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Episode 3: Anguna Zero


Scrobins

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A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 3: Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King

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Introduction:

Just about every classic console has experienced new life with the rise of homebrew games to supplement its library. However few homebrewers develop games beyond one preferred console. Those brewers who dare to branch out find new challenges to enhance their skills, and new audiences eager to play with the fruits of their efforts.

For this entry, I’m covering Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King (formerly Anguna Zero), an action-adventure game for the NES by Nathan Tolbert, with music by Thomas Cipollone, and character graphics by Chris Hildenbrand. Anguna is preceded by three franchise siblings released for three different consoles. As of the time of this writing, Anguna is in-development and nearing completion, but an early build of the game is available to Nathan’s Patreon supporters.

UPDATE: On May 21, 2021, Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King launched on Kickstarter, meeting its initial funding goal within its first few hours. The game will be published by The 6502 Collective.

 

Development Team:

@gauauu/Bite the Chili Productions (Nathan Tolbert): programming and game design

@humanthomas (Thomas Cipollone): music

SpriteAttack (Chris Hildenbrand): character graphics

 

Game Evolution:

Nathan’s Anguna games have a long lineage, and to appreciate Anguna for the NES, I must begin with its forebears.

Nathan joined the development side of the homebrew community in 2004 when he decided to learn programming and bought a Gameboy Advance flash cart. By 2008, Nathan released Anguna: Warriors of Virtue for the Gameboy Advance as well as the Nintendo DS. The game took the best elements of The Legend of Zelda and instilled its own personality. Anguna: Warriors of Virtue featured 5 dungeons spread across a vast overworld populated with a variety of monsters guarding hidden rooms and power-ups.

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Screenshot from Anguna: Warriors of Virtue

In 2014, Nathan announced he had begun work on a port/sequel to Anguna: Warriors of Virtue for the Atari 2600 simply titled Anguna. Over the next few years, Nathan worked on this Anguna game with the help of eager beta-testers on AtariAge. By 2017, a final build of the game was available for purchase. Like its predecessors, Anguna offered players a sprawling overworld speckled with dungeons and monsters. A unique feature allowed players to save their progress with a password or an AtariVox, a device that plugs into the console’s second joystick port and can save data.

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Anguna 2600, Minty Cart & Manual

In April 2020, Nathan announced that he was nearing completion of an NES port of his Anguna 2600 game in posts on Video Game Sage and NESDev. This new game, Anguna would carry over the big overworld, experience points system, and the in-game inventory and map screen of its Atari sibling, but with enhanced graphics and the chiptune stylings of Thomas Cipollone.

 

Gameplay Overview:

Anguna is an action-adventure game with roots in The Legend of Zelda as well as other adventure gems of the NES’ licensed era. You begin the game armed with your sword, locked away in the first dungeon; but by the time you reach the first boss you will have (hopefully) gained a bow & arrow. Once you escape, you will find yourself in an expansive overworld open to exploration and dotted with an assortment of monsters ranging from the familiar slime to sentient wisps of flame. Although the game’s world is vast, an in-game inventory also provides a map to chart your exploration and assuage the anxiety of players who fear getting lost.

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Especially if you’re always taking that wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Anguna channels Crystalis with an experience points system that will increase and replenish your life meter with each level-up. But you needn’t wait for a level-up if your health reaches critical because some monsters will transform into a fully cooked rotisserie chicken when defeated à la Castlevania or Streets of Rage.

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I’m not comparing it to Zelda because you don’t know what kind of “meat” that is

Also scattered throughout the landscape are keys that open more of the world and allow access to special items such as dynamite (which is a key of sorts, only louder). Once you’ve obtained some power-ups for the first time, enemies will start dropping them in battle, which is very nice of them. While experience level-ups increase your health, swords and shields are hidden throughout the world that will level-up your attack and defense respectively. Some of these power-ups are in plain sight and others are hidden in secret rooms, requiring either a special item or your cunning in finding secret passageways to reach them.

Anguna’s story is simple, you’ve been captured by the minions of the Goblin King. You need to break out, then find and vanquish the Goblin King to save the day.

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Apparently this is a regular thing with you.

Fortunately, the Goblin King reads from Dr. Evil’s playbook and he put you in an easily escapable situation with 2 inept guards…er, slimes (no word yet on the overly elaborate and exotic death). Beyond that, the story is what you make of it: no dialog with supporting characters, no continents of more difficult monsters across a bridge requiring bouts of grinding, no handholding.

 

Writer’s Review:

Anguna uses its setting and minimal premise to provide a game that lets your imagination dominate. The prologue sets up enough story for you to understand where you begin and where you will end, but you won’t be required to keep track of information fed to you by other characters or locate the town or dungeon you’re “supposed” to visit next. As much as I like an immersive story, I also appreciate a game that trusts my gamer’s intuition enough to assume I already know the basics and can figure out the rest. There are enough locked gates and obstacles to prevent you from blundering into the final boss in the first 5 minutes, so don’t worry about accidentally taking shortcuts that might shortchange your gameplay. However if you are the type of player who doesn’t like to be completely adrift, the overworld map in your inventory charts your exploration, showing where you are and where you’ve been. Using your intuition toward gaps in the map will force you to consider what you should do next and make a few hunches about what you will find. This design makes Anguna  both challenging and fun. Instead of being spoon-fed every step of my quest, the environment’s limits informed me. For instance, in my first playthrough, I reached the first boss before obtaining the bow & arrow. It was immediately clear during the battle that my sword was insufficient, and somewhere nearby was a more suitable weapon.

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There’s got to be a better way!

The game’s controls are intuitive: one button swings your sword, the other uses special items once you’ve found them, and the d-pad offers crisp 8-directional movement for exploring every last pixel of the land and dungeons for secrets. The graphics convey an ancient, lived-in world with a mythos left blank for you to fill in. Nathan is skilled in providing just enough detail to set a mood without overwhelming you. I loved how the dungeons’ brickwork is apparent by a few patches on the walls and floor, communicating a sense of texture and decay, substance and ambiance, without programming a brick pattern across the entire screen that would otherwise distract me from anything else happening in the game.

I also enjoyed the character’s design and animation. The protagonist’s red armor stands out, and I love how his entire body (including his cape) moves when he swings his sword; it’s reminiscent of Link but with more motion. Chris’ designs for several of the monsters recall classic NES staples, offering an air of familiarity but with their own unique look. Snakes behave like the Ropes of The Legend of Zelda and the Loopers of StarTropics but look much cuter. Anguna’s slimes are decidedly less adorable than their Dragon Warrior siblings but are the same initial sword fodder that help you get a feel for the controls.

As Nathan sketches a landscape of adventure, Thomas’ music fills in the picture with the color of his music. Tracks are more than a quick theme looping over and over; each song begins with a sound that feels instantly appropriate for the setting it accompanies but builds and evolves with time. The overworld theme starts over simple and adventurous but soon crackles with excitement, as if to celebrate you survived long enough to hear it to completion. The dungeon theme begins with a sense of mystery but accelerates with tension, warning you of the dangers deeper within. There is also something else familiar about Thomas’ soundtrack; it is evocative of the chiptunes of classic NES games. More than that, as I tried to put my finger to what felt so familiar, I realized the music reminded me of the great soundtracks of Realtime Associates, who worked on such games as Maniac Mansion and Dick Tracy.

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This logo is aggressively early 90s and I love it

Anguna is an excellent example of a game going “back to basics”, stripping down an action-adventure to its most essential elements and doing them justice. This game is addictive in its simplicity. When you die, you might grumble aloud that you’re going to give the gave one more try. And then you realize you’ve told yourself that over and over for the past hour. And even then you’re going to keep playing.

 

Interviews:

Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King is a game that pulls together the most fun ingredients of an action-adventure and elevates each to create a fun game in which my imagination can run wild with a blank canvas. I spoke with Nathan and Thomas to learn more. (Note: these interviews took place before the game's official release, therefore all references to the game use the then-working title Anguna Zero).

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gauauu

-Before we dive into Anguna Zero, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Nathan Tolbert?

I've been interested in programming video games for almost as long as I could read. My parents bought a TI-99 4/a computer when I was young, and it had a book called "Beginner's Basic" that we started working through as a family. Everyone else in the family immediately got bored of it, but I was hooked, and started making terrible video games.

In 2003 or so, (just a couple years out of college, and newly married), I discovered homebrew, and was immediately fascinated with the idea. My dream had always been to make a game for a real console! I started looking around to see what system had homebrew that was both relatively easy to write, and also inexpensive to get started on. Gameboy Advance looked like a winner. In 2004 I picked up a GBA flash cart at a street market (we were living in China at the time) and started programming. I knew that I wanted to make either a Zelda-like adventure, or a Blaster Master-inspired metroidvania adventure (which I'm finally working on 15 years later!) Somehow the Zelda-like idea won out in my mind. I made a one-level demo with terrible graphics, and Chris Hildenbrand showed up and volunteered to help redo the graphics, which led to the GBA and DS versions that I ended up releasing a couple years later.

 

-What is the significance of the Bite the Chili name as well as your gauauu username on VGS and NESDev?

Bite the Chili Productions is a silly reference to the very first internet advertisement that I saw. Back in the mid 90's, there were all sorts of banner ads like "Punch the monkey and win a prize!". 

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Aw man, I can’t wait to post about this on GeoCities and tell all my friends on AIM!

The first time we got on the internet, it was with slow dial-up, and we waited maybe 5 minutes for a page to load. The very first thing we saw was a banner ad saying, "Bite the Chili to win!" It was a running joke among my friends, and just stuck. Similarly, the name gauauu was a high-school joke based on me not liking the game Final Fantasy 3 (or whatever number they call that game in the reset of the world). I made fun of the Gau character, and somehow I kept the name. Strange that my name is based on a character and game that I don't even like.

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Some things are best left on the Veldt.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

My influences are primarily the old NES games that captured my imagination as a kid. Zelda, Metroid, Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, etc. were just amazing to me, and have formed my idea of what a fun video game is. I don't really play a lot of newer games, although the games VVVVVV and Killer Queen are two modern games that have really pushed me to think about game design. As far as who I'm watching now -- at this point, I mostly enjoy the community aspects -- talking about design decisions in our games, and seeing others work through their big games. I'm most interested in anyone in the NES community that's regularly posting updates about what they're working on. Things like Nova the Squirrel 2, Chris Cacciatore's in-progress Zelda-like Janus, and watching Paul work on his Alwa port, are super fun for me. I'm probably forgetting lots of others.

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Paul Molloy aka InfiniteNESLives showing off his progress on an NES port of Alwa’s Awakening

 

-Your work on the Anguna series spans generations of gaming consoles from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo DS. In developing your games would you say they have any qualities that seem quintessentially you that you have maintained across platforms? How would you describe your aesthetic?

One of the essential things about Anguna and the various ports/sequels, is that there's only a silly little introductory plot, and nothing else as far as dialog, towns, or story progression. There's also very little hand-holding. I really wanted to recapture the feeling from the original Legend of Zelda where you entered a world and just had to wander around to figure out where to go. I don't think I actually succeeded very well in that goal, but it formed the idea of what Anguna is: a Zelda-like where you just have to explore and see what you can find.

In making the Atari port (which later also became the NES version, Anguna Zero), I decided to take the same general game pacing and structure, but rearrange the world. The first dungeon is mostly the same in all versions, and the general order of dungeons, upgrades, and progress is the same. But the world and dungeon maps are completely redesigned for the Atari version (which shares a general map with the upcoming Anguna Zero).

 

-What tools do you use to code?

I do most of my code editing in gVim on Linux (although I've also been using Jetbrains' CLion for projects that involve a lot of C). I tend to use Makefiles and python scripts to manage the build process. I also use Tiled, which is an incredibly versatile open-source tile map editor, in many of my projects. And I can't forget to mention Mesen. Without Sour's amazing emulator, this would be a much more frustrating hobby than it is.

 

-You are also known for your entries in the Annual NESDev Coding Competition such as Spacey McRacey, Robo-Ninja Climb, Super Homebrew War, and nnnnnn, each game more addicting than the last. Do you have a different attitude toward your entries in the competition versus your “feature-length” games? Is the experience of developing them different?

Yeah, I tend to view them very differently. I usually dream big: I have ideas for large games that usually take me 2-4 years to complete, with a giant scope, so they tend to occupy the bulk of my development efforts. But the NESDev competition is a great outlet for throwing together a complete game in a short amount of time. Having a target date and audience is great for helping me brainstorm a fun idea, and race to implement it as fast as possible. nnnnnn, in particular, was fun in that I wanted to see if I could make an enjoyable game in a week's worth of evenings (it helps that I stole the idea directly from vvvvvv, so I didn't have to make many game design decisions). I also like to use the compo to make 4-player games. I've always loved things like Super Bomberman, where you play with a big group of friends on a couch. And like I mentioned before, I was really inspired by the group dynamics of playing Killer Queen in the arcade. I had a particular moment, the first year I went to Midwest Gaming Classic, where I looked around a room, and watched a bunch of people playing games, but nobody talking to each other. It made me feel sad, realizing that this hobby can sometimes isolate people instead of bringing them together. So I decided to make a goal to create more 4-player games in an effort to bring people together. I can really see the difference at conventions: when a group of 4 people are all laughing together or yelling at each other playing Super Homebrew War or nnnnnn together, I feel like I succeeded in that goal.

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The 4th player in this stock photo is America.

 

-You started homebrewing around 2004/2005 with your Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS game Anguna: Warriors of Virtue. How has your approach to homebrewing changed in the 15-16 years since?

After finishing the original Anguna, I had wanted to make more games, but the GBA community had really dried up, and I was having trouble finding an artist. So I took a detour and made an Android game (RoboNinja, a metroidvania based on the idea of exploring a big world entirely using the overplayed guy-who-never-stops-running tap-to-jump mechanic. I still wonder if it's the world's first tap-to-jump-runner metroidvania). I had been thinking that I'd like to make NES games, but the idea of making a giant NES game entirely in 6502 assembly intimidated me. So I figured I'd start with the Atari (which also uses a 6502), thinking that it would be easier to learn on. The Atari has its own crazy challenges, so I'm not sure it was much easier, but I decided to just dive into seeing what a port/demake of Anguna would look like. I mentioned previously some of my design ideas (reworking the world but keeping the structure the same), and some of the limitations were based on the limitations of system (Anguna 2600 never mixes enemy types on one screen, because with the Atari's 128 bytes of RAM, I didn't have enough RAM to manage multiple enemy types at once). While my Atari goals were initially just to have fun playing with the system, the game turned out to generate some interest, so I happily published copies through AtariAge.

After finishing that, I figured it was time to finally start on Halcyon: my Blaster Master-style game that I had been dreaming about for years. I started working on that with Frankengraphics doing art. I didn't really have any plans for a NES Anguna at the time, but this past Christmas, my progress on Halcyon was on hold while she was finishing things up with Project Blue. I was a little jealous seeing other people release cool games, and frustrated that Halcyon was taking so long, so I decided to see if I could make a medium-sized NES game in just a few months. Starting with the game design and even a good bit of code from the Atari 2600 version, it was a fun challenge to see whether I could take the Atari game, and upgrade it to a reasonable (but modest) NES adventure in a short amount of time. Which is why the title is (tentatively) Anguna Zero -- I wanted something to signify that this isn't a new big epic version that really pushes the NES to the limits, but instead of a medium-scoped adventure based on the earlier Atari game.

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Screenshot from Halcyon

 

-Ever since my first episode, M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as the player's point of immersion in the game, informing how we understand the game's world. I also believe that the protagonist’s design serves as a reflection of its designer. What was the intention behind the design of Anguna’s protagonist, and how has his design evolved across each prior Anguna game?

The original Anguna had a subtitle "Warriors of Virtue", which referred, not to the cheesy Kangaroo adventure movie, but to an equally cheesy pen-and-paper role playing game that I designed and played with my brother and best friends back in middle school and high school. My original idea of Anguna was to take place in that world, and the character was going to be Narkstan Greenthorne, a warrior with a short fuse that my friend had played in one of our campaigns (who happened to get captured by bad guys quite often).

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If ever there was a character who sounded like he knew Guybrush Threepwood, it’s Narkstan Greenthorne.

But when Chris reworked the graphics for him, it really changed the tone of the character, and he instead became a nameless hero, sort of a blank slate of a character. I really ended up liking that concept (which fit nicely with the silly lack of plot). You can imagine him being however you want, because he's just your vehicle for exploring the world. It's been 15 years or so, and he still doesn't even have a name (to make it even more vague, the name Anguna itself isn't the name of the character, the world, or anything. It's just the name of the game).

The graphical design of the character has changed a little bit, from the Atari to the NES, but the general idea is the same: some nameless warrior, dressed in red, ready to explore the world and beat some bad guys!

 

-Tell me more about your pen-and-paper role playing game from middle and high school.

Oh man, it was terrible. My parents were among those folks that were convinced that Dungeons and Dragon was evil, but they were ok with us making up our own version. So we made up a rule set that was sort of a mix between D&D and Final Fantasy 1. And it was as horribly unbalanced and ridiculous as you'd expect from 7th graders. But somehow it became reasonably popular among the nerds (and even some of the D&D-playing jocks) at our school.

We ran one campaign that lasted for a few years which was fun, and it's where the winged-bat-looking "hobgoblin" creatures from Anguna came from -- I had a bag of cheap plastic monsters from the dollar store that we used for battles, and the black bat things were the primary hobgoblin enemy from that campaign.

Our game came much before the movie of the same name, so it cracked us up when the movie about warrior kangaroos came out.

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Nightmare fuel in its purest form

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Anguna Zero for the NES as opposed to its Atari 2600 counterpart, or even the original game on Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

The process of making Anguna 2600 was figuring out how to simplify everything as much as possible, and scale everything back. Dynamite just made your sword blow up things. The boots were always equipped.

The fun challenge of Anguna Zero was taking that scaled-down Atari version, and figuring out how to scale it back up to an appropriate game for the NES (but doing that as quickly as possible). Reworking the subscreen and map system, and fixing the inventory back to a "one item at a time" system, were the most important immediate things. I was able to reuse my metatile map tools from Halcyon to redesign each room, so that part, although completely different from the Atari version, ended up being fairly quick. The hardest part definitely ended up being the dark rooms before you have the lantern.

On the GBA version, the hardware has a really easy HDMA trick for making nicely shaped pockets of lit areas surrounded by darkness (like the key effect on Super Mario World).

The Atari also had a nice easy trick, almost identical to what was used in the old game Adventure, where you set the background and foreground to be the same color, but put a big orange sprite with a priority in-between foreground and background.

The NES has no such easy tricks. So I just end up rewriting background tiles as you move around the room (with some nice curved sprites on the corners). In essence, it's almost the same logic as an 8-way scrolling engine (loading in new tiles at the front as you move), only it's just scrolling the area right around the player. I laughed afterwards, because I purposefully avoided any scrolling in the game (to simplify it), but I ended up spending a ridiculous percentage of my time working on that darkness effect, which is so similar to scrolling.

As far as lessons learned? That's a great question. I think there's something really fun about adapting an idea across multiple systems, and learning each system as you go. But it's been such a weird random path, that I'm not sure that any sane person would aspire to it.

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Screenshot from Anguna for the Atari 2600

 

-Thomas Cipollone aka HumanThomas, who served as the music director for the Haunted Halloween games and Full Quiet is working on the music for Anguna Zero. How did you two first connect and what is the working dynamic like as you both work on your respective aspects of the game?

I've been impressed with Thomas' work ever since I joined the NES scene, and we had touched base a few times in the past about the possibility of working together, but nothing had ever really been the right timing. But with Anguna Zero, I knew I wanted some cool music, and wanted something quickly. I was fairly far along when I contacted Thomas and asked if I could hire him to make a small soundtrack on a fairly short timeline, and he came through wonderfully.  The working dynamic has been really simple -- I had a list of a few types of songs (overworld, dungeon, etc.), and in amazingly quick time, he handed me back some great songs. I've been so impressed with his work.

 

-Do you have a release date in mind for Anguna Zero? Are you thinking of launching a crowdfunding campaign? Do you intend to sell the game directly, or will someone else handle distribution?

The release date was supposed to be about a month ago, but the folks at the 6502 Collective (who I'm going to work with for publishing) convinced me to hire someone to do a facelift on some of the graphics. So I don't have an exact date now, but the game is finished other than those graphical improvements. Once those are in place, it will be ready to go! I don't know that we'll do a big crowdfunding campaign (I'm saving my marketing energy for Halcyon), but we'll definitely do a physical release as well as a rom release. I've been toying with the idea of doing an "Anguna collector's treasure box" release with the GBA, Atari, and NES games all in one special edition packaging, but that assumes that I can manage to make the GBA version available again. We'll see 🙂

 

-There is a lot of buzz around another project you are working on (and mentioned earlier): Halcyon, a sci-fi metroidvania adventure with some Blaster Master vibes. How is that game progressing? Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, NES or otherwise?

Yeah, Halcyon has been a giant project -- a short of mashup of Blaster Master and Metroid. Oh man, I had originally hoped to have it finished this fall, but it's just not going to happen that early. The engine is finished other than any new special cases that we dream up for the end-game. The content (general rough maps, enemies, weapons, powerups) is probably 75% mapped out and ready, but with a lot of placeholder graphics for now. I've got a few more areas to map out, and then I need to go back and fill in a handful of bosses that I've skipped. So it's getting there, but definitely later than the fall of 2020 goal that I had been telling people.

Other projects? I'm always dreaming about the next project as I get to the 50% mark on a game. I don't have anything definite, or any designs on paper, but I have dreams of doing a 4-player "party game mix" cart, an old-school RPG (possibly with an online component thanks to the awesome work that folks like Paul of Infinite NES Lives, Roger Bidon, and Broke Studio are doing in that area), a contra-like action game, and making the jump to SNES and making Anguna or some other large game there. That sounds like about 15 years of work, to do all of those, so we'll see what happens....

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Broke Studio and Roger Bidon demonstrating their breakthrough in online real-time NES gaming!

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Homebrew games that I'm excited to play? Oh man, what are all the large games that have been teased? Full Quiet, Orange Island, Trophy (although I got to help test it, so I did get to try it already), Mall Brawl, Janus, Space Soviets, and others that I probably forgot. Kevin also teased some awesome-looking cyberpunk game that I can't wait to see more of.

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Wouldn’t we all?

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about my game, and thanks for writing these articles, it's been fun to read about the development of other upcoming games!

 

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humanthomas

-Before we dive into Anguna Zero, I'd love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for homebrew games? What is the origin story of humanthomas?

My interest in being a musician started young. I started playing guitar at age 11, and have kept up with it ever since. The first homebrew game that I composed for was Haunted: Halloween '85. A friend of mine sent me a reddit post of these dudes looking for a composer for an NES game.

I had no experience with the NES other than playing it, but I knew that I could pull it off. After sending my backlog of other compositions and recordings, they decided to take me on for the project.

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Screenshot from Haunted: Halloween ‘85

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

From back in the day, Nobuo Uematsu, Takashi Tateishi, & Yasunori Mitsuda.

The Final Fantasy, Mega Man, and Chrono Trigger soundtracks have had a huge impact on me.

I didn't know it at the time, but just playing those games taught me so much about creating music for specific atmosphere and mood.

More recently, I've been studying Tim Follin's NES work and Disasterpeace for modern stuff.

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Follin worked on NES game soundtracks such as Solstice, Treasure Master, Silver Surfer, and Taito’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

 

-In addition to your musical work on homebrew games, you lead a musical collaboration project called Modern Dog, in which you compose tracks that other musicians then contribute to. What inspired you to create this shared musical experience?

The idea popped up around the start of the pandemic. A lot of my friends are musicians and since no one can play shows or work right now, I figured I could help take their minds off of the madness with a new approach to a recording project.

The main idea is as follows - I make a base of a track and send it out to as many different players as possible. I tell them that they can add as much or as little as they like, then I pick what I like most and mix it down.

The most fun part is that none of the folks contributing get to hear the other parts until the song is finalized.

It has been awesome to collaborate with folks outside of my regular musical circle.

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Album cover art for Modern Dog’s album Night Vision

 

-Since contributors don’t hear the final product until everything is finished, their reactions must be fun. Have these collaborations sparked inspiration for even more new music?

Modern Dog will definitely be a continued project now. I hope to put a full album worth of material for it eventually.

 

-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Describing the aesthetic is tough. I think that composing music for games is about being malleable and fitting in with the vibe of the game, on a stage-by-stage basis.

As far as qualities that define my music goes, I like to focus on interesting chord voicings and also syncopation of rhythms.

Also, long form melody - I love to evolve melodies over the course of the tune in a way that is not predictable.

 

-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?

For NES music, I am primarily using Famitracker. I have started experimenting with FamiStudio as well.

It is ideal to have a guitar at hand so I can quickly run through ideas. But, if I'm not working at home, I just have to rely on my ear and my brain.

 

-Tell me about the development of Anguna Zero’s music, what is your composition process? Is the creative process different compared to when you compose more traditional music?

Any time I start a new project, the most important thing for me is if the head of the project has specific musical references they would like me to aim for. I try to take those references to heart but also apply my own style to it.

Nathan let me have open license for Anguna, for the most part. I often sit down to the computer without a plan, whether I am writing video game music or traditional music, so the process is pretty similar either way.

 

-Your work on homebrew games spans a wide assortment of gems such as the Haunted Halloween games, Full Quiet, and Shmup Speed. How has your approach to homebrew games evolved over the years?

The biggest thing that has changed is my understanding of what is going on under the hood. For Haunted '85, I was clueless. I didn't understand the space restrictions. I didn't understand that a sound engine was even a thing.

Now, I am actively thinking about how much space the music is going to take up as I am writing it. The goal for me is to make the most interesting sounding tunes while keeping it very space efficient.

A word of advice: If you are reading this and want to compose music for the NES, just assume that you can't use any of the built-in effects of Famitracker. You're better off that way, it will save you a bunch of headaches in the future.

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Cartridge of Full Quiet

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in your work on Anguna Zero? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Fortunately, I did not run into any big hurdles while working on Anguna. I think now that I have a pretty solid understanding of Famitone 2, (the favored sound engine of most homebrewers nowadays) I can typically export the audio with minimal errors.

The biggest hurdle is often getting past judging my own work. If the music functions in game and sounds good, that is all I can ask for.

 

-How did you first connect with Nathan and what is the working dynamic like as you both work on your respective aspects of the game?

Nathan and I met on Twitter a few years ago I do believe. I have been doing a lot of work recently with KHAN Games and Sole Goose Productions, so I think they may have put in a good word for me!

Nathan is really easy to work with. He gives excellent feedback. He trusts me to do my thing correctly and vice versa.

 

-Is there another project after Anguna Zero on the horizon? Another dream project that you hope to bring into existence, NES or otherwise?

I have a few more secret things that I am working on. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that I can talk about them just yet! My dream is to make more NES and SNES soundtracks hopefully soon.

I am open to commissions if anyone needs music! 🙂

 

-Have you ever thought of releasing a chiptune album of your music, perhaps even on an NES cart (like Zi, another Thomas within the community)?

I just started writing a full chiptune album, specifically for a cartridge, just this week. I have no timeline for release yet, but it will happen!

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

I have been waiting for years to play RIKI's Famicom homebrew, Astro Ninja Man.

One is on the way for me, but it won't be here for a while.

I am really interested in eventually getting my hands on the online version of Super Tilt Bros.

Wi-Fi NES carts, who knew the day would ever come??

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Screenshot from Astro Ninja Man

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thank you for spending time with me. The NES community has been very welcoming to me and I appreciate everyone a great deal.

Anyone can feel free to reach out to talk about music, if you need music for a project, or just want advice about the process.

 

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SpriteAttack

-Before we dive into Anguna, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a graphic artist? What is the origin story of SpriteAttack?

I bought a C64 when I was sixteen. A classmate sold his as he had lost interest in it. At first, it was all about the games but soon I was intrigued by the art and how it was created. I started wondering if some of those games couldn't be made to look better. I did pixel art with a joystick on an old TV screen. These days it just sounds insane but I did enjoy it. The C64 was soon replaced with an Amiga 2000, and the first game designs of my own and contacts to coders in my region. This led to floppy discs filled with pixel-art and finally the first released game. From that point on it was too much fun not to continue making art for computer games.



-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

I never really had one or two artists that I tried to follow. I used to watch a wide range of styles and a diverse spectrum of forums – not just gaming related but also design, art, product design, or even fan art. A few artists and artworks would inspire me to try out a different style.

I still enjoy the Metal Slug artwork, Legends of Mana and the works of Henk Nieborg.

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Thor: God of Thunder (Nintendo DS Mockup), by Henk Nieborg



-Your art for Anguna: Warriors of Virtue evokes some classic games, imbuing familiar tropes with unique personality. Would you say that your art has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

It's hard for me to see 'my style' but a common trait seems to be vivid colours, a tendency to cuteness and cartoon characters. I try to maintain a high level of consistency in a game's art, UI, and feel. The styles may vary from game to game, depending on the system requirements, the game engine, and the tools available, but in the game, it should feel like one from start to finish.



-What tools do you use to create?

There's the old-fashioned sketchbook and two marker pens – they go where I go. Most of the computer work is now done in Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo. CorelDraw and Inkscape add some additional effects to my tool-set. I work with a gaming PC and two monitors plus a display graphic tablet yet still use the mouse for a lot of the vector art.


-Tell me about your creative process? How does something evolve from your imagination to the page/screen?

It depends a lot on the medium. My sketches usually 'just happen'. I start somewhere on the page and doodle and fill up the page with the marker. The game art and illustrations usually follow a building process. I start with basic shapes, outlines, and rough colours, adding more and more details as I go. I love to work from simple shapes (circles and rectangles) and add to them as the elements evolve.


-I love to ask interviewees who played a role in designing characters, especially the protagonist, about whether there are elements of themselves found in their characters. I believe a game’s protagonist serves not only as the player's point of immersion in the game, informing how we understand the game's world, but also is a reflection of its designer. Was there any specific intention behind the design of Anguna’s protagonist and its other colorful characters?

I wish there was. 🙂 I don't think I am anything like the protagonists in my games. The main character in Anguna is a sword-swinging, arrow shooting knight in bright armor – basically the stereotype of a game of this genre. Most of the choices were based on the clear distinction between the hero and the enemies - red versus blue or green.

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I definitely got that impression


-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing for Anguna as opposed to your other work? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

It's hard to say. Anguna: Warriors of Virtue was developed a long time ago. Pixel-art was the only viable form of game art – the few vector art or 3D games out there were rarities. All the animations were hand placed and tested again and again to make the most of the few 'dots' you had at your disposal.

These days there are tools out there that make it a lot easier. Animations are reusable if you use bone-based animation tools like spine, spriter, or dragon bones – just to name a few. Most game engines have their own animation tools built into the framework.

Use the tools that are out there and continuously keep an eye on what's new. It could potentially make your work easier, more engaging, or simpler to implement by the coders. Learning and adapting to new tools, workflows and demands is essential if you want to do game art for a long time.



- How did you first connect with Nathan for the game and what was the working dynamic like as you both work on your respective aspects of the game?

I am sorry but I really can't remember how we connected. It would have been via one of the homebrew forums back in the days. I used to be rather active, commenting and showing my own work, making edits/reworks to posts to explain changes in a visual way. An image says more than a thousand words – and I am better with the art than the words anyway... 🙂


- Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, any dream projects?

At the moment there is nothing lined up. I had to shift back a few gears due to ongoing health issues and put the focus on my body and having as much fun as possible. I have done some of my dream projects in the past. I worked on a DS/PSP version of 'Impossible Mission' with Ziggurat Interactive. The game was one of my childhood favorites on the C64 along with Summer Games (which we also ported but it sadly never got released). Last year I had the chance to work on a texture pack for Minecraft which was another dream project.

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Artwork for Impossible Mission in collaboration with Ziggurat Interactive


-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

There are way too many...and I have to admit that I am losing track. There simply is not enough time in the day to play all the games I would like to dive into. Sadly I tend to forget about a lot of the games that initially sparked my interest in a post by the time they eventually are released.


-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Thanks! I want to thank all the players out there for playing the games and making all the hard work worthwhile. They are the ones enabling me to do what I love – make game art!

 

 Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of a series that highlights promising new homebrew games and learns the stories behind them as they cross the finish line. What are your thoughts on Anguna: Scourge of the Goblin King and its talented development team? Which homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

 

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