Here on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed a lot of game developers over the years. We’ve talked to fan game creators, like Judge Spear and DJ Coco. We’ve talked to indie devs, like Otyugra Games and Power Level Studios.
Heck, we’ve even talked to people who’ve worked on large games like Disney Infinity! We’ve definitely interviewed some interesting folks here!
Yet we’ve only ever interviewed developers. People who’ve programmed the games in question or have acted like a one-man band rather than a full scale company.
And we think that gives a distorted picture of the industry. After all, most people don’t work solo. They work as part of a team. In a variety roles including (but not limited to) programming.
So for this interview, we’re doing something different. Namely, interviewing Teslagrad Art director Ole Ivar Rudi!
Still, what is Teslagrad anyway? How does the game actually work?
Well, it’s a unique 2D platformer where you use electricity and magnetism to explore an abandoned tower and solve problems. You do this so your main character (a young boy) can figure out the history behind the building. Why the king declared war on its inhabitants.
It’s a very interesting game overall, especially for the genre. Here’s a trailer if you haven’t seen it yourself:
But hey, now you know how it all works, let’s get on with the interview! Starting with the same familiar question we ask in all of these articles…
Okay, you know the drill by this point. Who are you? Who is this Ollie guy anyway?
I’m the art director/ all round art guy for Rain Games. Likes cats. I grew up on a farm on a small island on the coast of norway, surrounded by cows and viking burial mounds.
And how did you get started with video games? What was your first games console?
My first experience with games was playing the arcade version of Donkey Kong jr. at a swedish camping grounds some time in the mid 80s. Played PC games at friends’ houses until I got a NES for xmas in 1989 or 1990, and kept expanding from there.
My first attempt at making games myself was around 2000, making some crude games using Klik N Play. They’ve all been lost to the sands of time, but the standout was a 2-player single screen top down death match game named “Chainsaw Mofos”. It played like a mashup of pac-man and Smash TV and had a soundtrack consisting of stolen midi renditions of 80s synthpop. It was probably not very good in retrospect.
Any favourite games over the years? How have they affected your work at Rain Games?
Off the top of my head Prince of Persia, Another World, Super Metroid, SOTN, Star Control II, Resident Evil 4, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda: Link’s Awakening+Wind Waker, Chrono Trigger and Earthbound are all time classics in my book (hm, that’s a very nintendo console heavy list)
The Metroid games and SOTN definitely inspired a lot of things in Teslagrad and WttW borrows a lot of Zelda framework- but we’ve taken inspiration from so many different sources that our games boil into their own, quirky thing, really.
I try to play as many games as possible- Brave Fencer Musashi, Gunple: Gunman’s Proof, Sylvan Tale, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis are just a sample of the other games that lent some inspiration to WttW, for instance.
Either way, onto game development now. How did you get started in the field?
Basically, just circumstance- I was working as a freelance illustrator at the time and a friend from school asked me if i wanted to join him and brainstorm a bit with the folks who eventually wound up making up Rain Games. I hadn’t planned on spending more than a week with them before joining, but we hit it off and before i knew it I was a part of the company.
What about the art side of things? Why did you decide you wanted to draw art for games rather than say, become a programmer or composer or whatever else?
I’ve always drawn! my education was always geared towards art/design, I’ve got a Masters degree in visual communication so I didn’t have much choice:)
I’ve always enjoyed making music on the side but I’m absolutely terrible at it.
Any previous projects you created the graphics for?
Never worked on any commercially released games before joining Rain, no.
Let’s talk a bit about Rain Games now. How did you first get involved with the company?
See the anecdote two questions ago:)
Were you involved in their previous (unreleased) game, Minute Mayhem?
Yeah, I worked on character designs and world building for that- Some of the characters from World To The West actually originated in Minute Mayhem, including Teri and Clonington! The behind the scenes worldbuilding for that game became the blueprint for the world all of our games take place in.
Onto Teslagrad now. Who came up with the game’s concept? Why a ‘magnetic puzzle platformer’?
Teslagrad originated in Minute Mayhem as well, the original pitch was that we’d make a platformer set in Elektropia, that world’s northernmost nation, dark and dreary and defined by their mastery of electricity.
Initially we were discussing making a cinematic platformer in the vein of another world or limbo, but once we hit upon the notion of building mechanics around electromagnetism (tesla is the measurement unit for magnetic flux) it quickly turned into more of a metroidvania-esque action puzzle hybrid.
Art style wise, it certainly looks unique. Why did you decide to go with that style anyway?
The vision for the art style was basically making a snes game, but in HD- at this point most indie games had a pixel art aesthetic, and we felt that we needed to do something different to stand out. Both I and my fellow artist Aslak had a 2d animation background so we thought it’d would be a good idea to apply that skill set to the game.
A lot of the visual quirks of the game comes from needing to find ways to draw effectively- frame by frame animation is very time consuming and we are a small team so we needed to be able to draw each frame quickly. This is one of the reasons the characters have Tintin-style slit eyes, it makes their expression more ambivalent so that the same expression might read slightly differently in two scenes based on context.
Were there any other ideas you had for art styles? Like, ones extremely different from how the game actually looks now?
Early on we were considering going with pixel art, but we felt it might not stand out much if we did. We tried a few variations on that formula. One approach was doing “sloppy pixel art” by painting environments at higher resolutions and then downscaling, another was doing the basic designs in pixel art and then repainting them in an impressionistic fashion, using the shape language of pixel art but with a hand painted feel. That was an interesting look, but felt restrictive, so in the end we wound up sketching the character motions as simplified low-res sprites for prototyping and then using that as a base for the hand drawn final assets.
How did you create the graphics anyway? What tools did you use for drawing them or inserting them into the game?
I used Toonboom for animation-it’s vector based, so it can do lossless scaling, which was useful when it came to being flexible in what the size of the final sprites would be. It still handles like pretty much any drawing software. Effects work, backgrounds and environment tiles were done in photoshop.
Obviously, there’s a very Russian/Soviet aesthetic to the world and cast. Why did you decide to go with that here?
That flowed pretty naturally from our early choice of setting the game in the Northern part of our world- Our fictionalized riff on Europe is split into four separate nations, and Elektropia, where Teslagrad takes place, is a mix between Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. I’m a big fan of vintage Eastern European art and animation, so taking some inspiration from that felt like a natural fit.
And how did the character designs come about?
I did the design sketches for the characters, trying to see what their defining characteristics would be and how to convey them without using any dialogue. Early sketches were often a tad more intricate, but when working with frame by frame animation every detail adds a lot of time to the process, so it became important to distill them into cleaner designs without losing the essence of the characters.
I still regret making the main character asymmetric with only one magnetic glove, as that meant i had to draw left-and right facing versions of every frame, doubling the animation frame count!
I have a trick i use when designing characters, i draw a few variants until i come up with a design i like, then i try to commit that to memory and put those drawings away in a drawer for a few days while i concentrate on other stuff. Then, after a few days, I try to redraw those characters from memory- any detail I’ve forgotten in the meantime probably wasn’t essential to the character, or I would have remembered it.
A while ago, Nintendo released a remake of The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess for Wii U. This remake had slightly improved graphics, some Amiibo functionality and a new ‘dungeon’ called the Cave of Shadows among other minor features, and generally got okay reviews on release.
At the same time though, it was also… seen as rather unambitious. Yeah it was functional sure. Yes, it certainly looked a tad cleaner than the GameCube and Wii version sure.
But compared to other Nintendo remakes, it felt a tad rushed. Like the team behind it didn’t really have the time or budget to go all out with the project.
Yet despite that being the case, there was also another Twilight Princess remake project in development. This one was fan run, and tried to redo the game in a far more significant way than Nintendo’s version ever could. It planned for new dungeons, new character models and geometry, new items and content… basically, it was Twilight Princess completely rebooted from the ground up.
And that’s what today’s interview is about! Yep now we’ve gotten ARTAKE Games to talk about their own Twilight Princess inspired Zelda game, as well as how their plans progressed from a simple remake to a massive overhaul the likes of which haven’t been before.
So, if you’re interested in the project (or what a reimagined Twilight Princess would be like in general), keep reading!
Well, you know the drill here. Who are you guys? What’s the background for the people listed on the ARTAKE Games staff page?
We’re a group of likeminded individuals trying to step into the gaming industry. I (Tomoya, the project’s main founder) started this project way back on April 1st, 2015 with the “Tomoya’s Twilight Princess HD Project.” It unexpectedly went viral, especially when Tino (developer of Ishiiruka, a custom build of the Dolphin emulator) implemented material maps alongside advanced lighting techniques that modern games use into an old emulated game(The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.)
However, an unfortunate thing happened where Nintendo manually took down our trailer video that gained A LOT of momentum and popularity since Nintendo released their official TPHD remaster. This was good timing for the team that I gathered from the fame to halt development so we can focus on a project that we perhaps make revenue with. We made a video describing what happened and took our halt of the project in action and start pre-production of an original title.
About 3-4 months in pre-production, we came to realization that life is taking a toll on us with bills and time limitations for certain members, and the project we started (the pre-production one called Kaiyo,) was too ambitious for our first original game. What happened? The project stopped so we can think of a quicker way to make money, which was working on a mobile app called Jumpy Jelly.
The app took about 3-4 months(again) to develop, and was a great way to test the team’s trust, endurance, organization, etc. Of course, all things were bad since it was our first game, but the product was finished and organization, endurance, trust etc. improved as we progressed. At the end of the day, the project was complete and finished a game as a team. Forgot to mention that during pre-production of Kaiyo, we decided to make a business name called “Hamasaki Games” since “Tomoya Hamasaki” was used as my public name, and I pretty much founded the whole shebang ranging from making a name for myself, making a name for Ishiiruka, making a name for the texture project, and most of all making a name for the team I once had.
^ All this happened from April 1st, 2015 – February 2017
Wait, the team you once had?
That’s right… a team that I ONCE had and bonded with. I’m not going to point any names, but they were great friends (more than just a working team.) It was unfortunate how things went the way it did. They claim to have left because I apparently treat them with disrespect as leaked from one of my VERY trusted team members… like almost brother/father trust. This person leaked private messaged I had with him to the team and purposely to steal them away to work on their own game.
However, maybe they weren’t stolen, but then again, they kicked me from my own project I started from my own Discord server. I can’t seem to win this fight and is something that will ALWAYS haunt and bother me, no matter what anybody says. At the end of the day, I don’t know what they were thinking… I have no idea what I did wrong. It still bothers me… and it’s sad that they didn’t even talk with me, but instead censor me and show leaked conversations to back their point.
Things are complicated when it comes to explaining this stuff, but damn was it a day where I snapped and couldn’t believe what happened. I am a very transparent person, and I’m extremely trusting – a weakness that clearly showed from what happened. I couldn’t get my server back since I was blocked from it – all communication from everybody was blocked or something.
Nor could I contact anybody but Skillar Babcock (a long-term supporter since the beginning and became a team member as a 3D modeler.) Since Skillar was in the server, he asked the person that stole the team and kicked me to have me join and explain myself, but he refused to have a talk – damn this makes my blood boil thinking about the past – so I had no choice but to stream. I started a live stream to catch them on the act and to tell the fans not to trust them.
Then there came the PM leaks… especially PMs that were about things that were already resolved. What happened is that the thief took OLD conversations and memories and exaggerated them via stream and team, polluting them with propaganda. Though everything he shares is what happened, it’s stuff that shouldn’t be leaked and was resolved and WAS USUALLY casual shit talk. EVYERYBODY shit talks about each other at some point, but when you have a history of 2 years of friendship and talk, and compile that into a leak folder… it looks BAD. I was LITERALLY demonized from my old team. This hurt me A LOT and if there was only a way to confront them to have them choke on their guilt, if they have any or any sense of morality, respect and honour.
I got my server back and everything else, because of the stream, but left without a team. Even team members I had 1-1 conversations with, bonded, deep talk, etc. – they left without even… I… I just… whatever.
It was a rough weekend, and had a few supporters that stood by my side. A few supporters were talented people, and wanted to join my team. I then scouted on the internet and found A LOT of talent that joined recently. If you go on the website, it shows their role and shows their experience. They’re all members recruited from the internet. Not sure what background info you want, but I made this story so you can better understand why the old Hamasaki Games crew no longer exists.
And this all happened recently – 2 – 3 weeks ago.
I want to leave with 1 note – be careful with who you trust, even if they’re like family. Like a good ol’ team member said – “Keep your hopes high, but keep your head low.”
What about the name of the company/group? What the hell is an ARTAKE anyway?
After all the drama that happened, especially to the public, I had to rebrand Hamasaki Games into the business model I want our company to have. We basically create alternatives to games that we all love, and specially the older ones back in the 90’s since those were the ones that revolutionized gaming today. Good thing we had a supporter named “Matt” which gave some business name ideas, and since he knew the model, he came up with ARTAKE Games. If you read into the name, you can hear “Our Take” – Our Take Games – “Our Take on games” – ARTAKE Games.
How did you first get into video games? Given you’re remaking a Zelda title, I assume you started with the NES game or something?
I started with the NES but hated all the games (including Zelda 1 and 2) besides Mario and Castlevania and Metroid. I got into serious gaming when the SNES was introduced to my life.
And what games are you playing now anyway? Have you tried the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild yet?
Back when I was younger, in my teens, I was straying away from consoles a lot and moving towards computers more often. This was especially true during the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 era. With this, I got into computer gaming, but found most of my time playing StarCraft 2 Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm and stopped playing when Legacy of the Void was released. I’m mentioning this because THAT was my bread and butter COMPETIVELY. So now that I stopped StarCraft like… 4 years ago, what do I play now? Isn’t it obvious that it’s League of Legends? Everybody that quit StarCraft pretty much migrated to LoL. I can’t play it religiously anymore since I have this project and maintaining promises and a team and development strips away A LOT of your time to enjoy things like my precious League of Legends.
I would also find myself playing Zelda games here and there, but if I were to get back into console games, it would only be for a Zelda game, and that’s when Breath of the Wild kicked in, BUT… but… it… it was like that girl that you dated because you expected more from what she promised.
You see… you love the looks of her and love how she plays in bed, but her overall… personality and content is terrible. Breath of the Wild had GREAT gameplay, was a great Sims/RPG simulator, great cooking simulator, but… that’s not what Zelda is. It lacked story and overall… CONTENT. I mean… yeah there were shrines, but those were all the same atmosphere and overall EASY puzzles besides a couple and majority were Trial of Strength or Test of Strength or whatever they’re called. It just… it’s a good foundation for a Zelda game, and want to see what they do with the next one. I’m not going to judge Breath of the Wild till we get that last DLC.
Played it on Cemu, by the way. I can’t afford a Wii U or a Switch.
How about game development? What’s your history there?
Well I’ve always wanted to make video games since I was a kid. My first take on making a video game was using Macromedia Flash 8 back in the good ol’ Flash days via Newgrounds. I was making platformers and thinking of innovative ways to improve a simple mobile game. I came up with some great ideas, but I was a stupid little kid that was just toying with video games, get far in it, finish it and delete the work since I never had a computer of my own. It was either my dad’s computer or my mom’s laptop. I didn’t get my own computer till I was 15-16 years old.
When I got my own computer, I was making websites and apps. I made mobile apps that took off making a lot of money that were called “Draw2GO Apps.” They teach you how to draw and you can still find them on Amazon App store today 😊
Why didn’t you stick with the apps? Well… my family controlled the money, and got nothing. SI basically said screw it, I’m going to make a video game again like I once tried as a kid. However, I was a one-man army, and needed to think of a way to gather a team to success. Since I had art skills and art runs in the family, I decided to start small with the “Twilight Princess HD Texture Project.” EVERYBODY, however, can make a texture pack, so I scouted on the Dophin Forums and found Tino, the Ishiiruka dev. I feel I already explained, and you know where this goes from that long story above.
Either way, onto the subject of your main project. Why did you decide to remake Twilight Princess anyway?
Because back when it was just a texture project, I promised the fans gameplay changes and lighting effects and new dungeons and more content. You see… I was a stupid kid that got into game development that had no idea what true game development is, so I made stupid promises like that (way too ambitious, thinking like a gamer.)
I want to give the fans what I promised to not only prove them, but to prove myself that I can achieve something like re-imagining Twilight Princess with all the new features etc.
Besides, Zelda is my ONLY go-to-game. I’ve always been a huge fan of Zelda. I have a Zelda key chain, a Zelda wallet, Zelda wallpaper and many Zelda T-shirts. I even have a Link amiibo even though I don’t have a Wii U; Really, I just wanted the figurine.
Also, this is something that people may not know if they’re new to the project, Twilight Princess is my MOST HATED Zelda game. I HATE the art style, I HATE the story and I HATE the wolf mechanic. So I chose Twilight Princess to challenge myself to make it into my MOST FAVORITE Zelda game. I want this to take the spot from Majora’s Mask (My favorite Zelda game of all time.)
Did you ever consider reworking any other Zelda games at that time?
Yes, Majora’s Mask
What did you think when Nintendo announced Twilight Princess HD? Was it a bit of a shock to you?
No – it wasn’t a shock, but it was disappointing because I contacted them asking if we could remake the game for them. I was just making a texture pack with Tino adding advanced lighting, and yet they hire a cheap company to make a really bad texture pack port for the Wii U. The Twilight Princess HD official is literally what you can get on the internet from say “Victor Rosa’s Texture Pack.” Same style, but free and better.
How about the game’s content/quality? How does it stack up in your eyes?
If you mean how I look at Twilight Princess’ content/quality by default? Well… it’s good, and it’s TRUE Zelda – like Twilight Princess IS what a 3D Zelda game SHOULD be, but the content and overall quality was WAY TOO ahead of its time. The wolf Link mechanic was terrible and the game felt like a HUGE empty shell. We want to fix that, of course – TRY to fix all of it.
Regardless of that though, it seems like the project has drifted a bit. When did you decide you wanted to go beyond what a mere remaster or remake?
February 2017 after the Jumpy Jelly app was finished.
How do you decide what to add to the game? Because based on your streams, it seems like you’re mostly focusing on new connecting areas between major parts of Twilight Princess’ game world…
Well, we’re focusing on making 1 dungeon at a time to release something to the public. That’s right – we want to focus on making 1 dungeon READY to be completed by the player full of puzzles, dungeon item, main dungeon mechanic, completely redesigned and original, a story and a boss – ALL for free, but Patrons get 2-week early access
After we’re done finishing ALL the dungeons in Twilight Princess, and ALL being completely original with its own story and… everything else I mentioned earlier, we’re going to pitch ALL the dungeons to Nintendo to possibly have it where we can get permission to finish the full game. If they don’t approve it and depending on the amount of support we get from Patreon, we’ll either work on our own original title (not much Patreon support) OR we connect the dungeons that were finished to the overworld and add the full game/original story. More info about this will be given regarding new overworld/story content when the time comes.
What about the graphical elements? The new designs are certainly a tad more complex than the existing game ones. Who creates those? What influences them?
I am the 3D modeler that modelled the main characters model (Link.) Pravesh, a modeler from India, is the one that modelled the houses/structures. The influence is basically – character models have an Overwatch sense of detail and style, but the environment has the style of Breath of the Wild.
And how exactly did you build such a good team for the project? It’s always hard to get people to help out with fan games and mods, especially free ones…
Well – I spent restless hours recruiting. It’s a lot of work and a lot of convincing. It drains you, but the result is worth it. Just go to 3D modelling forums and big sites like Polycount. I also try to be as transparent as possible – HIDING NOTHING and if I do hide something, I end up confessing on my own will.
Do ever worry that you may be a bit too ambitious here? Cause some people may be getting URA Zelda Restoration Project vibes from this remake…
It’s not too ambitious since we’re doing dungeon by dungeon. Our original goal was to start from Ordon Village, and start making the WHOLE game with the story, but our team was crippled, and the team has shrunk to a degree where we HAD to go by a tactic of: finish one dungeon (Forest Temple is the first) and then release it to the public, after that work on the next one.
So, we only have to worry about dungeons instead of the world.
And hey, given all the new content, did you ever think to just make a new Zelda game from scratch without the Twilight Princess stuff?
Well it would be awesome to do that, especially if we become partners with Nintendo. I have many ideas for a Zelda game, and if Nintendo doesn’t want to become partners, we have an original game in stock ready for development after this Twilight Princess one that’s basically Zelda inspired, but completely original at the same time with an interesting mechanic.
Still, there are a few things that fans don’t quite remember so fondly about Twilight Princess, like the intro, some of the bosses and certain aspects of the dungeon design. Will any of this be tweaked in your redone version?
Yes – as I stated; ALL dungeons WILL be completely original and redesigned. Like… the diagram is COMPLETELY different for the Forest Temple. The theme of it is COMPLETELY different. What kind of design are we going for the Forest Temple? Like… it’s still inside of a Deku tree, but it’ll be… well… listen to this song and maybe you can take a guess.
What about the items? Will you add a few more places to use the Dominion Rod for example?
We’ll probably add an upgrade system and have the dominion rod have more of a use. Even the Ordon Sword will have a… SPECIAL touch that I do not want to spoil.
Any more plans for the Twilight Realm? Always thought that was a bit of a wasted opportunity in Twilight Princess. All this interesting world, and the only thing you ever see is a single dungeon…
The Twilight Realm will become the “Twilight World.” Our idea for the Twilight World is to basically become the Dark World from A Link to the Past. This world will have a total of 4 dungeons including the Palace of Twilight. So you go into the Twilight World for the first time, you can’t go into the Palace of Twilight because of a barrier. I have a Google doc that I can share with you describing more about the game.
Either way, may as well ask about a few other projects on your site too. What’s Project Eventide about?
It’s the Twilight Princess re-imaged project that the entire interview was about.
Does it tie into Breath of the Wild? The name says yes, but the realistic part of me says there’s no way in hell anyone can mod the game yet…
Eventide means “Twilight” and… no we’re not modding Breath of the Wild.
Another project you list is Jumpy Jelly, the only indie game mentioned on the site. Is this another thing you want to make more of in future? Will ARTAKE Games eventually focus on indie titles rather than fan projects?
Unfortunately, quite a few fan projects have been shut down by companies like Nintendo recently, and I remember them trying the same thing with your Twilight Princess remake. What’s the situation on that?
This project is completely original, no assets are from Nintendo, all dungeons and worlds are completely redesigned, EVERYTHING made from scratch. You’ll see when the first dungeon is released.
It also led to you moving to a more… private mode of development, complete with YouTube and Twitch streams rather than smaller videos and less promotion. Have you ever considered just moving your channel to a site like VidMe or something?
No – I don’t even know what VidMe is. We’re being completely open with this project. We want to show Nintendo we mean serious business and we can finish a product and impress them.
And given Nintendo has tried to take down the project once, do you ever worry they’ll try it again when it’s finally released? What plans do you have in place for that?
They didn’t try to take it down – they took down one of our videos because we had more coverage for Twilight Princess HD in Google and YouTube search. Hell – if you went on YouTube back in the day and searched “Twilight Princess,” our project shows #1.
Could your Zelda fan projects be potentially retooled into a more original setup? I’ve seen that happen for a few fan games in the past (like Breath of the NES and Zelda Maker) …
Yes – it is one of the goals of this project. In the end, we’ll have a finished engine, developed team, mechanics and skills for our next original product.
Still, it seems the internet liked your Twilight Princess remake when it was first announced. But it’s been a while since then, and it’ll be even longer before it’s out. So… how do you plan to promote it the second time?
When we release the first dungeon to the public, we’ll make a trailer that will blow your minds
Are you going to focus more on the marketing side of things as it nears release?
Market the team, but not the project. We don’t want this project to look like we’re trying to compete with Nintendo. We want to market the team as a group that’s trying to make ARTAKE Games a company to provide alternative games for fans of a dead series or successful series.
What plans do you have for games and remakes after that and Project Eventide?
Finally, what advice would you give people wanting to get into game development?
Start small like with a simple platformer, learn a lot (become a generalist,) be careful with who you trust and be realistic. Anybody can achieve anything – even a person that made a simple game like Flappy Bird or Undertale.
And you know what?
We agree entirely. Too many fan game and indie dev teams start out with a big ambitious plan and end up getting nowhere with it. Or if they do get somewhere, the lack of expertise and usually poor level of organisation completely sinks the project somewhere further down the line.
As you know, we’ve interviewed quite a few different people here on Gaming Reinvented. We’ve interviewed Judge Spear and the Fusion Gameworks team about Mushroom Kingdom Fusion. We’ve talked to Shesez about Boundary Break.
And well, with BlueJackG and Loeder among others, we’ve also interviewed quite a few music remixers too. It’s quite the motley bunch as far as interviewees are concerned!
But this time, we’ve something a bit different. Why?
Because it’s not a fan game developer or YouTube personality! Nope, this time it’s with the developers of an interesting game known as Soul Reaper. So, what is Soul Reaper anyway?
Well, to put it simply…
It’s a top down RPG which mixes elements from Final Fantasy, Diablo, Pokémon and the Legend of Zelda series.
So here’s how it works. You’re a grim reaper called Soul Reaper, and you have to explore a mysterious cave called the Vault in order to collect souls. These souls in turn are held by various enemies (like knife wielding squirrels and psycho fish), and can be used for abilities in battle once you collect them.
Either way, it’s an interesting little game, and one we definitely recommend checking out. But hey, enough of that! Onto the actual interview!
So, let’s off with some personal history now. Who are you? Who are the people working for Power Level Studios?
My name’s Danny Forest, I’m a software engineer/game developer from Canada. I’m currently a nomad, travelling the world while working on our game: Soul Reaper. Power Level Studios is composed of people from USA, Hong Honk and South Africa, now living in Toronto, Canada (with one exception). We are one producer/designer/developer, three 2D artists and one 2D animator.
And how did you get into video games to begin with? What era of gaming was your first?
I was born in 1986, during the NES era. I have a brother who is about 5 years older than me and loves playing RPGs, so I grew up playing The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in Canada back then) in my early years. And I have no idea how I did it, but I remember finishing Zelda and Final Fantasy 1 when I was only 4 years old, without speaking a word of English. I’m sure I got some help from my brother, but I like to think I did that by myself!
Any games you really enjoyed, perhaps those which can be considered an influence for your later work?
There are so many! I have always been a big RPG player and have been a great Square Enix follower. When two of my favourite companies merged, Squaresoft and Enix, I was so happy. To me, it meant more better games. I was mostly right I think. I’m very much inspired by all Final Fantasy games before XI. I love Tri-Ace games, especially Star Ocean 2 and Valkyrie Profile. The ancient cave in Lufia II was the original inspiration for Soul Reaper. The Zelda and of Mana series have always inspired me as a developer. I’m also a really big fan of the 2D Castlevania games. And I can’t count how many hours I’ve sunk into Diablo 2. There’s definitely more than that, but you get the idea; I love RPGs!
What about your history of video game development. How did you first get involved in that?
We got our first family computer pretty late; At that time, I was 13 years old. I already knew that I wanted to make games growing up. I searched the best ways to make RPGs at the time and found RPG Maker 1998. That tool was amazing for the time! I was able to make games so fast and learn about game design early on. I was able to make a game inspired by the Suikoden series.
Looking back, it was probably pretty bad, especially with my limited English skills. I then followed with RM2K, Game Maker and BYOND. Game Maker introduced me to conditions and loops and BYOND introduced me to coding. I was about 16 years old at the time I think. I released my first MMORPG on BYOND a few months later. Many people tried it, but it was taken down very quickly. I called it Final Fantasy Arena, and used spritesheets I found of FFIV-FFVI. For some reason, I didn’t understand why it was taken down haha!
It also seems like you’ve worked at a fair few development companies before starting Power Level Studios. How did you get involved at those?
My first paid job in the industry was with XMG Studios in Toronto. It was a 4-month coop term with the university. Before that, I had worked for the Government of Canada and started two companies: one in software development and one in organizing local video game tournaments. XMG hired me because of my entrepreneurship and my previous experience in developing games. I had pretty good grades in software engineering classes too, but I think it didn’t matter as much. I worked on Drag Racer World, which did great until CSR crushed it.
For Massive Damage after, I was pitching a self-improvement gamification company to a Montreal incubator called Year One Labs. Things were going smoothly, but they only had funding for 5 companies. I think mine was 6th in line. Their top company, Massive Damage, were looking for a backend developer and so we joined forces. I built Please Stay Calm’s backend from the ground up and became producer two years later.
For Sauropod Studio, well, one of the founders is a good friend of mine. We met when working at the movie theatre in Gatineau a few years before. He needed a backend engineer and I was looking for change. I also helped with some frontend stuff and artificial intelligence.
Was there any particular reason you chose these companies to work with? Did their game projects grab your interest more than others that other development companies may be working on?
XMG Studio was one of the only video game companies that applied for the program at my university back then. They had created innovative AR games and I thought that was unique and cool. Massive Damage was building the world’s first location-based MMORPG for mobile and I was looking to improve my backend skills so it made sense to me. And I had met the founders before and we got along really well. We were a great team together.
When moving to Sauropod Studio, I had to choose between them, GameHive and Uken. All three projects could not have been more different. I had friends or connections at each of these companies, so that was made easier. I first declined Uken because I don’t think I was a good cultural fit. The company was a little big for me, so my entrepreneurial spirit probably would not have worked there. I then declined GameHive because the commute was too painfully long. So I chose Sauropod Studio. Castle Story was a really cool project, and the backend was built in python, which I had no experience with (major plus for me).
And what inspired you to start your own company?
I had started three companies before Power Level Studios, but it was the first in video game development. For me starting a new company was a no brainer. Being entrepreneur is in my blood; I can’t help it, I need to start stuff!
I started Power Level Studios because I love making RPGs, and the companies I worked for in the past didn’t really have interest for them. Please Stay Calm was a very light RPG. I wanted to build another great old-school-style RPG like Lufia II and Final Fantasy on SNES, but for newer generations of consoles.
How about the name of it? Did Power Level Studios just come from RPGs in general? What was the thought process here?
Yeah, it pretty much comes from my love of RPGs. It’s a well-known term for RPG players, so I thought it would be easy for potential fans to remember the name. Not necessarily the best for SEO though haha!
I basically searched keywords/keyphrases from RPGs and picked the one I thought would sound the best and be the most unique and recognizable.
Rogue Sharks Arcade seemed to be your first game, and it was pretty damn successful. Did you imagine it’d have 3 million+ players?
Haha, this one’s a good story I think. Rogue Sharks Arcade was some kind of “accident”, both the game itself and its “success”.
I started working on Soul Reaper back in September 2013 and came to the realization that the game was way too ambitious for a first game. I would need money to hire artists and more, but didn’t have the money. So I thought making a simple mobile game, similar to the classic gravity-based helicopter web game, would be my way out. For some reason, Sharks was the first theme that came to mind. I thought Rogue Sharks would take one month to build. I had limited Unity experience back then, but that’s not why it took much longer. It took about a year to build.
The game just wasn’t fun enough by my standards, so I re-did it a few times with different mechanics. I released Rogue Sharks Arcade two months in, since the game had enough content to be a full-game loop.
I released it on the web on Kongregate and was hoping to get feedback so I could improve it for mobile after. Money was not the target here. About 200 people played it on Kongregate and had a score of 3/5, confirming my assumptions: it’s not a very good game.
But here’s the interesting part: how did I get from 200 players to 3M+? The short answer: it was stolen and put on MANY other websites around the world. You see, I was too dumb to protect it, and I didn’t even put my company logo or the game title in the game, so people just rebranded it and claimed it as their own. It got featured on lots of Chinese and Russian websites. There was no English text in the whole game. Everything was icon-based, so it was accessible in any language.
BUT, because of that incident, I got exactly what I wanted: feedback. With 200 players, I got close to 0 feedback, with 3M+, there were plenty of players to give feedback. I had to track websites down and translate feedback back to English, but still, there was lots of feedback. But that’s not all, I was tracking everything in the game using Game Analytics. I knew exactly how people were playing, so I knew how to improve the game for mobile.
But then at that point I was travelling around the world with my wife for about a year, so I didn’t have much time to make the mobile version. But I did it anyway. I stopped Chiang Mai, Thailand, to work on it for one full month and finished it. So Rogue Sharks for mobile exists, and is a much better game than Rogue Sharks Arcade on the web. I never released it though, because it’s still bad in my opinion. We were in 2016 then and there’s millions of games in the App Stores. A lot of them are great and have a much bigger budget than we had at the time. Unless I found a good partner to release the game, I figured there was no point releasing a game no one would discover and play.
Plus, we’re Power Level Studios, we want to make great RPGs, not game genres we know nothing about.
So yeah, the game was “successful” for what we tried to achieve, but definitely no commercial success. And yeah 3M+ was definitely not expected!
It was the fan game Mega Man fans have wanted for years.
And dear god, did the internet let the creators know that. Why? Because in a just few days, the game went from being virtually unknown to front page news on Kotaku and GameSpot! It’s become the next AM2R or Pokémon Uranium!
But the sites never covered much about the authors of the game in question. So what’s where we come in.
Because this time on Gaming Reinvented, we’re interviewing Mega Maker creating Wrecking Programs about their game and personal life.
So if you’re interested in learning more about the title (and those who made it), keep reading!
Well, you know the drill here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who are you when you’re not making fan games?
I’m a student from the Netherlands. I’ve just finished high school and plan to attend university later this year, studying Computer Science. Aside from developing games, I enjoy playing somewhat competitive Super Smash Bros in my free time (mostly Brawl, but I play some Melee too) and I like to play 2D platformers, of course.
And what’s your experience with video games anyway? How did you first start playing them?
My first experience with video games was through the Sega Genesis (called the Mega Drive over here) my parents owned. This introduced me to the Sonic series and platformers in general. I later bought a Nintendo DS, which introduced me to the Mario franchise (and Super Mario 64 DS is still my favourite Mario game to this day). I wasn’t introduced to Mega Man until much later; 2014 if I recall correctly.
What’s your favourite game?
My favourite game is Super Smash Bros Brawl, which I also play competitively as described earlier.
Okay, so where did your username come from? What was the ‘wrecking’ part inspired by?
The ‘wrecking’ part came to be years ago, back in 2012 I believe. I really liked the Skylanders series back then, and my favourite character there was Wrecking Ball, which I based my username on (back then it was WreckingGoomba, so a combination of my favourite characters). I outgrew the series shortly after, but decided to keep the ‘wrecking’ part anyway. Then I changed it to WreckingPrograms about three years ago.
Onto game development now. How did you first get started making games?
I’ve wanted to make games ever since I first encountered them on the Genesis, and after some brief searching I came across Game Maker 8.0 in 2010. I was initially somewhat scared by its focus on programming, but the Drag & Drop system helped me get used to it relatively quickly, and I’ve stayed with the program since (though I’m using a newer version called Game Maker Studio nowadays).
Before you made Mega Maker, you also created a few Mario fan games like Super Mario & the Elemental Orbs. What inspired that series?
As I stated before, I hadn’t discovered Mega Man until 2014, and before that my favourite franchise was Mario. There’s no specific inspiration aside from that. My first few fangames were really bad, naturally, but they became better over time, although I still don’t consider Super Mario & the Elemental Orbs on par with my current standards.
Heck, what’s the status of it anyway? Is the series over now?
Super Mario & the Elemental Orbs is still in development, but progress is slow. It definitely became more of a side project, but I hope to finish it this year.
So Mega Maker stuff now. What made you decide to create a Mega Man fan game?
I wanted to make a Mega Man-esque game as soon as I discovered the series. It quickly grew on me, and initially I decided to create a Mega Man-inspired indie game called Environ. It’s unfortunately cancelled, but you can still watch and play the demo here:
I cancelled the game because I found out indie gaming wasn’t for me, which I discovered while developing the Mega Engine, a Mega Man engine for Game Maker that I created last year that also served as the base engine for Mega Maker. This was initially a side project, but it made me remember how much more fun fan game development was, so I decided to leave the indie scene and focus on fan gaming instead. Of course, the next step was to create a Mega Man fan game, which became Mega Maker.
What about a Mega Man version of Super Mario Maker? That’s an unusual idea for a Mega Man fan game…
The reason I created the Mega Engine was to give the community a more accessible way to create their own Mega Man games, which served as the main inspiration for creating Mega Maker. Additionally, the Make a Good Mega Man Level contest (a contest where people could submit their own Mega Man levels to create a community-based game) served as inspiration as well, on top of Mega Man Powered Up’s level creator.
However, the most important reason I started Mega Maker was the fact that level makers involve a lot of programming (my favourite part of game development) and it allowed me to re-use several official assets, which allowed me to not worry too much about custom sprites, music and more. Part of the reason I left the indie scene is that you have to create basically everything yourself (unless you work in a team, but these are hard to establish for indie games). Mega Maker allowed me to focus on my favourite aspects of game development, while not having to worry too much about most other parts.
And how did you choose what themes to include? Are they all based on the most popular Mega Man series levels? Or just ones you thought had neat differences and gimmicks?
We included as many background and tilesets as we could. Some levels (like Cut Man’s stage) lacked a background and some tilesets (such as Flash Man’s) were not compatible with our autotiler, but aside from that, all Robot Master themes from Mega Man 1 through 6 are in the game.
It seems to be mostly eight bit styled here, unlike Super Mario Maker. Is your intention to only include stuff from the first 6 Mega Man games and Mega Man 9 and 10?
The first release will only have content from Mega Man 1 through 6, but we plan on releasing content from Mega Man 7 onwards through updates. We will of course have to recreate the Mega Man 7 and 8 assets to be 8-bit, so we’ll have to see how that goes.
Regardless of that, do you think any Wily stage themes or objects will be included? What ones?
We hope to add Wily stage content through updates, but we’re not sure which stages exactly would be covered.
How about bosses? The trailer says 12 of them are included, so what ones are they? Why did you choose those specific ones?
Sorry, I can’t reveal that yet. You’ll have to find out once the game launches 😛
In the trailer, you say how a few weapons and abilities have been altered or made a bit stronger/more interesting. Has the same also happened to enemies? Because Mario Maker gave enemies new abilities if they were underwater or what not…
Again, we can’t reveal that yet, sorry.
And how much customisation is available there? Can enemies meant for certain levels (like Quickman Lasers) be used in other themes?
Yes, you will be able to use any enemies, objects or other assets in any stage theme. You can even combine different tilesets and backgrounds to create your own theme.
What about other customisation options? Are there any extra graphical flourishes in the tilesets and what not? Like in Mario Maker?
Mega Maker supposedly also has various extras too. Can you tell us a bit more about these?
Notable extras include two all-new weapons, several buffed weapons (such as Top Spin and Plant Barrier) and an interactive tutorial to learn the basics of the level editor. We unfortunately cannot reveal extras, though, so there will be some more to be discovered at launch.
Okay, online level sharing is a big part here. What kind of features does this aspect have associated with it?
You can, of course, upload your own levels and share them with others. You can also browse for levels created by others with several ways to sort them, such as sorting by best rating, sorting by most played or even sorting randomly. Additionally, you can also search for a specific level you want, you can enter the level ID to play that level and you can let the game pick a level randomly. On top of that, you can like or dislike levels you’ve played.
Are there any filters or options there? Like Easy, Normal, Expert and Super Expert modes?
Sorry, we can’t reveal that yet.
How do you share these levels with others then? Will levels have codes you can share?
Each level will have its own ID, which is just a number. Players can enter this number to play your level.
I also hear the game won’t be open source at the moment. Is that planned at some point? To allow mods to be made and what not?
We’re considering it, but at the moment it doesn’t look like the game will be open source, sorry.
In recent times, we’ve seen a fair few fan games shut down. Do you ever worry Capcom could do the same thing?
Capcom is very lenient with fan games. They have never taken down a Mega Man fan game unless they tried making a profit or contained NSFW, neither of which applies to Mega Maker (all Patreon donations will go directly to server fees). On top of that, a notable Capcom employee has even stated they wouldn’t take down fan works unless these conditions are met, on the Capcom Unity forums no less. I don’t think we have to worry about a Cease & Desist from them.
If they do, will this title be reimagined as an original IP or cancelled altogether?
We haven’t thought about that as we don’t expect a Cease & Desist (see earlier), so unfortunately we don’t know.
Then again, Capcom is pretty nice to fan games. Do you think there’s a chance they’ll make this official? Like Street Fighter X Mega Man?
With Mega Man’s 30th anniversary coming up, they could always decide to do the same thing they did five years ago, which is making a fan game official. The chances of that are very low though, and we definitely do not expect them to make Mega Maker official.
Regardless of what Capcom thinks, it seems the internet loves the game. Did you expect all this hype over it?
I expected some popularity, but not nearly as much as we ended up getting. I wouldn’t consider this a bad thing or anything, and it’s definitely great to see so many people excited about the game, but I do hope the server won’t overload on launch day. We’ll have to see about that.
What about the articles on sites like Kotaku?
I was really surprised to see so many sites cover the game, especially ones like IGN and Kotaku. Most of these articles said the same thing though: the game looks cool, but Capcom may take it down. While I understand their concern, the chances of that happening are low, as explained earlier. Kotaku’s article in particular contained quite some unfortunate mistakes though. For example, it claimed CosmicGem is the only musician working on the project, it stated the soundtrack was chiptune-inspired while it’s real chiptune (it could even play on an actual NES) and it said our maximum Patreon goal is $15, while it is $50 in reality. A lot of sites seem to have used Kotaku as their source, which is a shame considering these mistakes, but I appreciate the coverage nonetheless.
Assuming it does make release day, will the game get regular updates with new content and features?
Yes! Aside from bug patches, we plan on adding content from Mega Man 7 onwards, as well as new features.
What about future plans? Do you have any plans for Mega Man fan games after this one?
Not really. We still plan on updating this game regularly as stated before, so we’ll have quite some work on this project before we’ll move on to a different project, and it’s too early to decide on what this new project would be.
Finally, what advice would you give anyone going into video game development?
Start small. It’s easy to imagine a huge and exciting game with tons of content, but newcomers that decide to create these games always end up cancelling then early on. It’s a much better idea to start small and work your way up; if Mega Maker were my first project, for example, it definitely wouldn’t have seen a launch day. But most importantly, have fun! If you are not enjoying game development, there’s no point in doing it, and if you only enjoy a specific aspect of it (like programming, graphics or music) consider joining another project’s team. You’d be surprised how many teams are looking for people like you!
And you know what we think?
That’s great advice right there. Yes, I know you’ve probably got a million ideas for the game of your dreams. Everyone has. It’s why so many game development forums are filled with newbies posting topics about overambitious, likely to fail ideas.
Why so many indies and fan game creators try and create their MMORPG and fail miserably.
So don’t start with an ambitious project. Start small and make your way up to larger projects as your level of skill improves. That’s how to succeed in the game development scene. Not the ‘I’m going to create a new Mushroom Kingdom Fusion after one day of messing with Game Maker’ route.
But hey, what do you think of the interview? Did you find it interesting? Were the answers provided by WreckingPrograms what you expected to see?
Or do you feel we’ve missed out on a few key question ideas?
Post your thoughts here or on social media today! Also, give ’em a follow on Twitter or YouTube! They’ll appreciate it!
Here at Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed all kinds of people in the gaming world. There have been fan game and ROM hack developers, like Kaze Emanuar and Judge Spear. There have been music remixers and YouTube celebrities like the Lonely Goomba, Slopes Game Room and BlueJackG.
And well, on occasion we’ve even interviewed website developers and writers, like the nice folks at Source Gaming.
But one type of interviewee we haven’t talked to yet, is a graphics artist.
Until now. Because this time on the Gaming Reinvented interview block, we’ve got long time spriter SmithyGCN telling us about his experiences drawing video game sprites and pixel art for fan games and other works! You may know him from the Spriter’s Resource where he’s drawn stuff like this:
Either way though, he’s here to tell us just what it’s like being a spriter and graphics artist, as well as give some tips for anyone interested in learning how to get good at pixel art.
So let the interview begin!
Starting with the usual personal background question. Who are you really? Who is the individual behind the SmithyGCN pseudonym?
My name is JohnMichael Earnest Woodard. I am an artist who is extremely interested in cartoon animation and video game pixel art. I am also a decent chef and a Christian. I’m the oldest of ten children in my family.
How did you first get interested in video games? Was Super Mario RPG one of your first gaming experiences, or did you come across it a fair bit after you got into the hobby?
I was introduced to them at a very young age. Indeed, I used to watch my Dad play things like Ironsword and Legacy of the Wizard. I would go on to beat at least Legacy of the Wizard many years later… still working on Ironsword, though. I didn’t play Super Mario RPG until nearly the end of my stay in Wisconsin which would have put me at about 12 years old.
What about your spriting background? What encouraged you to start creating video game sprites and pixel art anyway?
Believe it or not, the advertisements surrounding home computers. I saw how they displayed the Paint programs they had and it reminded me of video game art. When I finally got my own computer, I made up fake and poorly made screenshots of games surrounding my brother’s characters. My first pixel art was of a giant slug like creature from a Dungeons & Dragon’s bestiary. The screenshots have been lost to the annals of time.
Were there any games that inspired you there? Because while a few (like the ghost house graphics you posted on TSR about a decade ago) look Super Mario RPG inspired, others like your recent platformer sprites seem to take a lot of inspiration from 8 bit Castlevania titles.
My biggest inspirations early on were of Final Fantasy games from the NES and SNES eras. Especially Final Fantasy III/VI. When I made that Ghost House, I was trying to go for a more realistic setting to go with my then current project Ganbare Nintendo Densetsu no.009. I wanted the backgrounds to contrast heavily with the characters.
As time went on and GND fell by the wayside, I went to fond remembrance of the NES era and, more specifically, the cartoon of Captain N. I wanted to create something similar that would work with the same premise of GND. So, 2 Souls’ Tale was started. I at first kept the sprite animations simple like that of the NES games, but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with cartoon animation of the western hemisphere and began to apply the principles to my pixel art with great success. However, it wasn’t to last as when my then-girlfriend had left me (she was helping with the story writing, etc), my interest in 2 Souls’ Tale began to diminish over time. That was until I decided to make the two main characters after some of my church friends. Still, I put the game on hiatus while I pursued other artistic endeavours.