Interview with The Rotting Cartridge

(Editor’s Note: iFanzine is unable to independently verify the existence of the original Kale in Dinoland or SkySoft. We dug through our 1992 Nintendo Power collection in our first-hand investigation – yes, we are that geeky – but darn it if we weren’t missing a few issues! Ultimately this grainy photo, purportedly of the elusive cart released that year, is all we have to go on. Like the Loch Ness Monster or Elvis post 1977, it’s one of those legendary things that we’ll just never know for sure!)

Let’s start of by getting a little more background on The Rotting Cartridge. How many people work behind the label, and does your studio name carry any particular message about your attitude toward the bygone era of cartridge-based games?

J: The Rotting Cartridge (TRC) is five people, for now. We can’t discuss who. Two of us are answering the questions right now, since the other members are busy. I’m J, I founded TRC and work on design and concept — mostly re-imagining levels and converting Kale’s original design to play better on the iPhone. The teammate with me is IG, who’s recreating the music and sound design.

IG: For the time being, we cannot release any information about our members, although we’d still like to dispel any rumors that it has anything to do with our current marketing (we’re all hopeless lurkers). As for our name, we don’t want to limit anybody to any particular interpretation, but we certainly don’t think the cartridge-based era is finished just yet.

Do you think you would have gained as much traction (both in the press and the gaming audience) with Kale in Dinoland if you hadn’t presented it as a Game Boy-to-iOS port? What does the level of interest in a product like this tell you about the iOS videogame market?

J: Yes and no. We get a lot of interested people who like Kale for nostalgia’s sake, but there are others who are against it purely because it isn’t new. Which is strange, because I don’t consider a lot of “retro” titles released today new. On the bright side, I think the iOS market is full of people in the former category, which is partly why we decided on the iPhone. Kale was released on a handheld, and the iPhone is the new handheld, so it makes sense.

We’re also cautious about making any premature judgements on the level of interest. iOS is a finicky market, and Kale is more of a design experiment than anything. It’s tried and true that pick-up-and-play games sell –- but there’s a surplus. We’re trying to fill the niche of providing an entire authentic retro experience, but whether an audience for that niche exists is still up in the air.

IG: TRC would like to give a huge thanks for the awesome support! From the comments, to the forums, even the criticisms, it’s all been really exciting. I mentioned before that we’ve all been guilty of lurking about. We’re addicted to and honored by anything and everything we find.

You’ll forgive me for not having played the original Kale I’m sure, but I am reminded of Little Nemo and, in a more general sense, of the original Mega Man series, thanks to the use-your-enemy’s-powers mechanic involved here. When I look back on games like these, I see a level of depth and creativity that a lot of retro-focused  studios are still working their way up to on iOS. In reaching back to the early 1990s so directly, do you feel The Rotting Cartridge is actually challenging the competition to have a little more ingenuity in their own approach from now on?

J: Why thanks! That is our intent. The iOS platform is interesting. I watch videos of retro iPhone games and get excited, but when I finally play them, I get bored. It’s the whole level-based approach, and the focus on collectables over depth. The game’s world doesn’t feel real. With Kale the most important thing is tossing the “mobile” design approach out the window and bringing back the flow and the narrative of Game Boy games. But you’ll have to excuse us, because the re-imagined Kale runs much faster than a Game Boy could handle. And (we hope) it isn’t the kind of game that you play a couple seconds here and there, because it is designed to be a more intimate experience.

IG: The only competition TRC has is other studios porting Game Boy titles. We’re not even in the same ring with other retro-esque titles, since they tend more to be efforts of originality. Of course, there are also the usual culprits who get accused of re-packaging. If anything, we’re grouped with them, in that we’re more focused on providing a tried-and-true product rather than something brand new.