Gaming Frequencies: Arkagis Revolution, a brand new cartridge for the Sega Genesis | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

Gaming Frequencies: Arkagis Revolution

Sep 03, 2020 By Austin Trunick
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Indie music fans are no strangers to “outdated” media formats. We’re just a few days removed from Record Store Day, the celebration of independent music stores that will send fans annually flocking to their closest shop in search of rare vinyl and the occasional cassette tape. If you’re coming into this column from outside the retro-gaming community, however, you might be surprised to find that many long-presumed-dead video game consoles are still thriving. And no, we’re not talking about collectors bidding up games on eBay or lapsed fans digging shoeboxes full of their childhood cartridges out from under their beds: there’s a vibrant community of designers cooking up brand new games for systems that haven’t been sold in stores for multiple decades.

Based in Pittsburgh, Mega Cat Studios is a premier example of a game studio that kicks it old school. Mega Cat specialize in releases for the Sega Genesis, original Nintendo Entertainment System, and Super Nintendo, while also releasing retro-flavored titles for modern platforms such as the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. With vintage console collectors in mind, their games not only come in cartridges ready to be played in your 30+ year-old systems, but complete with packaging and artwork that exactly match what you might have pulled off the rack at a Toys R Us or Hills Department Store in the early ‘90s.

Modern designers for classic consoles can tap into roughly 30 years of ideas and developmental knowledge that’s come since the devices’ heydays. Mega Cat’s Arkagis Revolution is a prime example of this: bringing fresh ideas to vintage hardware.

From first glance, Arkagis Revolution looks like it might be your standard, top-down shoot-em-up, but on closer look it’s so much more. The most revolutionary part of this Revolution will be spotted after watching a few seconds of gameplay: the fully-rotational field of play. Baddies will attack your spaceship from every direction, while the player can turn the background around their ship – it’s something we’ve seen on the SNES via Mode 7, but on the Genesis this sort of graphical capability is almost unheard of. The rotation and movement is so responsive and smooth that I would have figured it for an emulation trick were it not playing in my own dusty Genesis.

The other hard-to-believe element is the game’s robust speech library. The plot – involving a rebellion against greedy, foreign invaders on a resource-rich planet – is propelled along by spoken dialogue, and lots of it. It’s high quality, too – not the laughable “All your base” variety of dialogue at all – and you have to wonder how it was all squeezed onto the cart.

Arkagis Revolution is not a long or overly difficult game, and the variable difficulty levels and helpful password system should allow gamers of any skill to see the ending. Still, there’s a ton here to enjoy, with its interesting blend of exploration, shoot-em-up action, and intense boss fights. There’s also a speed run mode that gives you the opportunity to compete against yourself and best your past play through times, adding to replayability. The soundtrack appropriately complements the pacing, upbeat during easier passages but more frantic during the stressful boss matches.

Mega Cat Studios’ own James Deighan answered a few of our questions about what it takes to develop a cartridge game in a modern era.

Under the Radar: Mega Cat Studios is clearly comprised of some big retro gaming fans. Can you share one of your own, early gaming memories?

James Deighan: I have so many memories like this, but my absolute favorite is being stuck at home during a blizzard for a week immediately following my first major gaming investment: spending all of my savings at the time on Toe Jam and Earl: Panic on Funkatron, and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.

Of the 16-bit consoles you could be making new games for, what is it that attracted you to the Sega Genesis specifically? From a designer’s perspective, what are some advantages to the system?

We have almost-daily battles on our slack channel about this, generally accompanied by a team of emoji... but I grew up in a Genesis household. Those modern, rounded black edges and blast processing propaganda fueled my childhood. I have always found the Sega community to be the most friendly and engaging for game development, and the culture of the community there has led to incredible thought-sharing, tool-sharing, and open communication where everyone contributes to the greater Sega good. I know that’s not a technical advantage, but it’s a major engagement advantage. The SGDK tools are amazing, and allow you to get fairly far with prototyping as well, before breaking out significant amounts of ASM.

Plenty of modern games have adopted chiptune-style soundtracks, but the music here had to be played on actual, retro hardware. Are there challenges in using modern software/equipment to compose music for old consoles?

Everything that plays on authentic hardware has to work within the hardware limitations. For music composition, I personally love the Sega Genesis’ sound. Deflemask is my personal favorite, and it’s an incredibly user-friendly tool to get started with. Just like the game development community, there isn’t a more supportive chiptune community out there for 16 Bit than Deflemask has.

The most impressive element of Arkagis Revolution’s sound is the robust voiceover work. There’s a ton of it in this game, and it’s actually well-done – not like Zero Wing, which is what I expected. Can you tell me about the voiceover process? Were there tricks to squeezing all of that onto a cartridge?

Without question, Sik worked his tail off for the sound design in Arkagis Revolution. From the ground up, it has some really innovative twists, including the mode-7 like animation set and controls, as well as the peripheral support.

From the vintage era of Sega Genesis, what games featured some of your favorite soundtracks?

My favorite Genesis soundtrack is Toe Jam and Earl: Panic on Funkatron…. but the really awkward answer here is Mega Man: Wily Wars for the Sega Megadrive. The soundtrack is fantastic, and feels great on the Sega.

(megacatstudios.com)



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