Wed 23 May 2012
Father’s Day used to mean a neck tie, a steak dinner and some quality time with the old man. Today’s dad grew up not wearing a necktie and swears off too much red meat. So that leaves quality time. For those Dad’s who grew up playing the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), we have the ultimate Techlife 8-bit gift this Father’s Day; never released Nintendo Games ready to play on Dad’s NES. Often called ROMS, these games for many reasons were never published or in the case of my personal favorite Super Tecmo Bowl, have a loyal fan following that has updated the ROM with new player rosters and stats and even a few more teams.
Meet Leon Kiriluk of NES Reproductions. Leon was kind of enough to sit down for an interview and this will only add to the gift for dad; the backstory.
Techlife: What is NES Reproductions?
Leon Kiriluk: As a collector and gamer, I love playing NES games on the real system, rather than the artificial constraints found on a PC game emulators. Through sheer luck, I discovered a community of game hackers that took these game dumps and put them back on original NES carts. Being proficient with electronics, I decided to experiment with making my own NES games as well. After I successfully reproduced a few of these never released NES games, I posted my creations to a popular video game forum. To my surprise, many collectors, less electronic savvy than me, messaged me pleading me to make these games for them. NES Reproductions was born.
LK: I grew up with Nintendo (the original) in the late 80′s. As with most kids, my Nintendo was eventually sold off in a garage sale as the family upgraded to better and newer video game systems. Sometime around 1998, my brother brought home an NES system with a handful of games which he purchased at a flea-market. I was hooked. We played for hours on that system, bringing back all my childhood memories.
LK: From a very young age I was interested more in how toys worked rather than play with them. Every new toy I ever got, I proceeded to disassemble it, learn what made it function, and then put it back together. Over the years, as my interest in electronics grew, the tools of the trade naturally grew with it: soldering stations, desoldering stations, memory chip programmers and erasers.
LK: There’s a big community out there (thanks to the Internet) that can help anyone do what I do. Someone just has to be driven enough, and invest enough time/money in this hobby. It’s also not that expensive to get started. I started with a cheap 40$ programmer and 5$ soldering iron. These tools will suffice for half a dozen reproduction carts, but for any significant volume, investing in professional equipment is a must as with any “hobby”.
LK: On average, about 30-45 minutes per cart. Surprising, the finishing touches on a cart (making the label, cleaning the cart, installing the cart, and testing it) take a lot more time than the actual electronic desoldering/soldering of new memory chips process.
TL: Of the 52 titles listed on your site what’s the most popular title?
LK: Earthbound followed by Super Mario Brothers 2 (Japan) by far; both made by Nintendo, and both killed for silly reasons.
LK: For the most part, yes. I have also taken breaks (4 month breaks when both my children were born, as my families’ needs took precedence.)
LK: Oh .. that’s a tough one (for the most part, game reproductions boil down to the same process) I think special or custom game hacks. I’ve had customers request special one off reproductions and requested of me not to share the games with anyone else, which I complied with their wishes. I actually did have a couple of customers request a special NES game made for them, which they can use to ask their girlfriend to get married. Unfortunately, I’m not that good at actually programming a new NES game.
LK: Not yet. :)
LK: That’s a hard one. It depends on the gamer. The best RPG game is Earthbound (because it’s so different from any other RPG on the NES), for shooters nothing can touch Recca (I can’t believe this is an NES game! It really pushes the NES to its limits). I personally love playing The Goonies – what a great puzzle game. And the soundtrack is awesome too!
LK: I get a lot of requests for games that only came out in Japan or Hong Kong pirates that simply can’t be reproduced. They use special circuit boards that were only released in that part of the world, and as such I can’t reuse any of the game carts that came out in North America in reproducing these games. This is a shame as some of those games are actually really good .. many of these games were created long after the last NES game was shipped.
LK: For me personally, I can’t believe how long it lasted. I initially created it just to help a few people on a popular chat board which I was an active member of. Over the last decade, it grew to so much more. I’ve had happy customers from all over the world, places that I never thought I’d ship a video game to. It really shows how international the NES has become.
LK: Truthfully, so much has changed in my life in the past decade. Getting married, having kids. Priorities in life have changed, and hobbies always tend to be the first to suffer. Can I see myself still making NES reproductions a decade from now? Probably not. Heck, even hobbies change! About 5 years ago my wife and I purchased our first home (a century old home) and my hobbies have moved away from working with electronics to doing home renovations.
LK: The Tecmo Superbowl updated NES game is developed by a team of developers on the Tecmo Superbowl repository web site. I only provide the service of putting their game on a cart. I’ve contacted the web site owner a few times, and sent him free reproductions as a ‘thank you’ for all the great work he does for the Tecmo community.