Have you ever wondered what your favorite developers were like when they were kids? What games they played? What they had to do to play them?
Retrogazing is a new interview series where I talk to game developers about their childhood and time growing up with games. For the series’ first entry, I spoke with Twisted Pixel about shady, small town game rental shops, K.C. Munchkin (note: not a rapper) and what games influenced the company’s aesthetic and attitude.
It’s been a busy year for Twisted Pixel, to say the least. With three games in development, it’s impressive that Ms. Splosion Man got made at all — not to mention it’s pretty okay. Perhaps, super okay?
Despite being hard at work on the company’s first boxed retail release (The Gunstringer), lead programmer Mike Henry, 2D artist/community manager Jay Stuckwisch and audio designer/”The donut song guy” Matt ‘Chainsaw’ Chaney were willing to sit down and allow me to pry into their childhood.
Matt ‘Chainsaw’ Chaney: I just played a lot of games as a kid and growing up in a small town,I spent a lot of time outside. I guess I was a geek. I was into comic books and stuff so I was pretty geeky, I guess.
Jay Stuckwisch: I probably was too. I was really into comic books and got a part-time job at a comic book store. I basically just worked for free comics. I spent a lot of time outside but I was more artistic. I would stay at home where I would draw and watch a lot of cartoons. Bugs Bunny was my best friend. I definitely wasn’t as geeky on the game front, but definitely was geeky about cartoons and animation.
Mike Henry: I was a complete nerd, not much different than now actually. In addition to the NES, I had an Apple IIe growing up and I played a lot of games on that. As few places as there were to buy NES games, there were no places to buy Apple 2e games. You had to drive a good hour to get to a store. It was basically whatever I could pirate from a friend at school who had a cousin who had a uncle that had access to whatever. Once I ran out of those, I started programming them around 8 years old. That’s kind of how I got started programming.
My mom apologized to me the other day for wanting me to go outside so much. I had never wanted to go out and play because I would be playing video games inside. My mom actually told me the other day — now that I have a real career in video games — “Oh, I’m so sorry I tried to make you go outside all those times.” Vindicated!
Jay: The first system I owned was the ColecoVision, actually. My parents picked that up and the game I was addicted to was The Smurfs. I was thinking about that the other day. My God, that game was so stupid but I loved the hell out of it. Technically the Odyssey 2 was my dad’s but he didn’t get to play it a whole lot…
Chainsaw: My first system was the Atari 2600. I had a lot of really good memories playing that. Berzerk was one of my favorites and I really liked Yar’s Revenge. I had that E.T. game for Atari that’s supposedly the worst thing ever and I would attempt to play it. I’d fall down in a pit and it’d just be game over. I didn’t know why I couldn’t play the game — I thought it was me.
Mike: It was like you thought there were secrets to be unearthed. And, if you could only find out, you would be awesome at it.
My first console was a Philips Magnavox Odyssey 2. That was like one of the first consoles. It was so early they didn’t think about the fact that they should be making intellectual property for the thing, so the games were like “Football”, “Basketball” — those were the titles of the games. I think the pack-in game was a Pac-Man clone but they called it K.C. Munchkin.
Chainsaw: I still have my copy of [the original] Zelda and a map I drew of the final castle that shows how to get from the front door to the, uh, silver arrow? Then to the blue ring and finally to Ganon. “Bomb wall left, move up.” I actually mowed yards to buy that game. I was so excited. My parents brought me to Walmart to pick it up. When I got home, my dad was residing the backyard and he told me I couldn’t play until I picked up all the big rocks. I was so pissed off!
While I was saving up money for Zelda, I mowed this lady’s yard one day but she only paid me in prunes and a kitten. I was so mad. My parents wouldn’t even let me keep the kitten.
Mike: The first game I can ever remember being aware of the release date for was probably Super Mario Bros. 3. I remember I talked about that game so much before it came out. The game was sold out in stores for weeks after it came out, but my mom just happened to be in a Walmart or something the day it was released.
They were unpacking boxes of them and my mom was like, “Oh, hey! Can I have one of those?” I don’t think, to this day, that she understands the magnitude of what she did for me there. I would have been sitting and waiting for weeks with tears in my eyes.
Jay: That’s awesome. I loved Nintendo’s commercial leading up to it, where there were all those people and this big world pan out and all the people in the different colored shirts made the Mario face on the planet. That was pretty cool.
Nintendo was the first time I ever had a system that was all my own. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, but my aunt bought me a Nintendo for my birthday that was like the end-all-be-all present I could get as a kid so I got that with Super Mario Bros. and loved the shit out of it.
Chainsaw: My parents got me an NES for Christmas and my grandparents got me Fester’s Quest and Marble Madness, which is an insanely challenging game for a kid. Fester’s Quest is just a really confusing game.
Mike: I think the same company that did Blast Master, Sunsoft, did that. Blaster Master was one of my favorites. It’s probably because I was so impressionable back then but the game had such great atmosphere. The music is cool and you’re driving around in a tank and all of a sudden you get to his point where you get out — the whole scale of the game changed on you.
Chainsaw: I remember griefing the hell out of my brother in Super Mario Bros. because if you were playing as Luigi and the other player pauses the game in the middle of a jump and unpauses you don’t carry your momentum. You just fall straight down. If he was doing really well, I’d be like, “I’m tired of this. I want to play again.” He’d jump over a gap and then I’d pause.
Mike: That’s like in Duckhunt, where the second player can move the duck around. I just found that out one day and freaked the shit out of whoever I was playing with.
Mike: My mom bought me Bible Adventures. It was for the NES but it was not licensed so the game came in a different cart. It had three games on it. There’s this Noah game where you have to gather up animals for the ark; you pick up shit like in Mario 2 but you can pick up multiples, so you run around with a goat on your head that has another couple goats stacked on it.
The other one that is even weirder. It’s a game where you have baby Moses in the basket and you have to carry him from point A to point B, making sure he doesn’t get hurt. But, in order to do that you have to chuck him places. So you have one of the most important people in religious history and you are just throwing him around at snakes and shit. Also, not very good. It was one of the only new game I got in a while so I played it.
Jay: I don’t remember the title, but I had this Nintendo game “Kings of” something. There were three kings on the cover and a golden castle in the background, I think it was like a early RPG but I totally didn’t get it. It didn’t make a lick of sense to me. I couldn’t get past the first level.
Mike: My vote for worst Nintendo game has to be Dragon’s Lair. I have to imagine the studio insisted they keep all the animation super smooth so your character would be like: OK, wiiiiiiiind up taaaaake a step! And then he’d stop and take a couple more steps and wind down. It was the hardest thing to control ever. I returned that thing so fast.
What game do you wish you were a part of?
Jay: Earthworm Jim. That game blew me away with the animation, character design and just how funny it was. That’s why I’m really happy to be a part of this team because that’s what we do. It’s so much fun to bring that back into games. Even if it’s not Earthworm Jim, it’s that kind of feeling.
Mike: For me, it would be Super Mario World. That was like all the existing Mario games rolled into one, and now you got all these ridiculous thing you can do with scaling and rotation — it had giant bullet bills! And Yoshi, of course.
Matt: I have to say the original Legend of Zelda, because that game was such an influence on me. It just blew me away the first time I played it. I’ve always been into music and sounds, but I don’t think at that point I was thinking about making any of my own. I always loved the “doo-doo-do-doo-leh!”
Mike: Super Nintendo all the way.
Winner: Super Nintendo
Chainsaw: I like the speed of Sonic, but Mario hands down.
Jay: For me, that was a close one.
Chainsaw: I’m going to say MK. I loved ripping spines out of dudes as a kid.
Mike: I never had the Genesis and I didn’t like the idea that SNES neutered it so I had Street Fighter II and not MK so I have to disagree.
Jay: Argh! Finish him!
Winner: Mortal Kombat
Jay: I played a lot more of Doom over the years. I was aware of Duke Nukem but I played Doom the most.
Mike: Duke Nukem was the first game I ever tried to play networked. I think I got it working and played it with my brother. I will say that vote is not influenced in any way by Duke Nukem Forever. If I took that into account, I would have to say Doom all the way.
Winner: Duke Nukem 3D
Winner: Earthworm Jim
Mike: I actually enjoyed the 3DO more but I have to go with Jaguar for the shlock value. There were just so many shlocky games on it.
Chainsaw: Kriss Kross is way funnier.
Mike: I have to go with Marky Mark on that one.
Chainsaw: C’mon, they wore their clothes backwards!
Jay: I never owned either one but I have to agree.
Mike: I hated them so much. I definitely was a grumpy old man before my time, when it came to Kriss Kross.
Winner: Kriss Kross: Make My Video
Hey, Destructoid gang! Surprised by any of the answers? Will you stop buying Twisted Pixel games because they are Nintendo lovin’, Marky Mark-obsessed Earthworm Jim fanboys? Or, will you buy more?
What developers would you like to see in the spotlight, in future editions of Retrogazing? Any questions you wish I asked Twisted Pixel? I’d love to hear your feedback, so post in the comments!
Retrogazing will be back next week, where I talk to Karakasa Games about obscure PC adventure games.