16 Bit World In The 21st Century

By Vanessa Butler

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We sit down with Brandon Cobb, President of Super Fighter Team to talk about the history and staying power of the 16 bit game.


On August 23, 1991 the Japanese electronics company Nintendo released its Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the U.S. There were no around the block lineups, no pre-sales, and no general interest in the future of the gaming market in Northern America. On the day of its release, there were only three games available for the console, and only two on shelves. It was a hard sell, fellow 16 bit game consoles, the Sega Genesis and the Turbo Grafx-16, had a two year lead. Many believed that at home gaming devices, primarily Nintendo consoles, were on the last leg of their hay day. Parents had seen the rise and fall of the Atari, and were wary of shelling out 200 dollars for something that appeared to be dated.

Writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote an article in Time magazine entitled “Hold On to Your Joysticks” about the console stating that, “When it becomes available in September, Super NES will cost $199.95 (twice the price of the old NES) for the basic game machine, two hand-held controllers, the latest Super Mario Bros. adventure and a $50 coupon for another game. More worrisome for Nintendo are signs that the video-game frenzy the Japanese-owned company stirred up over the past five years may be starting to fizzle. Sales of the old Nintendo system have fallen off sharply (down 46% in the first half of 1991), and discount tags have replaced SOLD OUT signs in toy stores across the U.S.

"I played all the games so much, I just got bored with them," says Tomas Romano, 9, of Brooklyn, N.Y. He and his friends now prefer Little League baseball...”

In 2012, we are now on the 7th generation of Nintendo systems which are sold worldwide. Our surgeon general issued numerous calls to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity in children due to the increase of time spent indoors instead of say, playing Little League Baseball. It’s safe to say gaming systems won over our hearts. And with its rich history, comes present day nostalgia. Those who remember purchasing early 8 and 16 bit consoles with their hard earned paper route money or racing over to a friend’s house to play the various quests each game cartridge would possess are now adults with a strong sentiment for the earlier years of gaming. And some have never let their passion for these dated consoles die.

“There are gamers all over the world who have no interest in current and future generation consoles. I am one of them.” Stated Brandon Cobb, President of Super Fighter team, a video game development, production and publishing company based in San Diego, “The average company isn't concerned with sentimentality; they simply follow the money. The moment these companies decide it's time to move on, they do so. As a result, we are left without new software for the machines that we adore.”

Cobb’s company has recently been in the news for producing an SNES game called Nightmare Busters that had been completed, yet never released for the system. “Rather than sit idly by and do nothing about this situation, Super Fighter Team has chosen to be the source of great new games for systems we feel still have a lot of life left in them. As a company, we are unconcerned with hopping on the money train. Rather, we are focused on doing what we enjoy, and making people happy in the process.”

Although Cobbs’ intentions are purely of passion, in a nation that’s facing an economic depression many consumers are looking to products that remind them of better times in their lives. “Life is always moving us in new directions, toward new challenges and passions. But some things, the things we truly love, help us remember who we are and where we've been: they ground us, relax us and comfort us, giving us hope when times are tough.” After hitting the front page of many tech blogs, Nightmare Busters reached its 600 copy pre-order limit, proving the niche for retro games was larger than many would have thought.

"Faux retro, as I like to call it, seems to be one of the current trends.” Joked Cobb, “In my opinion it doesn't deliver anywhere near the same level of quality as the real thing, but to each their own. My hope is that this trend inspires people to investigate the real deal, and discover why the knock-offs try so hard to emulate it.”

It does seem that a retro niche has emerged in the gaming industry. There are a wide range of 8 bit game apps available for smartphones, like Nyan Cat which ended up hitting the top seller list, as well as games like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World which was made available on the PS3 online store when the film was released in theatres. Although it may be against what Cobb’s company is about, it has definitely boosted their audience.

“Our company's first commercial product was a large role-playing game (RPG) for the Sega Genesis, produced on a brand new game cartridge.” Explains Cobb, “At the time, no one else had tried that and many people thought I was nuts. But we sold through the game so quickly that our factory could barely keep up with demand! My confidence was justified in a big way. The announcement of Nightmare Busters created a much larger stir, with brick and mortar game shops in Japan requesting bulk orders. We hadn't previously received a great deal of business from Japan, perhaps due to the fact that our past titles were mostly English language RPGs, so this was a pleasant surprise.”

Nightmare Busters, a “run and gun” 18 bit game follows the story of two twin do-gooder leprechauns, Flynn and Floyd, who have to battle an evil tyrant who has discovered a way to enter and warp what children see, hear and feel while they sleep. Equipped with two player mode, six stages and a fairly large assortment of weaponry to battle evil along the way, it’s no wonder why people are clamoring to get their own copy. Who wouldn’t want to travel back in time with the excitement of playing a never before seen SNES game?

“For me, it all began in 1987 when my grandmother bought me an Apple IIc.” Reminisced Cobb, “As a child, I was amazed by the incredible things people were able to do with such limited hardware. I'm still amazed to this day, in fact.”

Nowadays, limited software is not an issue. Students are developing their own games in dorm rooms. Game companies like Ubisoft have a fleet of hundreds developing multiple games at once. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released late last year and well received by players and bloggers alike, had a development team of roughly 100.

“Game development was a once very personal thing.” Explains Cobb, “In the early days, an entire game was created by a single person, and that included design, programming, graphics and music. It was a small, experimental market, especially if your target system was a home computer. In those days it was passion, not profit that drove a developer.

Development teams tended to remain small into the early to mid '90s, with talented people working side by side to deliver astounding products. Pixel graphics and chip music are fine arts, and the challenges presented by limited hardware couldn't stop the best artists from creating masterpieces that continue to awe people.

It's an entirely different market now. Look at Hollywood these days: it's out with quality plots, brilliant acting and beautiful, detailed sets, and in with mindless attempts at humor and needless, over the top special effects generated entirely by computers. The video game industry is very akin to Hollywood now, in that many studios spend billions of dollars making products that are so quickly forgotten, it's almost as if they never existed at all.”

There may still be passion put into modern day video games, but there is truth to what Cobb is saying. According to Wikipedia, there were approximately 115,000 games released in 2011 alone, a number that becomes unfathomable if you think of how many developers were a part of the production process.

But over at the Super Fighter Team headquarters, not much has changed since the early days of gaming. The company has since gone on to produce and publish three RPGs for the Sega Genesis, as well as owning the rights to both Super Fighter and Sango Fighter, Cobb’s two favorite childhood games. They keep their production team small, so the passion of creating games for past systems is kept in check which is important to the group. Instead of adapting to the cultural norms of the cut-throat world of game development, this small company has chosen to beat its own path all the way back to the beginning of gaming, which is something that is hard not to admire.


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