Blaze Entertainment’s Evercade handheld aims to carve a spot for itself in the world of retro-focused portables. In our Evercade interview, we asked product director Andrew Byatt about how the system came to be and how it delivers players a particular flavor of nostalgia.
Graham Russell, Siliconera: Blaze has been producing Atari-related products for a while now. Has a multi-platform handheld like the Evercade always been the goal? What prompted you to want to make something like this?
Andrew Byatt, Blaze Entertainment: We started the Evercade project in 2018 and it was always our goal to build something that had more depth than plug-and-play devices that could not be expanded. We love physical games and retro. It was natural to think about how we could apply this. We wanted a fully licensed system that made retro gaming accessible, affordable and expandable. The Evercade was the culmination of this development.
How did you decide what games to include in each cartridge? Were you looking for a mix of certain elements, and did the Evercade’s single-player focus influence which titles were picked?
Byatt: We spoke to the licensors and gave specific requests for a list of titles we thought would be exciting. Most of the collections are a mix of genre, but the games are consistently well known or very interesting. Most carts have games that are rare or hard to find which was a big focus for us. We wanted to deliver a curated collection. We made sure all games have a single-player focus, but we did not take out any two-player function. This means that whatever cartridge is purchased today will work on hardware we offer in the future. We are exploring all sorts of options for this, but want people to know that they won’t have to rebuy the games.
Many elements of the Evercade are clearly inspired by Mega Drive nostalgia, from the directional pad to the clamshell cartridge packaging. What does the system mean to you, and how has that shaped the system’s development?
Byatt: We love the Mega Drive and Saturn D-pad so we wanted a similar feel. People tend to really enjoy using the D-pad, so those 20 iterations we developed paid off. We all had a Mega Drive as kids, so it definitely influences our affection and nostalgia when it comes to the Evercade.
What is it about physical cartridges and hefty color manuals that you feel is so special to retrogame players? Why are those elements in particular the focus of the Evercade?
Byatt: There is nothing quite like opening a clamshell pack and seeing a cool manual and little cart inside. Its really a joy and we had to make it part of the experience. In this day and age, digital and streaming are growing like mad, but we miss some of the wide-eyed excitement that comes with physical.
Evercade releases, at least at launch, are solely focused on home versions of games. What was behind this choice? Was it solely so you could focus on better emulating the supported platforms?
Byatt: Initially we wanted to make home console games work as well as possible on the system. We found that this would be a consistent experience for people. Mixing arcade and home console can give you an uneven experience due to different screen ratios. We have plans to offer arcade titles and have already-signed content with arcade games included. We chose a 16:9 ratio screen instead of a 4:3 because we planned to release Atari Lynx and other consoles that have wider screen ratios than traditional 4:3. It is important that the system is flexible for the future.
Evercade cartridges include a lot of quirky options, like the salvaged releases and Taiwanese games of Piko Interactive and the newly-developed retrogames of Mega Cat Studios. Even the Atari offerings have distinct personality, from the upcoming Atari Lynx collections to 7800 games like Ninja Golf. Has this been an intentional effort? Is it important for you that the Evercade covers games that wouldn’t otherwise make it onto classic microconsoles or compilations?
Byatt: Absolutely. We chose games that offered something that was interesting for retro gamers. We obviously wanted to work with great games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Earthworm Jim, but we looked for games that had not been so widely played. On Namco Museum we created the first official translation of Mappy Kids for release in English. We also chose games like Libble Rabble that were designed by the creator of Pac-Man.
Let’s talk about the buttons. The A-B-X-Y configuration on the system doesn’t really match the games’ original platforms, and often the labels on the buttons themselves contradict the in-game prompts. What was behind the decision to use this setup, and is there hope for any solution for players who want to adjust button mapping in the future?
Byatt: We began this process by asking people what button layout they preferred and 68% of people wanted this to match modern games consoles’ layout. We implemented this with mapping in original locations. When playing games, we found that an “A” prompt would actually require a “B” button press. This became confusing, especially for some players who rely on these on-screen prompts with games they are not familiar with. In hindsight, we think a traditional layout would be preferable for many retro gamers, so we have committed to deliver a day-one firmware update for those who want it.
Despite the Evercade’s Western origins, the initial lineup of games includes titles from classic Japanese studios like Namco, Technos and Data East. Was it important that the Evercade have Japanese games represented? Should players expect more options from that region in the future?
Byatt: Definitely. We are huge fans of the famous Japanese studios that created many of the best games of this period. We will be looking to add more in the future.
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer our Evercade interview questions! Launch units will ship from May 22, 2020 to June 5, 2020. Check out our guide to the Evercade launch lineup, and check back soon for our full assessment of the system.