RPGFan Interview Series - WaterMelon Games

RPGFan Interview Series - WaterMelon Games
By: Stephen Meyerink, Derek Heemsbergen, and RPGFan Staff
July 15, 2012 – In an age of DLC, DRM, and digital distribution, it's highly unlikely anyone would have expected a game like Pier Solar and the Great Architects (formerly known by the Tavern RPG moniker). This is a game designed from the ground up for the Sega Genesis, available only as an honest-to-goodness cartridge in some honest-to-greatness packaging. We caught up with Tulio Adriano Cardoso Gonçalves of WaterMelon Games, and he was gracious enough to answer our numerous questions about this very unusal but utterly fascinating project!

Be sure not to miss our review of Pier Solar as well!
RPGFan: Can you tell us a little about how the Tavern RPG project got started, and how it transformed into Pier Solar?
Pier Solar and the Great Architects Tulio: Back in 2004 the community at Eidolon's in was still very active and by that time very knowledgeable people were frequent visitors to the forum, named "The Tavern". At that point there was a suggestion: "Why don't we get all these people together and make a game?" well, that's exactly what we did. Some volunteers popped up (I among them) and then development began. Fonzie was in charge of the game engine programming, I took up tools programming and plot writing. As the project progressed we were posting news and screen shots and that attracted a few artists to join us, bringing graphics and music to the game.

However, we got to a point to which we had to make a decision... continue with the initial plot that was focused on the "Tavern" members as characters of the story, or start a brand new plot and have a larger reach of audience. We choose to begin again, and then we got Phyu, Zable and Sean working on the story, while I could focus on the development of the tools. Then with the new story came the new name: Pier Solar, and from that point on the game evolved to be what it is now.
RPGFan: Why did you choose the Sega Genesis as your development platform?
Tulio: All of us at the team, and about 90% of the Eidolon's Inn community were mainly focused on Sega Genesis discussions. That was the most natural decision for us, a new game, for the platform that we love the most.
RPGFan: How did you come to the decision to release on an authentic Genesis cart, since that does seem to limit the game's audience more than, for example, a PC release, would.
Tulio: This project began as a hobby... none of us had envisioned that Watermelon would eventually become a real established company. At the beginning the game was going to be released on a Sega CD disc. The main reason was simple: To allow access to everyone. So we put an ISO file online, everyone can download and play on their emulators. The development went on a few years with that goal in mind, but we reached a problem: The game was freezing randomly when played on the real machine rather than the emulator. That was a big problem for us since we wanted 100% true compatibility. That was the moment that we choose moving on to cartridge instead of the CD. And since we still wanted to be able to play the game in the real machine, there was no other option than to release it as a cartridge.

Now regarding the audience, although it's true, we don't reach the broad market, we did reach for a very special crowd that is eager for games that go out of the ordinary. Genesis fans and 16 bit game fans in general were very pleased with our release, and it's a very loyal market to work with. And there are also the game collectors who welcomed our game with open arms.

The end result is, even though we didn't plan for it, we did get our name out there thanks for this unique approach of releasing a new Genesis game in the cartridge media, something that hadn't been done since the 90's. If we had released Pier Solar for PC or any other current platform, we'd have the risk of have gone totally unnoticed. So I think in the end, things played in our favor.
RPGFan: The physical release of Pier Solar is extremely impressive. What prompted you to make such an elaborate package, and how was it made?
The entire package is quit elaborateTulio: At Watermelon we have a unique collection of perfectionist people. We wouldn't settle for anything less that excellent in terms of quality, and presentation counts a lot. Back in the Genesis glorious days, all of us had a special pleasure opening a new game box, reading the manuals, checking out for goodies such as posters and stickers that could come in. And, for a vintage release, we wanted to bring back that special feeling. Fonzie is a professional graphic designer and he has a special talent for packaging. He put all his energy and effort to make somethid memorable. That's how he designed the classic package.

For the reprint package we wanted a box that was at the same standard of the good old Genesis boxes from the early 90s... thing is: There are no more factories that manufacture those boxes. People who sell Genesis games in new boxes are actually using some modified Famicon game boxes, that are way below the quality of the original ones. So we did our Watermelon thing again... we had original japanese boxes sent to a factory that analysed the plastic composition of the clamshell and the insert protection film, we had the exact same plastic made and we designed our own plastic molds to reproduce the original boxes with maximum fidelity. The only thing that was changed on purpose was the internal SEGA logo that we replaced with a WM logo. On a related note, same thing was done for the cartridge cases, including the special order for the cart screws, since game bit screws are now extremely rare.
RPGFan: Pier Solar bears a lot of resemblance to Lunar, with some Phantasy Star mixed in. Did you draw inspiration from those or any other games in particular? Was there a particular goal or influence in mind when the game was designed? Or was it more of a general sense of wanting to replicate the 16-bit experience?
Tulio: We did draw inspiration from those games, yes. Also we wanted to have a mix of old school game while trying to combine with more modern concepts. But in general, Pier Solar is a tribute to all of those games that we played during the 16 bit era. I read a lot of comments regarding the clichés in the game, but that was totally intended. We couldn't make a true tribute game if we didn't include several aspects that mark most RPGs from the 90's.
RPGFan: Do you have a favorite piece of music from the soundtrack?
Tulio: That's really tough since I'm a big fan of the soundtrack myself. I still listen to the songs from time to time, and I had a great time these last months while I was mixing the songs for the OST. I am particularly fond of the tracks: Ruins, Kruller Town, Cliboe Dimension, Point Zero Lake... oh my you see where this is going right? I love them all!
RPGFan: During development, were there any ideas that didn't make it into the final game?
Tulio: Surely, yes. The original Pier Solar plot (not the TRPG one) had many interesting elements that got lost during the dialog script development. It was sad to see them disappear and they left a bunch of gaps and unexplained bits of story in the game. Unfortunately there was no time to fix them since we were really late with the release.
RPGFan: Have you considered alternative distribution methods (XBLA, PSN, or a PC port via Steam, for example?)
Tulio: Yes, that has been in my plans since the game development phase, but we didn't have resources to dedicate to a port during the main game development. After release we went into a reorganization and then we started the plans for the Magical Game Factory, so we really didn't have the time for it yet. But it's still in my plans, for sure.
RPGFan: How do you feel about the indie gaming scene these days? Do you consider Pier Solar and Watermelon to be part of that scene?
The game itselfTulio: Well, we are independent after all, aren't we? ^^ But anyway, the video game market is really complex at the moment. Games flood the market every day and getting noticed is really tough if you're small and new in the market. Triple A titles are utopia for a small company, considering the massive budgets that these games have these days.

That's part of the problem but it's also part of the solution. Games are getting so increasingly complex and long that we find ourselves abandoning the game play during the middle of the game... or never having the time needed to spend playing in order to finish them. The drive for shorter games, those that we could finished in "one shot" has been giving smaller developers the chance to conquer their audiences. On top of that, thanks to mobile devices, casual games also are having a great chance in the market since it's convenient for people who only have short breaks to be able to complete a few stages in 5 minutes or so.

So I think there's room for independent developers, for sure, but the bar is raising more and more since there's a lot of people competing to be noticed.
RPGFan: How did the decision to utilize the Mega CD for the supplemental disc come about? Was this an idea you had in particular from the start, or something that you decided later?
Tulio: When we got to the point that we decided to drop the Mega CD version and move towards a cartridge release we were all pretty disappointed that we were going to lose the PCM soundtrack. Then thanks to his experience with MegaCart Fonzie realized that we could actually activate Mega CD if it was present and play music from it. That was a thrill to us because would allow us to keep best of both worlds, so finally we got TascoDLX joining the team and he was the responsible for the Mega CD driver programming.
RPGFan: How was each version of the soundtrack composed? What type of software was utilized? Can you tell us a little bit about which of the team composed the music, and what their musical background is?
The packaging for the upcoming soundtrack releaseTulio: The PCM soundtrack was composed first in the majority of tracks. They were done using FL Studio. It was a great strike of luck that both the main composer and I used FL Studio, so we could exchange songs and ideas and we'd often collaborate to get the final song. Zable composed all tunes but 3. I composed 2 tunes and half of one that Zable didn't know how to finish. Tiido composed one track, which was done in FM first, then I sequenced it in FL Studio for the PCM soundtrack.

The FM soundtrack was done using our custom tools. Tiido was responsible for the FM driver and also the FM composing tool called MD Tracker. However these tools were all for MS-DOS and somewhat tricky to use since it only reproduced sound using MIDI. At later stages of the game development I found time to write the Windows version of the tracker that actually emulated the MD sound hardware and played much more accurate sound, therefore requiring much less time to sequence them.

All three of us are music enthusiasts and we have no professional composer background. Zable has an amazing gift to compose at times, he would make 3 songs in the same day. Tiido is also a very talented composer, and despite his style being way different from Zable, his song - Being Alone - was a nice fit for the desolate deserts where it plays at. I never studied music in depht but did take a few classes, both of instrument and theory. I had a rock band back when I was still in Brazil and I used to play the drums.

During the final recording of the PCM songs we realized that a few tracks deserved real musicians playing on them, that's when we brought in two friends of mine: Wanderson Rodrigues - Guitar, and Gustavo do Carmo - Piano, to perform on two tracks. The boss theme has guitars by Wanderson and the closing credits have all pianos played by Gustavo. Gustavo also performed the pianos for the Boss theme in the OST Remix CD.
RPGFan: What was the overall goal or theme in mind when composing the music? Was there a particular style you were aiming for?
Tulio: Zable would probably have a better answer for this, but I can tell you that one thing we surely wanted was to provide an involving, catchy and pleasant sountrack, the type that you want to hear even when you're not playing the game. Also, same as the game itself, we wanted to pay tribute to the RPGs that paved the way with awesome sountracks.
RPGFan: Are you working on any future projects that you can talk about?
Tulio: Yes, first of all, the Project Y, our next game which will be a Cyberpunk Beat 'em up with RPG elements for Sega Genesis as a primary platform. This was the first Magical Game Factory project and we're very excited to be working in a theme that was chosen by the people who will actually play it. It's also a great responsibility, since we cannot let our crowd down, so we'll focus our resources to ensure a great game. Watermelon also have project SF which will be an Action-RPG, details coming later. We have a few other projects on very early stages and we'll talk more about them as soon as they mature a bit.

©2012 WaterMelon. All rights reserved.

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