I am proud to present my interview with the greatest NES game maker who has a booth at Too Many Games. Enjoy!
Kayarath: Could you please introduce yourself?
Vinnie Crisafulli: Hi! My name is Vinnie Crisafulli and I write programs for really old game systems.
K: What lead you into making new NES games?
VC: I saw people online doing it. The first computer I got was a TSR80, like things you used to buy at Radio Shack. It’s really early 80s. It only had like a cassette tape drive so you could only play and do character simulated text things. Then I got a Master System and there was no keyboard. I didn’t know what the heck was inside of it so I wanted to find out. Eventually I kind of gave up. Then I went to college and got a degree in engineering. Now it’s actually pretty easy so I figured it out.
K: I believe your debut game was Dragon’s Feet which debuted at Too Many Games 2012. Why did you decide to release it here?
VC: The thing is, I wasn’t planning on releasing these things at all. I was just gonna do’em for fun. Paul, one of the organizers of Too Many Games, all through development said, “You should really build a couple of these and sell these.” It worked out.
K: Yes, you had actual physical copies of the game. Where do you find the people to make this type of thing?
VC: Believe it or not, there’s actually a pretty active online community. For porting Nintendo games, people have been doing it for like ten years.
VC: Yeah. Go to www.nintendoage.com or similar websites. They have a lot of developers who are a lot better than I am. I read some of their tutorials and it’s actually pretty easy compared to some of the projects I done for work.
K: I believe the production run sold out. That must have been a surprise.
VC: Unfortunately, if I’m doing it, I can only really make thirty of these cartridges. It’s a lot of money up front to buy the parts. For a Nintendo cartridge, it usually costs me twenty to make it. You sell it for about thirty, so you do make quite a bit back, but still, for thirty carts that’s a lot of money to put up front.
K: Yeah, it is. You also made the sequel Dragon’s Leap, which is a lot more expansive game than Dragon’s Feet.
VC: Yeah. Unfortunately with Dragon’s Feet, I was just happy that I got something done. When you do things yourself, you don’t have any kind of quality control. I really should have asked people I didn’t know, “Is this game really good or not?”
K: I believe Dragon’s Feet was more of a proof of concept then anything else. Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can make a project, you can then safely pour extra resources and production values into it.
VC: Dragon Leap was pretty much me trying to do the game again a second time and doing it a lot better. It was pretty good, it was a little bit repetitive but Dragon Leap was pretty good. I actually got someone to help me on the sound for that too, Joey Marello, he’s really good with sound stuff.
K: How do you spell Marello?
VC: I don’t know? M A R I N I A O?
K: That’s as good a guest as mine.
VC: You can also look for him online. He uses the term Joey cache.
K: Joey cash.
VC: Like your memory cache. Not money cash. Memory cache.
K: Memory cache.
VC: It’s spelled differently.
K: What new games do you have for Too Many Games this year?
VC: This year is T-Gunn. I did two platformers to figure out my forte was shooters and to do something different. They’re actually a little bit easier to program cause with platformers you have to know, “Okay, am I jumping or am I not jumping? Am I gonna land on something? Which way am I facing?” With shooters, it’s actually super simple. You move where ever direction you’re pressing, and you shoot stuff. It’s a lot easier to code actually.
K: T-Gunn… T-Gunn’s pretty hard.
VC: Yeah, it’s requires memorization. Basically, you have to know the patterns. There are only twenty set patterns in the game. I just keep reusing them; after you kill all the enemies they re spawn as another pattern. Once you memorize all twenty patterns, the game’s a cakewalk.
VC: Yeah, but it’s memorization. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what’s happening, when things come behind you; that’s what kills people. Basically, they’re not expecting things to come from behind them and they just bite it. Actually you learn but…
K: T-Gunn is part of your game catalog. Did you ever imaging yourself saying, “I have a game catalog.”
VC: Not really. No I didn’t.
K: The games you make vary widely in form and genre. Why is that? Do you just like trying new things?
VC: I don’t want to make the same stuff all the time. No one has one type of game. Some people are crazy and have one type of game in their collection. I like a lot of games; I like the old shooters, I like platformers, I even like some of the puzzle games. I try to do something different, I don’t really want to just keep doing the same thing year after year after year and get to where its boring. I try to change it up a little bit.
K: Yeah, I’m that way too. For example, you expanded to the Genesis and Sega Master System? How are they different from the Nintendo, programming wise?
VC: I haven’t done anything with the Genesis yet. I have done things with the Master System. Programming wise, even though it’s a different processor, they’re both tile based systems, and they both almost have the same type of memory mapping. Basically, if you want to tell the visual processor where a tile is, you have to give it an address and data. And basically that’s all these things are. Basically, you make decisions based on the input and then you set an address for the visual processor and then you just give it a stream of data. It’s a little bit different, the formats, but oddly enough there’s more similar then there is different.
K: That’s something very blasphemous to say back in the console wars.
VC: Oh it would be, and actually the Genesis is just an upgrade from the Master System. That’s probably something even a lot fewer people would like to hear said, but yeah.
K: How times have changed…
K: Speaking of change, your operation also changed a bit. You actually have a studio name now, 64KB games. How did you come up with that name?
VC: Honestly, I really don’t operate by a studio name. I only use this name for the convention. I only use it because having mine out there would look really weird. And it would be a little egotistical.
K: You even have a light gun game for the Master System, Porkpolis. A light gun game, seriously?
VC: Yeah, it’s a light gun game. They aren’t as in-depth. The only thing you can do with a light gun is point and shoot. I mean, you can try to not shoot certain things. They’re not as complex like in controller games where you select things and pause things, and do things like get experience and earn money. But still, they are fun for short periods of time.
K: Yeah, they are fun. I though the light gun would be harder to program for since it’s a gun… thingy instead of a controller.
VC: Actually, it’s easier than even shooters. Again, you flash guns I don’t have to worry about, “Is my character jumping? Is my character sliding? Is my character gonna fall? Is my character dead or not? It’s like no. You shoot. Okay, I shoot an area. Did you hit something? Yes or No? And that’s it. The game is a lot simpler.
K: I never thought of it that way.
VC: Easy to program, yeah.
K: You also have some type of shop available, as in people can actually order the games, and you can mail them to people. That’s new. What made you decide to do that?
VC: It’s a thing I wanted to do for a long time. The thing is when I usually do these, I would make thirty carts, get really burnt out, sell them, and be really tired after the convention. Then people would e-mail me and say, “Oh hey, can I get another cart?” Its like, “well I might make another batch (not really).” This is an experiment I’m trying. What I’ve done is… I brought a ton of parts and I haven’t built anything yet. So basically as people order them, I build them. So that way I make about four to five a week. And that way they don’t sell out so it’s not like, “Oh, I didn’t get this cart released within a month or two, therefore I can never get it,” It’ll be available forever. Or as long as I’m alive and have parts.
K: Four to five sales a week? That’s a lot more than I imagine honestly.
VC: Well, the thing is, the way these things usually go is the first week is like ten sales, and the second week is like ten sales, and the it tapers off to like one a week for a month. Then you’re selling one a month and then you’re basically selling two or three a year a year later. But if they’re on demand then it doesn’t matter how often they sell.
K: As long as you’re there. You’re still a one man operation I assume?
VC: For the most part, I do have somebody else helping with sound but I haven’t really teamed up with anyone for programming or a lot of the details.
K: What about art? You draw all that yourself?
VC: Yeah, I’m not really a good artist but I can do something basic that works.
K: Yeah, not everyone is an artist.
VC: Some of the programming manuals they have for the NEO GEO, they actually say, “Oh yeah, you should actually draw art, scan it, and put it in the game!” Nah.
K: Nah? It’s not for everyone.
K: Where else can people go to learn more about your work?
VC: Unfortunately, right now all I have right now is the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. A lot of my Sega games are on a website called SMS Power. For fourteen years they’ve been collecting homebrew games.
K: Wow. Fourteen years.
VC: Most of them are download only but if you wanna try some of my Sega games for free, and download them, they’re up there. Just look for games made by Dragon Feet. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s better than the stuff I make there, too. They have some really talented people there.
K: Thanks a lot.
VC: Yeah, sure.
I hope you learned something! If you want to get to know interesting game makers, be sure to attend the next Too Many Games convention in summer 2015. It’s only eleven months away!