State of the Saloon - Part II
I hope all of you will be excited by everything I have to share today! The arms of the manufacturing beast are moving, but I need more time before I flash the carts with the final version of the game. Given my current progress, I estimate that I’ll have the carts in the mail by February 2017. Below, find the long answer, and what I’ve been doing since my last update:
and a-hoo-hwee it's a whopper!
Here are the results of the taunt contest!
We’ve recorded and added these to the list of nicknames that the cowboy will randomly assign to players. Congratulations! Your name will appear in the credits of the game and your taunt will echo throughout Cowboy Simulator history.
FUSSY SKUNK - MICHAEL DUFAULT
CROOKED CANARY - ERIC STUEWER
SADDLE RASH - BRETT MATTEUCCI
MESSY JAMES - MICHAEL WITTNEBERT
DOGMEAT - JEFF LEWIS
BUFFALO BUTT - BRADFORD TOWNSEND
SASSY SIDEWINDER - THE GRID
LITTLE GOOSE - LEMENTAL
DUSTY DOOFUS - DUNCAN BOEHLE
CACTUS CHARMER - ZACHARY JOHNSON
CROW BAIT - M.S. FORD
KNUCKLEHEAD - MATT PERRY
CACTUS KISSER - KEITH MARSTON
CRUMB CAKE - JESSE YANNELLI
PUDDIN' PAW - LUKE DOUGLAS FIELDS
FANCY PANTS - NATHAN WALKER
For those concerned about where the carts will be shipped, I have not collected any addresses yet. I can only send one survey and wanted to wait until I'm about to ship to collect addresses just in case you've moved in the meantime!
TARGETING SYSTEM (FOR HDTV)
A lot of folks have been asking about how to shoot the screen when using a TV that's incompatible with the lightgun. It isn't a necessary mechanic for the core game, but there are a few surprises if you try shooting the screen that I didn't want those without a CRT to miss out on.
Holding left on the d-pad will targets objects on the table and holding right on the d-pad will target the cowboy. Here is a demonstration of it in action!
NEW BOARD FEATURES
I was hoping to make it a surprise, but I’d through some hardware trickery I’ve expanded the program ROM from 1MB to 8MB. For some perspective, this is sixteen times more than the largest commercial NES release (Kirby’s Adventure at 512KB).
It wasn’t as straightforward as buying a larger flash chip, and it took a lot of sleepless nights to develop, but I’m happy that I put in the work since we were reaching the point where we had to start cutting audio from the game and I didn’t want to compromise. I want you to hear and see something new every game. This means that there is now room for 34 minutes of speech. We haven’t filled all of it but we’ll putting the rest to good use in some surprise features. Here is a preview of a 1 minute rant.
You should all receive keys for your soundtrack tomorrow! I set up a bandcamp with the masters so you can choose to download whichever quality that you'd like and add it to your collection. It contains the original tracks from the NES as well as an orchestrated version of each by Nick Gargiulo.
Manufacturing is going great! The firmware for the CPLD has been finalized and carts off of the line have been passing self-tests consistently. The new flasher firmware can detect hardware faults (such as solder bridges/shorts, incorrect part orientation, etc) and automatically isolate and mark the problem component for repair.
MANUAL / LABEL / BOX ART PREVIEW
One of my favorite parts of this project is having an opportunity to work with extremely talented people. The game has sort of created it's own lore and I don't think that it could be more perfectly captured than by these illustrations by the amazing Zeke G.
All of my free time goes into working on this game. Essentially I’ve been working on minor developments in the evenings after work and major milestones on weekends / holidays. There are things that took longer than I would have liked, and unfortunately a lot of steps rely on previous ones.
As the finish line gets closer and closer, the reality of sending out cartridges that I can’t update after the fact is hitting me pretty hard. For years, SRR has been a hobby passion project I’ve been able to tweak every time I got any kind of feedback. Although I already have a playable game, and it’s current state is far beyond what I originally intended to deliver, it breaks my heart to imagine that someone will suggest some genius new behavior for the cowboy after the carts are in the mail. I accept there will be things I’ll smack my head about, but I have to do everything I can to make sure I’m giving all of you the best possible version of the game. Nevertheless, for anyone who’s concerned about my motivation to deliver, the main benefit I’m getting from this campaign is the satisfaction of having an original, silly NES game in strangers’ homes. So as exciting as it was to get the project funded, I don’t get what I want until you get what you want.
- The cartridge and flasher PCBs have gone through several revisions to make sure that they are perfect and will not malfunction with repeated use. Each iteration of the design has a lead time (~2 weeks) associated with it besides the actual layout, assembly, and testing of the board.
- The PAL version has taken a bit longer than I thought it would. The game had been converted early on in the campaign to support the PAL region, but because of the speed difference, I want to make sure the comic timing is perfect. That involves going over each sequence and hand tuning the delays.
- Chasing down bugs can be difficult in 6502 assembly, especially code that has been designed to run on hardware. Besides time lost on solving these kinds of problems, I’ve spent a lot of time developing tools to support the debugging process. Emulators are great, but since I'm pushing the limits of the system with custom hardware, my emulator had to be modified to reflect the custom hardware for the game (thank you, Dustin Long for the help with this!).
- We’ve spent a lot of time mixing the audio and making sure that all the phrases flow correctly. Speech is sort of an unnatural fit for the sample channel on the console, and I want to make the audio is as clear as it possibly can be.
- Simple functional screens can take longer than originally planned when working at such a low level (options, credits screen, NSF saloon, etc).
- Some of the feedback was that it would be nice to be able to save the various options and statistics, I’ve implemented this feature and it’s currently undergoing testing to make sure that it won’t affect the rest of the cart.
- Otherwise I’ve spent a lot of time accounting, dealing with part brokers, logistics, training technicians, taking days off to receive deliveries, building storage racks, building new tools, repairing old tools, tuning reflow profiles, quality control and self-check software, shipping research, and stress testing boards. All of these things were to be expected, but they add up quickly.
I’m going to start posting updates every two weeks from here on out to keep everyone informed, even if they’re unexciting. I understand that a delay is disappointing, but it becomes alarming if you don't understand why it's happening or how long it will last.
I anticipate wrapping up the final testing for the game by mid-January. The boards are still being produced as the final development is taking place so the blank carts will be ready by then and will just need to be flashed and shipped.