Interview: Morphcat Games

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Morphcat Games is a Berlin-based team of two NES enthusiasts, Nicolas and Julius. In 2011, Julius released the platformer Super Bat Puncher for the NES and since 2016 Nicolas work with him on this awesome still-mystery project that’s about to come.

1. Do you remember your first video game? When did you fall in love with games?

Nicolas: Alex Kidd in the Miracle World was my first memory of a video game (I was four years old), but my first game was Super Mario Bros. on the NES.
Street Fighter II on the arcade and Kirby’s Adventure on the NES were the two games that had a strong impact on me as a young player in 90’s.

Julius: For me it was probably some DOS game which ran in text mode. I can’t remember any names, but it was as basic as they get. I really fell in love with games when I got to know a friend who had an NES. Games like Kirby’s Adventure, the Super Mario Bros. series and especially Mega Man 2 left a lasting impression on me.

2. How and when did you start developing games?

Nicolas: I was often making Pixel art but when Julius release the NES demo Super bat puncher, it has motivated me to learn more about the NES and 6502 Assembly language. When I meet with Julius, we decide to take part of a Game Jam (Ludum Dare 32). Its was the first time I worked on a game.

Julius: I started to learn programming around the age of 13, when I found a C tutorial on some CD I got from a bargain bin. A couple of years later I got into art and music composition. There were a lot of unfinished unreleased projects over the years, which have been a great learning experience and it’s all about to pay off.

3. How many people were participating in developing the game?

We are two: Julius codes and composes music and sound design. Nicolas works on graphics, level design and illustrations. We also have friends as beta-testers and it helps us to correct and balance difficulties of the game.

4. Why did you choose to develop for the NES?

Nicolas: For many reasons, the NES graphics limitation are a good training and challenging, The NES homebrew scene is dynamic but the main reason is that NES was my first console.

Julius:  I never owned an NES myself, but always looked forward to playing it at my friend’s place back in the days. I guess this circumstance and the good times we shared are what put it on a pedestal for me.
So making a “Nintendo game“ was actually a childhood dream of mine. I had lost track of it for a while until it came back to me in 2005, when I learned there was a homebrew scene for this console.

5. What do you think separates homebrew games from indie games? Is there such thing as a separation anyway?

They are a part of indie games. Homebrew games are all the games made by hobbyist that are developed for a specific hardwares (Game-boy, MasterSystem, Amstrad…). This games need to be made for it and can be played on it.

We can see a lot of nice indie games (not homebrew) that use graphics style of old games even if they are not playable on the original hardware like Shovel Knight. Doesn’t matter if it’s homebrew or not, the important thing is that people wish to create games and enjoy it.

6. From where do you get your inspiration for the games you make?

For this game, we decide to go to the roots of NES. Earlier NES games where small, it was 40Kb like the first Super Mario Bros., Kung Fu or Spelunker. We decide also to make the game playable for 1 to 4 players to bring some fun like in Bomberman.

In addition to this, inspiration came from many games, it was Ice Climber and Kid Icarus for the scrolling vertical. Castlevania and Bubble Bobble for the style and mood. Super Mario and Mega Man games for the gameplay and level design.

7. Do you think it’s important to give more official opportunities to hobbyists to develop games?

Nicolas: Its always good to help hobbyists. Many times, people are developing games in their own corner. Now, to play homebrew games, they need to find solutions to produce cartridge or players will need to hack actual console, install some patch or play with emulator.

Julius: Absolutely, I think it would only add value to the platform. The community loves to create content and games such as Super Mario Maker are popping up that make this their premise, with much success. Furthermore, opening up a platform to homebrew would ultimately promote young talent, which could be an opportunity console manufacturers are currently missing out on. However, it might just be too much maintenance work in the long run. Surely, there would have to be a review process or limitation of features that homebrew software can access. You wouldn’t want it hack/brick your console, create an emulation platform for existing games, infringe on copyrights etc.

8. What are your tips for a newbee who wants to become a freetime game developer?

Nicolas: If people love a specific console and wish to make a game on it, they can find a lot of infos/forums online. They need to be patient because its take a lot time to get a result. Also, dont take limitations as a scourge. Limitations help you to be creative.

Julius: If you have absolutely no experience with programming, get into some game creation toolkits first. I think software like the RPGMaker series can help you grok the basics in a playful way. Other software like Game Maker would be a step up from that, they give you more freedom. If you’re good with numbers, dive into programming head-on. Tons of tutorials out there! However, depending on the kind of game you want to make, you might be surprised how little actual math knowledge is needed. If you actually want to develop games for the NES, google for „nerdy nights tutorials“.

9. What were the most enjoyable parts while developing? What sucked?

One of the best part was the optimization, how to find solutions in a graphics way to reuse sprites or background tiles to make the game seem bigger than it is. In an other side the optimization was hell because of our decision to make this game fit into 40KB, we needed to spend maybe 8months on it, to remake all maps 5times and saving bytes everywhere.

10. How much time did you spend creating your game?

At the basis, this project needed to be made a 1month project. We started in December 2015 and after 1year and 4months we are closer to finish it.

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