Designer seeks support to create six retro video games in six months

WHAT RETRO GAME CRUNCH PROPOSES• Before the three-day initial development "jam," the community of Retro Game Crunch backers will be able to log into the project website to suggest various themes around which the game will be built.• The day before the jam, designers will upload a ballot for backers to see and vote on the submitted themes. The most-popular will form the seed of the new title.• For 72 hours, the three developers will brainstorm a game idea and design a basic game from the ground up, including sound effects, level design and plot.• A rough version will be uploaded to the Retro Game Crunch website for backers and nonbackers to download and play. Backers will be able to provide feedback that designers can use to hone the title over the next several weeks.• Throughout the process, backers will be able to track progress through blog entries, uploads of screenshots and outtakes from the developers' chat logs. They also will have access to a special weekly podcast.• At the end of the month, the final product will be released for backers to download and, after a short period to recuperate, the developers will begin the process again.WANNA HELP THEM OUT?To find out more about Retro Game Crunch or to donate to the project, visit its Kickstarter page and view the developers' pitch video at PERKSBackers receive various benefits based on the level of donation:$1: Various desktops and mobile wallpapers featuring Retro Game Crunch logo and character illustrations$15: Digital download of first three titles, access to designers' development journal and right to submit/vote on game themes$25: Digital download of all six games, free download of "Super Clew Land Complete," access to the development journal and voting process.$50: Everything at $25, plus a T-shirt, thanks in each game's end credits and a digital download of the typefaces used in the games.$55 Everything at $50, plus a soundtrack compilation instead of a T-shirt.$75: Everything at $55, including the T-shirt.$100: Everything at $75, plus a pixel-art poster of characters from "Super Clew Land" or Inman's "The Last Rocket."$135: Everything at $75, plus both posters.$255: Everything at $135, plus your name as a cheat code in one of the games. (Limited to 12 backers)$500: Everything at $135, plus a producer's credit in each game and a video chat with the developers.$1,000: Everything at $135, plus an executive producer credit at the start of one game and participation in the video chat.$2,500: Everything at $135, plus a custom eight-bit version of your company or personal logo and a link to your website featured on one game's three-day jam version.

For many video gamers, there's something about the humble pixel that is pretty powerful.

Even at a time when video game consoles are capable of outputting realistic graphics in titles with budgets in the millions of dollars, many gamers remain nostalgic for the comparatively simple 8-bit releases they played as children -- games that kicked off popular franchises such as "Metroid," "Bionic Commando" and "Final Fantasy."

Local game designer Shaun Inman, 34, and out-of-town partners Matt Grimm, 28, and Rusty Moyher, 29, are banking on that love of retro games to fuel interest in an ongoing campaign on the fundraising website Kickstarter.

If that project -- called the Retro Game Crunch -- receives $60,000 in funding by Dec. 12, the three developers will begin a development blitz to design and release six 8-bit-style games in six months. Their financial backers will be able to vote on each title's theme, have a window into the development process and will be able to download and play the final versions as they are released.

If for no other reason than the ambitious schedule, the Retro Game Crunch is an imposing project. Inman says they chose to use Kickstarter's crowd-funding approach to gauge the Crunch's popularity before they committed to what promises to be many sleepless nights.

"We wanted to see if we would even have an audience if we did this thing," Inman says.

As it turns out, they did.

The project went up on Kickstart on Nov. 12 and, within a day, it had received $12,000 in backing, or 20 percent of the goal. By Monday, about a week into the campaign, the project had attracted 545 backers who had committed more than $20,000.

That early show of support has been both heartening and reaffirming, says Matt Grimm, in an emailed response from his home in Oklahoma City.

"People 'get it,' " Grimm says. "Our project is different on a lot of levels but I think what excites most people is how quick the turnaround is going to be."

Press start

A Boston native, Inman fell in love with gaming through "Contra," a 1987 release for the Nintendo Entertainment System considered by many to be one of the most unforgivingly difficult titles ever developed. "Contra" and other 8-bit titles inspired Inman to spend hours sketching characters from such games as "Mega Man" and levels from "Super Mario Bros."

Later, he became involved in web development, programming and sound design, a trio of skill sets he eventually realized were the fundamental tools of game design. He moved to Chattanooga about five years ago and, in 2009, received funding through MakeWork, a grant program, to develop a software framework for creating iPhone games. To date, he has used the program to release five retro-style titles on the App Store, including the 8-bit puzzler "The Last Rocket," which received a five-star review from vaunted mobile gaming reviewer Touch Arcade.

Inman and Moyher, a designer and filmmaker based in Sacramento, Calif., met through their mutual development of games for the iPhone. A self-taught musician, Grimm will serve as Retro Game Crunch's lead sound and music designer.


All three developers honed their skills in rapid game creation at so-called "game jams," competitions in which solo developers or teams of developers spend 48 to 72 hours building titles from the ground up based on a theme announced at the start of the event.

Inman, Moyher and Grimm first worked together at Ludum Dare 24, a game jam in late August based around the theme of evolution. In three days, the team collaborated via email and Facetime video chats on iPads to design "Super Clew Land," a 2-D game in which the player gains new abilities by eating simpler lifeforms and evolving.

As it turned out, living in different time zones worked to their advantage, allowing last-minute ideas by one team member to be tested and retested, developed overnight and implemented by morning.

By the end of the jam, they were exhausted, but the work was worth it, Inman says. "Super Clew Land" was well-received, finishing second among hundreds of team entries.

The title was so promising, they decided to continue working on a "complete" version, which was finished in October and featured a much larger game world, revised save system and other design tweaks.

Before starting work on "Super Clew Land Complete," Inman says they brainstormed an idea for a subscription-based service that would feature games developed jam-style in three days and polished for a month before the final release to subscribers. The Retro Game Crunch will be a proof-of-concept for that idea, Inman says.

New game

Besides teaching them how to cope with the pressure of a three-day development blitz, the designers say the jams have prepared them for the rigors of the Crunch by teaching them to hone in on what makes a game fun and focusing exclusively on that feature.

"To me, the most important elements of game design are gameplay, control and fun," Grimm says. "All of those are kind of intertwined, but if even one is subpar, I believe players instinctively pick up on it."

Being efficient during the design process will be critical to surviving the development blitz for each Crunch title, Inman says.

"With the focus on the schedule, you're forced to really quickly figure out what will have the biggest impact on your game and focus on that," he says. "The time constraints are really great for helping you see past the small imperfections and moving forward."

Although the overriding theme of each game in the Crunch will be dictated by submissions from their financial backers, Inman says he and the other developers will decide the game's final form. The goal, he says, is to develop across a range of styles to avoid releasing six Mario-style games.

However, one unifying feature of the releases will be their appearance. As implied by the project tittle, the Crunch games will feature an 8-bit aesthetic, Inman says.

Opting for that approach is as much a nod to the designers' love of legacy releases such as "Metroid" and "Zelda" as it is a desire to simplify the design process, Inman says.

"The constraints of the 8-bit sound and graphics give us a focus to reel in ... and keep us more grounded," he says.

End credits

Despite the early burst of support, Retro Game Crunch, like many Kickstarter projects, is likely to experience a slump as funding slows after the initial burst of excitement, Inman says.

Even if the campaign doesn't manage to reach the funding goal, however, he and his partners say they may move ahead with the subscription-based project if there is enough support for the idea.

Either way, tackling the Crunch won't be easy, but as any gamer knows, tough titles such as "Contra" are the most rewarding ones to beat.

"Making a game is an adventure; you try to prepare yourself for the road ahead, but you always encounter unexpected twists and turns," Moyher says. "We're about to embark on six back-to-back adventures.

"I've haven't a clue where we'll end up, but I'll be drinking lots of coffee and water on the way."