Near the tail end of 2009 (?) I was chomping at the bit to make a game. So what better way to motivate me than to motivate others as well. So over on NeoGAF I started up a contest for fellow game making enthusiasts to try to create their own Mario level sets. Using the hacking software, Lunar Magic, everyone, including me, had three months to create their own Mario game.
The sky was the limit. You were open to make any changes you like to the game itself from the sprites, to music, to even the game mechanics themselves. So on my end I wanted to do a bit more than just make Mario levels I wanted to do a complete overhaul. I wanted to make this thing my own little creation.
First came the game design which would later be elaborated on better in EG. Back when I was a kid I was given Shadow of the Beast as a gift for the Genesis. It was a problematic game, even more so on the Genesis (the changes in the difficulty made it extremely hard to beat), but to was bits of design there that really rubbed me the right way. When you start in the game you can either run left, right, or climb down a well.If you go left you come across a patch of trees with one having a giant hole in it leading underground. Now if you go right, well you’ll be running for quite some time. Now the fascinating thing about running right was the crazy amount of variety in the enemies and obstacles you come across along the way. Even though you are running on a flat plane for quite some time, the variety present gave you a sense of progress and feeling like you were traversing through this bizarre world. It also helps that the music and art direction were top notch in this game.
So when I went into making my levels I wanted two main things: a world that was connected in some fashion, and expanded levels that would give the player a sense of journey that I got from games like Shadow of the Beast. Next was seeing what I could do with the graphics. Here the thought was to bland the tone of the Mario visual style by deemphasizing a lot of the happy charm (removing faces on clouds, hills, etc) and balancing that out by stylizing the graphics a bit differently. Even though it is still Mario underneath I wanted to give it a unique enough feel to make the player feel like they’re playing a different game. Music was also changed to reflect the dreamlike atmosphere I wanted to give this world. Most of the enemies were changed to go along with the new design as well. Of course I also reworked Mario’s sprite for the full disconnect by adjusting some colors, reworking a few pixels, and added a beard. I knew I wanted to keep an Italian name and after much searching Massimo was born.
The story of Massimo is simple: Massimo one day decides to crawl out of his home under the ground and explore the world. Nothing in Massimo is really meant to make sense, but there is a core story and a definite ending to it which underlines the whole thing. The whole world is designed to give the player the feeling of isolation and loneliness as Massimo is the only human present and the only things you talk to are the skeletons who spout riddles as to what to do next. I still wanted to include some main elements of Mario in Massimo as this was meant to be seen another take on that game’s world. The final area is still a castle where you still end up having a final battle with a dragon (is there a princess… well….).
If for some reason you are sensitive to spoilers you may want to skip this paragraph. For the ending of the game I’ve always felt that the player should be rewarded with something a bit more than a cutscene. I’ve always liked the endings of games like Toejam & Earl and Dragon Quest where the player is rewarded with a world to explore. So in Massimo the reward is Massimo’s new home. A long, harmless stage with little things to play around in. There is also a secret in the ending where you can change the day/night cycles and if you changed it to night the stage is swarmed with enemies that you can fight through. If the player gets bored with the new home you could go back out and explore the world again.
I ended up completing the game I wanted to make much sooner than I had even anticipated. I still had well over a month left to work on stuff so I decided to put in a secret world. This ended up being the part of the game I’m most happy with. When first designing the secret world I knew I wanted to created another game so I decided to make Massimo 8-bit. The thought here was if Massimo SNES was a sequel to an NES Massimo game then it probably was a retelling in a sense (kind of like how Super Castlevania was a retelling of the NES Castlevania). So what would the original Massimo game been like? That’s what came out of this.
But after I finished that I still had plenty of time left! So I made a secret world within the secret world! This was called Massi-Bits, and this was where I decided I wanted to go ham on the stages. Each stage gives a peek at different generations of Massimo games. The first one was in a text adventure style of the old Zork games where the level itself consisted solely of words. The next stage was influenced by Atari styled graphics which was my favorite stage to design in the whole game. After that Massimo jumps into my original game influence, the Commodore 64! The stage here was inspired by the C64 Mario knockoff, The Great Giana Sisters. The final stage goes back to the NES and was Mega Man in style. In retrospect the last Massi-Bit stage probably wasn’t the best choice. I should’ve gone with something from Genesis instead.
After all that I still had time left so I decided to put some finishing touches on the game and put together a nice zip package for it. I included an instruction manual which included a strategy guide and screenshot art from some of the stages (displayed here). Also added a nice remix of the main Massimo theme (which came from Turrican) and various desktop wallpapers. Since I had some time left I put together a second Mario level set called Mario’s Mini Adventure. Rather than add more to Massimo I went and made a short little game. The game consists of four stages that are connected together, each one containing a hidden alternate version. After working on Massimo so much I just wanted to try my hand at something a bit more Mario like.
After the contest was over (I didn’t win as I excluded myself since I was the contest creator), I went on to release the game on the main romhacking site, Romhacking.net, and it went on to receive a hefty amount of downloads. When I revisited the game recently I was hit with a mixture of feelings, both good and problematic. Good in that a lot of the stages I designed still held up for me, most notably the in the area called Yg, the later stages of Massi-8bit, and the first two stages of Massi-Bits. What sadly didn’t work on my play through were the Metroid-like puzzle elements with the items. Even with the in game hints I had forgotten the solutions and was completely stumped. I had to resort to my included strategy guide to finish the game! Looking at it now I would have completely reworked some of those elements, and made it much clearer to how to get to the next area. I would’ve also opened up the secret stages so the player can enter those at the beginning of the game rather than having to play halfway through. Maybe I’ll touch up on that in the future as I don’t think it would be too hard to fix, and now that my sprite work has improved I could touch up on some of the funkier looking sprites in this game.
There was going to be a sequel to Massimo (dubbed Massimore), and even had the initial starting area all finished, along with improvements to the game structure (more interconnected levels rather than a map screen to tie everything together). After much thought I decided to discard the sequel and finally move onto making my first original game…