It’s been a while, but interviews are now resuming at Gaming Reinvented! What’s more, this time, we’ve got one with a name that will be very familiar to anyone in the Mario fan games community. Because you see, today we’re talking with Thunder Dragon, the maker of such well known classics as Psycho Waluigi, Toad Strikes Back and Toadette Strikes Back.
Above: A trailer for Psycho Waluigi, illustrating what the game is about.
Haven’t heard of them? Well, the former is pretty much the most popular Mario fan game ever made, outside of Mushroom Kingdom Fusion. It’s had a ton of Let’s Plays (including ones by raocow and PBG among others) and even has its own page on GameFAQs and Gamespot.
Above: Peanut Butter Gamer’s Psycho Waluigi video.
The other two are a bit less popular, but also highly regarded in the community. So with that said, let’s get right to the interview!
1. What inspired you to create Psycho Waluigi, and its whole ‘telekinesis’ gimmick?
Psycho Waluigi, quite literally, came to me in a dream! Practically the entire concept was spawned quite randomly, in vivid detail, in the murky depths of my oft times twisted subconscious. Yes, even the very nature of the “telekinesis” gimmick – how it worked, how it was a purple eyeball cloud thingy – all of it. I knew, that somehow, some way, I HAD to bring this concept into the waking world.
Granted, I did need to take a few liberties from the, ehrm, “source material.” In the original dream, Psycho Waluigi employed both the file select screen and the world map from the original Donkey Kong Country. Also, there was some sort of two player mode, where the second player apparently controlled a so-called “Buddy Kong” – who was basically just a dwarfish DK in a blue t-shirt. Yeah.
2. And how about the new characters? What was the inspiration behind Hazel and Psycho Iris?
Actually, while I’m on the subject of Donkey Kong, let me first talk about the shopkeeper, Monkeybags. See, I wanted to preserve the dream’s origins somehow, so I made the shopkeeper into the obligatory DK reference. He might not resemble “Buddy Kong” as he had originally come to me, but hey – in my mind, he truly -is- Buddy Kong. Because after all, who would seriously name their child “Monkeybags?”
As for General Hazel, I wanted to give Waluigi his own “Captain Syrup” – see, I consider Psycho Waluigi to be some kind of a strange, alternate universe version of the first Wario Land, which proved to be a major influence. Hazel ended up taking after Syrup’s Wario Land 2 appearance, however, what with her penchant for piloting machines. I wanted a strict, no nonsense hero antagonist to counteract Waluigi’s clownish villain protagonist. I didn’t want her to be TOO too serious, though (this is a Mario game, after all!), so I gave her an oversized hat and a couple of ridiculous machines themed after Mario enemies to command.
Above: General Hazel was designed as Waluigi’s version of Captain Syrup.
Now, for Psycho Iris, this character was created to justify the setting. For a long time, I mulled over how to explain both Waluigi’s psychic powers AND his justification for using them to take over the world. Having a mysterious voice talking in his head seemed amusing enough to me, so everything just spiraled wildly out of control from there!
3. The graphics in Psycho Waluigi seem to go pretty well together, given all the games they originated in. How did you manage to get them working together to provide such a cohesive art style?
I’m an illustrator in real life. Although I didn’t do any actual drawing for Psycho Waluigi, save for a few original sprites, my visual arts background nonetheless played a part here. I’ve done collages before, so I consider using pre-existing graphics – and editing them for cohesiveness – not unlike something out of the Pop Art movement, or even a Dada-esque photomontage of some sort.
Above: Given how the graphics here come from Yoshi’s Island, Super Mario World, Wario Land 4 and Mario Kart Super Circuit (among others), its amazing how well they fit together in game.
4. Did you ever see the game becoming so popular? What was your reaction to its popularity on sites like Youtube?
I expected it to become popular within Mario Fan Games Galaxy. Outside of MFGG’s walls, however? That’s crazy, yo! Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about its popularity. See, fangaming for me was something of a guilty pleasure, as I was effectively building on somebody else’s intellectual property, which, depending on whom you might ask, is a question of dubious legality. I feel that if something of mine should receive widespread recognition, I would prefer something original. Something that is, you know, actually mine.
Above: Thunder Dragon did not expect the amount of media coverage that Psycho Waluigi has received. It even appears on the Know Your Meme page for Waluigi, like as seen above.
But then again, as a fan of such a quirky and polarizing character as Waluigi, I must say that I have no regrets contributing to his legacy. A lot of the game’s popularity can be owed to the fact that somebody was actually NUTS enough to make a game centered on Waluigi, of all characters! And, I’ll admit, that’s a pretty cool feeling! Furthermore, all those Let’s Plays on Youtube? Not only are they entertaining (raocow’s LP, especially), but actually seeing others playing my game, and in turn commenting on it, helps me improve as a developer. That is more valuable to me than their players could ever hope to realize. So, I say to all of them, each and every one: thank you.
And that ends the questions about Psycho Waluigi. But the interview doesn’t end there, so now onto some questions about Thunder Dragon’s other works; Toad Strikes Back and Toadette Strikes Back.
5. Why Toad and Toadette? Do you think they’re underrated and deserve their own games?
You know, when it comes to any sort of media franchise, whatever it may be, I find myself drawn to the little people. The bit parts. The nameless henchmen and villagers. I just… feel a natural synergy with them. Are they not us? I yearn to know what their lives are like, what they do, and so on and so forth – I’m sure that somewhere out there, we have a nameless Toad whose feats can compete with, and even exceed those of Mario himself. Maybe they didn’t rescue any princesses or whatever, but perhaps we have a great artist, an explorer, an innovator, a leader. A lowly Toad can be any of those things – why not? Besides, they’re stinkin’ adorable.
6. Toadette Strikes Back came out quite a while after the first, any reason for that?
Originally, I didn’t want to make a sequel to Toad Strikes Back. And yet, one day, I started making a sequel on a complete whim for no discernable reason at all. I think it was spurred in part by my love of Super Mario Bros. 2 – one day, I was playing that glorious gem of a game, and I asked myself, “how come there aren’t more Mario 2 fangames? And why aren’t I doing anything about it?” And before I knew it, there I was. I was still working on Psycho Waluigi when I began Toadette Strikes, so the latter became something of a cool-off point. It was made to be little more than a silly throwback to the early days of MFGG, while I consciously aimed to work Psycho Waluigi into a grand affair.
Above: Toadette Strikes Back was released quite a while after the first one.
7. So, the bosses in Toad Strikes Back. What was the inspiration behind their strange, somewhat ‘edgy’ designs?
Toad Strikes Back was my first fangame that wasn’t completely terrible! As such, I was still learning the ropes. Back then, I didn’t care about such things as graphical consistency; and at the time, I was drawing a lot of crazy monsters! Said crazy monsters ended up influencing my newbie sprite work. I was basically doing what I normally did, without concerns for conventions, and no boss exemplifies this better than that ridiculous, oversized, demonic Goomba.
Above: The bosses in Toad Strikes Back are… original in their designs.
8. Toadette Strikes Back seems to take a lot of inspiration from Super Mario Bros 2. What’s the story behind that? Is the final boss really some sort of Marx Soul version of Wart?
As I said before, SMB2 is an absolute stroke of genius. Most consider it to be the black sheep of the Super Mario Bros. series, while I consider it a sacred cow. It introduced concepts never seen before or since, and it remains practically ageless. I’m not sure if I’d label it my absolute favorite Mario game, but it is definitely up there. We need more Mario 2, both in fangames and in official releases! As for the boss you mentioned, I should also note that I deeply admire the Kirby series, in case that wasn’t obvious! I’m sure you’ve been noticing a bit of a trend in my final bosses, eh hee hee.
Above: The bosses in Toadette Strikes Back are very much influenced by Super Mario Bros 2.
9. A couple of years ago, you stepped down as staff member on Mario Fan Games Galaxy. How was it being a staff member there?
Well, I created MFGG, so my experiences may naturally differ from those who would serve on the staff in the years to come. I was really only active during the site’s early years, and most of my work can be best summed up as “getting the site off the ground.” The site grew quickly, and soon enough, it was much bigger than I was willing to handle. Maintaining the forums proved especially stressful, prompting me to flat out leave on a couple of occasions. All of it proved to be incredibly daunting, and it kept me from, you know, actually making Mario fangames. You know, the very purpose of the site to begin with? I may have created MFGG, but I felt I wasn’t cut out to be an actual staff member. My place was that of a simple game developer.
I continue to hope that, with my games, I was able to bring to MFGG what I couldn’t bring as a staff member. And to all MFGG staff members, past and present: THANK YOU. Thank you so much for picking up my slack – I feel unworthy, haha! Really, you folks have no idea how grateful I am for all that you have done.
10. Why did you stop making Mario fan games?
Fangaming was a big part of my childhood, all of my teenage years, and the greater part of my twenties. I knew I had to outgrow it eventually. I intended for Psycho Waluigi to be my last fangame – it presented the foundation for something original, after all. However, by the time it was finished, production of Toadette Strikes was well underway; so as I toiled away at the latter, it dawned on me: this is all WAY too limiting. I had a more rigid standard to uphold. More restrictions. I could do some original things, but only so much before it began to lose form. Working on TSB2, I felt like I had to dig myself out of a hole. I knew I had the potential for greater things. It was time to move on. It was time to take the next logical step from Psycho Waluigi: it was time to make something completely original. I’d be free of restrictions, free of legal concerns. Finally, a chance to come out of my shell.
With that said, though, I’m glad I tried my hand at Mario. Aside from being something of a childhood dream fulfilled, it gave me a high standard of quality to work towards – as far as I’m concerned, Mario is the best. I had to push myself to be truly worthy of Mario. Through all that Mario has taught me, my future projects can only get better from here.
11. Finally, what advice would you give new game developers for their future projects?
So, you want to make your own game? If so, please remember this simple bit of advice: make it your own. Make it something only you can make! I cannot stress this enough! Make it your own!
When you’re just starting out, never set a bar for yourself. If you do, you’ve already set it too high. You want to experiment. You want to go nuts! Learn through experience! Our first attempts are never gems, but if you make it your own, you could potentially create something with a dose of quirky charm – something that can make you say, “heeeeeey, I can make things! AWESOME!” And with each step you take, you’re only going to get better and better. Don’t hold yourself to a standard; let it all come naturally. Don’t try to imitate what has already been created. You want to CREATE, not imitate. Even if you are making, say, a Mario fangame, you can still make it your own… in fact, I will insist you make it your own. Don’t take Mario as a mold to fill… Mario is too inspiring for mere imitators. Take Mario as a springboard to the imagination!
Whatever you decide to do with your game making career, just remember: you have limitless potential. You have the power to shape entire universes. So, don’t waste that power. Use it to its full!
And so, that concludes our interview with Thunder Dragon. We’d like to thank him for his time, and wish him all the best with his non fan game projects in the future. Perhaps one day one of his non Mario games might become the Psycho Waluigi of its own genre?