Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

2147-cart-wars-episode-1Mega Drive fans, for what you are about to read, I sincerely apologise. MegaBites Blog has written about Nintendo. Shock, horror, blasphemy! I know, I know… But it’s for a good cause; my latest contribution to RetroCollect.com – Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One. Despite such treachery, you’ll be glad to hear that the piece is evenly balanced with a heavy dosage of Sega goodness, and a brief appearance by our Lord and saviour, Mr Tom Kalinske. Phew!

During the console generations spanning the 8-16 bit era, no matter if your allegiances sat with Sega, Nintendo, SNK or NEC, as gamers we all shared one thing in common: the cartridge medium – video gaming in its most physical form.

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One is the first in a series of articles that charts the development of the video game cartridge format. Spanning the advent of the very first read-only memory cartridge console – the Fairchild VES – to the arrival of cartridge-based battery backups, yellow-tabbed EA carts and beyond, Cart Wars tells the tale of a bitter conflict fought amongst the backdrop of the almighty console wars. The cartridge-based battle, however, was was no less fierce and intense in its execution and was one that filled company Presidents with rage and gamers with sheer awe as the rapidly advancing format propelled their consoles to the very limit of their capabilities.

Here’s a taster:

In the land of Sega, things had turned nasty. The year was 1990 and over in the US, Electronic Arts had figured a way to reverse engineer the cartridges of the Sega Genesis. For Sega, it meant the potential loss of millions in revenue, but for you and I, it meant the arrival of the iconic EA yellow tab. Ever wonder why the majority of EA’s 16-bit Sega carts looked so different? Here’s why…

For developers such as EA, the mainstream dominance of the cartridge came with a sting in the tail – the third-party developer licensing deal. For each individual title that EA (and any other third-party developer, for that matter) wanted to release, Sega would charge between US$10-$15 per cartridge for their production. Considering that by now it was not uncommon for a popular title to sell in its hundreds of thousands, even in its millions, and you get a rough idea of the financial strain many developers were facing at that time.

$_57It was a sentiment that was also felt across the pond, as Geoff Brown, founder of US Gold revealed: “They [Sega] told you how many games you could release in a year. They had to approve the games, then they tested them and they had them manufactured. It increased your overheads phenomenally. If you were a small publisher, you just couldn’t do it.”

And so it came to be that EA developed a cunning method to circumnavigate Sega’s crushing cartridge policies. How did they do this? By manufacturing their own, of course.

Read more on RetroCollect.com

And stay tuned for episode two, coming soon!

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(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – PART DEUX

ShadowRemember the first run through Earthworm Jim, confronted with the cow and refrigerator? What about Streets of Rage 2 where the baseball pitch descended down to the depths of the earth? Who could forget Shadow Dancer’s ascent to the top of the Statue of Liberty, only to find a boss nigh on impossible to defeat (damn rotating blades). How about the beach in Stick Man vs Mr Hammer Head, where the man in the sombrero gives you a boat, for no apparent reason? What do you mean you don’t remember?

Having nailed characters (no pun intended), genre and concept, it was time to move on to the next point of call in my quest.

No matter how great the character, no matter how fantastic the graphics, or soundtrack, one thing is always key: level design. For me, it’s the little things that truly matter, those little details that stick in your mind for years to come. The rotating bolts in Sonic 2’s Metropolis Zone, those damn cows in Road Rash, that weird little dancing man in Desert Strike. The list goes on. Continue reading

(Mis)adventures In Game Development – PART 1

Up until the 16-bit era, video games, for me, were objects that simply seemed to appear on store shelves, as if by magic, seemingly out of thin air. Of course, I was aware of developers such as Sega, EA, Capcom and so on, but I never spared a thought for how these games came to be. Being a kid at the height of the Mega Drive vs SNES rivalry, I never batted an eyelid, absorbing as much as a child consumer with a 50 pence per-week pocket money allowance, and the odd generous relative could at the time. Then one day, it came to me… “Where did these games come from?” Join me as we embark on a voyage of discovery and creativity, all through the eyes of my ten-year-old self.

BoxArtIt was 1994 and I remember hearing about an uncle of a school friend who’d made a name for himself as the software developer and inventor of some pocket dictionary / thesaurus software. As a ten year old, nothing seemed more mind-numbing than writing a dictionary. It was bad enough being told to write my name out 100 times by my head teacher, when I failed to use capital letters in handwriting class.

Some time later, I watched an episode of video games review show Bad Influence on TV (remember that one?). This particular episode had a feature in which presenter, Violet Berlin, talked about a group of kids who had developed ideas for a game which they had sent to a games developer. If memory serves me right, the game in question was a sim, in which the player ran a newspaper, set the task of finding stories to fill its pages. Seeing how these kids had set about inventing their own game concepts, I decided to go about it myself.

Continue reading

The Letter Through the Door

It was the morning of the 23rd September 1994, I was ten years old and this letter arrived in the post:EA Envelope

Electronic Arts UK had written back to me in response to my first foray into the world of video game design.

What followed in the coming years was an insight into the world of 16-bit game development, correspondence with some of the gaming greats of their era (mainly receptionists), freebie t-shirts in the mail and all the free gaming posters a school kid could ever desire.

Join me in the coming days for the first installment of (Mis)adventures in Game Development, a fascinating tale of one school kid’s desire to take on the gaming giants, armed only with a biro, a wad of A4 paper, an incomplete set of Berol felt-tip pens and a book of stamps (we’re talking pre-email here people).

It’s gonna be so retro, your floppy disk drives will be screeching from beyond the grave.