Macbat 64 isn’t shy about its N64-era inspirations. As a visual nods to Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64, it has swiftly moved through Steam Greenlight, setting the stage for it to bring its varied collect-a-thon style gameplay to PCs.
Still, why would someone emulate these visuals? What appeal is there in the early stages of 3D games? For Marcus Horn, developer of Macbat 64, it’s about giving yourself the sequel to the gameplay experiences you knew and loved.
What prompted you to create a game with an N64-inspired art style?
I really loved the 90s era of gaming, Sega Mega Drive, Gameboy, SNES, N64, Playstation, you name it! A lot of these games had a huge impact on my life and formed memories that still influence me today.
Needless to say, a really big one was Banjo Kazooie for me. So, when it became clear in 2014 that the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie wouldn’t happen (Grant’s words on Twitter. I know that it did happen later in the form of Playtonic Games and Yooka Laylee but back then it seemed like it wasn’t happen after all…), I was running around the house for a few weeks crying and shouting.
Eventually the need for a new game like Banjo Kazooie became so big that I started to make my own. I wanted it to be a tribute to Banjo Kazooie without copyright infringement so I came up with the simplest character I could think of, that was not too overused and easy to make: A Kiwi.
This game was finally released in September 2014 as Kiwi 64. It was a very buggy and glitchy game with only one level, but people loved it and were asking for more. It even got a ton of Let’s Plays and even some Speed Runs on YouTube, which really surprised me.
Anyway, almost half a year later I finally decided to make a kind of sequel featuring a new character. Kiwi is still in this game but because it features different gameplay and other scenarios and all that, I didn’t want to reuse Kiwi because people would expect something different from this game than it actually is.
I also wanted to pay tribute to more than just Banjo Kazooie or Rare again, so there are actually a lot of influences in this game and a lot of memories. I stick to the overall Rareware style because I really, really love it and I think I became a tiny bit better at it over the course of Kiwi 64.
How faithful do you stay to N64 visuals? To the system’s limitations?
I try to be as faithful as possible, but because I am using the free version of Unity 4, I can’t be 100% accurate, unfortunately. Some of the lighting and the loading times are not 100% accurate to the original system, for example. So far, I am also missing some distance fog, which I should probably put into some of the levels to make it feel more accurate!
What is the story of Macbat 64?
To be honest: There isn’t some complex story to this game. Sure, there is somewhat of an overall plot, but I am focusing more on making the game fun to play rather than telling a story. That does not mean there is no story at all, though.
Basically, at the beginning, Macbat is in a bar and hears about a place called “The Watery Factory”. It is a strange place, and apparently, something or someone took up residence in there, so he decides to go there to find out who or what it is. That is how it starts. The player will find out a few things about who or what that is later on, but the people who played Kiwi 64 and the second alpha demo of Macbat 64 might already know who or what is living in there at the moment.
Besides that, I tried to include some form of narrative in the levels itself. There is always some sort of goal in each level, but the way to get there is the important part. In one level the goal is to power up a Car to hit the road and do some stunts. In another one you, need to find the lost fruits of a giant Tree.
You could say that there is quite a lot of narrative in this game, but not that much text or actual story.
How do you design characters and a world that feels appropriate to this visual style? What is it about anthropomorphic animals that loan themselves to these visuals?
Basically, I played a lot of the N64 titles from back in the day, over and over again. For the most part I tried to emulate the feeling of something Steve Mayles(Characters) and Steven Hurst(Worlds) would have made – something Louise O’Conner would have animated and Shigeru Miyamoto, Gregg Mayles or Chris Seavor would have designed, back then.
I’m not saying I succeeded on that… Just saying it was my inspiration. After that, I tried to mix that with other artstyles and worlds. For example, the fourth Level I made was heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time because I thought it would be interesting to see how that turned out.
Quite frankly I have no idea why anthropomorphic animals work so well with these kind of games. I guess it’s all about creating a kind of surreal world that clearly separates itself from the real world, so ‘realistic rules’ don’t apply all that much. Or it could be because most of them look so adorable?
Why do you feel that players enjoyed collecting hidden and hard-to-reach items in games like Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64? How will you capture that same feeling with your game?
The feeling of achievement is the most important part about this, I think. Whenever I got a power star, a jiggy or a new cutscene in Conker, I felt somewhat proud – like I achieved something. So, in a way, the payoff at the end of a task is, for me, one very big reason why people enjoyed collect-a-thons back in the day. It’s not just about collecting random objects, like that Nuts and Bolts intro tried to tell us, it’s about the payoff and the feeling of achievement.
I really liked the idea that Conker’s Bad Fur Day changed this system up a bit and actually rewarded the player with a cutscene instead of a Power Star or Jiggy. Now there is nothing wrong with getting a Power Star at the end, but I still thought it was a great idea to mix it up a little.
With Macbat 64 I try to do something similar, but instead of presenting the player a cutscene after they solved a puzzle, I present them a new situation or experience. This could be the solution to a puzzle or some form of new challenge or a minigame.
How do you hide items in a 3D world? What are the tricks to making a good
I think a really important trick to hiding an item in a 3D world is to not really hide them. Just think of Banjo Kazooie‘s spiral mountain: You run around, you kill stuff and you collect notes on your way to the top of the mountain. However, when you pay a bit of attention to the world around you, you realize little hints, like a platform next to a waterfall. You might get curious enough to jump up there just to find a hidden extra life behind that waterfall. In a way the game told you about the hidden extra life but you still had to figure out those hints yourself.
Other than that, I think the most important part is that running and jumping feels as natural and good as possible. If the player has fun by simply running and jumping around, the exploration comes sort of naturally.
What are some of the challenges you meet while making a 3D game? In making one on your own?
One very big hurdle for me was the gameart. While I feel comfortable in doing pixelart, I am surely not a gameartist, and creating 3D environments that somehow feel okay is still a very big challenge for me. I love doing it, but it’s really hard. One thing you might notice in the game is that most Characters are animals without arms so I didn’t have to model arms and hands!
As far as music goes, I am completely useless… That is why I was really happy that Jay (@jdmoser) was willing to help me out with this and I think you can clearly hear from the soundtrack that he had some fun with it and did an amazing job!
I am also no good with CGI Renderings or proper art, so I was very happy that Laura(@Laura_Omnomnom) made the amazing high res version of Macbat and the awesome looking N64 Game Boxart!
You mention various other kinds of stages in the game? What else will players be doing? Why include various gameplay styles in Macbat 64?
Well there is the kart racing level of course, some FPS section (you basically just stand and turn the camera to shoot, no running around), two 8 bit minigames, a stuntcar section, and another stage I don’t want to talk about because it would spoil the game too much.
Originally, I was strictly against including sections with completely different gameplay in games because it almost never works and, most of the time, it’s just frustrating. However, I figured it makes perfect sense in a game like this.
I think the important part most games seem to be doing wrong is that they simply throw a space shooting level or a kart racing level at the player later in the game and it’s super hard and frustrating.
The thing is that, up to this point, the player was playing a Platformer and became good at it, and all of the sudden they have to manage a completely different game. The learned experience is basically set to zero again, for this section.
Most games treat it like this: The player is halfway through the game so the kart racing section should be hard as hell right? Not really – after all, it’s the first time the player is confronted with this sort of gameplay in your game, so they need to learn it first. That basically means that it shouldn’t be as hard as Level 3 – 6, but rather as easy and learnable as Level 1 – 1.