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Episode 6: Jay & Silent Bob: Mall Brawl


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A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 6: Jay & Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

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Introduction:

Ask any homebrewer what inspired them to create a particular game or why they became a brewer in the first place, and many will point to a cultural icon of yesteryear that still resonates with them. Some games serve as an homage to a beloved game from a console’s licensed era. Other games are a thinly veiled adaptation of a beloved world that never received the video game treatment on a given console. How incredible is it then, when a homebrewer is entrusted with developing a game in service of a well-known universe that spans movies, tv, and comics? The result may well be a game those characters would sell their mother to play.

For this entry, I’m covering Jay & Silent Bob: Mall Brawl, a beat-‘em-up game with 2-player co-op developed by Tomas Guinan aka Spoony Bard Productions in collaboration with Interabang Entertainment, Toni Leys, Hanzo Steinbach, and Wallride Games, providing an NES entry into the View Askewniverse, and prequel to the in-development modern brawler Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch for PC (and may be pre-ordered here), with plans to potentially release for the PS4 and Xbox One. As of the time of this writing, the digital release of Mall Brawl is now available on Steam and Nintendo Switch, and a physical release of the game on NES from Limited Run Games has sold out.

 

Development Team:

@tomaSpoony Bard Productions (Tomas Guinan): programming

Toni Leys: music

Hans “Hanzo” Steinbach: box art

Wallride Games (Ty Burks & Nathan Shorts): game art, including background designs and enemy sprites

Interabang Entertainment: design, direction, promotion

 

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Game Evolution:

Mall Brawl’s origins begin with a different game altogether: the modern beat-‘em-up Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch by Interabang Entertainment. Chronic Blunt Punch features a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has the titular duo investigating the disappearance of their customers and the menace of the new Galleria. But this game is a battle of wits as well as fists; the story branches based on the player’s choice of words in Convo Combo Combat, where you can sweet-talk or mentally destroy a boss. Chronic Blunt Punch launched a crowdfunding campaign on Fig in February 2016, raising over $445,000. The game’s development continues, with a prospective release of August 2021 on Steam.

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Snootch to the nootch!

Reminiscent of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and its 8-bit brother Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Mall Brawl was conceived as an 8-bit accompaniment to Chronic Blunt Punch, but one that could be played on an actual NES. Though Tomas Guinan hinted something incredible was in the works during his appearance on The Assembly Line in February 2019, the first true teaser appeared in a YouTube video posted on July 14, 2019, in which a happy-go-lucky Easter Bunny is having a nice Super Mario Bros. experience before getting pummeled by Jay & Silent Bob.

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Animals were totally harmed in the making of this game

The following month Tomas posted a YouTube video featuring gameplay footage and a link to the game’s dedicated website with more information.

Pre-orders for Mall Brawl opened September 6, 2019 on the dedicated website as well as on Limited Run Games’ site. Limited Run Games offered a CIB of the game in classic gray, Jay yellow, and Silent Bob green; a Triple Threat collection of all three CIB color options; and a Premium Edition which included a foil-stamped gatefold box, game cart, manual, set of collectible art cards, game soundtrack CD, and a full-size poster.

A new YouTube video appeared on April 29, 2020, featuring the rap stylings of Interabang Entertainment’s Justin Woodward announcing the upcoming launch of Mall Brawl on Steam and the Nintendo Switch on May 7. And in early August, Interabang Entertainment and Limited Run Games fulfilled pre-orders of the NES game to excited backers.

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We been playin’ once or twice, fightin’ in Kevin Smith’s paradise!

 

Gameplay Overview:

Mall Brawl describes itself as a retro beat-‘em-up, featuring 2-player co-op action in the spirit of River City Ransom, Battletoads, and Double Dragon II. Fans of Mallrats and the View Askewniverse in general will recognize the setting and characters. You play as Jay and/or Silent Bob high off their success from sabotaging a live taping of Truth or Date and are trying to make their getaway and escape mall security. Unfortunately it’s not just LaFours and his army of rent-a-cops that have it out for you; sk8erbois, hockey punks, and ice cream clerks, among others are headed your way. And don’t forget the Easter Bunny is looking to settle a score, with his burger mascot buddy backing him up.

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And he’s looking to knock you in the cadbury’s

Experienced players of 8-bit brawlers will feel at home with the controls, where the A button punches, the B button kicks, and the two buttons together make you jump, while double-tapping left or right allows you to dash. Pushing either button while mid-air performs a jump kick and pushing either button mid-dash will ram an enemy. More complicated moves draw inspiration from the pillars of NES beat-‘em-ups. For instance the uppercut that results from a 4-punch combo and the high kick that follows a 4-kick combo scream Battletoads. Meanwhile grabbing a stunned enemy by hitting A, then either kneeing them in the face by hitting A again or throwing them over your shoulder by hitting B are straight out of Renegade.

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The black sheep of the Kunio-kun series

In addition, Jay & Silent Bob each have a special attack: Jay can execute a somersault kick, hitting an enemy 3 times in the air following a 4-kick combo, while Silent Bob performs a spinning lariat, hitting an enemy up to 5 more times after a successful 4-punch combo. However both special attacks can only be performed if your character picks up a star dropped by a beaten enemy. In 1-player mode, you can swap between Jay and Silent Bob by hitting select during gameplay. This is especially valuable because if either Jay or Silent Bob get a little too roughed up, swapping characters allows whichever one is not in play to rest and slowly restore health.

 

Writer’s Review:

Fans of the View Askewniverse will find plenty of small, familiar touches throughout Mall Brawl’s bright, colorful mallscape from the Truth or Date stage to Moody’s. Fans of 8-bit brawlers will find their own nostalgia stings pulled with gameplay mechanics and enemies, not least of which is the just barely escaping copyright infringement Adoughbo, the pretzel-headed mutant cousin of a certain beloved Double Dragon foe, and a shopping cart gauntlet that will trigger gamers’ memories/nightmares of a certain Battletoads level. But if the box art and enemies channel Double Dragon II, then the hit/stun animations pay homage to Battletoads, as characters express hilarious shock at being hit. Perhaps they’re simply in awe at the sound effects for some weapons, like the “kong” of a glass bottle or the “jangle” of a sock full of quarters.

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Gives new meaning to stunning sound effects

Then again attention to detail and the thought given to seemingly mundane aspects are what set Mall Brawl inventively apart. Most beat-‘em-ups that I have played offer a wide open field of play encircled by whatever graphical flourishes the artists can conjure to create ambiance, plus some items you can smash for pick-ups. Mall Brawl provides an actual environment you must navigate around. The level design is not just a fence around an open area; in addition to smashable objects like plastic trash cans, there are objects that obstruct movement like planters and benches that you must fight around, and stairs that you can move up and down in a real three-dimensional space, all of which requires players to think more critically about their gameplay. Wrapping up the atmosphere of this game in a big, gorgeous bow is its music. The soundtrack is peppy and fun, stirring up the kind of enthusiasm I once had for my favorite Saturday morning cartoon shows. While this music may not be the melodies of Morris Day and The Time, Jay & Silent Bob would absolutely jam out to these tunes in front of the Quick Stop.

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They want to know ya, know ya

Regarding gameplay itself, Mall Brawl manages to fit in a variety of attacks despite the limits inherent to an NES controller. Such complexity, along with the fun animations accompanying them, elevates Mall Brawl’s fun and replayability. The basic moves are present and easy to learn, making Mall Brawl accessible to gamers of all skill levels. Yet more complicated actions are available for advanced players to experiment with escaping swarms of mall ninjas and hockey hooligans. Which brings me to the game’s difficulty. Mall Brawl’s enemies are legion, each with distinct looks and personalities, as well as attack patterns that are not easily overcome by mere button mashing. This game is difficult without feeling entirely unfair. There were several moments where I initially got stuck, but figuring out how to use the right combination of attacks with the level’s environment forced me to experiment and ultimately have a more fun experience. But honestly, thank goodness for the save feature. Mall Brawl may well be the “thinking person’s brawler”, but I was more enthusiastic about revisiting the game later knowing I could walk away and pick up where I left off without starting over.

In a genre saturated with games good and bad for every console generation, and whatever level of purgatory Paprium currently sits, Mall Brawl reminds us why we loved the old beat-‘em-ups and poured quarter after quarter into arcade machines. This game brings back everything we loved without being derivative while also being faithful to the universe of its characters. I recently started a tradition with one of my best friends where we play our favorite old games and some homebrews I bring when we’re both back in our hometown for the holidays. Assuming we’re able to get together this year, I am excited to show him Mall Brawl and give him my spare copy for Christmas so we can play it together.

 

Interviews:

Mall Brawl is a game that combines the passion of a multitude of talented people in order to deliver players a game that surpasses its hype. I interviewed the development team to learn how it all came together, including my first interview over Zoom!

 

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toma

@SpoonyBardToma

-Before we dive into Mall Brawl, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Spoony Bard Productions?

Spoony Bard Productions started out in 1997. From then to around 2001 it was mostly about NES romhacks and translations. The most notable translation I did at that point was probably Glory of Heracles 2, which pretty much introduced that series to the English world. My interests shifted toward Flash animation for a while after that, which is when Eskimo Bob started. I was still a NES fan, but not really involved in romhacking or homebrew or anything like that until I ordered an AVS and Battle Kid in 2016. Seeing that console and game inspired me to look into homebrew. I found Doug Fraker's tutorials and the Eskimo Bob NES game kind of grew out of me following along those.

 

-Based on the Spoony Bard name, is it safe to say you are a Final Fantasy fan, or are you a fan of Woolseyisms?

Yeah, I basically just thought that "You spoony bard!" was a hilarious quote. I was 15 when I first created the website and the original "logo" I had on my page was a screenshot of that moment in FF2. A lot of the early translation community was centred around Final Fantasy and translating those "lost" three games, so it was very appropriate for the time.

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Yes, I am aware that Woolsey himself did not write this one

 

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

Honestly, that's a super tough question and hard to pinpoint. I feel like I have a lot of hybrid influences. Obviously a lot of the classic NES games like Mario, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, etc. A lot of my animated work tends to have pretty heavy Transformers influences in it as well. Basically just old games and cartoons.

I'm not sure I have anyone in particular who I follow closely, but there is a lot of stuff that catches my eye. Anything Frankengraphics draws tends to be really interesting, and Dimension Shift by Mugi looks amazing as well. Morphcat does some pretty consistently amazing work as well. Micro Mages gets the most attention, but I really enjoyed Bobl a lot.

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Bobl gameplay gif

 

-You burst onto the homebrew scene with NES games based on your characters from the world of Eskimo Bob. Between the original show and the games you have developed, how would you describe your aesthetic?

I think my 3 main games so far have a pretty similar aesthetic. They all feature thick black lines, cartoony proportions, and characters with a prominent eyebrow. It's a style that you saw a lot in mid-to later NES games, where you had lots of characters with black outlines. I stole the eyebrow thing from early Final Fantasy, even back in the original Eskimo Bob cartoon.

 

-What tools do you use to code and compose?

For writing code I use Notepad++. Everything I've done so far uses cc65 with a bit of assembly spattered here and there when it makes sense. For graphics I use YYCHR and NESst to make sprites and tilesets. Level design is done using Tiled, and for games that I compose my own music for I use Famitracker/Famitone.

 

-Before Mall Brawl, you had already developed Galf for Limited Run games. How did your relationship with Limited Run Games come about?

I've known Josh from Limited Run for nearly 20 years now. We met while I was doing the Eskimo Bob cartoon and he backed both of my Kickstarters. He'd actually been encouraging me to do some sort of Eskimo Bob reboot for a while because he knew that there were some people who had some nostalgia for it. Later on, when Limited Run was getting ready for their Golf Story physical release, Josh contacted me about doing a NES port of Galf, and things kind of grew from there.

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Galf cart and box from Limited Run Games

 

-In preparing for this interview I realized that of Limited Run Games’ entire catalog, you have developed all of their original NES game releases. Furthermore, despite the limited nature of Limited Run Games’ releases, their production runs are generally larger than many other homebrew releases. Therefore I think it is fair say that you are many people’s introduction to homebrew games and its community. Do you have any thoughts on being an ambassador of homebrew?

I think it's really cool, and I never really thought about it that way before. There are a lot of really good games in the homebrew scene that could stand toe-to-toe with popular indie titles. I think it'd be great for some of these games to get some wider exposure.

 

-An article in Bleeding Cool stated Mall Brawl was originally conceived as a free digital bonus for backers of Interabang Entertainment’s Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. Were you already involved with the game at this stage, or did you join at another point? How did you connect with Interabang Entertainment? At what point did Mall Brawl become an NES game?

From the point that I came in, Mall Brawl was always intended to be a NES game. I don't think it was ever conceived to be anything else. Interabang had been working on Chronic Blunt Punch for a while and already had a relationship with Limited Run. After Galf sold out much quicker than expected, Limited Run were looking at doing another NES title, so I think that's how things started. From my perspective, Josh emailed me one day and asked if I was interested in developing a Jay and Silent Bob NES game, and I obviously said yes, hahaha.

 

-What was the working dynamic like in your collaboration with Interabang? What was the division of labor on Mall Brawl, and how was the development process between members of your team?

I really enjoyed working with Justin from Interabang. It was the type of collaboration where we clicked pretty quickly and stayed on the same page almost all the time, so it made the whole development process fun. We basically had weekly meetings where we'd discuss progress and brainstorm ideas. Things went smoothly and quickly. It's a relationship that is definitely going to continue long-term. I'm currently working on Chronic Blunt Punch with that team and we're looking at exploring some future projects as well.

 

-You posted on Twitter that you were also refining combat physics on Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. What was the extent of your involvement in Mall Brawl’s modern companion, and how was that experience different compared to your work for an 8-bit brawler?

I'm officially part of the Chronic Blunt Punch team at this point as a developer. In my professional life I have a Computer Science degree where I specialized in graphics, gaming, and media, so I've worked on modern projects in a professional capacity before. Honestly, there is a lot of knowledge that carries over between the two work environments, even if tools being used and programming languages are different.

 

-Were you a fan of the View Askewniverse prior to Mall Brawl?

I've been a fan for over two decades. I still have a frisbee that I got during a test screening of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

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Noice swag

 

-What is it like developing a game containing such cultural icons as Jay & Silent Bob?

It was really cool and surreal from the start, and in a lot of ways still doesn't feel real. I think that's kind of amplified by the fact that the game came out during lockdown, so I haven't been able to go to any promotional events or anything. Nothing feels real anymore hahaha.

 

-Did you have a different attitude toward developing Mall Brawl compared to developing games for your own intellectual property? Is the experience of developing them different? Does playing within the existing world of established characters impose limits on what you can do with them?

I think it would depend on the property. Being a fan of Jay and Silent Bob made it pretty easy for me to develop a game that was full of referential humour to that franchise. We had a lot of freedom to do what we want with this project, so it didn't feel that much different than making something based on something I had created myself. The Eskimo Bob games were full of references as well, it was just references to something I had made myself instead, but the mindset was similar.

 

-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Mall Brawl as opposed to Eskimo Bob or Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure from a programming perspective? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I think the biggest difference is obviously the game genre. EB and Alfonzo are both puzzle platformers and Mall Brawl is a beat-‘em-up, so there was a much bigger focus on things like enemy AI as opposed to level design. It was also different because it was the first NES game where I collaborated with someone else on an original design. There would be a lot of times where Justin and I would be talking and he'd suggest something that I wasn't sure could be done or not. When programming for the NES, you always kind of have that thought in mind, where there's a ceiling to what the system can handle. That's the biggest difference between developing for an older platform and modern development. The trick is to try to work around those limits instead of letting them hold you back. Sometimes an idea might seem impossible at first, but you just need to think of it from a different perspective.

 

-There has been a lot of buzz around Mall Brawl across fans of homebrew, the View Askewniverse, and beyond. How does it feel to bask in such enthusiasm and support?

The reception for Mall Brawl has been really good and it feels awesome. The game has a 73 on Metacritic, with most reviewers actually giving it an 80 (darn you Nintendolife!). Honestly, for a game developed for a 35-year old console being judged to modern standards, that's not half bad, and I'll take it.

 

-On top of the general buzz, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes themselves played Mall Brawl and posted their gameplay. What was it like watching the Jay & Silent Bob play your game?

Watching Kevin and Jay play the game was definitely a surreal experience. Seeing it featured in Kevin's show Son-in-Lockdown was amazing as well. I think my favorite moment of their stream was when they beat the Patrick Swayze boss and Kevin said something like "This feels better than putting my handprints down at the Chinese theatre!" These are guys that I grew up watching so it's really cool to see them get enjoyment out of something I made.

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Swayze defeated, achievement unlocked!

 

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

Aside from working on Chronic Blunt Punch right now, there are some possible projects in the future but nothing I can confirm yet. My dream is to do a sequel to an existing NES franchise as a NES game. That dream suddenly doesn't feel out of reach.

 

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

I think I'd mentioned it before, but Dimension Shift looks really cool. I tried out the demo, but I can't wait to see the full game when it's done.

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Screenshot from Dimension Shift

 

-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?

Don't give up, always keep trying, and have fun. That's the best way to do anything, really.

 

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Toni Leys

@tonileys

-Before we talk about Mall Brawl, I want to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for games? What is your origin story?

Thanks for having me Sean! I like to say my story with music began even before I realized. I come from a family of musicians, so I was raised with music all around me, it was a natural thing for me to make music. My grandfather used to play the piano and the organ at a church and when I, as a little kid, saw a keyboard for the first time I fell in love. I studied keyboard playing at a Yamaha music school as a kid and at a conservatory when I was around 19. After that I just kept learning different genres and techniques by myself.

Video games were also a big part of my life, but thinking about working as a musician for games wasn’t in my mind. However, I was fascinated by games music, I even had a music tape I recorded hooking up my Genesis to a recorder!

One day I was invited to play the keys with a video game music cover band called Insert Coin, that day my mind made the click, I realized I could somehow merge my two biggest loves in life. I ended up touring with that band for 5 years.

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Insert Coin live in concert

Around that time I also started making my own tracks and uploading to Soundcloud, I remember finding out about the “chiptune” genre and trying to mix that with other stuff, so I ended up making my first electronic+chiptune tracks.

It was a matter of time and making more and more music to stumble upon people, now friends of mine, that worked making games and loved my music and wanted it in their games.

So that’s how I ended up making music for games and I’ve been doing that (as well as sound design and implementation) as my primary job since 2015.

 

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

Oh that’s all over the place, I listen to a lot of different styles of music, from Daft Punk to Vulpeck and ORESAMA. Most of my inspiration for my albums and singles come from the new wave of electronic producers and chiptune artists, like Porter Robinson, Hyper Potions, Moe Shop or Snile’s House. But when composing for games I kind of shift the mindset and end up opening my inspiration box full of the 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit era composers like Masato Nakamura (Sonic 1 and 2), Koji Kondo (Zelda, Mario), Michiru Yamane (Rocket Knight Adventures, Castlevania), and also current game composers like my friends Tee Lopes (Sonic Mania) and Francisco Cerda (Jamestown).

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Masato Nakamura

 

-In addition to your musical work on video games, you perform live. Does your experience performing provide inspiration for your game music, or vice versa?

Well, my live performances are really influenced by my love for games. I usually play remixes of music from games and make cool visuals with lots of pixel art and game references (and memes). My live shows are really a gaming and internet culture mess!

 

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

In that regard I believe that it is impossible to decouple yourself from the things you make, and that’s not only for music. I think every artist learns from the stuff that they like and incorporate to its creation. However, what you borrow from other artists are resources and tools, so when you use them to make your stuff it’s never gonna sound like them, it’s gonna sound like you, with some influence. But I can’t say exactly what about my music is “me”, I just do it. Then some people come saying “oh this track is so Toni Leys!”, and I really don’t know what exactly is that thing, but yeah, it’s there.

 

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

I use FL Studio to compose and REAPER for mixing and mastering, sort of. But in the case of Mall Brawl, which is specifically coded as an NES rom, I used Famitracker. It’s a tracker, a special music software where you can write music compatible with the NES system. In the same way I’m using Deflemask (also a tracker) to make music for Phantom Gear, that is being made for the Sega Genesis system.

 

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

The approach I use when making music for a game is more or less always the same, I learn as much as I can from the game, I get references of the music style wanted and start drafting some tracks to bounce off the dev team and receive some feedback. From there I just go on making and polishing the tracks and testing them in game to see if I need to change something. In the case of Mall Brawl, it was the same, but the special thing here was the limitations I had in terms of technical specs. For example, I had 4 channels to work with, that’s 4 sounds maximum playing at the same time. I couldn’t use samples so I “synthesized” the drums with the note channels. I couldn’t use some specific commands like vibrato or pitch bend, so I had to bake those into the instruments. Stuff like that. But I think the soundtrack came out pretty cool and reminiscent of the most classic NES beat-‘em-ups!

 

-Your work on homebrew games spans a wide assortment of gems including the upcoming Phantom Gear and you have created fun remixes to music from Zelda and Undertale. How has your approach to composition evolved over the years?

I think the most notorious change in my approach to composing music was thanks to working for games. I talked a little bit about this already, when you compose music as its own product you face it with that in mind, it’s the most common way of approaching music making. But when composing for a game, and I learnt this when I started having this job, you make music as a gear of a bigger machine. Your music serves a purpose, actually, many purposes! Giving a narrative to the game, communicating stuff to the player, providing a time and space for the scene. The game is a big monster full of work made by different people (artists, designers, programmers) and all of that needs to fit and work well together. So that’s the most drastic change in my approach to making music in the last years of my career.

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Screenshot from Phantom Gear

 

-Speaking of Phantom Gear, tell me more about that project. How do you like working with Bits Rule Games and Mega Cat Studios? How does the experience of composing for a Sega Genesis homebrew game compare to composing for the NES?

Bits Rule Games is a fantastic group of people, and I really can’t believe how beautiful Phantom Gear is looking and how well it works, even with the development still in progress. The process is not that different for both games, but the Genesis sound chip has a lot more to offer, and that’s great but makes it more complicated too. I have much more freedom when making instruments, I can use cool samples and I have a lot of channels to work with. But you can imagine, in a weird environment like making homebrews, double the tech specs and you have double the problems to solve!

 

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

Working with the guys in this game was actually pretty straight forward, apart from the technical limitations we faced, and that we stated clearly at the beginning of the production process, the rest was a smooth ride! But I am aware that I had the advantage of having worked a lot with trackers and those types of limitations before. So to the folks that want to get their hands in making music for a retro homebrew, be sure to know your tools very well!

A lot of times you’ll be faced with issues that you have to workaround in an unorthodox way, but it’s also a lot of fun, so go download a few trackers and make some cool beats!

 

-How did you first connect with Tomas Guinan and the folks at Interabang and what is the working dynamic like as you work on your respective aspects of the game?

I met Justin Woodward, head of Interabang, when he came to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I live. He traveled to give a talk at EVA (Exposición de Videojuegos Argentina), the gaming industry expo we have here. Then we kept in contact and I started working on Chronic Blunt Punch, the other Jay and Silent Bob game. After that he told me about Mall Brawl and I was super stoked, that’s where I met Tomas and we started working on that. I work from my home here in Buenos Aires and I believe Tomas works from his home too, so we worked together communicating over discord and having some calls with Justin too.

 

-Were you a fan of Kevin Smith and his View Askewniverse prior to Mall Brawl?

Some will kill me for this but I actually was really disconnected from that fandom. I did see some of the movies a long time ago but I barely remembered them, so I re-watched some of the movies when I started talking about this with Justin, and oh boy, what a ride!

 

-What is it like developing a game containing such cultural icons as Jay & Silent Bob?

It’s actually a huge responsibility, having a huge fandom behind, I don’t want to disappoint them. But at the same time there’s something about these kinds of games, that they are kind of their own bubbles of culture, so I try to stick to the references and the style of the game over everything else, then we talk about referencing the movies in some sense or bring some of the stylistic aspects that surround Jay and Silent Bob into the formula.

 

-Is there another project after Mall Brawl on the horizon? Another dream project that you hope to bring into existence, video game or otherwise?

Apart from Chronic Blunt Punch and Phantom Gear, I work for LemonChili Games, a mobile games company based here in Buenos Aires, so we’re always making stuff on that end. But for now I’m focused on finishing those projects as well as looking to the industry and what everyone is cooking. I have a few game studios in mind to work with in the future but nothing solid right now.

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Screenshot of Floyd’s Sticker Squad from LemonChili Games

 

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

I’m actually a bit of a laser-focused person, so with all my projects going on I may be missing some gems that are under development right now. I was following Micro Mages and Arkagis Revolution, fantastic games that are already released. So I’m waiting to be hit by some fantastic homebrew!

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Screenshot from Arkagis Revolution

 

-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 very much for having me! If you like the music I composed for Mall Brawl please stay tuned, a digital release of the soundtrack is on its way. Also, you can stop by my Instagram or Twitter if you have any questions or just want to say hi!

 

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Hans “Hanzo” Steinbach

@HeavyMetalHanzo

-Before we talk about Mall Brawl, I want to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be an artist generally, and more specifically how did you break into homebrew game art?

As a kid in the 80's Anime and Videogames were my world. They led me to a very interesting and varied career path. I grew up in Europe and here Anime was more prevalent than American cartoons.

 

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

Go Nagai (Mazinger Z, Devil Man) would have to be one of my earliest influences. I don't really follow any particular artists these days to be honest, there are so many amazing artists out there it'd be hard for me to pick and choose which ones to follow.

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Go Nagai standing with a poster of his art

 

-You've also created art for another beloved homebrew: Battle Kid 2. Do you feel that your art has any qualities that are uniquely you? How would you describe your aesthetic?

I've been told that my drawings usually feel very energetic, I’m not too fond of static drawings, I usually want there to be some motion and energy.

My aesthetic leans mostly towards "Anime" but with hints of other styles, for a while I’ve been studying Moebius and Gustave Doré too.

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Box art for Battle Kid 2

 

-Tell me about the development of the art you created for Mall Brawl, what is your composition process? Is the creative process different compared to when you create character designs and illustrations for other projects?

It's basically like any other illustrations I work on, I usually wait till my initial sketches are approved and move on to lineart and coloring. I do have a tendency of separating every character into their own layers, in case anything has to be moved around at a later time. Or in the case of the Jay and Silent Bob games, they can animate the illustrations for trailers etc.

 

-The box/label art is a fun homage to Double Dragon 2. Are you a fan of NES beat-‘em-ups? What drove you to use that game's art as inspiration?

Oh yeah I grew up with those games, they were basically the type of games I played when I couldn’t figure out what to play, haha. It's so nice to see the resurgence of high-quality beat-‘em-ups.

Justin (Interabang Entertainment) always comes up with those ideas, it makes the process go smoothly since I won’t have to spend time thinking of a layout or what to draw.

 

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

I didn't have any particular challenges with this one luckily, but for aspiring "digital" artists, make sure you have a backup save for the particular drawing you're working on. Boy, did I learn that the hard way...

 

-How did you first connect with Tomas Guinan and the folks at Interabang and what was it like working with them?

I never directly interacted with Tomas, unfortunately, but Justin Woodward was the one that got in touch with me and we've been in touch through Discord ever since.

Working with them was just a fun and comfortable process, I'm always looking forward to working with them again.

 

-Were you a fan of Kevin Smith and his View Askewniverse prior to Mall Brawl?

I ruined my Mallrats VHS tape, I had this movie on a loop it was so damn good. But yeah I’ve been a fan since the old Clerks days.

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The alt text Word suggests for this picture is: a picture containing phone

 

-What is it like creating art of such cultural icons as Jay & Silent Bob?

Frankly it's surreal, back in the day I would be drawing while Mallrats was playing in the background. Never thought I would one day end up doing some art for them. I’m very thankful for that.

 

-Is there another project after Mall Brawl on the horizon? Another dream project that you hope to bring into existence, video game or otherwise?

I am actually in the middle of 2 different projects, unfortunately due to NDA I am not at liberty to talk about them until the games are announced. But I can promise you, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

 

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

Yeah, my friend Carlos has been working on his game called "Lords of Exile". I've been helping him out with some character designs and illustrations. Fans of 8-bit Castlevania should definitely check it out.

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Screenshot of Lords of Exile from Squidbit Works

 

-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?

Anytime Sean, it was a pleasure answering these questions. It's nice to see so many people supporting devs who left their jobs to follow their passion and work on their own games, usually meant for a particular audience or a particular style. It’s just nice to see so much creativity these days and I hope everyone will achieve their goals.

 

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Nathan Shorts & Ty Burks (Wallride Games)

@WallrideGames

-Before we dive into Mall Brawl, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to get into design and development? What is the origin story of Wallride Games, and what is the significance of the name?

Nathan - My background is a bit all over the place haha. Before entering the game dev space, I studied advertising and then traditional illustration... Jumped around different art fields - I was a graphic designer, then freelance illustrator, then I had a focused stint in indie comics and publishing, before jumping into games. Worked on all sorts of randomness there too, but doing art direction and biz for ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove was probably one of my biggest marks on the industry so far!

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Screenshot from ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Ty - I’ve been in different creative positions in the games industry for about 12 years or so, working on games for all different platforms - I think I’ve been some part of about 30 games now, yikes. I was Creative Director for a mobile studio for years, working on games like Skee-Ball, Strata, and multiple Disney games. I went on to lead teams on Job Simulator and Rick & Morty: VR. Also spent some time working in the advertising industry running a VR department - but eventually returned to video games and started WALLRIDE with Nathan!

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ScreenshoBUUUUUURPt from Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality

As for WALLRIDE - Ty and Nathan - having never met before in person - decided over Twitter to start a game studio together. 1 year, 3 commercial releases, and a handful of secret projects later… well things are going preeeettty goooood, pretty good. 

 

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

Nathan - All of my industry friends are constantly making incredible games, so that’s a great tap of inspiration. I'm also super inspired by our team at Wallride, an endlessly creative group!

I try to pull influence from non-game sources usually - Movies, cartoons, & music are big ones for me. Been going back through the Angry Samoans catalog. LOVE the new Osees record, Protean Threat. Lil Boat 3 is a banger! Son of Godzilla is on loop in our house right now for some reason? My son really likes how the case looks. I main-vein Cartoon Cartoons.

And Tony Hawk Pro Skater, of course!

Ty - SO many awesome games these days, it’s overwhelming. I love retro-inspired games with modern design - Shovel Knight, The Messenger, Cave Story, etc - I’m a sucker for a great 2d platformer. Personally I’m still largely inspired by the weirdness of 90’s Nickelodeon, being a kid, skateboarding, Sega Genesis-era video game commercials, and buddy comedy movies. We try to collaborate with as many amazing artists and developers as we can, always keeping an eye out.

 

-What tools do you use to design and program?

Nathan - Really anything that gets the job done! Wallride now works in both Unity and Unreal. For art direction, I hop around all the Adobe Creative Suite programs, though I’ve taken a real liking to Procreate over the past 8 months. Blender 3D and Oculus Medium are my ride or dies. Google Suite, Trello, Discord - we use a lot. 

Ty - Yeah, my life is Google Docs, Photoshop, and Unity. I’m on the iPad a lot, typically in Procreate for concept art, or some sort of traditional animation tool to mock direction up for the team. Whatever gets the point communicated. Sometimes that’s just a quick whiteboard scribble.

 

-Looking across the breadth of your work, how would you describe your design aesthetic? What does your creative process look like generally?

Nathan - Uuh.. I still consider a lot of my visual output to be pretty “low brow”. Not ever really insulting or offensive, but still pretty unapologetic - occasionally crude. Loud, stylized, suuuper saturated. 

Ty - I tend to focus on gameplay and mechanics before anything else, unless I think of a hilarious premise first! Fluid gameplay, satisfying feedback and intuitive design are king to me. Stylized and vibrant visuals. Juicy animations. Too many particle effects.

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Screenshot from EleMetals: Death Metal Death Match! by Wallride Games

 

-My understanding is that you came in later in the game’s development, working on some of the art in the first few levels and essentially all of the background art for stages 6-9 as well as a lot of the later-game enemy sprites, including the ninjas, female enemies, and Cock-Knocker. Tell us about your experience working on the design and development of Mall Brawl. How do you approach touching up someone else’s work, versus designing something from the ground up?

Ty - Sure, essentially that was some of the content we focused on. Coming into a project at that point, there are systems and rules set in place that have been tested and are fun - so that makes our life a bit easier. We get to come in with fresh eyes and try to punch up visuals and design wherever we can, offering feedback as well. Breaking down previous characters and levels that are working, and understanding what is making them work in the game is a key step here. We were allowed some creative freedom, but it all needs to look like a cohesive experience. Stoked on how it all turned out.

 

-What are the necessary ingredients to a well-designed level?

Nathan - A bucket of slime and a dash of salt 

Ty - Dynamically rationing that bucket of slime across a level, while increasingly pacing the salt dashes so the player doesn’t get burned out or sick of salt. Right when you think you’re going to get more salt, we hit you with black pepper - only to realize all that slime wasn’t even slime at all… it was Gak. 

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He wasn’t lying about the 90s Nickelodeon vibes

 

-What goes through your mind when designing such detailed sprites constructed of pixels and the color limitations imposed by the NES?

Ty - “I ONLY GET HOW MANY PIXELS?!?”

 

-What was the working dynamic like in your collaboration with Interabang? What was the division of labor on Mall Brawl, and how was the development process between members of the team?

Ty - Interabang was Jay. Spoony Bard was Silent Bob. Wallride was the chocolate pretzel.

Nathan - I wouldn’t shake hands with us if I were you...

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…I have some follow-up questions regarding this analogy.

 

-Were you a fan of the View Askewniverse prior to Mall Brawl?

Ty - Way too big of a fan to appropriately handle being offered to work on this game. I’ve had a Mallrats movie poster in my living room for well over a decade.

Nathan - OH yeah. Got a big ol’ VHS collection to prove it!

 

-What is it like developing a game containing such cultural icons as Jay & Silent Bob?

Ty - It was a tiny bit daunting at times, but being such longtime fans it all came pretty naturally when we’d hop on calls and just make design jokes about potential gags and content. We worked pretty hard to make sure we made something quality for the fans.

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Ty, stop trying to make Adoughbo happen!


Nathan - It’s always tricky trying to find that balance of what you want in a game, what isn’t totally out of scope, and what the fans would expect from possibly their favorite characters in the world. I feel like we all did a pretty good job though! 

 

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

Ty - It was incredibly challenging but incredibly satisfying to figure out how to make these tiny sprite sheets turn into entire environments. Coming at a retro game with modern design philosophy really helped craft this game into something that I can barely believe runs on the NES. With this size pixel art, you can really get away with just implying shapes and attributes of characters. Every pixel counts. Just start making stuff. Like, right now. Just do it.

 

-There has been a lot of buzz around Mall Brawl across fans of homebrew and the View Askewniverse, as well as Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes themselves having a blast streaming their gameplay of Mall Brawl. How does it feel to bask in such enthusiasm and support?

Ty - Was pretty dope to see Jay stream the game, really glad they all enjoyed the game.

Nathan - Getting to fire up a game we helped to make on an ACTUAL NES in freakin’ 2020 is probably one of the more satisfying gamedev moments I’ve had in my life.  

 

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

Ty - Yes, and oh yes.

Nathan - *wink wink wink wink wink wink*

 

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

Nathan - I like potato wine brewed in a bathtub, personally. That grape toilet wine ain't my JAM.

Ty - Beer pong, but that’s already released. 

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-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?

Ty - Snoochie Boochies. twitter.com/wallridegames

Nathan - *stands there, nodding silently*

 

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Justin Woodward (Interabang Entertainment)

@icjman  @InterabangEnt

(this interview was conducted over Zoom and the resulting transcript has been edited)

-Thanks again for agreeing to do this interview! To get started, let's talk about you. I would love to hear more about your background. What moved you to develop games? What is the beginning of Interrobang Entertainment and the significance of that particular punctuation to you?

So basically, I loved games since I was little. I love games, action figures, comics, games, just anything that was out of this world. I’m a very creative person, I was drawing since I was five. And so video games captivated me, starting from friends and relatives who had an Atari. We didn't have an Atari, I was too young. But then I remember I got my first system, which was the Nintendo. I'm 39 right now, so I'm not a spring chicken. But my first system was a Nintendo, and the first game I had was Contra, which blew my mind. It took stuff from Aliens, it was really imaginative, and I love character design and character art. So that's one of the things I focused on besides business. But what Capcom did with Mega Man and then Street Fighter? I was always in the arcade anytime; if we were near an arcade at the amusement park, or at the laundromat, or 7-Eleven, I would just beg my mom for quarters to play whatever Data East or Capcom game was there.

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Pweeeeese mom, they’ve got the new Street Fighter!

That led to a fascination of video games in general. I continued my art and went to an art high school, but I always drew character design and stuff like that. And then I bought every system that came out. I found a way to hustle money to get every system. When the Sega Genesis came out I had to get that, and then Super Nintendo, had to get that TurboGrafx-16, and all that besides the add-on stuff, and then PlayStation everything. Then it escalated into the Dreamcast era. And that's when I actually got a job in the game department at Toys “R” Us, that's kind of when I learned sales skills, because I knew how to talk to the parents and sell different stuff, which was great. Then, to just fast forward a little bit, then I went to the Art Institute for game design, game development, and art, and it was an interesting experience. I met some great people just who loved games. And I wasn't in that pocket, I played games a lot, but not all of my friends played games. A lot of my friends liked chasing girls and everything else, which I was a part of that too, but at the same time, I was so involved with art and games that when I was able to go to AI, that's when I was like, oh my God, this is my tribe right here. You know? They were artists.

After I got out of college, it was very difficult because the college wasn't that great in exposing you to the things that you needed for the field or the expectations needed. So I had to learn a lot in the last six months to a year to get ready to get into the industry. And so I just grinded on, in that particular moment, I was really focused on environment, 3D environment, art. So I had to just do all this, figure out modeling and texturing and doing it to the level that was expected for the Xbox 360 era, because that's where I was coming out in 2006. They have different techniques in every system like this new one has HDR and ray tracing and all of these other things, so that the folks who are now graduating and learning to get to the point where they need to go, they need to learn those techniques.

Besides having the fundamentals of art and design to get out into the world, I befriended a bunch of people and then got into THQ, they've now risen again like the Phoenix. They were defunct for a number of years, but they had a few studios in San Diego. There's rock star Sony that does the MLB games. There were two THQ studios and there was High Moon Studios, which was doing really cool artistic games, and then they got bought by Activision. But at the time we had to hustle. It was like 2006-2007, and this whole indie phenomenon was not around, so I got to get this job.

I ended up getting a job and I really hated it. To me it was terrible because I'm a creative person, I'm also very entrepreneurial. So when I went in there and worked with those folks, it was just, as far as what I could do creatively, I understand what it takes, you got to put your work in and pay your dues, but at the same time, I saw the people at the top and they weren't happy on these projects. They were licensed projects. I got laid off shortly after I even started, maybe three or four months after I started. And I was just disillusioned by the whole process, to be honest, although I love working on games.

And I was like, I'm going to do this on my own, I'm going to figure this out on my own. So I started a graphic design agency, it was called Wormwood Studios, we did it for a year. And what we did was, we would just do these freelancers called E-Lance, so we did all these freelance jobs. I was like, this is cool, but I really need to do something artistic and I want to make games. I'm obsessed with games, and that's what I have my degree in and that's what I want to do. So we took on a project called Shinobi Ninja Attacks, and that was our first game. It was little or no money, but at the same time, it was some money because everyone else had day jobs and I was hustling these graphic designs on the side. We ended up picking up this project, we formulated the team, and during that process, it was a lot of growing pains because I didn't understand how to manage. I knew how to be a leader, but at the same time I made a ton of mistakes, like letting people go, saying “I'm the boss” type of shit like that.

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Screenshot from Shinobi Ninja Attacks

And then it was a great process, and I learned project management through all these different techniques and methodologies. I was getting mentors along the way who ended up pulling me up and so on. Anyway, during that time, we were like, what should we call the company? It wasn't that we were ditching Wormwood Studios and making a transition just to games. And Chris, who was on our team (he’s the co-founder), he was like, how about the name Interrobang because we were really silly and are ridiculous with a sense of humor. It's definitely not politically correct. So we were like, what if it was Interrobang? Because interrobang is the question mark and the exclamation point. That identifies like, “what the hell did I just see,” that kind of thought process. And so that's kind of where that came from, we wanted to make games that were like “what”? I haven't seen something like that before. That was that name. That was a long ass explanation.

 

-I love it though! So as far as your creative process, who do you look to as your influences and who whose work do you like watching now?

There's so much stuff, wow I can’t even think! I cut out a bunch of history and I don't want to have to give you just a chunk of it, but what has happened in the past ten years is we made a game called Super Comboman. We moved to San Francisco. We worked at IGN for two years, and became partners with IGN. We started a business called The MIX: The Media Indie Exchange, which is an event organization for indies, which has been blowing up over the past eight years. And then we were at Double Fine for three years and became friends with all the folks at Double Fine working out of their office.

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Banner from The MIX event page

Most of the people that I really look up to or are inspired by are peers at this point. I work with the Guerilla Collective, we did that event and we worked with twenty-five publishers, next week we're going to have around sixty games in the showcase. So I'm talking to a lot of the indie darling folks in there. And I consider them my peers now. I just take a lot from each of them, like Alex Austin, he did Sub Rosa, he's working with Devolver on that. I helped him a little bit, being a producer on that. He's just freaking genius. Hollow Knight is just is such a gorgeous game; Team Cherry is, and I don't really know them personally, but what they're doing is phenomenal. And as far as The Arcade Crew and Dotemu, who did the Wonder Boy game and Streets of Rage, they're killing it. Wayfort is killing it. And Yacht Club. I like that representation in this space just because those are the games I grew up with, and what they're doing, they're doing them a solid with their interpretation and up-resing them and actually showing the love for those genres. But as far as the super heavyweights, Platinum is the shit, I love Platinum.

But there's a lot of influences. It's just, it's cool to see. I did an interview with tinyBuild, which is going to air next week and, just hearing Alex Nichiporchik, who's the head of tinyBuild, just to hear their process of how they came up with Hello Neighbor, and how they are creating franchises based on those properties with independent teams is just phenomenal. Working out of Double Fine for those three years and seeing their creative process and how they work as a team, you couldn't pay for that. And that is very, very inspiring. They have such a fluid system, they would be working on multiple projects and then they would shift the teams and change desks and have a hub of teams work together. And then they would flip and then have game play days. And then they did the Amnesia Fortnights where they're doing prototypes and stuff that eventually may turn into a game like that. Stuff is great, it's a great time to be in the industry. I feel very blessed to be in a space that I've basically created, but also people let me into their lives as comrades in a tribe of independent game development, and it’s so awesome.

 

-And so I feel that I can't really even talk about Mall Brawl yet until we get to where the story really begins, which is the modern style brawler Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. So let's talk about that game first. What was the inspiration for Chronic Blunt Punch?

Well it was interesting. Like I was saying, I was at Double Fine, we were partners with IGN and we were doing The MIX. The Mix was initially at IGN. So when we were working at IGN and had this thing called IPL, it was the IGN pro-league in which they had League of Legends, they had StarCraft too, with these crazy tournaments and it was blowing up. But anyway, we were working on Super Comboman for so long in the office. I was working 12-hour days and the only people that were there at ten o'clock at night were the IPL staff. So I became cool with the video producers and one of them is actually our main producer for our streams. This dude, Buddy, he was cool with me. We were at E3 one year, I was roaming around the E3 show floor, and the joy of E3 to me isn't necessarily the games per se, it's the folks making the games who are now my friends. I would go to each booth and be like, “Hey, woah what’s up? I haven't seen in you a long time!”, that kind of thing. And Buddy was at the booth and he's like, “Yo, I have a friend, I think was at DC.” They were making an Infinite Crisis MOBA or something like that. And he was the lead stream producer. And he's like, “I have a friend. He is in your area, he's in Berkeley and he needs help with any development advice, can you give some help?” I said yeah, shoot me an email.

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The floor at E3, photo by Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times

So he shot me an email introducing me to Trevor Fehrman, and Trevor was in Clerks 2, and I was like, that's pretty cool, I wonder what he's going to be talking about. He says, “I've talked to Kevin Smith and I was like, look, we want to make a game.” He said on the set of Clerks 2 that he's down for him doing it and putting a team together, he also was an editor and a really, really good writer. So he's been working in games. He loves games. So he was like, “You guys do our Indy team. Kevin said we have the rights. Let's think about putting a game together.” And I was asking him what his thoughts were, seeing if we vibe and stuff, because I've been just in the earlier part of my career, like in 2005 through 2010, I had just been through so much shit with, shady people or working so hard and stuff is not coming through, and BS deals. And so I was seeing how he moved, and we really saw eye to eye. And I was like, ok I'm cool with this, but I need an email from Kevin saying that this is legitimate, you know what I mean? And hes says, “Yeah, I don't want to bother him.” I understand why he didn't want to bother him, because I have to communicate with them on a regular basis. But Kevin emailed me, said, “Yeah, you guys are good.” And I thought, wow, ok, this is legit. So then we started meeting more regularly.

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One game to rule them all!

The biggest thing was we were finishing up Super Comboman. I've had two publishers. We worked with Adult Swim Games on it and then we worked with Flashman Games. It wasn't the greatest experience because releasing your first game and not really understanding how to communicate with publishers, that's an education in its own. I don't blame them, but it was just a difficult process. We were finishing that up. But the point being, I had to figure out how to raise the funds. No one's going to give us money to make the game, right? That was kind of the deal with View Askew, Kevin Smith's team was like, “We’re cool with it. We're down to help you promote and stuff, but you're going to do the business involved.” Obviously we're going to have to figure out how to fund the project.

So that was the next situation that I needed to figure out. What was interesting was at that time, I was actually helping to organize it along with the folks at Double Fine. And the COO of Double Fine, Justin Bailey, he started a company called Fig out of Double Fine. He had this whole indie space set up. It was pretty awesome at first; we were in the tech room at Double Fine. Then he rented out a huge section of the office for indies to come and work. He would bring his Fig team there to talk about deals and stuff. They had Feargus Urquhart from Obsidian, and Brian Fargo, and crazy folks lined up to be in this as advisers on Fig. And so Justin was like, “Hey, would you want to do biz-dev for me?” Because he saw the hustle that I do with The MIX, in that I was able to get all of these deals for Super Comboman, and move things around, and help other people get deals and stuff. And I was like, “Nah, but I do have the license to Jay & Silent Bob, what about if we run a campaign on Fig?” So that's kind of where it came about.

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Screenshot of Jay & Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch’s Fig page

I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith's stuff and I grew up with it. I remember when I was sleeping in my apartment on the floor, trying to hustle our Shinobi Ninja Attacks. I was going through my master's program for game management and business. And I was just struggling. Every time I would have this anxiety or struggle with what I was doing, because it wasn't easy doing this independently, I would turn on Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. I watched that movie so many times. And then when Dogma came, I would always watch it. I had all the DVDs. So it was kind of a dream come true to have that. And we thought, what if we made a tag-team beat-‘em-up? Fighting games are my jam, those are my favorite games. We do Evo every year. I love fighting games and love beat-‘em-ups, and those are the first two games that we made and we thought, let's level it up, make hand-drawn animation, make it very fluid, but make a tag-team brawler. So that was the impetus behind that. And then Justin from Fig was like, “Hell, yeah, we'll do it. We'll even guarantee some money up front. We'll help you pay for all of the cost behind doing the pitch video.” Which was cool because we actually did it in Obsidian’s studio and Fergus Urquhart was actually in the video, it’s hilarious. And then Kevin and Jason, they were super, super supportive. Things just lined up at the right time. We started concepting in 2015 and didn't really get started until after we got the first chunk of our funding, which was early 2017 and then there was a delay because we didn't get all the funding that we needed and then that's a whole different story. But that was how Chronic Blunt Punch came to be.

 

-In seeing some of the updates and visiting the Fig page for Chronic Blunt Punch, it has a fun, cartoony design and has really engaging features. I was so engrossed reading about Convo Combo Combat. How would you describe your creative process and your aesthetic in developing something like this?

So we're all artists at heart, right? The core team initially behind Super Comboman and Chronic Blunt Punch were all artists and we wanted to make something very visually striking. We didn't see a lot of really great hand-drawn based games with fluid animation. One of our favorite games in the genre at that time was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. That game was just amazing. Castle Crashers was really great. They both had really great aesthetics. There were a lot more indie games coming out with this hand-drawn style. So our basis was we wanted to make an animation, looks like a cartoon. We wanted to be very vibrant, very colorful. And that's what we wanted for all of our Interrobang games. If you look at Super Comboman or you look at the game before that, it's just very vibrant, very colorful, playful, Capcom/Konami-esque arcade games. That's what we're trying to hit. We're trying to hit the era of Konami when they were killing it with Bucky O'Hare, X-Men, Ninja Turtles. That whole era, everything Treasure, like Guardian Heroes, Gunstar Heroes, all the stuff that Treasure was doing that was very vibrant, colorful and creating their own identity.

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Screenshot from Super Comboman

That's basically what we were trying to hit as far as combat and stuff. Again, we're really big fighting game fans, especially Evan and myself. He's the guy who helps run the animation team in Washington. And we wanted to create a really dynamic fighting system where you can juggle guys, combo them in the air, and you could tag-team like in Donkey Kong Country, not like they pop in from out of nowhere, but they're actually there with you the whole time. You could tag and then someone could jump in and just play as Jay or play as Bob. And Convo Combo Combat, what I was initially trying to do with Interrobang early on, this kind of stems from the Super Comboman era, I wanted to get into more of this. I think a lot of this stuff when you’re an indie team is scope, you can iterate and you can prototype, but if you have a larger team, and you don't have the funding initially, you have to spend less time prototyping all of these new, cool things.

The core behind Super Comboman was you're beating up dudes, you're smashing dudes through objects, and there's shit falling all over the place and you feel really powerful. Then we had this other thing where, because in that game this character struggles, and you're in this construction environment, which is really messing up the island, and the initial idea is that every time you interacted with one of the workers, you could either smash them, which would have a chain reaction throughout the whole construction team, or you can actually just break the walls that you were hired to break like a human demolition squad, and then you would be rewarded in that way. So there’s supposed to be a cause and effect. And all of the enemies had this emotion system, which when they got pissed, they would come at you, so what I wanted to do was add more of a cause and effect vibe to the games and add this emotional tension that you have interacting with characters that carried on to Jay & Silent Bob. The biggest part of Jay & Silent Bob is their personalities, even though Bob is non-verbal, his interaction with Jay through his body language and emotional expression through his facial expressions and stuff. And then Jay is just quick to say whatever the hell is on his mind. I was like, what if we did something that affected the gameplay in different sequences through pacing the combat and then having these conversation sequences that you're changing the trajectory of how the player interacts with these bosses? So that was the initial idea behind that. Back in the day, we used to play the dozens and make fun of people, you know what I mean? So we actually created early on, a system where you build phrases, and it was timed, it'll actually collapse, like in real life, if you start fumbling with your words, it doesn't have the same impact, and the options will diminish in value, you start to have dumb things pop up. So we created this phrase tree that branches out and then it'll go in different directions based on what you select. Then on the enemy side, we had different feelings and emotions when you hit them in a specific place, like they have some kind of psychological issue with being fat, that kind of thing, or their nose or something physical, or their mom or whatever. We have that implemented in the back end of that character. And you have to attack that area of the boss in order to get an outcome which would more than likely they would be pissed off and angry, so they would be stronger and they just rush you, or they would be sad so they'd be slower. That was the initial idea. But the grand scheme of things, what we wanted to do was add these slowly over time, add these emotional factors in our games. So you feel like you're a little bit, in more of a metaphorical way, you're interacting with other people whether they're NPCs or not, in a way that affects them outside of just punching them in the face.

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Oh snap! Er, I should wait and see how this insult goes first.

 

-Any new updates on Chronic Blunt Punch that you can share?

Tomas is joining the team after working on Mall Brawl. It just feels so good, the combat feels really good, the physics got redone. We just teamed up with Angry Metal, the team who did all of the cutscenes for their animation team in Spain, they did all the cutscenes and animation for Streets of Rage 4. We're working with them on in-game animation. This is really fun because we have a similar sense of humor. I don't know if you’ve seen, the characters are ridiculous, we have a hipster with a beard and he fights with his beard and he has gauge earrings, and then you have this old hero who has a defibrillator on his chest, and if he dies, he shocks himself back up. It's just ridiculous. That is the biggest aspect is that we're rapidly moving forward and things are coming together quite well. It's just difficult to show all of those aspects in updated videos, but I'm really loving it. It just looks like something you've never really seen before in a beat-‘em-up, and with that caliber of aesthetics, it feels good too.

 

-Something that a lot of the folks in the homebrew community on Video Game Sage love to poke into, especially if they are aspiring game makers themselves, they love to know what tools folks use to create. So what tools do you use to create your games?

So for Chronic Blunt Punch we used Unity. With any of these tools, you have to customize it, we don't have a total customized backend that allows us to do what we want as designers and animators, we are not an engineer-driven team. The engineers are a minority on the team, so we needed tools that would allow us to implement animations and make design choices without burdening the engineer because he's working on the stuff (Zanies is our main engineer now). Tomas jumped on board and we have another one coming on board too. It was very important that we used plug-ins within Unity. We built our own tools, but it's been really nice working in Unity. It's been amazing. Unity themselves have been amazing, we've communicated with them quite often on projects and they've helped us out with licenses and that kind of thing. And as far as Mall Brawl, that was all done in Assembly. Hats off to Tomas, Tomas is a bad ass. He did that all in Assembly. He has his own techniques and then we put together a platform in Unity to wrap it in order for us to get it on PlayStation, Xbox and Switch.

 

-At what point did the idea of an 8-bit companion to Chronic Blunt Punch come about?

Basically we've been in this long, arduous process of development for Chronic Blunt Punch. We were early on in Fig’s cycle of releasing these crowdfunding campaigns. And so that being said, the legal process for having investors jump on wasn't finalized. While we're in that process, we weren't able to collect on a lot of the money that you would see reflected on the Fig page. If you look at the Fig Page there's $445,000. We saw half of that, and we needed the rest of it. Nothing against Fig, what Fig did was cool. I ended up working there and working with developers on the publishing end getting them on as a process and they didn't have that issue anymore. And they were basically paying out the money that they couldn't up front. But then at a point they were trying to figure stuff out on their own and they had to stop. During that time, it just stretched everything thin. And a lot of the team had to go and get side hustles; I had to let certain external contractors know we can't do anything anymore because we don't have the funding. That's pretty much what stretched out the development cycle of the game, which I really wanted to be around two and a half years.

So during that time, I was looking for different investors and different ways to find the money to finish Chronic Blunt Punch. And I was talking with Limited Run for quite a while. They have been great supporters of The MIX, they've been sponsors of The MIX. We did a Super Comboman with Limited Run on PS4. So I'm really cool with Doug and Joss. They're amazing. They initially wanted to invest in Chronic Blunt Punch because they had a really interesting story surrounding Kevin Smith's films, how they met and got back together to work on Limited Run and their games. And that kind of fell through, you know, things happen, and they were just spit-balling what we can work together on? And they were like, what if you made another game as marketing for Chronic Blunt Punch? I was like, that's a great idea! What if it was an 8-bit brawler? It has a different storyline, but it still ties into what we're doing in the universe that we're creating as a whole. And they were like, oh hell yeah. And we just started passing ideas back and forth. And they're like, well we just worked with Tomas on this game called Galf, how about we do an intro and then we will do some upfront funding of the project and then we'll take it to market on the NES. And I was like, that sounds really cool. So they introduced me to Tomas, and Tomas and I hit it off immediately: the same love for retro games, the same understanding of the history of games so we can reference stuff immediately. I have a really good understanding of combat design and design in general, he's coding, he has ideas, our artistic direction, this is how we should do this. He would shoot a level over and I would play the level and say we should do it this way, then he would throw enemies in there. I would tell him the combat for these enemies. We would brainstorm. It was just a great process. But that was the main focus for the game: how do we give something to the fans who supported us all these years, and then also create a funding source to finish Chronic Blunt Punch without getting a publisher? That was the idea and it just really worked.

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Now that’s what I call a golf story!

Luckily the stars aligned with Tomas and myself. And then we hit up Nathan and Ty, Nathan's my dog, he worked on the ToeJam & Earl game and he used to live down the street. I knew Greg Johnson, who's the creator of ToeJam & Earl, because they started a new company, Wallride, at the time and they were working on their games. And I was like, hey, you want to jump on? We need pixel animators, we need some background art so Tomas could focus on the design and building the engine in the game and they’re like, hell yeah. So they jumped on board. Then there was Michael Heald from Fully Illustrated, we need a really cool website. I worked with him previously. And we need a design for the cartridge and the box art. Hanzo, he's the illustrator, he worked for Udon. He's a German illustrator and he's freaking amazing. He does all the Street Fighter comics and stuff like that. I was like, yo, we need box art. We want it to look like the old school Double Dragon tattoo, but I want Jay in Bob's arms to kind of cut off that vibe. And it just all came together. It's a dream project because you never knew that in twenty-five years you would be working on a physical cart. And every time someone sees it, you got to get this physical thing. It's just like, oh Lord, we made this thing, and it was just a dream come true. That's what we're in it for, to fulfill that dream of creating stuff and making something cool, and the fact that the game is good. I put my heart into making sure that combat was legit, working with Tomas on all the bosses and making sure that the pacing is right. And it came together.

 

-You covered that so well that you actually answered the next two questions that I was going to ask about Limited Run and the working dynamic with the other folks on the team. So going to the promotion for the game, you had some fun rapping for the launch trailer for Mall Brawl. How long have you had and used that skill? Is there anywhere else where people can listen to you drop some sick beats?

I've been rapping since I was like 12 or so. I freestyle all the time. So Tomas, this sounds really weird but our relationship is really interesting in that we have a love for the same things. He's really good at video production too, he used to do animations on Newgrounds with his characters, so he's good at editing and putting stuff together.

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Maybe you’ve seen them around, I’ve heard that guy in the middle is…cool!

We're coming up with the second trailer (he did the first one with his kid on the couch, he did all of that production), I was like, let's do something different. We had an idea of doing the old Zelda rap song, but since he's in Canada, it was just too much. Before COVID we had a bunch of stuff going on with The MIX, so I was like, Tomas come out, we're going to fly you out here,  we're going to promote the game on The MIX, and I just want to show you the town, I want you to meet the team and we'll do everything as far as the commercial.

And it just didn't turn out, obviously, because of COVID. What ended up happening was we got to do the Zelda situation. My really close friend, Alex Wilmer, he has a studio, Wilmer Sound, he's been in the game industry for a long time. He worked at Crystal Dynamics and Facebook Games. He has a studio over here in Berkeley, a Foley studio. He's actually working on Netflix movies because he's doing the series Go! Go! Cory Carson at a studio. Anyway, I was like, yo I'm going to do this. I was writing the lyrics based on everything in the game. And I was rapping it. I got a beat from my friend Tamar, who's a professional producer, went over to Alex's place, I was like yo here's the beat, this is what I'm going to say. Let's pull it up. And then I just rapped it. After that we were like, how are we going to do the shoots? So we went to my girlfriend's house and we took our camera and we basically filmed every sequence in there. And then we worked with Tomas. Tomas helped edit it. We did B roll jiggling the controllers and our faces looking real ridiculous, and it all came together.

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Two guys going all out on the latest video game? They got that B roll!

I've been rapping for a long time and it was great to get that creative expression out because when you're making a game as an indie team you all wear many hats. And one of the hats that I've been wearing a lot lately is the business hat. That being said, I don't feel I have as much time to explore my creative passions as I want to. So any time I can infuse that with what I'm doing, because my passion is game development, I don't have to necessarily go outside to express that artistic thing. Any time there's a possibility or an opportunity to bring my artistic passion into our projects, then we'll do it.

 

-You said you’ve always been a big fan of the View Askewniverse and that you watched Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back a lot. Is that your favorite or do you have a different one in the canon that is your all-time favorite?

I think it's different over the years. I think when I was a little bit older, I appreciated Clerks a lot more just for what Kevin had to do to make that film, and me resonating with that hustle. He made it when he was young, but just the psychology behind it, the theme behind it dealing with girlfriends, relationships, that kind of thing, that was really powerful, I think, on a production standpoint. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, the comedy was just on point. All of the actors, Will Ferrell, all of the cameos, the way that came together I think it's a masterpiece in that buddy kind of comedy film. It was just really good. But I would say production-wise that one and Dogma really stand out. That's mainstream cinema but amazing. Chasing Amy was really good too. That's a personal, if I want to feel something, that one was really good because it had me think about things from another perspective, because I've had that issue with a girlfriend, me not understanding her and condemning her in a specific way. That was, at the end, really sad. I can identify with that, and I think that's what he does really well, is the communication he has in his films. It has you show you’re empathetic towards the characters because it's a piece of you. Mallrats, I watched that so many times because I was obsessed with going to the mall all the time in San Diego, and the comic books, the references like Stan Lee, and it just being outlandish and ridiculous, that was a huge one for me.

 

-In making Jay & Silent Bob games, does playing within an existing world of established characters impose limits on what you can do with them, or do you find that playing within a defined sandbox of cultural icons helps nurture creativity?

I would say limitation helps you to define your vision and come up with timelines a little bit easier. I think that what you know within the realm of a Nintendo game, since we took so long to produce Chronic Blunt Punch, it was good to have the limitations of 8-bit expression because we knew what we could do. We knew what was outside of our scope and we had to stick to that. But I think Tomas and myself knowing that whole universe, that helped us jump off with some really hilarious ideas and be very referential. I'm just trying to think within the process and how cool our team is in relation to coming up with ideas, having a similar mindset, with a sense of humor, we could come up with tons of game ideas, off the top. Playing within a sandbox allows us to reference things that we could pick apart and then come up with a theme in order to play around with that world. And what's cool about that is being fans of that world, we get to play on that fantasy, what if this happened or what if that happened? And we're actually creating a canon of our own within that universe.

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Tell ‘em Steve-Dave!

 

-Did any new challenges, surprises, or lessons learned come up as you were developing Chronic Blunt Punch and Mall Brawl?

I mean a ton, right? Let me think about it. Number one, funding has been a lot easier because I have an understanding of how that works. But working with Kevin's team in Hollywood, that's definitely a challenge because you have to be very respectful of their time. You also have to understand that you have to work on timelines that aren't your own, so if he has to push something out and we need to communicate with them or we need to promote, sometimes he can't do it. He has his own defined timeline, we have ours, it's definitely a challenge.

Also communication is a challenge. There was a misunderstanding initially with Mall Brawl, even though I communicated what we were doing later on when we started sharing it. We shared it with Greg Miller, he's cool, I consider him a friend. I announced it on his funny stream, he has a million followers and I have a ton of followers. Kevin Smith got wind of it, and he's like, where is this coming from? So there's this weird miscommunication between his team and our team telling him exactly what we're doing, and that this isn't trying to milk our relationship or anything, we had some struggles early on and we're trying to right those issues by putting out a game for the fans and then trying to fund the game that we initially came to you with. So that was a challenge, but it was a good learning experience as we move forward.

The challenge with Mall Brawl, was the limitations of any cartridge. What we did was Tomas was able to squeeze every last bit of tech that we could out of that system, which was great, and what was also really cool was we were able to use contemporary design styles that are more pertinent today, and then infused them back into an old game where they didn't reach the level of maturity in their design tactics, or they didn't want it to be over-convoluted for the players so they didn't implement different features. Not that we had anything crazy, but the-tag team feature, the strategic element of you building your health out and then swapping back, little things like that. Working with a really small palette for the characters, figuring out how to implement what we wanted to convey within the pixels was very challenging. Tomas had to convey a lot of the technical limitations as far as the art was concerned with Wallride, because that's not what they're used to doing, they're used to using engines and pushing polygons and pixels that way. And the limitations are completely different, that's why I say it's a kind of a gift and a curse when you have those limitations, you don't expand your scope too wide that you have issues finishing things.

As far as Chronic Blunt Punch, the challenges were definitely thinking that you were going to have everything you needed funding-wise to complete it and trying to work with the team to encapsulate that goal and figuring out what you're going to do in the prototyping phases without going too far in that you can't go back. That's always an issue with game development. I am all for iterative game development, but when you have such a limited budget, you have to come to a conclusion early. Our game is extremely art-driven. What I think that we could have possibly done early on was to define a little bit of a lower fidelity art style that could have been just as cool, but it would allowed us to finish things quicker and do roughs quicker and that kind of thing. We went for this outlandish render style, so that was a little bit of a challenge. But over the time period, we've created pipelines and a workflow that works really well.

 

-And now that Mall Brawl is out, it's basking in all this support, including Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes themselves live-streaming their gameplay. What is it like to see that happening, to have that kind of enthusiasm?

I think it's really awesome. Every time I go to L.A., I try to meet up with Jay (he's easier to connect with,  he's not running all over the place as much), and every time I meet up with Kevin, I'll just tell him we're enthusiastic for your support. We really appreciate your support over the years. I think what's the greatest aspect of that is we're doing right by their legacy and we're going to deliver. When you work on a project so long and you have these speed bumps, and you're working with someone who has faith in you. When you say, “oh we're having this issue,” or “we're doing this,” or “it's going to be longer,” are they going to lose faith in us in the project? This is the same for the fans, too, by the way. But when we were able to deliver this really full package, great game, and a promise that we're finishing the other game, and he's playing and he loves it (and him not being a video game player, I mean, Jay is for sure), it instills an amazing confidence in him, in us, and then also it shows that we did something good, you know what I mean? It's validating in the fact that, to even the creator of all of these characters, he really digs it. And that means a lot to us because we like his properties and he's authentic about it, he authentically is “this shit is good, this is fun, I dig this, I play this.”

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He likes it! Hey, Kevin!

It's also validating because when we do licenses, which we will be doing more, we want to do good shit, we want to do great games regardless if it's a license or it's our own IP. I think that initially when you see folks talking about their licenses or trying to pimp it out or working with celebrities or whatever, you immediately think that, “oh this is shovelware”, you know, “this is just a cash grab or some garbage is going to come out”, and “no one really pays attention to the source material” or “they didn't really put their heart into designing and developing this.” I would just say it's gratifying to see them play it and also them showing us love like that and getting things right. Like I was talking to you earlier on, some things could get broken down and misrepresented, or the message could get messed up and then that will mess the flow of it with the team too, like, “oh, I didn't get the recognition, what the hell you didn't mention, Wallride Games.” Everyone needs credit, people die for that credit. So, they've just been amazing.

 

-After Chronic Blunt Punch, do you have any other dream projects on the horizon?

Yeah, we have some ideas and things in the works, I can't really talk about them, but expect possibly some more licensed stuff and some more high-fidelity stuff as well as retro. That's all I can say.

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share all your stories and your experiences. Is there anything else that you would like to tell readers and fans when this gets posted?

I would just say, we appreciate everybody's support on this. If you can pick up the game, let us know what you think. Like, follow us, drop us a line, we will hit you up. We will definitely respond. And also, it may sound corny, but keep fighting for your dreams, because if you keep pushing, you'll make things happen.

 

Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of a series that peeks behind the curtain of new homebrew games destined to be the next great gem. What are your thoughts on Jay & Silent Bob: Mall Brawl and its talented development team? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

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