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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy interview: Red Fly Studio (Mushroom Men)

Red Fly Studio has big goals. In the words of the company's CEO, Dan Borth, they want to be "the world's premiere third-party Wii developer." They're aiming high on the DS, as well. It may sound a little presumptuous, but their inaugural effort, Mushroom Men, shows significant promise on both the Wii and DS, with a unique, detailed visual style, bizarre challenges and an expansive junk-based inventory.

At the EIEIO event, I spoke with Chad Barron, external producer for the DS side-scroller, and Dan Borth, CEO and creative director, about both games, as well as the experience of working for a big publisher on a big license.

Gallery: Mushroom Men

Chad, you work on the DS version of Mushroom Men, correct?

Chad Barron, Mushroom Men external producer: Yes, I do, and as soon as that's over ... well, actually, I shouldn't say "when it's over," but in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to roll over onto Mushroom Men Wii and help out with production of that as well. We're about to enter the QA stage, and really get the marketing going. I've already been doing that with DS. It's kind of a natural fit to roll over on Wii.

The Wii game is a 3D adventure. The DS game is 2.5D, which I approve of...

Oh, you do? Yeah, that's what we were kinda thinking. We wanted to push the Zen technology -- they were able to do 3D on the DS, but we wouldn't be able to encompass our design with just a total 3D environment on the DS, so we were like "Let's make it a sidescrolling platformer." And so we still have the 3D elements in there, but it really let us utilize the limitations of the DS and get as much out of it as we could.

Who did the concept art?

Mushroom Men was done by a guy named Frank Teran who comes from a comic book background. It was one of those things where when the idea first started popping up. Frank Teran, when we first started talking about the game idea, he started some concepts of what he envisioned the game to be like, and -- instantly -- everybody fell in love with it. Everybody thought that this was definitely the style we need to go after. Even in the DS game, through the cutscenes, we have his stylized art doing the storytelling. So he's been a big influence on the style.

So the 3D models were made to match his concept art?

Exactly. His concepts came first, and then we extracted 3D models from that.

Did he design textures or anything like that?

No, he's strictly concept. Plus, the founders of Red Fly, Kris (Taylor) and Dan (Borth), they've been artists in the industry for over 12 years. So they actually built the base models and everything.

How did you decide on the Wii and DS for Mushroom Men?

I think, originally, when the deal was being discussed with Gamecock, they needed a DS and a Wii SKU to fit their portfolio, and so we were going "We could easily do this for the Wii and the DS." We had the capabilities to do this. So we were like "Yeah, let's do it." And with the technology we used for the Wii game, it was a simple solution for us to get the Wii game up and running. We only have a 16-month dev cycle. That technology really allowed us to get up and running really, really fast. (to Dan Borth, who has walked up to the stage) Anything else about Wii and DS?

Dan Borth, Creative Director/CEO: Why we chose to do the Wii and the DS for Mushroom Men? It really just fit the portfolio, and (the Wii) was just such a new platform that came out at the time, and Wii budgets and Wii dev schedules are a lot ... cheaper, obviously. We took a good look at the hardware and figured we could push the Wii to its limits -- and we are. So, I think for our game, the Wii and the DS ... basically we want to be on the hottest-selling platforms, and it's those two platforms.

Are you guys happy with the Wii and the DS?

CB: Oh, yeah, definitely.

DB: What, are you kidding?

CB: Oh, yeah, we're loving it. We're really, really loving it. We're getting a lot of great feedback from the crowds and everything.

DB: Our development cycle is 16 months. That's a blistering pace, but it gives us the opportunity to say "We're shipping the game next year," you know, "we're done!" And we actually get to be on the Wii, which is outperforming, outselling all the other consoles.

CB: So, yeah, we're really excited. Red Fly's just a little over a year old. We're very happy with the progress we've made and where we're at right now.

DB: We want to be the best third-party Wii producers in the world.

CB: That's the goal. We want to rival the first-party dev studios for Wii content.

We really wanted to see something unique and original, especially for the Wii and the DS, that really utilized the talents --

DB: I mean, what third-party developer has anything really unique? I mean, it's all -- Metroid Prime, Mario Galaxy, it's all first-party stuff. And the Wii is the dumping ground for, you know, Balls of Fury. And it's unfortunate, because it's such a great platform. And if you invest the time and the money into it, you can have a great third-party game.

CB: So hopefully we're going to buck that trend and really establish ourselves as the premiere third-party Wii developer.

How does working for a bigger publisher like Sierra on an established IP (Ghostbusters) differ from a more free-form publisher like Gamecock?

DB: Obviously working for a master always sucks. It's good and bad. Like, working for Gamecock is great, and they have some problems, same as Sierra. The great thing about Gamecock is, basically, you're in charge of designing this game. "We want you to make a great game." There's no limitations on you.

Sierra has very clear ideas of what they want, but they're very streamlined, since they're a developer that's been around for a long time. It's only because Gamecock is kind of an upstart developer ...

CB: With Sierra, they're very hands-on. They make sure that everybody's on the same path to get to the finish line, whereas Gamecock's more open. "It's your game -- you design it! You let us know when it's done."

DB: With Sierra, we design in tandem. We are allowed to be creative, but we're also on a rope. With Gamecock there is no rope.

CB: Plus we get to keep our IP.

DB: It's the most IP-friendly deal there is. There's no true IP-friendly deal in the world, but it is the most friendly one out there.

What kind of IP problems might there be with Gamecock?

DB: There are no real problems, it's just that we exist in tandem. We have to agree on what to do with the property. With any other publisher, it's their property. They can take it, chop it...

CB: They can, like, change the design to it. But with Gamecock we're, like, married to the property.

DB: Exactly, so, they're in bed with us on the property, but they allow us the freedom of that IP to create whatever we want to create. I mean, they're not going to say "It's your IP, do whatever the hell you want with it" -- they're fronting the money. That would mean that we could just go "Okay --"

CB: "We've got an adults-only title now!"

DB: Or "We can just do whatever we want with it," and then their investment is put at risk. So we have to be some sort of path, but it is as friendly as it can possibly be.

You're aiming for Q4 on both platforms, right?

CB: Q4 this year, on both the DS and the Wii. Probably the DS about a month before the Wii, just so that for the two separate games, we can get the most out of our marketing dollar. We're promoting like "Play the DS, then snag the Wii to complete the saga" or something like that.

Pretty early on, you decided to make two different game styles. Was it always going to be two different stories?

CB: Yeah. It was one of those things where the DS was originally slated to come out a lot sooner than the Wii. But, as the games started being developed, Gamecock was like, "This is turning out to be really, really good." Now they're at the point where they're like, "You know what? No. Let's release them about a month apart, so both stories can be together." We didn't want that overlap to go like, here's Mushroom Men on the DS, then a year later there's the Wii. We're trying to position them to come out almost simultaneously, to where players who want to get the full experience are able to, and not lose track of the story.

What are your favorite DS games right now?

CB: Believe it or not, I've been playing a lot of Trauma Center.

That's really hard.

CB: That is hard! That's why I'm stuck on it -- I want to beat this damn thing, you know? Trauma Center, I'm playing Mario Kart a little bit. I'm waiting to get my hands on Dementium. What do you recommend?

Well, I just picked up Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. And speaking of that, are you encouraged by the fact that the platform can support things like surgery simulators and text adventures?

CB: How cool is that? Like, when I'm doing Trauma Center, I'm, like, going "I wonder if this is the actual procedure the surgeons use in the hospital." It's almost like you could get your medical license on the DS. It's really cool how people take the DS and utilize it so many different ways. Like Brain Age. People who just want to play for five minutes just to get a little timestamp. That's awesome. It's really cool, all the innovative titles that come out, especially on the DS.

Did any of those ideas, any Trauma Center or Brain Age sneak into Mushroom Men?

CB: I don't think so, because we'd already invented our own special elements -- like the Scav system. And with the limitations of the DS, we wanted to do a lot more with it, but we only had so much memory and we had to scale back.

Are there different weapons in the two versions?

CB: Yes. None of the weapons that we have in the DS, you'll find in the Wii. The same exact system, totally different weapons. I'm still learning all the different combinations for the DS.

Did any of the combinations come about by accident?

CB: No, we were like "How many different weapon sets do we want?" And we made a huge list of all these combinations, and said "Oh, that's cool, that's cool, we can do this." By the time it got to implementation, we already had pretty much a set list.

Red Fly's apparent drive for quality DS and Wii games bodes well not only for their original work, but also for Ghostbusters, about which we've been dubious. We look forward to seeing more from both games.

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