On one hand there’s Black Forge, a communal celebration of all things artsy, baked and roasted nestled somewhere about the heart of Allentown.
Sure, in seeking to breathe new life into old game consoles via its varied roster of indie game titles, the latter seems to embody the very entrepreneurial spirit Black Forge has been intent on fostering through the years.
Yet letting a mutual respect for copious amounts of caffeine and decrepit consoles drive the two businesses towards a collaboration – a collaboration over a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive video game even – is a story they’re itching to tell.
Coffee Crisis is a successfully crowdfunded affair, an arcade-style beat ‘em up, and Mega Cat Studio’s first major release all bundled in a cartridge reminiscent of the 16-bit gaming era of old. With close to a decade of contract work shared between its members, the team however recounts its Kickstarter venture as everything but idealistic.
‘It never seemed like it’d be our debut project,’ recalls resident Cat James Deighan. ‘We had a few marketing partners drop out mid-way, before our lead developer came down with personal issues of his own that forced him to break for a few months.’
‘More than once we had to decide between being a Kickstarter campaign that’s forever delayed, or, double down on our commitment to make a game people will enjoy’. Despite the post-Kickstarter rush that had most of Coffee Crisis’ art/team undergo an overhaul, the Studio drew comfort in the fact that at least its script was settled.
This at the unlikely hands of Black Forge baristas/founders Nick Miller and Ashley Corts too, not something an indie game studio is wont to do for its flagship title. It was with 2015’s iteration of Pittsburgh’s Retro Gaming Convention, that the two businesses discovered in their gaming discourses a collaborative tool for coffee, heavy metal and aliens.
Before long Miller found himself trading notes with local comic writer Jeff Williams in a desperate frenzy to put forth a compelling narrative for the game. Admittedly while the challenge lay in meeting a deadline, Miller and Corts had the experience of previous podcast-type scripts and a degree in film to fall back on.
And then of course there was Black Forge’s own Indiegogo campaign. Make no mistake the plot is far from sophisticated; on the contrary, it’s every bit outrageous to the point that no explanation is given as to why players are called to take down a rogue alien race that wants to steal earth’s java and wi-fi.
This they must do in very hyperactive button-mashing side-scrolling fashion, chaining attack-combos, stacking up level scores and partaking in coffee-themed minigames in either single-player or local co-operative multiplayer modes.
‘In all honesty, space aliens are easy targets for potential bad guys!’, state Miller/Corts, both of whom feature as playable protagonists after the alien invasion quite literally lands at Black Forge’s doorstep.
‘Add in the ability to take over the minds of innocent humans to carry out their bidding and now we can justify hitting little old ladies with walkers in the head with bags of coffee. It’s them or us!’
In its absurd twisting and numerous innuendoes the plot even visits the real-world likes of Warrington Ave, Grandview Boulevard, PNC Park and Duquesne Incline, before ascending to Mars against an unruly shrieking of guitar-riffs. It’s the eighties after all where questions apparently don’t exist.
Growing up playing everything between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the original PlayStation, both coffeeholics allude to seeing in Coffee Crisis the perfect extension of the Black Forge brand. ‘The metal and coffee themes were already in the mix; yet we never thought we would ever see the day that we would be playing ourselves as video game characters!’
‘Now it’s a reality and we have access to a whole new demographic of potential fans and customers.’ It’s true that in calling the entire experience enlightening, the pair goes on to attribute its newfound confidence in breaking molds, diversifying streams of revenue and overall brand awareness to Coffee Crisis.
Moreover with the game gearing up for a release across the more modern PC and Xbox One console this year, expectations of renewed interest in the coffee shop and its merchandise are at an all-time high.
Shortly after sending out its Sega Genesis/Mega Drive copies to backers through 2016, Mega Cat claims to have gone back to the drawing board with its backers. Appearances at some 20-odd gaming convention has not only yielded improved visual effects, animations, controls and a reinvigorated soundtrack, but a cranked up difficulty setting.
Death Metal Difficulty, as Mega Cat calls it, features an interplay of variables known as random modifiers that not only keeps each play-through of its brawler system uniquely challenging, but further enables enthusiasts to actively partake in their favorite Twitch/YouTube gaming content creator’s streams.
‘With support for Twitch & Mixer integration alone, we’ve not only seen average play times double but streamers circling back to play the Coffee Crisis again over subsequent days,’ attests James Deighan. ‘That said, we’re yet to find someone capable of beating Death Metal difficulty’.
Fans of the retrospective absurdity of a gaming experience Coffee Crisis hopes to offer will be able to pick up a Windows/Mac/Linux-compatible copy from either of the Steam or GOG stores this month, while the Xbox One release has been slated for late July.
The original Sega Genesis/Mega Drive edition however is available on the Mega Cat online shop, with a special discount on the same promised to those who successfully score past a particular threshold on either of the PC or Xbox versions.
‘No matter how cool us elderly folk think retro games are, bridging the generational gap of new school gamers to old school platforms is truly very important,’ Black Forge exhorts when asked if a Coffee Crisis port is a necessity it believes in.
‘The video game industry is fascinating after all and very much its own monster.’
This article was commissioned by Mega Cat Studios on account of Coffee Crisis’ PC/Xbox One release, to which Sean Braganza has been contributing as an independent contractor in a PR/content writing capacity. More information on its portfolio listing here.
When it really shouldn’t.
Mega Cat Studios has considered itself part of the ol’ Kickstarter Retro Renaissance after all, wherein anything past discrediting the cloud and evangelizing cassettes is probably heresy.
Retrospective box-sets were delivered to their equally retrospective Sega Genesis/Mega Drive owners and now, the game’s all steamed to make its debut on the PC/Xbox One across May-July. To which you might fairly enquire if the forthcoming ports are any different.
Quite a bit, actually.
Sure the Smurgliens are making a comeback for another serving of the original single player/local co-op plot penned by BFCH baristas/protagonists Nick Miller and Ashley Corts. They’ve tapped into the Earth’s Wi-Fi, the absurdity it calls music and are keen on invasion but then there’s –
Death Metal Mode
Months of research harvested off beta testers and 30-odd event appearances have given Mega Cat something called Random Modifiers.
Yeah there’s no Retro Renaissance without rogue-lite and as if hurling combos, carafes and bags of coffee beans at the aliens gave no satisfaction, these Modifiers mean to keep things re-playable by either helping, hurting or distorting players.
Consider them variables that erratically spawn antagonistic surprises, throw disco/coffee/CRT-themed on-screen filters, deactivate cheat codes, grant buffs and mess with your FOV to keep each play-through of Coffee Crisis’ new Death Metal difficulty unique.
Anywhere from one to five Random Modifiers may come into play within a level’s Finish Them Zones – designated areas where the screen ‘locks’ and prevents onward progress until all the ugly-Smurglies have been eliminated.
Overcoming the Genesis/Mega Drive’s technical limitations are more on-screen enemies, move sets, increased obstacle awareness and amped stats, while you, beloved player, are offered a renewed roster of flings, breakables, power-ups, mini-games and attacks developed exclusively for the PC/Xbox One from the ground up.
Plus, mash those buttons long enough with a measure of dexterity and you just might earn yourself a discount on a Coffee Crisis cartridge.
Twitch/Mixer support lets players not just spectate their favorite streamers couch-brawl but cast votes upon the Modifiers that Coffee Crisis applies to their broadcasted Death Metal sessions.
‘We started testing with broadcasters early on and have continued testing as we make changes and adjust features,’ Zack Manko, Lead Cat, quips excitedly in noting how the new mode of difficulty is yet to be beaten.
‘Seeing viewers spawn more aliens to harass their favorite streamers (playfully) is always good for laughs, but more importantly it’s good for the streamers, their viewers, and for the gameplay experience.’
And to think much of it derives from Coffee Crisis’ new 10-track jam tuned especially for the PC and Xbox One.
With equal parts double-bass drums, breakdowns and melody that’s apparently meant to both crush and spill coffee beans, relates Mitch Foster, Nylon video game guitarist/composer/sound engineer who pairs with high school band mate AJ NOE.
A Skinny Chestknee (pictured above) cameo with reinvigorated sound effects, reworked animated sprites, dedicated support for the Razer Chroma keyboard, Level FX, dual controller compatibility with adequate rumble and an in-game backer-celebrating Hall of Fame are all extras.
Coffee Crisis is due across the Steam/GOG marketplaces this May and will be followed by an Xbox One release late July. Pause for a cuppa at the website for a complete breakdown.
This article was commissioned by Mega Cat Studios on account of Coffee Crisis’ forthcoming PC/Xbox One release, to which Sean Braganza is contributing as an independent contractor in a PR/content writing capacity. Also featured on Retronator, Xbox Tavern, Cliqist, Gamasutra and Destructoid. More information on its portfolio listing here.