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Interview with John Brooks - Lead Programmer on Super Mario's Wacky Worlds

>> Sunday, July 31, 2011

Merijn: Could you describe to us what your job as lead programmer on SMWW entailed?

John Brooks: I primarily programmed the graphics engine, game code and tools. I also worked with the artists and designers to make sure generated data would work in the game engine.

Merijn: The game engine you developed for SMWW was described as pioneering work from a source close to the project. Could you describe why this engine was crucial to the projects development and did you encounter any problems coding for the CD-i?

John Brooks: This project was extremely demanding technically, with problems that I don't believe were solved by others either before or after SMWW. There were 7 critical problem areas in doing a high-quality Mario platform game on CD-i.

1) No tiled graphics or scrolling hardware, which made platform games extremely difficult.
2) No sprite overlay hardware.
3) No audio mixing hardware (combining sounds effects with music).
4) OS-9 made hardware access difficult and caused performance spikes, which interfered with 60hz performance.
5) Sound effect lag due to audio decompression (ADPCM) buffering.
6) Input response lag from the wireless remote.
7) Matching the extremely high quality feel of Super Mario World.

Problems 1, 2 and 3 were overcome with innovative programming solutions, some of which were extensions of work that I had previously done on Rastan Saga (Apple //GS). Problem 4 was minimised by writing low-level OS-9 drivers. Problem 5 was minimised by using 'A stereo' ADPCM mode which had the least latency through the audio chip. Problem 6 was a hardware issue with no known solution. Problem 7 was an on going problem for me. I painstakingly explored, tested and refined the game feel to match that of Super Mario World. Although I only partially implemented them, I was thoroughly impressed by the subtlety and intuitiveness of the Super Mario control, animation and movement models.

Merijn: There was even talk of negotiations with Nintendo to wangle a conversion contract, presumably from the CD-i version of SMWW to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The main negotiating point being your game engine, would you care to elaborate?

John Brooks: I have no information on this.

Merijn: At the time SMWW was being developed, Nintendo were creating an ill fated CD add on unit for the SNES, apparently planned to be cross compatible with the Philips CD-i. Do you have any further insight into the Philips/Nintendo agreement and did SMWW have a role to play in this?

John Brooks: I don't have any definitive information on this. A rumour that was circulating was that in addition to working with Nintendo on the SNES audio chip, SONY was making a SNES CD add-on called the Play Station. At some point, SONY decided to make there own game machine (Play Station X?) instead of a SNES CD add-on. Nintendo then went to Philips for CD techology and in return they licensed their characters for use in CD-i games.

Merijn: How did the project start and what was the nature of the contract between Philips, Nintendo and Novalogic for the development of SMWW?

John Brooks: I do not know. In part it may have been because I had done technically demanding games on other platforms in addition to a previous CD-i game (Jigsaw). Few studios had done CD-i games at that time.

Merijn: Throughout the project did Nintendo have much influence over its development?

John Brooks: Not that I was aware of.

Merijn: What was Philips involvement in the project (if any?).

John Brooks: My primary interaction with Philips was with their technical support group. I don't know the extent of their involvement.

Merijn: Which of the 3 parties involved (Philips, Nintendo and Novalogic) decided to cancel the project in the end, and do you know of the reasons why?

John Brooks: I do not.

Merijn: From experience playing an early prototype of SMWW the similarities to Super Mario World on the SNES is unquestionable even using the same music. Do you have any commnets on this and what was the direction for the project as a whole in the Mario series?

John Brooks: The development team had great admiration for the Super Mario games and wanted to create something that would feel natural to players of Miyamoto's masterpieces. Our design goals were to bring high quality graphics and sound into the Mario world, along with diverse themes and creative gameplay experiences. The huge CD was hundreds of times larger than rom cartridges of that era. The nearly unlimited art and audio content allowed great variety within each level (256 colour bitmapped graphics and high quality audio streamed off of CD), as well as great diversity between levels (6 distinct worlds with 6 levels per world). Marty Foulger, of Dragon's Lair fame, was a prolific designer who created unusual puzzles and worlds for Mario to explore.

Merijn: The prototype version we know is version 0.11. Do you know of any other (later) versions than this particular version?

John Brooks: I do not.

Merijn: Thank-You for your time.

John Brooks: My pleasure.


John Brooks was interviewed by Merijn

Interview research conducted by Merijn
Interview material scripted by Devin and Merijn

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Games 0-F

3rd Degree - PF Magic
7th Guest, The - Philips Freeland Studios
Accelerator - SPC/Vision
Adventure of the Space Ship Beagle, The - Denshi Media Services
Affaire Morlov, L' - Titus
Alfapet - Adatek
Alice in Wonderland - Spinnaker
Alien Gate - SPC Vision
Alien Odyssee - Argonaut
Aliens Interactive CD-i - Dark Vision Interactive
Ange et le Demon, L' - Smart Move
Apprentice, The - SPC Vision
Apprentice 2, The - Marvin's Revenge - SPC Vision
Arcade Classics - Philips ADS / Namco
Asterix - Caesar’s Challenge - Infogrames
Atlantis - The Last Resort - PRL Redhill (Philips ADS)
Axis and Allies - CapDisc
Backgammon - CapDisc
Battle Chess - Accent Media (for Interplay)
Battleship - CapDisc
Big Bang Show - Infogrames
BMP Puzzle - Circle (for ZYX)
Brain Dead 13 - Readysoft
Burn:Cycle - Trip Media
Caesar's World of Boxing - Philips POV
Caesar's World of Gambling - CD-I Systems
Cartoon Academy - Bits Corporation
CD-i mit der Maus - SPC Vision
CD Shoot - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Change Angels Kick-off - HMO
Chaos Control - Infogrames
Christmas Country - Creative Media
Christmas Country - The Lost Levels - Creative Media
Christmas Crisis - DIMA
Clue - 3T Productions
Clue 2 - The mysteries continue - 3T Productions
Connect Four - CapDisc
Creature Shock - Argonaut (for Virgin)
Crime Patrol - CapDisc
Crow, The - Philips POV
Cyber Soldier Sharaku - Japan Interactive media
Dame was Loaded, The - Beam Software
Dark Castle - Philips POV
Dead End - Cryo
Defender of the Crown - Philips POV
Deja Vu - Icom Simulations
Deja Vu 2: Lost in Las Vegas - Icom Simulations
Demolition Man - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Demon Driver - Haiku Studios
Discworld - Teeny Weeny Games
Dimo's Quest - SPC Vision
Domino - Wigant Interactive Media
Down in the Dumps - Haiku Studios
Dragon's Lair - Superclub / INTL CDI
Dragon's Lair 2- Time Warp - Superclub / INTL CDI
Drug wars - Crime Patrol II - CapDisc
Dungeons & Dragons - PF Magic
Earth Command - Visionary Media
Effacer - CapDisc
Escape from Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Evidence - Microids
Falco & Donjon & The Sword of Inoxybur - BMi / Zephyr Studio
Family Games I - DIMA
Family Games II - Junk Food Jive - DIMA
Felix the Cat - Philips Sidewalk Studio
Flashback - Delphine/Tiertex (for US Gold)
Flinstones Wacky Inventions - Philips Funhouse
Fort Boyard: The Challenge - Microids
Frog Feast - Rastersoft

CD-i Games Index G-M

Go - CapDisc
Golden Oldies - SPC Vision
Golden Oldies II - SPC Vision
Golgo 13 - Japan Interactive Media
Great day at the races, A - CD-I Racing, Dove Films, Total Vision
Guignols de l'Info, Les - Canal+ Multimedia / INTL CDI
Heart of Darkness - Amazing Studio (for Virgin)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The - Philips Kaleidoscope
Holland Casino CD-i - HMO
Hotel Mario - Philips Fantasy Factory
Inca - Coktel Vision
Inca 2 - Coktel Vision
International Tennis Open - Infogrames
Jack Sprite vs. The Crimson Ghost - PF Magic
Jeopardy - Accent Media
Jigsaw - Novalogic
Joe Guard - DIMA
John Dark: Psychic Eye - CapDisc
Joker's Wild!, The - Accent Media
Joker's Wild Jr., The - Accent Media
Kether - Infogrames
Kingdom - The far reaches - CapDisc
Kingdom 2 - Shadoan - CapDisc
Labyrinth of Crete - Philips Funhouse
Laser Lords - Spinnaker
Last Bounty Hunter, The - CapDisc
Legend of the Fort - Microids
Lemmings - DMA Design / Psygnosis
Lettergreep - Wigant Interactive Media
Lingo - SPC Vision
Link - The faces of evil - Animation Magic
Lion King, The - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Litil Divil - Gremlin Graphics
Litil Divil 2: Limbo Years - Gremlin Graphics
Lords of the rising sun - Philips POV
Lost Eden - Cryo (for Virgin)
Lost Ride, The - Formula (Lost Boys)
Lucky Luke - The video game - SPC Vision
Mad Dog McCree - CapDisc
Mad Dog McCree II: The lost gold - CapDisc
Magic Eraser - Circle (for ZYX)
Mah-Jong - Japan Interactive Media
Making the Grade - 3T Productions
Man Before Man - Cryo
Marco Polo - Infogrames
Mario Takes America - CIGAM
Master Labyrinth - AVM AG/HQ
Mega Maze - CapDisc
Memory Works, The - Compact Disc Incorporated
Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
Monty Python's Invasion from the Planet Skyron - Daedalus CD-i Productions
Mutant Rampage - Body Slam - Animation Magic
Myst - Sunsoft (for Cyan)
Mystic Midway - Rest in pieces - Philips POV
Mystic Midway 2 - Phantom Express - Philips POV

Compact Disc Interactive

Compact Disc Interactive

Games N-Z

Name that tune - Philips Fantasy Factory
New Day - Bits Corporation
NFL Hall of Fame Football - Philips POV
Othello - HMO
Pac Panic - Philips ADS / Namco
Palm Springs Open - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Pool - SPC Vision
Pinball - CapDisc
Plunderball - ISG Productions
Power Hitter - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Power Match - Two's Company
Pursue - BEPL
Pyramid Adventures - Compact Disc Incorporated
RAMRaid - PRL Redhill
Return To Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Riddle of the Maze, The - Fathom Pictures
Riqa - Bits Corporation
Rise of the Robots - Mirage Technologies
Sargon Chess - Spinnaker
Scotland Yard Interactive - AVM AG/HQ
Secret Mission - Microids
Secret Name of Ra, The
Shaolin's Road - Infogrames
Skate Dude - Viridis
Smurfen, De - De Telesmurf - Infogrames
Solar Crusade - Infogrames
Solitaire - BEPL
Space Ace - Superclub / INTL CDI
Space Ranger - Studio Interactive
Special Operations Squadron - SPC Vision
Sport Freaks - SPC Vision
Star Trek - Philips POV
Star Wars: Rebel Assault - LucasArts
Steel Machine - SPC Vision
Striker Pro - Rage
Strip Poker Live - Greenpig Production
Strip Poker Pro - Interactive Pictures
Super Fighter - The Super Fighter Team / C&E
Super Mario's Wacky Worlds - NovaLogic
Surf City - Philips Sidewalk Studios
Tangram - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Taco's Toyroom Troopers - Creative Media
Tankdoodle - Creative Media
Tetris - Philips POV
Tetsuo Gaiden - Creative Media
Text Tiles
Thieves' World - Electronic Arts
Tic-tac-toe - BEPL
Tox Runner - ISG Productions
Treasures of Oz - Philips Kaleidoscope
Ultra CD-i Soccer - Krisalis
Uncover featuring Tatjana - SPC Vision
Uninvited - Icom Simulations
Video Speedway - ISG Productions
Vinnie the Pinguin - Pandemonium Labs
Voyeur - Philips POV
Voyeur 2 - Philips POV
Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
What's it worth - Marshall Cavendish Multimedia / Spice
Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
Zelda - The wand of Gamelon - Animation Magic
Zelda's Adventure - Viridis
Zenith - Radarsoft
Zombie Dinos From The Planet Zeltoid - Philips POV

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