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Platform Nation Interviews John Greiner, Head Of MonkeyPaw Games

Platform Nation recently had a chance to catch up with John Greiner, the head of  MonkeyPaw Games. We had a great conversation about the upcoming XBLA, PSN, Wii, and PC release of BurgerTime World Tour as well as the current trend of retro-revival games.

What prompted MonkeyPaw Games’ focus on bringing Japanese games to American gamers?

Working for Hudson Soft for over 20 years and living in Japan have allowed me to see aspects of the Japanese game industry that need attention. For instance, many companies don’t understand the value their games have in Western markets. How many great Japanese games didn’t come out in the US or Europe while frustrated fans wondered why not? Our idea was to supply this market segment with some of these classics and allow Japanese companies to discover their Western followers.

Which has been more satisfying, bringing over classic games to audiences that haven’t experienced them yet or reinventing classic franchises for a new generation of gamers?

The first thing MonkeyPaw did was get Japanese imports onto the PlayStation Network. We love these games and we had the ability to reach out to the Japanese publishers and connect the licensing dots. Since there are many fans clamoring for real Japanese imports…everyone wins.

Reinventing BurgerTime has been a bit more epic. It’s a true classic that has long endeared fans. The challenging paradox of reinventing retro is that the game has to change for widespread accessibility, but provide a fresh take to its retro roots. New elements and functions are needed to bring the game into the modern world. Yet every new addition runs the risk of offending the old-schoolers.

We had to draw some lines on what we could do. Our intention is to bring a great game to all users while humbly asking the long-time followers to imagine what the game would be like if the original creators would have been allowed to continuously progress the game. We see this as an evolution of the title and something that adds to the overall experience.

Have there been any lessons you’ve learned during your time at Hudson Entertainment that have helped with your new endeavors within MonkeyPaw Games?

Sure, patience. Twenty years at a Japanese company would undoubtedly be a great learning experience for anyone. The Japanese have a patient respect toward problem solving. They value harmony so it is important to get your point across without disrupting the feelings of others. This style of business allows for a natural pace that feels even more rewarding in the end for everyone.That helps when you’re dealing with any culture.

In some of your prior interviews, I’ve seen you refer to BurgerTime as the “blues of gaming” and I’d like for you to elaborate on that. Do you see it as an origin for a lot of games that were released at the time or does it reflect the simple parts making a complicated whole concept of a lot of blues music?

In order to understand today’s games or music, it is instructive to know where they came from. There is a reason we all like retro. The games mirrored the technology of the era. You couldn’t hide gameplay flaws with brilliant graphics. Game mechanics were raw and tangible so you could really feel a game’s depth. And many features you see in today’s games originated and progressed through the retro age.

The blues, like retro, takes us back to our roots. Almost all of today’s contemporary music has blues in its DNA. There would be no hip-hop, jazz or rock without it. Games needed the same kinds of building blocks to get where we are today. Bomberman, BurgerTime, Galaga and Pac Man all served that role. They touched us in a raw, memorable way and their mechanics still resonate with us today. So go back to your roots sometime and experience the simple but sweet play of retro. You’ll find that most modern developers today strike many retro chords in their own games. It’s all intertwined in our own gamer DNA as well.

Was there ever a time within BurgerTime World Tour’s development that had the team contemplating retaining the old 2D style or was the 3D overhaul always part of the plan?

The 3D aspect wasn’t a must-have, it just made sense because of the acquired dimension that the cylindrical platform provided. Now that you could see through the level to the other side, 3D became an obvious feature to highlight the must-have multiplayer aspect.

Some games, like Bomberman, really suffer when put into the 3D world. It changes the viewpoint and so the mechanics of the game is altered in an unnecessary way. BurgerTime is less viewpoint sensitive so an upgrade to 3D was acceptable.

We really felt that multiplayer was important. For one, it had never been a feature of previous games in the series. While costly and time-consuming to implement, multiplayer adds so much to the game. When playing with your friends online or locally, you’ll immediately feel the fun meter go through the roof. We feel that adding multiplayer to a game like BurgerTime isn’t just what modern gamers have now begun to expect, but it also adds longevity and replay value of any game if done right.

Are there any plans for a 2D version of BurgerTime: World Tour for Android and/or iOS devises that is a little more in line with the concepts of the original game but retains some of the new game’s charm and mechanics?

We are planning to do more with the license but we are focusing on the consoles for now. However, we’ve had many of our fans suggest the same thing since there’s obvious potential there. If there’s enough interest in the console versions, it’s something that we have to take a look at. More to come.

It must have been a lot of fun for the team to come up with crazy names and ideas for the characters in BurgerTime World Tour, any specific names or character designs that stand out to you?

We value wackiness and BurgerTime definitely has an edge. So that inspired a fun roundtable when we put names to places. Play the game and chuckle! Likewise, the enemy character designs came out well. They personified about as much fear as you can get in a hotdog or egg. But when that’s your cast of characters, the baddies better inspire some distress.

Besides your own work, are there any other “retro revival” games that you’ve felt have done a good job of innovating while honoring the originals?

Not many retro revivals have truly advanced their world. PacMan CE DX has some great traits and recreated the hook in many wonderful ways. But most revivals settle for graphic upgrades and more levels

Our goal was to evolve the game to an elevation had the game been under constant development. We identified untouchable mechanics from the original but then built a wider world based on that original DNA.

There are some fine lines that we’re careful about. And we know we won’t make everyone happy with this envisioning. But for a retro title to remain relevant, new users need to come in and play. They wouldn’t be satisfied with just a new look.

With many companies looking into updating long dormant properties, what do you feel are the most important things to keep in mind when updating these franchises?

First and foremost, identifying the key mechanics that made the game a classic and then keeping those mechanics no matter what else goes on around it. One of our goals was to implement multiplayer. We wanted 4-player, both online and local. Not all games need it, but BurgerTime fit the multiplayer mold well.

In many cases, the main character plays a vital role in keeping the game’s continuity. Since most games of the era suffered from memory constraints, today’s platforms can expand on bringing the character to life. Peter Pepper is not exactly a heavy-hitter on the game world’s celebrity circuit but we think he does a good job in his role.

Back to your question: studying the original, meeting with the creators, listening to your fans, not messing with the game’s mechanical DNA, being patient and focusing on the fun.

Are there any upcoming projects from MonkeyPaw Games that we should be looking forward to?

We think the key to success lies in listening to our customers. And we get plenty of feedback from our core. They have great ideas on which games to bring over and which games to bring back. So we have a backlog of PSone games that we’re going after. And we will begin to supply more recent releases on all the platforms. On our retro evolution docket, we have two games that are in progress that we hope to tell you about soon! Make sure to keep updated on our progress through our Twitter (http://twitter.com/monkeypawgames) and Facebook (http://facebook.com/burgertimeworldtour).

Last but not least, what’s your favorite burger joint?  

This will really show our East-West colors but anyone who has traveled to Japan will surely know Mos Burger. It’s not a green slab of mold. Actually, it is a pretty tasty (and healthy?) Japanese delicacy that you need to experience first-hand. Guess I’ve been here too long! Our marketing & PR manager Ray Almeda, however still exclaims his love for Val’s Burgers in Hayward, California as his favorite burger joint, especially after eating many nationally-known burgers for comparison. One thing’s for sure, we love our burgers thick and juicy! We hope everyone also appreciates just how meatier the new BurgerTime is! Look forward to playing it on XBLA on November 2nd, with the PSN, Wii and PC releases coming a few weeks after.

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As you can see, BurgerTime’s longstanding legacy is in very good hands with John Greiner and his team at MonkeyPaw Games. Platform Nation looks forward to getting our hands on BurgerTime World Tour upon its release and please check back with us for information about MonkeyPaw’s two secret retro revival projects as it is released.

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