Retro City Rampage - An Interview With The Man Behind the Pixels


Posted February 20, 2012 - By Rob Manuel

Retro City Rampage

Retro City Rampage lands on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, and PS Vita this May with PC preorders starting today. 8-bits of action have never been so highly anticipated as you get to tear through a virtual town, wrecking havoc and reaping all the rewards. More than just a trip down memory lane, RCR takes on every retro NES game from Mario to Bionic Commando without missing a beat. Everything from stomping of people’s heads to the torturous TMNT sewer level makes an appearance in this downloadable title. If you’re not talking about RCR now, you will be once it comes out.

We asked Brian Provinciano, founder of Vblank Entertainment and lead designer on Retro City Rampage, about the insanity behind the sprites as well as what it takes to make one of the craziest games you need to get your hands on this Spring.

What inspired you to make Retro City Rampage?

Brian Provinciano: From the very beginning, the games I loved growing up are what inspired me to start making games. Before I even knew how, I was drawing imaginary levels on paper or in MS Paint.

I'd been a huge fan of GTA since the first top down ones, and at the peak of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City, I felt this overwhelming compulsion to create an open-world crime game of my own - if only to learn first hand how all of the systems were built. I was also really fascinated by the limitations of the NES and the NES in general, so I decided to combine the ideas. Note that this was long before the retro-revival began to happen, so at the time I was incredibly excited about this “new” concept.

My initial goal was create something with all of the gameplay and character of GTA3 while still done with the limitations of the NES, in 2D. From there it evolved, and I started to see the potential with the genre. You can do nearly anything you want with an open-world at your disposal. I started squeezing in nods and references to other games I loved, first into the city, then into the missions, and then it just spiraled out of control. It's far more than simply a GTA-style game now.

In the end, I've been able to do what most game developers dream of, make that “ultimate” game with absolutely everything you love about games, all crammed in. It's the greatest feeling!


Retro City Rampage 2012 Teaser Trailer from Vblank on Vimeo.

Was there ever one game that you couldn't squeeze into the game?

Definitely! The primary reason for certain mission ideas to be cut were that some had too much emphasis on humor and not enough on fun and gameplay. There have been other games before RCR that tried to play up parody or references, but most have had a poor reception. For example, they would often repeat the same mistakes of the games that they were poking fun at, but try to remedy that with self-referential dialogue.

I've worked hard to make sure that type of thing is absent from RCR. If I take a concept that's generally regarded a tedious or annoying, I must turn it into something fun or it's not going in. One great example of this is the car-tailing mission. I added an extra task where the player must constantly locate and grab coffee while following a car, to stay awake in all its boredom. The extra juggling really made it fun, a concept I now call “Making Fun From Making Fun”.

One mission that didn't make the cut was a Desert Bus parody, which would've been too tedious to justify the joke. Later on when discussing the mission with others, an idea popped up that would've solved that, but by that point there was no time left in the schedule and the story arc had already been reworked.

One key focus for RCR, to set it apart from other open-world games was to ensure the missions all felt unique. Each would take elements from different genres or focus on different mechanics, as opposed to them all being simply a variation of driving and shooting. The downside to this was that it was much, much more work. For a while, every mission almost required the work of a new game. In time, however, the engine and tools I had built was robust enough that everything else just fell into place, very easily. From a parody of classic Lucas Arts/Sierra adventure games to the pseudo 3D racing sections, they all went in a lot quicker than I'd expected.

Retro City Rampage

Having it on so many platforms, did you have to make any changes between platforms?

The main changes have had to do with the various screen sizes and capabilities, from the PS Vita to Wii and PS3. On the HD consoles, I was able to add widescreen support and video filters to simulate old displays including a tube TV. Unfortunately, on the Wii it wouldn't have looked very good since it's a standard definition system, so that's limited to 4:3. With an SD signal, widescreen would be blurry and distorted. It can work for 3D games, but for pixel art not so much.

The PS Vita has the most incredible screen; I'm in awe every time I turn the system on. We realized, however, that if we displayed the full HD resolution screen, the characters would be too tiny as they were originally designed with 8-Bit NES limitations in mind. To solve this, I added a zoom feature, which focuses on the center of the screen. Some parts of the game had to be modified to ensure they were still playable without the edges of the screen visible. If I had designed the game for PS Vita from day one, I would've made the characters larger, but I'm still very happy to be able to play it on the system. Having made a deliberately colorful game, the PS Vita's screen makes it that much better!

The other main challenge has been keeping all of the gameplay while supporting the Wii Remote with its limited number of buttons. In RCR, you can jump, shoot, picking up/throw, take cover, enter/exit vehicles, change weapons/radio stations, and so on. It's a shame the Wii didn't come with a Classic Controller by default, but some actions will been to be combined and context sensitive for players without one.

Retro City Rampage

Looking back to when you started, what do you know now that you wished you knew then?

Just how long it would take! I've essentially created a game the size of GTA: Chinatown Wars, by myself with the help of a co-artist and music composers. In fact, it might even be larger in many ways, in that it boasts far more gameplay variety.

Not only have I been developing the game from scratch including the engine, tools, design, writing and art, I've also had to take care of the business, managing production, PR, promo events, the website and more. The past two years have been almost entirely spent on that other stuff, leaving maybe only 30% of my time to work on the actual game itself. There are so many little things that add up. Had I known, I probably would've organized a bigger team from the beginning. Then again, I've always been the personality type to bite off more than I should chew, but always make it to the finish line... just takes a long time sometimes!

What would you tell someone else who wants to get into gaming?

Start making a game! There are so many amazing and free tools these days that you don't even need to learn programming to get started. Making games in your free time is the best way to learn, and best way to get a job in the industry. It shows the potential employer that you have what it takes and have the passion and motivation to do it even if you aren't getting paid. Anyone interested in making games needs to play Super Meat Boy, Voxatron, and Bit.Trip: Runner!

Retro City Rampage - An Interview With The Man Behind the Pixels


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