Mushroom Men is Red Fly Studio’s first full game, but the team has plenty of previous experience working for the likes of Ion Storm (Deus Ex), Retro Studios (Metroid) and Terminal Reality (Bloodrayne). We traveled all the way to the Mushroom Kingdom (well, Austin, Texas anyway) to have words with Dan Borth, CEO and Creative Director at Red Fly.
So you’re currently working on Mushroom Men on the Wii and DS, and the licensed Ghostbusters game on Wii - is working on your own original project more fun?
You mean, is it less fun to work on a license? Of course not. There can be more creative buy-in on an original IP, at least from the people who create it, but you can have fun on anything. We have fun on everything. I mean, we’re making games, right? And games are fun, yeah? There you go!
Mushroom Men has been described to us as “Helm’s Deep, but with mushrooms”. Does this small story really reach such epic proportions?
It’s entirely epic to the mushrooms. Don’t underestimate their feelings. Just because the story occurs near one intersection in one small town in one state in southern United States doesn’t mean it isn’t epic. I mean, they’re three inches high, just about anything is epic to them, right?
What are the challenges involved in making mushrooms into sympathetic characters?
How can you expect people to be sympathetic to something that tastes so good? Even vegetarians can’t put down mushrooms. I was eating at a friend’s house a couple years ago and they didn’t hesitate to throw some shiitake on the grill. But to make them sympathetic, we start small, give them eyes. Eyes can do a lot, too. Wide eyes make them look surprised or scared, squinting eyes make them look suspicious or angry. That really goes a long way to making them sympathetic. The wide eyes, at least. Nobody cares for shady mushrooms.
And it’s really important to focus on the situation that the players find themselves in. There’s no easier way to buy into something than to feel threatened or rewarded in the immediate situation. We can’t rely on historical knowledge of mushroom culture to drive peoples feelings, so we have to make real their culture and characters instead.
How did the prequel/sequel DS/Wii thing come about? Did you chop the story in half, George Lucas-style, or was it always planned that way?
Well, er, that’s kind of a trick question, right? If you consider the overarching story - the whole story - then we chopped it in half. But if you consider each game’s story as an individual component that tells pieces of a larger tale, then we didn’t chop it in half. I’m more partial to the latter. Each exists on its own, but you do get more out of it if you follow both stories.
Above: the actual mushroom known by the nickname "red fly," which incidentally, is a complete coincidence - the studio wasn't named after it
We saw a mini puzzle in the DS game and an egg leaping ‘retro’ platforming section in the Wii game - will minigames like these be sprinkled throughout both games liberally?
Yes. Literally liberally. In the Wii version we’re trying to harken back to our roots, make reference to games that we enjoyed and still enjoy, pay homage to well-done gameplay. I could go on. They’re interesting changes in the gameplay that allow you to progress in a unique way.