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Keeping the Flame Alive: Good Deal Games

Classic gaming is all the rage. It seems that collecting is at an all time high and the search for rare games is at a fever pitch. At flea markets and pawn shops everywhere, gamers are gobbling up titles for everything from the Atari 2600 to the Super Grafx with a Pac-Man-like hunger. Why exactly are so many people getting into old games? What’s made them so attractive all of a sudden?

It seems there’s a combination of factors at work here. The fact that gaming is past the quarter century mark gives it a pretty decent amount of history that many gamers are only now discovering. Recent advances in emulation have also helped to make these titles more popular. Additionally, shows like the Classic Gaming Expo, the Philly Classic, and Jagfest have made it easier than ever before for people to finish their collections as well as relive the Golden Age of gaming.

One of the biggest reasons, however, is the collective effort by many enthusiasts to conserve and protect the industry’s rich heritage. At the forefront of the preservation charge is Good Deal Games. Originally started by Michael Thomasson in the 1990’s as a web site designed to facilitate trading games with friends, it soon grew into one of the premier retro publishers around. To this date, they have published sixteen newly crafted titles for several long discontinued systems, including the Sega CD and Vectrex. All the games are for sale on their web site and most come complete with box and instructions, closely resembling the products released by the original companies during each console’s lifetime. GDG helps to develop and publishes these games, at a substantial cost. They are always on the lookout for recently found prototypes and unreleased titles, as well as brand-spanking new games made by up-and-coming programmers.

Thomasson himself is the key element behind Good Deal Games’ success. Although not very high profile, he has left his mark all over gaming. You may have seen his design work on the cover of the video game book Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Video Games as well as the now-defunct Classic Gamer Magazine. Additionally, he is the artist for Synergy Magazine, a coin-op and console periodical. His lifetime devotion to gaming has lead to a huge library of games consisting of just about every title ever released for the majority of systems out there. With both education and experience in graphics design and animation, he is well-equipped to tackle the highs and lows of homebrew publishing. Thomasson’s ability to juggle his freelance work with teaching game history, design, and animation classes at Canisius College in Buffalo; as well as run GDG, stem from his deep love of the industry.

This dedication is visible in the work his company does to ensure that as many games as possible see release. Good Deal Games is willing to help publish homebrew titles, which is something almost no other entity does. One must stop for a second to fully ingest just what an opportunity is being offered here. The chances for most aspiring programmers to have their work published are few and far between, given the sheer size and scope of the modern gaming world. To be able to see your game pressed and released is something many people only dream of. Anyone with an unreleased title or looking to get a homebrew game funded should check out their site for more information.

While many of their games receive small print runs and are even published at a loss, the continued support of these long-abandoned consoles is refreshing and admirable. How do they find these games, you ask? As far as prototypes go, Thomasson has scoured trade shows and conventions in an effort to gather up review and test copies, as well as betas retained by employees who left a publisher and took their work with them. In many cases, these games have been stored away for years and have only just recently been rediscovered by those who had them. The original developer is then contacted and the rights are secured.

Some games, like the Sega CD pair Bug Blasters: The Exterminators and Star Strike, could not be obtained by the developer because they didn’t have them! The original files had been lost and it was only when a test copy was obtained from an outside source that the games could be finished. Others, like the 3DO and Sega CD title Wing Nuts, have proved more elusive. The rights to it have been secured but a copy of the game has yet to surface.

Homebrew games are a different story. They are easier to publish but require more effort, since they must be built from the ground up. Many of today’s programmers are unfamiliar with the tiny confines of memory that early game designers had to work with. How much do you think you could fit into 2K of space? Moreover, most systems have specific hardware limitations that must be learned and worked around. GDG is well aware of this and is trying to secure information and toolkits for programmers. They already have a complete development suite for the Colecovision available on their site and it can be downloaded for free.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Good Deal Games’ operation is the fact that it is practically non-profit. All sales from new and existing titles are reinvested into the company to fund future projects. This system seems to work, as they just recently introduced a new Sega CD title, Mighty Mighty Missile and a second Colecovision Game Pack at this year’s Classic Gaming Expo. I was especially impressed with the Arcade Ambiance CDs that they have for sale. Composed by Andy Hofle, each disc runs about an hour and mimics the sounds of actual arcades from the early 1980s to a tee. Attract modes, crowd shuffles, and even coin changers can be heard in the background, creating a truly memorable experience. Currently, there are albums for 1980 and 1983, with an ’86 disc in the works. Great stuff for those who remember the glory days of arcades as well as those who never got to experience them.

In the grand scheme of things, operations like Good Deal Games may not be a threat to publishers like Electronic Arts or Nintendo but their contribution to gaming is just as relevant. More and more gamers are rediscovering older consoles and the creation of new titles will only serve to spur interest even more. Hopefully, people will continue to develop unreleased and homebrew products. Good Deal Games will definitely be there to publish them and we’ll be there to play them.

© 2004 Got Next