It's becoming a trend for YouTube and web celebrities to release their own games, though in a number of cases these games come to smart devices. That was never likely to be the sole focus with Angry Video Gamer Nerd Adventures, however, as it celebrates the expletive-riddled retro 'reviewer' with an exceptionally tricky retro-styled action platformer. In our review of the Wii U version, we said that "you'll become quick friends with the death screen".
Out now in North America on Wii U and still making its way to PAL regions and the 3DS, we decided to catch up with UK-based Sam Beddoes, the lone developer of FreakZone Games. He worked with publisher ScrewAttack Games and James Rolfe to bring the project together, so we discuss influences, the development process and more besides; of course, we asked for his view on Nintendo disabling screenshots on the game's Miiverse community, too.
As this is a mature game based on the web series, one question contains some swearing.
Can we start off with a brief background of FreakZone Games? How did you come up with your funky '90s sounding company name?
I came up with it in the '90s! I was about twelve years old. It just sounded like some kind of cool arcade or something at the time, and since it seems to perfectly fit what I do now, I kept it. I think it's kinda nostalgic but also kinda funny.
How did you convince ScrewAttack (and by extension Cinemassacre) that you were the man to develop the official AVGN game?
So I made this game MANOS: The Hands of Fate, based on the infamously bad movie, in a retro style inspired by those terrible old movie adaptations on NES. It was intended to be a sort of tribute to and parody of bad movies, bad games etc., but made into something good, and the whole time I was watching AVGN episodes for inspiration. The way James can make you both laugh at how poor those games were and feel a nostalgic longing for them at the same time is amazing, and I just felt that after MANOS, I should be the guy who makes the AVGN game, when it inevitably happens.
The actual development was solo, and there were obviously a lot of late nights getting everything together in time, but these things are worth it when you really believe in what you're creating.
Having always been a huge ScrewAttack fan I went straight there to try and get a review or some kind of coverage, and the style of MANOS really impressed them, so we got talking! I pitched the game to them, that pitch, along with MANOS, was enough for ScrewAttack to give me the job.
Can you tell us about the challenge of developing AVGN Adventures as a lone developer, and how you multi-tasked and worked on so many different parts of the overall game?
Though I am a 'lone developer', do remember that ScrewAttack were involved a lot with feedback and creative direction, as was James Rolfe, the Nerd himself, and Mike Matei. I designed the stages and then they usually came in with ideas to make them even better. The actual development was solo, though, and there were obviously a lot of late nights getting everything together in time, but these things are worth it when you really believe in what you're creating.
Chad from ScrewAttack and myself had several 4am finishes ironing out and testing glitches towards the end, those are always tiring.
How about the music and sound effects, how did that all come together?
I had a bit of an interest in music production around the mid 2000s, so I'd had some experience writing and creating music (in fact, I had a song put up on OverClocked ReMix back in 2005, 'Cryptic Marble'), and I just put that experience to work in my games. Writing chiptunes is insanely good fun, because does away with a lot of the monotonous mastering which is required for most music and just allows you to focus on making a great tune!
AVGN Adventures first came out on Steam in 2013. What was the reaction to it at the time from fans?
Mostly very positive! The difficulty threw some people off, but most appreciated its challenge. There's an easy setting for anybody who has too hard a time. Some of the let's plays are extremely entertaining, with some very happy AVGN fans.
What challenges were there in porting the game to the Wii U? Does the port feature any improvements over the original 2013 release?
The port was handled by MP2 games whilst I was working on Jump'N'Shoot Attack, but since this is the first game ScrewAttack have ever had on consoles, the process took some time. As neither myself nor ScrewAttack had experience with Nintendo's lotcheck system at the time, there was a lot of learning and the whole process took longer than we had expected, but we're super pleased with the final result!
The Wii U version has a whole bunch of GamePad features to enhance the experience! Though the difficulty level isn't altered (we did our best to make sure of that), the GamePad allows for a little more accessibility, such as a quick-select when changing characters, to save the player having to cycle through them, some stats you don't usually get to see during play, detailed information about your inventory item and, of course, off-TV play. If you're somebody who doesn't like to use the GamePad, it has full Pro Controller support, which plays the same as the PC version.
Tell us about your plans for a 3DS release - will you be supporting stereoscopic 3D?
Yessir! The 3DS version has stereoscopic 3D, as well as some dual screen features, similar to the GamePad features on the Wii U. It's all done and going through Nintendo's approval process.
The GamePad allows for a little more accessibility, such as a quick-select when changing characters, to save the player having to cycle through them, some stats you don't usually get to see during play, detailed information about your inventory item and, of course, off-TV play.
Over the years there have been plenty of unofficial AVGN games. Which are some of your favourites? Did any of them inspire the game you went on to develop?
To be honest, I hadn't played any, other than James' cameo in Texting of the Bread! From watching videos, though, I think Eric Ruth's "Angry Video Game" is very cool. The way the Nerd riffs on the game as you play it is quite similar to what we did with AVGN Adventures.
You previously mentioned your game based on "MANOS: The Hands of Fate," regarded as one of the worst pieces of cinema ever. Can you explain further how this helped you land the gig with AVGN Adventures? How do you feel about possibly picking up a reputation for spinning 'bad' stuff into gold, so to say?
Funny you mention that. As mentioned before, MANOS helped me to get the gig with ScrewAttack with its NES style, but MANOS also was what inspired me to even try for that gig. Celebrating badness with something (hopefully) good in such a way just seemed right for the AVGN, and I genuinely feel it's something I can do well. I like to think I've always been good at creating good 'game feel', and if you have that part down, the game is usually going to be enjoyable, no matter what you throw at it.
Whilst working on MANOS, I used the term "The 'GRINDHOUSE' of video games" in the GDD, referring to the 2007 Ridriguez/Tarantino double feature, which managed to capture the schlocky brilliance of all those 70s exploitation flicks and package them in something genuinely smart and enjoyable, without ever turning into parody or mocking. James can make you laugh at how awful these games used to be, and at the same time celebrate those simple times, so the AVGN game couldn't just be mocking things, it had to also celebrate them.
Even while Back to the Future on NES was a total mess, it was still a videogame, and video games were, and are, such a great thing, and the Nerd knows it, so despite his fury he can never leave them alone. Even though you despised every impossible jump in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you were still holding that brilliant NES controller in your hand, munching down skittles, exercising that patience and persistence that no non-gamer will ever understand. Although I can't provide everybody with an NES pad, some skittles and a set of Captain Planet jammies, I can do my best to make a game that feels good even when it's punishing the hell out of you.
Even Jump'N'Shoot Attack plays with cheesy 80s/90s storylines, names and designs, along with punishing level design that you can't seem to put down. Obviously I love the idea of being the guy who can achieve that!
What was the collaborative process of working with ScrewAttack on this title like?
I'm based in England, so it was interesting. Weekly Skype calls with guys I've been a huge fan of for years. At first that was quite surreal. When you're talking business on the outside and going "OH MY GOD STUTTERING CRAIG" on the inside, it's an unusual experience. Of course as a result I got to travel to Texas for SGC, which was a truly amazing experience!
What freedoms did ScrewAttack give you when developing the game? Did they ever have to put their foot down and say "AVGN would never do that" or such like?
There were a few interesting moments! The game has a lot of references to bad games, some of which were changed to keep characters' personalities loyal to that of the show. For example, the Bullshit Man (from James' show "You Know What's Bullshit?") is a playable character, but his dialogue was originally mostly references. For example, in the fantasy-themed stage, after the Nerd complained about the fantasy stage, if Bullshit Man was unlocked, he would say "My boy, this peace is what all true warriors strive for" (Bonus points for those who get the reference!). When it all came together, though, the Bullshit Man just came across as too nice, and Stuttering Craig pointed out to me that the character was supposed to be an abhorrent, grumpy man who hates everything. Upon changing his dialogue, it all suddenly fit!
For a large chunk of the game they trusted my judgement, and allowed me to design all of the stages and most of the bosses. A lot of it was already in the GDD I pitched to them with. Being a big, big fan of the AVGN and classic video games, they allowed me to go crazy, after which they'd come in and adjust/direct. They were always encouraging me to make it better and better! Little things which I'd have just let fly on my own were picked up by ScrewAttack, no stone left unturned!
How involved were James Rolfe and Mike Matei in the whole process?
James and Mike were both super busy working on the AVGN movie, however all of our ideas were put past James and Mike first, both of whom also put in some suggestions and made some changes to keep it loyal to the show. Those kickass drawings in the intro and ending were all hand-drawn by Mike, and converted to pixel art by me. I was thrilled that he provided those, and they look so great!
Those kickass drawings in the intro and ending were all hand-drawn by Mike, and converted to pixel art by me. I was thrilled that he provided those, and they look so great!
Which classic retro games would you say most inspired AVGN Adventures?
Would you say this game is "Nintendo hard" in nature? Or have you made some concessions for modern players?
It's pretty damn hard…! There is an easy mode for anybody struggling, but that's still tough, with the instant-death blocks and such. Easy mode does allow unlimited lives, though, so those in doubt can keep trying. It also turns your gun pink. Make of that what you will.
What were your motivations behind the deviousness of the level design?
I do like to make challenging games, but this was an interesting one. Remember that during development, the builds were mainly tested by ScrewAttack. People like Stuttering Craig and Chad James… Experts at this kind of game! Craig and the others all felt that it should pay tribute to the classics in terms of challenge. Often early in development, Craig would get back to me after testing a build and tell me he got through it a little too easily, so I'd send it back with a higher level of challenge. Eventually I just thought "OK, let's do this." and went full-on! During development, I was playing a lot of Dark Souls in my downtime, and that game was a big inspiration at the time as well.
Insta-kill skull blocks show up in full force throughout the stages. Is there any special reason behind why there are so many?
The death blocks are great because they always provide the same level of challenge. You can make combat safer by topping up your health, taking advantage of mercy-invincibility after taking a hit, or keeping hold of a power-up, and you can take the platforming as slow as you like, but the death blocks are a threat no matter how well you are doing. This keeps you feeling on-edge throughout the game. Having full-health is no longer an excuse to relax and let your guard down. They give us the advantages of both a 'one-hit-you're-dead' game and a game with health powerups. Best of both worlds.
You've created a NES style game, but without the limitations of the NES. Were you tempted to keep it purely 8-bit? What convinced you to include more modern twists?
I was! In fact, the early GDD used mostly only stuff the NES could do, few colours etc., just like MANOS. Craig said "I like colours", pretty much! I do feel that the colours suit the game's cartoony personality and do lend themselves to the fact that we also pay tribute to a lot of SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis games.
While in many ways the game stays true to NES games of yesteryear, the controls and physics are far more refined. Was it important to you to minimise frustration in this way?
Definitely. As I mentioned, game feel is a big deal for me so although the challenge level of NES games is in there, we had to make sure throughout that the challenge came from the stages themselves, never from not having full control. A lot of tweaking was involved to get the physics just right for the stages. An example - Being knocked backwards when the player takes damage. In AVGN Adventures, the player is often able to steer themselves back to safety if an unexpected enemy knocks them back from the edge of a platform. In fact, the amount you are knocked back is slightly adjusted depending on difficulty level.
I'd prefer little kids weren't seeing this game's content, but that's something that could easily be solved with an age gate, otherwise it's like allowing children into a nightclub and asking the adults not to swear or dance provocatively.
Are you personally a big AVGN fan? Have you been watching his videos since he started out all those years ago?
Oh yes! My first AVGN video was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review. I had that game growing up, and although I liked it, it used to frustrate me to no end, and I never got very far. That video summed up my frustrations and James' writing really made me laugh. It was following the 'recommended videos' trail to the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street videos that really got me, though. I watched a lot of horror films growing up, and the way James is as much of a filmmaker as he is a game reviewer really captivated me. The Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street videos showed how he would take his comical reviews and turn them into little mini-movies with special effects and all sorts, many of which were done practically, and I absolutely fell in love with that. AVGN also contained a huge number of references to cult movies, which I loved, and made sure to use in the game as well (look out for references to the likes of Evil Dead 2 and even The Exorcist!).
What references did you wish you could include in the game but couldn't due to potential copyright infringements?
It's crazy the number of commenters who are upset that the game didn't include the likes of Bugs Bunny, Spider-Man etc., but there was just no way that was happening! We did consider some parodies (I had even sprited "Rex Rabbit"), but it just didn't feel right.
Which parody or creation in the game are you most proud of?
Oh man. I absolutely love the moment when you ride the fire-shark through the lava, firing laser beams from its eyes, but that was entirely Chad James' idea, so I can't take credit for it! I love the game's final stage, and how it makes you use everything you've learned from the other stages all in one place. I'm also very pleased with the soundtrack, The songs are, in my opinion, some of the best I've written.
Were you surprised that Nintendo published this game on the Wii U due to levels such as the Atari Porn level?
Nah. We got rated and don't have any religious themes or anything like that, so we expected to get through. Worst case scenario we'd have had to maybe make the Atari Porn stage look more 'glitched' in certain areas, but we didn't even need to do that. Besides, it's crude pixel art, isn't it? Remember that Nintendo do publish many mature titles with bad language, blood and sex. Bayonetta 2 was published by Nintendo themselves, and they happily allowed Madworld, Manhunt 2 etc. on the Wii. Remember Conker's Bad Fur Day?
Do you think disabling screenshots on Miiverse is a reasonable move from Nintendo? Were you surprised that they didn't do this on launch day?
Heh… This one is interesting. Personally, I'm surprised Miiverse pages don't have an age gate. Surely players should be free to share their experiences with other grown adults. I'd prefer little kids weren't seeing this game's content, but that's something that could easily be solved with an age gate, otherwise it's like allowing children into a nightclub and asking the adults not to swear or dance provocatively.
What's next for Freakzone Games? Would you like to create Nintendo Life Adventures for us possibly?
Hah, you wouldn't believe how often people now say to me "do you wanna make the game of my site/channel/character?" I have more projects with ScrewAttack lined up, as well as my recently released mobile game, Jump'N'Shoot Attack, which I'm very proud of. MANOS is coming to Steam soon as "MANOS: The Hands of Fate - Director's Cut". I want to keep designing the occasional mobile game and side-project too, where I can. Some of the stuff I am working on with ScrewAttack is incredibly exciting, I can't say anything yet but people can keep up to date by following @FreakZoneGames on Twitter (Just remember, I made the AVGN Game, so don't follow if you are easily offended!) and keeping up with my buds at ScrewAttack!
Thanks to Sam Beddoes for his time. Also to our own Tim Latshaw for helping with the questions.