If you have a Sega Genesis laying around, or if you've already preordered the faithfully reissued console (being sold under the alternative name Mega Drive), you have a brand new title to look forward to playing. Slated for a November 2017 debut, Tanglewood is being coded on original Sega hardware and will be released on a cartridge.
The game has been in development for the last five years. Once completed, it will be playable on the original Genesis and Mega Drive consoles, according to its creator, 30-year-old game developer Matthew Phillips, who is based in Nottingham, UK. Partly for added authenticity and partly for performance gains like improved frame rates, Phillips decided to code Tanglewood on Sega hardware from the 90s.
"I've wanted to do something like this since I was nine years old and got the Sega Mega Drive," Phillips said in an interview. "I want this to be the real thing, and I'm following as many original processes as I can."
"I got the opportunity to buy some original development hardware, which was unfortunately broken, and so it took a year to get it repaired and get all the missing cables, documents, manuals, and I had to get a software license to use it," he continued. "But eventually I managed to boot it up for the first time, and that sparked a passion to carry on."
Tanglewood is billed as being a cross between dark and creepy modern platformer Limbo, and the Lion King game for the original Sega Genesis, "if Simba was having a really bad day," Phillips said. It follows a fox-like alien named Nymn who must outrun bloodthirsty creatures on lush terrain.
On his blog, Phillips has been meticulously chronicling his journey learning to code on old hardware and in what's known as assembly language—code that directly interfaces with the CPU. Now, he's started a Kickstarter to fund the game's global rollout, and he hopes Tanglewood will be the start of a kind of DIY game design revolution, not unlike the recent popularity of cassette tapes for music.
Getting a game onto a cartridge is actually the least intensive part of the process. Thanks to a large DIY community that has coalesced around vintage games over the years, some companies sell ready-made flash cartridges that can be loaded with content. If the Kickstarter gets funded, Phillips says he's planning to move past this stage and get into mass manufacturing cartridges.
Although he hopes younger developers will approach these retro tools with an open mind, Phillips admits that it was a years-long process. It took a full year to get a single character on screen, Phillips said.
"I had to unlearn everything I knew about coding languages," he said. "But it's like working with lego blocks, and you can build upon it. Once you've got the basics working, it's easy going from there."
Even if the game cartridge revolution never takes off, a 2017 game made just like they did in the 90s is extremely metal.