Since we love to talk about new games for retro platforms, there is nothing more fair than inviting one of the most important Brazilians in this scene. We invited Tulio Gonçalves, one of the creators of Pier Solar to chat with us.
DC Ultimate: Tulio First of all, it is an honor to have this interview with you, we love programming for retro platforms, and I believe you were one of the pioneers who showed that this kind of dream is possible.
Can we start by talking a little about your early career? When did you decide you wanted to create games and how did you end up at WM? What was your role on the team?
Tulio: Let’s go back to 1995 … that year I was entering the data processing school, and at the same time it was the time when I started to be exposed to computers and programming languages. A friend had a PC 486 DX2, 66MHz, with 3D Studio R4, I used to go to his house a lot, we had the same passion: video games, and we worked a lot on the computer, discovering the things we could do with it. At that time I had the Mega Drive and the Sega CD, and I remember, one afternoon returning home, I told this friend that I would learn to program to make a Sega CD game. And I speculated how interesting it would be when 3D graphics like those in 3D Studio would be used for games. I didn’t know that the PlayStation / Saturn era was on the way and it would become the norm for games.
Well, time passed, I learned how to program and started working as a developer of corporate applications, and it was only in 2004, due to my intense interaction with the emulation community on the Eidolon’s Inn website that I had the opportunity to get involved with game development. Basically one day they posted an idea to make a game with forum members as characters. This idea was proposed but it didn’t get very far … and the forum was closed for a few months due to problems with spam-bots. Then they migrated the entire site to Wiki and one of the site leaders wanted some activity to mobilize members. That’s when I posted the message calling members to compose the team that would make the forum game (Tavern RPG) and that later would become Pier Solar.
In the beginning we united the members of the forum, and little by little the development took shape and some people started to stand out. The first was Metalix who would be a programmer, and Fonzie came with him. It turned out that Metalix left and Fonzie assumed the role of programmer. My responsibility at the time was to write the story, but I quickly accumulated more tasks. I started to program the game tools, such as map editor, enemy editor, magic editor, animation editor, etc. Meanwhile Fonzie programmed the Mega Drive engine (which we called Dreamcatcher). Many people came and many people left. In the end we were left with a core team of 8 people who seriously dedicated themselves to this game. I ended up taking on the role of coordinator of all people and so I took over the leadership of the project. I also ended up programming the game’s script (which is a programming language that we created for Dreamcatcher), composing music, writing dialogues, even some pixel art changes. I think in the end, I did a little bit of everything.
DC Ultimate: The Pier Solar game was an incredible success, perhaps the biggest Indiegame for retro consoles ever made. Could you tell us a little about the beginning of this project? We would like to know about the difficulties, inspirations, fears and especially, the day to day with the team. How was that period?
Tulio: Well, getting started was not easy. We try in every way to contact SEGA. We wrote emails, letters, and even called Sega in Japan. We got an answer at a very high cost: “SEGA does not support Mega Drive, so we don’t grant licenses anymore. Thanks for contacting the official channels, good luck in your project “. We understood this as a message that said “we are not going to support you but we are not going to hinder you. Do whatever you want as long as you don’t use our brand.” In a way this was positive, but on the other hand, without the support of SEGA, working with hardware like the Sega CD was very difficult. Many emulators work wonderfully, but they aren’t precisely enough to have the speed necessary to run on the PCs of the time. And to test emulator game development is to shoot yourself in the foot, because you’ll be dependent on the emulator’s flaws for some things to work. That’s exactly what we went through … when we went to test the game on the Sega CD we took a crazy message like “Master and Slave CPU out of sync”, and it was getting really complicated to find problems without a development kit, so we decided to migrate to cartridge because it was a much more explored and known area, and with less variables to give problems. But in one way or another, we still achieved the technological feat of being able to use the Sega CD from the cartridge so we got the best of both worlds: The loading speed of the cartridges and the sound quality of the Sega CD.
In this project, as I said earlier, a lot of people came in, a lot of people left, I think the hardest part was really finding people committed to dedicating their free time, weekends, holidays to the project. Once we established that, the other major obstacle was our own ambition to create a game of commercial proportions. We had this well-defined objective “to make the best game of all time”, so all difficulties became a motivation to make the game better at every step, overcoming all challenges. When we arrived at the final stretch of manufacturing and launching it was a great relief and a lot of celebration, it is extremely gratifying to see a project that we are dedicated to taking shape and reaching all corners of the world.
DC Ultimate: What difficulties did you encounter when managing a project like this that involved talents from different countries? Today we have several teams formed by people of different nationalities, working on the same games. Do you see this with good eyes? What would you recommend to anyone starting out? Is this exchange interesting for beginners?
Tulio: I think I can tell you that we had a pioneering spirit in what we did, with the team spread across several countries. I say without hesitation that it is possible for a project to be developed along these lines, with the team totally remote and without a centralized location, but this requires a certain professional profile to be successful, after all it is very easy to be distracted and push things to then when there is no environment where someone oversees their activities.
In terms of culture, luckily it was very easy to align, we had no problems with cultural shocks, everything was always very focused on its activities, and with good knowledge of English, which is normally the unifying language when there are several native languages.
As for recommending, I think it varies from person to person. I would say that there is great value in working in a traditional environment before venturing into a project that is distributed remotely. Working in a traditional environment helps a lot in developing discipline that is extremely important for projects distributed remotely. But again, it varies from person to person. Nowadays I prefer a team all together in one place, but I still continue to work with my remote people.
DC Ultimate: Still on Pier Solar, the game’s reception was great when it came out on the Mega Drive. Did you already think about taking it to newer platforms or was that a decision that came after the success of the 16-bit version?
Tulio: I always wanted. At first I wanted to bring Pier Solar to the Xbox 360 because they had the XNA framework, which gave developers like us access to a contemporary console. In addition, there was pressure from the public who wanted to play but had no way to play the game on a Mega Drive. Of course, the challenges are great, and the project ended up staying for the time when Kickstarter happened.
DC Ultimate: About your decision to leave WM, what motivated you to take this step?
Tulio: Making a game for the modern platform was a very rewarding thing, seeing our brand appear on popular websites, appearing in videos at E3, and being invited to exhibitions and conferences by Nintendo. In addition, the difference in public reach and revenue generation is astronomically greater. My tendency is for all future WM games to come out on modern platforms and the revenue to support the creation of cartridge games. But as a partner in the company, Fonzie did not agree with this premise.
Furthermore, for reasons that only he understands, Fonzie completely lost his confidence in me, to the point of becoming paranoid and thinking that everything I did was in order to harm him. At that point there was no longer any way to maintain a relationship, and I decided for my own sake that it would be better to stop working with him. So, I stayed until I confirmed the manufacture of the Dreamcast version of Pier Solar HD, and announced my departure. I thought it was better to leave than to fight for him to leave for the benefit of the company, after all the company still had Project Y, and Project N in progress, from which he completely alienated me. I had no source code, no art, nothing, everything was in his hands. If I asked him to leave, surely he would disappear with all the progress of the game, so, not being the fault of the people who bought our games, I decided to leave because then I believe that these projects would be completed, and I could go back to sleep in peace.
Tulio showing the Dreamcast Solar Pier.
DC Ultimate: How was 2Dream born?
Tulio: Making games is something that brings me a lot of satisfaction, and for which I have a lot of passion, so if I did WaterMelon once, I have confidence that I can do 2Dream from scratch. Most of the people who collaborated with WM projects supported me in the decision and offered full and complete support to help with everything I needed, and to dedicate myself to 2Dream when the right time came. Thanks to the good relationship that I formed with the platforms (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.) 2Dream has already started licensed from day one, to make games for all modern consoles. The big difference is that for 2Dream after leaving WM, I spent a year making the business plan and preparing the company to receive external capital (Venture capital or Angel investor). In the process, we ended up finishing Ghost Blade HD and releasing the game, which made the company sustainable.
DC Ultimate: We saw that 2Dream is involved in the game Saber Rider (funded by KIckstarter). What was your participation in this project?
Tulio: One of the things we did when forming 2Dream was to spend 8 months developing our engine (Dreamer) which is the only commercial engine that supports modern consoles, PC and Dreamcast. This Dreamcast appeal made Cris Strauss from the Saber Rider team contact us to see if they could license our engine, as their project was for Nintendo 3DS and Dreamcast. So we formed a partnership and provided the engine to the game development team. It turns out that last year they decided to hire us to develop the game itself, so our role increased. This transition caused some delays in the project and we are working hard within the resources available to get the game ready as quickly as possible.
DC Ultimate: Are you involved in other projects? Would you like to talk a little about them?
Tulio: Firstly there is the Ghost Blade HD that was released for PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and PC, we are now considering the version for PS Vita. We have formed a partnership with eastasiasoft and Limited Run Games to manufacture physical copies of the game in Asia, Europe and America, and in the future all of our games will have access to physical copies through these companies. In addition, 2Dream has its own games, although our resources have become more dedicated to serving the published games, we are working on them steadily. One of them is the Xenocider that was presented recently and we are doing crowdfunding on the game’s website, another is the Ameba which is a “visual novel” style game in which we are planning to launch in addition to Dreamcast and contemporary consoles, a version of Saturn. 😉 Maybe the people of a certain studio “Titan” decide to join forces? 😉
DC Ultimate: About working in a stabilized studio like 2Dream, what does a professional need to have to eventually apply for a position? I mean, what are the biggest needs you see on the market today? What are the most difficult professionals to find?
Tulio: Artists, always artists. It is true that programmers for systems like Dreamcast, Saturn, etc. are extremely rare, but programmers can be trained, but art depends a lot on talent. Especially pixel art. I see a lot of good things, have no doubts, but finding that person that fits you perfectly is a monstrous task. That was something I certainly learned from Fonzie … to differentiate the good, the great, the excellent. And we are always in search of the excellent, be it for graphic art, music, programming, content, story … we always want to offer the best to our audience.
DC Ultimate: Tulio, let’s use our last question to thank you for the interview, attention and time you’ve given us. Besides, of course, register here that we have been fans of your work for some time, congratulations on your success.
And taking advantage of the opportunity, how about we leave a message for those who are starting now? What advice would you like to leave for the people who are reading us?
Tulio: Pursue your dreams and have perseverance and discipline. Obstacles will always appear, but they are, more than anything, tests of your determination, it is what separates competitors from winners. If you believe in what you do, believe in your potential and the people who support you, there is nothing that will stop you. Keep having discipline, believing, searching, never give up, you will get there.
My most important thanks for the opportunity of this interview, needing something you can always call.
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