Today’s game is Mega Man & Bass. I first played this title in approximately 2000, and discovered it randomly on an old SNES ROM site. I thought I was aware of every last Mega Man title, but this was wholly new to me. And hard. And weird! So, naturally, I assumed it was a fan-made ROM hack. They were popular at the time, and it would certainly explain why this SNES game was using (Playstation) Mega Man 8 graphics. Videogame franchises don’t go backwards!
Of course, Mega Man & Bass was a legitimate Capcom release, it just wasn’t legitimately released in America until a few years later. However, playing the game today reminded me of that old “ROM hack” scene, and how there were an equal number of titles that repurposed sprites for new and innovative challenges… and more than a few that simply replaced Mario with Kenny from South Park and called it a day. It was a confusing time, and the quality was all over the place.
But there’s one game that was a cut above the rest. I Wanna Be the Guy is a game that repurposed sprites like so many of those ROMs of yesteryear, but was wholly original in its gameplay, and arguably created an entire genre all on its own. IWBTG is an amazing experience, and, since its release, has become a phenomenon all its own. Unfortunately, like many of its contemporaries, there isn’t much information on its creation, as your average publicist doesn’t quite know what to do with a game featuring a Green Dragon that is also a Yellow Devil (how does that work?). In an effort to get more information on I Wanna Be the Guy and its creation, I decided to sit down and speak with its writer/producer/director/artist/creator Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly. Hopefully this can provide a glimpse of “the scene” of the time (at least how it impacted the creation of IWBTG), and a passing oral history of I Wanna Be the Guy.
Goggle Bob: Let’s start with the dumb basics, when did you first have the idea for IWBTG?
Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly: So this was during the 4chan heydays. Back when everyone just kinda sucked instead of just being outward nazis. So for me, besides all the hentai, a big appeal was the flash board and the weird games on there. Which is where I played the original version of Owata, the 2chan emoticon based masocore game. I feel like it might have been the first game quite like that? It didn’t repurpose sprites — it had like ascii versions of videogame references — but it was the bedrock for IWBTG. Part of it was that since Owata was, at the time, unfinished, so I felt like I had an opening to expand to a bigger game.
Goggle Bob: and do you recall when exactly that was?
Kayin: Sometime in early 2007?
Goggle Bob: Gotcha. So when you first started working on IWBTG, was the audience you had in mind basically fellow 4chaners on the board, or something larger? Or were you even just doing it to amuse yourself?
Kayin: Mostly to amuse myself. I consumed 4chan, but never really was part of the ‘community’. The whole anon thing was weird to me, I actually like being a person. So I never linked or talked about it there outside a few situations where I found a thread about the game. No, it was for my friends and soon later, part of the “#FinalFight” community which.. wasn’t about capcom’s final fight so much as a community centered around Scott Sharkey. The community was getting to the point there where a lot of us didn’t even know who Sharkey was. I was just there because other people were. I shared my game with them on what was at the time the pyoko boards and later became the brontoforumus.
Goggle Bob: So IWBTG initially drew inspiration from a game that barely had graphics at all… but somehow still pulled from Super Mario Bros, if memory serves. How quickly did IWBTG start adopting outside sprites and alike during production?
Kayin: The most striking thing in Owata to me was these big ‘ascii sprites’ of Zangief and Guile that were…. an obvious inspiration. And it started basically as soon as I got to the first boss. I don’t know WHY I wanted to make a giant Mike Tyson but it… felt like the right idea.
Goggle Bob: Never doubt the desire for a giant Mike Tyson. We’re jumping around a bit, but since you mentioned that memorable boss, a related question: a significant reason I personally find IWBTG so revolutionary is how it keeps one “base” kind of gameplay, and marries it to a number of disparate parts, like Mike Tyson from Punch-Out… which is… what? A rhythm fighting game? And combines it with gameplay that is closer to Mega Man or Metroid. And the question I’m getting to on that is… I suppose… Why? Like, why did you draw significantly from very different sources and adapt them to your game?
Kayin: I liked a lot of different games. I think it’s also because I’m a very visually minded person so games having very differing sources gameplay wise isn’t something that mattered to me. Or it mattered, but the discontinuity made it funnier, like with the platforming zelda section.
Goggle Bob: Which is certainly does! So your intentions with making it funnier was, during production, predominantly for a small, tight audience?
Kayin: Yeah. Maybe about half way through I started to have a looming sense it was going to blow up, but early on? Nah, just for a small audience.
Goggle Bob: So basically anyone of a certain age recognizes a number of the videogame sprites and such, but, if you were aiming for a small enclave initially, are there a significant number of inside jokes in IWBTG? Items that would be only understood by your “initial” audience?
Kayin: No, I still wanted to keep things pretty general? I originally intended on it but never got to any. While I knew who my audience was, I wasn’t making the game FOR THEM I made -A- game, knowing they would be there to play it
Goggle Bob: An excellent way of thinking… though I was hoping that would explain the prominence of Mecha Birdo…
Kayin: Why -not- mecha birdo?
Goggle Bob: Fair enough! Speaking of Birdo and friends, we’re talking about… 13 years ago. Technically not that long, but forever in technology time. With that in mind, how difficult was it during creation to get all the sprites you needed?
Kayin: It is forever ago! And not that hard. I think the site of choice at the time was Shyguy Kingdom which worked for finding most sprites I needed?
Goggle Bob: Was there anything you wanted to include but you couldn’t find a decent source?
Kayin: Not quite? I wish I could have found an actual transparent png of a good shmup warning image for Mecha Birdo but making one was just fine. I feel like 2007, sprites for most all popular games were ripped and widely available.
Goggle Bob: Which I’m sure made your life easier. How much of the art in IWBTG is original?
Kayin: Almost everything that isn’t obviously a reference? Tourian and Dracula’s Castle are the only two areas I believe that have tilesets taken from other games. Oh, and the Zelda screen, obviously!
Goggle Bob: So everyone remembers a giant, green Zangief, but a significant chunk of the game you had to manually create?
Kayin: Granted, I use the same tiles for most of the game. It’s not a lot of sprite work, but in terms of what the player sees, they see more of my stuff than references. My stuff, at least back then, just wasn’t impressive at all.
Goggle Bob: It got the job done. “Delicious Fruit” was original, right? That seems to have migrated across the internet
Goggle Bob: Is there anything in the game that is original that you find people THINK is a reference?
Kayin: Well everyone thinks I Wanna be the Guy is a Homestar Runner reference which is understandable but it was just a thing a friend said when we were babbling back and forth to each other.
Goggle Bob: Come to think of it, reference or not, how early in production did you “know” this was going to be “I Wanna Be the Guy (The Movie The Game)”?
Kayin: I went in with that name I think?
Goggle Bob: Then that would be pretty early! Alright, back to actual release: when was IWBTG officially first released, and where was it available?
Kayin: It was progressively released for months. I didn’t hide it. I had a website and people could play the newest versions. It was ‘finished’ as in completable in October of 2007.
Goggle Bob: You didn’t hide it, but did you in any way “promote” it?
Kayin: Not really. 100% word of mouth.
Goggle Bob: And since its release, have you ever really investigated where people “find” IWBTG? Have there been any particular “surges” in interest over the years?
Kayin: All of them now have to do with Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. Nothing else comes close. Even back in the day, YouTube is what made the game REALLY blow up.
Goggle Bob: Which seems to be a pattern for the masocore games… Come to think of it, do you feel more people have WATCHED your game, rather than PLAYED it?
Kayin: OH absolutely. A few pewdiepie videos equals more than IWBTG has ever been downloaded.
Goggle Bob: And how do you feel about that? You did create an intricate videogame, not a YouTube video
Kayin: More than enough people played it and I knew enough from watching people test it that watching was fun in its own way. I think it’s an excellent part of the experience.
Goggle Bob: Yes, I can safely say that I have had more fun watching IWBTG than playing it: from a watcher’s perspective, it’s like reading a mystery novel, and having the detective reveal the murderer… just in this case, the “murderer” is a wall of spikes you were supposed to get in back of.
Kayin: I’d say watching it as a viewer is all about dramatic irony. You know tragedy is coming and it can’t be stopped!
Goggle Bob: I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before, but I actually “found” IWBTG back in the day thanks to a number of articles on TV Tropes referencing the game and its many “subversions”.
Kayin: I can believe that! The TV Tropes article on IWBTG is pretty extensive if I recall.
Goggle Bob: Which I guess brings us to another topic: you said you designed this game with one community in mind, but IWBTG seems to have created its own community and dedicated fans. Or at least there’s more of a wiki for it than Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Mall Madness. Even when you were beginning to suspect IWBTG would be a hit, did you ever expect its current level of fame?
Kayin: Surprisingly yeah? Like it exceeded my moderate expectations but I knew this was possible. I wasn’t counting on it or getting ahead of myself or necessarily thought it was so great. I just had this feeling like… “I… think I’m in the right place at the right time?” That said with fans, I did NOT expect the sheer amount of fangames. That said though, most fangames are fangames of fangames and not IWBTG fangames if that makes sense.
Goggle Bob: It makes perfect sense. Do you consider IWBTG a “fangame” for the games it references?
Kayin: I wouldn’t say that myself but if someone else did I wouldn’t say they’re wrong either.
Goggle Bob: Fair enough, IWBTG is certainly its own animal. But, of course, you can’t say something is totally original when “death by surprise Ryu” is a persistent threat. 13 years later, do you regret that IWBTG is so closely tied to IPs that were borrowed?
Kayin: Not at all. I think borrowing from culture is good!
Goggle Bob: So if some wizard cursed you to live your life over again… or at least from 2007 on… would you make IWBTG essentially the same?
Kayin: Outside of improving a few little things, yeah. No real regrets.
Goggle Bob: Any regrets regarding the seemingly aborted IWBTG sequel projects?
Kayin: I Wanna Save the Kids didn’t have the legs I thought it might. It stopped because the idea wasn’t that great. Gaiden? 50/50. I regret it to some degree but at the same time I moved on for a reason Maybe one day I’ll make more Gaiden, but I mostly feel happier working on other games.
Goggle Bob: Which fits neatly with my next question: do you ever get the itch to pursue another project like IWBTG? Something simpler and more in the realm of borrowing, and not banging your head against figuring out how to program stairs to work perfectly?
Kayin: Not so much? I have an idea but I don’t have that ENTIRE DESIRE to make those ideas real. It also helps that it’s less economically feasible. Ads are basically dead and mixing legit and legally grey work together seems risky. It’s fine when you’re a nobody buuuuut… yeah. Also I feel like a lot of people do the masocore stuff better than me now. I’m not needed anymore.
Goggle Bob: And, prior to 2007, did you ever think that you would be in such a position as a result of IWBTG? Did you ever think that this game with Zangief shooting Blankas would put you in the place where you could say you made an impact on gaming, it’s time for a new generation now?
Kayin: Yeah that’s weird. Like I said I had a strong instinct that game was going to make it, but I didn’t expect it to be formative? When I made it I already felt late to the party but now that whole little stretch of history is a blip.
Goggle Bob: Which is why I wanted to interview you about this: there are so few voices from that period recorded, and so much from then has been litigated into oblivion. IWBTG is a success story in more ways than one
Kayin: Yeah, it’s funny, back then it felt like SO MUCH STUFF WAS HAPPENING AND EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING SO FAST and it was so fast that a lot of it just got lost
Goggle Bob: And even if these games are lost to the ages, their impact is still being felt today. “Parody games” closer to the tone of IWBTG of varying quality are available seemingly monthly on digital storefronts, and whatever happens to be the latest “masocore indie” is practically a mainstay for Nintendo Directs.
Kayin: And a lot of the ‘cheap’ ones still are really clever!
Goggle Bob: I think that about wraps it up. Anything you’d like to say to anyone considering building their own “IWBTG” today?
Kayin: For anyone making a funny masocore game now: Consider you have to compete with the collective cleverness of everyone who owns Mario Maker.
Goggle Bob: Ha, that’s a high cliff to climb.
Kayin: Right? It’s not blue oceans any more for masocore.
Goggle Bob: Well, thank you again for this, I feel like it’s important to get SOME voices from the forgotten corners of gaming… even if some of the games involved are anything but forgotten.
Kayin: No problem! Hope it was what you were looking for! I know I wasn’t as nitty gritty in that scene as some people.
Goggle Bob: Not exactly hard hitting reporting, but its the kind of stuff that gives a little snapshot of what it was back then, even if it was just “this forum” and “that website”. Thank you again for providing a record of the creation of I Wanna Be the Guy.
FGC #527 I Wanna Be the Guy
- System: PC. Oh, I should have asked Kayin about a Switch port.
- Number of players: Just one kid, trying to be the guy.
- Special Thanks: Once again, a special thank you to Kayin for agreeing to this interview and being an excellent interviewee. Also thanks to BEAT, a skeleton who let me borrow some screengrabs from his ancient runthrough of IWBTG. That is one helpful skeleman right there.
- Favorite Death: I will never forget getting trashed by Dracula’s wineglass. That is some primo humor through gameplay right there.
- So, did you beat it? No, sorry. I played through most of the game back in the day, but I washed out at The Guy’s Castle. I just lost steam, and got distracted by something else. What was it? I don’t even remember anymore. Although, given I was mostly playing it at my old job… it may have been actual work.
- Did you know? Dragon Devil is the only version of the Yellow Devil I can tolerate. How did Kayin do that?
- Would I play again: I’d rather retire to watching I Wanna Be the Guy than playing it right now. I enjoy “difficult games”, but I just don’t have the time right now to rediscover the nuance involved in properly leaping across clouds and not being crushed by spike walls. Looking forward to Brave Earth Prologue, though…
FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass (the original inspiration for this article)
- System: The Super Famicom for one specific country, and then Gameboy Advance for international releases. From there, it was never seen again, even as part of the Mega Man Legacy Collection.
- Number of Players: You may play as Mega Man or Bass, but not both.
- Port-o-Call: It might not have an official translation, but play this game on the SNES hardware if at all possible. The GBA version crops the screen dramatically, and, considering we’re already dealing with big, chunky PSX sprites, you need to see everything that is happening. Or just memorize every room with ceiling spikes. Whatever works.
- So, you thought this was a romhack? I said I was young and stupid! Look, it has all the hallmarks: sprites repurposed from another system, a difficulty curve far beyond the usual level for the franchise, and some great ideas with often bad implementation (for instance, Dynamo Man’s energy restore is a nugget of a good idea that winds up being nothing but frustrating). When I started this interview, Kayin sagely pointed out that MM&B would have been practically impossible back when I played the game, and I very much agree with him now, in the year 2020. But back then I just assumed Japanese fans were a million times better at creating games than Americans. It makes sense when you consider the gaming landscape of the time! I swear!
- Mega Man or Bass? Bass forever. A double jump is the most essential move in gaming history, and the slide is right down there at the bottom with, like, inventory juggling or something. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to believe Mega Man could ever beat Bass.
- Favorite Robot Master: Pirate Man is my everything. He’s a robot pirate! Does he steal software or treasure? I mean, his lair is filled with gold, but it’s entirely possible that gold is all really expensive optical storage.
- Did you know? According to series director Keiji Inafune, the creation of Mega Man & Bass was like “one big party”. I assume this means the staff was high as hell the entire time, and that is the only explanation I will accept for King acquiring a Voltron-tank for his finale.
- Would I play again: I always forget about this game when I play other Mega Man titles (mainly because it doesn’t appear on so many collections), so MM&B doesn’t get played all that often. That said, it is a fun game, and I often get an itch for it… once every five years or so.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Adventure for the Atari! Let’s go battle some ducks! Please look forward to it!