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Cloudberry Kingdom Interview - Team Lead TJ Lutz talks game’s insane difficulty, Kickstarter fame, and getting Mario to join the fray

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The team at Pwnee Studios is nothing if not ambitious. “Three years ago we set out on a quest to design the platformer to end all platformers…” says a line from their fully funded Kickstarter project page. And they intend to make such a game, by making a platformer that will always be ready with new levels of varying difficulty. I’m barely touching the tip of the iceberg of course, so I figured I’d have Cloudberry Kingdom’s team lead TJ Lutz help answer some of questions plaguing my head.

Seems that we’re entering a Golden Age of Kickstarter funded games and Cloudberry Kingdom is certainly carved a place for itself in this new era. Are you surprised by the outpour of backers and fans for the game?

TJ Lutz: When we first started our Kickstarter campaign, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, and the number of backers reinforced that fact. After about a week, we started to give people updates on our progress, and eventually access to the beta version of the game. At that point, our number of backers really started to take off. Needless to say, we were very surprised by how quickly our backers started coming in to support us. Without them, Cloudberry Kingdom likely wouldn’t exist.

Cloudberry Kingdom plans to offer five levels of difficulty (from Easy to Masochistic). What level do you feel most comfortable with? Have you ever beaten a Mashochistic level?

Lutz: My personal favorite is playing in Abusive (difficulty 3), it really has a nice flow to it and I can zone out while I play and really just get sucked into the game. Occasionally I’ll step it up to Hardcore (difficulty 4) if I want to really challenge myself for a bit. We were able to beat a Masochistic level – I say “we” because we had to do it in shifts – it took us about 6 hours to get through it. You wouldn’t believe the sense of accomplishment we got from that.

No one will argue just how inspired a game like this is. Where did you get the idea from, and if I may guess, were games like Kaizo Mario part of your inspiration?

Lutz: Our initial inspiration for Cloudberry Kingdom was actually Super Mario 3. When we were kids, we played that game for hours. When we finally were able to beat it…we actually got a little bit upset, since we already knew all of the levels and there was nothing else to beat. 

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20 years later, we figured out a way to get more of those levels that we craved. We designed an AI that can build us an infinite number of platformer levels, so now we’ll never be bored again! The main reason that we decided that the game should be able to reach such an insane difficulty comes from an intense rivalry between Jordan (another Pwnee dev) and I. We have always been very competitive when it comes to video games, and we are always vying for the title of best gamer (between the two of us). 

We had to allow Cloudberry the ability to become insanely difficult because we kept topping each other during beta testing. We have seen videos of games like Kaizo Mario or IWTBTG, but we didn’t really take much inspiration from them. There is difficult fun, and infuriating fun, we wanted to try and stay away from the latter. 

Because the game will be customizable, will the Wii U release perhaps see Mario, Link, or other Nintendo favorites as optional costumes? 

Lutz: This is something that we have definitely thought about, and would absolutely love to be able to see happen! Unfortunately, we haven’t received the proper permissions to implement that sort of stuff yet. We’ll keep working on it, because we want that to happen!

And lastly, because this is I Heart Nintendo, what is your favorite Nintendo game of all time, and why?

Lutz: Ohhhh, that’s a really tough question because there are so many great ones. We definitely love a lot of the NES titles, Super Mario 3, Punch Out, Bubble Bobble, the original Zelda, Crystalis. Then there are the SNES titles we loved, Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Ogre Battle, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana. I could do this with every Nintendo system…so I’ll stop now and save you some time. I guess we are going to have to choose Super Mario 3, because it really helped inspire us to get into gaming. If not for that game, we would probably be somewhere completely different in our lives, and not having a blast making videos games for people.