Originally published at Kombo.com, this look back at Aero the Acro-Bat is now presented here at Press The Buttons with additional material cut from the original version.
Video games do not spring from development studios fully formed and ready to go. Your favorite games began as a rough concept document outlining the title's storyline, characters, offensive attacks, defensive moves, level outline, and other basic building blocks. Previously we revisited Sunsoft's Aero The Acro-Bat franchise and explored the development process with Aero's creator, David Siller. Now Press The Buttons offers this original Aero The Acro-Bat rough draft concept document from 1992 and some period promotional artwork from Sunsoft's presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1993 as a look at how an average game was developed and promoted during the 16-bit years. After all, some of Press The Buttons's readership had not yet been born during Aero's heyday. Enjoy this rare peek behind the curtain at the dawn of the acrobatic bat.
David Siller says, "Typically, a game is 'conceptualized' first with a small document of highlight it's merit to be born! Once approved it goes further and then comes the GDD or Game Design Document, that will explain the to development team the entire scope of planning that will go into the development process. And so forth.....!"
Wondering whether or not Aero was always meant to be a bat based on this simple character sketch? Siller offers, "Aero was always a BAT, but these concept drawings tried to focus on the mechanics of his movement attributes and techniques and not on his theme specifically. Again this was the 'CONCEPT' part of the ORIGINAL presentation by me to SUNSOFT management and then began the further design document process."
Some of these concepts did not make it into the final version of the game. Note the "catch a star" requirement, for instance, which is not a required objective in the finished product. Instead, stars become optional collectible weapons. Moreover, not every stage follows the same pattern of hopping on platforms. Final objectives not listed here include collecting keys, surviving a rollercoaster ride, and bungee jumping.
These secret maneuvers? They're not in the finished product either (or, if they are, they're very well hidden!).
Not all of these items are in the final version either. The barrel, for instance, appears in a single stage and is presented as a mode of transportation instead of an item worth points. The elephant walk challenge never appears at all.
Very few of these conceptual enemies lasted all the way through the development process.
This early in development only two overall locations were outlined: the circus and Ektor's museum. The final game would add an amusement park and the forest, and of course the objectives would change to something with more variety.
Many of these rules were changed or dropped during development as well. It's all part of the refinement process.
The original mission objective screen showed Aero in action as an example on what the player needs to do. While this idea was not included in the original 1993 release, the 2002 Game Boy Advance re-release added a variation of this concept back into the game.
Aero plays cover model on the Sunsoft 1993 winter Consumer Electronic Show catalog.
A more refined, finished Aero appears on the summer 1993 CES catalog. Now his proportions are more in line and he's gained visible pupils.
So, how was Aero received in the gaming press? Here's a few clippings from Siller's archive that give brief impressions and accolades from the magazines of the era. Aero himself won "Best New Character" honors from Electronic Gaming Monthly in 1993, while the now-defunct Video Business had high praise for the sequel.
Advertising plays an important role in creating a successful video game. In an era packed with a glut of colorful character platformer titles, how did Sunsoft expect to give their title an extra boost above the competition? Remember, Aero existed in a time before mainstream online social media. The company chose to give out free copies to true Aero fans via a print advertisement that ran in such magazines as the aforementioned EGM.
Even advertisements have early concept sketches behind them. Here we see the final and concept versions of the print advertisement for Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel (as created by Justin Siller). Notice that the original sketch depicts Zero tearing his way through the Aero ad seen above, while the final version features Zero bursting through a blank page.
Here's hoping we see Aero the Acro-Bat again in the future, but at least now we know how he started out.