Supporting the dead: One developer continues to release games for systems that refuse to die
German developer Duranik has released a new a horizontal shmup called Sturmwind this week, and that's not big news. What's interesting is that the game is coming out on the long-defunct Sega Dreamcast console.
The game looks solid, but there's one question I just couldn't get off my mind when I was watching trailers for this game: What kind of lunatic releases a video game for the Dreamcast in 2013?
This isn't just a fun project or mod, Sturmwind is a full game being published by Red Spot Games, complete with its own CD case, cover art, and a limited edition. There's even a plushie of the game's villain available for purchase.
I got in touch with the game's developer in Germany to see if I could find out what would motivate someone to release a brand new Dreamcast game.
Celebrating the dead
It turns out that Johannes Graf of Duranik, the developer behind Sturmwind, makes a hobby of supporting communities of long-departed video game consoles. He's also built games for the Atari Lynx, Jaguar, and Falcon systems over the past 15 years.
“It's not a business, it's a hobby. It's just fun and different to develop for these really old machines,” said Graf. He noted that it's not possible to make a living with his work, even though he's got the market to himself.
That said, the work can be its own reward, and there's been an outpouring of appreciation from Dreamcast devotees. “The Dreamcast has a very large and avid fanbase,” he said. “We got a lot of support and emails from Dreamcast fans from all over the world. Most of them still can't believe why Sega dropped the machine so early.”
Why does he support the Dreamcast? The hardware continues to show its worth, even this long after its death. “The Dreamcast is still good hardware, and there is still some untapped potential sitting in this box. It is a great platform to develop for. Despite being 12 years old its still easy to to work on it.”
Graf said that the Dreamcast is still a viable place to make games thanks to the advances the industry has made in game development tools. “Also there is a great free development OS available for it, called KOS,” said Graf. “If you find one of those pretty rare broadband adapters you're ready to go and have a very nice devkit on your hands.”
There are only a few Dreamcast broadband adapters currently listed on eBay, but they can sell for up to $130.
That said, if you're an indie developer, $130 is a small price to pay for the attention and adoration of a small group of dedicated fans. It's about the same price as developing for iOS, and there's no revenue sharing. For some developers it could actually be a slightly better business decision. Having the rapt attention of a small group of hardcore Dreamcast fans desperate for your $45 game is quite a bit better than languishing in obscurity on the App Store and selling 12 copies for $0.99, while having to pay Apple their 30% cut.
There can be big challenges when attempting to ship a small-scale title like Sturmwind, though. The game was originally slated to ship in 2011, but was delayed when their manufacturer declared bankruptcy.
“In spite of the best planning, the release of Sturmwind has to be postponed: Our long-term CD-ROM manufacturer surprisingly had to declare bankruptcy after 19 years in business,” reads an old post from 2011 on Red Spot Games' website. Graf said that their new manufacturer was likewise a disaster, and would delay manufacturing for months without telling him there was a problem.
Despite the challenges, Duranik and Red Spot Games aren't the only players in the tiny Dreamcast market. There have been a number of games released since the console's official death in 2001.
In just the past two years several games like 3D rail shooter Geist Force and 2D Contra-alike GunLord have been released. Sturmwind's publisher, Red Spot Games also put out two titles in 2007 and 2009, Last Hope and Rush Rush Rally Racing. Japan in particular refused to let the system go, and there were dozens of titles released there between 2001 and 2004. Things have slowed to a trickle since then, but the efforts haven't stopped.
As for what Duranik will do next now that Sturmwind has been released, Graf says it's still a bit up in the air.
“I don't think the PS2 would need any new games. There must be thousands of games available for it. For the Xbox there is probably no fanbase to make this interesting,” he said.
“The Gamecube, on the other hand, is a very interesting platform.”