We asked local writing whiz Chelsea Edgell to write something about our ‘origin story’, since we know it is a little incredible. Enjoy! —CC
Many in the industry fantasize about making a follow-up to their favourite childhood game. The challenge is finding like-minded talent, and transforming that dream into a reality worthy of inheriting the throne.
Though they had never met and their lives had little in common, Daniel Crenna and Bannon Rudis shared more than their enthusiasm for River City Ransom (or Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari), a much-loved beat ‘em up released in 1989—they also shared the desire to see a follow-up game, and the professional chops to make it happen.
What they both lacked was a team.
Crenna had spent much of his childhood designing concept art and game pitches with his brother Dustin, mailing them to game companies in hopes the property owners would take interest. In this respect, the brothers were not unlike many who would go on to work in the games industry as adults.
Fast forward a few decades; Dustin Crenna is now a veteran composer and sound designer with credits in the Halo, Bioshock, and Battlefield franchises. Daniel Crenna has 28 years of programming experience, having produced open source software with millions of downloads. So when Daniel secured the rights to the recently-lapsed River City Ransom trademark partly on a whim, the stage was set.
Meanwhile, Bannon Rudis had quietly been working towards much the same dream. A talented artist with unbridled enthusiasm for old-school games, Rudis had designed sprites and other art for an imagined sequel to River City Ransom—and was looking for a developer to help make it happen.
Crenna stumbled upon Rudis and his work while searching for an image to use as a Twitter background, of all unlikely things. While Rudis had made inroads with other developers, none could match Crenna’s resources or dedication. He was serious about putting the trademark to good use and serious about making a follow-up worthy of the name, rather than a simple homage or creative tribute.
At this point, the newly-formed alliance had to confront its most daunting hurdle yet: licensing.
Securing the trademark was hardly sufficient, as Million—founded by former employees of Technōs Japan—owned the rights needed to make a legitimate, licensed follow-up to River City Ransom.
While well-versed in software and game development, the team was tackling this sort of challenge for the first time. Spurred on by passion and bolstered by the work they’d already done, the team embarked on the process of learning to navigate the murky waters of international business etiquette and putting together a successful pitch.
Although emotionally prepared for rejection, they emerged with a license, a blessing from the original developers… and a suddenly looming deadline. Retaining the trademark and license entails shipping within a time frame, in addition to an obligation of loyalty to the original game.
As Crenna wrote in a discussion about balancing indie finances and creative freedoms with working on a licensed title: “we do have free roam, the ability to craft a game as we see it, but naturally, as a licensor, we do have obligations to stay true to the spirit and to the point of our predecessor.”
Yet honoring license requirements is hardly the only duty hanging over River City Ransom: Underground. The original NES cult-classic has many enthusiastic fans—fans eager to be impressed and vociferously averse to disappointment. The team is investing a great deal of personal time, money and effort, but unsurprisingly there are those who remain skeptical.
Dedicated fans have reacted in two ways: “Awesome!” and “Please don’t screw this up.”
As news of the game slowly percolates through online communities, pressure mounts. The game must balance the expectation of loyalty to the original with the need to live up to the standards of a modern industry; thus the necessity that River City Ransom: Underground be stylistically old-school, but nonetheless innovative in its approach to storytelling and gameplay.
Fan support can help this lofty dream come to fruition. With a Kickstarter campaign underway now until October 9th, the opportunity to get involved directly is here.
After all, the support of fans old and new alike will be critical in making the game as good as it can possibly be. But in addition to backers, it also takes an all-star team.
To ensure that River City Ransom: Underground lives up to expectations, the team has added top-notch talent.
Even with their ambition and proven ability to roll with the punches, Bannon Rudis, Daniel Crenna and Dustin Crenna aren’t doing it alone. With Daniel’s leadership sliding him into the role of accidental producer, additional development talent was obviously needed. Mark De Verno is the team’s resident math nerd and gameplay developer, bringing his skills to the already well-qualified table.
To keep a connection to the source material, and for assistance with story and aesthetics, Conatus tapped beat’em up legend Yoshihisa Kishimoto, the grandfather of the Kunio-kun franchise and director of Double Dragon, for this project.
And to ensure that River City Ransom: Underground is as fun to listen to as it is play, the team has also enlisted the talent of 8 bit chiptune king Rich Vreeland—news which should please fans of FEZ, Shoot Many Robots and Cat Astro Phi.
For the team behind River City Ransom: Underground, making the game is both a dream come true and a ton of work.
Daniel Crenna acknowledges that story of a small indie studio snagging the license to live a big childhood ambition can seem a bit incredible to some, but this only fuels his motivation. His experience in the software development business and his growing interest in the challenges of game production give Daniel confidence that the time is ripe for River City Ransom: Underground.
“Game development has always been my final destination, as far as career,” he says. “So we’re making it happen.”
River City Ransom: Underground is scheduled for release in Summer 2014 if successful on Kickstarter. For more information, tune in to the Kickstarter at http://kck.st/1e9tgOq, visit rivercityransom.com, and follow River City Ransom on Twitter.