In November of last year, Darren Wall, graphic designer and art director at Read-Only Memory, took to Kickstarter in an effort to fund a book that was to be “the ultimate retrospective of the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis”. Dubbed a “documentary art book”, Darren had the official license from SEGA, including access to the company’s archives and staff from both past and present. The only thing left to to obtain was the funds to make the project a reality.
This part was probably the easiest step of the project, as in less than 48 hours the team had met their £30,000 goal, and by the end of the campaign they earned £98,725! Prior to the end of the campaign, Darren joined George and I for a Swingin’ Report Show interview to discuss his plans for the book. It is now five months later, and Darren is nearing completion of the project with only SEGA’s approval and printing remaining. We caught up with Darren in a written interview, as well as another podcast which you can listen to tomorrow. Darren was even nice enough to give us some exclusive content from the upcoming book: design documents from the development of the original Streets of Rage!
After the break, check out the full interview as well as the cool exclusives from Read-Only Memory and SEGA.
We prepared a visualisation of the book, page designs and a detailed overview of the content we wanted to include. SEGA really liked the idea of concentrating on the Mega Drive/Genesis and offered us access to a host of the developers from the era – many who have never been interviewed before. Once we’d signed on the dotted line to take on the license, the fun began, with SEGA of Japan kindly rooting through their archives under our direction. I recall that in the first week of this research period, we were presented with both the original hand-drawn plans for the console and the Streets of Rage design document! Being a die-hard Mega Drive fan from the age of 10, the whole experience was incredibly exciting.
Do you have any notable moments you remembered from your many interviews with SEGA staff members? Which interview did you find to be the most revealing?
We’re just in the process of completing the final edits on the interviews – there are over 25 in total now. What’s striking is how many of the developers, musicians and designers identify that era as one of the most rewarding periods in their career. Many talk of how small each of the development teams were, and how they would often trade ideas with one another and play prototypes of each other’s games. You get a sense of how creative and liberal the atmosphere was at SEGA at that time. There are several very funny development anecdotes which I believe we’re revealing for the first time too – for example, when asked about the gruesome, slimy monsters he created in Alien Storm, Makoto Uchida remembered ‘The company’s female colleagues playtested the game with their eyes shut, complaining ‘I can’t look at it straight, it’s so gross!’ If I did that now I think I could be sued for harassment!’
As for the big Sega personalities that Keith [Stuart] has interviewed – such as Tom Kalinske, Hayao Nakayama, Shinobu Toyoda, David Rosen and Michael Katz – there are many things that are being spoken about for the first time. Everybody has been extremely open and eager to talk about matters that would have been quite sensitive back in the early ‘90s. Sadly I can’t reveal much right now as we’re still going through final approvals, but you can look forward to a great deal of business insight, blunt honesty and some definitive accounts of legendary SEGA boardroom moments. As soon as I can reveal some details, I’ll happily do so!
SEGA has always placed great emphasis on the design of their products. As a graphic designer, can you point to any moments in SEGA’s history of design that influenced your work outside of the “SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works” project? Were any SEGA products an influence on you becoming a designer?
Absolutely. The console itself was a striking mix of potent styles – part-luxury audio/visual equipment, part-US sports car, part oversized-John Player Special cigarette packet – it was a thoroughly ‘adult-looking’ piece of hardware! I remember at the time thinking how unlike all the other beige plastic video game machines it was. I have a real weak spot for the boxes too – especially the Japanese cases with beautiful artwork such as Altered Beast, ESWAT and Strider.
As a graphic designer, I’ve often cribbed little details from Japanese Mega Drive manuals – which are always beautifully designed. They often have ingenious little typographic quirks and technical details completely individual to that particular manual. The monochrome Western booklets pale in comparison! I’ve worked this influence into the Collected Works text design, which makes use of several graphic motifs that will hopefully bring a ‘Sega of Japan’ feel to the book.
I do indeed. One of the gatefold sections will be in the Hardware Development section, allowing us to show a couple of the hand-rendered general arrangement drawings of the Mega Drive/Genesis in great detail. A few of these case drawings are extremely complex so I’m really excited about being able to reproduce them at twice the size of the book – I’m hoping everyone will get a real kick out of opening up those gatefolds for the first time!
As you mention, other gatefolds will be positioned in the In-Game Artwork section and will most likely feature panoramic level maps. I’m actually working on this as we speak, and I’m finding that Sonic/Sonic 2, Shining Force/Shining Force II and Bonanza Bros. are shaping up to be the best contenders for the gatefold treatment. I wouldn’t dream of not using a Sonic level as a gatefold – specifically, I’m eyeing up the Emerald Hill Zone in Sonic 2 – it’s such a polished piece of level design and deserves to be appreciated at a large scale.
I’m a big fan of action platformers – I cut my teeth on titles like Revenge of Shinobi, Strider and ESWAT. I also love Rolling Thunder 2 and 3, both of which I still play persistently – I love the patient, strategic pace of play and ‘Saturday morning anime’ art direction.
I’d say my favourite model of Mega Drive is the original Japanese unit, most probably because I never owned one! I used to pore longingly over images of it in UK game magazines back when it was only available on import. It was evident that I’d only admired the unit from afar when I recently sent out illustrated digital wallpapers of the various console models to our Kickstarter backers and forgot to square off the cart slot on the Japanese model. Despite quickly changing the file, my EU-centric shame still burns bright!
We’ve got plenty to keep us busy I’m pleased to say. I’m really committed to making Read-Only Memory the go-to publisher for high quality game history books. We’ve got several other titles lined up as well as a number of ‘non-book’ products that I hope will complement our list nicely!
Is their anything you’d like to say to those who supported the project?
I’d really like to thank every one of our backers and pre-order customers for their support and enthusiastic messages. I’m pleased to announce that we’re making another upgrade to the book which I hope will go down well. After having weighed up our options, we’ve decided to increase the page size of the book from 190mm x 240mm to a big fat 216 x 267mm! This will allow readers to scrutinise the box art, production drawings and design documents in even greater detail and give the book an even grander presence on the bookshelf.
Sega Mega Drive/Genesis is available to pre-order now exclusively from http://readonlymemory.vg
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