Interview: The Red, Red Innards of Tiny Plumbers

Tiny Plumbers shrinks down Mario almost as much as a Mini Mushroom would.

By Pierre Bienaimé. Posted 11/29/2011 14:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

As there was Dark Link… so there is Dark Shigeru Miyamoto. No, not really. But what would the gaming world look like if there were? Robot<3Kitty, an independent studio, is broaching that alternate history with Tiny Plumbers, a PC and Mac game with more to it than bloody Koopa kills and pixel-chunky homage to Nintendo. We’re looking at a neat main menu navigated through gameplay, as well as procedural generation, fan-made levels, and multiplayer modes!

The game’s developer, Calvin Goble, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project.

Nintendojo: What inspired you to create Tiny Plumbers? Was it an homage to Super Mario Bros. from the very start?

Calvin Goble: It started as a speculation on how low-res sprites could get and still be recognizable. I thought: how tiny can I get Mario? The result was this:


After I made that, I could not control the urge to make an ultra low-res videogame. I also needed a project to learn Unity3D, and thusly Tiny Plumbers was born.

ND: Which Mario game is the closest in terms of feel and control?

Calvin: Uh, not sure? I know I have played a lot of Super Mario Bros. 3. I mean, a lot. But besides that I’ve just been going off what felt right. It was never my intention to make a direct clone. It’s more an incarnation of my memories of videogames I played as kid. I hope some of the new power-ups and the next few levels will make that more apparent.


ND: “Clone” certainly has some restricted connotations. What word(s) would you use? Homage? Inspiration? Starting point? Source?

Calvin: It’s hard to make a game without drawing from all the games you have ever played. I definitely admire the perfection that is an early Mario side-scroller, I don’t think I could come close to that kind of work, and I’m not really trying to. I suppose I would pick ‘homage’ if I had to describe it, I wouldn’t be making Tiny Plumbers without a massive respect for Nintendo and their Mario games.

ND: Great! Are there any other games or power-ups (suits!) that you can reveal as sourcework?
Calvin: Hah, well, I think the Blue Zilla suit and the Robot suit are pretty obvious. :D

ND: Did you draw inspiration from any fan-made, Nintendo-esque projects, such as 3D Dot Game Heroes?

Calvin: Nope, but there is a really great SMB3 hack out there called Mario Adventure that probably got me thinking about what else a Mario game could be like.

ND: I understand the levels are created procedurally– an exciting feature. How do you make sure that none of them end up impossible to beat or navigate? Is there anything else in the game (like aesthetics or graphics) that is procedurally generated?

Calvin: I’ve been making little level Nuggets: tiny chunks of level that get randomly assembled. They get hooked up end to end. Some of the later levels, like the pipe maze, will be hooked together on all sides. Right now I am working on a Nugget Editor, that will allow players to add Nuggets to their levels, and submit them to be included in the final game. Also, items are randomly distributed through the bricks, some even contain enemies.


ND: Post-release, will that kind of player involvement still be part of the game?

Calvin: Indeed! Player-created content is one of my favorite things in a video game. It might be a daunting task to design a whole level, but almost anyone can think up a cool little level Nugget. I can’t wait to be playing and run into new content all the time! Nuggets the player makes will appear in their own game right away, and they will be able to share and download Nuggets from the Tiny Plumbers website.

ND: The “familiar pallet” image that you posted (below) is strongly reminiscent of the Game Boy, of course. Will you be including any other aesthetic throwbacks to other gaming systems?

Calvin: I hadn’t thought of any… If anyone has some cool ideas let me know. :D


ND: Tiny Plumbers has been announced as a PC game only. Any chance of that changing? Mac, XBLA, PSN?

Calvin: Oh, it’s for Mac too! The Mac version is also available for download right now. I’ll update the site and make that more clear. I am also hoping to add an Android version, and maybe an iPhone version once the game is complete.

ND: How about WiiWare or DSiWare?

Calvin: It’s unlikely. I’ll contact Unity3D about a license once the game is complete.

ND: Will there be any player vs. player modes?

Calvin: Yes, I am hoping to add a few VS and co-op modes. I think it really needs a race mode.


ND: How far along is this alpha build? Does the game have a release date?

Calvin: Right now it’s just the first two levels and one boss fight. Progress is happening quickly, but these things are done when they are done, I can never tell how long it will take.

Nick Moran, the man behind the chiptunes, was also available for a few questions.

ND: Are there any games you would cite as inspiration for your music in general, or music for Tiny Plumbers?

Nick Moran: To be honest, most of the music that is currently in Tiny Plumbers are placeholders from my old work from when I was still learning how to even use the software. And for all of those old songs, I just kind of mashed on my keyboard until I got something that didn’t make my ears bleed. They were never really intended to be used in the way they were, but people seem to like them enough in their current state so I will probably go back and retouch them at a later date. In the meantime I’m writing a couple of new songs specifically with Tiny Plumbers in mind, which will most likely be in the game once I finish them.


As to what game’s music has inspired me the most? Definitely Kirby’s Dream Land for the original Game Boy. I would listen to Green Greens for hours on end when I was younger.

ND: What software do you use to make your music? Do you use a mouse only or a MIDI keyboard as well?

Nick: Back when I first started learning about the chiptune scene and all it had to offer, I used a program called MilkyTracker. It was perfectly good at what it did, but after using it for about 2 months I still couldn’t achieve the gritty NES-style sounds that I wanted. So I researched some more and found an NES-centric tracker called FamiTracker; I haven’t used anything else since.

I believe that most modern trackers allow you to use your computer’s keyboard as if it was a MIDI keyboard. For FamiTracker, the bottom row of my keyboard is the current octave I have it set at, the middle row is the “sharps” of the bottom row, the top row is one octave higher than the bottom row, and the number keys are the “sharps” of the top row. Most of the time I’ll modify small portions of the song by copy and pasting using the mouse, but other than that I stick to the keyboard for everything.


ND: What advice would you give to someone looking to start creating music for video games?

Nick: Download a tracker, read up on its documentation, fail miserably at trying to make a good sounding instrument, and mash on your keyboard until you make something that you can listen to without your ears bleeding. Alternatively you can go find some source files made by other people and look at how they made their songs. Then when you’ve learned everything you can about your tracker of choice, start studying up on music composition, listen to a lot of different kinds of music and try to pick out how you could recreate it, and then keep challenging yourself to try new things. You’ll never improve as a musician (or anything really) if you don’t actively re-evaluate whether the way you are doing something is the best way to do it.

If this piques your interest, be sure to check out the Tiny Plumbers official website. The completed game will be available for $10, though you can show your support and get in on the alpha build for half that price.

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