In recent years, spiritual successors to forgotten Nintendo franchises have become more common than ever. Whether it’s Pizza Tower and AntonBlast for Wario Land, XF – eXtreme Formula and Fast RMX for F-Zero or Ex-Zodiac for Star Fox, it’s clear that other developers are filling in the void left by Nintendo.
But it’s with Paper Mario where the pattern really becomes clear. Indeed, with enough successors to fill out multiple articles, it’s clear that the need for a traditional RPG with comedy elements is very much present in the gaming landscape right now, and will only get more pressing over time.
Above: The fact there’s a Paperverse with Nintendo Direct style presentations solely for Paper Mario style games is proof of that!
Fortunately, the topic of today’s interview might help fill that void. Why? Because this time, we’re talking about Mystery of Melody Memorial, a musical Paper Mario esque RPG created by RyanSil, a member of our very own Discord community! So check out the trailer here if you want to see how it’s coming along so far…
Then sit down, put on those reading glasses and get ready for a very unique kind of interview!
Starting with a few personal questions. So, who are you? Who is the team behind this game?
Hello hello! My name is Ryan Silberman. I love video games and cartoons, and I make stuff!
Mystery of Melody Memorial is built primarily by yours truly, with original music composed by Alexander Lyons and promotional / logo artwork done by Alice Tan.
And what was your first ever game?
Super Mario World.
I was always a Mario nut, and when I first got to grip a SNES controller, that game was my early livelihood. The colourful levels and numerous secrets really made the world feel like a giant playground on a screen.
What ones are you playing at the moment?
Lately, I wrapped up The Apple of Our Time, a puzzle-platformer with Paper Mario-style visuals and combat. It’s free, and it’s a solid time, so I certainly recommend checking it out. I’ve also been meaning to get to my seemingly annual sessions with 90’s games like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure and Donkey Kong Country.
How about your intro to the Mario RPGs? Mystery of Melody Memorial takes a few notes from Paper Mario to say the least…
On my birthday in 6th grade, a school friend graciously provided me with a copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. However, I was always too afraid to play any RPGs. I dabbled in Pokémon for generations 3 and 4, and that was about it for a long time.
It wasn’t until 2014 (somewhere in the middle of high school) that I finally braved the Mario RPG grounds by playing my copy of TTYD for the first time. And I felt like kicking myself repeatedly for missing out in all the years prior. It’s since become one of my all-time favourite Mario games, and I’ve played (if not beaten) just about every Mario RPG since.
Thoughts on the direction of Paper Mario since Sticker Star?
Because I got into Paper Mario years after Sticker Star came out, I didn’t feel the sheer vitriol the rest of the fans had for the game. After I beat TTYD and proceeded to play this, I thought “Ok, this is pretty awful. But at least Nintendo would never make another one like this!”
Nintendo then proceeded to make another one like this. And then I felt that vitriol.
By Origami King, I’ve grown numb to the idea – while this game was good – they really don’t want Paper Mario to be at its best again. And with Bug Fables filling the void of the old Paper Marios anyway, it was easy to not let it get to me.
What are you hoping to see from that series going forward?
I am very much looking forward to how fans of the newer games and newcomers will react to the TTYD remake, now that they’ll get to actually play this one. From what I’ve seen in the trailer, it looks remarkably faithful to the original except now it looks freakin’ gorgeous! My only concern there is that the “Switch fatigue” I’ve been seeing on places like Twitter might eat into potential sales.
Of course, I also hope the fact this got remade at all means Nintendo and Intelligent Systems are legitimately transitioning the series back to its prime for new instalments.
Onto game development now. How did you get started in that field?
There’s this fun little tool called “Game Maker,” and I first got to play around with it when I was 10. For years, I took a bunch of existing gmks and sloppily threw together my own graphics, choices of sounds, and level designs. And it was very fun to do, even if adult me cringes at the sight of those things.
Fast forward to 2014, I got comfortable using the program to make games I could actually look back on as genuine video games. I released Dynamite Alex, and later brought it to Steam. Since then, I’ve been making both paid and freeware experiences, and have spent way longer than mere days to create those experiences. My latest major release, The Wingless Bee, took a year and a half to put together.
What was your first ever game?
My first ever game project was some sprite edit of a Mario fangame in 2007.
It really wasn’t anything to call my own, but it was a stepping stone that would pave the way for projects I would.
Any creators and titles that really inspired you there?
Aside from the usual video game messiahs (Shigeru Miyamoto, Toru Iwatani, Satoru Iwata, etc), I have always been a fan of the works by Craig McCracken and Dav Pilkey. From Captain Underpants to The Powerpuff Girls, they are as whimsical as they are smartly put together for people outside the target demographic to enjoy.
In the early 2010s, I’ve gotten to really appreciate through games like the Paper Marios and PaRappas how the medium can evoke different kinds of immersions and feelings the players find themselves having by the end. I champion the indie scene a lot for maintaining this while bigger companies these days have a habit of preferring the safe and sterile.
Onto Mystery of Melody Memorial now. What made you decide to create this game?
I recall reading an interview with Rodney Greenblat (PaRappa the Rapper co-creator and character designer) on how he felt about PaRappa appearing in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. While he said he was happy to see him back, he didn’t like the idea he was beating up people and using weapons. That stuck with me, and made me wonder what kind of new genre PaRappa would actually work in.
On New Year’s Day in 2015, I was dreaming half-asleep when I envisioned PaRappa in an RPG-esque adventure. Ideas flowed, and I emailed Rodney about them.
He responded fairly quickly, and essentially told me “Thanks for being a fan of PaRappa! These ideas are good! Don’t use the PaRappa characters; instead make new ones using PaRappa as your model.” And thus began my development adventure with new characters Joseph Teddie and Angeli Lovely.
However, the game you see today didn’t properly start development until 2017.
And where did the name come from? We definitely get some Thousand Year Door vibes from that title…
Originally, Mystery of Melody Memorial was going to be “The Rapping Traveler: Secret of the Six Shrines” until it wasn’t about rapping or six shrines. I instead decided to shift the focus to one important location. And while the title may look self-explanatory, I really aimed to include a hidden meaning to it; you’d get an idea of what this is as you get through the game.
Plus, I enjoy my fair share of alliteration! Alliteration is a fun flavour to factor.
Were any other games inspirations to you here? Like other Paper Mario spiritual successors?
There’s been all sorts of inspirations for various aspects of the game, including ones you may never think would play a role there. For example, there is a portion of the game where you traverse a casino run by literal vultures. Inspiration for that comes from the Game Boy adaptation of Caesar’s Palace. Some of Rodney’s non-PaRappa works also influenced my approach for certain characters and the roles they play in the story.
The game’s got an interesting art style to say the least. Why did you go with this look?
Pixel art has always been my bread and butter as far as my artistry goes, albeit I’ve never pulled off the more complex animations you’d see in 2D fighting games or the like.
With Mystery of Melody Memorial, I tried to push my style further by leaning in on cartoon-like expression and personality. There are some subtle Paper-y touches, of course, and I played around with pixel sizes so the characters and environments get all the details I feel they’d need while still keeping their look consistent.
Either way, the big selling point seems to be the combination of RPG and rhythm gameplay. What was the reason behind this setup?
I wanted to challenge myself by making an RPG-esque game where, despite being an adventurer, you aren’t going around killing anybody.
That said, Mystery of Melody Memorial is nowhere as long as the typical RPG, let alone a Mario one. A skilled player may be able to get through it in about 2 hours. Ironically like the modern Paper Marios, you’re not gaining EXP and building a crew of partners, rather progression is based around the puzzle-solving and environment interactions.
Nevertheless, the player will still be unlocking new abilities to use to their advantage. More importantly, there remains a major emphasis on the story, and how Joseph and Angeli feel about what’s going on – and each other – as they navigate it.
Were there any challenges in getting these elements to work well together?
Aside from a lot? Haha!
The manpower it took me to get Mystery of Melody Memorial made was way beyond anything I had to do for my other games. There were lots of things I hadn’t done before, and there were other things I wanted to get juuuust right. Needless to say, it cost me lots of time and made me constantly afraid of losing control over the project. There came a point much later in which I concluded it was better for me to just do something than sit there and continuously think about the best approach without actually being able to do it.
How did you come up with the story and characters here?
When I first drew Joseph, I knew I wanted to separate him from PaRappa even if he was built in a similar mold. I dug into what he hopes to accomplish, what keeps him going, and how he intends to get there.
On a case-by-case basis for characters, it boiled down to me looking at characters going “Ok. PaRappa is a teenage dog who hangs out with his friends a lot, and all he wants is to get with this flower girl he really likes. That’s not Joseph. Joseph is a homeless bear and has been on his own for most of his life; he thinks he knows what he wants, but he has no idea what awaits him.”
Traveling to some grandiose place was an easy idea to include for the story, but in this case, I felt it would be particularly compelling if people got to watch Joseph and Angeli grow as characters along the way. Joseph has his reasons for going to Melody Memorial, and so does Angeli. Neither see eye to eye on this per se, but in time, they will. And I hope that gets reflected on the player as they try understanding them.
Which of the latter are your favourites?
Joseph and Angeli are by and far the most fleshed out of the bunch since you’d be following them around throughout the whole journey. But there are other characters along the way that are near and dear to my heart as well.
I love the train staffers, Ray and Lilly, especially for the happy-go-lucky relationship they share. Penny also hosts a fun amusement centre named Penny’s Arcade, where you can go and smash plates for points. She doesn’t get to show it here, but she is quite the media buff.
Any interesting boss battles? Those have always been one of our favourite parts of the Mario RPGs…
Joseph is a pacifist, so boss battles are actually non-existent here. Instead, you’ll have rhythm segments where Joseph – and Angeli when she gets around to joining him – sing along with one of the characters they meet on the adventure.
What I like about these segments is that when Angeli joins Joseph’s adventure, you have both characters’ notes to keep track of as the song continues to play; Joseph uses the arrow keys, while Angeli uses W, A, S, and D. Both of them use Z and X.
How about any story specific sequences that use the rythm mechanics in interesting ways?
I’d like to answer that, but that might lead straight to spoiler territory!
One thing every good RPG tends to have is a good soundtrack. What’s this game’s soundtrack like? How did you settle on the style for it?
The soundtrack consists of purely NES-style 8-Bit chiptunes. I mostly left up to Alexander Lyons to figure out what to do since he’s the musician. But I did provide him with points of reference to give him an idea of what kind of mood I wanted each piece to set.
There have also been a few instances where I’ve told him to change certain songs, usually to add more “punch” to them. The one for a boulder chase scene is a good example; it was originally a short loop until I suggested having an intense build up to the existing notes.
As a bonus feature, you can also set the style of soundtrack to the MIDIs used to make it. I always have a soft spot for MIDIs, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to squeeze that in!
What are your favourite songs so far?
There’s a good number of pieces from Mystery of Melody Memorial’s OST that I’d play on my own time! The title theme is a great gateway into the game, and the Mezzo Marsh (swamp) music has this rowdiness to it that complements the swaying gators and fly traps.
I am also forever grateful to have gotten permission from Rodney Greenblat to use one of his songs in the game, “Warm Oatmeal Starship.” Alexander did such a great job arranging it for the game.
Onto the release now. When do you think this game will be released? What’s your planned release date here?
Mystery of Melody Memorial is coming very soon!
Before you know it, it will be February 23rd and people will already get to play it in full on their computers. Check it out on Steam or Itch!
Any plans for marketing it?
If I knew how to actually do it right, I would! I have social media accounts and Discords where I post about the game, so there’s that. Paperverse has also been a help sharing my posts and footage. I’m otherwise one of those indie devs that’s absolutely clueless about how to get the word out. I’ll be doing what I can; that’s all I can do!
How about versions for consoles? Do you aim to release this game on Switch or anything?
In a perfect world, I’d have that all figured out, and my games would have already been readily available to players on consoles. Alas, in a day and age where publishers can potentially rob you of your IP in the process of making a deal, it’s hard for me to want to reach out to anyone for assistance on the matter.
Never say never, though!
Assuming it does well, what’s next? Is Mystery of Melody Memorial going to become a series?
I am always coming up with ideas for what’s next regardless of how the existing ones perform. I have been severely burnt out from the undertakings required to get this game off the ground, so I cannot guarantee another game like this is going to happen.
But I can at least say I am not at all done telling the stories of these characters!
Finally, what advice would you give anyone looking to get started in game development?
Nobody’s perfect, so don’t try to be. Just go right in and build whatever!
It’s better to have fun making something flawed than to crush yourself toiling away at a product you hope other people won’t criticize hard. A big reason why the AAA industry is collapsing lately is because of how much corporations relied on the latter.
Yeah, that’s a fair point Ryan. As the old saying goes, nobody’s perfect. And the same applies to video games and other creative works too.
So it’s definitely better to try and get your game done in a reasonable timeframe rather than spend years or decades desperately trying to polish it up in a futile quest for perfection. Trust us, we’ve seen that happen a lot. With both triple A titles (Duke Nukem Forever, Beyond Good and Evil 2, etc) and smaller scale ones (like our own).
Either way, thanks for the interview! It was really interesting to hear from someone else working on a Paper Mario spiritual successor like this, especially one that goes a bit more outside the norm with a pacifist focus to the gameplay and music being key to the whole experience. We’ll definitely consider checking out the game when it’s released on the 23rd of February 2024.