Andy: Kurko, how are ya man!?
Kurko: Hi Andy! Well, very good! Bear Waker was a success and it seems that people are also liking BK Smash Bros Temple, so very happy for all the good feedback received!
Yea, about Bear Waker: how hard is it to take such an elaborate setting like Outset Island and skin it down to something usable by the BK engine?
Well, it was quite a craft job. The original model of the island had about 9,000 or 10,000 polygons — not including palm trees, trees and other decoration elements. I had to reduce it to about 3300. It’s laborious, manual work to eliminate all those polygons while trying to keep the models as faithful to the originals as possible.
Luckily, as you said nicely in your article, the artistic style of Wind Waker helps a lot when creating a good atmosphere with low-poly models. I had to do a lot of tests to get a version that ran stably on N64 hardware and even so it still occasionally crashes.
How do you decide what ideas for Jiggies and other collectables make it into the final game and which ones remain as just ideas during development?
After five years of working on Jiggies of Time, I know what “events” (switches, doors, etc…,) in the Banjo-Kazooie ROM work and which don’t. I think of different ideas with all of them, then go test and see which ones work better, worse or incompatible with each other.
For example, in the first trailer you can see how Banjo presses a switch and a honeycomb piece appears in the sky. This idea had to be undone from the final version because there was an incompatibility with other secret elements that I don’t want to spoil. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’g. Since I did several tests and couldn’t find the reason, I had to scrap the idea.
Are their specific qualities of both games you want players to feel/experience when playing your crossover romhacks?
I think the main qualities I wish to convey are the feelings of adventure and progress. Since both Banjo-Kazooie and The Legend of Zelda provide this to the player, I feel that this is why they fit so nicely together. In both, you have a 3D environment to explore and pick up different items to unlock new areas. In the case of Banjo, the puzzles are much more simple and akin to what Mario games provide. These are what I like to expand upon to give an extra Zelda touch that I think suits the game very well. Believe me — if the Banjo-Kazooie ROM gave me the freedom to create more Zelda style puzzles, I would make it… but maybe a bit more simplified.
How’d you get your start in game development? Was there a defining moment in your life when you realized you had to make a career in games for yourself?
I’ve always really liked video games but I thought that them would be very difficult for me. I’ve accomplished some artistic studies, but I often have a hard time giving my illustrations a strong finish. I took a small 3D course in 2013, just to give it a try, and discovered that modeling came so much easier than drawing to me! This was around the time I started working on Jiggies of Time, so I’ve really been creating models for N64 these 5 years. This was also great training, haha.
From there, I did some higher studies in 3D animation and decided I wanted to focus my work on video games. This year, I’ve finished other studies in video game development using Unity. Modeling and animation are my favorites! These days I search online for answers to my questions. There are a lot of free tutorials and smart people willing to help you online.
We know you love BK and Zelda, but is there a third, fourth, fifth+ franchise you have tons of appreciation for that you haven’t made into a BK crossover mod?
There are a lot of different franchises that I really appreciate, but I wouldn’t mind making a BK crossover with all of them haha. In fact, I have a list of ideas for possible future small mods with them. You might even find some surprises with other franchises in Jiggies of Time…
I love the Metal Gear games. I also really like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. I have always preferred infiltration to action, I don’t have Hyrule Warriors for that same reason haha. I also like some fighting games besides Smash (Tekken and Soul Calibur for example), and I really enjoyed Killer Instinct around the time they were releasing — both on N64 and SNES. I also dedicated many hours of play to Dr. Mario on the NES and Tetris Attack on the SNES.
Would you consider yourself a very nostalgic person?
Yes, too much. Especially about N64 haha. I think it’s because I spent 3 years asking my parents to buy the game console. I didn’t have it until December of ‘99 (the great DK64 pack) and I ended up buying it with my own savings. That’s why I think I’m so fond of him.
I also prefer pop culture and music of the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. Star Wars, The Goonies, Gremlins, The Doors, Bowie, Nirvana, Motorhead, Disco music, etc…. I love Stranger Things! I guess it’s because I couldn’t live in that time. I was born in 1988, and I’ve always thought I was born 20 years late…
Have you released any mods before Banjo-Kazooie: The Bear Waker?
Yes, all of them Banjo-Kazooie related and can be found on my YouTube channel.
The first was a modified version of Bob-Omb Battlefield with some extra areas, I had only been modeling for two months when I did it. Then I published a demo of Kokiri Forest, and another of Kakariko Village. I also published a 3D version of Eagle Dungeon from Zelda 1 on the NES, and another of Jungle Hijinx from Donkey Kong Country. All of them will be playable in some way through Jiggies of Time.
If you could work for the development team of a different game/franchise/intellectual property, who would it be? Or would you prefer to fly solo?
Of course I would love to work for the Zelda team, but now days their projects are very, very large. I don’t know if I would like participating in such a small role, almost as if I was a worker in a large assembly line, you know? I think I’d would rather work in a small team like Playtonic. Working for Rare would also be an honor, but for now I’m flying solo, so we’ll see…
Oh yea, did you Kickstart Yooka-Laylee? What did you think of that game?
Yes, of course I financed it. In fact, I made my Kickstarter account expressly for that. I’ve financed some projects since, of course.
Well, I really enjoyed it, but it left me a bittersweet little taste. Let me explain: The game has great quality, and I think it is a worthy successor of Banjo, but I imagined the idea of ”expanding” the worlds in another way. I think the first version of the world are fine, although it stays a little small. Then it expands and I think some worlds are too big — something like Banjo Tooie’s worlds. It’s easy to get lost in some of them, especially the swamp. I would have preferred smaller BK-style worlds and instead of just six they would have done eight or nine.
Something similar happens to me with Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. I think Country Returns is an almost perfect DK game except that K. Rool and the Kremlings are missing. In Tropical Freeze, they decided to make the levels much longer, and created fewer worlds; only 6. Some stages just become long and heavy when you play them again and again in search of that missing puzzle piece.
If making it as a game designer didn’t work out for you, what other career might you have chosen instead?
I have no idea… It took me a long time to find something I’m good at. Until I was 25, I had no idea what I wanted to do. As I told you, I liked to draw but I never thought I was good enough to dedicate myself to it professionally, so I really don’t know.
So you’ve got an upcoming mod — a playable version of Super Smash Bros.’s iconic Hyrule Temple stage. What was the inspiration for making this happen?
Of course! I was inspired by Banjo & Kazooie coming to Smash!
I was looking for something at The Model Resource (I don’t remember what) and I grew curious to see the 3D models of the Smash stages. I took a look and to my surprise I saw my favorite stage: Melee’s Temple! It had more background depth than I thought, so I knew it would be interesting to explore. I downloaded the model to see the number of polygons and examine it thoroughly then a lot of ideas began to form. Next thing I knew, my Temple mod was almost done, haha.
Do you play Smash? How do you feel about competitive gaming, eSports, speedrunning, ect…?
I don’t have a Switch and I hardly played Smash from WiiU. I have to admit that I’m not very good at Smash. I’m much better at Mario Kart, haha. I think competitive games are very positive for the industry but I am very bad at them. When I’m relaxed, I play well. However, when I’m in some kind of competition, I’m often very tense so the result is usually quite disastrous…
Jiggies of Time is obviously still in development, how is that going? Do you have an expected release date or launch window?
I have had many launch windows since the beginning of development — the first one was summer 2016 — and I have never been able to achieve any of them. For now, I don’t want to give a date until I know I can meet it. I had to pause for a moment due to some personal reasons from the composer. I was also studying Video Game Development so I let him rest for a while. That was also the reason I released The Bear Waker and some small Mods I am working on now.
When you have been working on a project for so many years, toward the end it is like a big stone that you are carrying. Sometimes it is better to leave it on the ground for a moment and walk that road later. But well, now I have two new composers (maybe you know some of them) and I hope to resume the project with more strength than ever and launch it as soon as possible! Bynine, the creator of Banjo-Kazooie: Worlds Collide’s, also contacted me recently and now they’re helping me with sub-areas that remain.
Anyway before all this, I am doing another Small Mod that I hope to announce in October, so until I finish it I will not be able to focus 100% on Jiggies of Time
I asked Bynine a similar question in the interview I did with them, but what would you say are some strengths and weaknesses developing a romhack versus what you would expect developing an indie title?
Of course the main advantage is that you are working with a known IP. If your work is good, you will have more facilities to make yourself known. On the other hand, the scheme of the game is already done so you just have to concentrate on new ideas and creating stages.
The main inconvenience, of course, is that the IP isn’t yours and the owner can “shut down” your project with a DMCA claim. Luckily, it seems that Microsoft doesn’t see the modding scene through bad eyes.
Another disadvantage in terms of BK is that the ROM itself has many limitations that are difficult to overcome. For example: isn’t it strange that out of all the BK full mods that have been published, none of them use the Jiggies to open the doors of the worlds? This is because it is really complicated and cumbersome to get this mechanic to work. It is also one of the reasons why Jiggies of Time has been delayed so many times.
As for Indie titles, I have only developed a small game for Android with a cousin of mine in 2015 and absolutely nobody played it, haha. Nowadays, it is very easy to develop a video games and anyone can publish their games too; fierce competition exists, in this regard. I think that if people don’t know you through your previous work, it will be very difficult to make your new stuff known unless some big company supports you with marketing campaigns.
The good part of course is that you are the owner of your game then you have all the freedom to create whatever you want. I suppose that must be a wonderful feeling, haha.
Have you ever been intimidated by the thought that all the work you’re doing for these games is just going to get released for free?
Nope, for the reasons I explained before. I hope that all the people who already know me can support me to a greater or lesser extent when working on my own projects. In addition, this also helps me see what ideas work in a game and which ones don’t. Plus, since the game is free, I feel no moral pressure from someone not liking it.
Do you have any closing words for aspiring developers or super fans who might be reading this?
I have never known how to answer these kinds of questions, haha. Let’s go:
For the aspiring developers: try to be very clear about what you want to dedicate yourself to. Figure out what part of development comes easiest and then try it with all your strength. Being a developer is not easy. I have always read in interviews with other developers that “We all started with the dream of creating our own game. Then we realized how difficult and cruel this industry can be.” I am still in this part, so I’d recommend everyone to be very patient, and I guess have some luck too…
To the super fans (my girlfriend always jokes, calling them Kurkolievers…) don’t worry, I’m still working on Jiggies of Time, and above all I’m going to release it! Even if I received a DMCA claim, I would upload a 100% gameplay video with all the jiggies and easter eggs that I have hidden in the game. Stay tuned to Twitter because any news will be posted there. I hope to make a preview video similar to Lake Hylia in the near future. But I ask you to have a little patience, because first I would like to finish the other Secret Mod we are working on (I hope to show it in October and release it maybe in November, we’ll see). And I think that’s all…
Thanks, Kurko! It’s always insightful speaking with you 🙂
Thank you for this opportunity for people to know a little more about me. It has been a pleasure to talk with you!
Be sure to follow Kurko on Twitter, @Markus_Kurko