9. Tales from E3
9. Tales from E3, the History of Nintendo, and Mother Russia Bleeds
Smitty and Erik crown a winner in their "video game remake" contest after listening to a few more excellent listener suggestions, and Smitty makes an announcement regarding the upcoming Special Reserve Games release of Mother Russia Bleeds.
Plus, since there's no E3 this year, the guys reminisce about their past experiences at the iconic games conference. And Erik wraps things up with part four of Fire Flower, his audio documentary about the history of Nintendo.
Games You Deserve is 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.
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Erik: Welcome to Games You Deserve, brought to you by Special Reserve Games. This week, we hear more of your video game remake ideas, plus we tell our E3 stories, and wrap things up with part four of Fire Flower. Hey, we got some more emails from some of the folks listening out there, the podcast fans. Or do we call them... Are they fans?
Smitty: People still send emails, huh? I just-
Erik: I guess. Well, I got a text or a page on my pager the other day.
Dan: Oh, really? Was it your dealer?
Smitty: No, it was your doctor.
Erik: It was really weird because it just said 143 and—
Smitty: Oh right. Mine always just says 911, 911, 911. All that over and over again. That usually meant get home. I didn't have a pager. What are we talking about?
Smitty: So we got some emails from the email machine.
Erik: Yeah. Let me read one of these off here. So this is from Mark. Mark. It's guymanstuff on Discord . And he says. "Hello, Erik. It was fun checking out Shadow Warrior 2 blood splatter differences the other day in Discord ." Before I go any further, Smitty, you want to explain that one because some people might not get that?
Smitty: Well, sometimes we hurt people. And sometimes there's blood. Now on Shadow Warrior 2, which was actually the pre Special Reserve Games as a company, Special Reserve Version of Shadow Warrior 2 that was done directly for Devolver by me. Was also the first time we had done a randomization of a vector layer of... we've done randomization of blood splatter on every single copy of Shadow Warrior 2. So not only did the sequential numbers all designate an individual type of copy, also the blood splatter. But you'd have a truly original unique print of each one of the games. And so we were trying to prove a little bit that this had happened. That we really did produce these kinds of... so we started posting pictures in the Discord of our different blood splatter patterns over games.
Erik: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. That was a lot of fun to share.
Smitty: Long explanation there. Sorry about that.
Erik: Oh, no, no, no, I mean, that's the kind of thing that's really cool about those boxes is that, literally every single one is truly unique. So, he goes on to say, "Thank you guys for being awesome and doing what you do. I love our community on Discord , which is great." So if you haven't joined the Discord do so. Discord.gg/specialreservegames. "Games I'd like to see remastered." And this is cool because we've talked about at least one of these games. He says, "Well, SimCopter is probably highest on my list, followed by Streets of SimCity and SimCity 2000." Which I know Smitty had mentioned when we were talking about SimCity. He said, "Another would be the original Serious Sam, which I played a ton of at LAN parties in this high school media center." Boy that brings it back. And he says, "By the way, I'll be checking the mintiness of Fetch really soon."
Smitty: Oh oh.
Erik: Haha. "Then I'll send it off to my folks in Florida, to give to Brownie our pup." And he sent a nice little photo of the pupper here.
Smitty: Oh my Uncle Gordon and Aunt Joyce had a dog named Brownie, up in Abilene, Kansas.
Erik: There you go, there you go. So what do you think of the Sim City or all the Sim choices in that?
Dan: I hate it. No, no, everything he said. No move on.
Smitty: I mean, yeah, excellent ideas. Everything he said was just... when you say remake or reserve or a physical copy or collector's edition. The one thing that always just kind of hurts my heart, is that PC has such a small market for collectibles. So I think we've talked about this once or twice before. So, like Streets of SimCity or SimCity 2000. I don't think of SimCity 2000 as a console game. I think it was—
Erik: It really wasn't.
Dan: Oh God, no. It's a PC game.
Smitty: It's a PC game.
Smitty: So what would we remake it on? Not on Switch. We would make it for PC. We'd probably put it on a DVD. Holy crap, we'd probably have to put a thumb drive in there just so you can install it on 90% of the new laptops. They have no DVD drive. They have no disk drive at all.
Erik: But let's move on to the next one. This one came from Brandon. He says, "Hi, Erik, just want to say great work with the podcast. I've been enjoying tuning in so far. You are all offering a great perspective on the medium and wider industry. To cut to the chase, the game that I want remade would be Extreme-G. Perhaps an oddball choice, but this is a game I finally remember from my childhood. I miss publishers like Acclaim that published solid games, and they gave a new spin on established formulas. I always thought Extreme-G was a fun spin on Wipeout, with a fantastic multiplayer battle that took inspiration from Mario Kart."
Dan: That's fair. That's very accurate. I think that's a good idea.
Erik: If I look at where the Switch is for instance today, we've got a smattering of racing games, but I really haven't seen anything recently that kind of really hits that note that Wipeout or Extreme-G or anything along those lines hits, that kind of arcade-y, hard and fast race. It doesn't come across in too many of my... and I think the only one, where I get even close to that right now that I really like is Horizon Chase Turbo. PM Studios put that out and they've done a pretty nice job there. But it's kind of that arcade-y feel of racer, it doesn't really exist as much as the realistic stuff. Once Gran Turismo came out on the PlayStation there was a huge push for realistic.
Smitty: It can all be pole position.
Dan: I had much more fun with Wipeout and Need for Speed and those kinds of games. I mean, Need for Speed is more realistic but I still enjoy that aspect of it than the realism of Gran Turismo. It was not-
Erik: Well, we talked about Daytona USA.
Dan: Right, yes.
Erik: One of the other ones. And that's very arcade style.
Erik: It's not realistic at all—
Dan: No, come on.
Erik: But it's great. It gives you that feeling of speed.
Dan: You go fast. And that's the thing with the Switch with Nintendo. Nintendo's big one is of course Mario Kart. And that's fine. It's a great game. It's a lot of fun, but you don't get that feeling of speed from it. You're not racing super-fast cars, you’re racing carts. The whole point is that it's like Go Karts.
Dan: So it's not quite as good. Not quite the same. But that's a great suggestion for sure.
Smitty: I'll tell you speaking of carts. There was one game we made, CART Precision Racing. That was a racing game. It was for cart championship auto racing teams. And that was a game that was truly just a simulator, but it was so realistic. The physics were so accurate. I remember Blondell... What was his name? Michael Blondell, I think was the racer. He also did some open wheel stuff, I mean other open wheel tournaments. But the cart, it was a simulation but it was marketed as a game. It should have been marketed to the people like Microsoft Flight Simulator, if you will. If you like Microsoft Flight Simulator, you'll love CART Precision Racing. It should not have been marketed like Daytona USA or Pole Position 14. So I would say on some of the games, if you get too realistic in the physics and the handling of them, they become less fun, less of a game and the re-playability goes down as well. So just, it's just kind of a weird balance when you're talking about how realistic or how fast or something really feels. Well if it really felt realistic, you probably wouldn't play it.
Erik: Yeah. It'd be more of a job than a game.
Smitty: Was it going to be boring. Yeah. I was like, "Oh that feels like when I drive every day."
Erik: Exactly. I got to go to work. Why do I want to do this?
Erik: So the next email came from Jason. It says, "Listening to your podcast and I'm really enjoying it. In episode three you ask people to email you the games they would love to see remade. The three games from the '90s that I would love to see remade are Aerobiz Supersonic, Ogre Battle, and Rock n' Roll Racing. Thank you for the great podcast. Hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during these uncertain times." So first off, I want to say that I'm safe and healthy. And Smitty is just healthy. He's very unsafe.
Smitty: I'm not mentally healthy. I'm physically healthy. But yeah, I'm still relatively safe. Dan, are you safe?
Dan: Yeah, I am safe. Yes, absolutely.
Smitty: I haven't really had anybody, thankfully, in my family directly affected medically, by the pandemic and the different things our world has been dealing with over the last few months, especially even over the last few weeks. So I can say thankfully, the health side of it all. In fact, I think we were just talking at the beginning. I actually was tested for antibodies for the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, which that's COVID-19, which is a SARS virus. And no antibodies present. I was almost sure I had it back in January or December. But once again, it's one of those things not to be strange here, but to actually know the truth, really helps me in a lot of ways. Because you start thinking, "Did I have it? Well, am I immune? Could I get it again? Well, I felt like this - what if I feel like this again?" Nowadays just to be able to know one or two answers, for fact, is so liberating. So yes, thanks for all the emails and inspiring great conversation. And my response is, always seek the truth.
Erik: Well, the truth is do you want Aerobiz Supersonic?
Dan: Aerobiz Supersonic is a cool game.
Erik: Or Ogre Battle or Rock n' Roll Racing to be remade?
Smitty: Oh, well, the truth is they're not going to get remade.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Erik: Yes. That is the truth. That is the truth.
Smitty: That's the truth.
Dan: Of those, the only ones I ever played with was Aerobiz Supersonic. And I did enjoy that game. I mean when you think about it, there's a lot of older games that could go through remakes. And it gets to, really the only question is, "Do people..." It's almost the same thing you guys face when choosing the games you release. Is there an audience for it? That's really what we're trying to determine here, right? Any of these games, they're all nostalgic value for us because we played them when we were younger. So the question is, what's worth remaking and what isn't? Right?
Erik: Yeah. And that's—
Smitty: Well, I think it goes back to what is remaking? Is it making a physical version to collect it or are you improving it? There's a lot of things.
Dan: Yeah. There's a question about that as well.
Erik: It's a really wide kind of thing to —
Smitty: It's a—
Erik: It's a broad scope to examine. The next one came from Bradley here. Bradley says, "Good afternoon, Erik. Loving the podcast. It is excellent. A big remake dream for me would be Commander Keen. Pretty sure Smitty's checked that out, played that. An updated side-scroller not far off from the original but with quality of life updates for sure. I have a number of memories burning out my eyes late at night to that. Also I know it has been out on everything, but I want a new updated horror centric version of Heiankyo Alien. I've always loved the puzzle feeling of that game, but want to be terrified by the aliens escaping holes and chasing the player. Keep up the good work both on the podcast and at SRG. Thanks for everything." So yeah, Commander Keen. How many of those were there? There was a bunch of them made, right?
Smitty: Yeah. Well I'm not sure on that. But the good news is Commander Keen, we are currently remaking it with an eye burning device. So that guy can... it's going to be amazing. They're going to be for sale soon. Just keep coming back to our website. I'm almost positive. I'm not lying to you. Okay, I'm lying to you. But if I did, I'd have to make with an eye burning device. I was just thinking about buying a monitor the other day. Like some of these old games like Commander Keen that you sat in front of, a CRT monitor just burning your eyeballs. Like literally when you say that, it's doesn't almost have a modern day reference even. Because we have these nice cool LED screens that aren't literally shining a flashlight into our retinas. Especially anyone who plays games in the dark. Half the programmers I know, they have no lights in their office.
Erik: Exactly, exactly. Because the CRTs were more than enough. More than enough.
Smitty: I mean number one, they sat wherever you put them because they weighed 422 pounds. But yeah, they were just like a giant... go look at a CRT that actually looks like the projection of a flashlight from one side to the other, which is exactly-
Erik: Very much.
Smitty: What it was.
Erik: Very much.
Erik: The first Commander Keen was released back in December 14 of 1990 on DOS.
Smitty: Oh my gosh.
Erik: So that takes you back quite a bit and then get this.
Smitty: Wow. I was in first grade.
Erik: Now get this, the latest announcement June 9th, 2019 at Bethesda's E3 conference, they announced a Commander Keen for iOS and Android devices. So how far have we come on that sort of thing?
Dan: Yeah. And that's kind of a common thing you see. A lot of older games get a release of some kind on iOS, because it's like the cheapest way to go and it's probably got some sort of internal micro-transactions or in-app purchases, whatever freemium content they can come up with-
Erik: To be able to jump, two more times. "Please pay us 99 cents."
Dan: Yeah. That kind of stuff. That's what I hate about the mobile games. But yeah, I've seen that a couple different times for older games.
Smitty: It is really cool.
Erik: It's a shame.
Smitty: It's great to hear everybody's different wish list though.
Erik: We got a voicemail from Dalton.
Dalton: Hey, guys, just wanted to give you some of my suggestions for games that are in need of a remake or remastered. First one is Eternal Darkness that debuted on the Nintendo GameCube. Second, would have to be the F.E.A.R trilogy that debuted on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. And last but not least, the Dead Space trilogy that also debuted on the Xbox 360 and PS3. I think any of these games are well deserving of 60 FPS. Fix a lot of the textures that really didn't sit well with a lot of the players that played it all the way back in the day. I would absolutely love to see any of these games get that fresh coat of paint on them.
Dan: I like the way he puts it: fresh coat of paint.
Erik: That's true. That's true.
Dan: I think it's a good way of describing what is happening with these games. Certainly that's the case for Final Fantasy VII. It just becomes a completely reskinned game so that it looks super new and up to date, but it's largely the same story in the same content. So what was it? Eternal? I missed the first game there.
Erik: Eternal Darkness was the first one he was talking about. Now that was a GameCube release. And I found this to be interesting for a couple of reasons. The first was this is now, overall probably the third, fourth, fifth horror game that we've heard somebody mention, in the past. It seems to be like a recurring theme. A lot of people are really enjoying that genre.
Dan: Oh, that's a popular genre, but also people... the dated graphics kind of pull people out of it. You know you don't get as into the game that was made 20 years ago, because they're kind of pixel-y and not so interesting to look at. And so the newer ones like the Resident Evil remake definitely achieves that right?
Dan: It's a newer game. It brings you into the game more, the better it looks.
Erik: And that that makes a ton of sense. The other thing that I found interesting about this was, this was GameCube era. And so this kind of ties directly into one of the things I've been doing personally with gaming. I have been trying to put together some old consoles that recently have had ways to connect to HDMI. Because it's hard to get that nice clear picture out of that old composite thing. So one of these was the GameCube. And GameCube actually had, some models, had this really cool digital AV port. And a couple of companies have figured out how to create this little module that I'm holding up to show you guys. And it takes that digital AV port and makes it out, HDMI. Now, that HDMI wasn't even around when the GameCube was released and Eternal Darkness came out in 2002. HDMI wasn't even thought of in 2002 yet. At least I don't think so. But it certainly wasn't around when the GameCube was released. And so I've been going through and putting together pieces of the GameCube, to try to get this kind of all put together so that I can play some old GameCube games. And I always thought, "This kind of game. You're right. If they had this nowadays reskin like they did with Resident Evil. It would be more immersive, right? It would plunge you into the game more. Right now, if you were to play it, you'd probably go, "Hmmm. That's not as cool looking as I remember." In fact, this particular game was originally planned, Eternal Darkness was originally planned for the Nintendo 64. And then, it didn't quite make it on to that quite the way that they wanted and came over to GameCube for development. But yeah, really good choices. Smitty, we have promised for a number of episodes that we would pick a winner and drop a little bundle on them.
Smitty: Yes. We were going to have a contest that we make up the rules on the spot, and then pick a winner that we make up on the spot. That we randomly draw with no rules. Nobody needs rules for this, is what you're saying this is a rule-less—
Erik: Pretty much.
Dan: Submitted suggestions. Anybody who responded to Erik's call.
Smitty: Oh okay. I just wanted to—
Dan: Is that you're doing. So all these people are entered to win, including Dalton with that voicemail.
Smitty: Mm-hmm yeah.
Dan: So how do we choose a winner? Is the question.
Erik: So, I'll tell you what, if I throw that in, and we look at this, I would say, just pick a number between one and 11.
Smitty: 12,002. Oh.
Erik: That's not how that works. Just pick a number between one and 11.
Erik: One. So, we are going to reach back out to Justin. Justin was the first person back in late April to go ahead and send us a message.
Smitty: Wow. Oh gee.
Erik: I will reach out to Justin and notify Justin via email. But yeah, we'll send Justin a nice little prize package and maybe Justin can let us know and post some pictures on Twitter or something once Justin gets that. That will be a nice share.
Smitty: And just as a hint, we have all kinds of things. We have overruns of stickers, instruction booklets. We have patches. We have static clings. We have different things that we do for different reserves, that we might have-
Erik: Flat boxes.
Smitty: Small accessory bundles of flat boxes, flat jacket covers. A numbered versions of games. Numbered versions of games.
Erik: Scrap paper of notes that Smithy's taken in and almost threw away.
Smitty: We always have a lot of great things. We have a great team, we're always making a lot of different assets. We have a lot of different pieces of art around, so if you're a collector of art, we might have good prizes for you here.
Erik: So Justin, by the time you hear this, I will probably have already reached out. Congratulations on winning our little tiny prize package. I promise you guys we will be doing more of this in the future. We love to engage with you guys and hear your feedback. Again don't forget you can email me Erik, firstname.lastname@example.org. And then Dan tell them how they do the Anchor message voicemail thingy.
Dan: It's just in the show notes of every episode. You may not be listening to this podcast on Anchor, but you do need to have the Anchor app in order to respond via voice. So you could find this, you can just search Games You Deserve on the Anchor app, find the podcast. And then in the show notes, you'll see a link to record a voice message for us. And as you can hear, they sound great. I love it. I love the quality. It's not just like a phone message. It's actually recorded off of somebody's smartphone. So the quality of audio is excellent.
Dan: We have one more voicemail to listen to, and this one doesn't have anything to do with any remakes. It was another just a genuine question from one of our listeners and let's give it a listen and then you guys can respond to it.
Voicemail: I’d just like you guys to talk about, what led you to the decision to only make 500 copies of your next release? You just sold thousands of copies of Hotline Miami. And Mother Russia Bleeds, has some cross over with this game. They're both violent. They're both dark. They're both fun. Now you have a larger customer base. Are your limiting how many people can buy? I understand PS4 doesn't sell as well, across the limited game companies. But 500? It just seems silly. And the amount that you're allocating to limited run is 1500, but they're not the same. And collectors who you know want to buy both of them, are going to be struggling to get what they want. I know you've already said you're only doing 500 but man, please just reconsider. You're just doing it a disservice to yourself, to the community that you've built. It's just kind of an unfortunate thing. You guys are doing so good right now. Your company appears to be growing, and I want it to continue to grow. And I want to be a part of that.
Smitty: Well, I will tell you, there is always a decision on how many copies to make on anything when we're doing a set number.
Smitty: It's always based on three. But, and that's the answer. I mean, I don't know how clear I can be. When we're talking about some of the older games that we're actually getting to do a physical version of now, there is a school of thought here by doing an open pre-order it is kind of detrimental to the game, and the potential sales of it and maybe even the audience on the value that's put on it, if they're going to actually remember this game after two or three years. And so there's an idea that if it's taken three years to get it out on physical, if you did an open pre-order for say 20 or 30 days, there's not going to be any urgency to actually go and buy it. And half of the people who would really want it will most likely forget to actually buy it. Believe it or not, that's really an answer. That's not me saying that, that's customers saying that to me. And then there's also a value of the title itself. Where you have say, a Nintendo Switch, you have a game that has to be sold for 29.99 as a mandated MSRP for physical. Well, if you have the exact same game for PS4, that it's the same game, just a different platform. Does it make it any less valuable? And I say no. So the game would also sell on the... as far as I'm concerned, a reserve that would be a PS4 version is, what you call price parity. You'd have price parity, it's also 29.99, or 39.99. So at that point, you also have to build a lot of assets, to make sure that the value of that digital game that you might be able to download for six bucks, has a great physical value. So all that has to be taken into consideration to what we call COGs, cost of goods. And you just kind of have to balance off your COGs, on how many might think you could be able to sell. But also, how many items that you're willing to produce of the assets. Like stickers or patches or art cards or anything like that. We have to design and print all that stuff, so far in advance to have it ready anywhere close to the time that we'd like to sell and ship it. So we have to risk and lay out a lot of money, as well that we just can't recoup if we don't sell things. So there's a lot of risk versus sales potential, I guess on some of this. But more than anything, I think we look at numbers of, how do we maintain the value of these titles, once they've been sold? Not like we're trying to make it easy for eBay to make 100 X markup on these gains in the secondary market. It's not that. It’s that if you buy something you really know that it's limited. We really weren't lying. It's not a marketing ploy. We think making a set number of games, and leaving it at that, is kind of representative of what, not how much the game is valued but we want to preserve the value of that digital game in a physical state. So, in a case where we've announced Mother Russia Bleeds for PS4. We announced 500 units for PS4 for us and 1500 units for an alternate cover with Limited Run Games. And truthfully Limited Run Games has a more active PS4 collector audience than we do. And so it makes sense for them to have some more of those units. The only reason we agreed to even do Mother Russia Bleeds PS4 is that we could collectively, sell a few thousand, not a few hundred, or we wouldn't have probably made it. But Nintendo Switch outsells PS4 five to one, easy across the board just five to one. So every time you sell one PS4 you've already sold five Switches. So I wouldn't make the same number of Switches that I would PS4, even though they have price parity, they may have the exact same contents inside the box other than, one's a PS4 and one's a Switch. So, it's kind of two different audiences. Same game, two different audiences. PS4 audience and Switch audience. And those aren't always the same people.
Dan: He's talking about as somebody, I assume he's one of these people that would buy both versions as a collector. Right? That's the issue I think he's trying to address here.
Erik: And he definitely has a point, and we definitely know about those people. We love those people.
Smitty: I'm one of those people.
Erik: Hell, I'm one of those people. But that's also still, that's like a niche group of a niche group, right? And so it's hard to kind of gauge what that's like and then you talked about five to one. That number is widening all the time.
Smitty: Yeah, there's different ways that we are trying to sell. And we never are trying to put anything under. Because even for Mother Russia Bleeds, we announced 500 as PS4 and there was an immediate outcry like... and it wasn't just the five guys who loved PS4 yelling the loudest. It was the 500 guys who loved PS4 yelling really loud, kind of just like this voicemail. So, thankfully, we announced early enough that I'm not locked into any specific manufacturing quantities. So because of the immediate feedback, we are going to increase the Mother Russia Bleeds PlayStation 4 run for Special Reserve Games to a thousand units instead of 500. So we're going to double the amount. And that may not sound very big like, "Whoop di do. That's going to sell out in seven minutes instead of three minutes." It's the significant increase in the PS4 side. So I hope everybody that wants it on PS4, has an opportunity to get it. If you want to get it on Switch, hope you have an opportunity to get it. And buy them both if you'd like. But if you are a supporter of PlayStation 4, and you want to see more physical games appear on that platform in higher quantity numbers, especially by us, I mean really the only way to do that is just to buy the stuff that's put out on PS4. And all of us, Limited Run Games, me, we will get more confidence in the... not that the platform will sell but it has the capability of selling closer back to what Switch is selling now. So I know that's a really crazy business laced answer. But that's really the... we started out with PlayStation 4 and PC as Special Reserve Games we became a co-publisher for Switch, along the way. We started out PS4. So I love that platform a lot and I hope with PS5 we get to start making more disk based products.
Dan: Agreed. Agreed. And don't forget you guys using that voicemail, you can send other questions. Feel free to let us know what other things you might want to know about. Definitely shoot us messages and hopefully we can put you on the podcast. So, we appreciate all of the responses you guys been given. Thank you.
Erik: This is the week that E3 would have happened in 2020. Now, of course, the event was canceled pretty early on, in the COVID-19 pandemic. All live events are still canceled. It's still not acceptable to be holding huge events like E3. But well, I mean, it's yeah, I know it sucks. But you want people to be safe right?
Smitty: I'm booing COVID.
Erik: Oh okay, okay.
Erik: But it's worth talking about. We don't have any E3 this year to of course, tell us all the new stuff coming out. But I know you guys have had some experiences with E3 in the past.
Smitty: Well, I would have been at E3 right now. I mean, I would absolutely be in Los Angeles with quite a few people. Right down at the corner of Pico and Figueroa. Right across from the Staples Center. Because even last year I was there and the year before. But never exhibit inside of the E3 hall. I always set up shop at the Devolver booth and way back when, and the Gathering of Developers booth, which has never really been inside the confines of E3 proper. But just right across the street. So yeah, it is kind of strange because this is the kind of year where... excuse me, this is the time of year when we catch up with old colleagues that especially, oh geez that we haven't seen in years and years. "Where did somebody go? Did Dan get a new job? Oh, I heard Erik's working at Sony now." All that stuff still happened and would still be happening now. And it's not as much about the parties anymore, as it is the connections and not everything is now revealed at E3, kind of like it used to be, thanks to the internet basically. But it still exists in people's mind. There's still a lot of analysis and virtual announcements, digital press releases, digital press conferences being done around the same timeframe because this time of year is oddly so ingrained in the psyche of, not just the game developer, the gaming business that the first couple of weeks of June, that's E3 time and it's still strange that E3 has been canceled for months. But everybody's marketing plans were still geared around this few weeks in June, and a lot of them are sticking to it.
Dan: When was the first time you went to E3?
Smitty: I mean, my first E3 was 1998. It was in Atlanta, Georgia. And when the early days of E3, it wasn't always in LA, it was going to bounce back and forth every other year. Atlanta one year, LA the other year, back and forth. And then I'm sure, no disrespect to Atlanta, but I mean if you're going to put Atlanta up next to Los Angeles, it's going to be tough, because there is a lot of cool stuff out in LA. Number one, the Pacific Ocean. But Atlanta isn't even on the Gulf Coast. So anyway, it was 1998, I was at Terminal Reality. And we were getting ready to try to launch Gathering of Developers. We were actually really trying to find an investor, a big investor, a big powerful industry partner. And yeah, I remember we took a Cessna 172 that I had shelled, taking the shell of a Cessna 172, that's an airplane. And we had a flight simulator called Fly, that we had developed at Terminal Reality. And it was going to be published by the new Gathering of Developers. Well we had a demo called the Bullet Time demo out there. That was Max Payne. And then we had a Nocturne Engine, that we were demoing and that turned out to be Nocturne. So anyway, yeah, that was 1998. Atlanta, Georgia.
Dan: No, wait, wait. I just realized something. So this is '98. This is before The Matrix came out. The Bullet Time thing was a thing before The Matrix? Was it Max Payne? Max Payne did that little slowdown of time and that kind of stuff.
Smitty: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dan: Oh that's cool. I never realized that. Certainly The Matrix is what popularized that in pop culture. Right?
Erik: Yeah. The Matrix came out in '99. So yeah, that's right before that.
Smitty: But the technology existed. So it was really an amazing technical demo. I think part of what Remedy, that was where the developers of Max Payne, from Helsinki, Finland. They were looking for advice and guidance. And E3 was a place to go where you had the smartest people, the most active people in the gaming industry really did gather there. Because this was, I don't even know how the origin of E3 started, why it came to Atlanta and things like that. So I can't speak to some of the ESA and how that group that's behind E3. But GDC and a couple, now PAX is different. But GDC now is known as the business. Where you get business done. And it's kind of, not boring, but it certainly doesn't have the flash and the cash of E3. E3 is where you went to see the big crazy stuff get announced in a big crazy way. And that's changing. E3 was a great idea. And then when it went to Hollywood, it fricking went to Hollywood. You know what I'm saying? It became Hollywood. And it became the price of Hollywood too. It's very expensive.
Erik: And that's part of the reason why you guys, why Devolver has their booth outside the main... yeah. It's real cheaper.
Smitty: Absolutely. Because it was, you didn't have a choice. You were told how much you were going to pay, to be able to participate in E3. You had no choice. They would look at your gross revenues and charge you appropriately. And then let's say we did want to pay to play, and we said, "Here we're GodGames and we're going to give you a million dollars to get inside that show." For which trust me there's much more than that spent. And they say, "Well, that's cool. We'll take your million dollars but since your first year we're going to still put you way, way, way, way, way back in north hall." Where nobody is. Where nobody else is. And you're like, "What, oh." And then you're done. So, it didn't feel very fair to any of us who were in the industry and Gathering of Developers was all about, kind of bucking the system and taking it to the man if you will, where the big money that was crushing the artist, and stealing their ideas a little bit, taking the credit for their ideas and putting their logo on it. That's what we were fighting to stop. We were going for developer driven publishing that was the credo of GodGames. So E3 was also very important for us because we were out there on credit cards, paying for the booth rent, that is the one year that we paid the ESA. I don't even know if it was the ESA at the time, to actually have floor space. But we were out there fishing so hard for investors. That's where we had people from England and Australia and Japan. And everybody all come into this one town to meet. So we were really trying to fund Gathering of Developers, really extremely hard. And E3 gave the opportunity to have all these people face to face. You get to see live demos at the games, you get to shake people's hands and see if you can trust them by looking them in the eye. Those were the opportunities that the early E3 afforded. And we actually did get funded, at that E3. Gathering of Developers became real.
Erik: Yeah I got a chance to go, the year after that Smitty had his first year. Went to E3 in '99. So this was back in LA.
Dan: The winner.
Smitty: I'm the winner.
Dan: First. Were you at the '99 one as well Smitty?
Erik: Yeah. Of course he was.
Dan: Okay. So you guys were there at the same time, but you didn't know each other yet.
Erik: No, no, no. I would have kicked his ass.
Dan: Oh you mean, you may have crossed paths. Just walking past each other.
Erik: I would have just kicked his ass.
Smitty: You would have had to have gotten through security. '99 I was very famous.
Erik: Sure you were the security back then. No, no. '99 was a great year for E3. Got to remember though that back then this was all industry. This wasn't fan attended.
Smitty: Yeah. You're right.
Erik: You got a chance to see something. And if you think about where gaming was '98, '99, 2000, 2001 that era. We were past the Nintendo. We were past the Super Nintendo and 64 was out. All these, kind of what we called next-gen consoles. We're starting to see 3D, really-
Smitty: Don't forget about PC.
Erik: I know.
Smitty: AMD had just put out the Athlon processor. You had Pentium one and a half.
Erik: Yeah. This was big deal. I mean, in '99 you had my favorite story for that one was the Nintendo 64 itself, was getting ready to drop this partnership game for Star Wars Episode One podracing. Right?
Smitty: Oh yeah. I remember that. I remember that.
Erik: The movie, regardless of what you thought of the prequels. One of the coolest things about it was the podrace right?
Dan: It's a good scene. It is.
Erik: Of all the video games that came out attached to Episode One, the podracing game is easily the best one of all of them. And at the time, Nintendo had partnered with Lucas Arts to kind of set up this massive booth specifically for this game. And they had built using kind of replicas of the pods that were in the films. They'd built a stage where you could go up, sit inside one of these pods and play the game on a big screen. So of course, I'm getting in line, I'm going to, hell yeah I want to do this. I want to podrace on the giant projection screen as if I'm actually racing. Because who wouldn't want to do that? So I get in line. I sit down. And while I am there, there's this big pomp and circumstance going on kind of behind. I don't know what's going on. I'm just racing and whatnot. And up comes like this crowd surrounding this kid. Well turns out, the kid that played little young Anakin, so Jake Lloyd, also from Indiana. He steps up and they want to do a photo op of him sitting in the pod playing the podracing game while we're doing this. So I'm sitting in a pod next to him while they're doing the photo op, and he's playing. He's a kid, he wants to play the game. So he's playing the game a little bit, and then of course, smile for the camera kind of thing. And, of course, I beat his ass. Yeah.
Dan: Of course you did. And you won the Turbo-Man in the process.
Erik: Exactly. Exactly. So no, this was like an amazing time. But you have all of these. You talked about the Hollywood of what E3 became. And really, that's when you stepped inside the larger halls. That's what you had. You had this over the top production of this.
Smitty: Oh yeah.
Erik: One off builds of signs and displays that they were just going to toss after the opening.
Smitty: And they will just fire their speakers at each other. They would try to out loud the other booth. Like, "I'm louder than you." It was so loud that even on the show floor, you were like, "Hey, lads do you have a meeting room?" And so one of the side effects of all this Hollywood glamorization of the show floor, is quiet meeting room spaces being built out on the show floor, became actually part of your important build out. And so then when you would go, you would... and then that started the trade tradition of the J.P Marriott. The Marriott, it becoming a hotbed for meetings to take place.
Erik: Away from all of this.
Smitty: Yeah. Away, off site. For sure.
Smitty: And in fact, a couple years ago, I was out there when we were starting Special Reserve Games and I met with SIEA, when I was meeting with Sony. And they had their meeting rooms at, across the street. I think it was at the Marriott, if I'm not mistaken. It was at one of the hotels. And they just... it's good for them, right? Because they can have all their corporate executives, there are some high value people, high value targets like we say there. That had need security and whatnot. You can secure that a lot better in that hotel. And then everyone comes to them.
Smitty: For the meetings and stuff. But that's actually really cool. It becomes a badge of honor, by the way to be able to say, "Oh I'm sorry, Erik, I have to leave the line for the podracer game because I have a meeting with Sony across the street at the J.P Marriott."
Erik: Don't forget to lift your pinky when you say that.
Smitty: Well, and I'll tell you what, and then you go across the street to get into the meeting and they give you a special colored wristband or they do something like that. Well, you wouldn't take it off, because then you got to go back across the street and people like, "Oh, yeah." Well, yeah, people think you're important.
Erik: A lot of the things that fans heard about and saw in pictures and video of the early days, was based on that kind of battle. You talked about cranking up the speaker sound, but it wasn't just that. This is exactly why things like booth babes came up. This is exactly why freebies would come up. You'd want to get your thing to be the most attractive, you want that attention. So you would do anything and everything to try to draw that. The free discs of stuff, hell they gave away Dreamcast.
Smitty: Well, but then the following year, you had to top what you did, and then you have to top what everybody else did.
Erik: Everybody else did. Yeah.
Smitty: And that became a thing. That wasn't a gathering. We were kind of, in my opinion, we set the standard for what could be done across the street. Because we did have booth babes. We did have people dressed up in characters. But we gave away barbecue and keg beer. And we flew all the great bunch of bands in. Like the Flametrick Subs from Austin, Texas with Satan's Cheerleaders as their backup dancers. And just the way you'd see them at Stubbs in Austin. Exactly the way you saw them at Pico and Figueroa. And so that's what we're like, "Hey, let's throw a party." And so we called our place Hell, Texas. And so we just renamed that little corner Hell, Texas. And so yeah, it's the same kind of concept, but that's what we thought. If you're going to throw a big party, throw a party. Don't make it a weird, whatever is going across the street. So we just never really embraced that model, but we sure appreciated the gathering of minds and creatives, that always did attend E3. And it still does. Still would. I'm not saying it's dead, but it's just changed over the years. And things like PAX, and then you don't just have packs anymore. You now, you have PAX East, PAX West, PAX South. Used to have just one PAX. There used to be GDCs. Now you have GDC... there's a San Francisco GDC, there's a New York GDC. Not everybody goes to one show anymore, is what I'm saying. You can get business done differently.
Erik: And boy, that just gets expensive over time, doesn't it?
Smitty: And honestly, as a game developer, we always, always, always geared our development cycles up. So we would have hopefully a beta. Something that was going to be honest way to go to master.
Erik: Show intel.
Smitty: Well, we had to because you had to give press demos, at that point. And this is like Blue's News and GameSpot and I can't remember if IGN was a thing back then. But there were very few even really credible news sites. Like Computer Gaming Monthly Magazine, PC Gamer Magazine. And by the way, if you want to have a weird Star Wars thing that you were just talking about. Talk about PC Gamer Magazine. Who was the editor-in-chief? Gary Whitta . Oh yeah, what did Gary Whitta do? Oh, yeah, he went on to write Rogue One. So just FYI, he was a British dude. So he was one of the writers of Rogue One. The magazine's, just anybody that remembers how magazines used to work and they still do. They don't print immediately. They usually come out about 30 days after. So let's say today it's June 1st. Well, you couldn't prove it until I mean, 30 days later, would be when it comes out no matter what. Because the printing and distribution. So we would have to make a game, have a demo, that was kind of make or break over those few days. Where we had press interviews scheduled back to back to back to back, every 30 minutes. Like shout out to Andy and Lori and all the people that used to do our PR. But we would just be scheduled as developers for three days straight. It was unrelenting. So you're just spent probably the last two months, killing yourself doing grinding late night, ruining marriage type of hours in the office to get that alpha to beta or get that beta to a gold master candidate or something. So you could go sell it to a publisher, so you can go get good press reviews, so you could do any kind of business you wanted. And then any of the impact from what you had, especially press wouldn't even be felt for at least 30 or 45 days until after E3. After, the earliest.
Erik: In fact, what I know from people that I've talked to over the years, that had a lot of the same experience. The most popular, two weeks to set up a vacation outside of Christmas, was the two weeks after E3.
Smitty: After. And we still do that to this day.
Smitty: That is exactly, but now here's the difference. In 1999, when we used to take it off. Well, me, Doug we would, I don't know, rent a yacht and go straight out into the middle of the ocean for a week and then turn around and drive back for the next week. It didn't matter. We would do whatever, we were enjoying life. Now, we're all taking our children out there, who are 16, 17, 18. Now we've got some of the kids in our group are 25 now. And so now what we do is we go out to E3, and our families either go with us sometimes or will eventually meet us out there. Then we take the vacation, after, on our way home if you will, from LA to wherever we're going. And we turned it into a family vacation now. So I usually end up in Colorado, which I just absolutely love Colorado. Because it's kind of halfway home. And my daughter and I would go and kick around in Durango or Pagosa Springs or something like that. So yeah, it's still done to this day, just like we said. E3 isn't happening this year for the first time in two decades. But the industry still coalesces around these dates is important to... And we don't know quite why. It's almost like Christmas. It's December 25th just because it always has been.
Dan: Oh now we're seeing a lot of companies adapt to this. What they keep calling the new normal? And we've already talked about not being a fan of that phrase. But so, we are seeing announcements and releases from gaming companies around titles that are going to be coming out in the next few months. Certainly this pandemic has not necessarily been a bad thing for video games. A lot of people are staying and playing and buying games. But do you think this is going to affect next year's E3 in that case? So all these companies didn't have to spend a bunch of money this year to go, and to set up their stuff. Are they going to think twice before doing it next year or in future years, if their companies are effective?
Erik: That's already started, right? We already saw Sony pulling out of E3. And we've already seen signs of Nintendo slowing down. We've seen signs of Microsoft slowing down. Smaller companies are not going anymore.
Smitty: Well, Sony's not going anywhere for the whole year. It's not just E3. It's all events.
Dan: Was it before the COVID-19 thing happened?
Erik: It was, but I think this just kind of puts the nail in that coffin. I think that that may be something they don't ever do again.
Smitty: Well, and in this situation where it's not... there are so many negatives that we can all easily see about any of this just coming to a screeching halt, but it's also going to be a great positive in the way that... I don't know how to use this. I'm going to use this reimagined. There's going to have to be a reimagining of, number one, what is the purpose of E3 and then realigning hopefully what E3 can become again. Because right now, it's a show that used to happen. It's a show that I remember. It's not a show that's coming up just like many of the other shows. So I think there's two battles. One is you're going to have to try to regain the business excitement, element of what E3 was. Just in how its presented by these other opportunities that other companies are seeing of how they can present, to the mass public through online or whatever. But the other is, you're going to have to make people... well, you're going to have to hit it at a time where people feel safe to travel. Because let's just say E3 was back on August 1st. Like GDC, had actually announced an August date. They were calling it the Summer. GDC Summer, whatever. And trust me, no one's booking flights.
Erik: No. No, no.
Smitty: No one is booking flights to go. And by the way, there's about one fifth of the flights going into California now, than there used to be anyway. And so you got the Airbnb people who are going upside down, there's less places to stay. They didn't build more hotels during the COVID-19. So you're going to have like this combination of very strange logistical problems, to even allow it E3 to happen again. Because everything around it, the support infrastructure of the city is so changed and altered forever in some cases. But yeah, I think the biggest is going to be the mental barricade, that I would say half of the industry… When you've got literally half the people at E3, that have come from overseas. They're not just in America, they're coming from Wuhan China. They're coming from London, England. To know that they are going to be able to travel out of the country, come back into their country, not quarantine for 14.... just all kinds of weird things at play. So there's no answer, but the two answers are they have to recapture the business purpose of E3. And then you're going to have to actually capture the right time, that people that attend would feel safe to attend whatever that even means.
Erik: Previously, I covered some of the more weird and wacky endeavors that Hiroshi Yamauchi explored, during his early years leading Nintendo. From taxi service to instant rice to love hotels and copy machines. It seemed as though Nintendo was on an existential search for its own future. Real success however, and the seeds of what was to become the electronic entertainment giant, we know and love today, were not necessarily to be found outside of their four walls. Thank you for coming back and listening to this week's new segment of Fire Flower: From Paper to Pixels.
Erik: Did you know that on average, there are over 80 LEGO bricks for every person on earth? Founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. LEGO had been a beloved toy for young and old alike. Also, much like Nintendo. Their success has been undeniable. The LEGO Group recorded over $4 billion in revenue in 2019. And they continue to partner with world renowned IP. Such as Harry Potter, Bob the Builder, Ghostbusters, Ferrari, DC, Marvel, and of course, Star Wars. Although the first LEGO blocks were made of wood. In 1949, LEGO began producing the interlocking plastic blocks that we're all familiar with today. This year, LEGO is partnering with Nintendo on a new line of Super Mario adventure sets, with a unique feature. The Lego Mario Figure will have an LCD screen in his eyes, mouth and belly that will bring a new dimension to both Mario and LEGO. But this isn't the first experience that Nintendo has with the wonderful world of interconnecting plastic blocks. Nearly everyone it seems, has had a go at replicating the success of LEGO and their famous blocks. In 1968, Nintendo released their own line of interlocking plastic blocks called N&B Block. If not the earliest, at least one of the earliest serious contenders to LEGO. Nintendo's toy division created new and unique shapes with curves, often marketed as being superior to LEGOs own blocks due to this fact. The N&B Block sets were even mostly compatible with LEGO blocks themselves. Though the tolerances between the pieces were not as precise as what LEGO produced, causing some of the bricks to fit together poorly at times. Nintendo released sets for nearly four years, including houses, animals, functioning clocks, and more. In fact, as I mentioned previously in an earlier segment to Fire flower, an N&B Block version of Nintendo's Rabbit Coaster was released. Giving you the opportunity to build the track that the rabbit slid down. There was even a moon rover set with landmines developed by Gunpei Yokoi, designer of the Ultra Hand. Ultimately, LEGO filed a suit against Nintendo, claiming that the N&B Blocks infringed upon the LEGO product. However, Nintendo successfully defended N&B Blocks by citing the unique block designs that they use to market the product. Although there were intriguing sets such as the train coaster, gondola and even a ringing bell. The line of blocks were discontinued in 1972. Though Nintendo no longer produces the blocks, they have made appearances within in a few games. Super Mario Land 2, even has a level where some of the blocks that make up the stage are labeled N&B. During this same era, Nintendo began experimenting with electronic toys. In 1970, the Ele-Conga electronic drum kit appeared on store shelves. Developed by you guessed it, Gunpei Yokoi. The Ele-Conga was essentially a basic five sound synthesizer and speaker, in a small conga drum enclosure. Pressing each of the buttons on the top would produce a unique sound. There was an optional auto player attachment, which connected to the Ele-Conga via a cable. Each auto player came with a set of cardboard discs, that would produce a series of inputs when spun around. In some ways, the Ele-Conga is an early ancestor to the DK Konga drums from the GameCube era. It seems that 1970 was quite the pivotal year in Nintendo's history, and quite the busy one for Gunpei. One of these developments came from a new partnership. The electronics company Sharp, was developing a fairly new photosensitive component commonly known as a photo resistor. At a basic level, there are two pieces of conductive metal, separated by a small gap that's filled with a light sensitive material. When enough light hits the sensor, it allows for more electricity to cross the gap. Masayuki Uemura, a sales engineer from Sharp was looking to find ways to use the developing technology, and met with Gunpei. Gunpei's creative approach to toys combined with this new photocell, gave birth to Kôsenjû SP series of light gun toys. The Kôsenjû SP sets commonly had a set of targets that contain photo sensors, and were compatible with both the handgun and rifle gun. Both of which shot a beam of light at the target. When the photo sensor was hit with the beam of light, the target toy would react in some way. Nintendo and Sharp's partnership was yet another smash hit. Selling hundreds of thousands of units. Sharp and Nintendo would partner again in the 1980s. But that's a story for another time.
Dan: Well, that's going to do it for another episode of Games You Deserve. Thanks so much for listening. Be sure to follow us on social media. If you haven't already, you can find links in the description below. For Smitty and Erik, I'm producer Dan until next time. Game over.