Generally, when thinking of games with famous translation and localization changes, most people don’t tend to think about a game like Side Pocket for the Super Nintendo. Such a game is likely one that you’d simply skim over when looking through a selection of SNES cartridges at a convention or video game retail store.
However, despite this, there’s actually quite a bit on an interesting history behind Side Pocket and all of its different incarnations. Originally released in 1986 for the arcade, Side Pocket would see releases on NES/Famicom, Gameboy, Wonderswan, Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. In addition to this, every different version of the game has a completely different staff than each other version. You wouldn’t be able to tell this however, as every version of the game seems to be an incredibly faithful port of the original arcade game.
Today however, we’re going to discuss the only American developed version of Side Pocket, that is, the version released by Iguana Entertainment for the Super Nintendo in December of 1993. I had a chance to learn a bit about the development process in speaking with three of the game’s developers: Darrin Stubbington, a programmer on the game, Adam McCarthy, a graphic artist for the port, and finally, Jools Watsham, another graphic artist on this version of Side Pocket.
In speaking with Mr. Stubbington, I learned that the SNES version of the game was not developed from scratch, but rather as a conversion of the Genesis version of the game.
“That was a fun one, I actually did that in 3 months during some downtime while we finished Aero the Acrobat at the same time. 95%of the source was commented in Japanese as were most of the variables and labels – that was not fun!”
As if that weren’t a tough enough task already, it seemed that Data East was clear that they wanted this version of the game to match up with previous versions. Stubbington went on to note,
“Data East wanted a faithful reproduction of the actual game physics and feel of the ball motion from the original Mega Drive version. As I mentioned this was commented almost entirely in Japanese or not at all, but the way they cheated was they have large data arrays that let the game look up certain ‘physics’ events such as friction gravity striking strength and of course angle coefficients for the balls getting each other or the bumpers etc. The easiest way for me to make the SNES version the same gameplay wise was to convert all the code from 68000 to 65816 and use their tables, although modified for different byte configuration.”
However, despite technical issues and language barriers, the team managed to pull the games development around with relative ease. However, it was clear that a straight port of the game wasn’t enough.
“I did play a couple of other versions later on in the mid 90s and they seemed to be more like exact conversions for the most part, with little added. “
As some might know, the Super Nintendo was an overall more powerful system than it’s 16-Bit counterparts. Amongst several notable features, the Super Nintendo could display far more colors than the Sega Genesis. Because of this, the developers, and particularly the graphic artists at Iguana Entertainment insisted on touching the game up, to make it look as nice as it could for the Super Nintendo.
Adam McCarthy, one of the game’s graphic artists informed me a bit about the process of converting and “touching up” the Genesis graphics for the technically superior Super Nintendo.
“However, since the graphics capabilities of the Super Nintendo far outweighed the Sega Genesis, it was the art team’s job to upgrade the art quality by basically re-touching the Sega graphics using the higher number of color palettes of the Super Nintendo system. As for me specifically, I worked on re-touching the ‘Splash Screen’ graphics.”
Going into some of the specifics, McCarthy detailed exactly how the graphic artists would make the necessary changes. He noted a process of loading up the Sega Genesis graphic in a program called “D-Paint,” and then going through and painting over the various graphics to improve the overall quality for the Super Nintendo version of the game. When I asked about any special touches, he told a funny story from the game’s development.
“I do remember that there was one screen that had a brick wall with some text info overlaid onto it. I think maybe it was a score board type thing. Anyway, I was touching up the graphics and I tried to subtly put me and my girlfriend’s initials in the graphic, but apparently I wasn’t subtle enough, and my boss saw it and got upset with me…hahaha… That was the last time I tried that!”
The SNES version of the game seemed to take a more glamorous approach than some of the other versions of the game. While most games about billiards tend to paint pool in a bit of a alluring light, the team at Iguana made it a point to really do up the SNES version of Side Pocket.
Everyone on the team that I spoke to made note of something that they worked on that was particularly charming. Whether it be a pretty girl, a fancy car or an elegant looking cocktail, there was plenty to see and admire amongst the game’s signature style.
“One of the things I recall working on was the main menu. It is a full-screen image of a lady at a bar with a cocktail in front of her. The menu items are listed in a framed box in the upper right corner. I believe this was an image taken from the Genesis version of the game, which required ‘touching up’ to take advantage of the extra colors the SNES offered.”
– Jools Watsham, Graphic Designer
“So between pool matches, the game would display a picture of a woman with a fancy drink in her hand, or it would be a painting of a car, showing that you were traveling somewhere, and other random, non gameplay related graphics.”
– Adam McCarthy, Graphic Designer
“We also as mentioned added a ‘story’ using the girl and all new graphics everywhere else. … I also added a lot to the game including the sexy girl and all that other bling. “
– Darrin Stubbington, Programmer
Despite it seeming like a simple Super Nintendo Billiards game would be just like all the rest, there’s quite a bit more inside each cartridge of the game than you might imagine. How a small American team could take a game developed entirely in the East and give it their own signature touches is quite the story.
I’d like to personally thank Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Watsham and Mr. Stubbington for telling me the story of a game that is one of my favorite for the Super Nintendo. I highly recommend picking it up if you see it amongst other SNES games at the aforementioned convention or video game store.