Having waited for quite some time, our inner 16 bit child can once again relive the excitement of a brand new game arriving for the Sega Mega Drive. So without further ado, let's jump straight into the deep end and find out what the developers have to say about their project, Pier Solar. We will be speaking to both Zebbe and Fonzie from the team, who had plenty to say about their project.
Interview with WaterMelon Games
Having started out as a relatevely small project on Eidolon's Inn under the name 'Tavern RPG', did you ever anticipate the game seeing a worldwide commercial release spanning multiple versions and regions?
Zebbe: It was always the aim when I joined, but being so far away from where the game stands today then, my mind couldn't grasp the dream actually becoming true. But we continued to work and never gave up, although the thought often came up. Even at the beginning of this year, I was unsure if the game would ever see the light of the day. But months later, after testing had begun and all pieces finally fell to place, the confidence grew with each day and it just felt better and better. As I'm writing this, I still haven't the feeling of the dream coming true, although the game is out. Nobody has received their copy yet, and my copies were sent yesterday. So, it will be an extraordinary feeling to look forward to.
Developing for a no longer supported system must have had it's ups and downs. How did you tackle programming issues with no support and were any of the Watermelon team ex-Megadrive developers from the 90s?
Zebbe: It took Fonzie one year of hit and miss to get a stable file load on Mega-CD, because there was no documentation and he didn't hack any existing code. But doing Mega Drive programming was much easier since the system is a strong and simple hardware. After many years of development and turning the system inside out, WaterMelon probably found some hardware bugs not even Sega knew of!
One of our artists, Armen Mardirossian, did some character art for Working Designs. Steve Snake, creator of the Kega Fusion emulator, had worked on games like NBA Jam TE. He provided us some programming support.
During development, there were many issues that arose unexpectedly delaying the release of Pier Solar. Which one in particular made the biggest impact on the project as a whole and how did the team address this issue?
Zebbe: There was always a problem with people not delivering the goods. People promising things on their mothers' graves, then disappearing like save files on third party PSOne memory cards. It cost a lot of time, frustration and extra work to get people to do things we eventually often had to do ourselves.
Pier Solar is the first Sega Megadrive game to combine the use of the Sega Mega Drive and Mega-CD hardware simultaneously to provide a richer experience. How did this untapped functionality come around and can you give an example of it's benefits in-game?
Fonzie: It's because of my research on Mega Cart. I knew it was possible. And since nobody in the team wanted to drop the disc audio... well I just put on the table the idea that the disc would not contain a Mega-CD game but just audio, and thus would be optional. Keeping all advantages of Mega-CD for audio department, and all the cartridge advantages on the graphics department. All in a single game (and not two).
Zebbe: The PCM soundtrack sounds amazing! Fonzie, our programmer, told me it was higher quality than even Lunar: Eternal Blue on the Mega-CD. But let's not forget the ambient sound effects, such as crowd noise at markets, hammering men etc. which provide a richer atmosphere and overall more unique Mega Drive experience like many other of the game's features.
The game is housed on an impressive 64Meg cartridge (yet again, the first of it's kind on the Sega Mega Drive if we are not mistaken). What required the most space within the game and was the audio moved onto the CD included because of this?
Zebbe: The game actually started out as a CD only game. Then the idea was to have one CD version and one cartridge version. But it was later changed to cart with optional CD because of the memory limitations of the Mega-CD. There is cartridge music on the cartridge, but it came quite late in the development. Tiido's sound engine really saved the cartridge sound. What takes most space in the game is definitely the graphics, as with any game of the era. What really caused lots of discussion because of the memory limit, were the animated monsters in battle. They ate megs for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
On the issue of size, Pier Solar has often been claimed to hold at least 50 hours of gameplay according to a few statements floating around the internet. Do these rumours hold any validity and what can gamers expect from the experience as a whole?
Zebbe: The game should take around 20-30 hours to complete, depending on if you take it slow and explore or move onward as fast as possible, do sidequests or not, grind or not etc. Gamers can expect many, many pleasant surprises they have never seen in any Mega Drive game before. They can expect a traditional JRPG with many new ideas and a fresh feel.
You originally offered both a Standard and Posterity edition of the game, for PAL, NTSC and JP gamers. How many copies of the game exist for each region and has a second print run been planned for those that missed out?
Zebbe: The number of copies is currently confidential. Perhaps it will be revealed in the future. Regarding a second print run, we have a surprise coming in January...
Finally, can the retro gaming community live in hope that there might be another project from the Watermelon team in the near future, or has Pier Solar been more than enough for a lifetime?
Zebbe: Most team members are certain to do another project, but you will see that. Hopefully we will announce something new next year!
Thanks to WaterMelon Games for the fantastic insight into the project overall. If you haven't already pre-ordered Pier Solar, we wish you luck in securing a copy soon via eBay or the potential second run being announced. Until then, await our official review of Pier Solar once it arrives.