Underground Adventure: An Interview with Dale Coop/Sylvain Loue
How was this Underground Adventure born?
Underground Adventure was created for the NESmaker Byte-Off Competition that was organized by The New 8bit Heroes, earlier this year.
I had no real game idea to submit. I decided to take some old drafts I had (some screens in caves for a platformer prototype, some unfinished scripts for a 2 player mode) and mix them to create a simple game (simpler than my original platformer project).
I love Arcades... When I was a teenager, during summer, I used to spend days (and coins) playing on the machines. With that in mind, I created "Underground Adventure", a console port of an imaginary classic 80's arcade game.
It's a classic arcade-ish game, 1 screen level, gems to collect in a certain amount of time, monsters to avoid (or shoot if you collect the right item), and a 2 player co-op mode.
Did you work with anyone else on the game?
Around the end of the development of Underground Adventure, when I was thinking about adding some music to the game, I understood I couldn't make it alone (My skills in music composition are close to none).
That's where the talented 8bit composer CutterCross came to help me. He made all the music and sounds for the game. Underground Adventure would not have been the same without him.
The soundtrack is beautiful, and you can listen to it here.
How did you get involved in the industry?
I don't consider myself in this industry... I am doing it as a hobby.
I work as a developer for a French company, unrelated to the game industry. But I've always been interested in coding games.
Assembly coding language (used for making NES games) has always been too difficult for me. But last year, I discovered NESmaker and that was THE trigger for me. I started to understand Assembly code, making my first scripts, my first demos, met a lot of interesting people from the homebrew community that gave me a lot of useful information. I became more and more active on the NESmaker community forum until finally, this year when I could submit my first game.
What was development like?
First, for those who are not familiar with NESmaker, it's a software for PC (like Game Maker) that helps you to create NES games and can even flash them on real NES cartridges. It comes with a bunch of ready-to-use modules and scripts. You still have to create your graphics, music, SFX, etc.
But the most important for me is that you can customize almost everything. Modify the default ASM code engine to fit your projects, your own ideas... add your own scripts, ... etc. In order to do that, you have to learn how to code in ASM, and how a tool works, to the point that you can break and modify [your code] deeply for your needs.
For Underground Adventure, I've spent hours, nights, and days working on the scripts. The NES (like other 8bit consoles) is very limited, you always need to rewrite your code, cleaning up, doing some optimizations to fit in the limited memory, and also reduce the slowdowns.
During the last 2 days [of the competition], after having the music and SFX from CutterCross included in the game, I spent most of the time polishing it, fixing the last few bugs.
How were you able to work around the limitations of NES maker to make a higher quality game?
The most difficult part of my game was the 2 players mode. NESmaker doesn't support 2 players (yet). It doesn't include any script for a 2nd player. With the current version of NESmaker, you can create all kinds of games... but only 1 player!
But I love 2 player games. Also, I have a 6-year-old son that loves playing old games with me. So, I searched on the internet, from forums to wikis on how works the 2nd controller of the NES and tried to add this functionality myself, for my game: the code to read the 2nd controller inputs, to deal with all the different collisions and events when having a 2nd player object on screen (when a player loses a life, the game is not over until the other player loses his life). I got it working just in time for the submission.
After the competition, I package my scripts into new modules (two players) for the NESmaker community. Now, everyone can start making 2 player games.
What makes this game special?
It's a short game but a fun game. Your score is given only if you finish it, then, you challenge your friends (or even yourself) to beat that score ;)
You can play Underground Adventure in co-op with your friend, with your kid, with your partner.... and that is always a special moment.
What games influenced this one the most?
Growing up with an Atari 2600 and a NES, all those classic games made my gaming education and my tastes.
I didn't have any particular game in mind while making my game...but I am sure you'd find some of Super Mario or Pacman or other 80's classic games in Underground Adventure.
Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
A quite funny one is the competition started just before my family vacation. I was going with my wife and my son for a 2 week trip to Japan. But I really wanted to join and submit something, so I bring with me my MacBook Pro. And while we were in Japan, almost every night, as soon as my family was asleep, I could spend 2 or 3 hours working on my game. It was a tiresome holiday!
Then, we finally came back home and I had more freedom (during the last 10 days [of the competition]) to finish the game.
What were the major lessons learned?
I learned that making a game is very difficult and needs a lot of time and skills. And doing that alone is completely insane. But working on my game, all that time deep in the code, was an incredible experience. I learned a lot, shared my scripts, and wrote some small tutorials on the NESmaker forum. The homebrew community is awesome, great people.
Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
I like new games... new games for a modern console, also new games for old consoles. Modern games are mind-blowing, photorealistic, VR,... but it's wonderful to see that we haven't abandoned the older games. [There are] Still some great indie devs or studios making games for them (I think Sivak Games, Broke Studio, Morphcat games, Sly Dog Studios, Khan Games, Mega Cat Studios, The Mojon Twins, ... and a lot more).
I think that keep having new people making games for those almost-forgotten consoles is important. And even the young generation is interested in those games. I love that.
What's your favorite memory as a retro gamer?
I can easily go back to my youth... I am 13. Every Wednesday, I take my bike and ride to my friend's home. Knocking on the door... his mom opens and tells me that, of course, my friend is here, waiting for me. It's Wednesday! It's NES day! With my friend on the sofa, with some cookie snacks and soda. Can't forget that. It was a time without Facebook, Snapchat, Fortnite, cellphone, internet. That was our social networking moment: talking, playing, laughing.
How do you want this game to be remembered?
I think I can't compete with licensed games. But I'd like Underground Adventure to be remembered for what it is, a fun simple arcade game, 2 players...
I am currently working with Artix Entertainment on their "DUNGEONS & DOOMKNIGHTS: An 8-bit AdventureQuest for the NES".
And, I help my son with his game, "KUBO 3", with the technical aspects of the game (some settings and all the coding scripts he needs). He loves creating NES games as much as me, and NESmaker makes that possible, even for him.
Also, It's not impossible that Underground Adventure would receive new levels soon. I want to continue this adventure, as I couldn't do everything I wanted. The competition is over, and now I can take more time to develop new ideas, add new mechanics for an updated version.
Want to get started with some basic NES knowledge? Check out our tutorial on NES graphics here!