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Discovering Pier Solar

You could be forgiven if you didn’t know much about Pier Solar and the Great Architects, and its unusual history. But with a planned HD release of the classic-style RPG headed to consoles in late 2013, we thought it was time to shine a light on this fascinating project. We talked with developer Watermelon’s president, Tulio Adriano, about the long-gestating game, and he shared details about the game’s birth, development, and future. 

For more on Pier Solar and its upcoming HD upgrade, watch for our article on the game in Game Informer issue #237. 

Thanks for chatting with us. Who are you, and what’s your connection to Pier Solar?

I’m Tulio Adriano. I’m the president of WaterMelon. I manage the team and the project that we have going on. Magical Game Factory also does work related to managing our orders, sending the games to the distribution centers, and having them shipped. So I guess regarding that, I do a little bit of everything. But with Pier Solar I was the one who coded the game script itself, inside the game engine. I did engineering by creating the instruments that go into the music, a few compositions, work on the sound effects of the game. I think a bit of everything.

So WaterMelon is the name of the actual development studio and Magical Game Factory is the business that people buy the game through?

Yeah, Watermelon is a company. Watermelon’s Magical Game Factory is our website in which we deal with all of the things that Watermelon is doing. So we have the Game Factory that has the ongoing projects, where we have crowd-sourcing. [There’s] also the shops in which we sell the game itself, and the original soundtrack, and in the future the new release for PC. Hopefully, also other physical versions that we may get.

Are you actively working on projects other than Pier Solar?

Yes, we do have four projects going on. Pier Solar HD is going to be the fifth. Two games are still undisclosed, and another two are on the Game Factory. They are Project Y, which is a beat-em-up game that’s going to be released primarily for the Sega Genesis plus other platforms. Then there’s Project N – both Project Y and Project N are code names – for the Super Nintendo that is going to be an action adventure type of game. It’s [possibly] going to be on other platforms as well. But Super Nintendo is the primary release platform of that game.

So with the exception of Pier Solar HD, your other projects are all targeting older consoles, is that right?

Yes, that is correct. Pier Solar HD is our first move into the current console generation platforms.

Why is that? Obviously lots of gamers have a lot of affection for those older systems, like the Genesis and the Super Nintendo, but I have to imagine it’s a whole different matter to make the decision as a business to target a system that is 10 or 20 years old.

That’s correct. But we became a business thanks to our development that was ongoing. Before we decided that the company was going to be an actual registered company, we already had the development going. We had seen the demand, that people are actually interested in getting these new games for the systems. You combine that business opportunity with our taste for the classic type of gaming – our passion for the Sega Genesis, 16-bit systems in general – that’s how we decided to proceed with that, along with the next games and everything.

To talk about the origins of the studio, is it true that things got started on a message board?

Yeah, there was a website hosting a message board called the Tavern. In this message board there was a forum with Sega-focused development people. I was very active in that forum. I was always reading and posting, and learning the news. All of the emulator authors were members of the forum and they were actively discussing how they were building their emulators. So all of that was very nice to just be reading, and it was awesome to be a part of. Eventually a lot of people started saying, “Hey, we have a lot of knowledgeable people here on the Sega Genesis, why not make a game? We could make something in which the members are the characters.” Everyone got very excited about doing that, and eventually we started doing an RPG game. Basically, it was most of the people’s favorite genre. From that point on we started doing the Tavern RPG, which eventually became Pier Solar. When we decided that we were going to have to go for the Sega Genesis and that we wanted to do a physical release, that sparked the company creation, the business that became what Watermelon is today.

At some point, it sounds like that started out as something you were doing in your free time? And then at some point it became your job, right?

Yeah, at the beginning and up to one year before Pier Solar released, we were working in our free time. But it turns out, [all of the] free time we had, we were putting into the game. Basically all of the weekend, all of the possible nights, all of the time we had was put into it so we could get the game released. And yeah, eventually it became full time. Before, [my business partner] was working from France then he moved to China. I was working from Brazil then I moved to the U.S. We were working separately until this year. We decided it was time to make a move and get an actual office in Iowa, which is where the company was registered. From this point on we actually made the plans for expansion, and we are probably going to be hiring more people. The office will start to be getting bigger, so it’s a very unique moment we live in now.

Where are you in Iowa?

Muscatine.

At some point a year before release, you decided you wanted to work on the game full time. Then you get up to this point where you released in 2012. What were your sales like in those days?

We started with a limited release. We decided that we were going to produce a couple thousand units, we put the thing on pre-order. It sold out in just a few months. I think it was three or four months. From that point on, we were sold out. That was back in 2008. So we said okay, now it’s time to focus on what we have to do to get the game finished and released, because people already bought it.

[Next up: Funding a game from scratch, and the new HD port]

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