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

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - words by anna black­well

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

» [NES] The de­tail on the trees and rooftops in the back­ground make this par­tic­u­lar fight a spec­ta­cle.

» [NES] If Dou­ble Dragon taught us any­thing its that if a weapon is ly­ing around, use it!

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