When I first heard about Pier Solar back in 2010, I thought the people behind it were out of their minds. An exclusive for the Sega Genesis, a console that was discontinued in 1998? What? Are we all still living on the same planet?
Then, as the project started to take shape and the role-playing game started to seem more and more appealing, I changed my mind. I still thought the folks behind Pier Solar were insane, but I was hooked on the idea. I wanted to play the game, even if it required dusting off that old awful Sega controller. Where'd I leave my Genesis, anyway?
Turned out my grandmother had gotten rid of it. Growing up, I was always a Super Nintendo kid, but when my grandparents bought a Sega in a brilliant attempt to con my brother and I into coming over to their house for weekends, I grew quite fond of the 16-bit system. Titles like Land Stalker, Phantasy Star IV, and Wonder Boy in Monster World became an integral part of my gaming vocabulary. But as my brother and I grew up, we moved on to shinier consoles, and eventually the Genesis was shipped off to some distant cousins.
So for me — and for other people with similarly abandoned Segas — hearing about Pier Solar was quite frustrating. I wanted to play it, but did I really want to re-buy an obsolete console for a single game? Did I really want to go through the hassle of trying to get Genesis games looking decent on my HDTV? Couldn't they just sell a ROM or something?
Two years later, the creators of Pier Solar finally have a solution. A few weeks ago, they launched a Kickstarter to bring the game to Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, and... Sega Dreamcast. The plan worked. As of this writing, they've raised roughly $US160,000, $US20k more than their original goal. And if they make more money, they say they'll bring Pier Solar to Android, Ouya, and Wii U.
So Pier Solar may very well be the first game in history to get a release on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, Sega Genesis, and Sega Dreamcast.
The team over at Watermelon Corp say the ports — which will be HD remakes complete with new art and other random little bonuses — will be ready for December 2013, so in the meantime, I thought I'd chat with them about this unusual project. I hopped on the phone with Tulio Adriano, one of the designers behind Pier Solar, to ask him about Pier Solar and just what makes it so special.
"We want it to be something that people will remember," he said. "and we just spent six years perfecting it to accomplish that. It was successful on Genesis — the reason is that it might be actually good."
Adriano wouldn't give me exact numbers, but he said they sold 2,000 copies during the first run (at $US35 each), and at least another 4000 during the second print (which was a bit more expensive). Over 6000 copies. Of a Sega Genesis cartridge.
"I don't think there's any 100 per cent 2D RPG made like Pier Solar on any of these new platforms that has that model of gameplay," Adriano said. "People who played the game can talk about it. People can say 'Hey, did you see that game, it was so successful on the Sega Genesis which is a dead system — there must be something to it.'"
Pier Solar is built like a traditional Japanese role-playing game — Adriano cites Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Phantasy Star as some of his inspirations — and the story should sound familiar to experienced genre fans: three best friends set out to seek a magical herb that can cure the protagonist's ailing father, but find themselves wrapped up in a larger conflict. Adriano says it takes 50-something hours to complete, and it's got a unique battle system, original music, and everything else you might expect from a classic-styled JRPG.
But part of Pier Solar's charm was the fact that it was a Genesis exclusive — at least for early adopters, and those passionate retro gamers in love with the idea of a 2010 game for the Sega Genesis. So I asked Adriano: why suddenly bring it to other platforms? Isn't that kind of... selling out?
"Since the beginning... I had interest in getting Pier Solar to the modern platforms," he said. "The main reason is because I think 2D gaming is so... these days 2D gaming has lost a lot of space to 3D gaming but I have this strong belief that 2D games are still fun and can hook players for hours on a TV regardless if they're 3D or not."
And of course, Watermelon Corp wants to make money. They want to keep making games — games that anyone can enjoy, not just the people who can still find their Segas. But Adriano says it took some convincing to get his partner, artist Gwenael Godde, on board with the idea. Adriano had to start building the game on Xbox 360 just to prove that it could be done.
"[Godde] was living in Hong Kong and I was living in the USA," Adriano said. "He finally decided to move here so we can build projects better. After he came here I said, 'Let me show you something.' I showed him the game running on Xbox, and I said, 'This is possible.' He started to get excited about it, and I got enough people to talk to him besides me to say, 'Let's do this.'"
Porting it over to other systems is a gruelling process, Adriano told me, but once they've rebuilt the engine, bringing it to multiple platforms simultaneously won't be a problem. So if you've been crossing your fingers for a new Dreamcast game, well, Pier Solar might be for you.
"The main thing is that it's a game with a story that was built to catch your attention," Adriano said. "I'm sure that anyone who played this game for one hour, it's enough to make you think 'Okay, I wanna sit down and keep playing it. I don't really wanna turn off the TV because I wanna see what happens next.'
"Give it a try and that will be enough so that you want to keep playing the game."
Adriano and crew plan to release digital versions of the game for $US15 and physical copies for $US50, in case you're the type of person who likes holding discs before you play them. It's an exciting prospect, and I'm glad the Kickstarter did well for them: this is a game I'll be keeping on my radar. I love the style, the aesthetics, and the classic JRPG feel. And I'm glad I won't have to buy a Sega Genesis to play it.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.