Did you know that in 2021 we are still seeing the release of new Dreamcast games?! Well, we were so intrigued by platformer Intrepid Izzy we decided to speak directly to the man behind it all – Roel van Mastbergen, from video game developers Senile Team… #FollowTheJ
A CAREER IN GAMING
THE JOURNALIX: How did you come to develop video games – did you study this at University or did it come from a hobby?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: I hated studying, so if I had dragged myself to university for four years I probably would have developed a strong aversion to coding.
My first experience with coding did take place in school, though. A classmate – who is still a good friend – showed me how to write a simple program in BASIC. I discovered that I had a knack for it, and of course one of the first things I tried to do with it was to create a game. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t actually very good – a Breakout/Arkanoid clone with only a single block to break – but it did kick-start my love for game development.
I soon started to teach myself C, and the rest, as they say, is history.
BEATS OF RAGE
THE J: How did you make the step from being a fan to creating Beats of Rage?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: It was a series of many small steps, followed by a giant leap. I’ve always been a bit of a game designer. I remember inventing a new card game as a child. Sadly I never documented the rules though. And in the early nineties my friends and I played the board game HeroQuest a lot, and we all made new quests for it, tweaked the rules a bit, etc. I still have it, and meanwhile it’s grown to several times its original size. Then, in the mid-nineties, came the joy of modding Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. Combined with the fact that I’d been learning C, Quake modding served as a springboard to game development. The way I coded Beats of Rage was actually strongly influenced by what I’d learnt from Quake.
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: It sure hasn’t helped! Besides the fact that my ability to concentrate took a hit, there were also some very practical implications. For example, normally I would obtain a lot of useful information by observing others as they play, both at public events and in our team’s own collective test sessions. But with those options gone, testing became a much more time-consuming process, especially for a game this big.
THE J: Interest in retrogaming in particular has really grown in the past 12 months – do you expect physical games to always exist as a medium?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: I don’t think they will. In 7 billion years, the sun will expand and burn the earth and everything on it to a crisp.
But you are of course referring to the current trend to replace all sorts of physical media with digital distribution. Even in the Dreamcast scene, optical drives are being replaced with card readers and hard drives. But I still think we’re a long way off from physical games disappearing completely. We need them to fill the space under our Christmas trees.
THE J: What classic games have inspired Intrepid Izzy?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Well, if you look at the loading screens, the level design, the palm trees, and the loopings in the mine cart level, I think the influence of Sonic the Hedgehog is fairly evident. I loved every Sonic game on the Mega Drive, and I am very happy to follow in its footsteps.
Unlike most platform game heroes, Izzy doesn’t jump onto enemies but fights them with her fists. I made her that way because I’m a massive Streets of Rage fan, and I figured it would add excitement.
The decision to make the game an adventure rather than a linear platformer wasn’t directly inspired by any specific game, but I do think Monster World IV was exerting an influence on my subconscious mind.
THE J: Tell us about Izzy – is there a backstory to her character?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: The character is actually loosely based on a real person. The kiwifruit-monsters, several of the costumes, the health items, Izzy’s plucky character and sense of humour, as well as various other elements in the game, were inspired by her. I never felt compelled to come up with a fictional backstory, but perhaps that is something I should explore in the future.
THE J: Why did you choose to make a new Dreamcast game? I mean, why was it the best-suited platform to bring the game to home consoles?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Having released several Dreamcast games already, it was an obvious choice. I already have plenty of experience with the hardware, the scene and the publishing process. Many Dreamcast users are already familiar with the name Senile Team, so it came as no surprise that the vast majority of our KickStarter backers are Dreamcast users.
— Senile Team (@SenileTeam) December 3, 2020
THE J: Were there any particular tricky parts of development? Is the VMU used for extra mini-games at all?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Intrepid Izzy is the biggest game I’ve ever worked on, even including the work I’ve done for other game studios. So it was already challenging, and porting it to a decades-old machine made it even more so.
Converting the 32-bit graphics to limited colour palettes with minimal loss was tricky. Fortunately, I managed to write a program that automated this process for me, because otherwise I’d have been at it forever.
Storing such huge levels, so many sound effects and so many frames of animation in the Dreamcast’s limited RAM was tricky. Reducing memory usage has been a constant challenge throughout the development of the Dreamcast port. Keeping the frame rate high (a mostly stable 60fps) was tricky, and required quite a few hardware-specific optimisations.
The VMU icon, on the other hand, was very easy. Our previous Dreamcast games had VMU icons too, so that code was already present and all I had to do was replace the image. I haven’t designed any VMU specific gameplay features, because I prefer to keep my projects platform independent.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
THE J: How does it feel to publish a game like the old days i.e. no downloadable updates, etc. Is a new Dreamcast game more difficult than developing for a more modern system?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: It does always make me a little nervous. Every mistake I might make will be impossible to correct. And like I said, testing was also problematic. Fortunately, a lot of useful feedback was obtained by releasing the game on Steam first, so several flaws were spotted and corrected before committing the game to a physical medium.
THE J: Are you a video games collector?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: I think I’m more of a console collector. I currently have over a dozen consoles, ranging from Atari 2600 to PS4, fully connected and ready to go. I don’t have wall-to-wall bookcases full of games though.
THE J: What games are you currently playing at the moment?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Road Rash II, which in my opinion is one of the Mega Drive’s greatest masterpieces. It seems I never grow tired of it.
THE J: Are you a fan of emulators?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Emulators are a wonderful thing. Without them, countless games would be fated to disappear forever as the original hardware breaks down over the years. Unlike many others I don’t use an emulator to develop Dreamcast games, though. Real hardware all the way!
THE J: Awesome! How do you feel about Intrepid Izzy appearing on something like the Evercade?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Evercade looks cool to me. If I could I would port Intrepid Izzy to every console I could get my hands on. The more, the merrier!
THE J: How has the game been received in the Asian market?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: I was wondering about that myself! I haven’t seen much activity there. But then again, I don’t really know where to look.
THE J: [Comments below from our readers in Asia!?] If there was one franchise you would like to develop a game for, or sequel to – what would it be?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: I would have loved to do Streets of Rage 4, but sadly that one is taken already! But Golden Axe would be awesome too. I’m sure I could pour lots of creativity into that one.
THE J: And finally, what does the future hold for you?
ROEL VAN MASTBERGEN: Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is. But I hope Intrepid Izzy does well enough to warrant a sequel. I already know some people who would be very happy with that.
THE J: That includes us – thanks Roel!
And you can pre-order your new Dreamcast game from Wave Game Studios right here!
No doubt Mr Dreamcast himself will be celebrating the news of a new Dreamcast game – YouTube personality Adam Koralik! Check out our interview with him right here: