A Homebrew Draws Near!
A blog series by @Scrobins
Episode 12: Yeah Yeah Beebiss II aka “Riggs Project”
Homebrew has always been a fairly niche community, with word of mouth serving a critical role in spreading news and building hype for the latest games. But part of what makes homebrew games such a fascinating phenomenon is the juxtaposition of cartridges developed to play on hardware from the 80s with a world in which people can talk about these games in a video that will be viewed by thousands online. One of homebrew’s most prominent champions on YouTube is John Riggs, whose videos share gameplay, reviews, and news about fun homebrews, in addition to licensed era games, limited edition cereals, and other gaming or nostalgia-related gear, often alongside his equally effervescent kids. John is also known for his playful hacks which combine classic games with meme culture. Today I’m talking about John because he’s stepping into new territory with a project teased as early as February 7, 2021.
For this entry, I’m offering an early glimpse into the upcoming NES arcade platformer Yeah Yeah Beebiss II, previously codenamed Riggs Project. As of the time of this writing, the game’s development is nearing completion and will be available for purchase soon in its default state as well as with customizable characters! For that reason, this will be a mini post, focusing on the interviews with its creators rather than its evolution and gameplay.
@John Riggs: graphic, color & text editing
Mega Cat Studios: coding
Chips ‘N Cellos (Chris, Steve & Jess): music
Screenshot from Yeah Yeah Beebiss II
For the real scoop, I interviewed development team members John and the folks at Chips ‘N Cellos, though I’m saving Mega Cat Studios for another post.
-I need to be a lame fan for a second, cuz I got John Riggs here! How’re ya feeling?
Haha, I’m good. Funny with the ‘How’re ya feeling?’, it’s how I used to greet customers when I worked at Rite-Aid back in 1997, then at Video Update in 1998 and onto being on the air on various radio stations starting in 2001. It’s a crutch I just carried over.
-Before we dive into your new game, which you’ve teased as the “Riggs Project”, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a collector, a YouTube personality, a game hacker, and now a homebrewer? What is the origin story of John Riggs?
I’ve been passionate about video games as long as I can remember, growing up with Atari 2600 to today. The NES was my favorite (and still is) but when I saw SNES and even onto N64 being released that’s when I noticed I don’t see NES games on shelves much at all so thought if they’re all going away, I don’t want to be in a place where I might never see them so I started to buy what I would want to play later. I don’t really consider myself a collector, but happen to have a collection.
I got into YouTube because of peer pressure from a good friend of mine from high school. He was the first one I knew who canceled his cable subscription because he watched his favorite YouTube channels. He kept bugging me to start my own channel but I wasn’t into YouTube like that as I wouldn’t know where to begin. It wasn’t until I met Metal Jesus and he invited me on his channel where I saw a little of what he does behind the scenes and figured I’d give it a shot.
Metal Jesus’ name is well earned
Game hacking came from noticing the comparison between Adventure Time and ‘A Boy and His Blob’. I posted in an Internet forum that someone should make that hack. Because it’s the Internet, someone snarkily replied, “Why don’t YOU make it?” I hadn’t thought of that. So I started to do some research on how others do it and went from there. I never did do that hack, but have done several others.
I’m not quite a homebrewer, yet. I’ve had a lot of help with this project. Someone else did the coding and another friend did the music. I’m just editing some graphics and colors and text, stuff like that.
My origin story? The summarized version is I’m the 6th of 7 kids growing up in a house with one TV so if I wanted to play Atari (at the time) I had to wake up before anyone else to get some game time in. I didn’t get my own gaming TV until the late 80s. Once I did it was just about the only thing I wanted to do. With the chaos of having so many other brothers and sisters it was my escape. I got older, newer consoles came out and It’s always been my #1 hobby.
-You are such a beloved gaming personality, Retrosoft Studios included you in their game Retromania Wrestling. What is it like to have that kind of cultural currency?
Being in a game, even as an NPC, is a dream come true. And the fact it’s in a wrestling game is even better because I’m such a fan. That game’s concept started out as a YouTuber Wrestling game because the creator is a fan of all these great YouTube channels. He asked me long ago if I wanted to be in it, which I agreed (of course) but later he learned he could license actual wrestlers which is a better idea. I told him I’d still love to be in it even as an audience member or something. He did me one better having me sit ringside at Too Many Games where we met and where I played the first demo of the game in 2019.
Portrait of the artist as a pixelated man sitting ringside
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
Metal Jesus is my first influence as I was on his channel before I had my own channel. Other channels like GameSack and SNES Drunk were influential, too, as they let the game footage do the talking for them, overdubbing their opinions or pointing out things while one is seeing the footage. That’s what I like so I keep with that idea for most of my videos. Channels to watch? Like many now, I love Scott the Woz’s writing and quick editing. It cracks me up. I love watching channels grow that put in the effort. Channels like Roxolid Products, DiskCart, SquarePegs, GameDad -- all these channels that I might see commenting on my videos from when I kind of started taking off and now they have channels themselves and are growing at a nice pace.
-Your games are known for fun takes on trending topics that breathe new life into classic games, such as Pac-Man: TMNT Edition, Space Force, WAP, and COVID-19. How would you describe your inspiration and aesthetic, and what to you are the hallmarks of a Riggs game?
I never have to think too hard, it’s just whatever inspiration comes that moment. I was literally watching Bob’s Burgers one day and thought ‘I could hack BurgerTime with those characters’ so whipped up that hack in a couple hours, just because. Things like that Pac-Man: TMNT Edition, the official TMNT social media accounts posted Pac-Man parody art with the ghosts with the famous eyebands and the pizza being Pac-Man. I thought to myself ‘I can make that real’ so I did. Not sure I have any hallmarks but I do often use NES carts as a power-up because I already have the graphic made.
Wocka wocka wocka, er I mean cowabunga!
-What tools do you use to create?
Tile Layer Pro (TLP) for graphic editing, TBLater for changing text as needed and FCEUX for emulation as it has a built-in hex editor for changing colors and manipulating graphics like title screens as needed. Best thing is they’re all free so anyone can use them, too.
-What made you decide to make a new game from scratch? What was your inspiration as you designed this game?
I want to get away from making hacks and have something that’s my own that I can sell at conventions. There was an old homebrew that someone made for charity. I reached out asking if I could basically buy the rights to that rom so I can hack all the graphics and make it my own. To my surprise, he said he’d just code me a new game (which plays like that homebrew I asked about) but making it unique to itself.
-Was the experience of developing your “Riggs Project” from the ground-up different compared to your hacks?
On my end, honestly, not much as I’m still just doing graphic and color and text editing. Since someone else coded the game for me and another friend did the music, my side is doing the graphics and will eventually get boxes and manuals designed and printed, too. I have a lot of help on my side. Couldn’t do it without them.
-Did you have a different attitude toward developing “Riggs Project” compared to your previous games? Does playing with existing worlds and concepts impose limits on what you can do with them or do you feel it offers a larger sandbox to play in?
I just wanted a simple arcade-style game that was more just for fun than anything. I’m a huge supporter of homebrew projects, especially the ones on NES. I understand that most might play the game once or twice and put it on the shelf with the rest of their collection. This is just a fun project to do but the idea that I can customize graphics to the individual is what I was looking forward to doing. Will make for great gifts.
-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing the “Riggs Project”? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
With editing graphics, color and text, I’ve never been able to edit sound, though I know it can be done. I have a friend who does chiptunes (Chips ‘N Cellos) but learning there’s a specific way to make them so they actually fit into the confines of an NES game was interesting to read. My chiptune friend had to re-write the same songs to make them fit and now they know how to do it for future projects, if anyone decides to use them for music in their NES game.
Like with hacks and everything else, it’s VERY time consuming. Save LOTS of drafts.
-Ever since my first episode, M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as both the player's point of immersion in the game as well as a reflection of its designer. In the “Riggs Project” the protagonist is you, but you’ve noted that is the case for the default game, and that you can customize graphics as needed. Does that mean you might tweak the protagonist to be other people?
Exactly. The default for this game isn’t even me! The basic default is based on a myth or legend that’s been around for a long, long time for NES collectors. In the back of magazines there were companies that would buy back your old games. There was one that featured a game called Yeah Yeah Beebiss I. As it turns out, it’s most likely a rough translation of a Famicom game we never got that featured a Chinese jumping ghost. I thought how fun it would be to make that game so there actually was one! After asking a couple of trusted sources I was reminded the same thing happened to other prototypes of someone doing a homebrew and simply calling it the name of the lost game, only to have that lost game actually surface. I didn’t want to think I was lying to anyone so the game I’m working on is a sequel to that legend. Yeah Yeah Beebiss II. The name may seem silly to those who don’t know the legend, but that’s what I had in mind. When I edit the graphics to someone (like the one I’m also doing for myself) I’ll probably change the name, though. Same game, just different name. ‘Riggs’ Myth Quest’ or something equally lame. I haven’t quite gotten that far, yet.
Art for Baby Kyonshi no Amida Daibouken, considered likely to be Yeah Yeah Beebiss I
-Whenever you post about a new game you have available, fans flood your comments eager to buy. How does it feel to see so many people enjoying your games?
I still don’t feel very comfortable about the quality of not only my game edits but my labels or craftsmanship or anything like that. You’re always your own worst critic. I think it’s great. I just wish I was better equipped for sales. Etsy doesn’t like hacks and homebrews and eBay is a mess now. Hard to keep track of everything as it’s all just me, doing the hacking and editing, putting the game together, making sure the order is correct, mailing them out, getting tracking info. I don’t even have address labels, I still write everything by hand on envelopes. That’s my handwriting on them.
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise? Any dream projects?
I would like to do another project like this eventually. I know not everyone likes homebrews and even the want and need for NES is diminishing in favor of other consoles like SNES and N64, but there’ll always be a fandom. I’ve been a cheerleader for homebrew projects since I started my channel and have a couple leads on people I can team up with in the future. The dream project would be to have work for a game company. Would also like to look into getting my homebrew on digital storefronts like the Switch eShop, but I understand it’s not as easy to just put an NES game through an emulator and calling it good.
-Do you have any updates on the game that you would like to share? An official title? A release date mayhaps?
Of course! The official title is Yeah Yeah Beebiss II as I mentioned before. But that’s only for the default game without custom edits. The edited version of the game I haven’t finalized on a title, just yet. I could just call it ‘John Riggs in Beebiss World’ or something (which is probably exactly what it’s going to be called. I literally just thought of that while answering this question). I don’t have a release date, yet. I can do carts literally right now but am waiting for boxes and manuals. Soon as I get those it’ll be ready.
-You promote many new homebrew games on your YouTube channel and social media pages. Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
There’s always something new coming up. Witch n’ Wiz from Matt Hughson looks fantastic. Full Quiet from Retrotainment has been in the works for a while and looks awesome. Played a demo at PAX in 2019. Can’t wait for the final. Orange Island looks amazing, too. Magnilo is a super fun game I have a review demo but will be officially out soon. So many great games coming out and hard to keep up with everyone making games using NES Maker.
Promotional image from The Magnilo Case’s Kickstarter page
-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?
Homebrews are made for fans by fans. Support them when you can, if not with cash, sharing or retweeting news about homebrews can go a long way.
Chips ‘N Cellos
All answers provided by Chris from Chips ‘N Cellos
-Before we dive into Yeah Yeah Beebiss II, I would love to talk about you and your backgrounds. What first inspired you to be musicians? What led you to compose chiptune generally, and compose music for homebrew games? What is the origin story of Chips ‘N Cellos?
Going WAY back to the beginning of our lives- Jess started playing the cello when she was 6 and a half years old and stuck with it all the way through a Juilliard Master’s Degree in Cello Performance. She’s the real music professional out of us three: My brother Steve and I work in retail and digital marketing at the NBA, respectively. Steve and I grew up in a fairly musical family, and spent our childhood pausing Mega Man games and recording stage themes on cassette tape to listen back to more easily! I later played guitar in a few bands (my 15 minutes of fame came in the form of a video contest win in 2009. Look up: the pillows Gazelle City 25th anniversary on YouTube!), but rock music has been dead for a long while now and as my band mates and I grew up and started to have families, I found myself needing another musical/creative outlet.
I’ve always wanted to compose 8-bit Mega Man music, and the initial idea behind Chips ‘N Cellos was to try something different and cover classical music pieces in that familiar Capcom style. We wanted to experiment further and add live cello accompaniments along the way, too. So far, our project has severely over-indexed on the CHIP angle of the project haha, but we’ll eventually be looking to release original music that combines both sounds. Up to this point, the positive reception of our Mega Man-style covers has inspired us to continue creatively arranging famous classical, rock and pop music.
In regards to composing for homebrews, I think every chiptuner has—at the very least—a subconscious desire to compose for games. When John approached us about including our ‘Compose Man’ material in his project, we were interested!
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
The Mega Man soundtracks from the 80’s and 90’s are obvious influences on our work. I listen to a wide variety of music, but consider the pillows (from Japan) and Machinae Supremacy (from Sweden) as two of my all-time favorite influences.
-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?
I think most certainly the classical instrument + chiptune mix is a rare combination that I hope we’ll be able to do more justice to in the coming years. Stay tuned for it!
As far as our arrangement projects go, I’ve wanted to make sure our music sounded as faithful to the original Mega Man soundtracks as we could get it, so I think thus far our work is quintessentially “NES Mega Man.” Thanks goes out to the multiple chiptuners before us who crafted the FamiTracker instruments we’ve used to jumpstart our project. Those instruments—and the advent of FamiTracker itself—fuel our passion and light our way.
-In addition to your musical work on video games, you maintain a YouTube channel that posts fun chiptune compositions with accompanying classical cello arrangements. Does your experience composing original chiptunes based on Mega Man, Castlevania, classical music, and pop music provide inspiration for your game music, or vice versa?
I would say that our YouTube channel content is our primary focus, and if select pieces fit the vibe of a game, we’ll always be open to having them featured (under the right circumstances).
Crafting the covers we’ve uploaded has certainly helped us refine our abilities to write original music in FamiTracker. We’ve also provided original tunes for the Mega Man Arena brawler and we certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to do that without becoming more experienced in authoring FamiTracker music first. The YouTube content has been good practice, if nothing else!
Fortunately for us, whether it be cover songs or original tunes, the tone of our music is distinctly a “gaming” one, so we don’t often have to make hard choices to adopt certain styles over others. Our music can be a match for both games and the gamer/listener community at large. However, we look forward to experimenting with many more electronic sounds in the future!
-Tell me about the development of Yeah Yeah Beebiss II’s music, what is your composition process? Is the creative process different compared to when you compose more traditional music?
John Riggs originally approached us about featuring some of our ‘Compose Man’ covers in his homebrew project, and we thought it was a fun idea. He had found our channel in the earlier days of our activity, and I felt like I owed him one, haha! Aside from that, we want to compose more music for games, so this was a logical next step for us.
Interestingly, we had discovered during the game’s development that our original compositions needed to be “demade” to fit what’s called a FamiTone format. Re-engineering the featured pieces was a fun challenge because of parameter limitations associated with FamiTone music (i.e. limited FamiTracker effects, tempos, etc.). Luckily, converting our tracks was a matter of simplifying the original FamiTracker working files and it was a neat exercise to see if I could replicate our original pieces using even more stripped down methods than the ones I used for the original compositions. Who knew simple 8-bit FamiTracker music could be even MORE simplified, haha!
In the end, the core of the songs remained intact and I have a new appreciation for those who make magic happen within the tight confines of FamiTone and homebrew projects. Less is indeed more.
-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?
We use a few different programs including FamiTracker, FL Studio, GuitarPro (!!), Adobe Audition and ProTools. We also record with a mobile device called the Spire Studio.
-How did you first connect with John Riggs and Mega Cat Studios, and what was the working dynamic like?
John came across our profile at some point in 2019 and was perhaps one of the first content producers to shout us out. We’ve been internet friends ever since! Mega Cat Studios has been developing John’s game and we had synced up when it was time to convert our ‘Compose Man’ tunes into FamiTone-compliant files. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, all our collaboration had been done across email, and the team at Mega Cat was super efficient and helpful at implementing our tunes. I have a lot of respect for the indie dev community, and I LOVE seeing homebrew projects like this keep the old spirit of NES retro gaming alive for new generations to enjoy! We’d love to participate in more projects in the future.
Screenshot from Chips ‘N Cellos Composeman Album video on YouTube
-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing the game’s music? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
As mentioned above, writing music for homebrew projects can be challenging if the FamiTracker file you’re working on isn’t set up to be FamiTone compliant. My advice, first and foremost, would be to set all the necessary volume and instrument parameters up from the get-go so your composing can be locked into a format that the homebrew can read properly.
Aside from that, my general chiptune-composing advice is: listen, listen, listen. We’re not the most technically-sound composers in the scene, nor are we the most formally-educated. Our talent lies within our ears, and our ability to extract what we hear in our heads and turn it into beeps and boops. We do what we do now because we’ve listened to music every day for our 30+ years of life on this planet, haha. Learn what kind of music you’d like to make, go listen to it (study it), try to re-compose it (in FamiTracker!) and then experiment with your own melodies and harmonies.
In all honesty, if we can produce music in FamiTracker that others like to listen to, YOU can too!
-Which tracks are you most proud of?
Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King came out especially well. I was aiming for a Jewel Man (MM 9) style cave track, and I think the final tones were ultimately the right ones for the piece.
I’m also a big Beethoven fan, so our Pathetique boss fight cover was definitely a fun one to work on.
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES, or otherwise?
As mentioned previously, we’ll be looking to spend the second half of 2021 zeroing in on writing original chiptune music that at last truly makes use of live cello embellishments. It’s something we’ve promised in our project’s title. Don’t worry, it’s coming!
Aside from that, we are busy producing the third and final Mega Man style classical music compilation—Compose Man 3—which will feature nearly 50 other chiptune artists across the community. We’re hoping to have it finalized by the end of the year.
We’re also hoping the pandemic finally begins to subside and things get back to normal. When they do, Jess is due to play in an all-new off-Broadway show called Between the Lines, which has obviously been on hold since the lockdown.
Screenshot from the website for Between the Lines
-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
Being involved in John’s project has gotten us excited about the whole homebrew “genre” to begin with!
The Adventures of Panzer and Slow Mole seem interesting, and Pixel Poops just looks hilarious!
-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?
Thanks again for your time, thanks to John and Mega Cat Studios for featuring our music, and thanks to all the gamers out there keeping the retro scene alive! We’re living our best lives through this CnC project, and we hope to make positive contributions to the community in the future.
Thanks for tuning in to this mini episode of a series that will provide first looks and deep dives into promising homebrew games coming across the finish line. What are your thoughts on Yeah Yeah Beebiss II and its talented development team? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?