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Interview: Noah Copeland (Sonic Triple Trouble Remake)

Fans have been remaking Sonic The Hedgehog games for years, but they’ve mostly stuck to the 16-bit series as their inspiration. Few have looked to the group of quality Game Gear titles as source material. Many great games have been released, but it’s always been a question as to how some of the 8-bit portable games would look with a modern makeover.

Thanks to Noah Copeland, that’s about to happen. A composer by trade, Copeland has score the music for over two-dozen productions since 2012. He also likes programming and is a major Sonic fan, and he’s combined the two like digital peanut butter and chocolate to bring the Game Gear classic Sonic Triple Trouble into the 16-bit age. We recently chatted with Copeland about his fan project, and he gave us the scoop on what looks like a promising remake.

 

Sega-16: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get involved in writing music?

Noah Copeland: I make dank riffs and explosion for video games (and films too!). It all started as a kid learning guitar, because I wanted to be a rock star (like most kids do, you know). Funny thing, I had never considered doing music for my other loves, video games and movies, for the longest time. In college, a friend asked me if I would compose for his short film just for the heck of it. I loved it! I went and got a degree in Contemporary Music Production at ACM@UCO and have kept composing for films and video games.

Sega-16: What kind of Sega games do you like?

Noah Copeland: Obviously, Sonic. One of my most formative memories was seeing a demo of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle on GameCube at a grocery store. That game was everything my nine-year-old brain wanted at the time; it blew my mind. I didn’t have a GameCube at that point, so I immediately bought Sonic 3 & Knuckles Collection for PC. Both those games really shaped how I think and feel about video games and video game music.

Other Sega games I’ve played are Ristar and Billy Hatcher. I still want a sequel to both!

Sega-16: You mostly focus is on sound and music. Is programming something you do on the side?

Noah Copeland: Programming is something that happened out of necessity. I’ve had ideas for games bouncing around in my head ever since that day in the grocery store. I started coding in Game Maker when I was still in grade school. Over the years I’ve just kept dabbling on the side. I’m far from an expert coder but having the knowledge has been helpful. Sometimes on the projects, I need to write code for the music engine, and I’ve been able figure it out because of my time with Game Maker.

Sega-16: What prompted you to do a 16-bit remake of Triple Trouble?

Noah Copeland: I’ve always wanted to make a Sonic game since I first played Sonic. As a kid, I would draw level maps, control schemes, and move-sets on the back of my homework. I remember lurking around the old Sonic Fan Games HQ pages, but I was never good enough to make anything substantial, hard as I tried. I was only a kid, you know?

However, during the summer, I was playing Sonic Chaos and Sonic Triple Trouble at a friend’s house. I realized how cool those games’ ideas are and what a shame it is that they were limited by the Game Gear. I had a brief flash in my mind of Triple Trouble remade and updated, looking more like a Genesis game. It was awesome.

I wondered if anyone else would interested be in the idea, or if it had been done before. After some Googling, I found that one of the Sonic Time Twisted artists, DerZocker, had remade several sets of Triple Trouble level tiles in 16-bit. I contacted him immediately to see if we could make this thing a reality.

Sega-16: How difficult has the process been? Were there any elements of the original game that you found hard to upgrade?

Noah Copeland: As I said, I think Triple Trouble is a good classic Sonic game buried under 8-bit limitations. The level design actually holds up pretty well for the most part. I remake the levels on top of the original maps and make tweaks from there. The biggest challenge has been converting the scale. Sonic has what is essentially an overpowered moon jump in the original game and runs slower, so I had to change the size/scale of the maps to compensate. I tried a few ratios, and each has their own pro’s and con’s. I settled for doubling the map size, as it seems to give me the most mileage. I don’t believe a perfect conversion ratio exists, so I’ve definitely made some tweaks to the design. The main thing is making sure the game feels good. Feel is very important.

One big change I’m making: you can switch between Sonic and Tails at any time (think like Sonic Heroes). This gives the game a new dynamic and also fixes some balance issues, as some of the best parts of Triple Trouble are character-dependent. For example, Tails gets a cool submarine in Tidal Plant Zone, but the level is an absolutely slog as Sonic. Now you get both characters available at any time, giving the sense that these two are together on an adventure. The original game in Japan is called, Sonic & Tails 2, after all.

Sega-16: The game looks great so far. Is the engine proprietary, or are you using existing tools?

Noah Copeland: Thank you! The game is running in Game Maker Studio 2, using a weird mix of the Flicky Engine, Gmate, and Sonic Time Twisted’s engine. Using a pre-made Sonic template was important for me. They are already ready to go, so why not get started? I’ve seen so many fan projects fall down the rabbit hole of trying to recreate the perfect Sonic engine with 1:1 pixel-perfect physics that would make Yuji Naka shed a tear. Your average man-off-the-street does not feel the minutia of those teeny-tiny differences. As long as it’s not Sonic 4, we’re good.

Sega-16: Are you shooting for an upgraded version of the original soundtrack, or do you plan to make any enhancements?

Noah Copeland: Oh, you bet I’m upgrading the soundtrack. I’m remaking the original tunes in CD quality (like it was a Sega CD game). Sonic Before the Sequel set the standard for Sonic fan game soundtracks years ago, so think of something along those lines. I’m also toying around with having an option to select an FM 16-bit soundtrack in the main menu, to feel more like an original Genesis game.

Sega-16: What are your release plans? I assume this will be a downloadable offering, but have to considered approaching Sega about something official? The company is quite receptive to fan projects.

Noah Copeland: The game will be available for free on PC. Just to be clear, this is not a ROM hack. I’m aiming to have a demo playable at Sonic Amateur Games Expo this year.

I’ve been both flattered and embarrassed by the people saying that “Sega needs to hire this guy!” Some even tweeted at official Sega accounts. On one hand, it’s quite flattering and energizing to see that people are so excited and that they like it so much that they think Sega should get involved. On the other hand, Sega has the Mania team. They don’t need me and my silly little remake. Those guys are the real talent.

Sega is very kind by continually letting fans like me make these fan-based freeware projects without a fuss. It’s a privilege we should never abuse. Please don’t tweet things at Sega saying, “this game is better than what you make.” We need to keep the good will!

Sega-16: What are your plans once the game is complete? Are there any other Game Gear titles you’d like to give the 16-bit treatment?

Noah Copeland: Too many fan games die by feature creep and starry-eyed scope. My main goal is to finish and release this game first and foremost, so that’s where my mind is right now. Of course, the dream would be to go back and think about Sonic Chaos, the predecessor of Triple Trouble. Never underestimate the powers of lock-on technology. That said, I’m taking it one game at a time. Don’t expect anything until this game is finished first.

Sega-16: Are you thinking of remaking any other Sega titles, say from the Master System or Genesis?

Noah Copeland: I can’t spend my whole life making remakes now can I? I’ve got too many original ideas swimming around in my brain. I work on original projects too. For example, I’m composing for an indie 2D platformer right now.

Either way, I hope people like the remake once it’s finished! The response so far has been absolutely amazing. So many people are very happy that this exists, and their hype has energized me (and DerZocker as well).

The reveal trailer had lots of placeholder art and backgrounds, as I originally made it to simply gauge people’s interest. I had no idea if people would even like it. Within minutes, my Twitter notifications blew up non-stop for the entire day. I think people have been wanting something like this for a long time. Thank you very much!

If people want to keep up with the game, then follow the GameJolt page or follow me on Twitter @NoahCopeland, where I post dev-diary type updates there.

Triple Trouble art property of Wani.

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