Interview: Super Fighter Team - Developing for SNES in 2012
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Brandon Cobb explains why retro gaming matters
When we published a news article about a new SNES title on the way in 2013, Nightmare Busters, it attracted a great deal of interest. While many of us spend the majority of our game-time on current-day consoles, there still seems to be an appetite for retro titles and platforms. Few companies represent that appetite quite like Super Fighter Team, who produce and develop physical media releases for consoles from the 1990s, no doubt earning the gratitude of collectors in the process.
We had a chat with Brandon Cobb, President of Super Fighter Team, to talk about the company's work on previous-generation platforms and, of course, the upcoming release of Nightmare Busters on Super Nintendo.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Super Fighter Team's origins, and what the company does?
Brandon Cobb: I'm just your average, everyday perfectionist. I can recall wanting to be in the video game business as early as ten years old. They said I was nuts. And they were right.
At age eleven, I fell in love with Super Fighter, a PC fighting game from Taiwan. At sixteen, I launched a small website about the game and four years later, I acquired full legal rights to it. Passion can do a lot more for a man than simply drive him. Passion can move mountains. Taking full stock of what had been accomplished, I set out to form a company that would make other classic gaming dreams tangible.
NL: So far you've released games for the SEGA Mega Drive / Genesis, PC and even the Atari Lynx: what made you choose those particular platforms?
BC: I dig a challenge. Producing and publishing new games for the Genesis and Lynx is no cakewalk. The first commercial project we announced back in '05 was Beggar Prince: an ambitious, 32-megabit RPG with a save battery, that was to ship on a brand new cartridge complete with plastic box and color manual. At that point, the classic gaming 'market' consisted of little more than bootlegs burned to CD-Rs and the occasional homebrew. So, you know, people thought we were full of it and some even suggested we were simply hawking vaporware. As a matter of fact, I still have an article from Edge magazine where someone said that in print. By the time the issue hit store shelves, however, Beggar Prince was already shipping to customers. Zing!
NL: With Nightmare Busters on Super NES due to be released in 2013, can you explain the origins of this title and how Super Fighter Team got involved?
BC: Nightmare Busters was conceived by Christophe Gayraud, who had prior development experience on the SNES, having worked on the games The Blues Brothers and Brainies. Together with artist Jean-Christophe Alessandri, he put together one hell of an impressive game.
Although several companies showed interest in publishing the title, certain factors ultimately kept it from appearing on store shelves. One of these factors was timing: by the time the game was finished, the SNES market was quickly shrinking.
We came on the scene in 2008, shortly after I had come across an official mobile phone adaptation of Nightmare Busters. I contacted its producer, Eric Thommerot, who happened to be a good friend of Gayraud's. He made the proper introductions and the rest is history.
NL: You recently confirmed that all 600 pre-order copies have been sold. What do you think attracts such a positive response to a retro product like this?
BC: These people know a great product when they see one. There's a good reason we waited so long to pursue a project for the SNES: we wished to make a grand entrance. I only had to glance at a muddy screenshot of Nightmare Busters to realize, 'I must have this.'
NL: What areas do you typically work on to bring a title up to publication standard?
That all depends on the severity of the issues we find. In the case of Legend of Wukong, our second RPG for the Genesis, around 30% of the game had to be reprogrammed in order to fix bugs, add new features, et cetera. A game is never good enough to be published until I feel that it is something I, myself would buy. And I have pretty high standards.
NL: In terms of the development process, what particular challenges does the Super NES offer in relation to the other platforms you've worked on?
BC: It's not the most developer friendly system in the world, but that's okay because the game itself was already complete. All we really had to do was add a few small bits here and there, and everything was good to go. Apart from that the production costs are quite a bit higher than for the Genesis and Lynx, so we unfortunately had to raise our sales price to compensate.
NL: A major emphasis on your products appears to be a certain level of material quality. How important are manuals, cases and conventional cartridges to your ethos as a publisher?
BC: They are just as important as every other aspect of our product. Game quality, packaging quality and customer service quality make up the 'triad of necessity' at Super Fighter Team.
NL: Your website makes a commitment to using all-new materials for the cartridge and packaging, made in your own factory. What prompted this policy as opposed to re-purposing existing materials?
BC: You wouldn't make a fresh, delicious sandwich only to wrap it in garbage, would you?
NL: I guess not! When deciding on pricing and the number of copies to be initially printed — $68 and 600 respectively — what kind of consumers are you targeting with your products? Is it an exclusive community, or do you believe that you can attract newcomers to the idea of buying a new Super NES release in this form?
BC: Every time we release something new, e-mails come in to us from people who state that they bought the target console just to play our game. That's the goal, really. People who already own the machine are certainly likely to buy one of our new games if they feel it suits their tastes. But what we really want to make are games that are so good, they inspire people to not only buy the consoles they're released for, but then investigate other games for those consoles, too.
NL: With these titles arguably occupying a 'niche' market, have you considered producing low-cost digital alternatives to these physical copies?
BC: We've considered digital publishing several times, but it just wouldn't have the same panache. We're out to give people new games for classic systems, not new games in a classic flavor, for a current day system. I think if anything, we'd do a digital release of one of our PC (DOS) titles, because asking people to go back and buy heavy, old computers to play these games authentically is perhaps asking a bit too much. But, we'll see...
NL: Which is your favourite classic console, and why?
BC: Console: Genesis / Mega Drive
Handheld: Original, monochromatic Game Boy
Computer: Apple IIc
The Genesis was (and still is!) the 'cool' console: an elegant, powerful machine encased in rebellious black plastic which perfectly embodies the 'I couldn't care less whether you play with me or not, but we both know you're going to' image.
Despite the hardware limitations of the original Game Boy, it had the best games of any incarnation of the system, if you ask me. I actually saw a guy in a grocery store just the other day who was carrying a Game Boy Color with him while he shopped. In passing I told him, "The original model is still the best!" With a smile, he flipped the machine around to show me that it housed one of the first generation Game Paks. Apparently I'm not alone in this belief.
The Apple IIc provided me my first experiences with two things I will love unconditionally for the rest of my life: command line operating systems and video game production. The IIc is a miracle machine even in today's world, and I will always adore it.
NL: Do you have future plans to develop for any of the current-generation platforms?
BC: Haven't given it any thought because, at least for now, it wouldn't be any fun. I don't care about the money it could potentially bring in, because we're not about money; we're about doing what we love and sharing it with the world. When you start doing stuff you don't enjoy, it becomes work. And to quote Butt-Head: 'Work sucks.'
We'd like to thank Brandon Cobb for his time, as well as the screenshots of Nightmare Busters.