Retrogamer by day, amateur game developer by night - Johnny L. de Alba, known in gaming circles as Arkonviox, has been a gamer all his life. His first console was the Atari 2600, which he still owns and manages to play from time to time. If he isn't gaming, he's making games as he remembers them best; Side scrolling and in the 8-bit style.
Johnny writes articles for a variety of websites on varied topics such as pirated and homebrew games for obsolete consoles, game development, and Ecco the Dolphin. For his latest articles visit his Retrogaming and Ecco the Dolphin website Arkonviox.com.
The final boss is Satan, the hero is the legendary knight Arthur, the game is like Contra but placed in medieval times. Forget what Contra was about, and think about what it is - a run and gun, adrenaline pumping, shooter. Instead of firing a gun, the player controls Arthur who can throw a variety of different weapons; An ax, a dagger, a torch, or a shield. What about enemies? They are Satan's minions; Ghosts, goblins, skeletons, and much more. This sounds like the premise of a Halloween themed party, but it's a very well known game, called Ghosts 'N Goblins.
Ghosts 'N Goblins was originally an arcade game, that spawned a sequel called Ghouls 'N Ghosts. There was a Ghosts 'N Goblins for the NES. The SNES had it's own variation called Super Ghouls and Ghosts - Yeah I know Ghosts 'N Goblins, and Ghouls 'N Ghosts are two different games but you'll see where I'm going with this. It is a series of games that involve a knight who can comfortably battle in his underwear, and a princess named Prin Prin who was kidnapped by Satan.
It is a game known for it's intense difficulty. The player must navigate through randomly spawning enemies, with attack patterns that would put many later games to shame. What makes the attack patterns so difficult? Predictability, you never know where an enemy might position itself. Not all of the enemies are unpredictable. Zombies might pop up from the ground, but at least they aren't darting across the screen.
The game is known for it's dirty tricks against the player. It's a game that wants the player to fail. Near the end of the game is a shield that the player must retrieve. If the player ignores the shield, he or she will have to go back to the beginning of the previous level. The shield is required to fight Lucifer, and later Satan. It's a weapon with a short range, that can destroy enemies, and enemy projectiles.
If the player manages to defeat both Lucifer, and Satan, the game will repeat itself. The player will be informed that their entire journey was just a trick devised by Satan. In order to save the princess, the player will have to complete the game twice.
A Modern Problem....
It's been 27 years since Ghosts 'N Goblins was released for the original NES. It is a game that redefined the home console. Players could now experience what they were accustomed to from an arcade.
Each variation of Ghosts 'N Goblins introduces something new that builds upon the previous game. If someone wanted to go back and play the original Ghost and Goblins, it would require the original console, or an emulator. There are ports to some of the games in the series, but doesn't Ghost and Goblins deserve better?
A Modern Solution...
Re-imagining a NES game for modern technology is not a new concept. WayForward Technologies recently tackled the development of a new Duck Tales, based on the original NES version. Duck Tales Remastered was a bold move by a major company like Capcom. It sent a message to the industry that Capcom was not afraid to take risks with some of it's older games. It also meant Capcom had found innovative ways to profit from 2D platformers originally developed for obsolete consoles. Finally an important question was answered: Could a remake of an NES game work in today's competitive environment?
WayForward Technologies is an established company that has been around since 1990. Duck Tales Remastered was an interesting project by a company who has done other games like it before. Their experience allows them the privilege to pick and choose what projects they could tackle. To give a game like Ghost 'N Goblins the Duck Tales treatment could be a risk WayForward Technologies isn't willing to take.
Ghost 'N Goblins is a difficult, and somewhat forgotten game whose spotlight's been taken by the likes of Super Mario, or Donkey Kong. It has brand recognition, and a certain appeal to it that can make it profitable. This is why it's smart for a newly established, independent game company to tackle such a project.
Large companies like Capcom expect polished demos. If anyone is going to remake any of their older games it better look good. A problem an independent game developer might face is being able to put financial resources behind a demo. A demo of Ghost and Goblins would have to “Wow” Capcom before they are willing to license the game. A group of independent developers without industry experience will not be able to acquire such a privilege (although stranger things have happened).
Enter Phantasm Studios.
A group of industry veterans decided to create a company called Phantasm Studios. Their plan is to tackle what I've termed the “Retro Active Revolution”. “Retro Active” is a word I chose to define taking an old game, or an old gaming concept, and remastering it using modern technology. Phantasm Studios plans to establish licensing deals like the one WayForward Technologies had for Duck Tales Remastered. The difference between the two companies is Phantasm Studios will focus exclusively on retro-active titles.
Imagine Capcom's entire NES collection re-imagined for new technology, it's something both parents and children can enjoy together. Most gamers from the 8-bit, and 16-bit generation are adults now with kids of their own. Modern consoles consist of a library that targets mature audiences. Nintendo is one of the few companies targeting younger audiences. The NES has more than a dozen well known titles that are child friendly. This is why Phantasm Studio's vision to re-imagine old games could work.
As a newly established company, Phantasm Studios will need a game, and funding. So far they managed to contact several companies about different ideas. One of the companies who have responded was Capcom, who said they were willing to review Phantasm Studios submission. Ghost'N Goblins was a natural choice for a team who both admired the game and grew up playing it. It's Halloween like theme fit the family friendly vision the company had established for itself. The only challenge they would face is gathering funds.
On To KickStarter!
KickStarter is a great place for a company, or an individual to go, to realize a vision. It is a crowd sourcing website where people can create project pages and ask others for support. The idea is a person donates money to a project for a certain amount. The projects creator fulfills an obligation to complete the project as promised, including delivering perks to the backer. How much a backer contributes determines what perk they'll receive. Perks can range from autographs, posters, mugs, or early release copies of whatever the medium is.
Phantasm Studios needed funding, and KickSatrter was the place to do it. They aren't the first company to use crowd-funding to help realize a goal. Game companies use KickStarter all the time, sometimes regularly. A game company might not want to pursue an idea because it's too risky, or a study might indicate there isn't a market for it. The thing about marketing is, there is always a market for something, it's tapping into it that's difficult. KickStarter is great when a company wants to pursue something they might otherwise be unable to. The thing Phantasm Studios chose to pursue was Ghost 'N Goblins, except their version of it would be slightly different.
Ghosts'N Goblins Demon World
“All the bodies throughout history have been buried in the world’s tallest peak, Graveyard Mountain. All but one man has fallen into darkness as the dead have risen. Become King Arthur and descend 4,000 miles into the core of Demon World, destroy Lucifer, and save the princess.”
The Ghost'N Goblins envisioned by Phantasm Studios stays true to it's roots, while slightly altering the story. King Arthur will have to face new bosses, such as wolfman, the grim reaper, the goblin king, and water monster. Other bosses include the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the undead knights of the round table. Arthur will have to descend into a world made up of several layers. Each layer represents a level with it's own unique sets of challenges. One of the levels will require swimming. The final layer represents hell, where Lucifer awaits - but it doesn't end there.
While this version of Ghost' N Goblins will maintain it's intense level of difficulty, it was designed for the whole family to enjoy. If a person playing this game loses a life, they pass the controller to the next person. Beating the game can be a team effort. This idea goes back to a time where most games were designed for a single player – it's still like this today in many aspects.
The player begins the game as Arthur, fully garbed as a knight. If he takes any damage he'll be forced to fight in his briefs. Any more damage after that resets the player to the beginning of the level. In essence the player will have to be hit two times before loosing a turn.
Each level will have a time limit, there will be 8 levels in all. The weapons will be the same ones players know and love from the original Ghost'N Globlins. There will be a dagger, an ax, and the ungodly lance. A bronze armor will add magic abilities to a weapon, a golden armor will greatly enhance the magical abilities. The player will be able to associate magic attacks with specific weapons.
When it comes to visuals, Ghost' N Goblins Demon World will feature 3D graphics, in a 2D perspective. It will be a little like Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins. The music will be simplistic, but expect to hear some familiar tunes. The music will be performed using medieval instruments, but not all of it. The team at Phantasm Studios plans to incorporate 8-bit chip tunes music for certain situations. The overall focus is to try and keep it as close to the arcade as possible.
The Clock Is Ticking...
Creating a KickStarter project has to be done months in advance. It has to be polished, and well planned. Phantasm Studios has a unique position as a newly established company. It has KickStarter as a tool for acquiring funds, but that's not all. The company behind the Ouya game console launched a “Free the Games Fund” to attract independent developers. For any company who manages to raise money on KickStarter, Ouya will double it.
Phantasm Studios launched their KickStarter project early, but competition from other companies is about to heat up. With the Free the Games Fund ending August 2014, most companies are likely to launch their KickStarters early next year. The advantage of launching a KickStarter early next year means companies can write off taxes received from a successful campaign. However, Ouya's ability to continue funding the contest could end before that.
Where's The Prototype?
With the clock ticking, Phantasm Studios could not get a polished prototype out in time for KickStarter. To release a game in an early unpolished stage would mean the risk of confusing the public. With Ouya's funds drying up fast, there is no better time than now to launch a KickStarter project. Phantasm Studios is not the first company to go to KickStarter without a prototype. Most of the time companies, and individuals alike go to KickStarter with just a concept. DoubleFine Adventure was just a concept when it's KickStarter launched in early 2012. The game received well over 3 million dollars, more than quadrupling it's target of $400,000. Phantasm Studios is only asking for $50,000 for Ghost and Goblins – Demon World.
The Grand Finale!
Time's almost up for the Ghost and Goblin's KickStarter. You might be reading it days before the conclusion, or months after it's ended. For those who did make a pledge, getting the actual game is not the only perk of becoming involved. If the campaign was successful and you were a backer, you may have received a variety of items as a thank you.There's a collectable deck of trading cards, a CD featuring the soundtrack from the game. If you were like myself, you may have went for the Skeleton Package that features a framed shadow box, featuring a dummy NES cartridge of Ghost and Goblins – Demon World, with a box, and booklet.
What makes Phantasm Studios story interesting is that it is a new company. It is one of many companies that has used KickStarter to establish itself. If they succeed, we may see more remakes from them. If they fail, lets just hope they use their past mistakes as a tool.
An echo of the past, as Ed Annunziata counts down the final few minutes of his Kick Starter campaign, The Big Blue. Did anyone in the gaming community know what this was all about? Did The Big Blue fail because of a lack of real content? Was it a video game, trading cards, or a virtual reality experience? Or all of the above? To answer these questions we need to dig deeper into why Ed Annunziata would bother launching a Kick Starter project in the first place.
Most of Ed Annunziata's success lies in a forgotten gem of the past called Ecco the Dolphin. Released initially for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Ecco the Dolphin centers around a dolphin protagonist who has to save his family from the alien Vortex. In a world where humans are long gone, cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) live in an undisturbed world of sunken ships, ancient city runes, and the many dangers that accompany underwater life. Crystal glyphs scatter the sea, making up puzzles that must be solved in order to progress through each level. At one point our hero Ecco, must access a time machine to travel back to prehistoric times, to face greater dangers than what is dealt with in the present. Ecco the Dolphin is about exploration, as he navigates past under water volcanoes, or through the frozen waters of the north. It's a great game based off an original idea, unfortunately for Ed Annunziata, he doesn't own the rights.
Who is Ed Annunziata anyways? He is a game developer who created the story behind Ecco the Dolphin. Had Ecco the Dolphin not been a hugely successful title, it wouldn't have spawned a sequel; Ecco 2: The Tides of Time. In fact, another Ecco the Dolphin was released for the ailed Sega Dreamcast, and later ported to the PlayStation 2. Titled Ecco, Defender of the Future, it was unlike it's 16-bit predecessor as the player could now explore a new world in 3 dimensions. Ecco, Defender of the Future is the brainchild of author David Brin – known for the Uplift series. Ed Annunziata would play no role with Ecco, Defender of the Future.
If Ed Annunziata created Ecco the Dolphin, than why doesn't he own the rights? Who owns Ecco the Dolphin? The answer is the very same company who brought to you Sonic the Hedgehog - Sega. If Sega has no plans to release a new Ecco the Dolphin, why would they need to continue holding on to the rights? Why can't they just license the game out to a 3rd party who is willing to risk developing a new game. Whatever the reason Sega has, Ed would desperately try and fail at winning over the executives in charge. Ed would move on to KickStarter, taking an old idea and giving it new life. What would Ed call his crazy idea? The Big Blue.
The Big Blue borrows many ideas from Ecco the Dolphin, including being based in a world where humans are mostly extinct. The world of the Big Blue hints at possibly being the same world Ecco the Dolphin is from, as cetaceans inhibit many of the tactics Ecco had used to navigate his own world. For example there are a group of cetaceans called the Archeologists, who use sonar to uncover ancient ruins. Their greatest tool is a song used to shatter stone that allows them to explore places they would otherwise be unable to cross. Song plays an important role for how cetaceans communicate. Through song, dolphins and whales can not only communicate, they can transmit images of a place or object – like a memory transfer. Special songs used to transfer memories are reminiscent of the Sega CD Ecco the Dolphin movie - where others communicate with Ecco through their memories. The role of memory transferring songs grows significant as the player progresses through the world of The Big Blue.
Who is the protagonist?
According to the Big Blue's Project website, the protagonist is You, but “You” could mean a lot of different things. The Big Blue is about exploration, which upon a first impression makes it nothing more than a glorified ocean simulator. The Big Blue is a game where You, the player, chooses creatures with whom you'll use to populate your own sea. The player will be able to control any creature out of his or her sea, including controlling more than one creature at any given time. Collecting creatures, and breeding them determines how fast the player progresses. This means certain creatures will have certain functions that will be vital to solving puzzles found throughout the game. Solving puzzles will not only allow the player to progress through parts of the game world but also serve with revealing more about the story behind this world.
Who is the antagonist.
Humans at one time existed in the world of the Big Blue. In the wake of their extinction remains the waste they left behind in the form of plastic. Nature, unable to breakdown this matter calls upon small microbes called Gyre-forms, which fuse with the plastic to become something new. These Gyre-forms are a threat to the planet, similar to the producers of the matter they consume. A sect known as the hunters have developed special songs used to combat the Gyre-forms, who ultimately threaten life on the entire planet. Gyre-forms are only the tip of the ice berg compared to a greater threat that lingers from above.
Far in the heavens, an asteroid carves a path through space set to collide with Earth. Through many generations, the Earth has developed a mind of it's own, in the form of millions of dolphins who make up the super pod. The super pod operates as a single mind, with each member operating as a node. Each node is a single dolphin who relays complex pieces of information to one another. The super pod are the ones responsible for discovering the coming asteroid, which threatens to destroy Earth. Whether or not the super pod can find a solution to the impending threat remains to be seen. Whatever the solution may be, it will be up to the protagonist to execute it. Will Earth be destroyed or will it be saved? It's a thrilling twist that's too delicate to spoil here.
Is the Big Blue too much of a tangent for most gamers, who have received the classic Ecco the Dolphin with mixed results? Some praise Ecco the Dolphin for it's beautiful environments and intriguing story, while others have complained about it's controls, and difficulty. The Big Blue sounds like a great game but just the concept itself is too difficult for many gamers to grasp. With the project founders providing little visual to what the Big Blue is game play wise, it's hard to tell if this is an adventure game, a simulator, or a card game - all of which the project presents itself as.
What does trading cards, virtual reality and sea dragons have to do with the Big Blue? Trading cards form a way for players to exchange creatures created in the Big Blue world. Sea Dragons are one of the perks players can obtain if they are lucky enough to encounter them. Virtual Reality is an idea the Big Blue team is toying with, so players can experience the game world as if they were apart of it. All these perks sound great, but add a complex layer to what the core of the Big Blue really is – a video game. On top of that, the projects founders hope to create a massively online game connected through a subscription service. Unfortunately no one asked for trading cards, virtual reality, or sea dragons.
For an unrealistic goal of $665,000, the Big Blue team hopes to create a game that has never been done before. At the heart of most of the Big Blue's major backers are Ecco the Dolphin fans who are still awaiting a continuation of Ecco 2: The Tides of Time. The Big Blue carries a lot of elements of an Ecco the Dolphin game, but tries to be more than what it can deliver.
A prototype of the Big Blue exists that presents clues backers of the Kick Starter project can expect. Unfortunately the prototype lacks what the Kick Starter project promises, a beautiful, detail rich, three dimensional environment. The prototype doesn't live up to the detail exhibited in the ten year old Ecco, Defender of the Future – which presents a problem. If Ed Annunziata expects people to get on board his Big Blue project, he is going to have to set the bar a little higher than the ten year old Sega Dreamcast classic.
Unfortunately the Big Blue failed to meet it's Kick Starter goal, which means the project is dead, for now. Ed Annunziata has announced a new project dubbed “Little Blue” that hopes to deliver what the Big Blue promised, but with less of the meat. Just because The Big Blue failed, doesn't mean the Little Blue has to lower the bar, especially since The Big Blue graphically never raised it to begin with. The last thing gamers want is an over glorified ocean simulator, with graphics that hardly exceed what the original PlayStation could produce.
1. Farokhmanesh, Megan. "Fighting the tide: the struggle to revive Ecco the Dolphin." Polygon, Vox Media, Inc. 30, Jan 2013. Web 15, Aug 2013.
2. Annunziata, Ed. "The Big Blue, an underwater adventure game." KickStarter, KickStarter, Inc. 25, Mar 2013. Web 15, Aug 2013.