When art, satirical humor, Mushrooms, and Nintendo collided earlier this December, we were given the beautiful independent game: Mushroom Men, developed by first timers Red Fly Studio. I explored the game thoroughly, and enjoyed it more than anything I'd played on the Wii in over a year (or, ever.) I then took notes, and dropped my two cents into the vastness of the Internet, which was magically picked up by someone at Red Fly Studio.
This gave me the opportunity to interview Red Fly Studio Lead concept artist, Frank Teran (also known for his artwork on Vertigo Comics.) Along with co-founding the independent studio with Dan Borth (CEO) and Kris Taylor (Art Director), He was primarily responsible for giving life to these Mushrooms through his drawings and paintings, cover art for both games, and (in his own words) “extraneous gameplay ideas/concepts”. I was excited to sit down (on-line) and learn something about this game from an insiders perspective, and have quite a bit to share on the experience.
I would imagine there's an interesting story here, so I have to ask: Why Mushrooms?
I think I'd really have to ask my friend Dan that same question, since he was the one that thought of the whole mushroom angle. I'd say my part was making the mushroom viable as a character the players could ultimately latch onto, and I think the fact that a fungus would be in the lower spectrum of the totem pole, it'd make them the ultimate underdog. They're kinda given life, but at the same time hamstrung with having to deal with the huge world that surrounds them.
I also think Dan and Kris focused on mushrooms as a nod to the gaming roots of the Mario universe.
While the final product is very original, including the humor, music, and story - what would you say inspired the development of this game the most? What inspired you, personally, while working on this project?
I think the inspiration for me were the things I remembered most from my awesome childhood. The sense of wonder and things that I embraced and loved, like Harryhausen movies and old sci-fi flicks, as well as humor that gravitated to the mad magazines, e.c comic books and wacky package trading card types of satire...you'll see glimpses of that thru out my concepts and hopefully in the game as a result...it's like a bizarre amalgam of my nostalgic brain-seepage that makes its way to the digital canvas when I work on ideas.
My initial draw to the game came from a pack of promo-cards a game store employee gave me, with incredibly interesting visuals. My question then would be: is Red Fly doing anything additional to use the art to it's advantage?
Haha - well, I'd love for them to compile an art book, but I'm pretty biased. I leave that up to the fans of the game to request, power to the peoples. I also think the 'lil resin figure was a great idea.
With the darker art style, twisted sense of humor, and the advertisement with “Teen+” rated comic books, what specific demographic would you say this game is targeting?
I'd hope it appeals to those within the range of a gamer that can handle the stuff we toss at 'em. The humor is pretty much in line with stuff I grew up with in old cartoons and mad magazine, like i had mentioned. Hopefully no one is truly disturbed by the artwork, being a bit creeped out I'll take though - since I like making the gamer feel something emotionally when they encounter anything I had imaged out.
Do you think they'll ever let you take the art to comic books, perhaps for a miniseries, or one-shot of Mushroom men, to maybe include your old crowd?
I would be more than happy to visually narrate any type of prologue for those who think it'd help round out the story. I think we're going to add a lot more into the next adventure to help answer some questions, but also up the ante with more stuff. I can't tell you how amped I am for the next chapters to unfold, hopefully that'll happen.
What sort of feedback did you, or Red Fly, expect on the “users” front? What has the reception from gamers been thus far?
I'd say from my perspective, we really don't have any expectations. I'd hope that the fans would embrace something like mushroom men; the weirdness, the satire, the retro feel, all that stuff I would hope the players could dive into and dig. The feedback thus far has been great actually, the enthusiasm in the comments from those who have played the game are really, really encouraging. It's one of those magic moments where you get to see what others get out of what we wanted to get across. It's funny seeing the wide range of what folks get out of it.
So you're finding a lot of Internet feedback?
Yes indeed, and I love all of it! Even the harsh, dismissive, cynical stuff. I basically use that as fuel. It's what I feed on in the wee hours of the night when I work.
Basically, you feed off the Internet “trolls?”
Yes. I flip it and use them to my advantage. Bosses grow more fangs, and become more fierce as a direct result.
This game seems to defy most expectations of the Wii fan base, so the question here is: Why Nintendo?
I don't wanna speak for the folks who were directly involved in that decision making, but I think we possibly chose Nintendo because the style of platforming game we were aiming for seemed to dovetail perfectly with the platforming/adventure gaming base that's already established there, as well as the innovative tech/controls that the Nintendo offered. I'm personally still fascinated with the Wii-mote, and the potential gameplay uses. Mind you, I was raised on the joystick and trackballs for innovation, so this is like...THE FUTURE.
To expand on that, why split up the two games to the two separate Nintendo systems? Would it be beneficial as a player to play them “in order”?
Splitting up games sure is a risky venture, yes. But then again, we're a 3rd party developer who's 1st IP is a platformer on the same system that Mario is on, some would say that's a risk as well. I think if you want to have more insight into the mushroom men universe, playing both would offer some more narrative prologue, and offer different gameplay at the same time - but that's a decision we leave up to the gamer.
So, you'd say they're relatively independent games from one another?
Relatively. there are aspects that connect them, but not to the point where one is dependent on the other. I actually had painted 50+ illustrations for the DS versions cut-scenes, so there are aspects in basic storytelling within, they are a nod to my career in comics. That's what made the experience so rewarding, taking my storytelling love and applying it to the mush universe.
While trying to generate mini-buzz about the game on my level, the reaction I got from people was; well, not great. I'd heard this game called “Just another platforming game”, What then, would you say to this - what distinguishes Mushroom Men from the rest of the platforming games?
Well, I think that we bring a new angle to the genre that didn't exist before. Artistically I think we didn't mimic anything, so we're going to maintain that type of sensibility and just build on top of it. The gameplay will start to expand and bloom into something folks have never quite experienced, but that will be up to the gaming audience. Hopefully the audience will want to see the further adventures of Pax, since I'm already in full steam concept mode for the next step in Pax's future. I am confident that even at this stage, it's going to be one heck of an adventure.
I think Red Fly Studio is Pax - there is a parallel. We're brand new to this game, it's our first, we're goin' head to head with the monoliths of gaming, we'll take our lumps, but we'll keep fighting.
Tiny is the new big, and I see Red Fly making a big splash with a very tiny hero. Experience Mushroom Men for yourself, or gift it to someone who could use some quality time with their Wii.
A few handy reference links;
The official site
Red Fly Studio developer blog
Tatertotco @ wordpress
- basically the Mushroom Men faux tabloids.