Roel Van Mastbergen interview 2013
Senile Team has sort of been flying below the radar for a while, so we decided to catch up with our good friend; Senile Team’s head honcho Roel Van Mastbergen.
It has been 3 years since our last interview with him so we start the interview with a walk down memory lane touching up on their past classics like Beats of Rage and Rush Rush Rally Racing.
For the second half of the interview we delve into Senile Team's new adventures such as the recently released Polkyo’s Super Jelly Bean Quest in the Sketch Book of Illusion along with their other projects including an update on the fabled Age of the Beast.
This very special interview was conducted around the time of Dreamcast's 14th Anniversary by Age Media and was shared on Dreamcast-Scene and Sega Bits in addition to DC Emulation.
A Walk Down Memory Lane Interview Part 1
For the uninitiated, can you please tell us how Senile Team came to be? How many members make up the studio and what are their roles?
Our team started as three brothers with a burning desire for another sequel to Streets of Rage. We started working on "Beats of Rage" in the beginning of 2003. Around the time we completed our project, we found that we needed a name for ourselves as a team. We chose "Senile Team". The name "senile" was originally the ID of a mailing list we'd been using, and until then didn't have any special meaning. But since our game was so old school / retro, and senility is commonly associated with elderly people who are mentally stuck in the past, it was a perfect match.
Senile Team presently has five members: the three original brothers, my girlfriend Liënne and our composer Ben. Ben is from Germany, the rest of us are from the Netherlands. Liënne is a 2d artist and animator. The youngest brother wishes to be referred to as Albatross, and his primay tasks are the creation of 2D and 3D graphics and video editing. Jeroen, the middle brother, helps out in every way that doesn't involve the creation of graphics, programming or music. I myself am most often found programming, or if I get the chance, creating 2D graphics.
Hahaha Senile Team is quite the family. Is it just me or does Albatross maintain quite a low profile? I have been following Senile Team since day one and I did not know there was a third brother involved.
I bet he’s a Shinobi fan!
It’s not just you. His existence isn’t a complete secret, though. He is listed as a team member on our website. And actually he’s more of a Rolling Thunder fan. Hence the name “Albatross”. ;)
Interesting. So if he was Albatross. The question is who was Leila?
Haha that would be Jeroen.
So Ben is an interesting member as he is a part of the Senile Team family and shares the love of Streets of Rage but isn’t a part of the Mastbergen family. How did he join the Team?
As a fan of both SOR and BOR, Ben was one of the first to become a member of the BOR community. When we announced that we needed someone to compose the soundtrack for Age of the Beast, Ben immediately stepped up and has been a loyal team member ever since. Of course the irony is that Age of the Beast is still not completed, but he has also done an excellent job on the Rush Rush Rally Racing soundtrack.
Ben wasn't the first "external" addition to our team, though. The first was Neill Corlett, who ported Beats of Rage to Dreamcast and PS2, and later helped with the code for Age of the Beast and Rush Rush Rally Racing. But unfortunately he didn't have time to spend on those projects any more, and left the team.
Beats of Rage Discussion
When Beats of Rage was released it was a phenomenon, I remember we proudly hosted it at DCS and 72 hours later our site crashed from the spike in traffic. Just when you think things couldn't get any more exciting you released the source code and the scene exploded. I don't think the homebrew scene was ever so active. Not only were people making spin offs for Streets of Rage, they even recreated other side scrolling classics like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, and even SOR's biggest rival Final FIght! Now that is really funny because Streets of Rage was in many ways a clone of Final Fight and now fans were using Beats of Rage engine to remake the Final Fight Trilogy. Sort of brings things full circle.
If the resurgence of classic side scrollers wasn't overwhelming enough, fans started making beat'em ups of games that weren't even Side Scrollers such as Mortal Kombat Legacy, Kill Ryu (A Kill Bill inspired Street Fighter game). Somebody even went as far ahead to push the limits of the engine and make a Road Rash game.
Can you talk about the legacy of Beats of Rage?
Well, the dozens of modded games are of course most obvious of Beats of Rage's effects. The quality varies, of course, but there's no doubt that some people have been very creative. The Road Rash mod was indeed a surprise, even if it doesn't rank amongst the best ones. Other users of the OpenBOR engine have explored other genres too, with at least one shmup, a run & gun game and various mods that blend beat 'em ups with RPG's. Some people have learned how to program, or how to draw and animate sprites just for the sake of making mods. A few even based their career choices on their experiences with Beats of Rage and openBOR.
It's hard to say exactly how much influence Beats of Rage has had outside the scene, though. Clearly the vast collection of openBOR mods is a treasure trove of inspiration and information to anyone who intends to develop a beat 'em up these days, so it seems likely that other developers have already used it as such. But I guess it's impossible to know all the details.
Allow me to highlight a variable that you might be unaware of. It may sound a little over the top but if you put it into perspective it will make all the sense in the world.
Dreamcast's ability to boot burned disks without hardware modification allowed the indie scene to prosper, however it was also the most pervasive reason for the systems decline, as It enabled piracy all to easily. When Sega discontinued the Dreamcast naturally software support started to decline to fill in the void BOR mods were released commercially by pirates in underdeveloped countries.
Given that PS2 required hardware modification to enable piracy and it took several years to develop a perfect mod chip, pirates really did not want the Dreamcast to vanish off store shelves, once PS2 piracy was perfected a handful of mods were released commercially on it as well.
We are aware of the fact that Beats of Rage mods were sold by shady, parrtot shouldered types, but I'm more inclined to call that collateral damage than a legacy. Unless you mean that Beats of Rage contributed to extending the Dreamcast's life span, because that would definitely be a good thing. ;)
The OpenBOR community continue to evolve the engine, but if you could go back and work on the engine again what would you like to do with it?
I could interpret that question in various ways, so I'll give you various answers.
If I could go back to 2003 and work on Beats of Rage again, I would only change a few details.
First of all, I would add a warning to the engine itself that it is not to be sold. Such a warning was already present in various other locations, but clearly that was not enough.
I would also add the option to jump over an enemy when you've grabbed them. That was a great feature in Streets of Rage that Beats of Rage was sorely missing. Finally -- and I know that this isn't a feature of the engine but of the game -- I would improve the graphics for the final level (where you fight Mr. Y). I always meant to do that, but near the end of the project I got a bit tired/lazy.
About the OpenBOR engine, of course there are some things we would have done differently than the OpenBOR team. Backwards compatibility is one thing (if you play Beats of Rage with the OpenBOR engine you'll find that it is a bit broken), and we would have opted to implement more built-in features rather than a scripting engine. But of course different people do things differently, and the OpenBOR team are doing a great job so nothing but praise for them.
Also, in a very real sense we did continue to work on the engine, because an advanced version of it was going to be used for Age of the Beast. However, over time the concept of Age of the Beast has changed. Some gameplay elements will of course remain the same as they were in Beats of Rage, but the engine will be completely different in several key areas.
Rush Rush Rally Racing
I can't wait to discuss Aotb, but first let's talk Rush Rush Rally Racing's (R4) Marketing.
I think it is safe to say that there has never been an indie game on any retro console that has been marketed quite like R4. Senile Team & RSG just kept pushing it. It was a presence at game conventions, it got celebrity endorsements, and it also had some pretty cool merchandise. For those who are out of the loop can you talk about all the cool things that were done for R4 beyond designing the actual game?
My knowledge of other retro games' marketing is limited, so I can't say if that's entirely true.
I'm sure there have been others in the same category that received a remarkable amount of attention and merch. You certainly have a point, though. There was a deluxe edition with a soundtrack and stickers, and later posters, caps and more stickers were produced. And besides redspotgames' and Senile Team's own efforts, others also helped out. There was Benzaie's awesome YouTube video. Fan art appeared on the Dreamcast Junkyard. And a number of games magazines, including quite notable ones like GamesTM, filled multiple pages with interviews and favorable reviews of the game.
One of my personal favorite R4-related things was redspotgames' presence at the GamesCom in Cologne. They had a remarkably well-designed, well-built booth. Both the Dreamcast version and an early Wii version of R4 were on display, as well as of course other redspotgames products. We also met Kontechs there of Dux fame, and Josh Tari better known as Captain Dreamcast. It doesn't get much better than that!
But the most unusual of all was probably the sponsoring of Formula BMW racer Lassi Halminen by redspotgames. Sadly though, what should have been a joyous occasion became a thorn in our side. The sponsoring was supposed to be promotion for the WiiWare release of Rush Rush Rally Racing, whose development was already completed at that time. But instead, it only seemed to distract redspotgames from actually publishing the game! That's got to be worth at least a triple facepalm!
It is unfortunate that the game wasn’t released alongside its marketing campaign. It took almost 3 years for R4 to be released on WiiWare (Wii U was almost out by then). The WiiWare version still hasn’t seen a release outside Europe. I think everything that could go wrong with the release of the Wii version did go wrong, in spite of all this the game did land on the top of UK WiiWare Charts.
Can you offer any insights as to why indie developers simply have no luck with Nintendo?
It did take ridiculously long, yes. This might have been excusable if it had been a challenging game to develop, but it wasn't. The only major technical challenge was to shrink the data to less than 20% of its original size, and we managed that quite well. So not quite everything that could go wrong, did. We even had space left to add more features.
It was all for naught, though, as for all our efforts we're not getting a cent in return. Consequently, there won't be a release in other regions.
I'm sure that not all the factors that delayed the release of our game also applied to the other projects you mentioned, but I believe you are correct that Nintendo is one they all have in common. Although many of the people working there are certainly competent and helpful, it can't be denied that there was also a lot of bureaucracy involved. I can't really give any details because I'm under NDA, but I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what bureaucracy looks like. Lots of rules that don't make any sense and keep changing all the time. I wonder why they still took the effort to change them, because as anyone can plainly see Nintendo basically let the WiiWare service bleed to death.
So Lassi Halminen could not do what Danica Patrick did for Sonic All-Stars Racing: Transformed?
Haha, She’s just a Nascar driver who has been promoting SASRT.
I guess not. Nothing wrong with Lassi's driving, though.
So that was our walk done memory lane. Join us next week as we delve deeper into the perils for developing for Nintendo and discuss what Senile Team has been up to post R4!
Beyond the Rush Interview Part 2
Many developers have publicly revealed the perils of dealing with Nintendo. However, those developers have dropped Nintendo hardware as a development platform altogether.
Since you are abiding to NDA's I will assume you plan to work with Nintendo in the future.
Can you discuss things that you could do differently to get a game released on the projected date?
We have no plans to release anything on Nintendo hardware in the foreseeable future. But we take our agreements seriously especially when they involve legal documents and generally feel it's better to err on the side of caution.
Can you discuss things that you could do differently to get a game released on the projected date?
Delays are a nuisance to players and to Senile Team. We are determined to avoid them in the future, and hope to accomplish that through a number of measures.
First and foremost, we will not disclose any information about the projects we are working on until they are in a much more advanced state. After Beats of Rage, we said that we had started working on Age of the Beast and the effects of that mistake are still haunting us. If you've kept an eye on this project, you've likely seen many different release dates for Age of the Beast on various websites, but those must have sprung from the wishful minds of people who put the "dream" in Dreamcast, because the only official date is still simply "when it's done".
You shouldn't feel haunted by it, you have given the scene OpenBOR and R4, I am sure the community can let that one slide.
Another important one is that we will try to keep the lines short, avoiding "middlemen". Like others before us, we've become very interested in the benefits of self-publishing.
Has the Sturmwind debacle instigated this idea or the R4 port?
It's a result of on our own experiences, of course.
Last year, Senile Team returned to their freeware roots with a port of Hot Pengu's browser game Polyko's Super Jelly Bean Quest for Dreamcast. Can you talk about how you went about bringing it to Dreamcast?
Sure. When I first saw the Polyko Flash game, I was quite impressed by its charming 16-colour graphics.
I contacted Rik, a.k.a. HotPengu, and had a very pleasant conversation. As it turned out, he's a fan of both the Dreamcast and Beats of Rage, so it clicked and we quickly agreed to bring Polyko to the Dreamcast.
The Flash game was implemented in a way that wasn't suitable for a direct port, so I basically had to rebuild it in a different way. Using the tools I had already created for Senile Team's projects, this was only a matter of days.
The game is now available for free on the Senile Team website, both as a CD image and as an ISO file for use with an SD card reader.
How has the reception been for Polyko in terms of downloads? Any server crashes? Not bad I guess, but nowhere near a server crash. Not only is the average server much more powerful these days, but clearly the Dreamcast scene is also much less active than it was a decade ago.
So I saw you and Jeroen credited in Sturmwind as Play Testers. How did you guys get involved and could you share some of the suggestions you gave?
We had already had some contact with Duranik as fellow Dreamcast developers, and when we were asked to help test Sturmwind we happily agreed. I think most of the issues we found were related to graphics and usability, but I can't recall the exact details. We were only involved in the testing for a short time, though. Not sure why that is.
...Drum Roll... Last year in an interview with Sega Addicts you revealed that Age of the Beast had been rebooted and you were exploring new technology as well as looking into expanding the team. So any update that you could be share with us?
Well, the new technology I was referring to consists mainly of various tools I developed to increase our productivity. They are working quite well, as evidenced by the short time it took to create the DC version of Polyko.
But I'm afraid that's all I can say about this subject at this time.
Okay, no Problem. Any other updates? What about the other secret Dreamcast project?
A *secret* project you say? I can't imagine what you could possibly mean.
Okay, then... This interview is ending on a very sad note Roel. Surely, you could give us something? How about an update on the Rush Rush Rally Racing re-release the regular edition sold out 2 months after release. The DX edition sold out years ago, and DX Alternate Cover Edition sold out earlier this year.
Perhaps it will cheer you up if I tell you that we are working on more things to make you happy. Or don't you like surprises? ;)
Well there you have it folks, that concludes our epic interview with Roel that took over a year to complete. Yup, just a few months shy of 2 Years!
I would really like to thank Roel San for all the constructive feedback and patience. I wish him and his family all the success in the world, I can't wait for Age of the Beast and would welcome a re-release of R4 in the meantime.