Asher Einhorn Interview; Disney Infinity, Game Design and the Industry’s Future

Released back in August of 2013 to both compete with Skylanders and offer a decent alternative to a long line of mediocre licensed games, Disney Infinity has since grown to be a multi million dollar franchise with characters, play sets and other content based on all kinds of properties.  From Star Wars, to Pirates of the Caribbean, to The Incredibles and Guardians of the Galaxy, there is plenty there for everyone.

Disney-Infinity-Logo

So let’s interview Asher Einhorn, in an exclusive for Gaming Reinvented.  Having worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean play set among others, and with a history in game designer covering everything from Formula 1 games to licensed tie ins, here are some of his thoughts in regards to game design, the industry’s future and much more besides…

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Above: A photo of interviewee Asher Einhorn

1. So first of all, what’s your background?  What got you interested in video games?

I always have been. I never had them as a kid, maybe that’s why I found them so fascinating. I used to watch my cousin play them and then I’d design my own on paper, so I guess it started pretty young!

I think what I like about games has evolved over the years, but luckily there’s always been something new to love about them. When I was young like most kids it was things like guns and robots, then as I got a little older it was really immersive stories like Ocarina of Time, and now it’s a fantastic outlet for any and all kinds of creativity. Architecture in level design, storytelling, the much more game-like parts – the core mechanics and so on. And of course the ongoing puzzle of how to make it all work as a medium.

Above: The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time was an influence at one point.

2. That said, why design?  I see you’ve worked as an animator and an engineer beforehand, so why move into game design?

I was always heading for game design, but there’s no clear path into the industry as one. If there had been I might have taken it, but I’m glad there wasn’t, because being able to do something other than design is so valuable. Having a good knowledge of how other roles in a studio work is pretty vital if you want to be a good designer.

3. Now the main game.  What do you think about Disney Infinity in general?

I think it makes up a pretty incredible package. The goal was always something that parents could play with their kids and I think it really achieves that. it definitely captures that Disney magic. It’s an enormous project and it’s on a very tight cycle, so it’s a bit of a shame each game doesn’t have more time to germinate. With more time the worlds could be more full and more alive, but then, I suppose you can say that about most games!

Above: From Disney Films to Marvel to Star Wars, Disney Infinity captures that Disney magic brilliantly.

4. What franchise themed part of Disney Infinity did you enjoy working on the most?  Why?

Without a doubt, Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact I can safely speak for quite a few people in the studio. The reason is sort of bizarre – You are looking at your screen from between 8 to 16 hours a day, and it was pretty great being in the Caribbean! I know this sounds silly, but when it comes to finishing the game and you’re pulling the late nights, being in a lovely sunny place (at least virtually) really lifts your spirit. That whole first game was very colourful and nice to develop. In fact the game was split into islands, and I chose mine solely based on weather!

That was a goal on the most recent game – let’s make it a nice place for us to be while we make it. No grey skies, even a winter atmosphere should be bright! Sometimes film-reference stops you from doing that though.

5. What was the situation behind Disney Infinity when you started working on it?  How did they advertise jobs for a game that wasn’t officially revealed yet?

Well I was already at the studio, it was that or F1, and I absolutely hate racing games that don’t have some sort of crazy fiction to them – Wipeout or Mario Kart. But as for the project and hiring externals – Avalanche had already made Toy Story 3 so I think that’s probably what they described to people going for the job. They have a very specific style.

Also a lot of people with kids only play games with them now, they don’t have much free time! Some people really jumped at the chance to be involved with it, even people who had previously only worked on hardcore games. It was a nice surprise to get those people involved!

6. So what was it like working on a game as large and complex as Disney Infinity?  What was different to say, working on a smaller indie title?

It’s very different. Quite honestly I do not have a deep deep understanding of every part of that game – you can’t, it’s just too big and it’s constantly developing. I knew the linear, story-based playsets inside and out, but the toybox for example – it would take weeks or possibly even months of solid play to experience everything in there. Not to mention min-games. Making sure it all works together was someone elses job, mine was just about trying to get a handle on everything that was relevant to our part of the game. you really had to stay up on it.

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Above: Mr Einhorn worked on the Star Wars part of the game, among others.

You really have to get used to the idea that you need to play the game for a good few hours each week – a genuinely tough thing to do when the deadlines are looming.

7. As everyone knows, Disney Infinity is a crossover title where theoretically anything goes; you’ve got numerous characters with different abilities and an even larger amount of unique mechanics.  So given this, was it difficult to balance the game properly?

Well, yes, but mainly because it’s so huge, not because of the different properties. There are teams in charge of features that cross the entire game – like enemy design or characters. So they’re usually pretty balanced among themselves. The tough part is one when team makes a change to say, character health. Then if you’re on enemies you have to notice and adjust health and damage accordingly. Communication is the real issue, and in such a big company across so many continents it will always be tricky, but in the end everyone is trying to pull together to make it all gel. Doesn’t mean you don’t get some pretty bad headaches though!

Design changes mid-way through development is something everyone in the industry has experienced, everyone finds hard, and everyone has to just get on with.

8. And how did this challenge influence the game’s level and challenge design?

That’s a good question – the answer is: Massively! Each character in our part of Infinity 1 was pretty much identical, which is less interesting, but easy to design for. In infinity 2 they could all do different things – fly, wall-crawl, super-jump. Designing for all those different metrics is very very difficult.

Ultimately I don’t think it’s always worth it – in the sandbox part of the game those things are fantastic, but in a linear section – how do you make a platforming puzzle when the player just puts on a flying character and hovers over it? Most of the time the solution is to reward their smarts and let them do it. I’m still not actually sure what I think of that. In some ways it’s nice to let people cheat if they want to, but people often do the easy thing, even if it’s boring just because they know they can.

SMW CapeMario

Above: Balancing characters with flight abilities and non flight abilities is also an issue with other games.  Like SMW and its cape, or Sonic and Tails’ flight abilities.

The one big restriction in Infinity is that you can’t use any character in any playset, they have to be from that property. I think it’s a shame that this goes against the mash-up theme, but it certainly makes design a little easier.

9. On a non mechanic related note, which Disney films and franchises do you want to see added to Disney Infinity and why?

I would really like to see some traditional Disney added. You end up really getting into what the kids want on these projects because you’re really not designing for yourself. Disney Infinity has so many female players, I think it’s a shame there isn’t a Disney princess playset – Frozen or maybe a mix. I think aesthetically it would be really nice to make something that looked classic too.

Above: Why Frozen isn’t represented (along with a lot of other Disney princess movies) is a bit of a mystery, given their status as some of the company’s most famous and beloved movies.

And if it was for me – Wall-E. I guess I’m still that kid that loves robots sometimes.

10. You mention in this article that you should think of a ‘core’ idea to define a game:

Using a Razor to Make a Lean Focused Game – Gamasutra

What was the core idea, or ‘razor’ for Disney Infinity?

Their tagline is ‘Play without limits’ – I think they went a pretty long way to achieving this, but it’s not really a Razor. In fact, just the opposite! It kind of encourages the inclusion of everything! But then that’s the nature of those projects.

11. But enough Disney Infinity for a moment.  What other interesting games have you worked on?

Well other than Disney Infinity I’ve worked on F1 – I’ve worked on Disney Infinity for 3 games so that accounts for a lot of time! F1 was interesting because it was like entering an alien world. I do not understand that sport. Did you know that on average there are three overtakes per race? They’ve invented the most beast-like machines and then designed the dullest possible game around them.

Continue Reading…

The Binding of Mario; An Interview

Here are Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed quite a few people from the fan game community.  There was one with Feguelion about Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Revival, DJ Coco about Paper Mario 3D Land and Judge Spear about Mushroom Kingdom Fusion and Super Mario Fusion Revival.

But while those were all interesting interviews, here’s one that’s a bit different.  Basically, The Binding of Mario is a mod for the action adventure/dungeon crawler game Binding of Isaac, a controversial title based around Christian mythology.  As you’d expect, it adds a Mario style twist to the affair; Isaac is replaced by a cast including Mario, Luigi and Peach and they have to battle off a bunch of monsters from Bowser’s army to save the day.  It’s not on Mario Fan Games Galaxy or SMW Central, it’s not a traditional Mario platformer or RPG, but it’s a very interesting mod that definitely deserves some more attention.

bindingofmariotitle

Above: It can be found in this Reddit topic.

So here’s an interview with its two creators, Armando and Wolter*:

* Also known as ArMM1998 and tipo19

1. Who are you guys? What is your background in game development?

Armando: I always have been interested in Game Development. Started with simple flash games, most of them were platformers. I’m now learning how to program in Java and make my own games, using my own content and my own ideas, something that I wanted to do a long time ago.

Wolter: When I was younger, I used to make RPG maker games all the time. Later on, I took a course on programming on a Game Design course here in Brazil, and learned a bit of Flash and Lua. I had to left the course because of time restraints, but I didn’t stop making personal projects.

2. What made you decide to make a Mario themed mod of Binding of Isaac?

bindingofmario2

Above: A Mario themed Binding of Isaac mod is a unique idea

Armando: When I discovered how to “mod”, I wanted to re-skin the game into a Legend of Zelda theme, but there was already a Zelda mod project. Then I had the idea of making a Mario themed mod, and since nobody was making it, I decided to release a test version that if the community liked it, I would continue.
Wolter offered to help, and he started making stuff along with me.

3. How did you design the levels and bosses? What is your level/game design methodology?

bindingofmario4

Above: Most of their bosses (like this Fawful one) are sprite swaps of the original ones.  Very well done choices though.

Armando: Well… almost all of our work is Spritework or music replacement, and some changes of code files, so we have the limitation of the actual game, since .exe modding is not public right now. And our way to think is “if we like it and fits then it stays.”

4. Given that Binding of Isaac is an M rated game, do you ever think it’s odd to make a Mario version?

Armando: Kinda, but that’s the fun of that. You’ll never expect to see a thing like this. It was really fun when I made the first character (Mario) and see how weird and cool it looked.

5. How many of the ‘darker’ elements from the actual Mario series will make it? Anything from Super Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi Partners in Time for example?

Wolter: At the start, we wanted to make it as focused on the “Mario & Luigi RPG” series as possible. Later tough, we started putting stuff from the other mario games like Galaxy and SM64. We want to add more M&L stuff and for sure, Paper mario stuff. Shroobs are already scheduled to appear!

6. We saw Fawful in one picture. What other RPG characters will make it in?

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Above: Fawful made it into The Binding of Isaac.  What other Mario RPG characters will?

Armando: I personally wanted to add important characters from the RPG series, like Cackletta or the Shroobs or even Dark Bowser, but it’s not so easy to find a good monster in the game to reskin…

Wolter: I would love to see Petey Piranha and the Shroobs, possibly enemies from M&L Dream Team.

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Above: Given his status as the ‘King of Nightmares’, maybe Antasma could make a good boss for this game?

7. What do other fans of Binding of Isaac think of this mod?

Armando: I was surprised when I launched the first release. I seriously expected comments like “it’s ok” or “the spritework could be better” or things like that. Like negative comments, I mean, the first release was almost empty, 3 characters and one floor.

They liked it a lot and I’m very happy they did :)

Above: Some of the many reviews for this mod on Youtube

Wolter: People have really liked the mod so far, because of the spritework, use of music and creativity for enemies, items etc. People also send us suggestions, and that helps a lot.

8. Many fan games and mods are difficult to beat, and I hear Binding of Isaac itself isn’t a cakewalk. How difficult is this game in general?

Armando: It’s not really hard. The only hard part is trying to avoid taking damage, but the rest of the game is more luck based than dificulty. You will never know what room will be the next, or what item you will get, or what boss are you going to fight. Discovering what item does what is also part of the fun.

9. Have you tried to market the site anywhere other than Reddit? Where have you done so?

Armando: No, I never really had that idea and I don’t think this mod need advertising. We only made a Twitter account so people could follow the updates and send suggestions

10. So, the game seems to have a fair amount of custom art. Who made it and what was their logic behind the current designs?

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Above: Some of the interesting Binding of Isaac style takes on classic Mario characters. Even E Gadd and Rosalina!

Armando: Both of us. We are always making custom art and sometimes looking for sprite resources to adapt them to the “Isaac style”. We work together in most of the sprites, sometimes one makes the drawing and the other works on the color and the shaders.

11. Did you encounter any notable difficulties while making this game?

Armando: As I said before the modding limitation. There is no way to add new characters or new items (there is a way to make new enemies, but I personally couldn’t make it work). Sometimes we need to throw away ideas because of those limitations.

bindingofmario5

Above: Though there are certainly cool things you can do with the game with just new sprites…

12. Why did you choose Reddit to market the game instead of a website or a fan game site or a social network?

Armando: Well as I said before, I never had the idea of posting anywhere else. But I choose Reddit because there was where I’ve learned how to mod and they were always helping other modders and posting new discoveries.

Wolter: I took knowledge of the mod and joined Armando through reddit, and later on the mod was posted to moddingofisaac.com. It is among the top mods right now :D

13. How do you plan to avoid the game getting shut down by Nintendo or the likes?

Wolter: Since we aren’t asking for money with it (and we don’t plan to do it), there is no risk of Nintendo claiming rights.

papermario3dlandtakedown

Above: Nice reply, though be warned that Ocarina of Time 2D and Paper Mario 3D Land were hit, and both are free games

14. Do you have any advice for other game developers? What is it?

Always practice and try to improve on something that you do and love doing, try to be original and do something different. Also listen to feedback, that’s pretty important.

15. Once the game’s been completed, what do you plan to do next?

Armando: I have no plans, I’ll keep studying and probably make my own games soon.

Wolter: I’m currently learning unity and I’ve got some projects on the paper. Hopefuly I can find people interested in making games along with me, and hopefuly Armando can join me in the fun.

And that’s all we’ve got for now.  Thanks to the Binding of Mario team for agreeing to an interview with Gaming Reinvented, and we wish them all the best of luck with their awesome project.  Hopefully it gets completed with many more neat references to the Mario series, and eventually includes a fair amount of custom reprogramming for the game as well.

Hope you enjoyed the interview!

Judge Spear and Mushroom Kingdom Fusion; Exclusive Interview

A short while back, we interviewed Feguelion, maker of the revived Mushroom Kingdom Fusion.  It was an interesting conversation, with plenty of talk about the game’s future, how it worked and what sort of things were planned after it was completed.

But now, we’ve gone and held a potentially even more interesting interview, with a different member of the development team.  Namely, here’s Judge Spear, creator of the original Mushroom Kingdom Fusion as well as Super Mario Fusion Revival and the entire Fusion Gameworks website.  So do you want to know what could have been different in Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, the indie game development plans of the team or the level design philosophy in Super Mario Fusion Revival?

Cause if so, here’s our interview with Mushroom Kingdom Fusion creator Judge Spear…

1. So, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a longtime video gamer. I started being a Nintendo fan way back during the NES days and the first Super Mario Bros. Recently, I moved on from Nintendo, because their games do not appeal to me nearly as much as when I was younger, and I play games on the PlayStation 4 and PC. Outside of video games, I enjoy socializing, taking walks, riding bicycles, and watching Netflix. I have been programming since I was 8 years old. I never took that skill further than a hobby and beyond a barely intermediate level. I am now in a prestigious 4-year university studying for my degree in computer science, wanting to take that skill for programming into a career.

I have a life story that will go beyond the scope of this interview. For the sake of brevity, I am a believer in the principle that it is never too late to turn your life around. The most noteworthy life accomplishment then was serving in the United States armed forces for 30 months. Other than that, life had been very rough on me, and it took me until very recently to realize I was taking out my life frustrations on the world. People who knew me during my M.U.G.E.N days before I started Mushroom Kingdom Fusion knew me as a hot-headed, combative person who was a jerk to pretty much everyone; this continued into my MKF days and into most of my SMF:R days. Off the internet, I basically sat around doing nothing with my life, feeling sorry for myself and almost resigning to the idea that I’ll never have a successful life. I had gone through several bouts of depression, the worst starting around the end of November 2013 that caused me to be hospitalized.

Then the epiphany hit around late December 2014, when I realized I had so many deep flaws when, all the time before, I thought nothing was wrong with me and all fault lay on the rest of the world. Through a lot of hard work and perseverance, I changed each of my fatal flaws as I learned about them. I now feel drastically better about myself, more self-confident, and more self-aware. I got accepted to a prestigious university in Fall 2014, and even though I lacked focus before my epiphany, I refused to give up because I worked so hard to accomplish that goal only to fall flat on my face. Things are still tough for me because I had virtually no foundation growing up to help me out, but being out there facing life’s challenges instead of being protected and sheltered from them is making me stronger and making me grow even more as a person than ever before. It was difficult when I realized I needed to change and turn my life around, but it was only starting out that was the hardest part. The rest of life’s challenges will come with relative ease once I adapt to them.

2. What inspired you to make Mushroom Kingdom Fusion all those years ago?

Back in 1992, I played Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins for the old brick Game Boy. I was impressed with the highly varied worlds and levels in that game. Its story differed in that there are no Peach and no Bowser in that game. Mario had his own kingdom and a new villain named Wario took it over. Then I started thinking, “What if someone were to remake SML2 in full color?” In the early 1990’s, game-making apps were almost non-existent, and those that did exist were for non-PC platforms, and the games they created were severely limited. I also lacked the level of skill and software needed to program a game on early 1990’s PC hardware from scratch. The only noteworthy game-making app for the PC at the time was Klik ‘n Play for Windows 3.1, which I got in 1994. It does not support screen scrolling, and the platforming engine is very inconsistent, so trying to make an “accurate” Super Mario game on it was more trouble than it was worth.

Above: Super Mario Land 2 Six Golden Coins was one of Judge Spear’s influences for Mushroom Kingdom Fusion

Fast forward to the year 2000, when I had the next generation of application in the Klik ‘n Play family: Multimedia Fusion. It allowed screen scrolling and, with advanced manipulation, a decent platforming engine could be created. However, my attempt at making a Mario game fell flat, due to constant crashing and very limited NPC behavior control. Nevertheless, I created on Multimedia Fusion the prototype of what will become MKF was born as Super Mario MF (with MF standing for Multimedia Fusion). It had Mario, Luigi, Sonic, and Mickey Mouse as playable characters, and the worlds were planned to be varied. This prototype was never released to the public.

Above: Super Mario MF, Mushroom Kingdom Fusion’s predecessor.

When I discovered Game Maker and Hello Engine 3, I had the tools to finally make a decent Mario game. On December 27, 2007, I released the first playable version of my Mario game, then titled Super Mario Fusion: Mushroom Kingdom Hearts. Once it became a big hit on the internet, people started asking if they can help me work on the game. One person, Obreck2, had extensive Game Maker experience and offered to help with programming. Over time, he added new playable characters, including some non-Mario and then other non-Nintendo characters like Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It is because of Obreck’s addition of these characters that prompted me to change the name of the game to Mushroom Kingdom Fusion. What was supposed to have been a fan remake of SML2 became a game in which Mario and others visit other worlds. With the involvement of other people, that idea then transformed into what MKF is known for today: a massive nostalgia-driven crossover game.

3. You’ve worked with quite a few people who brought ideas to MKF. What things would you have fine differently in development?

I would have been more firm in the direction of the game and more actively screened contributions by other people. There was no real leadership on the MKF team, so people did whatever they wanted, leading to the addition of new content going out of control.

4. What was the history of the game? What levels did you make first?

See my response to question 2 for most of the history of the game. The levels I made for the first public version were: The Entryway, Storm Canyon, Hammer Bro Hideout, Lair of the Leviathan, Fort Bubble Man, Tower of Babel, and Covenant Assault.

5. MKF has quite a few playable characters. What ones are your favourite?

My favorite character has always been Mario. It got to a point where in my YouTube MKF videos, people were complaining I was using no one else!

6. And favourite levels/bosses?

It has been a while since I looked at MKF. However, from the time I was most active on MKF, my favorite levels are Birabuto Bash, Yellowstone Journey, and Sea of Muck. My favorite bosses are R-Type’s Gomander (a boss battle so big each phase takes place in two separate screens) and Calliope the Clown.

Above: Birabuto Bash and Sea of Muck are two of Judge Spear’s favourite Mushroom Kingdom Fusion levels.

7. You knew this was coming; what are your least favourite levels or bosses?

My least favorite levels, frankly, are any of those that MKF team member Del made. They are known to the MKF team and our community as some of the most difficult levels in MKF. In retrospect, it really felt as if he made those levels to troll the community and players, while he put up videos of him crushing those levels, further rubbing salt into the wounds.

I also dislike marathon-length levels like Yellowstone Journey (stated as a favorite, but only due to its atmosphere), Scandinavian Campaign, Bydo Station, and pretty much all of the Mega Man world’s levels. Extremely long levels are fine if MKF was only 10 levels in length, but when the planned level count was to be over 300…

Above: Scandinavian Campaign is not a favourite.

I really dislike the shoehorned-in “RUN sections” (fast autoscrolling sections) in a disturbingly high number of MKF levels. This is also a problem in Super Mario Fusion Revival (minus the fast autoscrolling).

My least favorite boss is Robo-Corpse in the Energy Zone level. It is completely unfair towards non-projectile characters, with attack patterns straight out of its source game, Contra III, with almost no balance to fit a Mario style platforming game.

Above: The Robo Corpse boss in this level is not well suited for a Mario style platformer.

8. And what lessons have you Learnt while making the game?

I learned to never again let nostalgia drive another project unless I decide to make a game project nostalgia-driven in the first place. Even then, I have to think less like trying to relive my childhood and more like ensuring I am able to bring my ideas to life.

I also learned to be sure I can work with the people I choose to work with on big projects. Personality clashes can get in the way of work.

9. Could the cancellation have been averted? How?

In retrospect, the only way the game’s cancellation could have been averted is if we started all over again from scratch. I actually wanted to cancel MKF as early as 2010. However, the rest of the development team refused to let it go. I announced its cancellation again in October 2013, but the other developers brought it back with the premise of finishing up whatever is incomplete in the game and  cutting out a majority of the unmade content (most significantly, most of World 0).

We ended up adding so much new content to the game’s source files that Game Maker had corrupted them several times. At one point, a developer lost two weeks’ worth of work because Game Maker corrupted his game source. As stated in the MKF cancellation video posted on the Fusion Gameworks YouTube channel, none of the MKF developers knew where anything was in the game’s source files, so many long-standing glitches were impossible to fix. Most significantly, the core MKF programmer, Obreck, disappeared from public view in 2012, and he was the one who molded the MKF core engine to what it is today; without his presence, no one knew where anything was. By autumn 2014, it was too late to fix seven years’ worth of content from 20 different people, and the decision was made to officially cancel the project.

10. So now that the game has been revived, what’s your involvement in the reboot?

I was generally a technical advisor for the MKF revival. I had provided Feguelion some advice during the times early on he was being too ambitious, repeating the same mistakes the old MKF team made. However, I had to step down from that role due to being busy with life obligations.

11. Enough about MKF for a while, so what’s the story behind Super Mario Fusion Revival?

Super Mario Fusion Revival was founded to revive the original 2007 Mushroom Kingdom Hearts premise of Mario visiting other worlds. I founded this project in 2010, shortly after I left the MKF project. Interestingly, this project was to have been an extension of MKF, taking in levels that could not get added to MKF itself. However, this idea was quickly dropped, and we decided to make the gameplay more Mario-focused. At one point SMF:R had guns like MKF, but that was dropped once we decided to make the mounts system the primary new gameplay mechanic.

Above: Super Mario Fusion Revival is a more Mario themed game by the Fusion Gameworks team

Most importantly, we decided to limit crossover content in SMF:R. All but a handful of SMF:R levels are completely original in setting. Enemies from other games may appear in those levels, but they are used in original contexts. There are cameo appearances of characters from other games serving as support to the game’s story, unlike MKF, which shoehorned in crossover content for the sake of nostalgia. For example, the Metal Slug characters support the events of World 2’s story arc, which will factor in to the story arc of World 6 much later on. They are not there to be “Metal Slug meets Mario”.

One phenomenon we observe still continuing to this day is people confusing SMF:R for MKF. When we explain that these are two distinct projects, SMF:R sometimes gets criticized for not being like MKF and often gets requests to add in nostalgic crossover content. We have to make it clear that Super Mario Fusion Revival focuses on Mario-style gameplay and it involves Mario characters visiting other worlds, not a heavy focus on crossover content.

12. Were there any interesting development challenges with this game?

Bringing Yoshi to life. In Hello Engine 4, Yoshi was crudely implemented. He could eat anything, including Thwomps and Chargin’ Chucks. I spent a good month’s time giving Yoshi a major upgrade to his gameplay, giving him the ability to spit enemy projectiles back as an attack (New Super Mario Bros. Wii) and using explosives as weapons (Super Mario 64 DS). Not only that, I completely resprited him to the more charming Yoshi’s Island sprites and coded a color-shifting routine for him so that we can have Yoshis of any color without adding new sprites to the game. Revamping Yoshi also allowed us to have a good mounts system, which served as the basis for future mounts such as the Metal Slug SV-001 tank and the Chocobo.

Above: The mounts system is a major part of Super Mario Fusion Revival.

Continue Reading…

An Interview with DJ Coco; Paper Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Country Author

Note: We’ve updated the removed file picture, since we accidentally used the Ocarina of Time 2D take down notice instead of the Paper Mario 3D Land one.  Blame the fact the same lawyer was apparently involved.

It’s the second fan game developer interview here at Gaming Reinvented!  And this time, we have another interesting figure from the community who has agreed to be interviewed, DJ Coco from Mario Fan Games Galaxy.

And this time, we’re talking someone who’s made some exceptional games in general.  Namely, Paper Mario 3D Land, Super Mario Country and Mario Kart Speed Strife.  The names don’t ring any bells?  Well, here’s Paper Mario 3D Land:

It’s a 3D fan game that mixes together Paper Mario and Super Mario Land in one cohesive gaming experience, to the point it’s arguably a better Paper Mario game than Sticker Star.  Meanwhile, the other two happen to a fantastic retraux Super Mario Land sequel and a fully 3D Mario Kart title made for Windows computers, so they’re certainly some of the most well designed and technically impressive fan games around.

So with that said, let’s begin the interview….

1. What’s your background outside of fan games? Can you tell us a bit about who you are in real life?

I rather stay anonymous on the internet. All I will say is that I started programming at around the age of 13, and am currently studying game design with Unity at college.

2. What do you think made PM3DL one of the most well-known Mario fangames out there?

Above: Paper Mario 3D Land has been played by famous Youtubers like SullyPwnz (with 300,000+ subscribers)

I think it might be the lack of 3D Mario fangames. Paper Mario itself is also very popular, and I can see people being excited about a Paper Mario fangame after being mostly disappointed by Sticker Star. I think that sparked the interest of many people, though I guess a lot of luck was involved too.

3. Is there anything you could have done differently about said game, or did you have some ideas that ended up being scrapped?

I probably could have decreased the difficulty in the latter levels, as well as polished the game a little more. I think some levels could have used a few adjustments. My motivation was running out and I just wanted to get the game done. As for scrapped ideas, I had the idea of adding 2 additional DLC worlds where you play as Luigi. I had various level ideas, but I just couldn’t get the motivation to create them after the game was complete. I wanted to work on something new.

4. What was your reasoning behind the plot/characters in Paper Mario 3D Land?

I don’t think Paper Mario 3D Land has any kind of plot or characters. The plot is usually so unimportant in Mario games I didn’t even consider adding a princess kidnapping cutscene. The characters are all from Super Mario 3D Land, the big inspiration behind the game.

5. Of all the levels/bosses in the game, which ones are your favourites and why?

Above: Hazerblade’s Galleon Grapple.  You have to ride sawblades like a spinner to take down the boss.

I think the coolest level in the game is the airship stage, Hazerblade’s Galleon Grapple. I had tons of fun designing it, and I thought the level design turned out really great. I also loved the boss battle of that stage. I was really proud of the idea of taking control of the grinders to take the boss apart. In general I think World 3 has the best levels. I also really enjoyed designing the giant pokey boss fight. A friend of mine, Chaoxys, helped me out with the ideas for those bosses, which made them really stand out, in my opinion.

6. Were there any regrets in regards to the game? Levels you’re not satisfied with?

Definitely. I think the last world wasn’t very good. I tried making the levels as cool as possible, but I never really was satisfied with them. Especially due to their complexity, weaker computers can’t handle those levels at a decent speed which makes them pretty frustrating. The last level in particular had too many gimmicks forced into it, in my opinion. I just had so many ideas and I wanted to implement them all. The result was a level way too long.

7. What was the inspiration between the Mole Suit power up in the game? Or the Flower one?

A friend of mine came up with the mole suit idea. I thought it was great. It sounded fun to use, and fun to program – and since he was willing to provide the sprites I was ready to implement that unique idea. He also came up with the dandelion – I initially had a custom flight item planned to make platforming easier, but I had the idea of that item being a strawberry. He turned it into a dandelion which fit much better, so we went with that.

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Above: The unique dandelion powerup lets Mario double jump and glide in Paper Mario 3D Land

8. So how do you usually come up with ideas for your fangames?

By playing the official games. Most of my fangames are clearly inspired by a certain Nintendo game. If I like what I see, I usually try to take that and make my own thing out of it.

9. How long did it take to make Speed Strife, PM3DL and Country?

PM3DL and Speed Strife took both about 2 months to complete. Ironically, the simple 2D Country game took the longest, because I made all of the tilesets myself. Super Mario Country also was initially scrapped, but much later resumed because I thought it was a really good game. I can’t recall exactly how much time went into it, but I’d say about 3-4 months.

Above: Super Mario Country took longest to develop

10. How much of the inspiration from country came from this concept in the Concept Corner thread?

That is really trippy, because I never saw that post at all. It’s just a huge coincidence Yoshbert came up with a very similar idea there. I’m not entirely sure, but I think development on my game also began before that post was made.

11. The game is pretty difficult. Do you like making such difficult to complete fan games?

As the creator of a game, you naturally have to play it a lot, test it hundredths of times to make sure everything works. Due to this you will become very good at it, and the game will seem much easier to you than it really is. I also like a challenge so I try to create something that even I cannot complete that easily. What seems mildly challenging to me is mostly brutal to others. I received lots of complaints about that, so I try to make my games easier nowadays.

12. Was the game ever intended to be a standard Super Mario Land 2 remake? It has a lot of homages to it.

The game was initially just supposed to be a game in the style of Super Mario Land 1 with the artstyle from Super Mario Land 2; so to speak just a linear adventure with no world map. However, when I replayed Super Mario Land 2 I just realized how much the map added to the game, so I wanted to implement it as well. I also liked the zones from SML2 a lot, so I paid some homages to them, while expanding upon the existing level themes myself, adding some charm to the game.

13. How did you design the monochrome graphics for the game? What were your inspirations for the art here?

I am a sucker for retro games. I just love the retro art style – be it 8-bit graphics on the NES or the simplicity of 4 colors on the Gameboy. Especially for a SML2 fangame that art direction felt very fitting. What is mostly used is 16-bit graphics anyway, so I felt it would also make my game look less generic.

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Above: You can see a few of the graphics from the game here and here

14. So, the soundtrack. What was the reason for choosing the songs for the game (like the controversial star theme)?

Most of the songs are right out of Super Mario Land 2, with a few exceptions. Some other songs are just songs I knew that felt fitting. As for the star theme, I heard the “Spin Me Right Round” Remix play in a Super Mario World hack. I already liked that song and I was surprised by how well it fit. Since I always thought SML2’s starman theme was really… boring, I thought it would be nice to replace it.

Above: And the space theme is a nice Game Boy version of the DuckTales Moon theme

15. Were there any interesting things you had to cut from Super Mario Country?

The Bonsai Zone was almost cut, but I’m glad I eventually decided to add it in after all. There was also an extra zone planned with a Green Hill level, and a remake of the original SMB 1-1, but both of those things were overdone so I scrapped it. Another level of the extra zone would have been a level based on candy. The inspiration behind it was a sprite I initially made for the raft level. It was supposed to be a wooden pole, but ended up looking like a pretzel stick. It looked like a really good pretzel stick though, so I wanted to use it somewhere.

16. What inspired Mario Kart Speed Strife?

I think it’s clearly visible that had to be Mario Kart 8. All the music is from there, as well as many track ideas. A sequel to my old Mario Kart fangame “Blazing Wheels” has also long been planned, but I never got around to create one. With the inspiration I got from Mario Kart 8 I could finally create what I had planned for so long.

17. Were there any unique challenges due to making a 3D Mario Kart fan game? What were they?

I was using GameMaker: Studio to create the game. It is a good program, but absolutely horrendous for anything 3D. However, I didn’t know how to use any other game engine so I was stuck with it. The lack of a 3D collision system made the game very hard to program. All the slopes had to be hard-coded. I think I spent most of the development time just trying to fix all collision glitches. Especially the angled blocks surrounding the track were a nightmare to code. Level designing also was really difficult because there is no 3D room editor.

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Above: Making a 3D Mario Kart game in Game Maker was an extremely difficult task.

18. The game seems very much like Mario Kart DS. Was there a reason for choosing this game’s style?

The only reason I picked Mario Kart DS models was because they were the only ones available. That, and GameMaker: Studio is very inefficient in 3D, so the simple geometry worked well. Some of the textures are from Mario Kart DS as well. I just picked whatever I could find and felt fitting.

19. Given the Mediafire upload of Paper Mario 3D Land was taken down, do you worry Nintendo is getting harsher on fan games?

I really don’t think so. I think Paper Mario 3D Land just got a little bit too popular for Nintendo – especially because many people claimed they liked it better than Sticker Star.

papermario3dlandtakedown

Above: The original Paper Mario 3D Land upload was removed from Mediafire after a Nintendo complaint.

20. A lot of fan game developers seem to want to move to indie game development. Do you have plans to make indie games sometime in the future?

Yeah. Mario Kart: Speed Strife will probably remain my last fangame. I decided to quit fangaming before, but Thunder Dragon * inspired me to create a few more. I have many unique ideas, and I think they’re put to better use in things that are my own, rather than things that belong to a third party.

* Thunder Dragon is the person that made Psycho Waluigi, Toad Strikes Back and Toadette Strikes, three well loved and highly regarded fan games on Mario Fan Games Galaxy.  He was also previously an administrator for the site.

21. What advice would you give any future game developers starting their own projects?

If you ever want to become a professional developer, don’t use Game Maker. If you ever want to make 3D games, REALLY don’t use Game Maker.

22. What’s your future plans here on Mario Fan Games Galaxy? Are you working on anything new to the site? Planning to resign?

I’m not really that involved in the site design itself, but the mainsite of MFGG is getting a redesign. I put a few suggestions here and there but it’s ultimately up to others. A few ideas I had were to do away with the review scores (which is something most staff members can agree on), show staff-picked games on the new mainsite’s front page, as well as add a Game of the Year banner and badge award.

And that ends our second Mario fan game developer interview!  Did you like Paper Mario 3D or Super Mario Country?  Have any similar experiences in trying to program a 3D Mario Kart title in Game Maker?  If so, let us know your thoughts on this interview and those games here at Gaming Reinvented!  Because it’s certainly impressive to see how far the Mario fangaming scene has come in the last couple of years, isn’t it?

 

Interview with Feguelion; The Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Dev Talks Game Development

Mushroom Kingdom Fusion Revival is an ambitious Mario fan game where a cast of crossover characters explores locales based on various video game series. Featuring elements from everything from Mario to Mega Man to Halo, the game was originally developed by a team led by Judge Spear before it was cancelled and rebooted as the title we know today.

And given that the team at Gaming Reinvented are diehard fans of the title and have been supporting it for a couple of years now, we were pleasantly surprised when we managed to arrange an interview with its lead developer, French game designer and fan game maker Feguelion. So here’s our interview with him about Mushroom Kingdom Fusion and its reboot, as well as some of the ambitious plans the team has for everyone after it’s been released.

1. So, what was your background before Mushroom Kingdom Fusion? Can you tell us a bit about who you are in real life?

A: I began programming at the age of 7, obviously at that time my games weren’t great. Most of my first fangames were Sonic-related, as Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive was the first game I ever played. I also like experimenting with new things, though I never really thought of publishing my works before, because I didn’t really feel ready for that. Mushroom Kingdom Fusion and Super Mario Fusion: Revival are probably the games that gave me the most interest in Mario fangaming.

2. On a similar note, what were your previous experiences in game development?

A: I began programming at the age of 7, obviously at that time my games weren’t great. Most of my first fangames were Sonic-related, as Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive was the first game I ever played. I also like experimenting with new things, though I never really thought of publishing my works before, because I didn’t really feel ready for that. Mushroom Kingdom Fusion and Super Mario Fusion: Revival are probably the games that gave me the most interest in Mario fangaming.

3. What made you decide to continue Mushroom Kingdom Fusion?

A: I immediately loved the game’s concept upon discovering it, even though I didn’t play it much because my laptop doesn’t really like it*. When I heard about its cancellation and it going open-source, I thought it would be an interesting experience to work on a revival, and I didn’t want the game to go to waste.

* Mushroom Kingdom Fusion was well known for being a memory intensive game that ran into issues on more modern PCs. The reboot will hopefully fix these issues.

4. What’s with the name ‘Revival’? Is it connected to Super Mario Fusion Revival?

A: Not really, in fact I didn’t think of a title for the remake, it was Cap’n Coconuts, a SMFR developer (and former MKF one) who came up with the name.

5. What are your favourite levels and bosses from the game and why?

A: I like the concept of fusion levels, which basically combine two or more games, because it’s quite representative of MKF’s concept. The most popular of these levels is probably The Crossroads. I don’t want to spoil bosses too much, but I could mention the infamous Cacobirdo.

Above: The Cacobirdo is a Birdo/Cacodemon hybrid, a horrifying concept in every way.

Above: The Crossroads is a massive mix of different video game universes in the form of a single level.

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