German Studio NG:DEV.TEAM Keeps the Spirit of the Neo Geo Alive

The Neo Geo scene continues to thrive thanks to the dedicated Hellwig brothers, who in 2000 began developing original games for SNK's 16-bit powerhouse.

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As much as I love watching our industry grow and evolve, I'll always have a special place in my heart reserved for 8-bit and 16-bit games. I touched on this topic a few weeks ago, citing my appreciation for Watermelon Corporation and its recent Sega Genesis role-playing game Pier Solar, but I'd like to share a tale of another team with a similar set of ideals. That team is NG:DEV.TEAM, a company built from the aspirations of two brothers, Timm and Rene Hellwig, who in 2000 began their journey of developing and publishing games for the ill-fated, yet beloved, Neo Geo.

Originally released in 1990, the Neo Geo home console (dubbed the Arcade Entertainment System) was incredibly expensive, debuting at retail for $650. It wasn't just for show either; the AES was an exact replica of the hardware found in Neo Geo arcade machines. As much as Sega wished the Genesis could replicate the arcade experience at home, the Neo Geo actually featured pixel-perfect ports of arcade games from SNK, Data East, and ADK, to name a few. Despite the games' impressive use of enormous sprites and fluid animations, their lofty price tags, which began at $200 (fluctuating with their individual flash memory capacities), only fueled the doubts of those wary of the high-priced console.

Relative to the success of the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, the Neo Geo tanked. It lives on as a cult favorite, and not just for being expensive and obscure. Series like Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and The King of Fighters are distinct products of SNK's commitment to extraordinary 2D arcade games.

The brothers Hellwig shared a passion for SNK's powerhouse console. They began developing Neo Geo games as a hobby in 2000, toward the tail end of the Neo Geo's life cycle. Designing your first game is already an enormous undertaking, but the process of creating physical cartridges for use in a Neo Geo would require feats of ingenuity and persistence.

Finally, in 2006, Last Hope was ready for production. After prototyping both the game and the cartridge design, the Hellwigs produced 60 copies of Last Hope…for $725. Admittedly, it wasn't cheap. Luckily for them, Neo Geo enthusiasts rabidly consume games, consoles, and accessories, without regard for pesky things like price tags, and Last Hope quickly sold out. It remains one of the rarest Neo Geo games: copies fetch thousands of dollars on eBay on the rare occasion someone decides to part with one.

Once word of Last Hope spread, it didn't take long for the Hellwigs to recognize the opportunity at hand. By porting the game to the Dreamcast, they could reach a wider audience and capitalize on the buzz surrounding Last Hope. They signed with publisher RedSpotGames and in 2007 began shipping copies of Last Hope for $40.

This was also the time the Hellwigs decided to get serious about game development as a business, establishing themselves as NG:DEV.TEAM. Since Last Hope, they've gone on to develop a handful of other games for the Neo Geo and Dreamcast, including an update to Last Hope, subtitled Pink Bullets.

Last Hope: Pink Bullets - 2009

Last Hope is an admirable side-scrolling shooter, but the original version was brutally difficult. The visual confusion caused by the blending of enemy fire and background art was a major detriment, and was unanimously recognized as the game's biggest flaw. To correct this, NG:DEV.TEAM created a second iteration of Last Hope, dubbed Pink Bullets, in 2009. As implied by the name, incoming fire was given a neon pink face-lift. It was a minor change, but it made a big difference. Last Hope is still a challenging game despite the change, but now you have only yourself to blame when you run out of credits.

Though Last Hope bears a striking resemblance to Pulstar and R-Type due to the presence of a Force pod look-alike orbiting your ship, the games are built on very different sets of rules and mechanics.

The pod at the front of your ship in Last Hope, the Z-42 Warpstar, is ever-present, acting as both weapon and shield. The ability to absorb enemy fire is a key tool in your arsenal and is your primary means of defense, as well as a conduit for earning score multipliers. The L and R triggers (on a Dreamcast controller) rotate the pod around your ship, and it can be challenging to manage the pod amid daunting obstacles and incoming fire, but the flexibility it provides is one of the defining elements of Last Hope.

Fast Striker - 2010

NG:DEV.TEAM's second game, Fast Striker, is a vertically oriented shooter that truly tests your reflexes. The in-game mechanics actually vary depending on the selected difficulty level. You don't simply face an increased number of bullets or enemies onscreen; the way your ship controls and the methods of scoring change drastically.

Regardless of which mode you choose, your ship is equipped with bidirectional firepower, firing ahead or behind your ship. When you're playing in certain modes, a warning will appear onscreen if an enemy is approaching your tail. As you navigate your way through levels, you accumulate a stock of strike shield units. Activating the shield protects your ship from enemy fire and allows you to barrel into enemies as a means of offense. It will activate automatically in novice mode, but all other modes require manual activation. It may be tempting to save your shields, but hubris can get you into trouble; should you take a direct hit, your shield stock is depleted. If you find yourself backed into a corner without an escape route, it's best to swallow your pride and activate a shield before squandering the entire stock.

Fast Striker is rendered in 2D, but the enemies and environments are prerendered 3D bitmaps. This technique, paired with the fixed camera and screen-scrolling speed, gives the false appearance of a game filled with complex 3D models. The same technique has been used in other games, such as Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo, tricking the eye into seeing models that would otherwise be impossible for the system to handle.

GunLord - 2012

Departing (slightly) from the spaceship shooter genre, the latest game released by NG:DEV.TEAM is a side-scrolling platformer that emphasizes exploration and firepower. It's also worth mentioning that it's based (almost entirely) on mechanics from the Turrican series of games, which also came from humble beginnings at the hands of a determined German developer, the multi-talented, Manfred Trenz.

GunLord is a sequel of sorts, following the conclusion of Last Hope. You control Gordian Gaiden, husband of the main character of Last Hope, Vanessa Gaiden. As the titular GunLord, Gordian possesses a wide range of weaponry. His standard weapon is a multidirectional spread-shot cannon, but numerous pickups can alter the nature of its range and effect. He also possesses the Snake Beam, which is a concentrated beam weapon that Gordian uses to hit enemies lying just out of reach.

Exploring the entirety of the game's setting, the planet Kairos II, requires the use of Gordian's wheel ability. It's a throwback to Turrican, but this was ultimately derived from Samus Aran's morph ball from Metroid. Once it's activated, Gordian tucks into a ball, allowing him to roll into tight spaces.

GunLord is undoubtedly reminiscent of Turrican, featuring a near identical control scheme, but rather than simply paying homage to the series, it builds on its strengths. GunLord has large, sprawling maps, gigantic sprites, and nine levels filled with gems to collect and enemies to destroy. It's the most complex title from NG:DEV.TEAM to date, mixing platforming and shooter gameplay (level two is a horizontal spaceship shooter) to great effect.

So what's next for the German studio? It recently announced a new shooter, NEO.XYX, which is due on the Neo Geo and Dreamcast sometime in 2013.

NEO.XYX - 2013

It's a shame that these games are limited to "dead" consoles, but as NG:DEV.TEAM grows and word of its games spreads, there's always the chance we could see digital versions find their way to home consoles or portables. After all, Fast Striker is available on iOS devices, so the notion of other games in NG:DEV.TEAM's library finding homes on modern devices isn't too crazy. Without confirmation from NG:DEV.TEAM, we can only hope, but it's safe to assume that if it wants to expand its fan base, it will find a way to reach as many customers as possible.

Discussion

22 comments
Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

I'm hoping that the Neo Geo X Gold is a sucess. That SNK could make a return to the industry. The original NEO GEO console was a expensive beast but it did offer perfect Arcade translations. So hopefully the entire Neo Geo library will make a return via the SD card format of the NEO GEO X gold console/handheld hybrid.

 

This console was billed as a 24-bit console. Which did outdo the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Turbographx 16

 

So NG:DEV:TEAM is at least keeping the faith. I'll buy on of these NEO GEO X

 

LightEffect
LightEffect

This is pretty neat, making classic 2D games for classic consoles.

wizo59mt
wizo59mt

HEY, peter brown, i think Rafael Dyll's composing needs to be mentioned in this all this as well, not one mention of  a key player  /element to Pink bullets, the MUSIC, and he maybe responsible for more on this list of games mentioned.

obsequies
obsequies

the fact that the neo geo x has a 16x9 display yet the old geo games were 4x3 gives hope that new and great games will come to its aid

Shouoken4Peace
Shouoken4Peace

The company should try to get these on STEAM or at least make an attempt to get them green-lit. I'd buy em for sure.

davsonamission
davsonamission

Oh how I love sidescrolling shooters...I remember my absolute favorites were Gradius, R-Type, and Thunder Force. Those games were soooo difficult but I'd play them for hours on end ... No one makes them like they use to, but i have to say these look freakin awsome...

DCUltrapro
DCUltrapro

Funny how people seem to forget that the Dreamcast is in a similar situation and gets ALL of these games as well and the DC is far more warmly regarded among Retro circles than the elitest, over priced NEO GEO. But hey, the humble Dreamcast doesn't care, one day it'll get the recognition it deserves as the greatest console OF ALL TIME

Tzunoy
Tzunoy

wow need to play these asap. i love 2d games neo geo style we need more games like those.

Dragon-Power
Dragon-Power

If Neo Geo want to be alive agin they need to develop their ideas for future gaming .

ParanoiaDragon
ParanoiaDragon

Let us not forget that there are other "dead" systems that have games being released for them.  Frozen Utopia, Aetherbyte, Mindrec, Tokou, & Eponasoft have made games for the the Turbo Grafx/PC Engine.  Aetherbyte is also working on an MSX game(I'm sure there are a few other MSX dev's making stuff).  Besides Watermelon, Super Figher Team has release several games for Genesis, SNES & Lynx.  Songbird Productions has released several Lynx & Jaguar games(though, I think all of them are games that were originally unreleased, rather then true homebrew).  There's a bunch of smaller dev's that have made games for Lynx, Jaguar, & Atari's 2600, 5200, & 7800.  There's deffinitely been some indie NES stuff as well, as well as Colecovision, Intellivision, etc.

MrMartinLee
MrMartinLee

Props to these guys for keeping the old arcade standards alive and well.  Also, anyone remember Blast Works for Wii?  The best and hardest-working player/designer from that community is doing pixel art for NG:DEV.TEAM now.

64-bit
64-bit

Here to the greatest console ever made. NEO GEO 4 Ever.

FallenOneX
FallenOneX

New DC games!?!?!?!? COUNT ME IN!!!!

ahpuck
ahpuck

 Do any of you guys remember Viewpoint? I wonder why they don't bring it back for Live and PSN.

joce667
joce667

 @Jenova-Witness Not sure Nintendo would let them do it . Even if i am not sure it would hurt their current business .

 

 

joce667
joce667

I spent so many hours playing bomberman on the NeoGeo it is not even funny !

Jenova-Witness
Jenova-Witness

I wish Indie devs still made games for the SNES.

davsonamission
davsonamission

And the Gun Lord game reminds me of Old School Metroid ...

 

pcty
pcty

 @Jenova-Witness I still play my SNES.

If they they still made games for it I would definitely buy.

pcty
pcty

 @Erzcn24  Indie developers usually develop their games for their passion so they would only do that if they wanted to.