This Guy Built the 8-Bit Game He Dreamed of as a Kid, and It’s Glorious

Mystic Searches is the fantasy game every ’80s kid wished they could create

When you’re a kid you have tons of aspirations, like being an astronaut, or a Lego Master Builder, or an ice cream truck driver who only sells popsicles shaped like pigs (anyone? just me?). For Joe Granato circa 1988, the dream was to create his own fantasy video game world for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

But like most childhood aspirations, Granato’s were forgotten as he moved on with life and became an adult and did regular adult things for 25 years. Then, one day, he returned to his childhood home in Central New York and found a weathered cardboard box in the shed out back of the house. Inside were pages and pages of concept art he had drawn as an eight-year-old for the video game that had consumed his imagination. Naturally, he launched into a two year quest to make those visions a reality.

The thing is, the world of gaming has changed somewhat since Granato was eight. In the late ’80s, video games looked like this:

Whereas video games in the present look a bit more like this:

But Granato, in a valiant effort to recapture the retro charm of primitive graphics, set out to design his game for the classic Nintendo Entertainment System he grew up playing. So he rallied a team of creatives and got to work, soon discovering that there’s a flourishing subculture of 8-bit obsessives who are keeping the art alive. And so they created Mystic Searches.

The game is available for preorder, and Granato is currently touring with a documentary he made about the project. His team is also combining the tools they used to make the game into “one giant meta-tool” that will allow users with no programming experience to design their own NES projects. Anyone who feels like it will soon be able to fulfill their childhood dreams of building a beautifully primitive video game world.

Thomas Harlander is a staff writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram. He recently wrote “Is the Artist Who Made This Print Secretly Banksy?