When you play a Zelda game, you’re transported to fantastical new lands. Once you’re there, you may start to imagine completely new worlds to explore. Adventuring in Hyrule is what inspired Joe Granato to create the land of Myrinda, and start developing a game called Mystic Searches.
Granato formed the idea of Mystic Searches when he was just eight years old. Twenty-five years later, he’s making his childhood dream a reality. In honor of his NES roots, he’s not simply making an 8-bit style game, but rather an actual cartridge playable on an NES console. A modern-styled version of the game is being developed for the Wii U and PC, but for the ultimate experience, you can play the NES cartridge alongside its contemporary version for not just cross-platform gameplay, but cross-generational. A Kickstarter campaign is going on until June 8 to help fund the convergence.
I know Mystic Searches was an idea you came up with as a kid. What made you decide to pick it back up and actively pursue it?
It’s funny. It sounds like something out of a fantasy game storyline. As a kid, I had these lofty aspirations to build this world, but was completely unable. They got filed away and thrown into storage. I grew up and forgot all about them. Then about 25 years later, it was like finding some ancient buried relic that had just been lying dormant, waiting for a more able hero. I started to wonder if I could piece it all together and actually build the thing that my 8-year-old self set out to create. That’s sort of where this new adventure began.
How did The Legend of Zelda inspire Mystic Searches?
Wow. Well, I have been with the series since day one. Literally. I remember the day the gold cartridge was released at my local Toys-R-Us. The fantasy world contained in that little gold-painted piece of plastic was nothing short of magic to me. I was only in second grade at the time, so I was years away from being able to dive into, say, Tolkien’s fantasy world, but Hyrule was accessible to me. And experiencing it was more than a passive experience. It made me want to create my own stories. I’d say the original NES Legend of Zelda is responsible for me wanting to create things; stories, music, games, movies — I can trace it all back to exploring 8-bit Hyrule.
“While there will definitely be evidence of Zelda’s influence, it will be a unique NES experience.”
What Zelda elements, if any, might we see in the game?
Both NES Zelda titles were very inspirational when I created the original designs. The game will absolutely have moments that feel like an homage. It’ll be a top-down, open-world adventure game. There will be exploration. There will be puzzles and secrets to find. It takes place in a fantasy setting. In some ways, it may feel like a spiritual successor. However, it is not a Zelda clone. In fact, those at the core of the project have really honed in on their favorite NES experiences to help guide development. Inspirations from many NES games have been sort of syphoned in to this game’s design. Even little things like having a Z-axis and the ability to jump fundamentally change the gameplay. So yeah, while there will definitely be evidence of Zelda’s influence, it will be a unique NES experience.
So what exactly is the game about?
I’ll try to sum it up as concisely as possible. The continent of Myrinda is supernaturally charged. The basic building blocks that make up corporeal reality are rather malleable there. As if wielding magic, people there can manipulate basic elements of the world. In order to prevent a potential catastrophe, Myrinda’s civilization created a paradigm where individuals are selected to be the custodians of the various types of wonder; one to control life, another death. One to control order, another entropy. And so on. These individuals are known as the Mystics, and it is their job to keep these supernatural powers in balance. However, not everyone agrees with this dogmatic system. A cult of rogue gypsies, who have tapped the power of void, seek to supplant the Mystics and make these supernatural powers freely available to the masses. Chaos ensues, and a reluctant young hero will have to restore the powers to the Mystics before the imbalance obliterates the natural world.
There are a lot of indie developers out there who are making games that are throwbacks to the 8-bit and 16-bit games we grew up with, but they are all strictly digital. Why did you elect to put it on an actual NES cartridge?
This game literally can not exist any other way. It’s always been an NES game. It would be like asking someone who sets out to create a painting why he doesn’t use Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. Sometimes, the medium is just as important as the subject of the piece itself. In this case, constraints and limitations are part of its design. We’re not emulating the constraints of the NES to make a “retro-themed game” (not that there’s anything wrong with that; we all love games like Shovel Knight!), we’re forced to stay within the limitations. And having constraints always fuels creativity and innovation. For those who think it’s easier to make an NES game, let me assure you, making this project for any other system would’ve been one hundred times more flexible, faster, easier, and could reach many more perspective players. But there is something inexplicably cool about having it on a working cartridge. I mean, how many iOS games are there in the world? A million? More? But the number of complete, functional NES games is under a thousand. In actually adding a title to that console’s library, even this long after its relevance, just feels like some sort of badge of honor. I know not everyone will get it, and that’s okay too.
What’s been the most challenging part?
That’s easy. Having to slim down some of the amazing ideas to what we can actually do on the NES has been heartbreaking. It has almost been frustrating enough for us to abandon everything I just said about why we’re developing for the actual NES. Almost. But again, in the end it’s only fueled our resolve!
When the game is finished, how can we get a hold of a copy?
It’s a little premature to talk about how exactly we plan on distributing it, but we’ll keep posting info to our site. Right now, anyone who wants to reserve a copy can pledge via Kickstarter. Our web address, www.TheNew8bitHeroes.com, temporarily points directly to the Kickstarter campaign. When it’s over and it points to our main site, information will be there as well.
Along with Mystic Searches, you’re also working on a documentary. Tell us a little bit about it?
The idea for the documentary was pretty simple. What if I gathered a group of professional creatives — a published fantasy novelist, a cartoonist and illustrator, a film score composer, etc. — who are all very established and skilled at their craft, and charged them to retrofit their skills to try and make an NES game despite the limitations of the system. Thus, the idea for The New 8-bit Heroes was born. It follows this group as they meet and learn from people who worked on actual NES titles in the ’80s, discover the art of telling a fantasy story in this medium, and bring the game from the concept of an 8-year-old kid to reality.
Once you’re done with Mystic Searches, what’s next? Do you plan on developing more NES games in the future?
That’s a tough question. I know that I’ll be working on the Nintendo Quest NES game with Rob McCallum. It’s been a blast getting to know the guys who created that documentary. Honestly, there couldn’t be a more supportive community. Aside from that though, I’ve got a lot of projects that got moved to the back burner for this one — some game related, some film related, some music related, redrafting a novel I’ve been working on — might just roll the dice as to which one I pick when this is finished.
A while back, you were working on a Zelda documentary but put it aside for Mystic Searches/8-Bit Heroes. Will you be picking that back up at all? Because I think it’d be pretty cool. I’d totally watch it.
Yes, It’s Dangerous To Go Alone…The Movie. That documentary wasn’t really about the games themselves, but more about their broad influence. How so many people had a similar experience, being propelled into their creative field because of the game, from street musicians to people engineering for government defense systems. I thought it was a fascinating look at the game’s influence beyond just on video game culture. It was tough. That film was my baby. I was truly excited at the initial support. But as it turned out, I could not make the film I wanted to make while funding it from my own pocket. I’m just a lowly nine-to-fiver, honestly. I have, however, made a special reward tier in the current Kickstarter. I’m willing to show some of the footage to those who continue to show support. It’ll never be exactly the film I’d envisioned, but with the 10-or-so hours of footage already captured, there is enough already filmed to at least cut together something interesting. In addition, some of the ideas got recycled into The New 8-bit Heroes documentary by default.
So on to a few fun questions. Favorite Zelda game?
There is a common adage that one’s favorite Zelda game is the one they first played when they were 12 years old. Guilty, as charged. A Link to the Past. Hands down. But in my defense, as someone who has developed games, I feel like I have objective reasons as well as nostalgic ones!
Favorite Zelda weapon?
Aw man, “favorite” could mean so many things. Would it be the most badass to have in real life? My favorite to play in a game? Most interesting game mechanic from a critical analysis standpoint? Hm, I suppose if I could wield anything in the Zelda universe as my weapon, it would be — a Cucco? Can that be an answer? Because come on, who is really gonna mess with you when one of those things is your bodyguard? I guess it means no chicken sandwiches for me then.
“There is something inexplicably cool about having it on a working cartridge.”
If you could hang out with any Zelda character, who would it be?
Error. For no particular reason. Just seemed like a straightforward guy.
Thank you for taking the time to talk about Mystic Searches. I can’t wait to play it. Anything else you care to add?
Just a thank you to you, Amanda, and to Zelda Universe. You and your readers have always been incredibly supportive of the projects I’ve worked on, and they wouldn’t be possible without people like you. While it’s not a Zelda game, I hope that Zelda fans here who are looking for a new adventure game in its spirit will also make room in their heart for Mystic Searches, the game project dreamt up by a like-minded Zelda fan.