TSS Interview: Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit’s Noah Copeland

If you never got to play Sonic Triple Trouble on the Game Gear before, you’re not alone. Sadly, Sonic’s handheld outings never got the attention they deserved, especially in the wake of the often more beloved 16-bit blockbusters on the Mega Drive. But what if you took that little adventure and applied it to a 16-bit-esque gameplay engine that really nailed the feel of a genuine SEGA Genesis game?

Why, you’d get Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit, of course! And we’re happy to report that we scored an interview with the brains behind the operation. Noah Copeland has been hard at work on this fantastic re-imagining (seriously, if you haven’t played it yet, do so right here) and we’re excited to dig into his history with this project!

The Sonic Stadium: Welcome to the Sonic Stadium, please introduce yourself!

Noah Copeland: Hello! I’m Noah N. Copeland. I’m the lead developer of Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit, a fan game that re-imagines Sonic Triple Trouble as a Genesis game.
My goal behind Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit is this: I wanted to recreate the game to feel as if it came out on the Sega Genesis in, say, 1995. What if the game was another mainline Sonic entry after Sonic & Knuckles? How would that look and feel? How would it continue the story? These questions gave me direction for the project.

TSS: You’re also a composer for the game! Do you see yourself as a musician first, or second?

Noah: I guess see myself as both. I certainly have more experience as a musician, but the combined experience of composer and game developer helped a lot with creating the soundtrack. I want to keep the music authentic to the classic Sega Genesis games, so I’ve had to use both the musical and technical sides of my brain. I’ve limited my instrument bank to the YM2612 and PSG soundchips that shipped inside the original Genesis. The compositions themselves follow the channel limitations and idiosyncrasies of the hardware. I listened to, studied, and ripped apart around 40 to 50 hours of Genesis/MegaDrive music to understand the soundchips’ strengths, weakness, and capabilities. I also spoke to some veteran composers that shipped Genesis games in the 1990’s, to learn what their experience was like.

TSS: The game looks like a genuine Sega Genesis game! How did you manage that?

Noah: For every part of the game, strictly adhering to the Genesis limitations is very important to me. The graphics are no exception. The color palette and the way that palette is distributed on screen, for instance, are executed faithfully to how it was done on the original Sega hardware.

Our artists, D. Zocker, Dolphman, and DVD, are very good at what they do. They’ve been champs about having to work under the limitations of the Genesis color palette, and we often have to go back and forth to get it just right.

For example, the way most fan games do underwater colors is by drawing a transparent blue square to represent water, and letting the transparency convey the effect. In this game, the color palette swaps below the waterline with hand-picked underwater colors. This is the way the classic Sonic games did it, and to my knowledge, we are the only fan game to do it like this. Correct me if I’m wrong.

TSS: How long have you been working on Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit?

Noah: I’ve been working very hard on this project since around fall 2017. Coincidentally, this is the same time that A+Start and Mr. Poe (also named Noah) started their Sonic Chaos re-imaging. Neither of us knew about the other, which I think is pretty funny.

The process has been challenging. Because it’s a fan game and a passion project, I can only work on it in my spare time with no financial compensation. I must’ve restarted development four or five times because it wasn’t up to my standards. It’s been a long road getting to what we see today. We’ve still got more to do, but I think it will be smoother going forward now that we’ve found a strong vision and have executed on it with the release of the demo.

TSS: What tools or programs are you using to develop the game?

Noah: The game is made in Game Maker Studio 2, using the Gmate/Flicky Sonic template that I helped create. Making a retro Genesis-styled game in a modern game engine has been interesting. I used a lot of research of Genesis development and spoke to modders familiar with the system. Ultimately, I think Game Maker has made development easier and more practical for me and has given me a lot more flexibility than I think I would’ve had working from an existing ROM. I don’t do ROM hacking or write code in 68k assembly, the language most 90’s Sega games were coded in. Trust me, I’ve tried learning assembly language. This game would’ve taken a decade if I had gone down that road.

The results speak themselves, I think. I’ve had several people ask whether or not the game is a ROM hack. If they have to ask, that’s a clear sign that we’ve achieved our goal!

TSS: We see a drop-dash and a character swapping mechanic in this demo. Do you plan on adding more cool new abilities in the full version?

Noah: It’s Triple Trouble, so you know the Rocket Shoes and Seafox are going to make an appearance. I’m still working out how those can translate into a 16-bit Sonic game. There have been a lot of things that need to be re-imagined in order to work as a Genesis-styled game, instead of an 8-bit handheld experience. That’s why the levels and bosses are bigger and more fleshed out.

One ability that often goes unnoticed is the Strike Dash, the Game Gear game’s version of the Super Peel Out. It works just like the Peel Out from Sonic CD, but it gives Sonic a few frames of invincibility to damage enemies or break cracked walls. Try it out next time you play!

TSS: What’s next for Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit? When can we expect to see more!?

Noah: Obviously, we have a lot of work ahead of us to finish the game. The demo functions as proof-of-concept for both players and us as developers. Once you see the game played by the hands of strangers all around world (we’ve had a lot of players internationally, like Brazil and the UK), it helps you understand your game better. The response is very positive as well, which is hugely motivating for me and my team. We’ll use that goodwill and our own determination to drive us to completion.

As for when you’ll see it again? Who knows! As I said, we work on it in spare time. We’ll release it when it’s done. I’m not sure if we will do another demo or not.

TSS: What other projects have you worked on? What would you like to work on in the future?

Noah: Game dev and music are both something I’ve been interested in since childhood. But it wasn’t until college that I decided to get back into game dev, and started working on the aforementioned Gmate template as well as Sonic Neo Genesis and Sonic Project Survival, which you may have played at SAGE 2016. Fun fact: a few unused ideas from Sonic Project Survival made it into Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit. Outside of games, you may have seen me post about the short films I’ve worked on.

After Sonic Triple Trouble 16-bit, I’d love to work on my own original game. Probably something fast and fun like Sonic. I’m prototyping something at the moment when I’m not working on Triple Trouble. If you like this fan game, follow me and keep a look out for what’s next.

TSS: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!

Noah: Thank you! The pleasure is all mine. I really appreciate the positive response the game has seen so far. I’m glad it’s brought people enjoyment!

Follow Noah Copeland on Twitter or visit his website here!

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