boy screenshots. Then there’s the notorious North American Mega Man cover art which I think needs no further explanation.
Imitating the past
We’re still trying to work out how to best create an air of inconsistencies and foreign influences around our game and its promotional material. So far we’ve taken to hiring different artists with contrasting styles that we’ve also asked to imitate certain art directions, and thus far it has worked out well.
Some of our artists also go above and beyond to try to get it right. As Jeff Longstreet (our concept artist) explains:
I try to imagine how a game would be designed today, as a sequel to a retro game, and work backwards from there. When it comes to the specific characters, it is always important to have different silhouettes. Today and in the 80’s/90’s. While games like Double Dragon or Mario Bros had pallet swaps for heroes, Sonic and Donkey Kong Country did not. More importantly, the villains always looked vastly different than the hero. So, not much has changed in character design except perhaps the style itself. Therefore my process is to find the characters in a modern form and try to work them backwards to fit that old anime style we’re so familiar with on game carts.
Technical limitation is also something we’ve discussed a lot and we’ve decided to not really specify which platform we’re trying to emulate. Instead we merely try to keep it low-res, not overdo the pixel art with too much detail and make sure that the soundtrack doesn’t go nuts with effects or realistic instruments.
The guys and girls who made Shovel Knight wrote an extensive article covering how they emulated the NES specifically (through a process that we at Astrojone refer to as “Lost Cartridge Design”) and we think it serves as a great example of how you can get amazing results without overdoing it. Then again, Yacht Club Games are pretty fantastic regardless of what they do.
Conclusion (or TL;DR)
We haven’t ironed everything out yet and we play some of this by ear, but thus far we’ve decided to try to spoof the artistic inconsistencies and the novelty of foreign elements that we saw in older console games, and it’s working out pretty well.
If anyone has suggestions or examples that could help us out, feel free to leave comments below.