As you know, back in December we interviewed a video game developer called Randy Linden about his work on various games for the NES and SNES. These included Where’s Waldo for the former, the official port of Doom for the latter and various other titles from the 8 and 16-bit era of gaming. It was a well received interview and got quite a bit of coverage elsewhere as a result.
Unfortunately, that was just part 1 of the full interview we had prepared. Indeed, for various personal and logistical reasons, the interview had to be split up into two parts, with the former covering the 8 and 16-bit titles and the latter covering those which came later. It wasn’t meant to be a huge deal, just a way to keep things going for a few days or so.
Then six months passed, and with life getting in the way at all times, everything just kind of got stuck in limbo. Would we ever get to read the second part of the interview? Would Linden’s experiences developing Bleem! Or Cyboid ever see the light of day? It was impossible to tell, and many people just assumed the article was dead and buried.
But now the wait is finally over! After six months of waiting (and various real life issues getting in the way), the second part of our exclusive interview with Randy Linden is up and ready to go!
And well, if you thought the last one was interesting… Just wait till you read this. Because whether it’s Bleem!, Cyboid or game development as a whole, this interview is filled with titbits about the games industry and how it works.
So, if you’re interested in knowing about said projects (or just how dire the world of smartphone game development can really be about now), keep reading!
A few years ago, I looked back at my career and realized there was a pattern to the projects and work I’ve done and finally understood what it is that “drives” me as a programmer: Typically, there’s a complex technical challenge, something large in scale or intricate with many details and interrelated components, and there’s always some aspect which makes the project both unique and difficult to accomplish … Bleem! fits that pattern exactly.
We’re going back about twenty years and at that time, the PlayStation was inexpensive and had a huge library of beautiful 3D games, some of which even had movie clips… remember: this was before watching movies on a PC was something typical – or expected!
In comparison, PCs were expensive and the vast majority had graphics cards that didn’t “do” 3D – at all!
The few PC graphics cards that had 3D hardware were very limited and even basic capabilities, like alpha blending (i.e. “transparency”), were rare. I’m not sure you could even find a 3D chip today that didn’t support alpha blending!
Of course, there were a handful of truly excellent 3D games for the PC which rendered everything in software, so I knew the average PC had enough horsepower for Bleem!, but it wouldn’t be easy.
The “company” came about later on when it was obvious that Bleem! was actually going to work and something I thought people would want.
And what was it like coding the thing? Must have been pretty hard getting PS1 games working in such a program, since emulation is one of the trickiest things to really ‘nail down’ in the games industry.
I had experience writing emulators before (“The 64 Emulator” for Amiga), but the hardware for those systems was well-documented. In this case, pretty much everything was a “black box” – well, “grey” actually!
When I first put a PlayStation Disc into my PC, I was surprised that it wasn’t ejected right away and began exploring what was on the disc – lots of files and it looked like nothing was hidden, encrypted or obscured in any way.
The core processor was a MIPS RISC CPU, so that’s where I started… I went to the local bookstore (yes, I’m dating myself a bit here…) and bought a reference manual for the processor.
I looked at some of the files on the disc again and, sure enough, it was MIPS code.
Two of my engineering strengths are reverse-engineering and optimization, so little-by-little I figured out how the hardware and software operated and wrote the code accordingly.
I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw a PlayStation game running on my PC; it was so early in Bleem!’s development that very little code was actually written (for example, most of the MIPS CPU opcodes weren’t even supported yet!), but there it was on my screen … and I knew that exciting times were ahead.
It’s taken years for me to recognize and appreciate the once-in-a-lifetime experience that was Bleem! – not just the development, but every aspect of the entire project: Bleem! was exciting, challenging, frustrating, annoying, fun and pretty much every other emotion all wrapped up into a few years of my life.
Unfortunately, it seems Sony didn’t quite like Bleem! All that much, leading to a court case against your company. How did that feel? Were you surprised Sony was willing to sue over this?
Yes, it was an unexpected surprise initially – I truly believed the huge number of people who owned a PC but not a PlayStation would be a massive market for Sony.
What other interesting projects did you work on between Bleem!’s shut down and your current company? Any major franchises a lot of people would recognise?
I worked at Microsoft for almost ten years on a number of different projects you’d probably recognize… Kinect and Microsoft Band, for example.
Onto R and R Digital now. What made you decide to become an indie developer here?
A couple years ago I was working at Microsoft on Band and when they decided to stop further development I realized it was an opportunity for me to return to my ”roots” as an indie developer.
And how did you come up with the name? Seems like an unusual choice of branding for a game development company.
The company name had to be something simple and, importantly, wasn’t already taken… so all the various domains, social media accounts, etc. all had to be unused and available.
R and R – as in “Rest and Relaxation” – actually, it’s for Rand and Robert – my husband of 22 years.
Not really … although if that’s a good thing, then “Hell, yes! Absolutely that’s the design!”
It’s more along the lines of “I’m not a web developer” and don’t know anyone who wants to do all the work to make an awesome website for free!
As you know from running your own site, it takes a huge amount of time and work to make and keep a site up-to-date – even something as “basic” as ours!
I’ve also learned that web site development can be as complex and challenging as software development; for example, something as “simple” as making a drop-down hover menu that “works” and displays properly on the majority of browsers isn’t nearly as easy or simple as I expected… and don’t get me started on the whole “favicon” thing … sigh.
Seriously, if you know anyone who wants to redo the site (and works for free), let me know!
Still, the website isn’t the important thing here, the game is. So, what’s the story behind Cyboid?
My intention was for Cyboid to be something fast and fun that you play for a little bit and come back to again and again…
Basically, a quick 3D “shoot ‘em up” that you install and leave on your device because it only takes up eight megs of space – which is really tiny compared to games that take up hundreds of megabytes these days!
There really isn’t much of a backstory per se — humans vs. cybernetic monsters/enemies was an obvious, if overused, theme.
Why did you decide to create a Doom like FPS game?
I’ve always been a huge fan of FPS games, although I’m not a particularly good player…
Actually, that’s true in general: I’m a fairly awful player at pretty much every type of game!
Surprisingly, the game seems to come with quite a few neat options, including full-fledged multiplayer modes! What made you decide to go the extra mile with all this?
I suppose for the same reasons I added Mouse, Super Scope and XBand support to DOOM for SNES … basically, if it’s possible for me to add a feature or option that people would like, then I’ll do it!
I’ve always worked hard to do the very best I can – that’s something that our Mother taught us and it runs in our family – so while I’m certainly proud of my accomplishments, I also recognize it’s always possible to do better and it’s really a matter of balance … which is sometimes hard to achieve.
Since Cyboid was first released there have been more than a dozen updates to the game: I’ve added new levels, new weapons, new features (like VR support) all of which have been free updates.
I really see this as a “win-win” all around: the game is better, customers like it more and I’ve learned new things that’ll be useful in whatever comes next, too!
It also includes achievements and leaderboards, which are quite interesting in a game like this. What made you decide to include these in Cyboid?
As above, I wanted to support as many features as possible and Achievements and Leaderboards seem really appropriate for a 3D FPS game.
More controversially though, the game offers in app purchases and advertisements as well. What was the reason for including those ‘freemium’ design trends in a game designed to feel like a home console title?
That’s a tough one… I’m not sure it’s controversial, though…
I think most developers face a difficult decision when it comes to advertising and in-app purchasing – it’s a lot of work to implement either (and double that amount if you want to support Amazon and Google because their APIs are so different from each other.)
The question basically boils down to this: How can I earn a living and put food on the table?
If you look at the advertising numbers, it basically takes a few hundred thousand downloads before any potential ad revenue might actually be worth something – the per-ad payment is fractions of a cent – so until you’ve shown many, many thousands of ads, you’ve earned nothing… and annoyed every single customer along the way.
When Cyboid was released there wasn’t any advertising because I expected game sales to more than make up for any potential revenue from ads.
Initially the game was launched on the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV – There were (and are) very few 3D FPS games that even run on the Fire TV Stick, and Cyboid still stands out as something unique and different that you rarely see on a $30 device, never mind running well!
After a few months of slow sales, I reluctantly added advertising – and, fingers crossed, hoped that would generate some income.
Then, after countless annoying issues with the advertising support (you wouldn’t believe the complexities and incompatibilities across various devices, OS versions and vendor ad logic!), I removed all the ads again about six (or eight) months ago.
For Cyboid, Advertising was a huge loss for (at least) three reasons:
- The total ad revenue after many months was still way below the minimum threshold
- The huge amount of work required to get (and keep) everything working properly on all of the various Amazon and Google devices
- Everyone hates ads (more in this below…)
Here’s another way of looking at it – from a “time investment” perspective:
If I could have done all the work to support advertising in under an hour (yes, everything … all of it … in a single hour) … and, if we were actually paid for that one hour (remember, we still hadn’t hit the threshold after many months, so we’ve never received anything from anyone for all the ads that were actually shown!) … then I still would have earned less than the lowest minimum wage in the US – which is $7.25/hour.
For a bigger picture, take a look through the reviews of many games and a few things stand out in common – “freemium” or paid – it doesn’t matter:
- Everyone hates ads
Everyone hates In-App purchases
- There are way too many ads
- The ads interfere with gameplay
- Few people are willing to pay to get rid of them (but happy to post a 1-star review for a game they’ve played for dozens of hours and paid nothing)
Sure, the first level or two are free (and that’s usually including the “training” or “intro” level) and they’re great – but you reach the third level and the enemies or monsters are stronger, so it takes you a dozen or so times but you finally get through.
Eventually, the difficulty ramps up to the point where it’s unlikely you’ll be able to continue playing without actually purchasing an add-on weapon or armour or whatever.
This is also known as “hitting the pay wall” – and every “freemium” game with in-app purchasing is designed and adjusted carefully with that in mind.
IMO, if you get an hour’s worth of enjoyment from something that cost you nothing (or next-to-nothing, like say $0.99), then that’s awesome and it’s rare and should be celebrated more often than we see these days … at least going by the general reviews and comments for just about anything and everything online – not just apps and games, but anything.
Instead, it seems that some people aren’t nearly as generous themselves as they’ve come to expect from whatever game they’ve downloaded for free, played for dozens of hours and finally posted a 1-star review because there are too many ads … seriously?!
It’s hard to me to imagine how someone justifies that kind of review … unless … maybe the game somehow stole their contacts, spammed their friends and then melted their phone – in that case, I get it: 1 star for sure!
Otherwise, how much do you really expect from something that costs 99 cents? … and is that actually reasonable?
Here are some examples from reviews of popular games, all of them have an average rating of 4 stars – so they’re all great games – the quotes are from the 1-star and 2-star reviews.
1. This game has over a million downloads.
a. Was 5 stars. Not anymore. Sadly, another company where greed took over. When will people learn to leave well enough alone and to stop being driven by greed.
Always looking to squeeze that extra penny, at any cost.
b. The game itself is like a 4 or 5-star worth game but every time after completing a board, the next board button is at the same spot, so, of course, I get used to clicking at the same spot. Well then, every once 7n awhile at that exact spot, a ‘watch ad’ button appears and the next level button gets moved so I every now and then, accidentally click it. I feel like this is done intentionally.
c. I liked the game for my kids a lot it has very nice reasoning technique but today I saw ads a lot… And few of ads were very unpleasant, there for I have to remove it from my phone.
d. It’s a fun game but it has way too many full screen ads which takes away the fun I’m uninstalling it
e. So many add in this app
2. This game has 500,000+ downloads.
a. I would like the game more if the adds would not pop up every 5 seconds and if it would keep working every time I kill him.
b. Absolute cash grab, constant ads.
I have never left a review before but I played this game as a kid and seeing it like this is sad. Turning blood on is $6? That’s ridiculous, you can unlock weapons by spam watching ads or paying $28 a month for some subscription.
c. I would give 0 stars if I could. Way too many ads and half the weapons require you to watch ads or do some other stupid stuff.
d. There are far too many in game purchases and ads to enjoy this game anymore. I remember how you used to be able to enjoy this app a long time ago and it was so fun. But having to pay or watch ads for a majority of the weapons makes this game not worth the download. You would think with all these bad reviews involving ads they would do something about it.
e. Everything has to be paid for or watch videos for. I miss when this game was just the easily obtainable in-game currency. Now you can’t do anything without a bunch of gold, videos, or the diamond membership.
3. This game has 30,000 downloads.
a. You can tell by how simple it is, that they put no effort into this game. It’s just a get rich quick scheme.
Because they layer it with advertisements to drain the people they advertise of money then charge $5 to get no ads. I get that it’s a free game but if you make a game with barely any effort then don’t layer it with ads.
The ads aren’t even just a trigger it’s just a 3 second – 1-minute timer. “Haven’t had one ad in a while? Here’s a thirty second one”
It’s not one ad every 10 attempts, it’s just one ad every time the system sees the average $ per millisecond go below the ‘requirement’ usually the ads are about 30-50 seconds or 1 minute.
b. Too many ads. Will not reinstall.
c. There are way too many ads for this game.
d. Waste of space that has no skill requirement and is just some easy money for the developers. More playstore trash
e. I only have it 2 stars because I beat all the levels until you updated it and when you updated it, it added levels and I was happy so I started right away.
f. I beat a few levels and then when back to the main page because I missed getting 3 stars on one but when I went back all the levels that I beat from the new update disappeared so I did it again and they disappeared again. please fix this because I really liked the game.
4. This game has 700+ downloads
a. I really wanted to like this game.
Definitely hit a paywall during the second campaign and conquest becomes grindy playing with any country as the other countries are able to push out generals constantly.
I’d say 2/5. Very disappointed you need to pay to AFC advance in a game that was already bought.
The first two games can earn income through ads because they have enough downloads … the second two don’t have a chance.
How do you feel game design (and development) has changed over the last 20 years or so?
Game (and app) developers have it really tough these days because there are few choices when it comes to earning a living and none of them are easy.
If your game is free, your only potential income is through advertising or in-app purchases – both of which people hate.
If your game isn’t free, you’re at least guaranteed something for your time … well, 70% of something because the other 30% goes to the app store selling your game.
But it turns out that the biggest challenge for developers is simply “getting the word out” … at that’s so much harder than any other aspect of development.
But hey, enough game design questions for now. What have you been doing to market Cyboid and R and R Digital online?
Over the past couple years, I looked at sales numbers, reviews, ratings and many other aspects of mobile games and IMO, the most difficult challenge for developers is marketing.
… and unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen, 99% of us are failing miserably – either people know about you, or they don’t – and if they don’t, chances are that they never will.
You basically get one shot when your game is first released, mostly because it shows up in the “new releases” area of both app stores … but there’s a limited window of time as new games appear and if you don’t generate enough sales to stay on the chart, you’ll eventually drop off … forever.
Recently, a new mod for the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild start blowing up online. This mod made Zelda the main protagonist of the game and was designed to go further than most in changing everything from the text to the costume models to fit the new narrative.
In other words, it’s an impressive piece of work all round, and one that’s arguably the most technically advanced mod of its kind available for the game.
And just like many other interesting (or technically advanced) mod projects, this in turn has led to tons of media coverage. From Kotaku to IGN to My Nintendo News, dozens of publications have written stories or made videos about the Zelda Conversion Project, with the number growing by the day.
But media coverage doesn’t automatically translate to accurate media coverage, and in this case, that’s meant tons of misleading stories about the project. From comments about how the game ‘shouldn’t exist’ to implications that text replacement is an easy process and assumptions that the mod is a protest about gender roles, almost every piece about the game made one or more mistakes in their quest to get out a story as quickly as possible.
And so to fix this, we’ve decided to go back to the source. Yep, today on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve got an exclusive interview with Ainz, one of the mod’s developers and coordinator of the Breath of the Wild modding Discord as a whole.
So, if you want to learn the real story behind the project (as well as what other plans the team has for the Zelda Conversion Project in general), sit down, relax and get reading!
Starting with a bit of personal background for the project’s coordinator. Who are you?
I am Ainz, sometimes known as CEObrainz. I’m the server owner for the Zelda Modding Hub and the coordinator for the Zelda Conversion Project.
And how did you first become interested in video games?
My first game was Ocarina of Time on the N64, ever since then I’ve been a big Nintendo and Zelda fan.
What about the Legend of Zelda series? Which game was your first one in that franchise?
Like I said before, Ocarina of Time was the first game I’ve ever played, which introduced a brand-new world to me that I found visually and thematically stimulating to my tastes.
Either way, it’s clear Breath of the Wild is one of your favourite titles in the series, otherwise you wouldn’t be modding it. So, what are your thoughts on the game in general?
Honestly it may shock you, but Breath of the Wild is my least favourite 3D game in the series. That isn’t to say it’s a bad game, I’ve certainly enjoyed my time completing it, including both DLCs but it lacks many of the features and ideas that I would have hoped to see on a game of this scale. Which is why when comparing it to the older games, they achieve more (for their time) than this game does, despite its achievements.
Why did you decide to get into mods for the game anyway?
The open-air nature of the game gave me the impression that it’d be a game that’s easier to mod than past Zelda titles and having seen such projects of the past I was pleasantly surprised when I found the relatively new modding community at the time.
And what was the reasoning behind creating the playable Zelda mod for this title?
After seeing the work that WilinZilv and Skriller did with the initial Zelda model I wanted to help in any way I could and as such build a team to make this possible. However, the reason why we’re able to back such a project is fairly simple, we just like the character Zelda and want to see her playable.
Impressively, the mod goes a lot further than most ones for the game released so far, with new text content, models for various outfits and changes to the story and gameplay being considered. What made you decide to go this far with the changes?
We simply want everything to mesh together, so that the idea of Zelda being the main character won’t feel out of place. However, we don’t want to change the core game, so many of the changes we’re implementing will be optional for those installing the mod pack.
Going on from that, what challenges have you encountered modding Breath of the Wild like this? What aspects of the game have proven hardest to change and why?
I’ve mentioned this before, but our biggest limitation is the lack of tools. Modding for this game is still relatively new and the tools needed are not the same as older Wii U games (the game uses an updated framework that the Nintendo Switch uses). Once we know how something is done we simply do it, of course ensuring that we have the right people to do so is an entirely different matter.
Are there any aspects you’re reconsidering because the technology to edit them isn’t quite there yet?
I’d love to give Zelda the ability to use magic, to integrate some of the rune abilities and elemental weapons into her basic arsenal that upgrades over time, however that’s something that’s far into the future and as such not within the scope of this project. If the technology was there, some of our ideas in regards to weapon integration may have changed.
Onto the actual changes in the game now though. How are you and the rest of the team coming up with the designs for Zelda’s different outfits here? What’s the thought process behind them?
Amiibolad is our concept artist, we as a community come up with ideas, he draws them and we tweak them if necessary. So far, it’s been a relatively smooth process with small hiccups every now and then but it has resulted in some really nice designs being made.
How about the new story/text content? How is the story coming together?
As we speak we’re making progress on replacing cutscenes to allow the story we have in mind to work. However, it’s important to note that we don’t plan on changing the main story just tweaking it so that it makes sense from Zelda’s perspective.
That’s a stretch goal for us to be honest. It’s something that won’t be available with the first release of the mod and will come later on, but we believe that the finished product will really enhance the mod. As such we can’t really discuss the methods we’ll be using at the moment.
There’s also a mod to make Linkle a playable character in development on the Discord too, and that seems to be progressing nicely as well. Are there any other plans for character replacement mods in the same style?
Personally, the Zelda project is the only character replacement mod that I’ll be working on, but I’m certain that as the tools develop more mods of this type will happen.
Here at Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed many notable figures from the internet’s ROM hacking communities. We’ve interviewed Kaze Emanuar about Super Mario 64 Last Impact and Super Mario Run 64. We’ve spoken to SKELUX about Super Mario Star Road and other such projects. And with everyone from REGNR8 to Levelengine and DahrkDaiz having done interviews with the site, we can safely say we’ve amassed quite the list of interviews with famous ROM hackers over the years.
But today, that list gets even still. Why? Because as the title of the article suggests, today’s interview is with Captain Southbird, the creator of a certain well known Super Mario Bros 3 mod called Super Mario Bros 3Mix.
Yeah, that Super Mario Bros 3Mix. The one that used a disassembly of the game by said creator to reimagine Super Mario Bros 3 into an all new adventure filled with worlds based on past games, custom graphics and music and all manner of custom bosses and level gimmicks from all throughout Mario’s history.
It’s an interesting project, and one that made us interested in hearing the story behind it straight from its author.
So, if you’re also interested in the game (or just want to hear what Southbird has to say about gaming as a whole), keep reading!
First things first Captain Southbird. Who are you?
A nerd who’s been on the Internet one way or another for about 20 years now. Gone through a bunch of forgotten names before settling on “Southbird” (or the full length “Captain Southbird”.) Out there in the “real world” I’m a senior software engineer in charge of an important industrial business application that no one short of specific mechanical engineers would have any interest in.
And where did your username come from anyway? Why Southbird?
A now ex-girlfriend was a passionate fan of the anime One Piece. I was never heavily into it, but I shared it with her at the time. In that series there was a creature known as a South Bird, which was a bird that attempted to always face south, which I personally found amusing. The ex started up a forum dedicated to One Piece and I registered under the name “Southbird.” After that it just sort of stuck, not really sure why.
The “Captain” part came from when I was registering for a Tumblr account (for promoting 3Mix’s development) and “Southbird” had already been taken. It suggested the prefix “Captain” which amused me, so I took it. In hindsight I’ve found a LOT of Internet usernames are prefixed “Captain” so now it just feels unoriginal, but I suppose I’d have an impossible time to divorce myself from it now!
What about your history with video games? What console did you start with originally?
Originally it was a long-forgotten console known as the “Bally Astrocade”, but I was very young and only have spotty memories about that. The first real console that I remember spending hours on was an Atari 7800. It was a huge part of my early childhood, which made me fiercely loyal, and it felt impossible to supersede that against this new-fangled NES that all the “cool kids” at school were playing. Eventually my older sister obtained an NES, which came with Super Mario Bros 3., and about 30 seconds of first seeing it – with scrolling screens and music playing – I instantly knew my loyalty was misplaced and a whole new world was opened to me.
This explains both my passion for SMB3 and also was the beginning of my interest in computer science (I needed to understand how video games worked all of a sudden!) that led into my current professional career.
How about now? Are there any recent video games you’ve enjoyed, like on the Switch/PC/PS4/Xbox One?
Despite being very involved in the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis era of games, I really dropped off the radar around when the original PlayStation landed, as I became more fascinated with making them than playing them. I didn’t own another video game console until the Gameboy Advance (which I only used for developing on) and then a Wii, which was mostly only for Mario titles.
These days video games I actually play are pretty niche and usually with ulterior motives. I was into Minecraft for a while because there was a server being run by co-workers and it was kind of fun to share progress made in the world (as opposed to doing actual work.) It’s also been a nice way to connect with my older sister who presently lives in another state. I’ve also played Terraria as a friend of mine is particularly into it, which I’ve enjoyed. But ultimately, I think I still love video games more for the guts and the fascination of how they can express an interactive fantasy, and my interest still is more with being able to create such an experience by my own hand than play many of them.
Did you want to make your own games as a kid?
Absolutely, and I tried many times. Usually it was just inexperience and flighty interests that ended them pretty early. There’s a few of these attempts that survived time in old backup files, nothing worth mentioning really, except for a now ~17-year-old Sonic fangame known as Sonic Epoch. (Which I’m still surprised the Internet somehow has never truly forgotten.)
Hell, did any of those ideas influence your ROM hacks and mods?
Constant experimentation definitely helped me learn the basics. Like how early platformers (and some still today) used “grids” of tiles to define the world geometry, or “bounding boxes” to detect between sprite objects. A lot of this basic stuff was used by the amateurs and professionals alike through the 80-90s and onward, so it definitely helped to have a core understanding of these concepts when trying to reverse engineer the games.
More to the point, before there was even a computer in the family household, I was already drawing new levels for SMB3 on paper, which miraculously somehow mostly survived all these years. I was able to use some of it in 3Mix which was very special.
Still, enough general background stuff for now. How did you get into ROM hacking anyway?
I’ve always been fascinated with game consoles and their generally proprietary architectures. Then the homebrew world opened up the Gameboy Advance. Complete with tools and great documentation, it was a relatively easy platform to get into. Of course, this was all my own code written in C, not quite useful yet for ROM hacking. As I worked on the GBA, I ended up writing a sound mixer in pure ARM7 assembler, which was really the gateway to beginning to understand computer architecture.
Meanwhile, folks over in the Sonic world were reverse engineering Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (primarily) and opening up a publicly available disassembly of the game code. This was also making it possible to really appreciate every nook and cranny to find any possible “lost” materials and gain understanding fundamentally of how the game worked! I felt compelled after this to give Super Mario Bros. 3 the same treatment, also hoping to find some kind of secrets within.
What about Super Mario Bros 3 ROM hacking? After all, most major Mario games have ROM hacking scenes now…
There definitely wasn’t anything like what I created for SMB3 at the time. Sure, there was some published information that roughly explained what some parts of the game did, an odd level editor here and there, but nothing that totally ripped the game apart from top to bottom and tried to explain every opcode.
Did any other mods of the game inspire you here?
Mario Adventure by DahrkDaiz, absolutely. DahrkDaiz didn’t have a disassembly but still managed to code an amazing amount of custom stuff. I played through all of Mario Adventure at some earlier point just simply fascinated by all the ways the game had been changed. I figured that Mario Adventure set the bar and naturally it was only right to try to top it. I suppose whether or not 3Mix truly did that is up for debate, but I certainly gave it my all!
Either way, 3Mix is based on the Southbird disassembly you made beforehand. What was it like reverse engineering Super Mario Bros 3? What challenges did you encounter along the way?
I went into the disassembly pretty blind. I knew very little about the NES architecture other than some real basics. I used a stock 6502 disassembler to do the initial disassembly pass, which of course was an awful mess. (There were much better ways to go about this, but I just didn’t know at the time.) The only thing I knew is that all NES software starts at a common execution address, so I started there and just began decoding it meticulously, one instruction at a time.
There would be periods where I’d have huge amounts of code and RAM addresses decoded but had no idea what they did, and I hoped as I progressed they’d become clear later. And generally, this was the case… I would be slogging through code, and then suddenly get an idea what part of the game I was actually in, and then suddenly so much of it would become clear relatively quickly.
Still, in the end, this took about two years (off and on) to complete. Lessons learned, I was able to use better tools and a handwritten NES-tuned disassembler to create at least buildable disassemblies of a handful of other games relatively quickly. These disassemblies are nowhere near the depth of SMB3, but still being able to get from absolutely nothing to buildable source within weeks is a lot better.
And how did you overcome many that stopped Nintendo themselves? After all, Miyamoto thought Yoshi wouldn’t be possible in a NES Mario game, but you got him working…
Many are aware of this famous anecdote, but I think what he meant has often been misunderstood. There’s nothing technically infeasible about Yoshi on an NES (obviously!), but what is worth noting is how intrusive Yoshi is in this model. Specifically, SMB3 uses a “memory mapper” known as an “MMC3”; without getting too technical, these “memory mappers” expanded the NES’s basic limitations by allowing more code and graphics to be loaded.
In terms of SMB3, the MMC3 allowed it to split the “background” graphics “in half” and switch those out dynamically. This enabled in-level animations. On the “sprite” side, it split the available graphics area into quarters. (This was the maximum granularity the device offered.) Just looking at the sprite side, an entire “quarter” would be dedicated to player graphics (changing frequently to support different animations) and another quarter was dedicated to static graphics, e.g. pop-up score banners, power-ups, and other things that needed to always be available. So, by this point, half the sprite graphics are already used up, and now you need your in-level enemies. As you can imagine, Yoshi would only compound the problem, and likely require another quarter all to himself. (Which, in 3Mix’s case, he did.)
So, to be fair, Super Mario World allowed mostly free travel with Yoshi. You could take him almost anywhere. Without a major redesign (and constricted graphics), this just couldn’t happen in SMB3. Hence why in 3Mix Yoshi only makes limited appearances in select levels, i.e. levels that I planned out in advance to leave that “quarter” open for Yoshi to occupy.
Now, there were better “memory mappers” that came after SMB3 which allowed finer granularity and other improved features, so I believe it is still possible to have a free reign Yoshi in a derivative SMB3 with enough planning. Just understand that when SMB3 was actually being created, such a thing likely was simply not feasible without hurting other areas of the game.
What was the most challenging thing to program for 3Mix and why?
The reverse gravity gimmick, absolutely. It was actually one of the first things I started coding before even knowing what I’d used it for. It required adding all kinds of “vertically reversed” logic in just about all areas of the game. It also revealed gaps such as there not being complete “upside down” data for ceiling slope tile data available to enemies (as they generally never needed to touch the ceilings… even the “ceiling walker” enemies were actually just hardcoded to follow a line.)
Playing Mario Galaxy and being fascinated with the gravity dynamics of course made it very clear how exactly it could be employed. While certainly not an identical experience in 3Mix, it still added a nice reminiscent feeling.
Onto the game’s design now though. How did you go about designing the levels for 3Mix?
3Mix didn’t exactly start with a solid idea. I sort of loosely wanted to integrate ideas from newer Mario games backwards into SMB3, like the Star Coins, which I always enjoyed hunting down in NSMB. Eventually as it started gaining traction, I thought it would be neat to make it sort of the “uber Mario game”, where I would keep backporting things just to see what they’d be like outside of their respective generation.
Once I started the pattern of “one world to a game / common theme” it really started coming together. Some of it was pretty obvious cloning (especially World 1), but it tended to get more inspired in later worlds, especially when trying to adopt concepts from 3D titles like Sunshine or Galaxy.
How about choosing the world themes? After all, 3Mix takes inspiration from quite a few previous Mario games, and always offers something new in every one…
It usually came down to a mix of something that made me nostalgic coupled with how technically feasible it would be. Obviously, some games like the Mario Kart series wouldn’t get represented reasonably. And it would be a monumental task to try to duplicate something like Fludd. What definitely made it interesting however was that pretty much every world mandated a new programming challenge. Like World 1’s Bowser bridge, or World 2’s pick up / throw mechanic, etc. Some games were easier to make a world out of than others (obviously 2D titles offered plenty of adoption) but other games (like Sunshine) were less trivial to implement partly because there wasn’t always a lot that directly translated.
Were there any ideas you wanted that didn’t work out here?
I wanted to do more with the bonus games, as they wound up being one of the more fascinating and largely incomplete areas of SMB3. I was thinking it would be great to employ the “lost” bonus game hosts, the Koopa Troopa and Hammer Bro, particularly in a Dark World setting or something. Ultimately though they were stuck in World Zero as key guardians.
Probably the greatest one that sticks out in my mind was an attempt to do the “shifting maze” that shows up in a few Super Mario World levels. Where the (typically yellow) ground is shifting up and down against the (typically brown) static ground, in some cases risking you getting crushed to death. As it turns out though, given the restrictions of the NES, this effect pretty much can’t be pulled off, at least not satisfactorily. There’s actually a “lost” level segment leftover from when I gave it my best shot but was so disappointed with it I just abandoned it.
Conversely, any you’re particularly proud of here? Which level or world in 3Mix would you say is your best and why?
For all the trouble, World 7 levels when I got to use the gravity gimmick are probably my favourite. Like in 7-1, when the player is just thrust into the thick of it, with rough approximations of Galaxy-esque planetoids. I’m really happy for the most part people were able to figure it out and play these levels. I think, given all limitations, it’s a nice approximation of the Galaxy feel, and truly unlike anything stock SMB3 had to offer.
Another thing the game gets a lot of credit for are the bosses, all of which are very different to the original Mario 3 ones. So how did you design them? How did you choose which previous Mario game foes should return in 3Mix?
I’ve mentioned my paper drawings earlier, and in those I had actually sketched the Koopalings in various “mech” type suits or other crazy contraptions. I did sort of want to do something like that in 3Mix, but “large” bosses require a lot of technical investment on the NES.
Going with Bowser Jr. as a gimmick instead (which I know to some old fans is basically a sin) seemed to work better, as if he was somehow trying to orchestrate these attacks (true to his character.) Most of them are imports or adaptions of bosses from other games so I can’t take too much credit there. Any of the ones that are unique are pretty much just me trying to think of a cross between the world theme and something Bowser Jr would do, like the large Boo equipped with cannons, known as Boomer.
And how did you redesign them to work with Mario 3’s engine anyway? Because the bosses have a few interesting attack pattern differences here…
Some parts of SMB3 I simply tried to reuse, other times I was inventing my own patterns. In any case, once the source code is open to you, you’re not necessarily confined to what the original developers had to go through. I also had the benefit that jumping from 256KB of program space to 512KB program space is absolutely trivial now, though back then it would have been prohibitively expensive. Basically, I had “more room to play”, and I could just kind of code things however I wanted.
This wasn’t always for the best as some of my less efficient code wound up causing new lag that wasn’t part of stock SMB3 (not that it was without lag itself, of course.) Reznor is a particularly awful example of induced lag. But Reznor also pushed the engine to its limit because of the sheer number of sprites required to make it work.
Either way, one of the most interesting battles is in the final one, with a certain foe right from Super Paper Mario. So how does that all tie into 3Mix’s story?
Honestly… it probably doesn’t! At least, not the main theme. World Zero is more a tribute to video game malfunction, a world where up is down and none of it quite feels right. You figure said villain kind of lived in a miserable monochromatic world that devoured others, so perhaps World Zero is in fact a partially consumed / corrupted world.
Heck, what is 3Mix’s story anyway?
Like most Mario games, it’s not really a heavy storyline. The Princess is kidnapped, and Mario chases her through worlds. It’s just more of a modernized version of classic Mario games with concepts like Bowser Jr. and more diverse settings. Maybe it’s more of a “clip show” episode than a series arc.
Regardless, 3Mix absolutely blew up when it was released, becoming one of the most well-known Super Mario Bros 3 hacks in history. Did you expect it to be received so well?
Not at all. I mean, I figured it’d do okay, and I was hoping a few folks would enjoy it. It was really a passion project. I just wanted to not only claim I had disassembled SMB3, but also demo something that showed what could be done with it. I keep hoping one day someone will release something truly amazing based on its source.
How did it feel seeing the media cover your game? Or to see Mike Matei cover it at Cinemassacre?
This was a huge moment for me. Although, of course, a huge bummer as well, as he found a game-breaking bug that was enshrined in a video with several hundred thousand views and a disappointing end to that video. It did inspire me to quickly release a patch correcting it, and I now always refer to it as “the Matei Bug.”
However, some good came of it I suppose, which got me involved in my current side work as a highlight video editor for the streamer Vinny of the Vinesauce group. Vinny streamed 3Mix at one point which got him and I talking. But that’s a story for another article I suppose.
Do you feel it may have influenced quite a few more hacks too? Cause it seems like since it seems like it and Mario Adventure 3 might be bringing in a more ambitious era of SMB 3 hacking…
From what I understand, somewhat amusingly, is that DahrkDaiz said something once like they’d never do another huge project unless a disassembly for SMB3 was released, never knowing that in fact one day that would actually happen. I don’t know a lot of the details about what DahrkDaiz is up to exactly, but I believe the aforementioned “memory mapper” has been “upgraded” to a later generation one, and that alone will probably open up the codebase to huge new possibilities.
I’m not connected with the hacking communities out there to really know who else is using the disassembly. The only other project I remember seeing was one called “Royal Flush – Princess Sidestory”, which I also don’t know if that ever progressed beyond some videos I saw of it a few years ago. I may have inspired some folks, but I really have no idea who else may have been influenced or helped from my work.
Lastly on the mod front, what future plans do you have here? Are you interested in making a sequel to 3Mix down the line?
3Mix itself was kind of purely fuelled by childhood nostalgia and I think it just nearly perfectly represents exactly what I wanted to get across. I can’t really imagine a “sequel” to it, per se. I mean, it’d probably not land as well to do another “let’s stuff all the Mario games in there” project again.
Whether or not I’d want to make something else out of the SMB3 engine has come up a few times, and I tried an idea here or there, but they generally fizzled. Not sure I really have enough inspiration to do anything else with it.
Onto a few other projects you worked on now. What was the thought process behind Sonic Epoch?
Well… first we need to time travel back to the 90s and remember what “Sonic the Hedgehog” was during that decade! Sega had pretty much made themselves a formidable opponent mascot against Nintendo’s stalwart Mario, worthy of school playground arguments that I was frequently in and around.
I loved all the Genesis-era Sonic games. They were ones I played again and again, for many hours of my youth. So obviously when a cartoon adaption was announced, I was psyched. The one I would actually be exposed to was Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog… the slapstick zany one. As far as I knew, that was the only Sonic cartoon out there. It actually wouldn’t be until my first foray onto the very young Internet (over a slow dial-up connection) that I would learn of the (then only) other… the one they called “SatAM.”
Given this early age before everyone could basically know everything in an hour, this was a surreal experience. Completely contrasting the zany slapstick were these (low resolution and grainy) screenshots depicting a dark looking Sonic world, one that clearly was taking itself far more seriously than Adventures had ever dared. Something I had never knew existed had been there all along. Of course, sadly, I find this out just after it had been taken off the air completely.
I scrounged video stores looking for VHS tapes (yes, I’m old), desperately trying to locate any copies of this cartoon. (We didn’t have YouTube or other great distribution sites yet, kids. Nor the bandwidth to support them.) I manage to find only one, just two episodes … compared to my experience with Adventures, this was an extraordinary experience. The bright colourful fantasy worlds replaced with cruel dictatorship. A real sense of battle between the underdog good and the impossible evil, nature vs. man, the whole bit. And, perhaps most sinister of all, the episodes didn’t always exactly end happily with a bow wrapping up all the problems.
Needless to say, I was hooked, and when the Internet was finally able to barely provide really low quality compressed episodes, I was finally able to experience this in full. And this really defined what Sonic Epoch would be.
All of this should definitely clue you in that my overt fascination with the concept made me want to extend and celebrate it. Especially given its premature demise that its lingering fans mourned loudly about at the time. I wanted to make something that truly honoured the concept faithfully and brought about a whole new story.
Of course, it fell short in a LOT of areas, but I was also only 17-18 at the time. I also never finished the original version because I broke up with my girlfriend at the time and, of course, to a teenager, that just means LIFE IS OVER. Ah, how absolute life seems when you’re young.
The fact that the Internet has not yet forgotten about it tells me that it really did touch a lot of folks, though. And that causes a part of me to want to reboot it, try harder to get it right, and, most importantly, complete it as it was intended! I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but it’s still a deep desire of mine if I can find the time and inspiration. Even though it’d be for an over-20-years-off-the-air cartoon that ran for just two seasons.
And what was it like working on that anyway? Seems kind of strange to see a fan game ported from the PC to the GBA… Heck, how did you get it running on the GBA anyway? It’s impressive for a homebrew title.
To put things in perspective, the GBA, especially with areas it accelerates in hardware, really wasn’t all that much less powerful than the PCs I was developing for during Epoch’s heyday. I actually was testing regularly on a sub-100MHz computer because it wasn’t impossible some folks were still using those. 🙂
Porting it to the GBA was more of just shtick; I had figured out how to code on it somewhat reasonably and putting Epoch on there was just because I could. Bonus points that I could see it running on a proprietary game console. While I think I had gotten some parts of it better, unfortunately it wasn’t a substantial improvement in terms of gameplay. It still had terrible controls and visibility problems, along with story dialog that varied in quality.
My biggest regret was, once again, it’s not really finished like it was supposed to be. This time I found some nitpicky corner of the Internet making fun of the project. (Not of its merits, just conceptually.) I became self-conscious and unable to put passion into it like I had before. I was maybe halfway done and, unwilling to simply let it be unfinished like its predecessor, I rushed it and pushed it out very quickly. The story is left completely awkwardly and incorrectly handled and there are game breaking bugs especially in the later levels, which are also often very empty or boring.
Being able to handle criticism is a hard life lesson. Even harder to deal with those who simply could never possibly like what you’re creating no matter what you do. Putting yourself out there inherently means a risk of people trying to tear you down. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with that these last few years, too bad it came too late for Epoch.
Still, it may not have aged too well compared to your other projects. Do you ever plan to revisit it, like your site suggests?
It absolutely does not age well. It pains me that it’s the only “complete” version out there.
Incidentally, over the years I have attempted to resuscitate it numerous times in various forms. One was an attempt at simply enhancing the PC version, another was a dramatic re-envisioning using graphics based on the now-available DVDs. None have yet succeeded though…
However, in 2014, I undertook the task to at least write the story out and get it vetted by an old friend of mine from back when I was involved with the Sonic fans. I’m pretty certain I at least have that figured out with a much better perspective. And no, Tails does not drop F-bombs every other word in it either. 🙂
Nearly done now! You also seem to host sites about Centralia PA and a SMB 1 hack called Super Sponge Bros too. So… what was the history here? How did you get interested in the situation in Centralia, or end up hosting this SMB 1 mod?
Centralia, PA is just a tragic story close to home. It’s a small town that thrived briefly on a now defunct mining industry. A fire was accidentally set that caused underground coal seams to burn, very slowly. This resulted in homes being filled with carbon monoxide and the heat caused a major highway nearby to buckle. There would be visible smoke plumes emerging from cracks in the ground, and supposedly even orange glowing lights visible at night.
Being they were a small town not really worth much, they didn’t have the assets to fix the problem, and begging the government for help led to red tape and, each time they got a pittance, it would have been months and the fire only got larger, and they didn’t have enough. This cycle repeated a few times until basically it became less expensive to buy everyone’s homes and kick them out than to solve the problem.
There have been other towns in the US and around the world that had some kind of collapse story like that, so it’s not wholly unique… it’s just close enough to me that I had a temporary fascination with their plight. But really by this point there’s hardly anything left and anyone who was fighting for it has either died or moved on, so, there’s not much left to say.
Super Sponge Bros. on the other hand is a far less interesting story… basically it’s a fan tribute to an in-joke / community creation of Vinesauce Vinny’s streaming world. For whatever reason, the creator did not want to be known for it, so they released it anonymously. They asked me specifically, as I’m Vinny’s highlight video editor, to host it, and not reveal who they were. That’s really there is to that.
Are there any other interests you have plans to create websites about?
Not at this time. I’m mostly in the media world of YouTube and the rest of my fleeting interests show up on Twitter.
Finally, what advice would you give anyone else wanting to get started in fan game or ROM hack development and why?
As far as ROM hacks go, most importantly, know that it’s tedious and difficult. These games weren’t designed for custom content. The developer’s secrets are tied up in obfuscated code. If you want to make a really deep hack, prepare yourself to learn the architecture you’re targeting. Hopefully you have an emulator with a good debugger!
For really either ROM hacks or fangames, making a “3Mix” is not for everyone. With any project you get involved in, consider the scale of it, especially against how much time you can reasonably invest. It’s easy to imagine grandiose ideas but realizing them is a whole other deal. Most importantly, fangames and ROM hacks are usually unpaid activities. Most follow the unsustainable pattern of hyping up an idea, getting a bunch of people on board, and everyone quickly disappears because life happens. Consider perhaps a more reduced scale and manageable version of your original idea.
That’s not to dissuade anyone from dreaming big, of course… just be aware of what you’re getting into, and, statistically, the likelihood that your complex, unpaid activity, at the end of the day, will probably rely on you, and just you, to finish it.
And you know what?
That’s a point we agree with 100% of the way. ROM hacking and fan game development are not for everyone, and the work involved to make something truly incredible can indeed be more than many people can cope with. After all, go to any fan game website. Note how few hacks and games get past the first demo (or even a few screenshots/videos in a topic) before being cancelled.
It’s a tough process, and the level of effort needed to go even further and create something as insane as Super Mario Bros 3Mix, Super Mario 64 Last Impact or Newer Super Mario Bros Wii is just immense, to the point it’s almost like having a second full-time job on top of your primary one.
But don’t let that dissuade you! Follow your dreams, try making a fan game or mod if that interests you and remember:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is something that takes a lot of time and effort, and will involve years of unpaid work to complete to its fullest.
For your ROM hackers and modders out there, good luck. For the rest of you? Well we hope you enjoyed the interview, and we’ll see you soon with more great interviews over here on Gaming Reinvented!
As you likely know from our earlier articles, we’re really interested in game design here on Gaming Reinvented. We’ve covered videos from channels about it in articles, we’ve discussed it in reference to new games, and well, we’ve even previously had writers in the field give their opinions on titles such as New Super Mario Bros 2 for the 3DS.
Which is why today, we’re happy to bring you an interview with a famous YouTuber known for his videos on game design. Yep, this time on Gaming Reinvented, we’re interviewing Snoman Gaming, a user known his videos on such titles as Donkey Kong 64, Yooka-Laylee and Celeste among various others.
So, if you’re interested in what he has to say about game design, YouTube and gaming as a whole, keep reading!
Starting with the standard personal background question we always ask on this site. Who are you?
My name is Brad. I’ve played games all my life but decided in 2013 to actually do something productive with all the time spent playing games and turn them into videos!
And how exactly did you choose your username? Why no w in Snoman?
Hah, it goes back to when I was in middle school playing Counter-Strike with a friend. He was mailmaN and I was snomaN (I no longer do the capital N though). I was just trying to decide a name and liked that one the best. I don’t know why I didn’t include a w, I guess I just thought it gave it some flair (turns out it was a good call though, there are a lot of “Snowman Gaming”s on Youtube, I’m the only one that’s spelt different!
Onto the games now. What was your first video game?
Thinking back some of the earliest ones I can remember are definitely Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. I played some NES games too like Super Mario Bros and Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers, but I fell in love with them during the SNES/N64 era.
Were you a Nintendo fan when you were younger? Cause most of your videos (game design related and otherwise) are about Nintendo titles…
Yeah, I’ve always been a Nintendo fan, those first games had such a big impression on me. It also reminds me of great memories with my Dad, playing DKC together and all that. I think the first non-Nintendo console I got was a PS2, but everything before that was always Nintendo.
Game design question next. How did you first get interested into game design?
I did take one class on game development when I was in college just for fun, so I learned the basics of Game Maker and stuff like that, but I really hadn’t looked at games through an analytical lens until about a year after I started my channel. I started “Good Game Design” because of seeing other Youtubers like Egoraptor and Sunder talk about it, and it just really caught my interest. There was a whole other side to games than just art or music!
Did you any of it ever come from a bad experience caused by that? I mean, you did make that video on Donkey Kong 64…
Hah, I don’t really remember having any terrible game experiences as a kid, the idea for the DK64 video came after replaying it just a few years ago and re-examining it with a critical viewpoint. I’m still very proud of that video though because while it pointed out the flaws, it still tried to do it from an objective perspective and talk about how it could improve.
How exactly has Nintendo generally kept the design quality of their games up though? Feels like a lot of games in the NES/SNES/N64 era were poorly made, yet that’s been rare with Nintendo titles (DK64 and a few others excepted)
Man, this is a good question, Nintendo seems to just have that magic juice. I mentioned in my Mario Odyssey video that Nintendo is the Disney of video games, they just have that extra bit of polish that other games don’t tend to have, making them the “happiest place on earth” of gaming. But we are seeing a few other developers (mostly indie) taking the mantle and doing some incredible things – Shovel Knight, Spelunky and A Hat in Time come to mind especially.
And do you ever feel like game design in general has improved in the last decade or so? Cause it feels like video game design is taken a lot more seriously now…
Oh definitely, just like how I started to take notice of it recently, I think more designers than ever are starting to focus on how to make a well-designed game than ever before. You don’t have to have extensive schooling or computer knowledge to make a game anymore, a lot of people can make them with a 1-man team if you have enough time and dedication, which is nuts to me.
Either way, back in 2015 Super Mario Maker came out and you made a few videos on level design in the game. What common mistakes were people making with levels there?
Haha, yeah that game was super unique and I wish they had kept up with it but obviously the Wii U sort of failed so…I think a lot of people just were throwing anything and everything into levels without any forethought. The idea for that video came from when I used to make Mario ROM hacks and analysing actual Mario design to see what makes a good Mario level.
Do you feel such editors are good ways for people to learn game design?
Oh definitely! I really wish more games had level editors, not only because they are so much fun but because it really does allow people to think about games from a different perspective and try to develop well-designed stages. I had heard that one may be in development for Celeste which would be absolutely incredible, that game was so good, and has a ton of mechanics that could be utilized!
What’s your experience using them in general? Have you ever made your own video game (or game mod)?
Yeah, so back in high school I got into Mario ROM hacks and started making one myself called “Mario’s Worst Nightmare”, and what I loved the most was focusing on one mechanic for each level and expanding on it. For example, a stage called “Bullet Chasers” had a bullet launcher at the start and you needed to keep the bullet on screen until the very end and use it to make a giant leap across a gap (with a ton of obstacles in between of course). I’ve also made a few Game Maker games for that college class I took, it was pretty fun to make them.
Finally, 2017 was a pretty damn good year for games overall, with titles like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey being notable examples. What would you say the best game of the year was overall?
I think I gotta give it to Mario Odyssey. Talking about Nintendo and polish from earlier, it just encapsulates that so well. Not only is it a great Mario game and has some awesome new movement and mechanics with Cappy, but it is a celebration of everything Mario has accomplished over the last 30 years so it is just unbelievably charming.
YouTube now. What made you decide to start up a channel anyway?
Like I said, I just wanted to start doing something worthwhile with all the time I spent playing games. I had done a few other channels previously, focusing on guitar covers and sketch comedy, but gaming has always been a passion.
And how did you decide what exactly to make videos about? Why game design and music rather than say, let’s plays or reviews?
It’s actually funny, I DID start my channel by doing let’s plays. I took a lot of inspiration from Northernlion, I always liked that he was fun to listen to as well as good at the games he played. So, I did non-scripted stuff for a long while, 2 videos a day. Then I cut back to 1 a day, then eventually focused on only scripted content because I enjoyed them more and the quality was obviously better.
Talking of said music, you’ve posted quite a few guitar covers on YouTube over the years. How did you learn how to play the guitar here?
I’ve been playing guitar since 8th grade, it’s always been something I’ve really loved. Self-taught.
Have you played the guitar outside of YouTube? Or is it just a hobby at the moment?
Yeah, it’s always just been a hobby, but doing covers and medleys has always been super fun. Video Game covers especially were enjoyable because they are surprisingly technical and well put together, so they were exciting to figure out.
Still, it seems your channel direction has changed a bit over the years, going from top ten lists to game design. What inspired that change?
Yeah this is definitely true, I think like a lot of Youtubers I started out wanting to be like the greats, such as PBG or JonTron, so I tried to be funny and goofy with Top 10s, but once I started doing Good Game Design I realized it’s much more my forte and a better fit for my personality.
How do you choose videos to make anyway?
Sometimes I’ll just come up with a topic I’d like to cover about general game design or something, but most of the time it’ll come from simply playing games, either new or old, and finding interesting things to talk about with them. You Need To Play is normally a “review” of sorts on a new title I think needs more attention, while many other videos find a nugget of good design or an aspect that’s worth discussing.
Has there ever been a time where an idea didn’t work out?
Rarely will I scrap a video idea, or at least once I start the script will I rarely scrap it. I have started playing specific games with the intent of doing a video then moving onto another idea though. Recently I remember playing Persona 5 looking for something to cover in a video, but I didn’t really enjoy it. But I think it was just a personal preference thing, nothing interesting to talk about.
What about one where you feel the video worked out brilliantly for whatever reason?
There are a few that I’m especially proud of with how it all came together as the final product. The Good Game Design on A Hat In Time was great because it had the interview with the developer, which I think gave it an extra edge of flair. Banjo Kazooie vs. Yooka Laylee and the Bad Game Design on DK64 are other favourites.
Regardless, it seems like YouTube isn’t doing so hot recently, with comments by creators that they’re losing money and views. Do you have a backup plan in case that happens here?
I’ve slowly been trying to diversify into other areas, yeah. Like I recently rebooted the Snocast (my podcast) as a live show on Twitch, and I try to stream fairly regularly. It is really hard to juggle doing more than Youtube though since I already have a fulltime job.
And what do you think the future is here anyway? Is a YouTube replacement likely sometime soon?
This question seems to come up quite often, though it’s really hard to envision a competitor to Youtube because of the scope. Google is a behemoth of a company that no one can really compete with. Vid.me tried and closed their doors. The only one I can see standing a chance is Twitch, and it does seem like they’re making the right moves to try and bring creators to their platform. If Youtube keeps making colossal mistakes and Twitch continues to prosper, I can see it happening someday, but the big issue is that the audiences of the two sites are totally different…but that’s a discussion for another day.
Still, enough of that for now. What other creators do you like the work of? Whether that’s on YouTube or any other service you can name…
Well obviously I love Mark Brown’s work (Game Maker’s Toolkit). I like to say he does the same thing as me but better, haha. But there are other creators that I won’t miss a video from – NakeyJakey, Joseph Anderson and Noclip come to mind.
Are there any you feel deserve more attention in your general? Like creators that only have a few hundred/thousand descriptions despite making great content?
Oh yeah absolutely – that’s most of them! HeavyEyed, Razbuten, Perrydactylshow, NickolaiBoullton, Turbo Button, KingK.
What plans do you have for videos further down the line? Anything interesting?
I’ve been trying to brainstorm future videos constantly. Like I said, a lot of inspiration comes from playing current games, but other topics pop up now and again. I try to keep a strong diversity, like doing Top 5’s and the VS series in addition to Good Game Design and You Need To Play.
Finally, what advice would you give someone starting up a new YouTube channel and why?
If your goal is to hit it big, keep improving and upload consistently – but a big chunk of it will come down to luck anyway. More importantly you should strive for this: being yourself, and not burning yourself out. For example, I COULD do Good Game Design exclusively on my channel and it probably would be more successful, but I feel like it would limit my creative freedom, so I like to keep my options open of what I can cover. This helps me to continue to stay motivated, and that’s more important to keep up the effort in the long run. Do what you love.
And that’s the key phrase here. Do what you love.
Because success isn’t easy, and success doesn’t come quickly. Indeed, as Malcom Gladwell is often quoted as saying, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Whether that be YouTube video making, game design or anything else you can imagine.
So, what would you rather spend that time doing?
Something you utterly despise because it’s got a 1% chance of making you a household name? Of course not, putting yourself through 10,000 hours of hell on the off chance you may (note the word may) become the next PewDiePie is insane.
Instead, do what you love, get better at making videos and as Snoman says, do what keeps you motivated. That way, you’ll want to run your channel, not just do it because it’s the ‘hip’ thing to do or for the temptation of financial glory exists in some far-off future.
That’s how true success comes about.
Over the past few years, we’ve interviewed many fantastic creators here on Gaming Reinvented. We’ve talked to popular YouTubers, with people like Guru Larry and the Lonely Goomba being just two of the celebrities featured here on the site. We’ve interviewed fan game devs and ROM hackers about their works, including people like Kaze Emanuar, Skelux and JudgeSpear. And well, when it comes to professional game development, we’ve talked to a few people there too. Like Randy Linden, Grant Kirkhope and Asher Einhorn.
It’s been a good time for the site, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the interviews done so far.
Because today, we’ve got another for you guys. Yep, it’s another interview with a well-known YouTube creator, this time the Wii U modder and YouTuber REGNR8.
Well, we thought it might. Cause long before this interview was ever set up, REGNR8 actually provided us with the evidence that the ‘Breath of the Wild multiplayer mod’ everyone was talking about was actually a fake. It was his journalism that debunked the story which set sites like Eurogamer and Destructoid ablaze.
Which is why today, we’re talking to him about his experiences in modding, YouTube video creation and the state of gaming journalism in 2018. It’s gonna be one hell of a ride!
1. Though first and foremost, let’s start with the personal background question. Who exactly are you?
Hi! My name is Jeremy King.
Those who have followed me on YouTube since I started or who are members of my Discord server community, THE KINGDOM OF GEEKS, will know me better by my screen name REGNR8 (reads: regenerate).
I wear many hats so to speak but my current focus is as a content creator where I am busy working on videos and special effects projects.
Most of the videos on my channel have a focus on technology and video game emulation.
However, viewers have also come to expect an eclectic mix of content since I really use my YouTube channel as place to experiment with new ideas for different videos and to share projects that I’ve been working on.
2. And how did you get into gaming?
In 1983, Atari lead the video came industry into a large-scale recession.
It was the video game crash of 1983. The Japanese called it “Atari Shock” (appropriately poetic).
Two years later, I was born. Months later, in the autumn of 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom) was released in North America.
It’s arguable as to which one was really the zero-day of the video game industry comeback.
Jokes aside, yeah, I’m a child of the 90’s. After Nintendo brought the video game industry back to life in the 80’s, Nintendo was everywhere. So, video games were just a part of life.
My schools also had the old IBM and Commodore 64 machines so I was introduced to educational PC gaming at school when I started at the age of 4 or 5.
Mario, Zelda and Final Fantasy 1 were my entry points on the OG Nintendo Entertainment System.
From there came the GAME BOY, then the SNES and Sega Genesis at some friends’ homes which further indoctrinated me.
That’s where it all began.
I never questioned the presence of video games. They were just always there, and I’ve always been in love with all aspects of them.
3. How about YouTube videos? What made you want to start a channel?
I was a consumer of YouTube videos even before Google bought them back in 2006.
For my own purposes of sharing content, YouTube became a place for me to upload and share my multimedia projects that I had been working on while I was in school via short video clips.
I’d host my videos on YouTube and then embed the clips into my portfolio website REGNR8.com (expired).
If you dig into that old content from when I first created the channel back in 2010, you’ll find a bunch of 3D modelling/animations and special effects projects I was working on.
Even back then my love for gaming was quite evident.
You can find things like a 3D animation of a GAME BOY that I created for a FLEX based web application, a green screen assignment which was heavily inspired by a mini game in Kirby’s Adventure (NES) and the classic Clint Eastwood film, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (1966) or even a short video of the first game that I ever coded in QBasic: a tic-tac-toe clone called TITATO which was heavily inspired by the aesthetics of the classic arcade Atari space shooter, Asteroids.
If you go digging even further into my portfolio on archive.org you’ll discover things like a flash player that I designed and coded which plays nothing but old Zelda commercials.
A few years into my YouTube channel, I found myself digging into my HDD archives to upload some more small snippets of projects I had worked on so I could share them with friends and potential employers.
You can even find a few web applications there as well.
So that’s why I started the channel originally.
But the birth of “The REGNR8 Channel” as most know and remember it, came only a few years ago.
I was getting tired of doing web design and development work in the real world and I found my attention being drawn back to my earlier projects in video/special effects.
Because of that, I did a couple fun creative edits to get back into using the apps and it wasn’t long after, that the old video production bug had bitten me once again.
By that time, I had already been following the Cemu Wii U Emulator project for a while and was regularly testing builds as they released.
So, for fun, I thought I’d start recording my testing sessions to share the results with others and that’s where the channel as it exists now really started.
I was quite surprised that people had such an interest in these test videos.
It seemed that there were others just as passionate about emulators and more specifically testing an experimental Wii U emulator, as I was!
Producing video after video really became quite addicting.
I really love the process and I’m continuously trying to learn new techniques to hone the craft and improve my skillset.
Beyond that, it’s been amazing to be able to build and grow an entire community around this passion. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many amazing people because of it.
Now that I’m a few years into it, I’m at the point where I’m really starting to think about the bigger picture and I’m in the planning phases of producing my first official series for the channel.
4. On to some more topical stuff now. What’s with all the focus on CEMU and Wii U mods anyway?
Sure! So, as I mentioned, I started making Cemu videos.
I’ve always been following the emulation scene and when I came across Cemu, I was excited at the potential.
There were already a few people sharing Cemu content on YouTube at the time. But most of the videos were strictly build testing or preview videos.
There was only one person really doing preview videos at the time. I think it’s funny looking back on it now, but I really came to really dislike those preview videos.
What bothered me most was that they didn’t satisfy what I was looking in Cemu content.
There was no context and no interaction with the audience.
There was also no testing methodology being followed. Or if there was, it wasn’t shared with the audience in most of these videos.
So it really left a lot to be desired. Hence why I decided that I wanted to provide what I was searching for.
It was also very good timing for me to get back into video production for emulation related content.
I had just completed a z97 build and had overclocked my Intel G3258 (20th anniversary Pentium CPU) to a respectable 4.5GHz.
The build wasn’t complete since I didn’t have a GPU yet, so for a period of time I was gaming solely on this overclocked Intel iGPU (Integrated Graphics Processing).
I couldn’t help but be surprised by what this budget CPU was capable of.
As those of us in the emulation community know, emulation is very CPU intensive.
To my amazement, running this budget CPU at a high clock, even though it was an iGPU, gave me an interesting perspective and insight into how the builds of the Cemu emulator were developing on each release.
Since iGPU on Cemu was not (and as of early 2018 still isn’t) officially supported, I found it extremely interesting to see how performance would advance or decrease from build to build.
Looking back, boy has Cemu come a long way!
Here my first Cemu video were I’m testing build 1.4.2 on iGPU running The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess HD:
Of course, the iGPU Cemu testing videos were a very niche thing to fall into but I enjoyed making and sharing these videos with people.
And unbeknownst to me at the time, the best thing to do when starting a YouTube channel is to “find your niche”!
I was also one of the few if not the only person doing this.
I was the only person following the Cemu project who was putting out regular iGPU build testing videos who was also speaking directly to an audience.
That was what helped to build a small following.
Later that year, I was so into making Cemu videos, that instead of just buying a dedicated GPU which I was saving up for, I went ahead and upgraded my entire PC to an X99 platform so that I could focus more on video production.
That’s the build I’m still running and make videos on to this day.
As you know, I’ve done a lot of work covering Cemu from build to build.
My Updates & Changes Cemu videos, which I later named to “Cemulated”, were probably the most watched series that I’ve put together on the channel.
And as I mentioned previously, my goal was to exceed in quality the videos that I felt were lacking in the community.
It took a lot of effort to make them due to the extensive testing and in-depth analysis, but I still look back on my Updates + Changes Analysis videos with pride.
For most of 2017, my highest viewed and most controversial video was my claim to being the first person on YouTube to test The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild on Cemu.
Those first few months after Zelda BOTW was released was huge for Cemu.
Zelda BOTW’s hype brought so many people into the Cemu community.
Especially content creators who didn’t previously cover the Cemu emulator.
Before Zelda BOTW, the Cemu community didn’t know who BSoD Gaming or The Complaining Gamer were.
It also helped to elevate creators who had been following the project for some time.
The hype was real! And it brought a lot of people to the party.
Content creators sub count exploded, the Cemu community exploded with new members and Team Cemu’s Patreon most definitely exploded with financial backing!
Moving forward post the Breath of the Wild release, I continued making a bunch of different types of emulation content.
I even interviewed the lead developer of the Cemu emulator, Exzap.
But Zelda has always been my favourite gaming series and I kept getting pulled into it more and more.