Big hair is back- it’s time to save the 80’s

Washington D.C. area developer Michael Cowden is a jack of all trades. He’s a software engineer, entrepreneur, composer-and now, he’s diving head first into the gaming industry with his upcoming mobile game, Super 80’s World. A one-man project with an iOS release date of November 2016, Super 80’s World promises all of the campy, nostalgic goodness of the movies and television shows of the decade.  Some of its features include “neon, synthesizer music, and awesomeness,” according to the official game synopsis.

Today, it can seem like retro is everywhere, from television shows like Stranger Things to a recent rise in the popularity of synthwave music. To Cowden, the trend towards retro helped spark the idea for a game about the 1980’s. “I saw a trend towards retro-style games and decided it would be fun to take it one step further: making a game that makes a parody of the decade itself. I knew I wanted to make a game and had two ideas at the time:  a) the 1980s as a game and b) Baltimore, the game.  I’m not sure how the second one would have worked, so here I am now, working on Super 80s World. It’s really fun to see young people reinterpreting and reinventing the decade. I love synthwave and the whole retro / retro-futurism movement.  Sometimes I wonder if the game is just an excuse to get me writing cool synthwave tracks,” says Cowden.

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Of course, one of the biggest parts of a game about the 80’s would be nostalgia, and with nostalgia comes all of the 80’s pop culture references that we know and love, right? According to Cowden, it’s not so cut and dry. “I’d say [the game] is a combination of atmosphere and inside jokes.  The original concept was replete with pop culture references and characters.  There’s obviously a whole host of legal issues that come along with that.  I’m now trying to be more explicit with the atmosphere (the level themes, backgrounds, etc.) and more implicit with the references. I think that ends up working on two levels. While the art and music sets the overall mood, the more subtle references give those really into the nostalgia a bunch of little easter eggs to enjoy throughout the game.”

Tap Tap Good, the development company that is responsible for Super 80’s World, is a one man show based out of Washington D.C. that Cowden started in September 2015. While the game is a part-time solo venture, there are “a couple of other folks helping out on a contract basis with art and music,” Cowden states.


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With his first game being a solo project, there are many lessons that Cowden has learned that he hopes to capitalize on in future endeavours. “First, start small.  Whatever your big idea is?  Don’t do it yet.  Do something smaller first.  For instance, a video game about an entire decade? That’s too big. Start smaller. If I had to go back and do it over I would have released a very simple game, timeboxed to three months for release.  There are a number of reasons for this: from giving yourself a chance to learn to giving yourself a sense of accomplishment to limiting your losses if it doesn’t work out. The next thing is: put it on the device you’re building for and have others play with it. Do it early – really early. I probably invested 9 months of development on a full platformer before realizing how terrible it was to play on a mobile device. Fortunately, all was not lost and I’m able to reuse most of the art assets I created over that time. Still, had I just put it in the hands of a few more people in the first couple of months (and listened), I might have saved myself six months.”

Of course, we saved the best question for last: what is Cowden’s favorite retro console? “[T]he Sega Genesis. As far as a favorite retro game is concerned, I’m gonna have to go with the old Wizardry series.  I put a lot of hours into that one.”
Be sure to sign up for early access to Super 80’s World, and check out the Spotify playlist here.


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