Those with a passion for making games on outmoded hardware would do well to look at a recently digitized set of development documents for SNK's dual-market Neo-Geo game system from the '90s, released via the forum
of long-standing fansite Neo-Geo.com.
The single PDF includes over 200 pages of specs, guidelines, and straight-up technical info provided by SNK in 1991 to assist in fast-tracking Neo-Geo development. The unearthed documents should also prove useful to independent homebrew programmers looking to learn more about the beastly system.
In the middle of all the specifications and jargon, about 100 pages in, is something of interest to devotees of historical gaming errata: a sub-document called the Neo-Geo/MVS Software Development Planner's Manual. It immediately opens with an outline of the Neo-Geo game development process; a 14-step plan that gives developers ideal timeframes of when to submit game plans, begin art ("character") production, debugging, and even location testing -- a process that would take 10-14 months, according to SNK.
Following that are some content guidelines put forth by SNK, advising that developers use "good judgement" in their game ideas, especially due to the rise in "ultra-violent games which are designed to use shock value to gain audience." SNK seemed to be following Nintendo's lead as far as regulating game content in those days. No sex, no drug abuse, no "ultra violence," no copyright infringement, no religious symbolism -- nothing that would get SNK in trouble by association.
Indeed, the rise of violent games like Mortal Kombat
and more infamous arcade games like Time Killers
may have sullied the image of arcade games in the early '90s, but the finger-waving is kind of amusing coming from the maker of the Neo-Geo, the system with the largest library of fighting games ever produced. SNK did lead by example, though, with region-specific tweaks in certain games that recolored blood or removed breast-bounce animation.
Excerpts like the above, found on the next few pages use exacting detail to describe the flow of wraparound game elements like menu screens, leaderboards, attract modes, and in some cases, how long to keep them onscreen. Overkill or not, practically all Neo-Geo games stuck to the same "template" of presenting things like the control instruction screens before gameplay.
It's great that SNK made these materials available in English, but there's also a bit of irony in that, as the vast majority of Neo-Geo games came from Japan and, later, South Korea. The natural assumption is that SNK was interested in attracting Western developers, but who can imagine a company like EA or Acclaim daring to produce Neo-Geo games? At the same time, it only made the Neo-Geo more distinct; an almost proudly Japanese platform that provided nearly 15 years of memorable arcade games.