Why Limit Yourself to Old Hardware?

Some people have asked me why I restrict my game to the limitations of the NES. Well, the short answer is simply: because I want to. Since it would be a really short post, let me explain in more detail *why* I want to.

The NES is the first gaming system I ever played. Every time I put in a game I knew I would experience a new adventure — including the attempts at getting the cartridge to load! My favorite game from that time is Crystalis, hands down. The graphics were beautiful, the music was inspiring, and the gameplay was solid. Everything about that game was emotional for me and I got totally immersed in my adventure every time I played. Since then, I’ve always wanted to make a game just like it. Actually, I wanted to make a game like it, merged with my other favorite game, The Legend of Zelda. I frequently doodled things for the game, and came up with the name “Crystalinkis”. It sounds pretty silly now, but I was in love with it.

I frequently get asked, “Why aim for authenticity at the expense of game quality?” when people ask for certain features, or find “bugs” related to NES limitations. The answer is: I don’t! There are plenty of things put in the game that would not be possible on the NES, but most of those I can justify because another game on the NES does it sort of half way. One obvious thing is the tile layering. Since the NES only has one tile layer, there’s some magic these games do in order to create an illusion of layers. Explaining that is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s worth noting because it’s the most obvious. Another thing is the number of sprites and the lack of slow down with too many enemies on the screen. It would be a waste of my time and severely lower the quality of the game to adhere to those limitations.

The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.

— Orson Wells

I try as hard as I can not to cut any corners wherever possible. It has a snowball effect on scope, since it makes it easier to cut the next corner and the next. This can get unmanageable very quickly. Soon, you will lose track of your target and miss it altogether.

“The absence of limitation is the enemy of art”. So says the famous movie director, Orson Welles. Staying within the NES limitations actually creates a higher quality product. It grounds the project, controlling expectations and allowing me to create a solid, polished experience within them.

This game is a one man show. With me being a programmer without an artist, making an NES era accurate game seemed like the best fit for me. Sure, I could make a 3D game with free and purchased assets; or I could make a mimalistic super low-res, abstract 2D game; or I could take forever making a really polished, flashy, modern pixel art game and never released it like many do. Those are all great options (except for that last part), but because of the reasons I’ve already listed, this is what I’ve chosen to do, and I’m going to do the best I know how!

There you have it, that’s mostly how I feel about making an NES era accurate game. I aim to make it feel as authentic as possible, without sacrificing quality. Hopefully when you play it, you will feel what I felt when I first played Crystalis or The Legend of Zelda.