Documentarians Chase Childhood Dream
As an eight-year old child alternately getting lost in the woods behind his house and the fantastical worlds supplied by his trusty Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Joe Granato IV dreamed of making his own video game. He drew characters. He drew dungeons to explore. He drew the world. He even made his own soundtrack. But when Nintendo (apologetically) rejected his submission, the plans and the dream fell to the wayside, abandoned in a tool shed out back. Now, 28 years later, Granato’s vision approaches completion with this weekend’s premiere of an accompanying documentary, The New 8-Bit Heroes, chronicling the two-year and 10,000-mile journey to make a child’s dream a reality within the constraints of a 30-year old entertainment system.
Starting with “$200 and an idea,” Granato assembled a core team comprising local filmmaker and illustrator Austin McKinley and local author E.A.A. Wilson for visual and narrative support, but the question remained of whether anyone would care to play a game made for an obsolete machine or watch a film about its creation. Releasing a trailer to test the waters, the video quickly amassed more than 10,000 views. Then the Kickstarter brought in more than 150 percent of the requested funding and the project garnered a mention in USA Today and a heavy-hitter Hollywood executive producer (revealed in the film) came on board. “It became something much larger than we anticipated,” says Granato.
That was nearly two years ago, and in that time, as the game has progressed with the team slowly but surely surmounting all the constraints proposed by an outdated 8-bit system sporting exponentially less memory than today’s cheapest cell phone, Granato and McKinley have been criss-crossing the country making their documentary and interviewing everyone from video game pundits to people like David Sardy, sound engineer for Nine Inch Nails and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and composer for Hollywood films such as Zombieland and End of Watch, to iconic fantasy author Piers Anthony. And shooting thousands of hours of footage, the story that emerged became about much more than one video game.
“Looking through [the footage], a distinct story that’s very much a human story started to poke up like a fingerprint,” says Granato. “We started to look at the purpose of the ambitions we have as kids and the value in maintaining those.” And the particulars of the project lend themselves to introspection beyond the world of video gaming, he says: “Having to deal with the constraints of the NES system becomes this weird proxy, this parallel for trying to create this game within the constraints of your adult life.”
The New 8-Bit Heroes premieres this Saturday, September 24, at 8pm at Lakewood Ranch Theater. The festivities begin at 6pm, with Granato, McKinley and more in attendance to talk about the project. Attendees will also get to view and even test gameplay from the upcoming game with special levels designed to showcase mechanics, theme and art direction, as well as experiment with the tools created by the team in the building of the game. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased through the website below.
Pictured: Joe Granato IV (left) and Austin McKinley in a still from "The New 8-Bit Heroes." Photo courtesy of Joe Granato.