An In-depth Look at Retro City Rampage @ E3 2012

In spite of the dense crowds, long lines, and county fair atmosphere of E3 you can often tell the first time visitors not so much by the fact that their head appears to be attached by gimbals to their neck allowing it to pivot and turn in almost every direction at once, and in fluid motions... You cannot really use that as an indicator because even veteran attendees sometimes exhibit that behavior! A much more accurate method for culling the newbies from the veterans is to watch their reaction when they see games that they are not expecting to see on display.

This year's E3 included a number of titles that stand out for the fact that they are not AAA mainstream titles -- the collection of Harvest Moon games over at the Natsume exhibit space is a good example, and so is the Retro City Rampage, over in the land of Sony!

As you might imagine by the name, Retro City Rampage is an intentionally retro action-adventure game for the PlayStation Vita that has a decidedly old-school Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to it, which actually makes a certain sort of sense when you consider that the development of the game initially began on an unofficial NES "development kit" that the game's designer, Brian Provinciano, cobbled together on his own, and the original motivation behind it was to recreate in 8-bit sprite graphics one of his favorite games, Grand Theft Auto III.

As he explains the process, what began as a quest for an 8-bit GTA3 that sported the iconic characteristics of the classic NES game eventually morphed into a game that contained a collection of the characters he enjoyed from childhood, eventually reaching a level of involvement and complexity that forced him to make a decision... And in the end what he decided to do was start over, from scratch, but instead of borrowing characters willy-nilly from all over the historical spectrum, he would create his own original game and characters.

Retro City Rampage OFFICIAL Trailer (February 2012)

Over a period of several years Provinciano built a suite of advanced software tools that helped him to overcome limitations that were part of the NES hardware, but as the complexity of the programing and design process grew, he was eventually forced to shif development to the PC, after which the game became something of a full-time project, with his own story, characters, and plot that he intended to integrate into the game, which he planned to release as a downloadable title for consoles via the Indy publishers path.

After recruiting a cadre of play-testers and building a set of tools that included a real-time map editor that allowed for section debugging and on-the-fly changes to the game, playing the role of chief cook and bottle washer as well as art department, coder, and writer all on his own grew to be too much -- especially after the feedback he was receiving indicated that what he had was more -- much more -- than simply a small Indy project to be given away.

Hiring a pixel artist to assist with the visual design of the game, Provinciano then brought in three renowned videogame composers, Leonard "FreakyDNA" Paul, Jake "Virt" Kaufman and Matt "Norrin Radd" Creamer, to create the chiptune songs that made up the game's soundtrack, and his game project transitioned from hobby-status to a full-fledged Indy game development project!

Hello World

Conceived as a parody of retro games and pop culture as well as the popular Grand Theft Auto series, Retro City Rampage puts gamers in control of the henchman of a major crime syndicate -- a character known only as "The Jester" -- in a role and within a game that he freely admits was initially inspired by Rockstar's GTA series but that at some point took on a life of its own as it first lightly poked fun at the genre and then evolved into a full-fledged, tongue-in-cheek send-up of it.

The mission-based game play takes place in an enormous city that makes up the bulk of the game world, there for the players to explore, with over 50 story-related missions to be discovered as well as a series of 30 challenge levels. Gamers familiar with the GTA series will immediately hit the ground running in this parody, which mirrors the game play mechanics that they will already be familiar with, from jacking a ride and using the assortment of weapons to hitting the shops and dealing with the unwanted attention of John P. Law!

OFFICIAL Retro City Rampage Breakfast Cereal Commercial

In many ways Retro City Rampage is really more of a collection of the sincere homage, with easy to find nods to the games of the GTA series, Saints Row, and a very wide assortment of 8-bit classic games, but if all that there was to it was simply an homage to the thug-style of game that was made popular by Rockstar regardless of the bit-depth, it would not be the game that it is!

As gamers partake of the classic top-down God's-eye view from which this game -- and almost all of the classic 8-bit titles to which it owes much -- were originally coded, gamers can look for nods and sincere acknowledgments to titles like The Legend of Zelda, Bionic Commando, Contra, Super Mario Brothers, Mega Man, and to one degree or another clever references to or outright homages honoring classics like Pitfall, the original Donkey Kong, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, and even Metroid, serving as a who's who of classic arcade gaming.

A Clever Sort of Homage

The strength behind Retro City Rampage that causes it to stand out and shine has more to do with the care that was taken to keep its approach true to the original sense of 8-bit gaming rather than simply dropping in references to the games that it pays honor to like a name-dropping Bryn Mawr co-ed looking to score instant creds... In fact detecting and identifying many of the nods and gestures of homage requires the gamer to have what amounts to a Ph.D. in 8-bit gaming, but that is really the beauty of this game and how it was conceived and implemented.

In one respect we might view RCR as an ambitious effort to educate the masses on retro-gaming and the significant contribution that its genres have made to modern gaming, but in the end we must view it for what it really is: a labor of love in which a lone gamer set out to pay service to the games that made their childhood fun and, in the end, wound up creating something that was much grander in scale and impact than they suspected was possible!

The foundation for RCR begins with its changing views, with the classic God's-eye-view changing places with the 2/3 top-down-view from game's like the early GTA titles making up the latter, while the former represents serious platforming roots for the likes of Donkey Kong... The brilliant still and partly-animated "dialogue" CS's help to reinforce the old-school look and feel to the game -- forcing you to ask yourself when was the last new game you remember in which reading the CS's was an integral part of the story?

In modern platforming titles the action of jumping from one surface to another is generally considered to be the element that defines it as a platformer, but gamers old enough to remember playing the original 8-bit titles that helped to establish the genres when they were new will recall that ladders were originally a core element for moving between platforms, as were lifts, rotating decks, swinging ropes, mechanical arms, and a wide array of other alternatives to simply jumping that were limited only by the imagination of the development team!

RCR is not any one specific classic genre, containing elements common to all of them -- and while it certainly holds the player to the measurement of how skillfully they can move through the game environment, they also must battle the enemy, use their weapons to the best of their abilities, and complete the different puzzles, all the while avoiding environmental threats while resisting what often seems like an uncontrolled multiple-genre attack!

Meanwhile, Back in Sony Land

The presentation at E3 as part of the collection of games to be released on the PlayStation Vita as a downloadable title may have given the impression that RCR is flagged as a Vita exclusive title, but that is not actually the case. In fact the game -- which is being self-published by the company "VBlank Entertainment Inc." -- check out their home page at for some fascinating background and a very well-made page with lots of bright colors and retro graphics!

Located in Vancouver, Canada, Vblank Entertainment was founded by Brian Provinciano, who as revealed earlier is the one-man-show behind the creation of RCR, and is not afraid of a little self-promotion when it can do his game some good -- and it is understood that in addition to the version of the game on display at Sony's booth for the PSVita, versions of Retro City Rampage will be released in downloadable form for the Nintendo Wii / Wii U (as WiiWare), for Microsoft's Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), on PC and Microsoft Windows via both Steam and, and on Sony's PlayStation 3 via its PlayStation Network (PSN) and how cool is that?

Freaky DNA - Kick It (Retro City Rampage Soundtrack)

Retro City Rampage is classified as a single-player action-adventure title (though word is that there is a multi-player mode in the works that may deploy as DLC), and has been rated T (for Teens) by the ESRB, and has received a PEGI: 12 rating from the Pan European Game Information service. Set to be released some time in Summer 2012, there is no firm word regarding price, though it is assumed that it will follow the established price schemes for all digital titles.

You will recall that back at the beginning of this piece we were talking about a much more accurate method for culling the newbies from the veterans among the attendees at E3? Right, well, the trick to that is to watch their reaction when they encounter games that they are not expecting to see on display and, in particular, games that appear to be out-of-place or anachronistic -- like RCR -- as invariably they get a very distinct and confused expression on their face, which is usually followed by their glancing furtively around in the hopes of finding a friendly but knowledgeable face near enough so that they can confirm their confused state without having to broadcast it to those around them... We're just saying, easy to spot!

Posted: 18th Jun 2012 by CMBF
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