It was often more than a little frustrating working on the new video game called “Mystic Searches,” Elizabeth A.A. Wilson said.
“Here’s what they kept telling me,” she said. “They said ‘That’s perfect. It’s exactly what we need. We can’t do it.’ They told me that over and over.”
But in the end, she said, all the frustration was worth it.
“I am extremely excited,” she said. “This is one of the greatest accomplishments ever.”
Never miss a local story.
She was standing outside the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas on Saturday evening, getting ready to go inside for the sold-out world premiere of “The New 8-Bit Heroes,” a documentary about the creation the new game.
What makes the development of “Mystic Searches” worthy of a documentary is that it’s a brand-new game designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a groundbreaking but essentially obsolete system that has been out of circulation for decades.
It turned out so well. I was there for most of it and I’m still amazed and how well it turned out.
The film’s director is Joe Granato IV, a Lakewood Ranch resident and the videographer for the Ringling College of Art & Design. He came across some drawings he and a friend had made for a Nintendo game when they were both 8 years old, and he decided to try and actually create the game. He enlisted the help Wilson, who developed the narrative, and another Sarasota friend, Austin McKinley, who created the illustrations.
The film chronicles their initial excitement of the project, their frustrations with the severe limitations of the Nintendo system and with each other, and, as Granato admits in the film, the moment when his confidence turned into hubris.
In the film, Granato and friends discover a surprisingly large underground community of Nintendo devotees, including the St. Petersburg-based First Church of Nintendo.
Wilson, in the film, travels to her childhood home in Norway to learn more about myths and develops an epic fantasy world. McKinley creates detained fantasy characters. They soon realize they’re trying to fit 21st-century ideas into 1980s technology. The lead character, Julian, ends up being a blob of red, white and blue pixels. Wilson’s story, about Julian traveling the void of the fantasy universe, creating order out of chaos by collecting various forces, is pared down to its bare bones. Granato discovers that when he finds out that there’s an error in his coding, the best way to find it is to talk to his dog.
The film takes on a human element toward the end, when Granato has to take stock of his commitment to spending a couple of years on his childhood dreams. Wilson is pregnant at the film’s start, and when the project takes much longer than anyone anticipated, she announces that she has to pull back because the birth of her daughter is imminent. (Her 1-year-old daughter, Penelope, attended the premiere with her.) It turns into a compelling story, even for people who have no interested in video games.
They said ‘That’s perfect. It’s exactly what we need. We can’t do it.’ They told me that over and over.
Elizabeth A.A. Wilson
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” McKinley said. “It turned out so well. I was there for most of it, and I’m still amazed and how well it turned out.”
Saturday’s premiere featured a red carpet outside of Ed’s Tavern, next to the theater. Inside Ed’s, a couple of Nintendo game consoles had been set up, and people lined up to play Donkey Kong.
Surprisingly, it was little kids, who are used to much more elaborate games, who hogged the Donkey Kong.
Eight-year-old Pilot McElroy of Northport got a little annoyed when he had to cede the Donkey Kong controller to another youngster. Pilot’s dad, John McElroy, told him he had to wait his turn.
“It gives these kids who don’t know anything but these crazy games that are so overstimulating a chance to experience something old-fashioned, and they’re enjoying it just as much,” he said. “I told him this is where Super Mario came from, from Donkey Kong. He had no idea.”
“Mystic Searches” may be the latest game for the anachronistic Nintendo System, but it probably won’t be the last. In order to create “Mystic Searches,” Granato and McKinley had to develop a tool that they call the “Mystic Searches” Screen Tool and Game Engine. They hope to market it soon.
“What we’ve done is create a tool that will enable anyone, without much programming experience at all, to create a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System,” McKinley said.
The film itself will travel to gaming conventions and maybe some film festival around the country. It will return to Sarasota for a screening at Jdubs Brewing in November.