Episode 32: Crabbie Attack!
A Homebrew Draws Near!
A blog series by @Scrobins
Episode 32: Crabbie Attack!
Playing a new game (hopefully) means we are seeing fun through the developers’ eyes. Hints of their own passions echo throughout the code, reflecting on other aspects of their personality that shapes the overall game. Across the Mario franchise turtles are generally enemies, but for other creators turtles might be the hero. Sometimes playing with those personal preferences can be enough to reinvigorate a genre we’ve seen before because we are sharing in the expansion of a growing universe centered around that brewer and their unique passions.
For this entry, I’m covering Crabbie Attack!, an arcade challenge by Turtle Time Media aka Gossip Turtle aka Joe Sherman for the NES. As of the time of this writing, CIBs of the game are available for purchase here.
CIB in both its standard and sand-blasted editions
@TurtleRescueNES (Joe Sherman): programming, pixel art, music
The tide began rising on the beach for Crabbie Attack! with an October 10, 2022 tweet, which noted the game’s resurfacing at RetroGameCon since last being seen at Midwest Gaming Classic in 2021. Momentum rapidly increased with the February 19, 2023 announcement that the game was complete, and a March 1, 2023 release of a game demo. Alongside that last tweet, Joe told followers that the first run of Crabbie Attack! Cartridges would be available for purchase at Midwest Gaming Classic at the end of the month. Not only that, but Joe announced a high-score competition: players at MGC could compete in a special timed championship edition of Crabbie Attack!, with the winner taking home a rare sand-blasted edition of the game (which also included the championship mode not included in regular copies of the game). Meanwhile, hidden among the regular inventory was another sand-blasted edition, which eluded customers throughout the expo.
The Crabbie Attack! setup at MGC 2023
Crabbie Attack! describes itself as an arcade shoot ‘em up. You play as Toby (and Walton if you’ve got a second player handy), a turtle in need of a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately you went on a pizza binge, and crabbies are invading your dreams. You need to wipe them out if you’re ever going to have sweet dreams.
Gameplay consists of throwing seashells at crabs to make them disappear temporarily. You clear each stage by making all crabs disappear. However, crabs hit with seashells will reappear after a period of time. Catching and throwing stars at the spots left by disappeared crabbies ensures they don’t come back. Move the D-pad left & right to move Toby/Walton accordingly, push the A-button to throw your limitless supply of shells (being mindful of your limited pace of throwing), and push the B-button to throw stars if you have any.
Screenshot of Crabbie Attack!
Crabbie Attack! is an addictive arcade experience that will bring out your competitive spirit whether you’re playing against others or merely trying to beat your previous high score. The basics of the game are simple enough for anyone to walk up and immediately enjoy. However there are enough nuanced details surrounding the special items and crabbies that will generate numerous strategies. At MGC, Ferris Bueller, Neodolphino, and I compared notes about our shell shooting tactics. Even as we competed against each other (or rather they did, and I also enjoyed playing), our enjoyment of the game pulled us together to talk about it.
The art and music are bright and playful, conveying a sweet vibe that could be shared with every member of the family. Completing a stage, with its fun celebration music and cute fireworks is an endorphin rush luring you to play just one more level…again…and again.
I picked up the red phone to open a line of communication with Joe Sherman before his crabbies could attack me. Read on to learn how the story unfolded…
-Before we dive into Crabbie Attack!, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrew developer? What is your origin story and the story behind Turtle Time Media?
It is your typical story. I was in a high school science lab when I was bitten by a radioactive turtle. Hmmm… That doesn’t sound quite right. Please allow me to try that again…
I am a long-time Nintendo fan, and a few years ago, I decided to rebuild my NES collection. Along the way, I learned of the homebrew scene where new games for the NES were still being created. I never thought I’d be capable of that, but then I discovered the crowd funding campaign for NESmaker. I bought into it and have been a user of the program since its launch.
For a while, I wasn’t sure if anything I’d create would be worthy to take to the next level, but then the first Byte-Off competition arrived. I submitted my first demo, “Turtle Rescue” into the mix of sixty other entrants, and waited to hear how it was received. To my genuine surprise, Nintendo legend Howard Phillips announced my game as his pick for Best Game! That type of endorsement and vindication for my efforts really motivated me to keep going, and to make sure that eventually, my final “Turtle Rescue” game lives up to its potential.
-How would you describe your design aesthetic, what to you are the hallmarks of a game made by you?
First and foremost, I want my games to be open to kids of all ages. I want younger gamers to see that games created for older consoles can be just as fun as those on modern systems. I always loved the Mario and Zelda properties, so I have tried to build a series of turtle-themed games that mirrors the charm of those classic franchises.
-Crabbie Attack! will be your 3rd release. Has your approach to game development or your preferences changed since you first began programming?
My skills have definitely grown since I started. I’m becoming more confident in branching away from the default scripts delivered with NESmaker and doing my own thing. I’ve tried to make sure all of my projects are different from one another so that I do not get stuck in a comfort zone and broaden my horizons. That’s been very beneficial because I’ve been able to take lessons learned from one game and apply them to others to make them even better.
-At the heart of your games is an ongoing feud between crabs and turtles. Is this based in reality, or do you just really hate crabs?
Not really. When I decided to base my games around turtles and a beach environment, I needed to think of what type of natural foes a turtle would encounter. Crabs, raccoons and seagulls became the first of the rogue’s gallery. I do plan on having a “good” crabbie character appear in a future game.
Raccoons, eh? Hmm, do I smell a crossover?
-What tools do you use to code, compose, and create?
As stated, I use NESmaker for all of my projects. Without it, I doubt I would have been able to create a NES game. It is a wonderful entry point into the world of NES development for someone like me who does have a technical and artistic background, but would fail at understanding all of the complexities of creating a functional program for the NES. For art, I am very basic and use NESmakers’ pixel editor, and maybe MS Paint.
-Crabbie Attack! has a strong Space Invaders influence. Is that a game you particularly enjoy? Which other arcade classics do you like? What to you are the critical elements of a good arcade game?
“Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man” for the Atari 2600 were some of my first video games, so they do hold significant meaning to me. Classic arcade-style games have the luxury of getting away with being simple, but they do still have to keep the player engaged. Keep the gameplay fair and slowly increase the difficulty to keep the player from getting bored. The player should be driven by a goal, even if it is as simple as obtaining a new high score.
-I always ask my interviewees whether there is a reflection of themselves in the game’s protagonist. Do you identify with the turtle protagonist? Is there a particular turtle among your collection that you see as the hero in these games?
Before I was developing games, I rescued a plushie turtle from a garage sale and named him Toby. I gave him a quiet personality and said that he enjoyed retro games, so he is absolutely a reflection of me. When I tested out NESmaker for the first time, Toby was the easy choice to place at the center of attention of my pilot game. His experience gained from playing games has given him the ability to rise to any challenge. Walton is a fun “player two” because he loves the spotlight and believes that he is the star of anything that involves him. Walton doesn’t see himself as the secondary hero, he sees himself as the best!
-What aspects of Crabbie Attack! are you most proud of?
From a technical perspective, I’m proud of getting two-player co-op mode to behave as well as it does. That took a lot of time to balance out all of the possible objects that could appear at any given time and cause the NES to slow down. It still can happen, but it is very rare and I consider that an achievement.
I was also very satisfied to see how accessible this game is. I had designed it to be, and hoped it would be, but to actually see players of all types quickly learn and adapt to the game’s mechanics was very gratifying.
-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Crabbie Attack!? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
The default physics bundled with NESmaker were providing some challenges, because I was making a type of game that was not foreseen by its author. During the game, items are meant to fall from the sky, but I’d find that the falling items would get stuck in walls, or pass through the floor, or other unforeseen situations. I spent a lot of time refining the speed and creating a “bounce-back” reaction should items hit a solid from the side. All things that the end user would never know was there, unless they played the earlier version of the game and saw how glitchy it was!
It was worth it in the end. I think that game developers should never brush off game quality just to rush a game to completion. Sometimes that may add weeks, months, or even years to the delivery date, but NES games don’t have online patching. A little extra polish does go a long way.
-How did you like watching people play and compete with each other over Crabbie Attack! at MGC and other conventions?
It is extremely satisfying watching players latch on to my games. I will always remember the young girl who had to stop playing “Crabbie Attack” in Syracuse to shout back to her friend “you should play this game, it’s really good!” That type of appraisal goes a long way. It was also stunning to see skilled players outperform my expectations, and in one case, even destroy my own personal best score!
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise? Any dream projects? Collaborations?
There is no shortage of future projects brewing here. I still aspire to release the full-fledged “Turtle Rescue” adventure game to replace the demo I created in 2019. I’ve made significant progress with it and released a teaser video last year, but there is still more work needed. “Turtle Party” was a game I started in 2020 that is nearly complete, but I’ve been holding back on releasing because I feel there’s still room for more in that game. “Ninja Teenz” was a fun nod to Power Rangers, and I remain undecided if I want to take that game beyond the demo.
Screenshot from Ninja Teenz
-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
I’ve really enjoyed watching the evolution of “Super Sunny World.” That’s definitely the type of game I enjoy playing.
-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’m very happy that I’ve been able to contribute new games to the ongoing NES library. While I still see myself as new to this world, I am proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far, and strive to make each of my publications seen as worthy to players.
Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of the series that shares the adventures behind the latest newest homebrews making their way to you. What are your thoughts on Crabbie Attack! and developer? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?
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