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