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Interview: Fonzie Voltnov (Watermelon Games Programmer)

After purchasing the Mega Cart a few months ago, I had some great contact with the main man behind the project, Fonzie Voltnov, known as Fonzie at our forum (and everywhere else). He surely helped out with all of the features the Mega Cart has, so I was then able to write a combined review and tutorial for it. As a very fitting follow up, I decided to do an interview with him to find out how his great product saw the light of day and what else he is up to.

Fonzie had a lot of great details to share on the Mega Cart, Tototek, Good Deal Games, and the retro scene in general.

 

Sega-16: How did you become a developer for Mega Drive/Mega CD products?

Fonzie: Actually, I’ve been a Mega Drive fan since 1994, associated with a unique life experience that strengthened my interest for this system. I started to code things for Mega Drive around 2003 and met a very friendly and small community. There were/are still lot of challenges with this great hardware.

In 2005, with a devfriend, we released Mighty Mighty Missile. It was very fun but it had some bad publishing at first (they published a bugged beta), which doomed the game/tribute forever. The Sega CD is definitely a crazy bitch, I spent lot of time to do the basics (loading data from disc took me a year. I was unlucky, but this may show you the insanity of the hardware). Now I’m someone that could be called “quite handy with it,” ha ha. I did some coding for the 32X too.

Sega-16: Tell us more about the Mighty Mighty Missile project.

Fonzie: It is my first attempt to program a game for the Mega Drive/Mega CD, and of course, it is originally based on ChuChu Rocket. Due to some sound issues (Mega Drive sound tools were not available back in 2003), I decided to do a Mega CD release under a different name. A guy called Mask of Destiny did the Sega CD sound driver and I coded the whole game. Both were coded from scratch, and it was very challenging. Oldergames was going to publish the game, so we sent a beta of the game to make a show at Classic Gaming Expo 2004, and those guys decided to publish the beta instead of waiting for the final. It was a big, bad flop.

Then Good Deal Games decided to publish it again, the final version this time. I think there were more betas sold than final. Some bad reviews were written, which doomed the game. In my opinion, even if the sound can get glitchy (never happened in my copy), it is still a great tribute to Sega. (Editor’s note: Mask of Destiny is one of the first fans who did Mega CD coding. He used ASM loading and PCM routines and has made a sound engine for the system. He helped Fonzie with the Mighty Mighty Missile project and also a cartridge dump cable via the Mega CD, which is available for purchase at Fonzie’s website.)

Sega-16: What do you have to learn in programming to develop Mega Drive/Mega CD products?

Fonzie: Programming for Mega Drive is quite easy; the system is very robust and simple. The display part can be tricky for some people, but I never had any problem with that; it is just pure fun. You can use 100% C language or 100% ASM, or mix both. Programming for Sega CD isn’t a real recommendation and best saved for only when you have “owned” the Mega Drive.

Sega-16: Is there any kind of equipment you need when doing it?

Fonzie: No, just a Windows-driven computer, the freeware dev-kit, some documentation, and eventually a flash card. Also, you must download GensKmod from Kaneda. It is very easy to debug your code then. Ha yes, just prepare lot of tea for the first two weeks.

Sega-16: Tell us about your company, Evermind. How did things start and then came into producing accessories for old school video game systems?

Fonzie: It’s not a company, in fact. I formed it to clearly separate it from Genny4ever, my programming blog. Evermind is for business (if you can call this business), but I’m not making products with the “business” word in my head, so no worries about that.

Sega-16: Aside from Evermind, Tototek has also been involved. Tell us how.

Fonzie: I came up with some concepts to improve Tototek products, where the “play any region discs” feature of the Mega Cart was most essential. Tototek accepted to develop the Mega Cart with me when they had finished their previous product (something not related to Mega Drive). It caused a delay of one year.

Sega-16: How many people were in the development phase of the Mega Cart and what tasks did they have?

Fonzie: Two people, me and Tototek’s boss. I’m the guy behind the concept/software, and he is behind the hardware.

Sega-16: What was the hardest thing to do during the development process?

Fonzie: We planned to design the product in one week and to code the software for two months, but it took a year and a half… we had lots of issues, the Mega CD gets extremely complex when it comes to doing advanced things. The final design is extremely stable, so Tototek can be very proud of their work.

Sega-16: Has the flash feature of the Mega Cart caused you any problems, legal or other?

Fonzie: A bit. Nowadays technology doesn’t easily interface on the Mega Drive. Thankfully, there were no legal problems with flash, since it was not the main feature of the product. It’s like CDRs – they are sold everywhere but without legal problems!

Sega-16: How many copies have been produced, and do you have any particular goal to reach in sales?

Fonzie: Actually, the goal was to sell fifty of them. Tototek accepted because it would have taken only two months to develop… The market around the Mega CD is smaller than expected because we still haven’t reached the fifty sold units. We decided not to raise the price again, and I think Tototek made a great decision. If the original run sells out, we will have another one.

Sega-16: Maybe you haven’t been active enough to promote the Mega Cart?

Fonzie: Maybe… Well, we made a website and advertised on several boards I usually post on. It is quite strange for me to promote a $70 product. I want to stay (and I am) Fonzie – not the Money – Voltonov, he he.

Sega-16: How come a manual wasn’t includeded with the Mega Cart? Things were a bit confusing for me at first, so I had to make one myself!

Fonzie: The Mega Cart’s basic features (backup and playing discs from all regions) can be understood by the software “Notebook” and the black and white paper included, don’t you agree? We decided to give full “hotline” support for the other (advanced) features. That is why I try to answer all the questions on the boards as fast as possible. We will try to do better next time.

Sega-16: I can agree that your hotline support helped me with everything! I love when hotlines support my needs, but when, for example, my mother asks me to help her with the electronic products she’s bought, I immediately tell her to consult the manual first. That being said, as a member of the Mega Drive programming community, do you know any other projects coming up soon that you can share with us?

Fonzie: I cannot share anything, but there will be some excellent things quite soon. You have probably heard of Teenage Queen from Pascal, right? This will be a great release. People take the time and energy to develop those games, alone. Crude comments that often appear aren’t really appropriate. It’s like when you offer a flower to a girl and she dislike it and insults you because of the color, even though the flower smelled good. Ha ha, ok, bad comparison!

Sega-16: What plans then do you personally have for the future?

Fonzie: Ho ho, you’re expecting an answer?

Sega-16: Yes, at least a hint. So…?

Fonzie: Okay… it has a lot of MEGA POWER! You’ll know more soon…

Ho, I almost forgot to tell you, but I’m also working on Tavern RPG, an Eidolon’s community project for Mega CD. The storyline, tools, programming and soundtrack are almost done. We are just searching for good background artists. It has the potential to be the best RPG on Mega Drive/Mega CD. If you are interested in helping, you’re very welcome to. I’ve included a shot of a beta test of the engine (using a crappy RPG Maker background and sprites).

Sega-16: How about producing a converter for the Mega Drive that can take Game Gear games or Master System games through the 32X?

Fonzie: Sure, it was actually going to be implemented in the Mega Cart, since it’s a piece of cake. It was canned at the last minute because…you know, delays and delays…

Sega-16: Now, tell me your five “hidden gems” favorite games for the Mega Drive that every fan should have, and why.

Fonzie: Herzog Zwei: Incredible (and never beaten) gameplay, truly innovative, with a great soundtrack (but poor graphics); Langrisser 2: Superb game, lots of emotions inside (storyline, soundtrack); Golden Axe III: Unknown to many players, this third episode really “put its prequels into the grave.” The gameplay is super… Some people may complain about the backgrounds, but the gameplay really hides the problem (and they aren’t so bad). The music is good too; Dino Brothers 2: Unfortunately, also Japanese-only (but playable). A great concept and fun to play; Top Gear 2: I had lot of fun with this game… it is extremely long (like fifty levels).

Sega-16: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Fonzie: Ho, enjoy life, have Plop (candy), and take a tea, that’s all. From a 16-bit point of view, you’re lucky to be a Mega Drive fan. It is really a great system, still there are still surprises to come.

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