Interview with the Creator of Super Mario Crossover
When the dust settles on 2010 I’m not sure what game critics will consider the best of the year- already the list of candidates is pretty long, and we still have many months to go. And though it seems premature, I’m pretty sure I’ve already found mine. A blockbuster AAA title it’s not. It’s free, the graphics are from 1986, and it’s a Flash game. And it’s taking the world by storm this week.
Super Mario Crossover is every 80s Baby’s wet dream- finally a chance to replay the most iconic game of all time as any of the major NES characters. Take on Bowser and his minions as Mega Man, Simon Belmont, Link, Samus or Bill R from Contra.
With a premise that winning, I was sure that the delivery would be lacking. But that’s where SMC gets elevated from novelty to classic. The game was tweaked and tweaked so that every character feels perfectly at home in the Mushroom Kingdom, making this 8 Bit wonder as satisfying as the action figure parties we all had as kids, where Optimus Prime would battle He-Man and Storm Shadow for the keys to the kingdom. There are so many well-made decisions that bring gamers moments of elation. The first time Simon Belmont gets a fire flower and begins breaking blocks en masse with his whip. Mowing down entire levels with Bill R’s spread shot. Beating Bowser using only Samus’ bombs.
What makes SMC even more enviable is that it’s creator Jay Pavlina‘s first game- a year-long labor of love that was as treacherously difficult to cobble together as we’d imagine. In Jay’s words, “Only an insane person can complete a project of this magnitude alone. Seriously.”
I reached out to Jay knowing the he’d be drowning in emails. Sure enough, the game’s been played over a million times in 48 hours, hundreds of articles have been written on blogs and in major news outlets, and the guy has been deluged with
love and questions. So you can imagine my excitement when he agreed to a Popten interview (one of two he hasn’t turned down) sending us exclusive pics to boot.
Without further adieu, Jay Pavlina:
Playing this game makes me want the Crossover treatment on all the classic NES games. If Super Mario Bros wasn’t an option, what game(s) would you have inserted these characters into, and why?
Super Mario Bros was an easy choice because the only thing the other characters need the ability to do is walk and jump. All you need to do to beat the level is move from left to right. A lot of other NES games are more complicated than that, and they involve needing the ability to shoot or to perform complicated attacks. Other games also have more complex upgrade systems, where as Super Mario Bros only has 3 different power-up states.
I have definitely considered other games, and I have a very, very awesome idea about how I’d make it work if I did it. I’m going to keep that idea to myself for now because I’d really like to make a game that goes into multiple game worlds. But really, I can’t think of any other classic NES game that would work as well as Super Mario Bros due to its incredibly simplistic yet addicting game design.
I’m so glad you’re planning on making more stuff like this. Are you forever limiting yourself to the 8-bit realm or have you considered a SNES or Genesis mashup next?
I never limit myself to anything. I even considered having the ability to toggle 16-bit graphics on and off for Super Mario Bros. Crossover, but it just wouldn’t work because I didn’t have all the sprites I needed.
And I’d like to make a comment about limits with the NES games. You may also notice that I made slight modifications to the characters to make them work better. For example, Simon can double jump and Mega Man jumps way higher than he normally does. Some people complain about those things because it’s not “true to the original.” Some people even request that I insert bugs into the game just because the original games had them.
I did not create this game to make an exact copy of each original game I borrowed from. I created the game to be fun. Whenever I make a game design choice, I simply ask, “What is more fun?” I am not a hardcore NES fanatic that needs everything to be exactly right. I try to stay as true to the original with slight modifications to make it more enjoyable, like adding in the feature to continue and scroll the screen left. I tried to balance the level of nostalgia and staying true to the original with minor upgrades. I believe I succeeded because people both complain that I changed too much and too little. Ya gotta love everyone giving their opinion. 😉
I would love to move into the 16-bit realm, but that would be way, way more work. If I did that, I would need a team of people working with me. If I continue with this, I’ll probably stick with 8-bit for a game or two because there’s one more game I’d really, really like to make that involves all of these characters with an original story. And there’s another game I’d like to make that involves NES characters and a very popular independent IP. Don’t worry, I’m never short on ideas. I’m only short on money and awesome people to work with. Sorry for being vague about future games, but I enjoy surprising people.
You spent months and months (and months) designing this game, so you probably understand the mechanics of these characters better than just about anyone. If this were actually an 8-bit Smash Bros (with only these 6 characters) who would win? Why?
Yeah you’d think I understand the characters better than anyone, but I don’t. I just did the best I could to make them play like they do in the original. I get a lot of emails going into detail about specific characters talking about their movement speed and glitches from the original game and also animations that are slightly off. I am definitely a hardcore gamer, but I’m not obsessive. I played all these games growing up and remember their general abilities, and I played the games while working on it to try and match everything, but I certainly didn’t get it perfect. I just did the best I could. But I will gladly give my opinion on your question, because it’s a fun question.
Although most people would probably think someone with a gun would win, I’d have to disagree. I think there is one character here that has a distinctive advantage over all others, and that is of course… Mario.
Although Mario is a fat italian plumber, he’s incredibly fast. I believe with his agility, he could easily dodge bullets from Mega Man, Samus, and Bill Rizer to get in and jump on their heads. I know Mega Man and Samus are wearing helmets, so that could pose a problem for Mario, but I hear that he also has some pretty mean punches and kicks. And if Samus turns into a ball, Mario will eat that shit like a meatball. So Samus, Bill, and Mega Man are all dead. Rest in peace.
And of course Simon is possibly the slowest, clunkiest character ever created in the history of mankind, so he wouldn’t even be able to grab his whip before Mario’s fat, spaghetti-filled body would be on top of his head, crushing his skull. Simon, you suck at jumping and deserve to die, but I still love you. Rest in peace.
Now we have Link remaining, who I believe is Mario’s biggest threat. If Mario takes a hit from Link’s boomerang, he’s done for, so he has to be alert. And he has to remember to look behind him because that boomerang is… well, a boomerang, so it comes back. Mario also has to watch out for Link’s upward thrust because if he jumps on Link’s sword, then Mario’s asshole is going to get a lot bigger. Link is tiny so he’s a small target for Mario’s jump, but I think after a few attempts, Mario’s fat ass would engulf that little Hylian. As long as he watches out for the boomerang and upward thrust, Mario can defeat Link as well and take his place as the 8-bit victor. Congratulations, Mario!
Was there any character or ability you couldn’t include because it was too powerful, and would screw up the game’s balance?
Well… I did include an ability even though it screws up the game’s balance. And that’s Bill Rizer’s spread gun of course. I tried to balance it as best I could by making the bullets weak, but it’s still by far the strongest weapon in the game and makes everything a breeze. But like I said, my goal was to make the game fun, and who wouldn’t want to mow down enemies with spread? I knew I wanted it, and I knew everyone else would want it, so I put it in anyway.
One ability that sort of falls into that category is Samus’s screw attack. I thought about putting it in when she got firepower, but I think the game wouldn’t be as fun if you didn’t have to worry about getting hit while in the air. And I’ll just be honest. I didn’t feel like programming it. But I still think it is better to not have it in the game, at least for now.
And although you didn’t ask this, I also thought about having different selectable weapons for a few of the characters. I thought about giving Samus the option to use missiles, or with Bill you could choose something else if you didn’t want to use spread or machine gun, and of course Mega Man has a huge list of weapons to choose from. But the main character I considered for that was Simon. I thought about giving him the option to use holy water, the dagger, and cross boomerang. The main reason I decided not to put those in was time, but I also think it would have made Simon less fun if he had more long ranged attacks. Simon is fun because you have to get in close and he sucks at jumping. Perhaps these features will be in a future game or updated version.
A lot of what makes this game amazing is pure nostalgia factor. Everyone I talk to has (at least) one great story about playing an NES game as a kid. Do you have any anecdotes worth sharing?
I was born the year NES came out in US so I was pretty young, but I can remember a few things. I remember loving the game “Snake, Rattle, and Roll,” and playing it a gazillion times with one of my friends. I believe there was some sort of cheat that if you go really fast on the first level you could jump into a rocket and warp to a later level. Me and my friend sucked because we were young, so we would just try over and over to make it to that rocket. We had such a hard time and one of us would usually mess it up for the other. I can’t remember if you still get to warp when only one of you makes it, but man, I just remember always trying to make it to that rocket and celebrating like hell whenever we did.
I think probably my favorite memory in playing games is Goldeneye. When that game came out, I played it nonstop forever. My friends would spend the night every weekend and we’d play 4 player multiplayer all night without sleeping. It was the best time ever. And well I’m on the subject of Goldeneye, I remember being obsessed with unlocking the invincibility code that you get by beating the Facility level on hard mode in like 2 minutes or something. I spent a few days trying to unlock that code. My brother kept on telling me it’s impossible and I’d never do it, but I’m one persistent son of a bitch, and I did eventually unlock it. It’s probably my proudest accomplishment in gaming.
You blew my mind when you mentioned almost putting Bionic Commando in this game. Did the arm mechanics make it prohibitively difficult?
Yeah I don’t think there would have been a way to make it work due to the level design in Super Mario Bros since he can’t jump. If I do one of the other games I have planned and everything works out the way I want it too, he will be in it for sure.
What are your top 10 video games of all time?
Here are ten games I like in no particular order. I wouldn’t call them my top ten, but they’re some of my favorites:
Is there any question you’d love to answer, but no one’s asking it to you?
Yes, there is one actually. No one knows this, but the Exploding Rabbit logo is based on a real rabbit. His name is Squid and he is the coolest animal I ever met. He was my roommate’s pet rabbit during the development of the game. When I was having a hard time with the game, I would play with Squid and it would help me feel better. He is a psychotic bunny that doesn’t take shit from anyone and really likes to hump people. I don’t like when he humps me and I always have to kick him away, but other than that, he’s one badass mofo. You all should thank Squid for helping me to make the game and for giving my production company a name. Thank you, Squid!
Thank you so much for the interview and for the awesome questions. This gives me something fun to do during this stressful time of getting hundreds of emails and requests. Thank you everyone for your support, and I cannot stress enough that if you like Super Mario Bros. Crossover, please subscribe to my blog or Twitter, or just keep an eye on me because I promise you one thing: I’m just getting started.
[Ed Note: Jay’s other interview, which answers a whole bunch of other questions you might have about SMC – is here.]