What more could a retro gamer want than a new game on an old console? Especially on an actual physical cart! Well, in 2017 we may have just that. A game developer named Matt Phillips has for three years been working on a completely original, brand new Sega Genesis/Mega Drive game called Tanglewood. He has built a unique game engine from the ground up using assembly language and an original Sega Genesis development kit. The results, he says, are a mix between the 16-bit Disney games, Flashback, Out of this World, and Limbo. You can find the Kickstarter here, and I highly suggest you back it!
Derik Moore and I sat down with Matt recently and picked his brain on what it’s like to produce a game for a nearly 30 year old console. Our interview is below:
(Zack) Tell us a little about Tanglewood and it’s development process so far.
Tanglewood is a mix between “The Lion King” and “Limbo.” Imagine if Simba had a very bad day and that should give you an idea. The game is a platformer for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive that will be released on actual carts for actual hardware. It’s being developed using actual Genesis assembly language and development kits to make it as authentic as possible.
The game has been in development for three years. It started with my time at Traveler’s Tales. They have an amazing history of games but there was never a game that combined the engine, play style and graphics in the way I wanted so I started one from scratch. I started documenting my work on my blog at bigevilcorp.co.uk. I used Sonic sprites as I didn’t have an artist at the time but then I slowly accumulated more people until I finally got a prototype ROM out on the internet. The response was great, as I was getting lots of people commenting and even fan art of the characters. As it went on it really hit me that we could actually release this FOR the MegaDrive, not just a ROM.
(Derik) Will this be provided as a Genesis/Megadrive ROM to kickstarter backers?
This is something we thought very hard about before starting the Kickstarter. I really wanted to release a ROM but with the many different emulators we just didn’t have the team to be able to support every emulator and every PC. We are afraid if someone uses the wrong emulator or bases their purchase upon that it’ll make our game look bad. If we get enough demand after the Kickstarter we may look into how to release a ROM file.
*Update* A ROM of the game will now be released according to the Kickstarter Page.
(Derik) Was piracy also a concern?
Piracy was something we also considered but as we are releasing physical cartridges it would take just a small bit of work for someone to dump the ROM and release it. In the end, we will certainly consider releasing a ROM if the demand is great but only for certain emulators to ensure quality.
(Zack) How many megabits do you anticipate the final cartridge to be?
We’re looking at the Sonic 3D era, which is why the box art resembles the newer Genesis branding instead of the early black and white boxes. It’ll be a 32 megabit (4 Megabyte) cartridge which we’re basing on the later models since it offers a faster reading speed which is necessary for how our engine works.
(Derik) Will the cartridge play correctly on clone systems like the Retron 5 or AT Games repro consoles?
For better or worse it will. We’re not using any special tricks or the like to run the game. Pretty much, if it can emulate Sonic 2 it can run Tanglewood.
(Zack) How far do you plan to push the Genesis hardware with Tanglewood?
We won’t have any extra chips due to expense. We won’t be doing any of the “demo scene” style tricks as we’d rather finish a good game than worry about tricks. As for the future, we are planning more advanced techniques for a prequel we have planned that would involve a lock on cart like Sonic & Knuckles. We’ve even discussed having an Easter Egg that gives you a third game for connecting the two games with this lock on tech.
(Derik) Are there plans for a full retail release beyond Kickstarter backers?
Absolutely. The whole point of the project was for a full retail release; the Kickstarter was just a means to an end. We will have an online shop for the retail release.
(Zack) What other kinds of scary beasts can we expect to see in the game?
Beyond the beast in the trailer which is called a Djakk, we’re working on a gargoyle that swoops down on you if you stop moving. We’re making a desert level with quicksand so we have a Sandworm type enemy. We’re even making an evil Fuzzl that you have to be paying attention to in order to differentiate it. We had a tier available on the Kickstarter that allows you to design a monster and that got purchased. That’s really exciting but of course we’re partially worried about a giant phallus monster. (Laughs)
(Derik) Any plans for ports to other systems? PSN/ VITA/3DS?
Steam is the obvious one as we’re doing a PC/Mac/Linux release we plan on Green lighting. We are planning a Vita port as we get many requests. The problem is that we have to redo everything from scratch for PSN as you can’t run a virtual machine on anything by Sony. I’d have advantages with these ports, for instance, if we do a port in C we could even port it to the Dreamcast.
(Zack) What are your thoughts on other individuals and companies that have created new Genesis games such as Watermelon Games and Pier Solar?
Watermelon Games have been synonymous with quality. If you look at their cartridges they are quality through and through; they even researched plastics to make sure the box is the exact same. We followed their lead as we made sure the paper and ink of the manuals is authentic to the time period. We want to make the perfect cartridge.
(Derik) Assuming you reach your Kickstarter goal, how big of a team do you think you’ll need to finish the game?
We’re looking at a 8-10 month period after the Kickstarter to finish the game. We’d need a 4 person team – 2 artists, a programmer and a composer. We have a fifth ready but that will depend on funding. Our budget planning based everything on 4 people.
(Derik) You mention you’ve worked on AAA titles such as the Lego franchise, what other games have you worked on?
I worked on 13 Lego titles, The Lego Movie Game, and the Lego Batman movie. I was the “explosion guy” for that movie. I joined halfway through Lego Indiana Jones, and left after The Lego Movie Game. I did the sound engine, and VFX engine. I also wrote some of the visual effects techniques for the Lego Batman movie. We used the in game engine to render the film so I got to work on that.
Recently I worked on Homefront: The Revolution as I went to Crytek right after Traveler’s Tales. They got bought out by Deep Silver not long ago. In Homefront: The Revolution there’s an arcade machine that plays Time Splitters 2 and I handled the porting of that game to Xb1 and PS4.
(Zack) Lastly, why create a Sega Genesis game in 2016?
Why Not? It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was nine years old when I first got my Mega Drive. I started coding on my Commodore 64, but once I got the Mega Drive I realized that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to be a games developer. When I graduated university and moved into my career, I always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to make a game like Sonic the Hedgehog or Flashback and I still hadn’t done that yet. So, finally, I just decided to go for it, and it ended up attracting a lot of attention. It turns out that people really do want this thing, I’ve had so much feedback from people saying that they really want this game released on a cartridge. What more motivation do you need than that?
Don’t forget to back the Kickstarter Campaign so Tanglewood can see the light of day!
MAKE YOUR PLEDGE NOW!