Towson grad's documentary follows a gamer's quest to return to the days of 8-bit technology

Documentary showing at The Charles tomorrow follows a gamer's quest to return to the days of 8-bit technology.

Nearly three decades ago — when he was about 8 — Joe Granato IV had a dream. He and a friend created a video game, or at least created it on paper. The dream involved actually playing it on a Nintendo.

A couple years back, he dusted off that dream and decided to try to make it happen. From the start, however, there was a big problem: Gaming had come a long way since the ‘80s, but his game, “Mystic Searches,” hadn’t. The technology behind it is 30 years old, and in the world of computer gaming, that’s several lifetimes ago.

“The New 8-Bit Heroes,” Granato’s inspiringly frustrating and delightfully anachronistic documentary look at his quest to make a video game that successfully ignores all the technology of the past 30 years, gets its local premiere at The Charles on Wednesday night. The movie should strike a chord with anyone who ever wrote a story, drew a comic strip or designed a whatchamacallit as a kid, then found it a generation or so later and couldn’t help but wonder, “What if?”

“We’ve had four showings so far,” says Granato, 34, who attended Towson University and played in the band Eat Your Neighbors while living here. “And at every single one of those four shows, multiple people came up to us and said things like, ‘I’m going to break open that novel again.’ That’s the most gratifying thing I could possibly imagine."

Granato’s renewed quest began in 2011, when he discovered some drawings he and a friend made as 8-year-olds. Deciding this was a video game whose time had come, and passed, and maybe come again, Granato started a crowdfunding campaign (eventually raising more than $50,000); enlisted a bunch of friends, along with gaming and design experts, to bring “Mystic Searches” to glorious 8-bit life; and set about to create a game that would be playable on the Nintendo Entertainment System consoles he’d enjoyed as a kid (and which Nintendo stopped making in the U.S. in 1995).

Of course, technology has advanced so much that the skills needed to create such a game have almost been lost — think of a moviemaker today, using a hand-cranked silent-film camera to make the next James Bond film. Possible? Sure. But far from easy.

Looking for perspective? Back in the ‘80s, "Super Mario Brothers," with its primitive graphics and limited storyline, was the height of gaming technology (if you want to get even more basic, think Pac-Man). Now, games like "Call of Duty" have better visuals than many movies.

Early on in the process, Granato says, he realized his quest would make a good documentary, and he started filming. By the time he was done, two-and-a-half years later, he had thousands of hours of video. For “The New 8 Bit Heroes,” he whittled it all down to just under two hours.

“When you start a documentary, you’re not sure what story you’re going to tell,” says Granato, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., and works as a videographer at Ringling College of Art and Design.

Granato says he’s taking the film to various cities — it’s played in Los Angeles and Pensacola, Fla. — in hopes of landing a distribution deal. Getting it on a streaming service such as Netflix would be ideal, he says.

Don’t bet against him. To reveal too much about the fate of “Mystic Searches” would spoil the fun of seeing the film. But suffice to say, Nintendo is accepting Granato’s calls these days.

If you go

“The New 8 Bit Heroes” plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Charles, 1711 N. Charles St. Tickets are $12.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad