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Episode 15: The Curse of Illmoore Bay


Scrobins

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A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 15: The Curse of Illmoore Bay

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Introduction:

The growth of the homebrew community and availability of homebrew game carts is largely thanks to the savvy of a handful of people who have made the herculean effort of establishing supply chains to manufacture and publish cartridges for other brewers in addition to their own games. Among these titans of industry are RetroUSB, InfiniteNESLives, Broke Studio, the 6502 Collective, and Second Dimension, which has developed and published homebrew games across multiple consoles since the community’s infancy.

For this entry, I’m breaking another console barrier to cover Second Dimension’s latest games over the course of two episodes. With this post I’m covering The Curse of Illmoore Bay, an action platformer for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. As of the time of this writing, initial Kickstarter backers have had their pledges fulfilled and the physical and rom releases can be purchased here, as well as downloaded on Steam here.

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CIB, the total package

 

Development Team:

Adam Welch: project lead, programming, story

Jav Leal de Freitas: graphics, story, regular edition cover art

Sebastian “Tacha” Abreu: music

Armen Mardirossian: limited edition cover art

 

Game Evolution:

The Curse of Illmoore Bay was first promoted under the working title “Project: Halloweenville” when development threads for the game were created on Sega-16 on January 20, 2019 and on NintendoAge on January 23, 2019. Adam would post teasers including gameplay and highlighted features to entice gamers.

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Screenshot from Project: Halloweenville

A Kickstarter campaign for The Curse of Illmoore Bay launched a few months later on May 17, 2019. Backer tiers included a digital version of the game; the game’s rom; a cart-only option; a standard edition CIB; a limited edition CIB with a cloth map, stickers, and character inserts; a developer edition with the limited edition CIB, a late beta PCB, and beta tester/Discord access; and options to become a level boss or a third playable character in the game. Within 24 hours the campaign had reached its initial funding goal, and by the end of the campaign 237 backers pledged more than $17,000 toward the game. The total blew through several stretch goals, unlocking access to a digital version of the game, a boss rush mode, and a 2-player alternating mode.

 

Gameplay Overview:

The Curse of Illmoore Bay describes itself as a horizontal scrolling action platformer. You have your choice to play as Cole, Scarlett, or Issa: Illmoore’s legendary (but also forgotten) protectors, resurrected to defend the town from nightmares come alive, all thanks to a disgruntled mall Santa.

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I won’t ask for much this Christmas, I won’t even wish for snow,

if Santa would just take these demons back down to the hell below

Each character can jump, perform a melee attack (punch for Cole, kick for Scarlett and Issa), and use a special attack when selected, depending on your progress in the game. Basic controls are intuitive for anyone who has ever played a Genesis game: left/right on the d-pad moves you back and forth, down allows you to duck, up enters doorways, the A button unleashes your special attack/ability, the B button allows you to jump, and the C button is your normal melee attack.

Where Illmoore shines is the added complexity to gameplay revealed through its unlockable content. Like any solid platformer, Illmoore includes collectible items that can replenish your health and energy (for special attacks) as well as increase your max health. Among these collectibles are unlockable abilities that broaden gameplay. If you press Start at the beginning of the game, you will notice the Ability Wheel, and the Shot ability which is already unlocked. Medallions hidden throughout the game unlock more abilities (that I won’t spoil) which will allow you to go back to previous levels and reach every item and enemy you couldn't get to before. And just to be clear, getting that 100% game completion status isn’t a mere bragging right with the "satisfaction of doing a good job" kind of accomplishment: there are 18 awards to be won by players diligent enough to explore the entire game.

 

Writer’s Review:

Despite the cartoony 16-bit platforming reminiscent of the silly but simple games of our youth, The Curse of Illmoore Bay is deceptively challenging. Second Dimension put forth a game that takes everything you liked about such games as a kid, but knowing you’re an adult now, upping the ante accordingly. As mentioned earlier, the unlockable abilities open access to areas of levels that were just out of reach before, which means many levels will make you questions your sanity because you aren’t able to jump up to a platform where another item or level exit floats, yet. This is the game’s clever way or telling you that levels are meant to be played more than once and you should keep an eye out for anything that would justify a little backtracking. As someone who freely admits he is not the best gamer, this was a frustrating lesson to internalize. But the more I played, the more I understood how to actually play, and then instead of crying “why can’t I go up there?!?”, I would just think “ooh I wonder when I’ll find whatever enables me to come back and finish this stage.” Also thank goodness for this game saving my progress after each level.

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Screenshot from The Curse of Illmoore Bay

Some of my excited frustration probably also comes from the energetic soundtrack, with its fast-paced chiptune; the beats make me feel like I’m doing the game a disservice if I slow down for even a second. This game makes me want to play cautiously, but the music seems to dare me, taunting me to be bolder, no matter how many game over's I may get. The music possesses that classic bunch of deep tones you can only find in Genesis games, with a 90s rock feel that reminded me of Comix Zone mixed with some of that ToeJam & Earl zaniness. Meanwhile the graphical art sets a colorful atmosphere full of fun animations between the active environment and the various enemies adorably waiting to kill you. It’s almost a shame you have to send those demons back to hell. Indeed, The Curse of Illmoore Bay would have fit comfortably among licensed-era Genesis titles; I know I would have woken up early on Saturday to play the hell out of it.

 

Interviews:

Because the development teams for The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden overlap significantly, I decided to interview Illmoore’s team about both games, saving the remaining members for part 2 of this series, which will focus more on Eyra.

 

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Adam Welch

@alteredimension

-Before we dive into The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Second Dimension and its predecessor Airwalk Studios?

Like most people, ever since I was a little kid, I have always wanted to make a video game. It would be until I was in my late 20’s when I would eventually take the plunge. I had bought my house the previous year with my then girlfriend, but we had split shortly after.

That left me living largely out of my savings as I had not planned on paying the bills solely on my own.

Winter was soon approaching, and New England winters can be brutal, which means it becomes costly to heat your home. I was basically choosing to either eat or pay the oil man. Thinking of what I could do to try and earn some money, all that was left was “new old school games seem to be in, so why not give that a go?”

At the time, I believe Battle Kid was just released, and Pier Solar was on the horizon. I started looking at programming languages to make these games and was hoping to find a language that was familiar enough for me to learn easily. Assembly was foreign to me. I had very little experience with it in school (in fact, we used basically an open circuit board that had a PS/2 plug for a keyboard on it, and a small LCD display that could hold 1 line of text with a maximum of 20 characters or so, and only 2 registers), so that eliminated the NES right off the bat.

I wanted to check out SNES programming, but documentation back then was scarce, difficult to understand (at least for me), and it was still largely assembly.

That is when I stumbled upon BEX (Basiegaxorz, a BASIC compiler) and Stef’s SGDK C compiler, both for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. I used BASIC near daily at the time for work, and I was familiar enough with C to feel confident to learn SGDK, but I went for the option I was more familiar with.

Learning the syntax and how to work the console, I was left to figure out what kind of game could I make? Well, that game ended up being Hangman SG. I cobbled together the game over the course of a weekend and presented it to the world… or the NintendoAge/SegaAge forums. The Nolan Bros, who coincidentally lived within an hour and a half drive, offered to do the first manufacturing run for me (for free!). They really helped save my skin so I could afford to heat my home that year.

The name Airwalk Studios was named after my favorite shoes when I was a teenager, and somewhere in 2015 or 2016 it was changed to Second Dimension after throwing some ideas around with arch_8ngel (I’m pretty sure he’s the one that suggested it).

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The Airwalk Studios Logo

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

When it comes to making games, Miyamoto is the first one that pops in my head. The way he world-builds and pays attention to some of the most abstract details is just amazing, and it really shows in his work.

For story writing, musical compositions, and world building (again), I’m going to cheap out on this answer and say all of the 80’s and 90’s Square Soft teams (and by extension, Enix’s Dragon Quest teams). RPG’s were my jam, and the way I would get immersed into the story and the world I was exploring when I was a kid was amazing.

Inafune is also a pretty big influence. The Mega Man franchise on the NES was one of my favorites. The stories were pretty simplistic, but had that “cool!” factor to them – I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of being a robot and taking powers from other robots? But the main influence is how tightly these games were designed. The controls are spot on, the enemies, AI, bosses, power-ups, etc., all designed wonderfully.

As for whose work I’m closely following these days – that’s a tough one. I haven’t followed anyone mainstream in quite some time (though I do occasionally check out Jack Black’s gaming vids), but mostly other developers who share the same interests and passions as Second Dimension - CollectorVision, White Ninja Studio, Bits Rule Games, and Mega Cat just to name a few.

I also check out Kikuta’s music from time to time as well, to see what he’s been up to as his music is basically the soundtrack of my “coming of age” years.

 

-You burst onto the homebrew scene with Hangman SG, and have since worked on an array of homebrew games, how would you describe your aesthetic?

That’s a tough question – I generally don’t have anything in particular that I do, though I’ve started hiding (sometimes very obvious) some sort of connection to my real life into the games somehow.

 

-Have you noticed any changes in your style or game development preferences over the years?

Definitely. As our projects get more involved, and we learn more and gain more experience, we’re able to accomplish a lot more than we used to be able to. The evolution of tools (both in-house and tools other developers create and share) help play a big role in that, as well as the community of developers who are more than happy to help and share ideas and tips.

 

-Another fascinating aspect of Second Dimension is that you are involved with homebrew games across multiple consoles. What has led you to transcend consoles when many other brewers prefer to stick to one console?

I view gaming in the same way as I view music – the genre generally doesn’t matter as long as the song/album/whatever I’m listening to is good and I can relate to it somehow. I grew up with the Atari 2600, NES, Sega Genesis, and SNES, though admittedly, the 2600 was very short lived and I only have 1 or 2 memories of playing it.

The NES and Genesis, though, I have tons of memories with friends and family. Same with SNES once I finally got one. Having these sentimental bonds with these consoles, I just wanted to do what I could to either make a game or help make a game on these consoles that might give someone some cool memories with their friends and families when playing a new game.

 

-Do you have a favorite console you prefer to program for?

Well, aside from PC, I only program for the Sega Genesis. I’ve had to outsource the other projects on other consoles. So, I guess yeah, because I only program for one 😛

 

-What tools do you use to code?

I use SecondBASIC (www.sbasic.net) for the programming language. It’s built off of the Basiegaxorz ASM library. I created SecondBASIC as BEX was seemingly abandoned by its author, and with the permission of the author, I was able to use that library to build SecondBASIC/SecondBASIC Studio.

For graphics, I use PXL Workshop – another tool I’ve created, that lets you create multi-layered graphics for the Sega Genesis, creates optimized tile maps, and some other handy features.

And lastly, I made a map editor called Magellan, which handles the map, tiles, meta tiles, and objects.

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Magellan at work, building levels for the Genesis iteration of Eyra-The Crow Maiden

 

-In addition to programming games, you also publish games from other developers. What services does Second Dimension advertise to potential clients? Who do you wish to attract with your services?

I do production runs for customers (make them CIB’s for them to sell on their websites), make boxes, websites, and even commission work to make games for others.

We try to be as accommodating for as much as we can.

 

-Do the permanent members of Second Dimension have particular roles or specialties? What does the division of labor look like on a given project?

They sure do! Second Dimension is 2 people – Jav and myself.

The division of labor looks something like this:

·         Myself:

o   Game Design

o   Story Writing

o   Website related work (new domains if applicable, updating main website, etc.)

o   Social Media

o   Programming

o   Trailer creating/directing

o   Prepping print materials (manuals, box templates, labels, etc.)

o   Manufacturing

·         Jav:

o   Game Design

o   Story Writing

o   Social Media

o   Pixel Art

o   Box/Manual Art

o   Artwork for the trailer

o   Concept design/art

Of course, this is just a rough outline. Each project demands different tasks and workloads, but these are the more normalized task list we both have.

 

-Is Second Dimension hiring? Are you looking to bring on more partners, generally or with particular skills, to expand your capabilities?

We’re not actively looking to bring anyone on, but if an opportunity comes up, we’re always ready to talk about it, ya know?

 

-What was the working dynamic like in your development of The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, especially given that there were effectively 3 distinct development teams for each console Eyra would be published for? How difficult is it managing development teams producing the same game for different consoles given the unique challenges inherent to the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis?

The working dynamic was awesome. We had lots of fun with creating Illmoore, and same with Eyra.

With Illmoore, we knew where we wanted to go with the game. We had the idea, we had the concept, but 99% of the development was off-the-cuff. There was probably a dozen power-ups we had thought of, and some we tried, but decided to cut because they weren’t fundamentally compatible with the overall game, or they were very burdensome to get working properly. The story was written in a very ad-hoc manner as well.

Eyra is more straightforward, though, a lot (on the Genesis side at least) is still very ad-hoc. We’re trying to keep the SNES version as straightforward with the NES version, and that’s a lesson in “buckling down and getting all the details straight” for me, because that’s not how I normally do things.

Managing the teams is just conversation among friends. I don’t like being the “hard-ass” boss and I want to let everyone have as much creative freedom as possible, and I think that makes for a better end result. If folks don’t enjoy the project and process, it shows. Even if we don’t put out a blockbuster, we still want people to enjoy it and I don’t think that’s possible if we didn’t enjoy making it.

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden as opposed to previous projects from a programming perspective? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Ugh. Illmoore gave me a nasty surprise at the end of development – it didn’t work at all on PAL consoles. On top of that, there’s a nasty bug in the audio driver that has the potential to freeze the console. Right when I thought I had finished the game, that reared its ugly head and I’m pretty sure I had heartburn and night sweats for a month and a half straight.

The biggest lesson I learned with that is no matter how much you think you know, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That doesn’t just apply to programming, and sometimes we just need that little reminder.

 

-You also got actor Danny Tamberelli to provide voice acting for The Curse of Illmoore Bay, how did that come about? Was there an existing connection between you two?

Honestly, it was a shot in the dark. I wanted to try and get someone that I think would enjoy the theme of the game, and if possible, someone who was influential back then. There were a few people and agents I had spoken to but being brand new to the world of SAG contracts/projects, there were some hurdles and roadblocks.

So, about to give up, I wrote some final contacts I had and got a response from Danny (and much, much later, Michael Maronna). While I couldn’t get Michael on board (largely because the project was nearly finished at that time and I was already over budget), it was still great to chat with him about retro games.

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Talking with the Pete’s about retro games may be the most 90s thing I’ve ever heard

 

-The Kickstarters for both games were wildly successful, meeting their initial funding goals in less than 24 hours, blowing past several stretch goals, and getting special praise from Kickstarter. How does it feel to bask in such support?

Honestly, it’s still surreal to me. It’s amazing that there are people out there that like what we’re doing, and I’m very thankful and grateful for every single fan out there. 

One of my childhood best friends and I talk about how crazy it all is from time to time. If you told me when I was a kid that I would be making video games, I’d have been excited, but also not believed you. If you told me back when I made Hangman SG that I’d be a part of something like Illmoore or Eyra, I wouldn’t have believed you back then, either.

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Screenshot from Hangman SG

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon? Any dream projects?

The Project Creation Center is always brainstorming new ideas all the time, and while we have a few cool ideas in the works, the main one we’re excited for is Affinity Sorrow, which is going to be our next campaign. We’ll have some really crazy news about it when the time comes.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Phantom Gear is probably one of the big ones I’m very interested in playing, same with Irena. There are also a few others out there that aren’t revealed yet, so I can’t say too much about those titles.

Really, any new game that comes out I’m interested in giving a play. People put their hard efforts in, and I’d like to show them as much support as I can.

 

-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 for the interview!

And to the readers and fans – thank you. Without you, there wouldn’t be Second Dimension.

 

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Javier Leal

@Pixel_Javi

-Before we dive into The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Jav?

Well. I've been working on video games for 15 years or something like that. I've been drawing since I can remember, studied art, photography, Graphic Design and 3D animation so all of that combined with the fact that I've been also gaming for most of my life, it felt natural to make video games. Developing games has been the only work I've been able to fully enjoy ever. Back in 2006 I founded a local game company with a couple of friends where we made educational and advertising games. After a decade or so we started drifting apart, each one to our preferred styles and platforms. Since I was already leaning heavily into pixel art and retro games by then it felt natural that I ended making homebrew. I really like working with all the restrictions and limited resources it implies because I found it requires a lot of creativity and that feels good.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

It's hard for me to pinpoint any person in particular that has influenced me (I need to work on that), but some names that definitely need to be mentioned are Koji Igarashi, Tom Kalinske, Gary Gygax, Akira Toriyama, Bruce Timm, Tim Burton, Gunpei Yokoi... IDK I try to learn something from everyone.
I have a habit of playing as many games as I can regardless of them being good or bad, and if I like them or not, just to study them and find out what works and what doesn't, for me and in general.
I usually love the work of Wayforward and Tribute games and I also pay attention to games published by Devolver Digital. Also, I'm always combing Twitter in search for cool indie games, artists and devs, especially if they work on homebrew for old consoles.

 

-Do you feel that your art has any qualities that are uniquely you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Not really, I don't feel unique or special in that sense. I've never felt that I have a style or an aesthetic, I just try to adapt my art as much as I can to the needs of the project, which I think comes from my graphic design training. Right now my aesthetic would be "16-bit 90s games" or something like that. My sprites and drawings for Illmoore were really cartoony and right now I'm making some Japanese-styled pixel art and manga illustrations for our next project (Not that I can pull that style flawlessly, but I try).

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Backgrounds to boss stages from The Curse of Illmoore Bay designed by Jav

 

-Have you noticed any changes in your style or game development preferences over the years?

I've improved a lot in the last two years, and feel more confident with shading and creating my own color palettes. I normally have a lot of silly rules when making art that help me be consistent in a particular style, but now I'm allowing myself to break those rules and do some experimenting as long as the results look good. I feel that's a big change for me.

I started making more illustrations and graphic design and not just in-game art, I enjoy working on cover arts and cartridge boxes and labels.

Right now I wouldn't want to work on anything that doesn't have to do with retro games and homebrew.
 

-Another fascinating aspect of your pixel art is that you are involved with homebrew games across multiple consoles. What has led you to transcend consoles when many other brewers prefer to stick to one console?

Change is good hehe, and by going out your comfort zone is how you really improve because you have to face all sort of challenges and that ties with all of this requiring a lot of creativity that I was talking about in the first answer.

So that's it; I find it fun and challenging working for different consoles and since we have the needed resources in Second Dimension to do that it's a win-win situation which leads me to feeling comfortable tackling new styles and platforms.

 

-Do you have a favorite console you prefer to program for?

Well I don't code, I only do art but the answer is SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive. I love the color palette, it's always a joy to work with and I'm really used to working for that console so it's by far my favorite.

 

-What tools do you use to code and create?

My favorite tools are a pencil and a piece of paper... Those are the bases of pretty much everything I create, and I can't live without them. Besides that, I mainly use Krita and GIMP for both Illustrations and Pixel Art and Aseprite for sprite animations. All of that combined with our own internal Second Basic Studio tools coded by Adam for Second Dimension.

 

-What was the working dynamic like in your development of The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, especially given that there were effectively 3 distinct development teams for each console Eyra would be published for? How difficult is it developing a game for three different consoles given the unique challenges inherent to the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis?

The development for both games was pretty different. In Illmoore´s case, since it was our first project together, we first outlined the game in general as well as all the graphic content it would need and the core gameplay mechanics. While I was dedicated to making the majority of the graphics, Adam was programming the engine and the core gameplay mechanics. Once that was done, the rest of the game was done pretty quickly. Also, once the graphics for a level were finished, they were sent to Sebastián who drew inspiration from them to compose the music.

In Eyra´s case, I already had the game outlined and also much of the graphic content made, only they were in a Gameboy palette. We started by converting all the graphics into NES graphics and then the programmer made the game. We balanced it at the same time it was being programmed. For the 16-bit version we took the NES graphics as a starting point. I started by creating new backgrounds for the stages and then I added more colors and animation frames to the rest of the graphics where it was needed.

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Screenshot from Gameboy mockup of Eyra-The Crow Maiden

From my point of view it wasn't much of a challenge because it was an iterative process and the 16-bit graphics were created from the NES ones which I had already done.

 

-Tell me about the development of the cover art you created for the Regular Editions for The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, what is your composition process?

My composition process is pretty standard, nothing too complex or weird. I start by writing a few descriptions or ideas in a piece of paper, I start visualizing the art while doing that and then I make a couple of very rough sketches just to have on hand.

For the standard edition of Eyra I went with a very pulpy/retro style inspired by old pulp and sci-fi book covers and also trying to mimic western NES covers a bit. It's more of a classic realistic painting, I even used a canvas texture on it to make it look old and less digital. I also tried to tell a bit of the story with the cover art, it tells about the character, the enemies, and the setting of the game, you can sort of figure out what it is about just by looking at it (at least that was my intention).

I also did the mid-tier cover for Eyra, that the Kickstarter deluxe edition if I remember correctly. For that one I used my personal and preferred art style, it's a lot more cartoon/anime looking with flat colors and cel shading. I wanted to do something more Japanese looking and different from the standard cover, so I drew Eyra having a chill moment with her Crow while they walk through the desert.

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Jav’s cover art as seen on Eyra-The Crown Maiden’s Famicom edition

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden as opposed to previous? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I'd say that we didn´t encounter any major challenges or surprises because we already knew what we were up against, what we were going to do, and we always kept the projects within a manageable scope. I think that that is a good way to tackle these kinds of projects, to have a clear idea of what you are going to face, advance one task at a time keeping in mind the end result, and documenting the process. Along the way I learned that it is very fun and rewarding launching games for retro consoles in physical format, I can't recommend it enough.

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon? Any dream projects? I also remember your work with Tacha on Kung Fu UFO, do you plan to revisit that game in the future?

I have plenty of dream project ideas waiting to be developed when the time is right... We are currently and slowly developing an RPG called Affinity: Sorrow, I have been working on concept art, illustrations and graphics for it for some time now. That's our next big project and it should be coming to Kickstarter anytime soon. It taps into a very classic formula that we really love, we are looking at 16-bit JRPG games like FF6, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest amongst others for inspiration. I really want to focus on that game as much as I can for the whole development process. We have already shown some stuff from it on our social media and there's a lot more coming.

As for Kung-Fu UFO, it can be fun to revisit that game someday, it was a bit of a too ambitious project for us back when we launched the Indiegogo campaign so we couldn't keep working on it when it didn't reach the goal but with the right amount of time and needed resources it can be a great experience.

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Gameplay gif from Kung Fu UFO by Retro Nerve

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

All of them haha! Actually my friends at Bits Rule are making a really amazing platformer for the Mega Drive called Phantom Gear that I can't wait to play. I backed their Kickstarter campaign last year so all that’s left is to wait for the cartridge to arrive when the game is finished.

Demons of Asteborg also looks really good, that's another Mega Drive game I'm looking forward to playing. But to be honest every homebrew game I see has something interesting that gets me excited to play it.

 

-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?

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to tell a bit of our experience and also thank all of the amazing people that help and supports our work by buying, playing, and sharing our games. 

 

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Sebastian “Tacha” Abreu

@tachbach

-Before we dive into The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for homebrew games? What is the origin story of tachabach?

First of all I want to thank you for your interest in interviewing me, I feel flattered. Well, I think I'm going to extend a little since your question is quite broad. I think everything started when I was in the tummy of my pregnant mother, she played piano 9 hours per day, J.S. Bach was her favorite, she also played Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin.

Unfortunately that piano was sold when I was only 5 years old so I could not enjoy it with my hands. Later in 1989, my father bought a "great keyboard", a Casio CT-420 that we still have, in it came a demo of Richard Clayderman (Ballad Four Adeline), which at the age of 9 I learned to play almost exactly perfect. That same year my mother put together a group of music and dance called "The Aras" in which several girls and boys between 14 and 16 years old sang and danced. My older brother (Gustavo Abreu) was 11 years old, my mother (Silvia Teresita Mederos), and I took turns to musicalize that group, we come to play about 30 times, always in medical clinics in the neighborhood, in some hospitals in the area of pediatrics, always to raise funds for the benefit of these institutions.

In 1990 at the age of 9-10 I played the electric bass in a group with my parents, my older brother and several friends of my parents. My father always loved sharing music with his family and he always encouraged us.

Well, when I entered adolescence (and one wants to follow his rebellious path), I met the power of the distortion of the electric guitar, there was never going back. Already for the year 1996 I literally slept with the guitar in my bed, took her to the bathroom, I sat down to eat with the guitar, even had 6 friends a close encounter with a UFO at the San Luis Seaside and I remember that I had the guitar hanging and while we witnessed a show from another world in the middle of the field I did not stop playing my favorite guitar lick (it's absurd that I'm remembering this, hahaha).

Something that is interesting is that in the 90's I had a TK90 and a couple of years a ZX Spectrum +2 with which it programmed music entirely in Basic. I remember that I had scheduled the "Two Princess" theme of the Spin Doctors with their respective guitar solo and another called "Red Eyes" by Los Buitres, making the chip Ay-3-8912 sound. I remember combining white noise with the third channel to achieve the cymbals, kick and snares. But hey, I also composed my own music which never came out of my father's house because there was no Internet, the BBS were unreachable for me at that time, either had a way to spend my Spectrum programs to PC ...

Later I used to visit my friends Marcelo Alonso, Jean Paul Castroman, and Francy Bodeant who had PC (386/486) and I stayed all night in their homes while they slept, programming in the Fasttracker2, Impulse Tracker, and Scream Tracker, programs that came on CDs from weekly magazines called "PC users", I remember deleting all the patterns of several tracks to stay with the samples and compose music itself.

At last was the Pentium 2 of my younger brother’s (I still kept using my ZX Spectrum + 2)... I started using ModPlugtracker (with which now I compose for SNES). It is illogical that with this program I got to sound 2 chapters of an animated series for a company in which I started working as a sound designer and music composer.

Well, this company was called "Animalada 3D", there musicalized two animated series, several TV and cinema commercials. Five years later I decided to work in that field freelance. I worked from 2000 until 2018 as a singing professor at several schools in my country. Since 2012 till today I teach Music & Sound Design for Videogames in "A+" and "BIOS" (two of the most important institutes that teach video games in Uruguay).

I have been able to musicalize more than 70 pieces of TV and cinema in the field of advertising for more than 15 countries in the world, more than 40 games sonorized & musicalized like Bingo & Slot Machines, Android, IOS, Steam, Web Games, GB, Mega Drive, Commodore friend, SNES, and now very happy to have reached ATARI VCS (listen as the SID of my C64 sounds at the Pixel Cup Soccer! Hahahah).

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Basically, tacha plays all of the instruments

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

My musical influences (bands and people that I have listened to in my life and to this day I still enjoy): Silvia Teresita Mederos (my mother), Juan Eliseo Abreu (my father), Alfredo Zitarrosa, Les Luthiers, Los Olimareños, Grupo Seremos, María Elena Walsh, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Cindy Lauper, Stevie Wonder, Creedence, Carlos Santana, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Dire Straits, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Spin Doctors, Lenny Kravitz, Extreme, Megadeath, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Europe, La Iojansebastian, La Cura Del Sueño, Van Halen, Mr BIG, Iron Maiden, Guns 'n Roses, ANGRA, Shaman, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Laura Pausini, Ricardo Montaner, Enanitos Verdes, Fito Paez, Charly García, Dream Theater, Fat Boy Slim, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach (my favorite), John Williams, Jonathan Dunn (Ocean Software), Savaged Regime, David Wise, Richie Kotzen, Rafael Dos Santos, Federico Amir, Andre Matos, and I'm sure I have tons to name.

 

-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Specifically for about 20 years I have been studying about the functioning of the brain and how it reacts to different harmonies and melodies, how music and the handling of frequencies generate different chemical states of the body-mind and how this fosters different states of mood-feelings. This led me to lose interest in wanting to be a virtuoso-sprinter musician (both on the flute and on the electric guitar) or to be a virtuoso of the slap on the bass, on the contrary, I began to acquire a taste for simple melodies and very easy to remember, to generate pleasant grooves for the body, making silence a better ally than sound itself.

Somehow I can say that I am not interested in copying anymore I have no need. I am one of the people who knows that knowledge comes from within, that music is infinite, that's why I try to treasure every melody that comes to me spontaneously. I am also the type of person who feels what an artist felt or manifested when he painted a picture or composed music. Practicing reaching different states while awake for years has gradually awakened my intuition. I know that a lot of people can't break their rational mind to stop judging whether the performer or the composer is good or bad and that's pretty sad, since music doesn't really go ONLY for technique or good harmony. To understand, you have to create a balance between the mind and the heart, between reason and irrationality, that's when we really begin to see and when we begin to listen. I am going to leave you a little anecdote here to firmly answer your question. In 2018 when I left my flute class I found a small corner in Montevideo that had good reverberation. I took out my flute and began to play the Aria in D by J.S. Bach. (I think there were 7 people listening) as it is a piece that requires good administration of the air in the lungs, it unconsciously forces me to lower my heart rate. I was so immersed in the sound and the melody that I closed my eyes and the flute began to disappear, I began to disappear, only music existed and I was one with the universe, the mind ceased to exist, I felt in a spring of crystalline water of infinite sweetness, where I didn't need anything because I had everything, until I had to return to the plane of the living because the Bach piece had ended. When I saw the people around me, I realized that nobody noticed what happened to me and I honestly did not care in the least. Surely if I wanted to achieve that state playing jazz it would be impossible for me, sure that other musicians can rise playing jazz but my essence is simple, my music is essentially simple.

Regarding aesthetics, it depends on what I need to convey, as I can cover many musical styles (all with different aesthetics).

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We should all be so lucky to have such an ethereal experience

-Tell me about the development of The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden’s music for SNES and Genesis, what is your composition process? Is the creative process different compared to when you compose more traditional music? Were there different processes for composing for Eyra for two different consoles (SNES versus Genesis)? Was there a different approach for The Curse of Illmoore Bay versus Eyra-The Crow Maiden?

The composition process takes place in my head. I can give you a Gameboy track but in my head those few channels that sound like chiptune are a symphony orchestra, obviously you can't put a symphony in a GB (if not with extra hardware). That is why for the different consoles the composition process is the same, the console is only a means to express it.

Regarding the Mega Drive, I am very close to it and I love how the FM and PSG chips reconstruct a clear sound wave. I know what its limitations are and depending on the composition I try to adapt the synthesizers to be able to convey the idea as accurately as possible. With regard to the SNES, I am also very fond of their sound but above all as a spectator, we spent hundreds of hours with my brothers when a friend lent us one ... I was surprised that you have to be a true artisan of samples now that each track cannot occupy more than 58 kb approx. (64 kb maximum between music and SFX for each level). Specifically, the menu's music was made from scratch 3 times for SNES until I got the sound I wanted. The first 2 had aesthetics also the medieval aesthetics that the melody gives us but with a mixture of 80's sounds ... finally I decided to give it more POWER with guitars and a not so sober battery so I could release all my euphoria.

For Illmoore Bay all the tracks except one are made of pure FX synthesis, the drums are synthesized, but in Eyra the drums are made with samples.

 

-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?

The main tool I use to compose music is my mind, my heart and my entire human being, sometimes I shut myself up to dance to feel the melodies and rhythms in the form of energy and how they extend beyond my body. When music comes to me, I look for the fastest way to store it so I don't forget it. For example, one of the pieces that I have included in Eyra occurred to me walking through the center of Montevideo when leaving one of the institutes where I teach Music & Sound Design, so I opened a group on WhatsApp in which I am alone and started to REC the "sketch". Although only my voice sounds in my head there are dozens of instruments (here I was listening to a symphonic band) but I emphasize melodies and rhythms, using certain phonemes to mark the number of instruments that "play" at a specific moment. Surely, people who see me or listen to me on the street may think that I am crazy (and it matters very little to me) while I enjoy what for me is an internal chemical-alchemical process.

I also use the technique of visualizing images, mockups or gameplay videos, after having the image well recorded in my mind I start to walk down the hall of my house from one place to another (I have walked for 30 minutes) until in my head I listen to a track from beginning to end, then I sit at the computer and depending on the platform to which it is directed I open one or another program. Finally regarding the above, something that comes out unintentionally is listening to music when my mind is in the Alpha state, many times when I am sleeping peacefully I force myself to wake up and get up to look for a recording device or something to write the melodies.

Since 2005 I use CakeWalk Sonar in its different variants to create music in WAV format (PC, Android, IOS, etc.) in large projects I use Steimberg and Native Instruments libraries.

I use Deflemask to compose for Gameboy, C64, Mega Drive, NES and ModPlugTracker to compose for Commodore AMIGA, SNES and Gameboy. For ZX Spectrum 48k I use Beepola and for ZX Spectrum 128k I use a tracker that I programmed myself (which is very comfortable for me to compose quickly).

In Eyra’s music, for the Nintendo SNES samples I used Zildjian 14"S Hi Hats cymbals picked up with a RODE NT2000 microphone, for the KICK-SNARE-TOMS sounds I recorded the samples from a ROLAND TR-505 drum machine, the basses with a Yamaha FB-01 module, the flute & sax samples are from a CASIO DH-100 with Breath control (you can say that my breath is in those samples literally), the guitar samples I recorded from an IbanezGIO with a MIC DiMarzio EVO2 Bridge STEVE VAI series connected to a Fender R212 distortion channel and captured with a Shure SM57, since the sound engine used by Alekmaul does not have an "Arpeggio" mode. I capped about 5 small square wave samples in arpeggios generated from an AY chip. 3-8912 direct from my ZX Spectrum + 2A, programmed from a Tracker that I created for the said machine, the rest of the samples I did by hand drawing the wave with the pencil tool of the Mod Plug Tracker.

For mixing frequencies and looking for the sounds of the synthesizers (in the case of Mega Drive) I use two pairs of studio monitors: YAMAHA SS50M and Behringer Truth B3030A in an isolated room with 6 cm thick rock wool plates, I also check sound with AKG headphones, Sennheiser 202, on SONY Trinitron, CRT Panavox TV, on Microsonic LCD TV, and on a 5.1 Logitech 506 system.

I can also count that sometimes they ask me for music for new games with retro aesthetics, instead of loading plugins that emulate the different sounds of the 80's 90's, what I do is connect my old and beloved machines (C64, ATARI 65XE , ZX Spectrum, MSX2 FM, AMIGA 500, and NES) for the exact sound.

 

-Do you have a different approach/attitude toward the games you work on by yourself compared to those you are commissioned to work on? Is the experience of developing them different?

I ALWAYS give 100% of myself to my projects as well as to other people's projects. Sometimes I think that the quality of work-monetary compensation is not very balanced, so I would have to do something "just like that" (Uruguayan expression) but I always see myself polishing the work with an extreme degree of detail so that the quality of the same is optimal.

I imagine an athlete running the 100-meter sprint and the coach saying, "Hey, this race is not that important, just run, if you finish 7th it will be fine." Well, I would be the athlete who would think "What the hell am I going to run for if I am not going to do my best?" You know, I could jam a bass over a constant pattern drum base and then jam melodies in Mixolydian mode for 1 minute and voilà! I already have a track!

But it doesn't work that way for me, for me melodies express a feeling, have life, and tell a story. Specifically for me each track is like a piece of my soul that I am letting go. I recommend sitting in front of a good audio equipment, audio monitors or with a good 2.1 to enjoy the Mega Drive & SNES soundtracks in full range frequency.
 

-Tell me about the evolution of The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden. Any interesting stories on the games’ development?

Well, I can tell you The beginnings of Eyra but about my personal experience ... After the Kung Fu UFO campaign in Indiegogo failed, Jav told me that he wanted us to make a game that he had in hand for the Gameboy Classic, which consisted of a platformer starring a female character set in medieval times, with Golden Axe and Rastan tints, which is why I started working at that very moment first of all on the main soundtrack for that console. (It was Thursday, November 1, 2018). The track took me about 4 days to dedicate a few hours to the Gameboy version https://youtu.be/wKg9xXy64sg and about 2 hours to do the conversion for Nintendo NES https://youtu.be/LJKscFWpb3wusing the Deflemask program. On the first day Jav sent me the first Spritesheet with which I also started to "Sketch" in Mega Drive what the GB game would be. https://youtu.be/j_4GjA4-PpgIn that he tells me that he did not have the name for the character because he had a surprise to introduce myself with him, so while I was programming I also began to inquire about the different cultures of medieval times and also on Viking women's names. I had chosen 3 that I liked: "Kaira" (means immaculate), "Freya" (Viking Goddess of fertility, Love and beauty) and "Eyra" (Scandinavian goddess of health, also translated as Snow) ... but it seemed to me that the name "Eyra" was the shortest and simplest, in addition it fit perfectly with the melody of the second track (symphonic mixture with Gregorian chants) that I had thought for when we presented the game (It is a track that I will never give out and who will die with me). After talking about the name with Jav he replied: "Eyra, The Crow Maiden", telling me that the surprise was that the character would always be accompanied by a crow which would help in the battle.

 

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Art of the Norse goddess Eir (or Eyra)

From making the GB sketch we focused on a version for Mega Drive, I can tell you that I was working as a programmer for Eyra (Mega Drive) for 3 months, until Jav told me that he would not work on it again if there was no money involved.

Which I can understand perfectly, we had already worked hard on the Kung Fu UFO project and with a disastrous crowdfunding campaign with a truncated ending.

Then Jav and Adam teamed up to create Illmoore Bay inviting me to perform the music. In the interim of Illmoore, we stayed with my wife playing Galaga for a whole weekend on my beloved ATARI 7800. At one point "PUM!" it appeared in my head how the code should be to move those "little ships". While my wife played in the Atari for an hour and a half, I had programmed in Mega Drive the movements of two hordes of ships with the graphics ripped from the internet of the same game.

After that I started asking myself questions:

What if instead of moving the player only from left to right, he made it move in all 4 directions?

What if I set the stage with scroll?

And is it added shots like in RTYPE?

Within two days, I remember sitting in front of the computer when the routine of targeted shots from the enemies tore through my mind like a "PUM" hit. I sat in front of the computer and started writing for exactly 4 hours. When I finished the code, I compiled it and it worked the first time without errors ... there I said to myself "How could I have thought about stopping programming if it is something that comes from my gut, something that comes out unintentionally, something I love?"

Well, at that point it occurred to me that I could program a game of ships called GALATYX * and after selling it I could make some money to be able to finance the development of Eyra for Mega Drive ... https://youtu.be/oFWWTMLR2yE

(It is fun to see how each person has the experience of it and sometimes it is in agreement with others and sometimes not).

The crazy thing about all this is that life never turns out to be as one imagines it, the threads intertwine in unexpected ways.

Finishing Illmoore Bay, one afternoon I get the call from Jav. He tells me that a unique opportunity had come up and it was to perform Eyra for the NES with a programmer and a musician, while Adam would be the visible face on Kickstarter ... to which I answered the honest truth, "I think It's fantastic that you can continue to grow and make your way, nobody or nothing ties you to me or to Retronerve (the team that we founded the two of us). Hopefully crowdfunding comes to fruition! "

Well, it was great to see how not only did he make it to goal but there was interest from Mega Drive and SNES fans in having the game for these consoles.

In the meantime Adam writes to me: "hey buddy, can you make music for SNES?" apparently, he had realized that for Mega Drive I can do a good job. LOL

... well, here I see myself just today doing minimal tweaks to deliver the SNES tracks along with this interview.

Something fun to tell, it was a dream experience that I had (related to the Alpha states) and I tell it below:

This happened to me almost ending the entire Eyra Mega Drive OST. I was very conscious in my dream and in the same transition in which several months had already passed in which the versions of Mega Drive and SNES were already finished and delivered to the backers, sitting at my computer I went to my YouTube channel to look for the OST of Eyra, specifically the "GAME OVER" track, then I saw an image where the character appeared on a screen with a red background and clearly heard a two-voice melody, with its respective groove of drums, bass and keyboards ... slightly awake, I became aware of what I was dreaming about and that that music and that image of "Game Over" did not yet exist. So I forced myself to get out of bed, sat at the computer, opened Deflemask and in about 5 minutes I wrote the melodies of the two voices that were still playing in my head. The next day I finished that track and I think that the same day Jav passed the Game Over image to the development team ... to my surprise the image was the same as I had dreamed of, well I made the music exactly the same as I heard in my dream of the future.

* (The name GALATYX is in honor of my wife Paola Galati, who has always supported me blindly but consciously in all my dreams in this and other lives)

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Eyra’s game over screen

 

-How did you first connect with Adam and Second Dimension, and what is the working dynamic like as you both work on your respective aspects of the games?
 

I remember that I was developing Kung-Fu UFO in BasiegaXorz and reading in the forums I had understood that the same programming language for Mega Drive was Obsolete, but on the same page they said that there was a new Compiler that used the same Basiegaxorz routines but that its creator was still working on it.

To say the least, there was a time when I was programming Kung-Fu UFO in both languages ... but in the end I decided on Second Basic because it still had support and there was someone on the planet who could give an answer.

After having several compilation problems, I contacted a group of Spanish developers who currently program for Mega Drive. One of them answered me (nothing more and nothing less than "na_th_an", the programmer of "The Mojon Twins" (I take the opportunity to send him a greeting and tell him that he is my hero for so many homebrew games from ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Mega Drive, NES, etc.). He told me about the developer of Second Dimension: "Look, his name is Adam Welch, I have written to him several times and he answers very kindly, sometimes it may take 2 or 3 days, but he always answers. His email is ... ". After immediately contacting me with this subject 😛 he answered me the same day (to my surprise), not only very kindly but he was also a warm and attentive guy to my needs. Always responding positively and a very good disposition. We spent some time exchanging emails, I commented on some bugs that I found in the compiler which he not only corrected them, but also taught me some magic trick that his compiler could do and that I did not know.

To close, I take the liberty of saying that he is a very good programmer and a very good person (how many people spend hundreds of hours developing a compiler for Mega Drive totally free? Two? Well, Adam is one of them :D)

The work dynamic is very easy. I have been working making music and sfx for video games since 2011 (since 2005 in advertising for TV and cinema), for this reason I know exactly what a video game needs to be at the level of an AAA in my field. Adam is aware of it so he trusts me widely. Sometimes we talk about what way to take in musical styles and I am open to all opinions, but generally I like to surprise him with something that was not expected and that exceeds his expectations.

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I never really thought that there were people who wanted to follow in my footsteps.

If they exist, I will only tell them to work on their dreams and desires as hard as they can, also tell them that in the face of bumps and falls there is no other option but to get up and keep walking. There are always going to be failures, there are always going to be stones in the way. The important thing is always to keep doing what you love to do, consistently. Always knocking on doors even if your hands hurt, because maybe that door that you didn't knock is just the one they were willing to open for you. DO NOT GIVE UP!

 

-What aspects of The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden are you most proud of?

HAHAH ... I am amused by the answer ...
I remember it was 1993, I was sitting in front of my TK90x programming a 4 channel 1 bit music editor: 3 tone sounds and the 4th percussion. As I was programming it, I was also trying to compose some grooves to check the sound of the drums ... until at one point my father came into my room and said, laughing almost out loud: "Oh my God! Those sounds seem like farts! hahaha "... we both ended up laughing because he was right. Unfortunately I lost a lot of my 90's shows. But at that time I dreamed of making music for SNES or Mega Drive games, consoles that our parents would not buy us (me and my siblings) because they did not want to see us playing but preferred to give them a computer so that we could learn to program and design. Somehow my wish as a child-adolescent 25 years later comes true with the games that today can be enjoyed. That's what I'm proud of, to be able to create content for the consoles that RETRO-FANS love so much.

 

-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, SNES, Genesis, or otherwise?

I can say that I am working as a programmer with two development teams for Mega Drive/Genesis. There are several games on the horizon but they will come out one by one.

There will also be a homebrew for ZX Spectrum and ZX Spectrum-NEXT from STARWARS in which we were working with my friend Raulo Pachelo, who passed away over a month ago, a game that I will finish to honor him.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
 

Of course, I have several favorite homebrews, for example Sword Of Ianna on ZX Spectrum (which in my opinion is an 8-bit work of art), from the same machine at home we play Alter Ego, Old Tower, Maritrini Freelance Monster Slayer, Valley of Rains (another work of art), In Mega Drive I usually play Xeno Crisis, Mega Cheril, UWOL and Illmoore Bay. In the C64 I like to play Xavier Binary Zone (with the great music of Chris Lightfoot R.I.P.) and when there are more than 4 of us we play Space Lords.

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Screenshot from Xeno Crisis for Seg Genesis (and other consoles)

 

-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?

First of all, I am the one who has to thank you for your patience and interest in my person, interest in my work, which is my art and the internal manifestations of my being.

Personally, to the fans, I have taken a lot of time to dedicate to these soundtracks and I have put a lot of love in them so that the sound chips of your SNES and MEGA DRIVE consoles KEEP ROARING new tunes.

Also say thank you for trusting us developers to do our part. Hopefully they can appreciate the work and dedication.

Finally, personally I would like to count on your support for my future projects, especially for MEGA DRIVE. Pay attention.

I would like to thank: Valentina Abreu, Mia Luna Abreu, Teresita Mederos, Juan Eliseo Abreu,  Daniel, Nicolás, Gustavo, Juan Guillermo Abreu, Daniel J McCormick, Adam Welch, Javier Leal, Alekmaul, Sebastián Blanco, Sebastian Racedo, Mario Villar, Funfu Rafael Dos Santos, Rodolfo Guerra, Antonio Vázquez, Roberto Pachelo, Raulo Pachelo, Chivy Tayler, Paul Darwin, Daniel Lorenzo, Javier Brum, The Mojon Twins, George Prescott, Leander, Alice, Migue, Daniel Sanz, Jordi Montornés Solé, Flx, Danibus, Pedro L, Samuel, r2d2rigo, Tapule, Pablo, Manu Segura, Bruce Rodriguez, Pablo, jgnavarro, Jarlaxe, Rafa Castillo, McKlain, Felipe Mongue Corbalan, Sofi Galati, Miguel Sinclair, Daviz Pow, Ben-kenobi, wilco2009, JC Galvañ, Mikes, Fernando Samper Perez, Kuis, Pablo Cascallares, Luis Abreu, flopping, ZUPP FOX, kr4k4t04, Eduardo Fontana, Ismael Pardo Di Nardo, al Pelado, Mauro Flores, pmasterBR, Yuri D'avila, Lu, Luiz Nai, Cetics, Alexsandro, Matheus Castellar, Ariel, Luis Fernandez, Amiten, El Espectrumero Javi Ortiz, to homebrews fan sponsors, and very especially to Paola Galati for all her unconditional love.

If you want to write to me you can do it at tacha.music.sfx@gmail.com

 

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Armen Mardirossian

@ArmenMARD80

-Before we dive into The Curse of Illmoore Bay, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be an artist generally, and more specifically how did you break into homebrew game art?

I am a professional hand-drawn animator/story-boarder, character designer and pixel artist from France. Being primarily a hand-drawn animator and story-boarder for 20 years, I have been doing this before being involved in the homebrew/indie game scene. I began in this field in 2008 by contacting Gwenael Godde who asked me to draw the final character designs and illustrations for the game Pier Solar, as well as draw the cinematic still artworks that punctuate the game’s main events. I drew the original storyboards which were then translated into pixel art form.

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Cutscene art from Pier Solar and the Great Architects by Armen

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

There are several animation works, notably some anime works from the 70s, 80s or 90s which influenced my style.  Without entering into details, I was inspired by the aesthetics but above all by the way these shows, which were sometimes limited in terms of animation, conveyed emotions through the way of drawing characters as well as effective cinematography and storytelling. Having my own style now for almost 20 years, I am not influenced by anything specific, and to be honest, I haven’t watched any new anime for years now. In terms of video games, I began playing at the end of the 80s. I am mostly a fan of RPGs like the Final Fantasy, Lunar, or Dragon Quest series as well as much more obscure ones. Playing these kinds of games in the course of the years has also influenced my style and work to a certain extent.

 

-You've also created art for other homebrews, including Pier Solar, Kraut Buster, and the Battle Kid games. Do you feel that your art has any qualities that are uniquely you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

For Pier Solar, I was character designer and cinematics director for the original Mega Drive release and later for its HD re-release. My style defined the final visual appearance of the characters and visual scenes for the 16-bit version, which were later used as a base for the recreation of the cinematics as well as the in-game portraits I drew and the 3-minute opening animation I directed for the HD version.

Pier Solar HD opening animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gEVmedSG0k

I directed the attract mode intro and ending of Kraut Buster for the Neo Geo. I storyboarded/directed the sequence and drew the original artworks and pixel art which were then adapted by the game team to coincide with the in-game graphics style which explains why it is a bit different visually from my other works. Kraut Buster Neo Geo opening animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNOZypqAgZc

For Battle Kid 2, I created the character artworks and cutscenes when the games originally came out on the NES. I reprised this role to recreate the cutscenes in my style for Battle Kid 1 when it was reissued for the Japanese Famicom version.

In the Mega Drive scene, I was also the cutscene and animation director of Tanglewood by Matt Phillips.

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Screenshot from Tanglewood

I think what is unique to my work and contrary to other people who only create still artworks for game covers or promotional character art, is that I am in general asked to create animated introduction or cinematics to improve the overall game experience. This allows to convey more emotions and attract more interest through a cinematographic sequence rather than a simple still artwork. I know excerpts from the opening animation of Pier Solar HD were for example used for the 2014 E3 game trailer which helped to promote the game on modern platforms to a new audience. Also in terms of pure style/aesthetic, I tend to put a lot of care and attention when drawing the expressions and posing of the characters.

 

-What tools do you use to create your art?

For animation, I use Adobe programs such as Photoshop, after effect effects and premiere and a specific Japanese app to draw and color the animation cells and artworks efficiently.

 

-Your art includes Flipnote animation of The Legend of Zelda and artwork inspired by Death Stranding. Is the experience of developing art from an existing world of established characters more limiting or is it more fun to play in a more defined sandbox?

The Zelda Flipnote was submitted to Nintendo in 2011 for the 25th anniversary of Zelda, before they begin the dev on breath of the wild and it was seen by the main creators of the series such as Miyamoto, Aonuma, Takashi Tezuka. (Nintendo people had also seen the Pier Solar HD trailer when it came out in 2014).

 It’s funny to think I had showed in this animation Link with a hood at the edge of a cliff looking at the castle, so who knows maybe it inspired them or at least some of the Nintendo dev team?

I think it is pretty interesting to create something based on a preexisting universe and put your own take on it, especially if it’s a franchise you love. It’s not necessarily limiting but different from something you create from the ground in terms of story, character and world setting. For example I had created in 2005 a personal animation short which was an original work titled Human Recollections I had submitted to the Japanese animation company STUDIO4°C (known for producing the Steamboy, Animatrix and the Berserk anime) for the next Genius Party contest in 2007. It remained on their page for several weeks allowing it to be seen by Japanese animation/game studios like Ghibli, Madhouse, Nintendo and such. This gives you a total freedom in terms of creativity but is also much more time consuming/complex to determine the tone of the universe that will be shown.

 

-Tell me about the development of the art you created for the Limited Edition for The Curse of Illmoore Bay, what is your creative process?

Actually it was a rather short process as the characters weren’t complex to draw in terms of detail. I looked at the original cover which was available and created the art in my own style and by giving a dynamic pose to the characters.

 

-How did you first connect with Adam and Second Dimension, and what was the working dynamic like?

After Pier Solar came out in 2010, Adam was developing an RPG called Affinity Sorrow, I drew the main characters design/model sheets back then. But if I remember correctly the dev stopped sometime later.

Apparently, development on the game has started again last year.

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We’ve been hearing a lot about this one, better keep an eye on it

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in your work on The Curse of Illmoore Bay? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Actually, there wasn’t anything special which happened. As I said, it was a very straightforward process to create the cover art.

 

-Is there another project after The Curse of Illmoore Bay on the horizon? Another dream project that you hope to bring into existence, video game or otherwise?

I can’t talk about it for now, but there may be something in the future.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Nothing in particular comes to my mind, but what I notice is that compared to 2010 when Pier Solar came out, there is now much more games which are being developed in the indie/homebrew scene.

 

-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?

I think it’s nice that people are still interested by playing new games on their old consoles. Their passion allows developers to still create new games for these old platforms.

 

Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to part one of two, in this latest entry of the series that shares the stories behind your favorite new homebrew games. What are your thoughts on The Curse of Illmoore Bay and Eyra-The Crow Maiden and its talented development teams? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see them here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

 

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