Sunday, January 9, 2022

How Mega Man X Advance Led to Endgame Studios' Fractured Soul


Throughout much of its lifespan, the Game Boy Advance was a hotbed for Super Nintendo ports. Super Mario World, Final Fight, Earthbound -- even Mega Man & Bass. And in 2003, an earnest effort was made to bring one more coveted SNES game to Nintendo's little 32-bit monster. It culminated in one small studio's first original IP.

This is the story of two programmers and their Mega Man X Game Boy Advance pitch.

In the early 2000s, Grant Davies and Nick Kovac left Torus Games to start a studio of their own. The two friends would go on to establish Endgame Studios in 2003. Free from the confines of tight schedules and back-breaking deadlines, they could make anything they want!...

...But at the time, indie developers had few, if any, avenues to ship content without a publisher. In order to bootstrap Endgame, Grant and Nick decided their best option would be to solicit work from publishers.

"In those days that meant going to E3, and meeting as many publishers as we could, showing them what we could do," says Grant. "We concentrated on creating a demo that could show off our game engine and capabilities in developing platform games."

That demo was none other than Mega Man X on the Game Boy Advance. 


Only surviving screenshot of the game. Additional sprites were "Photoshopped" in.

"Our history was working on GBA. We also had a lot of experience making platform games, and Nick in particular loved platform games and the Mega Man series," explains Grant. "Nick suggested Mega Man X would be a good idea - very recognizable, running on approximately the same hardware as GBA, and we could also achieve it without artists, as we could use the sprites and background tiles from the original game."

Getting Mega Man X running on the Game Boy Advance wasn't trivial. Grant and Nick faced some challenges porting the game to their engine, which they were still in the process of building. 

"Optimizing physics & collisions that involve ramps is always a challenge on low end hardware," says Grant. " I remember the full screen animation on the title screen being a particular nuisance as well."

In the lead-up to E3 2004, the demo was finished. It consisted of an original level (pictured above) with a short boss fight at the end. In terms of music, it had the title track and one stage track. The music wasn't converted for GBA hardware, but presented in .wav format. A formal audio conversion wasn't a priority at the time.

Grant and Nick pitched their Mega Man X GBA demo to anyone they could snag at E3. Unfortunately, it was a bust. 

"No one was particularly interested in the tech or hiring us to make Mega Man or any other platform game," recalls Grant. "GBA was getting a bit long in the tooth, and everyone just wanted to buy an already made game (and pretty cheaply)."

This would also be the same E3 that Nintendo and Sony unveiled the Nintendo DS and PSP. So understandingly, publishers had their eyes set on the future. Endgame Studios followed suit not long after, though. They left the GBA behind and looked toward the road ahead.

"The thread of Mega Man continued throughout the time we ran Endgame, culminating in our flagship original product: Fractured Soul."


 

Fractured Soul, which released on Nintendo 3DS and a bit later on PC, began life as a Nintendo DS game. Although intended as an original IP, it evolved from their Mega Man X Game Boy Advance demo, not to mention Nick's love of Mega Man in general. 

Endgame would eventually secure funding and a publishing deal via N3V Games for Fractured Soul on DS. But by then, the Nintendo 3DS loomed. Traditional video game retailers were wary of non-licensed DS software. Original software wouldn't sell. To make matters worse, the 3DS wasn't exactly a huge hit at the time. Original IPs on the then-floundering hardware were risky at best insisted N3V. The partnership with N3V ultimately fizzled.

Then, Grant and Nick did what they couldn't do in 2003: they self-published. By their own admission - no middleman, no publisher - they launched Fractured Soul on the Nintendo 3DS eShop in September 2012. And critics loved it.

"A couple of review outlets compared it favorably to the Mega Man series," says Grant. "Which for us was awesome because that's part of what we were shooting for." 


 

The high praise for Fractured Soul led to an enhanced PC version in 2015 spurred by Steam Greenlight. Although Grant admits it's a little rough around the edges, the game is very much rooted in Mega Man's spirit. In fact, Grant tells me a unmade sequel for Fractured Soul would have been even "more true to Mega Man". The prototype for the sequel went so far as to use Mega Man sprites as placeholders.

As for the whereabouts of Grant and Nick's original Mega Man X GBA demo today... well, they're not too sure.

"Unfortunately it probably predated us archiving our stuff or recording videos, says Grant. "I was hoping we stored the GBA ROM somewhere. It's probably on a memory stick lost to the ages. We may well still have the source code, but the odds of it building after 15+ years is unlikely!"

Grant indicted he'll keep poking around for it. In the meantime, he's given me five Fractured Soul PC codes to giveaway. The first five people to e-mail me at baustrin@rockman-corner.com get a code! (All gone for now! I might have a few more soon.)

To wrap up, I'd like to thank Grant for sharing the tale behind this obscure piece of indie dev history. And if you'd like to learn more about Endgame Studio, check out this old Kotaku article here

6 comments:

  1. I always wanted Cyber Mission and Soul Eraser in the GBA :(

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  2. Whatever. It was supposed to released for GBA but never happened. Failed. Whatever. Waste time. I dont understand them not finished it then talked about it. What ?! Doesn't makes a sense at all. Really disappointment. They made them then scraps them away. Really sad. Rockman is my dear game and cherish game. They always ruin it. Sighing.

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    Replies
    1. It was just a port of X from SNES to GBA, nothing major. Chill.

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  3. That game looks stressful...

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  4. It would be cool to see it released, but it's nothing major so nothing of value is lost.

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  5. I got dizzy just by looking at that PC trailer.

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