Last february, Carlos and I had a talk with Robin Wilde from Wireframe Magazine for an in-depth article about developing for a commercially dead platform. We were proud to have Xenocider featured among other indie Dreamcast efforts like Intrepid Izzy, Alice Dreams Tournament and many more. We encourage you to take a look at the free PDF available here. While only a few excerpts from that interview were used (otherwise it would have been an entire Dreamcast-focused issue, and nobody wants that, huh?), we wanted to share the entire conversation with you. Enjoy!
1) How long have you been working with the Dreamcast? How did you get started?
Carlos: Well, as a team, we have been working on our own DC projects for a little over 3 years now. Before that, I helped betatest and translate Pier Solar for both Mega Drive and then Dreamcast, but I never worked on actually developing anything. Abel (the 3D design side of the team) either, but he was hired to remake one of the stages of the aforementioned game in 3D for its Dreamcast and HD remaster. That was when the three of us met, as Chui was then reprogramming Pier Solar, and we decided to get together and try create something of our own. I think that was during RetroMadrid, one of the biggest retro events in Spain, 4 years ago.
Daniel aka Chui in particular is another story…
Chui: I’ve been coding for most of my life so, as soon as it was announced that the Dreamcast would be no more, I became curious and decided to try tamper and mess with it a bit. It started around 2003 with little SDL ports like SDL Circus (http://www.newbreedsoftware.com/circus-linux/) and then homebrew like Vorton (http://vorton.sourceforge.net). After that I thought it would be more useful to improve some of the existing emulators for the console for a few years at http://chui.dcemu.co.uk
2) Why do you develop for a legacy console like the Dreamcast, not just modern consoles and PC? What makes it special?
Chui: I’ll answer this one first. The Dreamcast is special because, in my opinion, it was the last arcade-based, or arcade-inspired, console in history. Besides, it is pretty accessible from a developer’s perspective.
Carlos: To me, the fact that it was Sega’s final console makes it special enough to be honest. Of course there is the short-lived but awesome game library and its beautiful, compact design. But needless to say, as a die-hard Sega fan, its premature death never felt right. So I guess a bunch of nerds from different parts of the World had to arise from time to time to try keep it alive. Who knew?
3) What are some of the biggest challenges when developing for the Dreamcast that other modern developers don’t have?
Carlos: Communication and marketing wise, the biggest challenge is the small-and-shrinking market! We cannot even aspire to sell, say, ten thousand copies, which would be an almost insignificant number for a modern AAA title. Our community is quite passionate and that’s one of the things we love about it, but let’s face it: we are not becoming rich out of this. We do it because we are passionate about this console and indie development ourselves too.
Chui: Just three words for you. 16 MB RAM. Talk about insignificant. That really is the biggest challenge!
4) Are there any ways in which Dreamcast is better to develop for than modern systems?
Carlos: I would say the satisfaction of creating something for a platform you have such good memories of. The satisfaction of contributing to expanding its library and keeping it alive.
Chui: Not from a technical perspective, no. But a modern PC or a PS4 are not that special to me.
5) Which game project are you most proud of working on? Why is that?
Chui: I don’t think I can choose one. I’m pretty proud of all the projects I have worked on. Reprogramming Pier Solar from the original, very intrincated Mega Drive code in order to remaster it for both Dreamcast and modern, HD platforms was exhausting, but it was worth the effort. For Ghost Blade, I developed most of the (original) Dreamcast game, and then an upgraded HD version wich saw a limited run edition for PS4 not long ago…
I have collaborated on other recent commercial releases for the DC too, and am currently working on, let’s say, one or two more. But what I’m most proud of is Xenocider, our own game, which is in the final stages of development. Or so we hope!
I’m also very proud of the “4ALL” emulators for Dreamcast that Óscar Peláez (aka Fox68k) and I developed, particularly NEO4ALL which, as you probably know, allows you to play Neo Geo CD games…
6) Xenocider is certainly looking interesting as most of the Dreamcast homebrew seems to be 2D, and this is very ambitious graphically – what was it that inspired Xenocider and how long have you been working on it now?
Carlos: It really is ambitious! Xenocider will be the first new 3D title for the Dreamcast in, like, 15 years! Not a port or a re-release, but a totally new, arcade-inspired 3D game, made from scratch using low-level coding, Blender for all the modeling, and Dreamer.
What is Dreamer, I hear you ask? To cut a long story short, it’s Chui’s beloved child. An engine-framework, also made from scratch, that powers Xenocider and, hopefully, will power our future releases too. But don’t get us wrong, this is not Unity or anything of the sort, you cannot throw your designs at it and give birth to the next fancy 3D shooter. It needs a lot of low-level coding work. But hey, as we said, we’re passionate. And it’s what makes Xenocider possible.
Xenocider is heavily inspired by Yu Suzuki’s arcade milestone Space Harrier, with a heavy influence from Trasure’s Sin & Punishment which we realized later when we were creating the first assets for the game. The idea as well as the concept for the main character, enemies, etc. came from Abel’s mind and we got all enthusiastic about it. We still are, as the game has become a much richer experience over the three years it’s taken us to come this far…
7) The Dreamcast is 20 years old this year – how will people make sure there keep being games developed for it? Is there a risk some of the knowledge of it could be lost if the number of developers shrinks?
Carlos: The number of developers has dramatically shrinked already. As fans, we have been following other indie DC projects whose creators just stopped updating their websites, or whose corwdfunding campaigns failed (like ours did) and they never came back. It’s a pity, but it’s understandable. You don’t have a big company to fund you, you don’t get a salary for this because you basically do it in your free time, so real life and real work keeps getting in the way until, at some point, it simply feels as if the project itself faded away.
That being said, we don’t think there is a big risk of knowledge getting lost. On one hand, if there is something Sega did right this time was making sure third parties had solid dev kits and documentation in time, so the knowledge is accesible, even if the official dev kits cannot be used. On the other hand, that’s what things like KallistiOS are there for. Developed by Dan Potter, it’s the most widely used dev library for the console. The Dreamcast has some quite good open source tools for developing games, and extensive documentation is available. Sure, there is nothing remotely as versatile as Unity, but you can create a little something here and there in a reasonable amount of time… and is not nearly as frustrating as developing for the Saturn!