**A Disclaimer about This Year’s Byte-Off - Read First
To be overtly clear, this year’s event will be different. Very different. This is not a new direction for the event going forward. It is a fun change-up for this year specifically. If you prefer this Byte-Off scenario to those in the past, know that it is not the norm and the next one will be comparable to the last few years’ (and in fact, is already planned!). If this year’s format is something you like less, know that the next Byte-Off will be back to the standard.
Why will this year’s Byte-Off be different?
There are a lot of reasons that this year’s Byte-Off will be completely different, but I will cite the most important ones.
Life has thrown a series of curveballs at all of us the last 18 months. Covid complicated everything. I had my second child (a frightening prospect amidst a pandemic). We sadly closed the doors on the NESmaker Studios when Austin left for Toronto, which was echoed only months later by my moving 1500 miles to New England. My day job career took a hard right turn. It’s been a challenging, exciting, and exhausting year. The sentiment of chaos that we’ve experienced is only amplified in the community by what I’m sure is similar chaos in all of your lives. This makes planning a Byte-Off in its traditional form very difficult. Difficult for us, difficult for you...what is supposed to be communal and fun becomes cut-throat and stressful, which defeats the purpose. That prompted us to want to adapt for this year into something that is more celebratory rather than competitive.
We have seen some brilliant projects from so many of our users. We’ve seen a huge uptick in people wanting to know where they can find games, people on their own trying to compile game lists and collect the physical releases...this is awesome. And it makes us know that the time is right to formalize the existing collection, AND to start driving some of our favorite demos into full game experiences. In short, we felt that it might be a good time to take care of some old business before starting some new business. This is not limited to our hopes for you the community, either. This also applies to our expectations and hopes for ourselves. The Official NESmaker 4.5 strategy guide and Mystic Searches still hang mostly finished, with Gamer Quest in queue right behind them.
So what exactly is Byte-Off ‘21, then?
This year’s theme is PANTHEON. But because Byte-Off is different this year, purpose of the theme is different as well. Rather than being a driver of concept for your new demos, we want to drive towards a PANTHEON of new titles for the NES. That’s what we hope to build with this year’s event. Over the last few years, we’ve seen so many unique, iconic projects, we want to see them in a finished form. New icons to champion. New legacies born. The groundwork has already been laid - from Doodle World to Harry Dwarf. From Toby the Turtle and Kubo the Cowboy to Flea and Nix. From Artix: Slayer of the Undead to Rick Starfield: Defender of Time and Space. It’s time to celebrate the games that have seen releases, and drive those with a great running start towards a light at the end of the tunnel! The point of this year's Byte-Off is to show the world what our family of developers is achieving. And let me tell you - you guys amaze even me every day!
So wait...no big event? No (big dumb) awards show?
Of course there has to be a bit a pageantry! But just like with the rest of this year’s event, things will be a bit different. This year, we’ve partnered with the Midwest Gaming Classic. We will be having a number of NESmaker events over the course of the weekend at the event itself. Even more fun, this will be the site of our first official NESmaker meetup, where the best of the Byte-Off Pantheon will be displayed for all of the attendees to play at stations around the event. Additionally, interested users who can attend will be given small, exclusive booth space to exhibit in person any way they see fit - the Midwest Gaming Classic art judges will be looking at attendees’ booths and awarding best in show. Build a small 80s living room? Rock a custom arcade cabinet? Throw it up big on a projector? Cosplayers repping your game characters at your station? Let's get creative! Let's get weird! There will also be additional perks for those exhibiting in person this way, though it is not necessary to actually attend the event in order to participate or have your game showcased.
The prizes...what about the prizes?
Covid has put a damper on getting many of the prizes out, even from past years’ events. Some have received them (especially the bigger ones), and some are in holding until some level of equilibrium returns to the world . However, this year is about posterity. This year, the motivation is about joining the ranks of the great games that we all loved growing up. Besides the opportunity for massive promotion through Midwest Gaming Classic, this year, all completed games will officially be inducted to The Strong Museum of Play and become part of their collection. This year, the challenge is not against each other, but instead against ourselves and all of the obstacles that prevent us from getting our games finished. There are a few other fun surprises planned, but for now, this is the most important information.
Ok, wait...back up. What exactly is happening?
Let's recap. The theme for the 2021 Byte-Off is PANTHEON, as we as a community are going to showcase to the world the first pantheon of new NES games from this community, created over the past three years. We want to see the community's finished games! All of them! Any games created with NESmaker are eligible for this - whether they were created by the beta, or by a highly modified code base using 4.5.9. Whether they are projects that have been in development for three years, or whether they are brand new ideas that begin development after reading this. The purpose of this year’s very different Byte-Off is to bring together the current slate of finished games and put them all into focus for the world to see. Games will be showcased at the Midwest Gaming Classic, where we will have our first ever official gathering for any and all who can make it (observing health protocols in this time of COVID, of course). Midwest Gaming Classic will be showcasing every submitted game, highlighting the best of them as chosen by their panel. Developers who attend will be given small floor space in which to showcase their games if they would like. The entire lot of games will be submitted for inclusion in The Strong Museum of Play’s epic collection.
But what if I only have a demo? What if I WANT to start a new Byte(-Off) sized project and not try to crank on a full game?
One of the best things about Byte-Off is that it frees you from having to seek perfection. It’s about creating something that can be accomplished within a month, slamming ahead and not worrying about any consequence...experiment and play and getting weird with it, and hopefully launch a really good idea that becomes something amazing. Yes, we want that too. Anyone who wants to use this as a launchpad for something new, that’s awesome. We will also have a collection of DEMOs that aren’t quite finished games, yet in a playable state to be part of the event. But the real hope is that some of those great unfinished projects that still are left hanging become fully realized games over the next two months.
What if my game is already out? What if I am selling it already - will that affect this?
No! Not at all! We want all the games that have been created using NESmaker regardless of release date or status. In fact, some of those that have been released are some of the best games, so we definitely want to preserve them as part of this first official NESmaker collection! But don’t worry, no one will be entitled to your game or your rom (other than submission to the museum, but that’s for archival and posterity, not for public use unless agreed upon). There will be more information about all this coming soon. But in short, yes. If you already have a finished game, we want to include that as well!
How do I submit? What are the details?
There are a lot of questions, I know. There are a lot more fun answers coming soon. But because I wanted to get this out relatively quickly, and I’m literally in the process of moving my family and NESmaker 1500 miles (the car is packed, I leave in the morning, and I’ll be down for a few days), I wanted to at least do a soft launch so that all who want to be involved (which I hope is literally everyone) can start to plot and scheme and plan their calendars. The event is Nov 5-7 in Milwaukee, WI, so there is a solid two months in order to get projects turned around and plan accordingly (maybe even make travel plans?). But I wanted everyone to understand the basics, the reason for this year's deviation from the norm, and give you all the opportunity to get started.
When do we start?
Start now! Right now! This is a soft launch with two full months to play with. Been with us since the beta? Awesome! Brand new and just downloaded the software today? No problem! Consider this “go”. We’re hoping to see a lot of people helping each other with bugs, playtesting, asset creation. I can’t wait for the world to see the amazing, diverse set of games this group has created.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT NESMAKER BYTE-OFF '21 COMING SOON