It all started with a call from his parents. You have a house of your own now, they told him, so how about finally getting your stuff out of ours?
That somewhat terse request led Joe Granato IV to develop a video game and direct a documentary. The game and the film attracted the attention of a Hollywood heavyweight who came on board as executive producer. The movie gets its world premiere Saturday at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas.
“The New 8-Bit Heroes” started as a chronicle of Granato’s quest to develop a new game for the archaic Nintendo Entertainment System, and the largely unknown subculture of people who are fanatically devoted to anachronistic games, but its scope became far greater.
“It ended up being a very human story about the dreams that we have in childhood, and why we leave those dreams behind, and what happens when we revisit those dreams,” Granato said.
In 2011, Granato moved to the area to take a job as a videographer for the Ringling College of Art & Design. A few years back, he and his wife moved from Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch. That’s when his parents asked him to finally clear the detritus of his young life out of their home in central New York state.
It ended up being a very human story about the dreams that we have in childhood, and why we leave those dreams behind, and what happens when we revisit those dreams.
Joe Granato IV
In an old cardboard box, he found some drawings that he and one his best friends had created back in 1988, when they were 8 years old. They were illustrations for a new Nintendo game they had come up with. They naively sent them to Nintendo and waited all summer for the company to write back and tell them how cool the illustrations were, that the illustrations would be the basis of a great new Nintendo game, and that both the illustrators would become rich and famous.
The actual reply was somewhat less enthralling.
“They said, ‘Don’t do drugs, stay in school, and we can’t accept any unsolicited game ideas,’” Granato recalled.
But they also sent back the illustrations.
As a programmer and veteran gamer, Granato’s first thought was that it would be cool to actually develop the game. As a filmmaker, his second idea was to make a documentary about doing that.
It would have been easy to make a modern game for modern computers, but Granato decided to go back to original technology. That provided both limitations and opportunities.
He knew there were some people who still loved the very old-fashioned Nintendo Entertainment System, but he had no idea how extensive the network of NES aficionados actually is. He even came across a group in St. Petersburg called the First Church of Nintendo. He likened the appeal of Nintendo games to that of vinyl records: There’s nostalgia involved, but there’s also a warmth and a kind of tactile pleasure that modern equivalents can’t match, so both are enjoying a comeback.
They said, “Don’t do drugs, stay in school and we can’t accept any unsolicited game ideas.”
Joe Granato IV
His effort attracted the attention of Adam S. Goldberg, the creator of the autobiographical TV sitcom “The Goldbergs.” Goldberg is interested in old-timey computer games himself. He contacted Granato and became executive producer of the “The New 8-Bit Heroes.”
Granato did indeed finish creating the game. He calls it “Mystic Searches.”
“We had written the name on a piece of paper that I found in the box,” he says. “I have no idea what it means.”
Although the movie hasn’t screened yet, the game has already made its screen debut. There’s a scene in one episode of “The Goldbergs” in which someone is playing “Mystic Searches” in the background.
Saturday’s premiere begins at 8 p.m. at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. Starting a little earlier, maybe around 6 p.m., members of the First Church of Nintendo will be on hand with old Nintendo consoles so that fans can actually play “Mystic Searches.” The film runs about two hours, and there’s a party afterward at nearby Ed’s Tavern.