13. The Art of Special Reserve Games

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13. The Art of Special Reserve Games – Introducing Creative Director Mike Sanders

 

Electric Monk Media’s Creative Director Mike Sanders joins the podcast to talk about what goes into the creation of Special Reserve Games packaging and add-ons. He also gets into his documentary filmmaking career, including his latest series on the magic of pinball.

Games You Deserveis a weekly podcast from Special Reserve Games that celebrates the digital art of video games. Join us for gaming industry interviews, insider perspectives, and interactive content. Production by Dan Vadeboncoeur. Music by Jesse Hamel. New episodes drop Sundays at 9:00 a.m. CST.

Listen below (or on your favorite podcast provider) and don’t forget to subscribe! Links and transcript follow beneath the player.

 

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Transcript

Dan: Welcome to Games You Deserve brought to you by Special Reserve Games. This week we welcome SRG art director, Mike Sanders to the podcast. Plus Erik reads mean tweets and chapter seven of Fire Flower.

Erik: We just had an announcement yesterday as we're recording this. It's a wonderful opportunity as far as I'm concerned to put out a second pressing, not a reprint because we're going to do some cool different stuff with this, but a second pressing of Gris and it's going to be amazing and we've gotten some really fantastic positive reception on this game. There are so many people saying, thank you for giving us an opportunity to do this, but there is a group of people that they just, I don't know, man.

They, didn't really agree with the decision. And I thought it would be a lot of fun to take a few of my favorite tweets that we received and just put them out there and see what your reaction is, Smitty and Dan, and just read them and if you want to react, have at it. Otherwise, maybe we could let the tweet stand for itself if you don't want to.

Smitty: Oh, my. This is going to be scary.

Erik: It might be.

Smitty: Hide your children.

Erik: These are sort of in an order for me. I think you're going to like this. First one is, "I'm still waiting to hear about another run a Hotline Miami collection." Give us some time here, buddy. Come on.

Smitty: No. I've got the answer to that, ain't going to happen. It ain't gonna happen.

Erik: Now that doesn't mean we're not going to have a second chance sale. We might have some stock for that.

Smitty: Well, if anybody ever paid attention to, and they do, when all these people are receiving their copies of Hotline Miami now, it says your number out of 8,000. So we didn't put 8,000 up for sale. And if you look back at the sale, we only put 7,500 up for sale. So that meant there were 500. Now we've got VIPs like Erik and his entire extended family that he has to give free games to, and that's like 200 of them right there.

Erik: We're like rabbits.

Smitty: But Dan, sorry, why you get no games is because they're all down in Erik's parent's basement or whatever they do. That's the eBay guy right there. No, I'm sorry. So, but there are a few, we used to keep around for damages or returns or if we had any catastrophe with shipping or something. And so, we do hold those back for the right reasons, they're not just a giveaway to our friends and family. And if we do give them away to our friends and family, they get the unnumbered ones. Okay. So just hold on everybody.

Erik: Another one of these said, "I really don't want to tweet this, but man, this sucks for true collectors and people who spend thousands of dollars for quote, limited physicals."

Smitty: I have found there's a lot of different levels of collectors in the physical video game world. You've got people who really just love the games and want to own the physical version of the game, and they rip it out of the package and they slam it in the console and they play it. Then there's people who will buy a digital version of the game and get a copy of the physical game just to support the developers.

Then there's a whole group of folks that just like to buy two or three copies of the game so they can open one and not open the other two. And then you've got, I guess, folks that, I really hope, they appreciate it and it has a value, which I think is beautiful because I truly never intended for any of these things to have a secondary market value, necessarily. I wanted them to have a value for the person that really loved that game, that bought that game and had a connection to the game.

I wanted to do the game justice because we had such an outcry of people who found out about that game after we had sold our physical version, after maybe it had won some awards. That game just kept building with more and more people finding out about it. So I thought of all the games we've done, Gris had such an emotional connection to me personally. And then I think a lot of other people, it felt right that we could share it in such a way.

So unnumbered jackets for a second pressing, brand new artwork for a second pressing, not doing a reserve box, we're looking into doing like a slip cover though. It still shows some of the beautiful art in special ways with different processes, but we're doing a few things and we'll call it a single. So instead of it being called a Switch Reserve, which implies that it comes with a nice box, maybe a piece of art or an art book or something in addition to the game.

This is a Switch single, where it's the great game preserved in a wonderful, beautiful way. Probably has the instruction booklet inside of it. And it's a lower price too. I mean, it's a 29.99 MSRP for these. So once again, I think we've preserved the value of the original pressings with some of the approach to the second pressing. But it's the only game that we're going to do this for. I mean, there is no reprint in our vocabulary. Second pressings, this is the only one we're probably ever going to do. I mean, at least for the games we've already done.

Erik: The next is, "money grab" was the comment.

Smitty: Was it a hashtag money grab?

Erik: No. They couldn't even afford a hashtag on it, can you believe that? "Money grab". I almost wanted to respond on this one because –

Smitty: I saw that.

Erik: Yeah. I mean, this one to me is not about money in this case for us. Honestly, Nomada created an amazing game with beautiful artwork from Conrad Roset. And there were so many individuals that I felt did not get a chance to have some of that in hand, right? And so sure a lot of people got a chance to play it. They downloaded the eShop version of this, but to have that physical asset in your hand is a different thing and, yeah, unfortunately –

Smitty: Well it is a cash grab. You know who it's a cash grab for? The developer. I would love to pay that developer more and more money. And just to really tell that guy, in a situation where this is being published Devolver is known for giving very fair deals to developers, and it's an independent situation. The publisher of Gris is independently owned, it's not a publicly traded company.

Nomada out of Barcelona, Spain who developed it, independently owned, not a big corporate entity. We are very independent, I'm working from my house. So there's only one or two chances that some of these great development houses have to actually get paid for their work. So I will say that the lion's share and I'm talking way more than half of the profits of our physical reserves and the digital downloads go to the developer, to the people who created it.

So, yeah. I really wish we had sold more Gris the first time, because I thought the developers deserved it. So if it's a crash grab, yeah, it's me getting some more cash for the artists who absolutely deserve it for their beautiful art.

Erik: This next one said "unpopular opinion because I am the only person in the world who values rarity and specialty, I don't get it. What is the difference between a numbered and non-numbered edition? Just be honest from the start when something isn't limited, then there's also no need to rush."

Smitty: Right. The difference is numbers. There's either no numbers or there are numbers, I'm going to say we start right there. Well, we originally started sequentially numbering everything with PlayStation 4. Sony, at the time didn't even understand what I was doing because we were the only publisher that sequentially numbered every single one of our units. The reason I started sequentially numbering anything was we were new.

And we were talking to people about doing stuff in limited numbers and limited quantities. So I said, "If we number everything that we do, I can prove what I'm saying." So if I say I'm only going to make 8,000, I can prove it. Because we're printing those numbers on the jacket covers. And if you look at the switch copies, you'll see you have a certain number out of 8,000, a certain number out of 6,000, a certain number out of 3,000.

And they're always by the thousands because Nintendo requires you to order by the thousands, so they round. So that is the original reason why I started sequentially numbering everything. It's so I could prove what I was saying about how limited these really were. I never said they're more valuable because they're numbered.

 

[BREAK]

 

Erik: This is one of maybe the more mean ones here. So I'm going to lay this on you. It says, "Well, there goes my respect. Never, ever going to buy a Special Reserve Game again. You can explain all you want" Smitty. He didn't say Smitty, I said, Smitty. "This is a breach of trust as people expect, with the original to have bought something exclusive, which will now become common by." I don't know about you, but if we printed a limited amount in the first place, it's still limited, right? Suddenly it's not common all of the sudden.

Smitty: Well, I mean, there's also a thing going on out there related to one of our things that we did for Gris, that we did this really high end art book. It's called a Brillianta linen cover. Go look it up. It's a toothy linen. And then we use this encoded vellum paper with a 3D Instacure Offset printing process. It's a beautiful art book. It's very big. It weighs a couple pounds –

Erik: More than a couple.

Smitty: I mean, it is a fantastic art book. Well, they're also out of Spain and I believe it was called... Oh, I forgot the name of the company, but it's a friend of Nomada. That they had done the same art from that art book, a different cover and everything like that. But it was meant to be for the masses, for the people, because that was Conrad Roset’s art. The design of the game and the art book is beautiful.

So you can find that at a local retailer in Spain, there're places you can order it online. And I even know there was some confusion like, "I got this other book that's... Why is your book so expensive?" I think, well, I mean, one books made of platinum. The other one's made out of aluminum. There's going to be a difference if you... And so that's the way I look at some of our reserves and what we put into the boxes.

How Mike and all of us had talked about that every single print has a unique variation. Every single print is its own, print colors, it's ink layers, it's ink densities and things. And so, that's the way I look at the first pressing. You have assets that were physically created, never to be created again, you own them, you have them, I don't, you win.

Erik: I saved the best for last. This one's a little bit shorter than the others, but I had to share it with you. "You really are the worst site for limited games, which are not really limited in the end."

Smitty: Awesome.

Dan: You guys, this is the first time you've done this, right? This is the first time you've done this?

Erik: First we've –

Smitty: It's the first time we've ever done a second pressing. Yeah, for sure.

Dan: Right. So they're acting like you do this all the time. That's what I get from that.

Smitty: It's a good old phrase. "You can't please all the people, all the time."

Erik: Well, Smitty, you're the worst, apparently. According to this guy, we're the worst –

Smitty: I'm going to change my name. I'm going to change the name of my company to "nearly limited special reserve games.org."

Dan: Doesn't have the same ring to it.

Erik: No, no, it doesn’t. I wanted to circle back around to the very beginning of this though, and say that I really did have to hunt through tons and tons of positive tweets on this. This is truly like a vast majority of the negative sentiment. Whereas, 10 to one, maybe even more than that. God, we had so many responses. I was like, "Where are the negative tweets?" And there was some of these, but man, the positive reaction from people blew me away.

Smitty: Yeah. I do love legitimate concern and truthfulness. I respect that a lot.

Dan: But what occurred to me, I'm going to put this in terms of what I used to collect, was just comic books. So it was my big collection that I had back in the day. And what's the most valuable comic book in the world?

Erik: Action comics with –

Dan: Number one?

Erik: ... the premiere of Superman.

Dan: Yeah. Yes, of course. 1938, it was released and I think I just looked it up here, a copy recently went for $3 million on eBay, in case you're interested or maybe not on eBay. But, anyway, they reprinted that comic book four or five times in different versions, right? I bought one because I want to read the story of it. I couldn't afford to buy an original copy of course. But every time they reprinted that comic book does not take away from the value of the original pressing. That's the original.

Smitty: To me, it almost increases the value of the original.

Dan: Yeah. But it's the same kind of thing, because I bought it because I wanted to read the story and it’s the same as these people who want to buy the game because they want to own the game. It's the same thing. That's how I'd explained to anybody who seems concerned that this is going to devalue their original purchases, I don't think that's going to happen at all.

Erik: Well, go look up how much even a second printing of that action comic is worth. I mean, even the second printing is worth a bunch of money. And really that's not where you and I and Smitty all think about the value in this. Sure, things cost money, great, okay. But the value is in the art.

Dan: And I guarantee you anybody who's spent $3 million on that comic book is not buying it because they maybe want to make a ton of money on it. They're buying it because they want to own a piece of complex history, right?

Smitty: Well, I heard that, if you bought a comic book for $3 million, you'd want to leave it in their protective cover. But then it's like, you just bought a $3 million comic that you're never going to read and there's something so wrong with that.

 

[BREAK]

 

Smitty: Hey, everybody, I'd like to introduce you to Michael Sanders from one Winnipeg, Canada. He is my partner in crime on a lot of the Special Reserve Games art that you see, everything from jacket, art layout to, any part of the reserves, even the Instagram ads and some of the website stuff.

Anyway, just like everybody to get to know Mike Sanders a little bit more, he's what I lovingly call my art director here at Special Reserve Games. We brainstorm a lot of projects together, but Mike has a really great team up in Winnipeg that does all kinds of different production. And so, all kinds of production, from print, layout, design. But I think when I originally met you, you were involved with movies, documentaries. And so, you even have animation groups and whatnot under your wing.

So Mike was just one of those incredible people that you find, that you can do almost every project you want, at least every project that I want, that I've been able to find a way to do with you and your team. So this ought to be cool for everybody to do a deeper dive and find out a little bit more about what you got going on up in Winnipeg. So when I first met you with Andy Grace, it was for a documentary called Men with Beards, right?

Sanders: Yep. That's how I met Andy, yeah.

Smitty: What is Men with Beards and how can people find out about it? I mean, just tell us about that documentary and that part of your life.

Sanders: Men with Beards is an 80 minute documentary about men with beards. It's pretty self explanatory.

Smitty: Perfect. Are you in it?

Sanders: We've talked about it so much I'm sort of half checked out. You can get it on Amazon Prime. I feel like the last podcast I recorded with Dan, we also talked about Men with Beards.

Dan: That was a while ago. It's true –

Sanders: Was that like four years ago?

Dan: Yeah. And we should also mention that Mike is also my connection to you guys as well as he was the one who I was working on with different podcasts. And, he approached me about doing this with you guys as well. So we have a bit of a Winnipeg connection there. So, Men with Beards, I mean, it was a really big deal at the time when it came out, it was a great movie. All kinds of acclaim and people responding to it.

What we talked about, Mike, when you were on the other podcast we did is how many people misinterpret what it's about, even though it very clearly states what it's about. But they look at it and they think it's like a Duck Dynasty documentary or something.

Sanders: Yeah. There's just a certain approach to documentary sometimes, where people make the assumption that you're making the encyclopedia version of that subject. Do you know?

Dan: Yeah. It's not about all men with beards. It's about a certain collection of men with beards that you interviewed and followed along.

Sanders: It's a story about men with beards, it's not a documentary about every little aspect of beards that you... That is a boring film in my opinion to watch.

Smitty: But then sometimes I'm talking to you and you say, "Oh, hey, I'm going to be out tomorrow. We're going out to somewhere. And we're shooting a bunch of moose." And I say, "Why are you shooting moose?" "We shoot a lot of moose and not with guns, but with cameras."

Erik: I was wondering if you were keeping the population down or something for everybody up there.

Sanders: I have got this little production company up here. I have these three small teams that have all sort of sprouted out of a different thread of freelance work that I used to do myself. So, I started as a graphic designer and photographer, and I worked as a professional photographer graphic designer for probably about 10 years and then really didn't do that stuff anymore, once I got more involved with the filmmaking side of things.

And now I've got a small team of graphic designers. We have a couple developers. We have a UI/UX specialist. We have a couple of 3D modelers. I've got a full time assistant editor and then I have a business partner. There's 10 of us and then we probably lean on another half dozen freelance contractors throughout the year on different projects. But all the work spans everything from like doing an Instagram graphic for Special Reserve Games, all the way through to laser scanning green elevators.

We toured a tooling dye manufacturing plant last week about some work for them. We've done apps and we've published a small game and we've done some VR development and I've made films about beards and I've shot commercials and I'm shooting a doc about moose right now. The range of stuff we do is so wide, but –

Smitty: So it's okay. I'm just going to cut you off right there. And just say, I accept your award as the most exciting client. Hello. I mean, are we not the most –

Erik: Mike, something that might be interesting to the audience is when you did the pinball champion. Tell us about that one.

Sanders: Well, it's going to be six parts now. We've just got two more picked up. We're doing a six part web series on pinball. So we have a pinball enthusiast. He's a top 15 ranked in Canada and he loves pinball, his name's Trevor Walkman and my assistant editor Mark met Trevor outside of the 7/11, about four years ago. They bought the last slurpees before the 7/11 closed at that location and bonded over that.

And then a few years later, Mark sees him at an arcade here playing pinball and he was just destroying this pinball game. And Mark says he had never seen pinball played like that. And so he walked up to Trevor and he's like, "Hey man, do you remember me? We met outside of the 7/11 and how did you learn how to play pinball like that?" And then Trevor showed Mark how to play pinball.

And the next thing you knew, Mark became obsessed with pinball. And, we put the show idea together where Trevor would go visit a pinball machine with a friend of his, at a different location in Winnipeg and they'd play a game and talk about how much they love pinball. So we've shot five episodes. And it's going to be out at the end of the Summer probably, around August, September. It'll be online for everyone. It will screen regionally here in Manitoba, in Winnipeg. And then it'll be up online and then we're going to try to maybe do a second season.

Erik: I was talking to Mark about that, and obviously he's extremely enthused about all of this. He's deep in.

Sanders: Yeah, he's deep. And that's why he directed it because he's deep. Yeah, he was into it more than I've seen anyone into –

Erik: So we should introduce everybody to Mark a little bit. Mark is one of our incredible support staff. When you guys have a problem and you send that email off, Mark is one of the folks that's answering that. And he's a support guy –

Smitty: He's our full time support guy that helped us through a lot of turbulence stuff around the shipping of The Messenger and Minit, when we had some real catastrophes. And he helped set up a course. And I remember having the conversation with Mike specifically, Mike saying, "Hey, Mark's got this documentary that we want him to do, he wants to do it, but he actually put that on hold to handle some of our customer service calls." It kind of delayed the start of this documentary a little bit if I'm not mistaken.

Erik: Yeah.

Sanders: I think Mark was just concerned that he wasn't going to have any time. He was pretty concerned for a little while there.

Erik: When I was talking to him about this. One of the things that I found super interesting I was hoping you could tell the listeners a little bit more about was, you guys had done some camera setups around the pinball tables with just an insane setup.

Sanders: I lost count of how many camera tests we did because I wanted to cover it with GoPros, which I regret entirely. They might be a perfectly fine camera for – I just have a real love, hate relationship with those things. We had a seven GoPro camera set up on a pinball machine, and then we were also shooting with three additional cameras. And we probably did, I want to say four or five camera setups with those GoPros like to figure out what we wanted to do there.

And then in the end, I think we ended up getting rid of three of them. So, we basically put a camera on the flippers. We put a camera on either side of the playfield at the back. We put a camera over top capturing the whole play field. And then we just shoot a lot of B roll and pickups of Trevor playing. The only reason that it works is because Trevor is such a good accurate player that if I said to him, "I need a shot of the ball hitting that bumper." He'd hit that bumper for me every time. I need a shot of you hitting that... There's these little ghost guys that sit... The scullery brothers in Ghostbusters sit up and if you hit them –

Dan: Ghostbusters 2

Sanders: Yeah. But on the Ghostbusters pinball machine, which is just Ghostbusters. I'm with you Dan, it is Ghostbusters 2. I agree but –

 

[BREAK]

 

Sanders: So we would be doing these pickups, where I would be like, "Okay. Well, Trevor can you get it?" "Okay." And he nails it. I'm like, "Okay." I move the camera. "Can you hit it again?" And he hits it again. So anything that he did throughout a regular game, if we saw it happening on one of the GoPros or we saw it happening during the game, and it was a cool shot and we wanted a detail of it, we just pick it up after the fact, which made the actual cameras set up a lot simpler than we originally thought it was going to need to be. But, I think it was an opportunity to try to capture someone playing pinball in a way that hadn't really... We're trying to put people in the machine. It's a physical game, right? So I just did not want to just have these shooting from a distance.

If you see anything else that most people have shot on pinball, it's the same shots all the time. It's a medium shot of someone playing. Then it cuts to a wide shot of them standing up at the machine. There's maybe a closeup of the ball moving up and down the playfield. But we went as far as to try to follow the ball as best we could. We recorded a lot of off-speed stuff.

So there's a lot of over cranked but slow mo. And try to capture the minutiae of the game as Trevor sees it. But really just trying to capture the sense of it being a physical ball, moving in space and time and not just a flat screen where pixels move on it.

Smitty: I love pinball machines. I mean, growing up they were just one of the coolest things. There was a learning curve of course, but they were also real easy just to plug a quarter in and slap those paddles, just bang, bang, bang. A small kid could have a level of enjoyment just abusing a pinball machine, not necessarily playing it versus someone who's really trying to finesse that baby.

And, of course, I've always wanted to know what makes that knock. What makes that knock in the middle? Is it a little chipmunk with a hammer? I mean, what's in there that makes that knock when you get that extra ball, what is that?

Erik: It's a solenoid.

Sanders: It's a solenoid that just expands really quick and knocks into... It's literally like on a piece of wood on the end of it, right? It's just literally a wood on wood knock. Trevor loves that sound.

Smitty: It could be KISS pinball with laser beams coming out of it and fire, but it's still got that same knock. I love that sound.

Sanders: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Pinball players love that. Yeah. But that's the thing, it's a physical game you're playing. That's what I was especially shooting. A film is a three dimensional medium. It's a physical medium. You don't really need fancy cameras, it's already a three-dimensional medium just in how a film comes together. So I just love physical stuff. I love the physical pinball. I started designing. I did CD packaging every other graphic designer did.

Smitty: Well, what was your very first graphic design job that you actually got paid for?

Sanders: It was a business card and I only got paid half and I got stiffed for the other half.

Smitty: Right. You have a business card and then was there a logo involved?

Sanders: Yeah. And then why I got stiffed, he didn't like the logo. So he paid me for the layout and I got 125 bucks and I just got stiffed for the other 125 bucks, because he didn't think the logo, the additional designs weren't really anything beyond the initial business card design.

Smitty: Well, so even some of the design work that you and I do together, there's a difference between laying something out for physical print and then laying stuff out, that'll only be seen on the internet, digitally. And there's an art to both and both of them are equally as important. So it's rare that you find even someone in an agency setting, where there's one person that is a graphic designer that can do both.

A lot of people listen to the podcast or that buy our games or interact with us on Discord or whatever that are creatives themselves. And so, maybe talk about some of the tools that you use in some of our design. I mean, they're going to be Photoshop and Illustrator and stuff. But, I mean, what are some of the tools that you use and then how do you use those to bridge physical and digital, so we have continuity in our designs and you're not overworking your staff to produce two of everything, two versions?

Erik: And how many crayons are in that box? Because I –

Smitty: Well, I think there's 144 in one I had.

Sanders: I never had the 144 crayon box. I don't know.

Smitty: I got it once when I had strep throat for the fourth time in one year and my mother thought I was going to die.

Sanders: We use the same tools as everyone else. We use Photoshop and Illustrator, InDesign. We use Creative Suite. I don't think there's anything really special about the tools we're using necessarily.

Smitty: It's the people.

Sanders: Well, it is the people –

Smitty: The people are the special link, right?

Sanders: It's the people. I've got really good people, that's bottom line. Everyone's different. Everyone has their own sensibility. People are good at different things.

Smitty: Well, but laying stuff out for print. To say a younger up and coming...great creative minds in every generation, but the education that they're getting and... It used to be that there were restrictions, the tools that we were given to use to be creative with, if you were, they were full of restrictions. You spent more time learning the tool or the program, than you were able to express your art.

Sanders: Yeah. I don't think that really happens anymore.

Smitty: Exactly that's what I'm saying.

Sanders: I think that the technical education is absolute trash right now.

Smitty: Right. Exactly.

Sanders: Okay. I know for a fact, I'm not going to... But, I've had people come into this company on day one and not know things, facts about graphic design and design in general, that should have been taught to them on day one, if not week one. And they should've known it like a second language by the end of their first quarter, right? So, I think the technical aspect of it is really lacking, I think for a few reasons.

I think it's overlooked a lot of times. I think people have this assumption that the software is doing a lot for you and I think that's a bad assumption to make. I think that it's also daunting to learn about color space. I think that it's a bit of a mystery for a lot of people. When in fact it really just takes a little bit of reading and rereading and I think for the most part, people are scared to do things wrong and are scared to fail.

I think that's where you see a little bit of lack of technical knowledge, especially in younger designers, they don't have enough real world experience and you need that real world experience for knowledge. I mean, you need to fail. You need to send things to print, have them come back with the colors all messed up, to have to then figure out why does this... that I'm holding in my hand, that exists as a physical object. Why doesn't this look the same as it looks on my screen.

Smitty: How many press checks did we go through when we were coming out for My Friend Pedro and going into Hotline Miami and starting to use our new boxes with all the new... I think it was either like 11.

Sanders: I wasn’t counting. I'll say this. I've never had a client, I've never worked with anyone. And this is a compliment to you. I've never worked with anyone that has turned down and pulled the plug on more press checks, right?

Smitty: Hey, I flew all the way up to Canada –

Sanders: You did –

Smitty: ... and flew to Winnipeg –

Sanders: To reject a press check –

Smitty: ... to reject the press check and man, those people looked at me. You remember?

Sanders: Nope. I detest that –

Smitty: Yeah. You and John drove me down to Altona and we were in their press check in. And first you were like, "Oh, look, nobody comes here to press check, most of the time." It's in the middle of nowhere, no one comes here to press check anything. So it's very weird that you're here in general. You weren't saying that, but you were explaining to me why it was going to be strange for me to go into this gigantic print –  That's where we printed the Ammonomicon. And at the time these were the hardcover instruction booklets that I was coming up to press check. It wasn't even the Ammonomicon.

Sanders: No.

Smitty: I came up there to press check hardcover instruction booklets for, yeah, The Messenger, Minit and Downwell. Yeah.

Sanders: Well, we rejected one of them because... Most people wouldn't have done that, but the bottom line was the Minit book was black and white, and we were seeing this color cast on the pages, and we didn't want that color cast. Now look, eight out of 10 customers aren't going to pay for the press check of the other two. One of them is going to let that go.

Smitty: Oh, yeah, for sure. And they were astonished I actually rejected it.

Sanders: They were, absolutely because they know. Honestly, it's not a mystery. Anyone that works in the print industry, if there's any former print masters listening, those guys they don't want us on the floor because, the second you walk onto a print floor you're slowing them down.

 

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Smitty: But I mean, it's just one of those things. We take our art so seriously, you know that –

Sanders: Well, I think we take the art of the developer seriously.

Smitty: Of the developer so seriously, that's what I'm saying. We take all of our art that I'm representing in this vendor at this... You're talking about how you're honoring not moose, but moose, but a guy's passion for pinball and how you have to represent that in a film state. So I think that's why we get along on all of our design concepts here. Because you understand why I'm rejecting those press checks because you as an art director would probably be getting frustrated with me. You would be like, "Come on, dude. Man, come on."

Sanders: Are we allowed to swear on this podcast?

Smitty: Absolutely.

Sanders: Yeah. I also love crazy motherfuckers, man.

Smitty: Yeah. Oh, yay. That is why we get along.

Sanders: I have a deep –

Erik: We're in the right crew.

Sanders: I have a deep respect for people, who regardless are willing to flip the bird to the person standing on the other side of the line.

Smitty: Yeah, but we've done it up in Winnipeg. I mean, that's the cool thing is when we started working together, we'd never met each other face to face. We talked on the phone, we talked over Discord or Skype and whatever for our whole first project and I hadn't even met you face to face. I flew up to Winnipeg by way of Minneapolis and then also you and John, came out for E3, not of course this year, but last year.

We all stayed together, we had a house. My daughter flew out with me too. And we had kind of an SRG compound, that was fun. But, yeah, you were out every day with us out at the E3 lots and meeting all the different developers. Some of the guys from Devolver that you knew like Vieko [Franetovic] who does their website. There's the kind of some odd, weird, like you guys went out to the same high school or something like that.

Sanders: Something like that. I can't remember now. I think he's a year older than me. So he would have been, or he knew, about all of his buddies went to that high school or something. I can't remember but, yes.

Smitty: I think I asked him about this the other day, but anyway. It's weird how it's just a small world.

Sanders: It's weird.

Smitty: Yeah. Just some weird small world stuff. But, anyway, usually if anyone's ever interested in knowing the process of how these reserves ever get made, they get made slowly over time. Usually with many different conversations between Mike and I. We rarely just sit and slam out a document and say, "Hey, this is what we're making."

Sanders: I was thinking about how long it takes earlier today. And I was thinking it probably takes six months.

Smitty: Six months. Yeah. From the time we start talking about something to –

Sanders: From the time we start talking to the developer to the time that it's in your hands. It's somewhere in that. It probably averages, maybe not average, that's probably on the lump. I mean, Hotline Miami was easily that long.

Smitty: But when we're in full production mode, when we even know what we're making and everything's pretty set, still about three months, from that point before we even have something that's ready to go to print or be printed and done. So, yeah.

Erik: And that's every item, that's not even just a piece. You guys are working through box, you're working through cover, you're working through instruction booklet, you're working through art cards, you're working through all of these different pieces, let alone assets and all these different aspects –

Smitty: Approvals and you're working with intellectual property of Sony or Nintendo and a developer and Devolver and, yeah. It's immense, the amount of individual assets. I think we looked at it, didn't we the other day? To this point we had 100 and, what was that? 160? What did we have when we were looking through our inventory?

Sanders: 142. Something like 142 components. Something like that, two different packages going back –

Smitty: Yeah. Various pieces. Everything from Enter the Gungeon to Minit. It could be –

Erik: People don't necessarily realize that, right? So being a collector and having this stuff on my shelf, right? Got a bunch of these things behind me in the picture that you guys are seeing. I get a box, I order a game. I've seen some of the stuff from online. I've seen what comes to me in the mail, right? And I open it up and I see the different pieces, I'm not even seeing every piece.

You guys have to deal with every little piece. Stuff that only the developer is seeing in your pitch, right? You have things that you've put together in a pitch that kind of say, we've had some thoughts about how this is going to work. And some of that stuff never, ever sees the light of day.

Smitty: Yeah. We have stuff that we've even produced.

Sanders: Yeah. There's a couple things that could go to print tomorrow that are ready to go, that have never seen the light of day. That for games we've already sold that didn't get or the pitches didn't get picked up or they weren't into it. They didn't think it tied in enough to the game or something. But, there's some really cool stuff that we could like print tomorrow for games that they’ve just never seen.

Erik: Yeah. I just think people need to know about that though.

Smitty: Yeah. Well, but from a technical production side though, think about all the different assets. This isn't complaining, this is a brag being a braggadocious dude, because you have to have the skillset to not only make these assets, but we use different vendors for different processes, different assets. So you could have, let's say the jacket cover printed by one person, but the instruction booklet cover printed by another person, and then the pages for the instruction booklet printed by another person.

If we were trying to accomplish them. We don't do that necessarily but if you did, the black background has to be the same black on all three of those components or they don't look good when you put them all together. So just because we do have all these different components –

Sanders: You remember how many Enter the Gungeon yellows we went through?

Smitty: And I'll tell you, man, Dave had a custom yellow that had this tint of orange in it, right? And or something. Oh, bro, how many things did we reject that yellow? Because then we had two mediums, remember? We had the jacket cover for PS4 and then we had that yellow shipper box. And I was just losing my mind, because it's not –

Erik: And the yellow on the disk.

Sanders: And yellow on the disk. Which will never match.

Erik: No.

Smitty: Sony prints those things with dot matrix printers. I think it's like from 1994 and, yeah. The disk printing, I've never been really happy with, I'm sorry. Though, the face of those discs.

Erik: It just shows how difficult that really is though, because you don't have control of that aspect. Even the ones you do have some control over, it's a struggle. It's not easy. It's not an overnight snap your fingers process.

Smitty: Yeah. You don't have a PMs color match book for some of the colors, like that Enter the Gungeon yellow. It's not a color that exists on the color chart. We made a, it's called the drawdown. And so, we did a drawdown where they basically made a formula for the offset printers that are mixing ink. I mean, it's a physical ink getting mixed live on plates. So it's really a process.

So, anyway, it's just a testament to you, Mike, and your whole team of how much we can do together that is, so many different assets that are vast and varied and then there is a continuity between all of them and, oh, my gosh, they actually get done.

Sanders: If you were to look at all 5,000 jacket covers, they're not identical. There may be small variances between jacket cover to jacket cover that you may not even be perceptible to your eye, but the ink density is going to be different on jacket cover one and jacket cover 3000. Or the registration is going to be a little bit different on jacket cover 3000 than it was on jacket cover one. When the –

Erik: And you're only talking about something with just ink and paper. You're not even talking about the special processes that we do on top of that, which add a whole other layer –

Smitty: I don't know if we should be having this conversation, because now the guy with number 3000 is going to come hit eBay and say, "Hey, Mike said that my copy is special and it's one of a kind."

Sanders: They're all special. They're all one of a kind. Yeah, they are. Every physical object is one of a kind, because every physical object is a little bit different. It's not an exact copy, right? And I love that –

Smitty: Just like us –

Sanders: ... I love that variance. Just like us. Just like snowflakes. Yeah.

Smitty: Well, so, I mean, are there any people on your team, I mean that we talked to, that you want to give a shout out to? We can use first names, we don't have to use full addresses or anything, but anybody you want to say hi to that works on our stuff a lot, that you want to –

Sanders: Oh, sure. Well, people are just getting their Hotline Miami boxes in their hands. So, I would do a big shout out to Chloe who did all the process layering on those boxes.

Smitty: Chloe who has a quick wit, pretty funny.

Sanders: Yeah. I would do a shout out to Matt who did a lot of the chips that we use. He does a lot of that stuff. He did a great job with Hotline Miami. I have a lot of people, oh, my God –

Smitty: Beth, what about Beth?

Sanders: Well, Beth's my lead designer. Beth, she was perpetually employee of the month while we were in the office still. Beth is the best. So Beth is always employee of the month and I don't think anyone's beat her yet. Working remotely, I would argue she might still be employee of the month.

Smitty: Oh, yeah.

Sanders: It's harder to usurp now, but Beth does a variety, Beth does most of the instruction booklets, Beth does the layouts for the instruction booklets. Beth does a lot of the research for the instruction booklets. She has started playing video games more with her kids since working on this stuff for kids. They have a Switch or they bought a used PS4 and they have switched to... She's got two daughters, they loved Gris, they played –

Smitty: But Beth draws the Sarge illustrations that we put at the top of our website.

Sanders: Yeah. Beth draws Sarge. Chloe did Sarge last year. Beth's doing Sarge this year. All the Sarge illustrations are Beth. Yep.

Smitty: So shout out to that girl. And I actually got to meet Beth when I was up there.

Sanders: Yeah. Those three have just really been our big... They really saved my ass over the last year.

Smitty: Right on. Saved all our asses. Just to kind of wrap it up, I know we've been talking for quite a while, but it was just an interesting –

Sanders: Oh, that's it? That's all I get? I get half an hour?

Smitty: Well, I mean, we don't have sponsorship for anything more than 54 minutes. So, we won't be able to pay you and there is no craft services today.

Sanders: You don't know what you're doing. Craft services is the most important part.

Smitty: Craft services is the most important part. That and the makeup artist. No, I'm going to go with the gaffer or the best boy but, it really was kind of fun to have you on and talk because, we talked so much all the time that it's kind of hard to pick out one or two or three things that we could talk about on the show that's interesting for everybody. So, maybe we'll do it again.

Maybe we'll talk again with you and maybe other members of the team, even. A couple of episodes down the road, and we'll focus in and deep dive on some of these projects of how we really designed them. And maybe some of the processes that went in and just have a geeky talk about paper and design, who knows?

Sanders: Yeah, man.

Smitty: Everything that comes out from here into the future. Now you've heard one of the guys and some of the minds behind some of the greatest things that we do at Special Reserve, it's actual human beings putting blood, sweat, and tears into this. So thank you for your support and Mike, thanks for being a great part of the team.

Sanders: Yeah. Thanks guys.

 

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Erik: Thank you for joining me once again, for another episode of Fire Flower from paper to pixels. Last time we explored the earliest years of Nintendo's contributions to the arcade scene. Utilizing unconventional technologies like photo sensors, dual 16 millimeter projectors, and CBS labs, EVR film format. Nintendo's continuous innovation and their seemingly endless ability to transform difficult situations into stunning success repeats itself once again, when the failing radar scope arcade game is transformed into Donkey Kong, introducing to the world, video games’ most famous mascot, Mario.

As Nintendo expanded into the early arcade space by taking their light gun technology to the big time with the laser clay shooting system. The light gun fun at home did not end with the Kôsenjû custom series. In 1976 another name everybody is familiar with made its debut as the next entry in their Kôsenjû light gun series with Duck Hunt. With KôsenjûDuck Hunt, the goal is exactly as it seems, shoot down a duck. But, the implementation for the mid 70' game is quite clever.

A very small projector shoots upward at a motorized mirror. The projector sits two feet from the wall, creating a two foot by one and a half foot picture on the wall. The player then stands about 13 feet away from the wall with the assembled light shotgun. As the projector hums away, the moving mirror displays the duck across the projected surface at a decent pace. If the player can aim in the right spot and shoot the duck, the projected scene will change and the duck will fall to the ground.

By all accounts, if played as intended, the game is moderately difficult and quite enjoyable. It's not too much of a stretch to say that perhaps the NES game was simply the '80 version of a remaster.

 

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Erik: Across the Pacific in 1972 video game pioneer, Ralph Bear released the very first home video game console. The Magnavox Odyssey, the Odyssey was controlled by two paddles that had knobs on the sides and a reset button on top. There were a total of 11 different cartridges available through various means. However, unlike modern game cartridges, there were no logic or memory chips contained within.

The distinction for the first home system with that style of cartridge goes to the Fairchild Channel F. The Odyssey’s cartridges acted simply as complex jumpers that activated portions of the discrete circuitry found inside the console. Nonetheless, the Odyssey was a rather amazing piece of technology for its time, but perhaps one of the most fitting pieces of Nintendo's video game lore connects them directly to the release of this first ever home game console.

Three of the cartridges could be used in conjunction with the only peripheral released for the system, the Odyssey shooting gallery light rifle. The design of the light rifle was licensed from none other than Nintendo's original Kôsenjû SP series, but the Nintendo connection does not end there. Although the Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972 in the United States, Japan did not receive the console until 1974, where it was licensed and distributed by none other than Nintendo. By Christmas of 1975, however, Nolan Bushnell’s Pong from Atari had taken the world by storm with competitors seemingly coming from everywhere to claim a piece of the action. Magnavox had turned away from releasing the original multi game Odyssey console towards releasing smaller, simpler consoles with only a few games at most.

Not to be out done, Nintendo also jumped into the market with their own spin on these limited function home video games. At the insistence of Hiroshi Yamauchi using lower cost parts, Nintendo produced the color TV game line of home consoles in 1977. Initially the Color TV-Game 6 and Color TV-Game 15 were released, with 6 and 15 games each respectively. One year later in 1978 Color TV-Game racing 112 was released.

This new version included a steering wheel control and had top-down racing style games included. In 1979 this was followed up by a breakout style game system, color TV game block Kazushi. Finally, in 1980 Nintendo released a small quantity of Computer TV-Game consoles. The last in the Color TV-Game line. Computer TV-Game was a one to one port of Nintendo's computer Othello arcade game.

The Color TV-Game line of home consoles proved successful with their lower costs, colorful shells and fun games for the home market. In addition to development of arcade in home consoles in the 1970s, Nintendo also began the development of handheld electronic entertainment. Story has it that Gunpei Yokoi saw a man playing with his LCD display calculator while riding one of Japan's commuter rails, inspiring him to create a small handheld system that could be used to play a game with the LCD display and buttons.

The small size of something that could be tucked away in a pocket after arriving at your destination seemed convenient. And a simple game seemed like a perfect way to pass the time for a train ride to work. In 1980, the very first Game & Watch handheld system named Ball was released. Ball sold approximately a quarter of a million units and helped to launch a line of Game & Watch systems that lasted through 1991.

In 1982, Nintendo introduced the vertical multi-screen series of Game & Watch systems. The second of which was Donkey Kong aside from being a handheld version of Nintendo's popular arcade game, the system features the introduction of what has now become one of the staples of video game controller elements, the cross shaped directional pad designed by Yokoi himself. Throughout the 1960s and '70 Nintendo's evolution into a family entertainment company, their advancement into electronic entertainment and the acquisition of key creative employees was about to converge into an unrivaled phenomenon.

Be sure to join me in the next episode for the season finale of Fire Flower, from paper to pixels, where each of these elements culminates in the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

 

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Erik: We're kind of wrapped up here. This has been an incredible episode you guys. I know that there's some really cool stuff on the horizon here. Some stuff that Smitty, I know he's dying to share. He's chomping at the bit right now and he wants to let loose –

Smitty: We’re doing a third pressing of Gris.

Erik: No. I know there's some stuff upcoming man, that you would love to spill the beans on but we can't just yet.

Smitty: So that's where we don't spill the beans, everybody and thanks for joining us. But, no, I just want to encourage everybody to tune into Devolver Direct. That is kind of essentially what has become their famous E3 video press conference, now it's called the Devolver Direct. It's going to be on Saturday, July 11th. I think it was at noon. Go to one of the Devolver channels, it's going to be on Twitch.

I think they're doing it on YouTube as well, but I'll be watching on Twitch and the 30 minutes leading up to the press conference, there's going to be a countdown. There's going to be this white and red graphic with different text messages going across it. There are going to be some Special Reserve Games related things in there, possibly announcement related stuff. If you want to know the release date for Carrion for our Special Reserve Games version, tune into that broadcast, you'll probably get a heads up.

So there'll be a lot of really cool announcements made for them. But, of course, just thowing out here we did announce My Friend Pedro for PS4, and also the second pressing of Gris, which we were lovingly talking about. Both of those are going to release on specialreservegames.com on July 23rd. So it's going to be an exciting day for us to have multiple games releasing on the same day.

But if you want to save on shipping and also not have to set your alarm more than once a month, just tune in to July 23rd and grab some of these great games from us. So other than that, I hope you had a really safe 4th of July. If you were in America, if you're ever in Canada, Happy Canada Day, a couple days late. And if you're anywhere else in the world, I hope you're having a great day.

Erik: Speaking of Canada Day. I want to give a massive thank you to our special guest that was on this episode, Mr. Mike Sanders. Thank you. And I think with that, it is time to say game over.