Author Topic: RVG Interviews Matt Phillips  (Read 236 times)

Offline zapiy

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RVG Interviews Matt Phillips
« on: January 16, 2018, 19:00:33 PM »

It's with great pleasure I can announce our first RVG Interviews of 2018, this time its with the developer of the Tanglewood on the Megadrive/Genesis.  Below is some of Matt's credits.

Studio History
Traveller's Tales
Crytek
Deep Silver Dambuster Studios

Game Development History
LEGO franchise 2009 - 2013
Homefront: The Revolution
​TimeSplitters 2 (HF:TR arcade port)

Enjoy the interview.

Zapiy

Thanks for agreeing to the interview, could you take a moment to tell a little about you and how you got to this point and making Megadrive games?

Matt

Sure! It was basically a childhood dream that never left me, I've wanted to make my own game for the machine since seeing Sonic for the first time. I had ideas in my head over the years and tried to find the time to learn how to code for it, and I finally found the spark when I got a job at Traveller's Tales and met some veteran Mega Drive coders there who convinced me to try learning assembly language. After a couple of years practice, whilst writing a blog of my progress, I got confident enough to start a small platforming game. With the help of an artist friend we managed to build it up into a proper demo - the project was called Watershed at the time. Everywhere I showed it, people mentioned Kickstarter and wanted to see it come to life properly!


Shadowrunner

Your Kickstarter for Tanglewood was a huge success. Did you have any idea it would be so popular?

Matt

No, I didn't think it would get anywhere near this kind of attention! It was plastered over major gaming news sites, and it even made its way to a two-page spread in Retro Gamer magazine. It was mind boggling seeing it spread. I ran the maths several times before the Kickstarter went live, worrying about the target and trying to trim down the budget as much as I could, and even then I thought it was going to be way too high to be feasible. After the first few days of funding, it was clear I had a chance!

Shadowrunner

Do you have a date in mind for when you would like to have the game finished?

Matt

Yes, we have a ballpark figure of April 2018. We're planning to hit beta at the end of January, then it's just QA testing and final tweaks, then the lead time for PCB manufacture and assembling the cartridges, and it'll be ready to ship.

Zapiy

Does Tanglewood manage to push the machine beyond what we’ve seen thus far? If so, how?

Matt

Being my first game on the system, it doesn't perform any tricks to get more out of the hardware. Plus, I'd like it to remain compatible with clone systems, home arcades and emulators, so I've been careful to ensure it doesn't do anything that would cause issues. However, I have exhausted all ROM, RAM, VRAM, and every CPU clock cycle, so it certainly makes use of the machine as much as it can! For the next game, though, I'll be taking what I've learned and pushing it further.

Zapiy

Whats the reasoning behind the name Big Evil Corp?

Matt

It's a tongue-in-cheek name, a bit of a dig at some major corporations with regards to greed, tax evasion, employee treatment and the top-down hierarchical nature, games or otherwise. I've always wanted to found an ethical studio that is open about its development, treats employees like human beings, and one that understands the ramifications of things like overtime, admitting that crunch is a management failure and should be avoided at all costs. Obviously I have no employees yet so we'll see how it goes when I can afford some!

Zapiy

Whats next for you, any sneak peaks?

Matt

Well, after the Mega Drive version of TANGLEWOOD is done I'm heading straight onto the PC, Max, Linux and Dreamcast ports, and I've been talking with publishers about bringing it to modern consoles, too. After that, I have two more games designed, ready to start. They're of different genres, and I hope they attract some of the Mega Drive's more hardcore fans!

Zapiy

What are the biggest draw backs you have found so far when creating games for the Megadrive?

Matt

The biggest headache is the physical manufacture. It's been a nightmare to organise and it took up most of the budget, but thankfully almost everything is done apart from the PCBs themselves. It's one of the biggest charms of the project, though, and I don't think it would have taken off if I only offered digital versions, so I'm aiming to try and centralise the manufacture and find a way to reduce the cost so I can keep creating more physical games without more crowdfunding.

Zapiy

Have you created any special tools to help you create your games?

Matt

Yes, plenty. I have a full suite of level editing, map conversion, sprite animation and audio tools, and an automated test system. A friend of mine wrote a coding environment that automates building, deploying and debugging in an emulator, too, so I can work on the train without my devkit. Other people have chimed in with some custom designed electronics, like a USB Mega Drive debugger and a scart-to-HDMI converter.

Zapiy

Is there any thoughts on bringing some of your work or new work to other systems? (SNES or Amiga)

Matt

Yes, other than the Dreamcast port which has already been announced, I recently bought an Amiga 500+ with the idea to port the game. I've been talking to some Amiga experts who are willing to help. It's a bit of an experiment so far, we'll see how it goes. I've added SNES support to some of my conversion tools, but it's been difficult tracking down development hardware for the machine.


TrekMD

You Kickstarter was originally for Tanglewood for the Genesis/MD but you got funding to support the Dreamcast.  How difficult is it to port the game to these other systems?  Will the game have added features for the more advanced systems?

Matt

The biggest obstacle was translating 68000 assembly language into C, which is going to take a while to finish, but it's getting there. I managed to speed up the process by writing a new engine based on the same tech that runs the level editing tools, so it can load the level editor files directly. This means scene loading and rendering, sprite drawing and animation, and colour palette management is already in and working since it was already functional in the editor. These ports will have a few extras like proper 16:9 widescreen support, upscaled graphics, higher quality audio, and some of the content that was cut to save cartridge space.

Zapiy

Are you shocked at the current resurgence in retro related gaming?

Matt

Not particularly shocked, since my generation of gamers are now at the age where nostalgia hits hard so it makes sense that retro gaming has taken off. I'm surprised that Mega Drives are available to buy brand new, thanks to TecToy and AtGames, though! That's quite a big deal and not something I thought I'd ever see.

Zapiy

What systems do you own and which was your favourite? (retro)

Matt

Wow, let me see - Master System, Mega Drive (about 12 variants of the thing!), Saturn, Dreamcast, Game Boy, Game Boy Advanced, NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Wii, PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Vita, Xbox, Xbox 360, Amiga 500+, Atari STe, Commodore 64, Acorn Electron, and Ive been hoarding development kits for most of those. The Mega Drive is undoubtedly my favourite, and has been since I got one as a child. I guess the C64, being my first computer, holds second place in my heart. I loved the thing!

Zapiy

What games and genres were your favs?

Matt

2D platformers, without a doubt, both retro and modern. I'm a huge fan of 16-bit platformers like Sonic, Flashback, Another World, and all the Disney classics, through to Abe's Oddysee, Heart of Darkness, Skullmonkeys for the PS1, all the way to modern platformers like LIMBO, INSIDE, and Ori and the Blind Forest. A few notable mentions from other genres are Discworld, Conker's Bad Fur Day, the Half-Life series, Portal, Uncharted, The Last of Us, and more recently I've become obsessed with Overwatch!

Zapiy

Who in the industry did you idolize when you was starting out?

Matt

Right from the start it was Traveller's Tales, although I don't think I knew any individual names at the time. BBC News ran a piece on Sonic 3D Blast/Flickies Island - it was a big deal since the Sonic franchise had been handed to a UK studio - showing people working on various things around the office, and I was absolutely smitten with everything about it. Later on in life when Far Cry had just hit the shelves, I had a newspaper clipping of the Yerli brothers talking about Crytek and its game engine, I think I kept it pinned above my desk for years. Funnily enough, I ended up working for both companies, and met everyone involved!

Zapiy

Will you be selling Tanglewood once you have completed all the KS pledges so those that may want to still buy it can?

Matt

Yes indeed, we'll be running pre-orders soon so we can afford to manufacture a second batch, and hopefully once it's released we can keep a steady trickle of sales going. You can sign up on our website to be notified of when pre-orders go live.

Zapiy

Do you have any other unfinished projects for retro titles that you might share?

Matt

We have another game in the design phase, a 2D shooter with hover mechs. It's a fast-paced action platformer with a big elaborate story, some light RPG elements, and a whole load of multi-stage boss fights. We're not ready to show any concepts just yet, though!
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

Offline Shadowrunner

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Re: RVG Interviews Matt Phillips
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2018, 19:20:57 PM »
Great interview. Thanks for putting it together Zapiy. :)

Offline Greyfox

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Re: RVG Interviews Matt Phillips
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2018, 22:56:57 PM »
Another awesome RVG special..storming as usual 👍

Offline TrekMD

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Re: RVG Interviews Matt Phillips
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2018, 23:23:15 PM »
Nice interview.  I'm curious about that new game they are working on!

Going to the final frontier, gaming...