Let’s Interview; Jay Pavlina of Super Mario Bros Crossover
Super Mario Bros Crossover is a name that quite a few Nintendo fans likely know of by now. A Super Mario Bros remake where you can play as characters from other games (like Link, Mega Man and Samus Aran), it’s notable for also featuring various other extra features like stuff from the Lost Levels and character skins. And well, it became pretty popular as a result. It’s been covered on Kotaku, it’s been on Destructoid, heck, it even has a Wikipedia page!
Above: A trailer for version 3 of Super Mario Bros Crossover
But how do you want to find out a bit more about its creator? Or its development in general? Because we now have an exclusive interview with Super Mario Bros Crossover creator and Exploding Rabbit owner Jay Pavlina! So here’s the interview…
1. So, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get into playing video games?
I’ve always loved playing and reading about games, though I never thought about making them until I was in my mid-twenties. I spent much of my childhood making funny short films, and I went to school to become a filmmaker. I was good at it and enjoyed it, but I didn’t really know how to make a living from it. I was also very focused on music performance during my middle school and high school years, so that is another strong passion of mine, and it’s something I almost went to college for instead of filmmaking. Another thing I’ve always loved is drawing and writing stories, but I haven’t really drawn for a long time, so my skills are very weak in that area now.
It’s always been in my nature to be a creator. It doesn’t really matter what the medium is to me, which is probably why I’ve explored a lot of different creative areas, but I’ve had most success with creating games. Games are my favorited art form to experience, so I think it makes sense that I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating them. They are the most challenging media to create as well, and I’ve always liked a challenge.
2. How about the Mario series? Did you grow up with the NES games, or rediscover them later?
I grew up on Nintendo games. I wasn’t that drawn to the Mario series until Super Mario Bros. 3 came out though. My favourite Nintendo game was always The Legend of Zelda because of the exploration involved. The console that influenced me most was definitely Super Nintendo though, and I love Super Mario World, Mega Man X, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger on there.
As for the Mario series, I will always love Super Mario Bros. 3 the most. Lately I’ve become less interested in the series because I feel that the games have become more and more kiddy. I think it’s both the graphics and the simplified gameplay that I’ve been turned off by lately. Super Mario Maker was the first Mario game that legitimately excited me for a long, long time.
Above: Maybe he’s referring to games like this as slightly kiddy…
3. And what about fan games? What were your experiences with them before Super Mario Bros Crossover?
I didn’t really have any experience with fan games before Super Mario Bros. Crossover. I don’t think I even knew what a fan game was at that point. I think it was like 8 years ago now that I started working on it, so it’s always hard to remember that far back about what I thought about things. I think I was searching for other fan games while I was working on it to see what other people were doing, and I remember coming across one called Mega Man X: Corrupted that I thought looked awesome. I think I was mostly looking at what other flash games were being made at that point, since I was working with Flash.
Above: Mega Man X: Corrupted
4. Onto Super Mario Bros Crossover now. What inspired you to make a version of SMB 1 with various other gaming characters as playable in addition to Mario?
I was always fascinated about the worlds that games take place in, and I thought about how each game takes place in basically its own universe, and you don’t really see different games combined. It seemed like it would be cool if the stuff I liked from different games was all combined into one game. To me it just seemed like a thing that should exist, and it didn’t really feel like a unique idea to me. I just really wanted to play it, and I also wanted to know what it was like to make a game, so I decided to make it.
5. How about the character choices? Why say, Ryu from Ninja Gaiden or SOPHIA III from Blaster Master rather than the likes of Arthur or Wario or whoever else?
I chose those characters because I thought they would be fun, and they’re also games I played a lot growing up. Characters that are a lot different than Mario were ones that I was most interested in, because then you have a more unique experience with them. Arthur would be fun too, but his abilities are not really that unique, and I already had the double jump in for Simon anyway. Wario is similar to Mario, so again, it just doesn’t seem like it would be that novel of an experience to play as him in SMB 1. I just did the characters I was personally interested in playing with.
Above: Arthur and Wario weren’t added because they were too similar to Simon and Mario respectively.
Bass and Luigi were only added because they were easy due to the work I already did on Mega Man and Mario. For all of the other characters though, I feel that they are classic and novel. For me, they represent the Nintendo era of gaming.
6. So why are all the levels remakes of those from Super Mario Bros 1 or the Lost Levels or the likes? Was it to avoid some of the level design issues found in certain other fan crossover platformers?
The levels aren’t remakes; they are the actual levels from Super Mario Bros. The idea was to play Super Mario Bros. with characters from other games, so the levels were only modified when a character couldn’t complete the original level. We later added levels from The Lost Levels and Super Mario Bros. Special. We also made hard and easy versions of the levels to make them more fun. I personally enjoy hard mode, since some of the levels are too easy with the characters besides Mario.
Above: Hard mode in Super Mario Bros Crossover
7. On another note, how do you balance these characters so they don’t utterly break the game or end up useless? Because that was a big problem with Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, and I’d have imagined it’d be even more difficult to balance when all the levels are from a game specifically tuned to Mario’s abilities.
Balancing is an organic process. Basically, you play the game, and if it feels too easy or boring, you modify things until it doesn’t. Super Mario Bros. Crossover is a little different from other games though, because the goal is just to make it fun. I don’t really worry about making it too hard or too easy, since it’s just an online game you play in the web browser, and it’s unrealistic to make it balanced with such different characters in one game. We have modified the attack power of some characters to make them feel better relative to other characters, but you can’t really have all of these characters without some of them being overpowered. It’s just the nature of this type of game.
The only requirement I had was that every level is completable by every character. As we started to add more levels, this became difficult, but we still did it. Sometimes levels were impossible for characters without us realizing it, but people told us about bugs like this on the forums, and we were able to fix them.
8. And what are your plans for the game in future? Content based off Super Mario Bros DX on Game Boy? More art styles? Extra characters? Or is it feature complete now?
I stopped working on the game about 2 and a half years ago. At that time, I was working on a spiritual successor called Super Retro Squad, but we had trouble with development. I think the game will return in some form, whether it’s in a spiritual successor or a similar game. I was also working on a game that combined other games besides just Super Mario Bros. called Super Retro Crossover, but had to stop so that I could work on projects that make money. When you’re dealing with fan games, money is a big issue, because you can’t make money from them directly.
I have been doing quite a bit of work on an online multiplayer platformer-style game that hasn’t been announced yet. I’ve been thinking about using that engine to port Super Mario Bros. Crossover to Unity. I might do that, or I might do something like Super Retro Crossover, or I might do something original. So I think you will see some kind of crossverish game from me in the future, but it’s hard to say exactly what it will be and when. It’s highly likely it will have online multiplayer, since I’ve already spent a lot of time on that for one of the projects I’m working on.
9. HTML 5 port question now. How hard has it been to port it from Flash to HTML 5? Any major technical problems when doing so?
There weren’t technical issues, but everything takes time. It was really just a question of if it was worth it to port the game to HTML5. Making a game is a huge investment in time, and time you spend on a fan game is time you can’t spend on projects that pay the bills. I explored a lot of different options for porting, and none of them were as simple as I hoped. Instead of porting only this game, I wanted to have a platforming engine that I could use on multiple projects.
I do contract work to pay the bills, and I was lucky enough to get a client that wanted an online platformer made, so I expect to use the code from that project to either do a fan game or an original project. There are basically 4 platformer projects I’ve dabbled in over the last 4 years. Their names are Super Retro Squad, Super Retro Crossover, Operation Pyxel, and Super Mario Bros. Crossover. These are all different games, but none of them have been released except the last one, and if I try to explain the differences between them, I think people will just get confused. They are all basically different takes on the multiple characters in a platformer idea.
Above: A video showing some of Super Retro Squad, from its Kickstarter
Above: Vinny from Vinesauce playing Super Retro Crossover
Above: A preview video for Operation Pyxel
10. Did you ever expect to see Super Mario Bros Crossover becoming as popular as it did?
At the time I released it, I didn’t really have any expectations, since I had never made a game before, and I didn’t know what it was like to release a game. It’s safe to say I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as popular as it was, but I was really pleased about the reception. People really love the game, and I still get positive comments about it nearly every day. It’s nice to know I’ve made something that so many people love and feel passionate about.
11. Were there any ideas or concepts that were scrapped when making a version of Super Mario Bros Crossover? What were they?
The biggest thing I can remember is that we were going to have a mode that let you switch between Game Boy palettes. When the Super Game Boy came out, it let you play Game Boy games with a lot of different palettes, and we were going to put all of those in and allow you to switch between them. It ended up being complicated because different objects used different palettes, so since it was taking so long, we scrapped it. There are a few other things that were cut like Rad Spencer (Bionic Commando), a few other characters, and a challenge mode. There are also a lot of features that were added that were never planned, so it sort of balances out.
Above: Rad Spencer from Bionic Commando was planned. Yes, trailer is of the Game Boy one, where his name was changed from Ladd Spencer to Rad Spencer.
12. A general fan scene question now. Are you a part of Mario Fan Games Galaxy? Have you ever considered submitting one of the SMB Crossover versions to the site, or any of the resources from it?
I’m not familiar with Mario Fan Games Galaxy, so I haven’t considered submitting to it. I haven’t been that involved in the fan scene besides talking to a few other fan game developers and answering questions I get through email. I think I was trying to stop being known as a fan game developer because I wanted to do original stuff and be known for that instead, but I don’t feel that way any more. I took a lot of stuff for granted after having such success with Super Mario Bros. Crossover, but have grown up a lot since then.
13. And have you played any of the other crossover Mario fan games? Like Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, Mario’s Nostalgic Worlds or Brutal Mario? If so, what did you think of them?
I’ve watched videos of a lot of Mario fan games, but the only other one I’ve actually played is Super Mario Bros. X, and I think it’s great. I especially liked the 2 player coop and the way it transitioned from single screen to split screen. I’ve played some hacks of Mario games, like The Tale of Elementia, and I thought that was a lot of fun as well. I’m aware of Mushroom Kingdom Fusion since it’s somewhat similar to my game, but I haven’t played it. I sometimes watch videos of it just to see all of the crazy stuff that game is doing. It’s fun to see all of the games they’re combining.
Above: Jay has tried out Super Mario Bros X before.
Above: And Tales of Elementia. That’s even on video, as seen above.
14. How about Super Mario Maker? Have you played it/made levels for it?
Yes, Super Mario Maker is the first Wii U game that has excited me for some time. I bought it just to play an unlimited supply of Mario levels. I experimented with making a few levels for it, but I found it cumbersome to use the low resolution screen of the Wii U gamepad. It made me wish the game was made for iOS, so that I could use an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to make levels. That would be amazing.
A general feeling I’ve had about Nintendo lately is that they should stop making their own hardware since it’s generally inferior to other hardware and it holds back their games. It always feels like a chore to turn on my Wii U. The console is only a few years old, but somehow it feels dated and clunky to me. At least they’re finally starting to open up a bit and they’re beginning to make games for iOS.
I was never that interested in making levels in Mario Maker since I can do that with my own games. I was mostly just interested in what Nintendo was doing with their level creation. I appreciate the simplicity and fun of it. I was initially disappointed that they didn’t allow checkpoints, but I’m glad they fixed that with an update. I was also kind of bummed out about not having slopes. I don’t expect them to add that though.
15. What do you think of the Costume Mario/Mystery Mushroom stuff anyway? It’s a bit like the SMB Crossover concept, except without the unique abilities…
When footage of the costume mushroom was first released, many people made the connection to SMBC. It was the first time we could see other Nintendo characters, like Link, officially in classic Super Mario Bros. games. I think it’s kind of lame that the costumes don’t change your abilities, but I understand why they did it. It’s an easy way for them to integrate amiibos into the game, and since there are no gameplay changes required, they can make as many costumes as they want with minimal work. So I totally understand why they did it this way, but I don’t like it. I’m more disappointed that they didn’t include multiplayer than I am about the lack of more playable characters though.
Above: The Costume Mario forms in Super Mario Maker are often compared to Super Mario Bros Crossover, but they don’t have the special abilities of the latter’s characters.
16. Has anything from Mario Maker inspired you in regards to Super Mario Bros Crossover additions?
I stopped working on Super Mario Bros. Crossover before Mario Maker was announced, so nothing in the game was inspired by it, but if I was still working on it, there is definitely stuff I would add. The cool thing that Mario Maker would bring to SMBC is the addition of new enemies and hazards, since they are now in an official version of Super Mario Bros. I generally only add things that are in official games. I like how you can make any enemy bigger by giving it a mushroom or make it fly by giving it wings . I probably would have made an option/cheat where random enemies have power-ups, and in the hard mode versions of levels, there would be powered-up enemies scattered throughout.
17. Outside of Mario Maker, have you tried any other level editors for the Mario series? Like Lunar Magic or Super Mario Bros X or the Hello Engine?
I haven’t actually used them, but I’m familiar with both the Super Mario Bros. X level editor and the Hello Engine. It seems like you can do quite a lot with them.
18. Some site related stuff now. Why Exploding Rabbit? Is there a funny story behind that name?
During the development of Super Mario Bros. Crossover, my roommate had a pet rabbit named Squid. I used to play with Squid during breaks. We would let him out of his cage and I would chase him while he’d jump around. I wanted a name that sounded kind of funny, and I liked Squid the bunny a lot, so I came up with Exploding Rabbit.
19. And what does the future have in store for your site and forums anyhow? Anything interesting planned for it?
It’s hard to say exactly what the future of the website is. I’ve debated for a long time about getting rid of the forums and just making it a blog again where I can post updates. My main feeling right now is that the website is too complicated and I’d like to simplify it. I haven’t been focusing much on it lately though. I’ll probably change it next time I release something.
As for Exploding Rabbit, I’ve mainly been working on other people’s projects lately. It’s been good getting experience not being the person in charge, so I know what it’s like to be the person receiving orders. And I’ve been working on many different projects, so I’m a much more well-rounded developer now. I still prefer working on my own stuff, but I’m okay with working on other people’s stuff until I have enough money to survive on my own for a while. With that said though, I do still work periodically on Super Retro Squad, but there isn’t much time for it. Since I share code between projects as much as possible, I’m indirectly working on my own stuff any time I’m working on a game.
20. Finally, what advice would you give anyone wanting to make a Mario fan game like Super Mario Bros Crossover? Especially a crossover fan game of some sort…
My advice is simple. Just do it. I used to give more complicated advice, but 8 years of game development has taught me that simple is best.
And that wraps up another interview. Thanks to Jay Pavlina for agreeing to it, as well as answering all our questions and making Super Mario Bros Crossover in the first place. If you want to try it for yourself, get yourself over to Exploding Rabbit or (the older version at) Newgrounds and play the game right now, it’s definitely worth it! Or just give us feedback on the article, that’s cool too!