RPGamer Feature - Pier Solar HD Interview With Fonzie of WaterMelon Co.
Pier Solar HD
Developer: WaterMelon Co.
Publisher: WaterMelon Co.
Release Date: December 2013

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Pier Solar, a love letter to the era of 16-bit RPGs, made a splash when it was originally released in 2010 for the SEGA Master System and SEGA Genesis. Recently, WaterMelon Co. has initiated a Kickstarter project that will allow people to contribute towards an HD version of this fan project and its planned release on SEGA Dreamcast, Xbox 360, PC, Linux, and Mac platforms. It's been a mere four days since the project went live, and the hotly anticipated title boasts well over eight hundred backers and has already met the half-way point of its projected goal. RPGamer recently had the opportunity to chat with Fonzie, WaterMelon Co.'s co-founder and art director for the project, about Pier Solar's upcoming HD release.

Trent Seely (RPGamer): Greetings Fonzie, and thank you for taking the time to chat with us about Pier Solar HD.

What exactly prompted you to create an original RPG for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis over a decade after the end of their respective lifecycles?
Fonzie (WaterMelon Co.): It was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of SEGA. Moreover, as big fan of this console it seemed logical to create a game on this platform, and it is not the last! With our Magicalgamefactory, another SEGA Mega Drive game is going to be released in August 2013!

The SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis is not dead! The vintage side of the console and the cartridge is still enjoyable, right?

TS: Pier Solar has been called "evocative of the 16-bit classics Phantasy Star II and The Secret of Mana, both in scope and design." Were those your original inspirations for Pier Solar or did the concept derive from other sources? Which ones?
Fonzie: These are the games that have most influenced the development: Lunar 1 & 2, Phantasy Star, Grandia, Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger

We cannot boast that everything [in Pier Solar] is out of our imagination. Younger, we played many wonderful Mega Drive/Genesis RPGs. We cannot deny the influence of these on our development style, but we wanted to create a game with a unique universe.

TS: With Pier Solar HD, Hoston, Alina, and Edessot's story will be coming to Xbox 360, PC, Linux, Mac, and Sega Dreamcast. Why have you selected these systems for this project? Will the physical Dreamcast version share the same design style as other official releases?
Fonzie: These systems represent what we believe to be the best choices for Pier Solar. Yes, the Dreamcast version will share the same design style.

TS: In bringing Pier Solar to Xbox 360, Dreamcast, and PC, have you noticed any changes to the way the game plays or feels? Have these platforms provided you any issues or advantages?
Fonzie: The game keeps its old-school feeling for sure. We are still toying with several options to improve or retain the gameplay. For example, the current game has a 4-directional grid walk, but would free-walk be better? Funnily, it may not, but we will keep experimenting!

TS: What made this the right time to convert Pier Solar to HD and give it such a wide release?
Fonzie: We have been working on the Pier Solar HD idea for some time. There has been a lot happening at WaterMelon Co. in the meantime and it just needed two years for us to decide on a Kickstarter campaign to make the project happen.

TS: It's been mentioned that other changes and additions will be made to the title depending on the platform it is released on. Could you go into a little more detail on what gamers can expect to be altered in the future? What kind of Achievements can Xbox 360 gamers expect from this release?
Fonzie: Mostly changes to the save mechanism and some bonuses specific to each platform. We will have Achievements on Xbox 360, for example. Pier Solar is filled with challenging minigames, so it will be a lot of fun to show your friends you made it!

TS: How was the critical reception to the original release of Pier Solar? What issues did fans have with the game that you would like to address for this release?
Fonzie: The reception has been good. Most of the complaints were related to comparisons with more modern games, like "I can't save anytime," but no 16-bit or even 32-bit RPG let you save anytime. Inventory size was also a bit of a problem on the original game because we didn't have room in battery backup to make the inventory bigger. Balance around the beginning of the game could have led to some frustration with some players, but compared to [most] 16-bit RPGs, the game is very, very easy. We will tweak a bit and also work on improving the challenge vs. learning curve.

TS: As for release on Xbox 360, will it be part of XBLA or XBL Indie? Have you already worked out deals with Microsoft for this? XBLA seems more complicated to release a game on, but XBL Indie limits your developer options; how has this impacted your decision to release on the 360?
Fonzie: We will supply more details as soon as possible.

TS: What are your thoughts of releasing a portable version of Pier Solar? Possibly seeking funding for a PSN dual release (Vita/PS3) via SCEAís Pub Fund program?
Fonzie: Unless there is a very high demand, Pier Solar will not be available on Sony platforms.

TS: Part of the original Pier Solarís charm derived from the feelings of nostalgia that playing a game with 16-bit graphics would induce. Are you worried that some of that nostalgia will be lost in translation?
Fonzie: I hope it is not lost at all! The first release was on Mega Drive/Genesis, and we managed to mix retro and HD content. We hope it gives the opportunity for everyone to discover retro charm, without dealing with the shock time!

Of course the fact that you do not use retro devices is a little bit sad, but hey, not everyone has the chance to own a Mega Drive/Genesis right? ;)

TS: The art direction of Pier Solar HD is a little unique in comparison with other titles that play up the modernized retro motif. Can you go into detail as to why you chose to maintain the retro-inspired sprites while updating backgrounds, avatar pictures, and cutscenes? Will there be the option to play the game it its original standard definition?
Fonzie: The game will feature an Original Mode that shows original pixel-art background.

We worked out the unique pixel-art and HD background mix because the game was scenarized with cool little sprites in mind (narration, cutscenes, etc.). Also, given the size of HDTVs, it was very important to keep the contrast between the sprites quite high while having a very relaxing background to look at. The player will play the game a few dozen of hours, so there is no room for eye-stressing visuals. All must be clear and relaxing, and I think we are approaching the right mix! We even plan to adjust the amount of detail in the background directly related to their importance so the eye is driven where it should look!

TS: Many fans of the original Pier Solar cite the battle system as one of its most innovative features. Could you provide a little depth in terms of what enemy encounters are like and what sets them apart from other 16-bit RPGs?
Fonzie: The game has a huge margin for progress regarding the battle system. One of our fans actually completed the game at level 6 while some people struggle at level 99! This is due to two features: Gather, which lets you concentrate energy to unlock special attacks; and Defense, which lets you position your characters in an optimal way and increase your counter-attack rate. You can even pass gather-power within a same turn as well as defend other characters! So yes, it's very simple, but it's also very effective!

TS: How do you feel about the response you've received so far from the Kickstarter community and your fans?
Fonzie: It's been great. We are thrilled at the support we are receiving and can't thank everyone enough!

RPGamer would like to thank Fonzie and the crew at WaterMelon Co. for helping to conduct this interview. Pending successful completion of the Kickstarter project, Pier Solar HD is set to be released December 2013. Check out the Kickstarter page to support this project and receive further details and media.

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