The lot of us who grew up playing videogames have certain nostalgia for old school Japanese games. Now that almost everyone has a smart phone, many Japanese videogame companies are porting their classic games in hopes of quick profits. Unfortunately, like the quality of most Japanese games nowadays, these ports usually suck (gotta be honest here guys). Control schemes of classic consoles like the Super Famicom and Sega Genesis do not translate well into a touch screen; furthermore, a lazy emulation process often results in choppy frame rates, tiny unreadable text and an all-around bad experience—I mean, nostalgia can only go so far to get us past these problems. Because of this, it is always exciting when at least one classic game gets it right. Case in point: Sonic CD for iOS.
Sega had ported games to iOS before—Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star—but they suffer from the smart phone dilemma, mainly, choppy frame rates and terrible controls not designed for a touch device. One fan confronted the problem though: not wanting to see a favorite franchise get butchered by bad emulation, during his free time Christian Whitehead secretly began re-engineering Sonic CD for the smart phone generation. Through reverse engineering Whitehead dissected the game and designed a completely new engine (the Retro Engine Development Kit) with iOS in mind; naturally, this engine avoids the problems of bad emulation and runs at a brisk 60 frames per second.
Community buzz about his work was so loud that Sega quickly contacted him and hired him to port the entire game to iOS. And to sweeten the deal, new content like achievements, leaderboards, extra characters and time attack modes were added. So successful was the re-mastered port (it won numerous awards and averages a 93% rating on Metacritic) that now Whitehead is re-mastering other games (The original Sonic, currently. Apparently the iOS version is of much higher quality than its Xbox Live counterpart—better than a console port!) as well.
What’s most important though, is that this shows that indie developers can have a great impact on the industry, all the more so now that entry into it has in a way been ‘democratised’ by the explosion in tablets and smart phones—anyone, never mind small budgets (and thus maybe even getting past giant publishers too), can code a game for these platforms. And if big budget developers pick-up on these trends, like Sega did with the Whitehead case, then all the better. Japanese companies should follow such examples; they need the fresh thinking of indie developers because they certainly aren’t doing much of anything these days!
And now, for some pictures:
For more of Christian Whitehead’s work visit his website at http://www.christianwhitehead.com.