Let’s Interview; VinnyVideo of MFGG!

It’s time for another interview here on Gaming Reinvented! And like a couple of the previous ones, this one is with a member of staff at Mario fan gaming website Mario Fan Games Galaxy.

But wait, it’s a bit different this time around! You see, this interview with VinnyVideo isn’t really about the games.

It’s about the website and its day to day operations as a whole. Want to know how often a game gets rejected? What sort of content just didn’t make the cut over them? Whether Nintendo knows about Mario Fan Games Galaxy as a whole? If so, this interview is right up your street. So let’s see how MFGG works, in our exclusive interview with site administrator VinnyVideo!

1. So first up, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself? What got you interested in the Mario series?

Let’s see… I’m 27 years old, I’m from Jacksonville, Florida, and my name might or might not actually be Vinny! I finally earned my bachelor’s degree a year ago, graduating with a 4.0 GPA but taking considerably longer than I should’ve. I’m starting grad school this fall.

I’ve had an NES since I was just a baby. I believe it was a gift from my grandfather, who owned an independent pharmacy, back when independent pharmacies were a lot more common than they are today. He was a great pharmacist and small business owner, but he wasn’t so well-versed in the new digital technology that was rapidly transforming his industry. He wanted his family to understand some of this new technology, for both business and recreation. This NES came with one of those Super Mario Bros.-Duck Hunt-World Class Track Meet combo cartridges, and from there, we got most of the other major Mario games from the NES and Super NES era. One of my earliest memories is watching my brother play Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES, and pretty soon I was playing these games too.

2. And how about fan game development? Why not say, fan fiction or fan art?

I wrote a bit of fan fiction in a former life. In retrospect, a lot of it was probably rather boring, although I’m sure that far worse fiction has been written. I like drawing silly things on occasion, but visual arts really aren’t my strong suit. I spent more time making games than fiction or art simply because that’s what I was most motivated to do. I remember playing the Super NES-era Mario games and thinking that there were so many cool ideas in those that weren’t fleshed out very much – Kuribo’s Shoe comes to mind – and that I’d love to make a game that builds on some of these under-appreciated characters and mechanics.

3. Mario Fan Games Galaxy stuff now. How did you originally find the site?

On one slow day in December 2006, I was Googling random things, curious if anyone remembered obscure video games, characters, and levels, along with some equally obscure musical things. I’m pretty sure that MFGG came up in one of these searches. I didn’t click on the link because at the time I didn’t believe that mere mortals were capable of making games on their own, at least games that were actually worth playing.

A few months later, I was looking at old Mario guides on GameFAQs and I stumbled upon spacepope4u’s Mario Series Character Guide, which mentioned a ROM hack called Mario Adventure (the one from Dahrkdaiz). Curious about this interesting-sounding project, I Googled around and found a bunch of different fangames that shared the name Super Mario Adventure, including Edweirdo’s, before unearthing the actual ROM hack. Later that week I downloaded a lot of other Mario fangames, mostly older games. Most of these games were actually hosted on Caiman Games, but their attached help files mentioned a bunch of awesome-sounding things that piqued my interest, including Game Maker and TGF/MFA.

One of these help files also mentioned a site called MFGG. Unfortunately, the URL was for an ancient, pre-IPB domain, but a Google search led me to the actual, modern MFGG. From there, I downloaded a bunch of libs, sprite sheets, and games, and the rest is history. I didn’t actually register an account on MFGG until 2008. I lacked high-speed Internet access at the time, so I wasn’t always around, but I started visiting more actively and more consistently in 2009 and 2010.

4. How about your staff role? How did that come about?

Back in 2011, MFGG had been through a lot of change. The Split had happened just a few months earlier, and MFGG was still trying to solidify its vision for the new era of fangaming. During that time, I was one of the most active contributors on the MFGG community, and the staff agreed that I was relatively intelligent and level-headed. DJ Yoshiman and Black Squirrel, two of the most well-known names in MFGG’s history, were about to retire as admins, and another admin, Char, also left around that time. I started off as a mainsite QC staffer, but I quickly got promoted to new roles including forum moderator, forum administrator, mainsite admin, and wiki admin.

5. Submissions now. How often do you have to reject fan games submitted to MFGG?

We probably accept the majority of games submitted to the MFGG mainsite. We exercise a certain degree of curation when it comes to games hosted on the site, however, so we do decline some games. A lot of the declined games are engine tests or very short demos made with premade engines. Of the games I’ve declined, Toad Simulator is my all-time favourite.

Above: This is Toad Simulator. It got rejected from MFGG, but hey, at least the eShop and app store would still accept it!

6. How about other submissions? Do any graphics ever get rejected?

MFGG accepts six different types of submissions – graphics, games, reviews, how-tos, sounds, and miscellaneous content. Of those, graphics account for the majority of declined submissions. We see some tremendously useful rips and original sprites in the graphics queue, of course, but we also see a fair amount of stuff that doesn’t make the cut. A lot of the declined graphics are palette swaps and other quickie edits, but every once in a while you’ll find something that simply leaves you scratching your head!

Note from Editor: I was provided some examples of rejected graphics, which can be seen below.

Hall of Shame_SMB2Daisy

Hall of Shame_Pakkun Flower

Hall of Shame_Custom_Mario_characters

Hall of Shame_Custom Yoshi

Hall of Shame_Bad Yoshi Sheet

Above: How not to create custom sprites

7. As for accepted games, are there any you regret accepting for whatever reason?

We tend to err on the side of accepting borderline-quality games, so there have been more cases of games I’ve regretted accepting than games I’ve regretted declining. One classic example is Mario Minigame Mayhem. In order for games to be accepted on the mainsite, at least two staff members have to vote to accept them, and if one staffer votes to accept and another votes to decline, a third vote will be required to break the tie. I actually voted to decline this game, but two other QC staffers voted to accept it, so it made it to the mainsite. This game was truly terrible, although it was so awful that it was actually quite entertaining. (I will confess to accepting the oft-maligned Spoopy Maryo.)

WTF

8. Also, has any game or submission actually been rejected for ‘nudity’, ‘excessive swearing’ or ‘vulgar’ content?

During my time on the QC, I can’t ever remember declining a game for containing that kind of inappropriate content. I’m told that ROM hacks have sometimes had this problem, though – some of those have been known to hide risqué content on the ending screen! So these rules exist for a reason, even if they haven’t been invoked lately.

9. On a more positive note, will any of the technical rules ever be relaxed? Like the 50MB upload limit? How about accepting HTML 5/JavaScript games? Will that happen any time soon?

As it stands right now, HylianDev is currently working on developing a new version of the MFGG mainsite. Retriever II’s original software was of a very high quality and has served us well for the past decade, but as the online world changes, Web sites must adapt as well. This software upgrade should resolve a number of the technical constraints that have limited us. Changing the file size limits is actually a pretty simple step – in fact, admins with FTP access can override this limit if someone wants to submit a very large game. Adding support for browser-based games is something that’s been discussed, although there’s no way that can happen until the new mainsite software launches.

10. How about your overall favourite fan games on the site? What ones are they and why?

Thunder Dragon’s games – Psycho Waluigi, Toadette Strikes, and Toad Strikes Back – all stand out, of course. TD’s outstanding level design, creative game environments, and witty characterizations actually top some of the official Nintendo games. Of the Mario fangames not made by TD, Mushroom Pancakes is probably my favourite. It might be the funniest game I’ve ever played, but it also boasts plenty of gameplay value – it does a great job of integrating humour and gameplay. Mario Land: Minigame Mayhem, Abducted Toad, Late Night Mario 3, and Normal Super Mario Bros. are some other excellent completed fangames.

Above: VinnyVideo is yet another fan of Psycho Waluigi

Above: And Normal Mario Bros (which isn’t normal)

11. Finally for general MFGG stuff, has Nintendo ever contacted anyone at the site about a fan game they were making/hosting here?

To my knowledge, Nintendo has never contacted any fangame maker active on MFGG – not to request that they stop distributing a game, or to offer them a job, or for any other reason. A handful of fangames hosted on external file hosts like Mediafire have been hit with DMCA takedowns, although in all of those cases, the filenames may have been similar to commercial ROM images, so Nintendo might have been looking for ROMs instead of fangames. This is another reason why it’s best not to choose a title containing words like “Super Mario Bros.” or “Super Mario World”. Rumour has it that Charles Martinet, the voice actor for the Mario Bros., visited MFGG about a decade ago, although whether this actually happened has been disputed.

12. Onto your games. It seems you made Revenge of the Walrus, a really… strange fan game with some rather interesting ideas. What inspired that? Were you smoking anything when you thought of the idea?

Strange… that’s a good way to describe that game. While you might believe otherwise if you play the games I’ve made, I’m actually a teetotaller who’s never used any kind of interesting substance! Between 2007 and 2009, I made a few different platform games. They all had zany storylines, although the quality of their execution varied in quality. They had some good ideas, but they were hampered by the iffy premade engines I used, bland bosses, and my inexperience using Game Maker. At the end of 2009, I was about ready to go in a different direction with fangaming, but I was tempted to try my hand at one more traditional, full-length platformer. I wanted to make a game where the gameplay and story were somewhat better-integrated, and I still had a lot of ideas that I wanted to try. That’s why almost every level in the game is built around a specific enemy or gimmick, especially those that hadn’t been used much in other fangames – for example, SMB2 rockets, SMW countdown platforms, SMW dolphins, or armed walruses. When I started Revenge of the Walrus in spring 2010, I was better-versed in GML and I was determined to improve on these previous efforts. I still used a premade engine (big mistake!), but I ended up changing a lot of the engine’s inner workings. As time went on, I added some other upgrades like an achievements system and better-quality music.

Above: The only video I could find of this game.

It’s still unclear exactly why the walruses are into world domination plots. At the start of Revenge of the Walrus, one group of walruses has been hypnotized by an unknown force that has induced them into using kidnapping, drug trafficking, and other crimes to help them take over the world. The walrus gang doesn’t symbolize any real-world group of people, although these tactics are similar to those of the Colombian FARC and the Taliban. The game’s story is intentionally vague about why these strange events have happening, which is a positive sign for those waiting for a sequel!

13. It’s also quite notable for some weird style choices. Why the mix of New Super Mario Bros Wii tiles and SMB 3 sprites?

Most of my earlier games used the 16-bit SMB3/SMW style that you see in so many fangames, even to this day. As time went on, MFGG had a growing chorus of members complaining that this style was overused. I recall making a topic on the MFGG forums asking about good complete tilesets other than Black Squirrel’s (which was also used a lot). Someone on the forums (I don’t remember who) suggested using the New SMB Wii tileset, which had recently been ripped. This member warned that it might not be easy to find sprites that go with this style – which turned out to be the case! Basically, I wanted to do something different, and once I realized that I wasn’t going to find a full set of sprites matching this style, it was too late to change all the tiles in the game. This uncertainty about the graphical style is part of why the project laid dormant for several months, and I came close to giving up on it.

ROTW Tiled Screenshots

Above: Some graphics examples from Revenge of the Walrus

14. Why Walruses anyway? Why have they become a running joke now?

That’s a good question! The walrus became an unofficial mascot for MFGG during the early days. Years later, people would still joke about the walrus and Wacky Worlds in MFGG’s old off-topic board, the Casual Conversation Castle. I remember that Gatete (then known as DeeY) put some walruses in his platform engine, and I thought that was really funny. From there, things spiralled out of control until a militant walrus group became the primary antagonists of the game.

15. How about your favourite level/boss in the game? What one is it and why?

Divided By World, the infamous drug trip level, will always have a soft spot in my heart. It seems that people who have played that level have a love-hate relationship with it, but to me it’s the level that symbolizes what Revenge of the Walrus is all about. I like a lot of the game’s later bosses. Making good bosses is difficult and is also surprisingly time-consuming, but I’m fairly happy with the way Dark Bowser, Hyper Lakitu, and Boom-Bomb turned out. I’ve always thought that Boom-Bomb was a pretty epic conclusion to the last regular level in the game.

16. Yes, this is a bit of a clichéd question I know, but what’s the chance of it getting a sequel?

Part of me would love to make one more full-length traditional Mario fangame. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a vision for a true Revenge of the Walrus 2, although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. I’ve been working on another fangame called Cheerwine Deluxe 3, which could be considered a spiritual successor to Revenge of the Walrus. If all goes well, this game will have some hidden content for people who have played and beaten ROTW. I’m also hoping that Career Fantasy, my indie RPG project, will contain some of the same flavour of zaniness.

17. Back to the site now. Are there any interesting topics you’re following in the forums? Like ones for fan games still in development?

I can’t say I check every active topic every day, but I try my best to stay up-to-date with any exciting projects that are being showcased on MFGG.
Thunder Dragon’s indie project, Sporklops, is definitely one I’m looking forward to. Soopakoopa’s Yoshi’s Island fangame is another recent topic that caught my eye, but unfortunately it looks like it won’t see the light of day, at least in its present form. And while this doesn’t deal directly with game development, I’m closely following the topic where MFGG members can propose ideas for the upcoming mainsite upgrade.

18. Have any of these games ever been disappointing when they were actually released to the main site?

I can’t think of a game that was much-hyped during the development process but was severely disappointing when it was actually completed and released. I can think of several games that I had low expectations for but turned out to be a lot of fun, though.

19. Weird one this, but do you ever visit other fan game related sites? Like say, SMW Central or Super Mario Bros X.org? How about Mario fan sites in general?

I check The Spriter’s Resource/Video Game Resource pretty often. I’m not very active in the community, but it’s another great source for resources for making fangames. I don’t have an account on SMW Central or any of the SMBX communities, but occasionally I’ll visit them just to check out what’s going on. While these aren’t always related to Mario or Nintendo, I also follow a lot of fan artists on deviantArt and Twitter.

20. And I know this is a bit depressing to think about, but is there ever a time you might step down as staff on Mario Fan Games Galaxy?

I’m planning to begin grad school in August, and once that gets going, I don’t know what kind of free time I’ll have. A few years ago, I thought that grad school would probably mark the end of my MFGG administrative career. Now, however, I’m not planning to step down. We have a lot of top-class talent that’s able to help out now, and we’re finally at the point where pretty much all of our staff members maintain an active presence in the community. I think we have enough help now that I could keep being an active staff member on a more intermittent basis. I do have a life outside of the online world, but I still don’t have tons of real-world responsibilities like a spouse and kids. When I take over the world, though, I’ll finally be ready to hand over the keys to an up-and-coming MFGG staffer! MFGG has been an important part of my life for the last decade, and as long as it’s a friendly, welcoming place, I’d like to be a part of it for the foreseeable future.

21. Finally, what advice would you give people who want to submit their work to MFGG? Any general dos and don’ts?

I’m going to be repeating some of the same tips that Guinea offered. Make the game you want to make. You’re an artist who can afford to take chances with your work – you’re not a big, multinational corporation with millions of dollars on the line. Don’t be afraid to be “different” – the worst that could happen is that some people might not like your game, and in that case, you may be able to use this critique to improve in the future. Dream big, but start small. Game-making is a fun but time-consuming hobby, so don’t plan for a 100-level epic with 30 playable characters and 3-D graphics until you’ve made a few simpler games first.

As for a few more specific things, I would absolutely love to see someone make a full-length Yoshi’s Island fangame, and I’d like to see more custom sprites of under-appreciated characters from newer games.

I’d like to thank CM30 for taking the time to interview me. He asked a lot of interesting, thought-provoking questions, and it’s been fun to sit down and think about them. Lastly, before I go, I must command all of you to be awesome. This is a direct order.

And so that concludes our interview with VinnyVideo. It’s pretty interesting to see the sort of stuff that a site like MFGG declines on a semi regular basis, or just how the moderation system works behind the series. As for the future? Well let’s just say we have a few more interesting interviews lined up, with all kinds of Youtube video makers, fan game developers and website owners, and they’ll be coming to Gaming Reinvented soon!