72 Pins Interview: Classic NES Design Meshed With Current Games

There was a time that we grew up adoring NES cartridges, playing the likes of Battletoads and Super Mario Bros. to no end, without having to worry about downloadable content or buying a $60 controller or what-not.  72 Pins is a company that fondly remembers these times, and have been working on a series of game cartridge designs that feature classic NES-style inspired art, printed onto actual working games.  The catch?  These are based on more popular franchises that are making the rounds these days, including Super Meat Boy, Castle Crashers and Bioshock.  Head over to their website (http://www.72pins.com) to check out their available titles.

We sat down with artist Pauline Acalin, part of the 72 Pins team, about designing these carts, and what we can expect next from the team.

First of all, what inspired you guys to produce retro art on actual NES cartridges?  Did you think there would just be something appealing there to old-school fans and new players alike?

Pauline: We all suffer from pixel fever. We needed an outlet, and decided to start this cool art project. "Wouldn't it be cool if…" That's literally how it started. It then quickly escalated into, "Oh, we HAVE to do this game, crap and what about THAT game." We whipped up HALO as an initial design, had a couple stickers professionally printed on glossed vinyl, cleaned up a cart and applied the sticker, and then went OH SHIT, that is RAD. And it comes on a real, vintage NES cart. Coooool. And yes, we thought it would appeal to enough people to have a very limited series created for each design. Ees for fun.

Secondly, how do you guys make choices when it comes down to what covers make the cut?  Were there any games that you wished got NES covers but didn't make the final cut? Perhaps something that will be revisited down the road?

Pauline: We basically made a list of a shit ton of games, and the artist just chooses from that list. Whatever inspires. We did however move a couple to the top of the priority list to add diversity to our initial launch, and one of the games I felt totally uninspired with ended up selling out immediately. The name of that cart is in witness protection. There really is no "final cut" as we have a lot of designs in the lineup set for our weekly release, plus several that are in the fine-tuning stage and yet to be printed.

How long does it take to design the art for a cartridge?  What's the best way you go about deciding what to put together for it?  Tell us about this process.

Pauline: Oh man, you are talking to a pixel art n00b, so in my case, it takes several hours. Days for one in particular. The other guys are much faster, and I've been meaning to consult them in regards to what the secret is. The NES "black label" design has a very limited canvas, and so each design is certainly somewhat of a puzzle. Once the basic design is laid out, we fine-tune it to death…send it around, give each other feedback. I love this team, we all work incredibly well with constructive criticism. We enjoy being pummeled with changes, it makes a better product in the end. A couple times, there have been zero changes to a design, and the rest of the week you find yourself skipping instead of walking.

How many artists are working on the game art?  Do you guys plan on bringing more around as 72 Pins picks up in business?

Pauline: Currently, there are 3 of us. Artists are most welcome to send samples of their of work. Just shoot us an email at info@72pins.com with a link to your gallery… AND you need not be a pixel artist by any means. We do have ideas for other directions and styles we'd like to explore other than pixel work. We really want our focus to be Custom design…birthdays, weddings, parties/special events, awards, etc…

What's the first art project you ever worked on?

Pauline: As far as this project goes…the first design we created and tested the pipeline with was HALO. Once we saw the design-to-cart process was doable, we got pretty excited. It's no easy feat though, behind the scenes is pretty tedious. Sticker removal alone on hundreds of carts can be mind bending.

Do you do much gaming yourself?  NES perhaps?  Or do you prefer something more contemporary?

Pauline: As for myself, not as much today as I'd like. I rely on flashbacks… like being placed on academic probation in college because Super Metroid existed. 15 years later, I'm still bitter about only having found 99% of the hidden items. The rest of the team are AVID gamers. They are my heroes, and I live vicariously through them. They forced me to get XBox Live, which I am eternally grateful for.

Finally, any chance we can get something with Bioshock Infinite on it?

Pauline: That would be cool. Definitely maybe!

Thanks to Pauline for taking part in our interview.  Now go to 72 Pins and buy something already!  (Dibs on Halo.)