Many videogame devotees aspire to be designers, programmers, artists or creators. Canada native and founder of Vblank Entertainment Brian Provinciano has made all of those roles a full-time, homebrew reality for the past year. Giving up his day job in the industry – working on everything from emulators of old Midway, Namco and Capcom games for home consoles, to PSP Sonic Rivals titles – Provinciano has been focusing his efforts on a passion project that has its roots in his days as a young gamer. “My inspiration came from playing games and, if I really liked them, dropping the controller and trying to do my own version, like trying to draw my own Sonic levels in MS Paint,” he explains.
In the late ’90s, Provinciano’s inspiration was DMA Design’s Grand Theft Auto series. The top-down crime sim was an irresistible template for the wannabe designer, and he set about whipping up his own mix of 8bit urban chaos: Grandtheftendo (its website is no longer available but can be seen via the Internet Archive). “I wanted to see if I could get a GTA-type game on the NES,” says the 25-year-old matter-of-factly. It was, naturally, no mean feat, and the limitations of the hardware soon got in the way of any good intentions. “I just wanted to make a really fun game and some of the limitations were hindering that. For example, I was only able to have one car graphic onscreen [with the NES hardware].”
Fast-forward almost a decade and Provinciano’s dream is still alive, albeit with more capable hardware at his disposal and entitled Retro City Rampage. “To make it a commercial project at some point and have it reach the masses, I needed an original game to bring to modern hardware,” he explains. Having dabbled with inserting a few choice locations from gaming’s past into his 8bit-inspired playground, Provinciano expanded the idea to have users carry out missions for parodies of Guybrush Threepwood and Leisure Suit Larry. From here, the idea snowballed all the way to the present day, where RCR is now populated entirely by cult characters. “It was around early 1998 when it transitioned to be really zany and comical. I was working on jump collision, deciding what to do when one character’s on top of another. It dawned on me: why doesn’t he squash them like in Super Mario? From that point I started getting crazy… I worked on it part-time while I was in the industry. Over a year ago I finally took the leap and went into it full-time. I took on an additional pixel artist, but even since then I’ve done 95 per cent of the art. I also got three musicians, one of whom does SFX as well.”
It’s not just a nostalgic playground of stolen ideas – RCR is a polished, addictive and unique experience on its own merits. Our experience with a near-complete build plants us in the beautifully blocky world of Theftropolis following a title screen (complete with crackling chiptune soundtrack) furnished with Miami Vice-era pink and blue. Visually, it’s authentic without being revisionist – there are no correctives in RCR’s style: it’s homage to the extent of imitation. Mechanically, however, the intention is very much to teach an old dog new tricks. “I’ve done a lot of work to make these games more accessible,” Provinciano explains. “I take the limitations of the [NES] hardware, the graphics and audio capabilities, but I’m focusing [on making] it as intuitive as modern games, with tutorials and hints as to what you’re supposed to do. Not just throwing users in and assuming they read a big manual on the game.”
Pages — 1 2