Mega Cat Studios
In a world of digital downloads, collections have become Incorporeal and old-school physical media Is dwindling. thankfully there are still those out there keeping the spirit alive
Find out how the NES and Mega Drive are a fertile ground for this new publisher
Mega Cat Studios’ mission statement of ‘waging war on boredom’ and ‘supporting the retro rennaissance’ should be enough grab any retro gamer’s attention. The developer – which is behind games such as Coffee Crisis (Mega Drive/pc), Little Medusa (NES/PC), and Fork Parker’s Crunch Out (SNES) – is made up of retro enthusiasts creating physical cartridges of the company’s own modern games for retro consoles. It has released games on the NES, SNES and Mega Drive, as well as Steam and modern consoles, and thanks to the passionate retro community, the team shows no signs of stopping.
Since starting development of retro games in 2015, Mega Cat has released nine games that feature a gamut of outlandish elements – from bio-punk and death metal, to android presidents, ninjas, Greek legends and, of course, zombies. So what exactly goes into making new retro-style games for old consoles? And how do you cultivate games with the odd themes reminiscent of the Eighties and Nighties? To get some insight, we tracked down Mega Cat cofounder Zach Manko.
Creating a new, physical game for an older console isn’t exactly an easy (or cheap) process. Each cartridge has to have its own custom PCB board, shell, manual and case. “All of our games are made in-house,” Zach explains. “We own the cartridge injection moulds to do custom colours, and all labels and box art are developed by our team. Physical assembly can be a chore, but in a world gone digital, nothing beats the feel of a hard copy game in your hands. We do work with a partner for the limited edition versions of our games, so we can offer collector-worthy custom cartridges.”
Mega Cat makes a point to ensure its games feel authentically retro and are designed to run on retro hardware. “This of course means that we have to work within the limitations of the retro systems.” Zack elaborates. And perhaps the biggest limitation NES
developers face in the modern age is the checking integrated chip or ‘lockout chip’. Originally made so that Nintendo had full control over the NES cartridge supply, the chip has continued to be a bugbear for developers. Not everyone is confident enough to pop open their NES and start hacking bits of the circuit board off, then there’s the issue that modified consoles are often sold for much more than your typical market finds, so developers have to make sure their games work on an unmodded console to hit the largest market. The chip itself isn’t even a great deterrent as unlicensed cartridges can force their way past the chip with a simple voltage spike, but if you’re going to the effort to make something genuine, you have to go whole hog.
The team doesn’t strictly stick to old school game design, however. Where it would help the modern gamer, it add elements to keep it in line with current retro-style games – extra power-ups with more impressive visuals, for example or improved framerates and higher fidelity soundtracks. However, designing for older systems means that hardware constraints have to be accounted for. When asked about these restrictions Zack explains, “Restrictions force us to be creative in new and fun ways, and we are masters at pushing these consoles to their limits. We’ve actually contributed info to the development databases and communities for these systems, based on our experiences and accomplishments in making these games.”
Development and production aren’t the only parts that are tough when making modern retro games. Testing has to be rigorous, and Mega Cat doesn’t have the luxury of being able to patch its physical games after release. Any bugs that make it onto a cartridge are there forever, just like the devs of the Eighties, Nineties and early Noughties, so the team has to spend a lot of resources on QA before even thinking about production.
Producing new games for old consoles is a niche market, so Mega Cat’s games are also
We own cartridge injection molds to do custom colours, and all labels and box art are developed by our team Zach Manko
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