Let’s Interview: Banjo-Kazooie Modder Mark Kurko!
As you know, we’re huge fans of fan games and ROM hacks here on Gaming Reinvented. From Super Mario 64 Last Impact to Super Mario Sunshine 64, URA Zelda to AM2R, we’ve covered all manner of them here on the site, as well as interviewed many of their creators.
Yet despite how it may appear from our examples (as well as coverage on gaming sites and forums), it’s not just franchises like Mario and Zelda which get fan works made about them.
No, all manner of games do, from second tier Nintendo franchises to obscure Japan only Famicom games. The world of fan games and ROM hacks is a vast one, with communities for virtually every gaming franchise in existence having an internet presence somewhere or other.
And one of the most interesting yet underrated examples there is the Banjo-Kazooie series. Thanks to a modder by the name of Mark Kurko, that’s been receiving all manner of interesting crossover hacks made for it, ranging from Zelda ones like Jiggies of Time and the Bear Waker to ones inspired by Mario, Donkey Kong and Super Smash Bros to name just a few.
So in this interview, we’re gonna talk to him, and see exactly how he comes up with his fantastic ROM hacks.
First though, let’s have a bit of background info. So who are you? Who is Mark Kurko?
Mark Kurko is a 31 old man from Castelló de la Plana (Spain) who first got interested in 3D modeling about 5 or 6 years ago, and who hopes to one day make a living from his own video game projects.
Ah okay then. Where did your channel name come from anyway?
When I was a teenager I was a great fan of Nirvana (I still am), and my friends started calling me Kurko (a diminutive of Kurt Cobain) as a nickname. Given that Mark is my real name and I wanted to dedicate my channel to mods, Mark Kurko Mods sounded like a very logical channel name to go with.
Makes us sense to us. So what got you interested in games anyway? What was your first ever game?
Back in 1993 my parents bought a clone of the NES (Brigmton brand), which came with two controllers, a gun and a cartridge with 128 games. Okay, most of them were actually different versions of the same 15 or 20 games, but still, they included the likes of Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Bomberman, Tetris, Contra, Lode Runner, Tank, Arkanoid, Mappy and Wild Gunman, which along with a copy of Super Mario Bros 3 they bought late, kept me going until 1999 when I got an N64.
Ah okay. Seems like quite a few people got into games with those knockoff consoles, especially in Europe. Still, what games are you playing now? Any newer ones you believe are absolutely amazing?
Well at the moment I’m playing Crash Bandicoot Insane Trilogy for Switch and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair on Steam. I 100% recommend the latter, though I was a bit disappointed when it was announced as a 2D platformer. Expected something a bit more akin to the Banjo-Kazooie formula again to be honest.
Either way, it’s an absolutely amazing game, and the fact you have to explore the world like in a 2D Zelda game is fantastic too. So if you like Donkey Kong Country, check it out. You’ll love it.
Yeah, kinda guessed you’d be expecting another 3D collectathon from a Yooka-Laylee sequel, given your interest in the Banjo-Kazooie series. So how did you get into that franchise anyway?
I remember buying the N64 with the DK64 bundle, and tried Banjo-Kazooie afterwards when a friend lent it to me. From there I discovered that both games resembled each other quite a bit in terms of gameplay, and ended up preferring the smaller worlds and more exploration focused gameplay in Banjo-Kazooiie over that of DK64.
Honestly, I’ve always liked exploration more than hard classic platforming, and I loved the Banjo-Kazooie series in part because of that. Exploring Gruntilda’s Lair was great due to how you’d unravel the mysteries of the game’s different worlds, and I felt it had an adventure feel similar to that of the Zelda series because of that.
Hmm, okay then. Dd you become a fan of Rare as a whole after that? I mean, I know a lot of Banjo fans are usually also fans of Donkey Kong Country, Conker, etc…
I’m a big fan of Rare, but I don’t think it’d be fair to attribute that to Banjo-Kazooie. Some years before playing that game a cousin of mine lent us a SNES, and I was lucky enough to play the original DKC trilogy there. So I think I could say it was that series that began my love for Rare and their games.
Are you a DK Vine member or anything?
I have to admit I don’t usually particpate much in forums. I was quite an active user on the old Backpack forums when I started off, and I’m in a few Discord groups now, but I’m not really active on any of them any more. The language barrier simply makes it take too long to have a conversation (due to the need to correct all my comments before posting them to make sure they make sense).
So for that reason, I usually focus my efforts on answering people on my YouTube channel, on Twitter and on Instagram. Gives me more free time to work on mods rather than forum posts.
Either way, what did you think of Banjo & Kazooie’s reveal for Super Smash Bros Ultimate?
It was a huge surprise to me, and I’m really happy about it. After all those rumours and all that speculation I’d lost all hope of seeing Banjo appear in Smash, so to see him appear was fantastic.
I also think it’s an important first step into the possibility of being able to get remakes of the Banjo-Kazooie games as well as Banjo-Threeie too, since it makes Microsoft and Rare realise that people love the franchise and that future games may be profitable.
Do you hope to see a brand new game featuring the duo someday?
If the people at Microsoft are intelligent, and I think they really are, there’s definitely hope for a new Banjo-Kazooie game. The inclusion of the duo in Smash has been one of the celebrated announcements of recent times (even more so than the ones for Joker and Hero) and the success of the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro remakes has opened the door for other such remakes too.
So I sincerely believe that the most sensible thing Microsoft could do would be to publish a remake of the first two games and Nuts & Bolts as a trial for the series, and then see if it’s profitable to make a new game based on how that remake does.
Makes sense to us. People would love a Banjo-Kazooie series remake in the style of N Sane Trilogy and Reignited Trilogy, and it’d probably make a lot of money too. Still, enough with the general chit chat for a bit, onto some ROM hacking stuff.
How did you get interested in video game mods and hacks anyway?
It all started in 2014, where I was about to start my Masters on 3D Animation. At that point I bought a new desktop computer to replace the laptop that’d broke a few months before, and come across a game called Super Mario 64 Star Road. I loved it, but didn’t know there was a tool that allowed you to do something like that for yourself. Did mess around with Toad’s Tool 64 for a bit though, just didn’t get anything playable from it.
What about Banjo-Kazooie modding? How did you get into that?
In the same year, I remembered Toad’s Tool and had a few ideas for a prototype I was working on. From there I realised that I’d always loved the Banjo-Kazooie series, and wondered whether there was a similar tool for that games.
So I looked for info, came across the Backpack forums, then got hooked. Couldn’t stop experimenting with Banjo mods afterwards.
Makes sense. What is the Banjo-Kazooie modding scene like anyway? Is there much of a scene for it?
Well of course the BK modding scene is smaller than the Super Mario 64, but there are still a lot of people interested in creating BK mods none the less. Only impediment is that the BK ROM is much more complicated to edit than the Mario 64 one, so the tools we use to create mods have since ceased development.
Still, there are some interesting projects in development right now, and I hope to see them all released someday!
So it’s more difficult to mod Banjo-Kazooie than Mario 64 then?
I can only speak for Banjo-Kazooie (since I’ve never modified other games), but yeah, it’s certainly more difficult than people think. Many times the ROM will crash without you really knowing why, and you have to model the areas extremely carefully (to minimise the number of polygons in play) if you want it to work on a real N64 too.
Additionally, some of the colllectables don’t work correctly if you don’t perform the same events as in the original game, so you have to adapt your levels around them too.
Any interesting challenges you’ve encountered working on your mods in particular?
I’m not sure if I’d describe it as interested, but getting the Freezeazy Peak Christmas Tree Jiggie working was a real challenge, especially since the level was almost finished at the time and I then had to remodel a large portion of it to get things working properly.
Let’s talk about the specifics of your work now. Firstly, what made you decide to make these Zelda X Banjo-Kazooie mods?
Well, my first mod was Bob-omb Newfield, a custom made version of Super Mario 64’s Bob-omb Battlefield for Banjo-Kazooie, so I thought it’d then be interesting to explore Kokiri Forest with Banjo too.
From there I thought that if making a single level took 1 month, doing 9 levels + 1 hub would only take me 9 or 10 months.
Yeah, that was a big mistake. 5 years later, and I’m still here working on the same game hah!
Still, part of the reason it’s taken so long is because the tools involved evolve and get better; the version of Banjo’s Backpack I used early on didn’t have scroll effects for polygons or the camera system, so you couldn’t do much with water effects or gameplay cameras at the time.
So the original version was much poorer in terms of quality and content than the definitive edition of Jiggies in Time will be.
Yeah, I know that feeling as well. When the tools get better, you always want to go back and improve on your old work. None the less, do you plan on making more of these Zelda crossover mods? Maybe Banjo-Kazooie X Twilight Princess/Skyward Sword/Breath of the Wild?
Yes. I’m not sure when this interview will be published, but I can already announce that right now, I’m working on a BK X Majora’s Mask mod called Gruntilda’s Mask. This one will be a smaller mod than Jiggies of Time, but will let you explore Clock Town in its entirety, complete with some new areas and a battle with Grunty on top of the Clock Tower. It’ll have 20 Jiggies, 18 empty Honeycombs, 100 notes and an unknown number of Mumbo Tokens to collect too, and you’ll need to visit Bottle’s mounds to learn new moves as well.
So yeah, I hope to have a new trailer for that ready by the beginning of November, with the mod itself planned for a release the following month.
Sounds good. However, you don’t just make Zelda crossovers, you also make ones between Banjo-Kazooie and other games too. So how do you decide which series to merge with Banjo for your future mods?
I have a lot of ideas in the drawer for future works. For instance, I had the time for the Super Smash Bros Melee Temple mod a couple of years ago, but thought the inclusion of BK in Super Smash Bros Ultimate made that the perfect time to release it.
It’s all about gameplay ideas and what crossovers work with the Banjo-Kazooie moveset really. At the moment I have ideas for crossovers with Castlevania, Pac-Man and a sequel to the Bear Waker.
But I’ll have to test if they work or not, then gauge people’s reactions via social media to know which of those are worth spending time on.
Any other interesting ideas for new hacks in the pipeline right now?
Other than Gruntilda’s Mask and Jiggies of Time? No, there’s nothing else in the pipeline right now. The only thing I can announce here is that I’d love to adapt Jiggies of Time to work on real hardware, since it’s only been tested on an emulator so far (and I hear some parts can cause issues when run on a real N64).
So if I have some extra money this Christmas, I’d like to buy an Everdrive64 and test the whole game to see if I can get it working on consoles.
Sounds good. Still, do you have any ideas for Banjo-Kazooie hacks that didn’t work out well? Or got scrapped because the idea wasn’t working?
Not yet. Closest thing to that was when I tried to remake a Super Mario Bros 1 level in Banjo-Kazooie, but even that idea was later used for my Donkey Kong Country X Banjo-Kazooie mod.
Honestly though, I think I know Banjo-Kazooie’s engine well enough that when I have an idea in my head, I can already tell if it’ll work in the engine or not before I even begin development.
So what’s going on with Jiggies of Time? How’s development going?
As I said before, I’m taking a bit of a break right now. Instead, I’m currently working on Gruntilda’s Mask, with Jiggies of Time work resuming once said game is complete.
This was also partly done for real life reasons too; I was very busy with my studies in March and April, and the composer at the time (James) was busy with his work too, so I decided to let the project rest a little. I also wanted to take a bit of a break due to the time spent on it too, since it’d been in development for more than 4 years at that point, and I’d decided I need to disconnect from it all a bit too.
Hence why I released BK X DKC (which is actually a secret sub area of Jiggies of Time) and Bear Waker.
After that James had to abandon the project for various reasons, so I was busy looking for new composers too.
Still, now I’ve got new composers on board (Andy and CPU Alpha), and Bynine has helped me out with the last sub area remaining, so I can now say I’m 100% ready to continue work on the game.
Okay then. Any interesting plans for major mods after that?
Not yet. I do have ideas for a mod with about 4 levels, but nothing’s been set in stone right now. I’m also thinking about making my own game in Unity too, with a low poly graphic style inspired by the N64 and with mechanics influenced by Banjo, Zelda and Mario too. So we’ll see what the future holds.
Sounds super exciting there! I’d love to see an original game from you in future!
Still, for now, do you have any suggestions for existing Banjo-Kazooie mods you think more people can check out? Like World’s Collide?
Of course, World’s Collide and Banjo Dreamie would be top of the list. As for small mods, I’d suggest Snow Glow Village, the first historical mod of the game too.
And while I haven’t played Banjo-Kazooie 3D World yet, that one sounds interesting too…
Great, we’ll check them out! Back to your channel now, what’s it like seeing your videos get so popular? Did you ever imagine 100,000 views on a Banjo-Kazooie mod video?
Nope, I honestly never imagined anything like that.
Still, I can confirm that everything depends on the YouTube algorithm really. Sometimes it advertises one of your videos and makes it super popular, sometimes it doesn’t show it to anyone.
Anyway, the most rewarding people is to see people talking about how much they like your work in the comments, and to know that they enjoy it.
Do you think you might be able to make your channel super popular like this? Perhaps even become the Kaze Emanuar of Banjo-Kazooie mods?
That would be great, but I think it’s unlikely to happen. Banjo is not as famous as Mario after all.
Regardless, being able to earn enough money from ads to pay the bills and spend all my time creating Banjo mods would be a dream come true!
Perhaps a Project Dream if you will then. Joke aside, what do Rare themselves think of Banjo-Kazooie hacks? Are they more tolerant of them than say, Nintendo?
Yeah, it seems that Rare and Microsoft are far more tolerant than Nintendo is. For my part, I’ve never had any problems with them yet, and I hope I won’t have any in the future either.
Anyway, I think they appreciate how we’re keeping up interest in an IP they’re not using right now, so they benefit off our mods overall. A super popular one may even make them consider creating a new Banjo-Kazooie game.
Are there any other games you may be interest in modding? If so, what are they?
Of course there are. I would love to modify Ocarina of Time. Indeed, I found SharpOcarina a while back, and found it a very interesting tool to play around with it. So I may look more into that at some point.
I’d also like to modify GoldenEye too. I’m a huge fan of Bond, and have seen all the films, some of them more than 10 times.
Oh, and I’d also love to someday create some tracks for Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing as well.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to get started with mod/hack development anyway?
Patience, a lot of patience. Start with a small level, release it so that people can play it, and from there you already make a decision about what your next step will be. I have seen many projects of people who started by promising that they would make a full mod with many worlds, (plus many ideas that aren’t even possible with the structure of the game), then end up abandoning them without even a trailer.
Rememberm making a mod means spending a lot of time working for free, and you have to be very dedicated to the task to continue through with it. For instance, I can say without fear of being wrong that Jiggies of Time has spent more than 5000 hours in development, and it’s still nowhere near done yet. And believe you me, if I’d known this 5 years ago, I likely would have never started it at all.
Yeah, I think we can all agree on that Mark. Indeed, as someone who’s worked on ROM hacks and fan games myself, and watched many other people’s progress via this very site, it’s pretty clear to anyone in the field that working on them is a long, gruelling, thankless task that’ll almost always take significantly longer than you expect it to. Indeed, game design and software engineering in general are both massive timesinks that can go on forever if you let them and about 90% of projects in each field fail because of it.
And we’ve all experienced those over ambitious newbies who promise the world and deliver nothing too. It’s easy to make grandiose claims about MMORPGs and 300 level platformers, but far harder to turn either into reality. If you gave us a buck for every forum poster, Kickstarter creator and wannabe game design that promised to change the world and failed to do anything, we’d probably be richer than Elon Musk by now.
So yeah, give his comments a read would be game designers and modders. Making games and mods may seem easy at first, but it’ll quickly become apparent how much hard work is involved once you begin. Take it easy, start off small, and remember that it’ll take a lot of unpaid work and effort to get really good at making mods or games.
Same goes for anything else too. Running a successful YouTube channel, getting good at speedrunning game, becoming a top eSports player… all these things and more require a ton of time and effort to get good at them. And like mod development, they’re also fields in which you take things slow at first, since most successful stories don’t happen overnight and expecting them to is a good recipe for burning out.
So we 100% agree with Mark here; start small, take it slow, and see how things go from there. Rome wasn’t built in a day after all.
But what did you think of the interview? Did you enjoy hearing about how Mark comes up with ideas for his mods, or about upcoming projects like Gruntilda’s Mask?
Tell us your thoughts on the matter in the comments below or over on the Gaming Latest forums today!