An interview with Nick Stadler, the animator, tileset designer and art came from him for Jazz Jackrabbit and Jazz Jackrabbit 2. It’s been more than 13 years since Jeh interviewed Nick Stadler about the game. So it’s about time that we asked Nick a few questions.
I probably will only be able to answer half these questions, cos I haven’t even opened the game in at least 5 or 6 years. I still have a genuine affinity for the work we all put into the game, though, so I’ll do my best.
I’ll reread this when you post it and be embarrassed by every word, I’m sure. LOL
Hello Nick, how are you doing?
I’m doing pretty okay here. How the hell are you?
What do you do these days?
I’m working as the Senior Art Director for a company in Los Angeles that produces calendars and greeting cards. In addition to being creative, I also have a wonderful opportunity to discover other young talented people. So it’s very rewarding in its own special way.
How much time did it take for you to make a tileset in the games?
Some were more time consuming than others; it certainly depended on how complicated the tile sets were.
Cliff and I worked very closely, and I often had to try to find work-arounds for how differently we think. I would design a tile set that I thought worked logistically and artistically: I would develop something with a bottom, middle and top. I wanted a genuine environment that would make sense visually. Cliff was all about making a game that was all about the game. He wanted to develop mazes with secrets and puzzles and everything else. So he would often come back to me and say, “This tile doesn’t connect to this other tile,” and I’d shake my head and say, “Because logically, it’s not SUPPOSED TO!” LOL
So we’d try to work around those issues and make them all work. There are, still to this day, parts of the game that bother me cos there were things he needed to do to make the game fun that I know down really work visually. But gameplay should always win in the end. If it didn’t, no one would still be playing it.
How much time did you spend (on average) on a game project? Have you done any non-gaming projects aswell?
Jazz 2 was the project that we as a group had spent the most time on as a group. Jazz 1 was nearly finished when I was brought aboard to be honest. Jazz 1 was actually delayed because everyone at Epic so enjoyed my “redesign” of the main character that they insisted I rework his animation throughout the game and add more elements into it.
I was working for a company called Microleague when I’d seen an early version of the game that I’d seen looked a lot more like MegaMan than the Sonic the Hedgehog “homage” that it eventually morphed into. Epic had seen the artwork that I was doing and decided the game would benefit from the personality they felt I could bring to it.
When I was finally hired by Epic, the MegaMan clone was already transformed into a green rabbit with the name Jazz. I tried to give him a bit more of a classic Warner Brothers animation look.
The game was complete and fun already. At that point, I threw in my contributions: Eva Earlong and Devan Shell, which I felt gave everything a little bit more of a purpose. Yeah, there’s barely a plot. But there’s a plot, almost. heh heh
The Jazz Jackrabbit 2 fanbase is widely renowned for its dedication. One may find it surprising that after twelve years there’s still a considerably large amount of people playing the game, as opposed to franchises like Commander Keen which had their franchises grandly narrow down by time. Did you ever foresee JJ2 thriving 12 years later?
No, I didn’t at all. The games are fun as hell, and Cliff and Arjan’s work in making the game as pleasurably addictive, as well as Robert Allen and Alexander Brandon’s painfully catchy music, was always enough to keep us all coming back to it again and again while we were in development hell.
We were all concentrated on making something that we wouldn’t get sick of while we were beta testing our own work. We also knew all to well the things that annoyed us when we played games we loved, so we all swore to each other, “Let’s not do that!” LOL
We have recognized the Jazz 2 tilesets “Carrotus” and “Dam Nation” as directly inspired from the Lion King SNES game, “Labrat” from Earthworm Jim, and the sewers of “Colon” from Comix Zone. Are there other such sources of inspiration we don’t know about?
Okay, here’s the deal… I came from a traditional illustration background. So I knew nothing from tile sets, and knew nothing from Deluxe Paint (which was the program of choice when people were developing 2D games over a decade ago).
I had the pleasure of working side by side with a DPaint artist from Finland, Miko, who was well known in the demo coding community. He knew the program like the back of his hand and had taught me some amazing techniques.
I still couldn’t grasp at the time, how to take my freehand drawing skills and translated them into this entirely new medium. So I studied the tilesets of games I admired. I adored the artwork of EWJ and Lion King and Toe Jam & Earl, and Cool Spot, etc…
I wanted to create worlds with depth in DPaint, and quite frankly, I didn’t know how to do that. So I borrowed liberally from people who did. I studied their techniques and learned along the way… and felt I changed things up enough that I wasn’t copying directly.
We had already borrowed liberally from Mario, Sonic and MegaMan… let’s just steal from 7 or 8 more games and hope nobody else will notice or care. LOL
I’ve actually been amazed at all of the visual references that people have picked up, yet have seemingly ignored that Victorian Secret was my attempt to recreate the visual effect of Aladdin on Sega Genesis. That game’s seemingly visual simplicity combined with it’s artistic wonder probably inspired me more than any other game. Then, EWJ came out, and really pushed the envelope of what a character could and should be in a video game for me. I wanted every character I designed and animated to show that level of character and personality.
So, to return to the previous question… Did I expect people to still be playing the game 12 years later? No. But, on some level, I hope it had a little something to do with people feeling some connection with those characters. I know I did. :-)
In the “Beach” tileset in Jazz Jackrabbit 2, there is a background layer that seems to show an ocean floor paved with flat stones, descending into a circular arena-type area, surrounded with flowy oceany bench structures. All the rest of the tiles and layers in Beach are much more natural (ship parts aside): was this graphic a leftover from the planned Atlantis tileset, pasted into Beach for the purpose of filling another background layer?
I have no idea what you’re talking about. LOL
What’s your favorite sprite out of both games? And what’s your favorite tileset that you have created?
I enjoyed animating Spaz more than Jazz. I was able to have a lot more fun with Spaz, he seems to me to exist outside the rules of the game. He was crude and silly… His entire existence was nothing more than a goof on what we’d been working on for all those years.
I enjoy playing as Jazz more, so it’s odd to hear that so many others prefer playing as Spaz.
I also love both Eva and Devan, and wished I could’ve developed them more as personalities within the games. Again, as video game homages go, I was heavily inspired by Space Ace in my misspent youth. Eva was my homage “Kimberly” and Devan was my homage to “Borf.”
I adored Kimberly in Space Ace. She was a character that resented being forced into the lowly position of being the stereotypical “damsel-in-distress,” and didn’t want to take crap from anyone – be it Dexter her hero, or Borf the villain. She could’ve kicked anyone’s ass, yet didn’t have the weapon(s) to actually do it. She dared to be sexy without being a bimbo like Daphne from Dragon’s Lair. Hell, I nearly gave her an identical hairstyle!
The Devan Shell/Borf connection I was slightly more obtuse about. I loved Borf because, even though he was a brawny blue Mr. T. lookalike, at heart he was a lonely nerd. Devan is the lonely nerd in all of us… a likable villain. It’s hard to hate Devan. I don’t even think he knows why he does what he does. I think he just wants to know everyone’s paying attention to him. ;-)
I think my favorite tilesets were the ones where I revisited the first 3 levels of Jazz 1. I took everything I’d learned “ripping off” and learning from other games and their techniques, applied that to re-conceptualizing what we had already done, and felt I had created something (almost) completely new.
When we had announced, before the JJ2’s release, that Jazz was going to revisit the first episode of JJ1, there was a loud backlash of people accusing us of being lazy and recycling. When the game was released, though, I think everyone had forgotten all about it cos the levels were so drastically different on every level from their JJ1 counterparts. We really didn’t recycle anything other than the names of the planets.
What was your favorite game to work on?
Jazz Jackrabbit 2 was the game I devoted the most time to, so that was my favorite game to work on.
Have you ever checked out community tile sets?
Every now and then I’ve been curious and have checked to see what others have done. It’s always fun to see that people are still enjoying the game. It gives me a lift whenever I might be feeling down. heh heh
And what do you think of these? Could you comment on them?
http://www.jazz2online.com/downloads/894/screenshots/1/ – By Agama – Swamps
http://www.jazz2online.com/downloads/4986/screenshots/2/ – By Blade – The Fortress of Forgotten Souls
http://img63.imageshack.us/img63/598/aftee.png – By LMAT – Aftermath
http://www.jazz2online.com/downloads/5729/screenshots/2/ by BlurreD – Odyssey )
There was a turning point during the development of JJ2 when tiles stopped looking like “tiles.” As I said, games like EWJ, Aladdin, Cool Spot, and a number of other games had a profound impact on the way I wanted to approach the backgrounds of the game.
I wanted to approach this project as, “These aren’t tiles, these are environments.”
I dig that these examples seem to be playing with that same attitude, and Swamps by Agama actually seems to improve on what I was trying to do with the Jungle levels.
Jazz Jackrabbit Advance reused a number of graphics from Jazz 2. What was your involvement in that?
I had absolutely no involvement with that whatsoever. You probably know more about that than I do. I’ve seen a few screen shots and a couple pre-release video clips. That’s about it.
Could you make us a new tileset please? ;)
a) I don’t have the time. b) I wouldn’t even know how to go about creating a tile set. I’ve become pretty advanced in Photoshop over the years, but wouldn’t know how to translate that into DPaint. heh
How were the enemies developed? There is an awful lot of things the enemies and even bosses could have been able to do that they do not actually do. (For example: What’s with the unused animation of an ‘angelized’ Bubba boss? (http://chaos.foxmage.com/cooba/bubbafly.gif)) Did you just generate a lot of pictures and the coders used whatever they felt like, or were there more time issues?
There was a lot that went into the development of JJ2 that never made the finished game. Lots of story elements that were going to be put in as in-game events that occurred before levels were completed.
There were many elements that needed to be dropped due to time constraints in finishing the game and there were probably an equal amount of elements that simply didn’t work. They distracted from the overall FUN of the game.
I can vaguely recall some of those elements.
Initially, between each “scene” there was to be a 3D time warp sequence in which Jazz and Devan were to battle with each other until they reached the next destination. Arjan actually coded a 3D sequence for it which looked pretty damned cool. We just couldn’t make it work.
The Alice in Wonderland boss scene was supposed to be a dual boss scene between Turtle-Dee and Turtle-Dum. One of them was supposed to steal your gun, and your objective was to “trick” them into shooting and killing each other (hence the animations of Jazz and Spaz without guns). This broke the flow of the game, so we removed it.
We had hoped to do “death” animations for all of the bosses. Sadly, time didn’t permit that. Bubba was the only boss who had a death sequence animated. So you saw it. Oops.
Who is Chris and why is he a ‘redneq’?
Chris was the IT/Tech Support guru at Epic when they were located in Rockville. He was a lil bit country. He’s hardly full-on deep south, middle of nowhere Alabama redneck, but he’s definitely outskirts of Washington, DC redneck (and proud of it). LOL
Needless to say, we had people from all over the world developing games for us at the time who would visit the offices, and we’d all be working on games simultaneously. So the “Chris” experience was a bit of a culture shock for some of our European developers. It became a running joke amongst us, so we through that in as an inside joke.
Do you play games? Which ones and what is your favorite?
I don’t really play any next-gen console games anymore. But I still love to play games that test my hand-eye coordination and mental skills. Give me a cell phone with Tetris on it, and you’ll lose my attention for at least an hour or two! LOL
I’m also a sucker for the touch screen games. I’m a Boxxi and 11-Ball Champion. Also, don’t even try to stand between me and Ms. Pac-Man!
…and I’ll challenge almost any lesbian in a game of pool. ha ha ha
If you could change anything in today’s gaming, what would that be?
I don’t know if anything needs to be changed. I’m an old school gamer and modern games have moved on. The kind of games that could grab my attention are a dime-a-dozen on Facebook or a million other places.
I worked very very very very briefly as a production artist at THQ, and I was rather startled by the overwhelmingly corporate environment there. I hope that experience isn’t indicative of other modern video game development companies.
If there’s anything that I think might be missing from games, it’s the actual “character” part of it all; that’s actually kind of ironic, cos I happen to think that games are so much more developed in terms of stories and plots and cinematics than ever before. Video games have been desperately trying to be more and more like movies while movies seem to be trying more and more to be like video games. From my experience, both have been sacrificing character development in the process.
If someone asked you, lets make Jazz Jackrabbit 3. What would you reply?
I would love to work with Cliff and Arjan again. They’re genuinely two of the most awesome people I’ve ever worked with.
I would love to return to all those wonderful characters again. They were a part of me for a long time, and I still feel a real connection to them.
However, I don’t really see where we could go with such a project. We’re all in deeply different places now, professionally and creatively. It’s a moment in time that likely could never be recaptured.
Thank you for your time for the interview Nick, do you have any shoutouts to give?
I’ll give shoutouts to the people I’ve already mentioned whom I haven’t seen in forever. I’m proud of Cliffy B who’s living the dream and kicking ass at what he loves. I miss that smart ass bastard Arjan, who I know is reading this. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing, but I’m sure whatever it is, he’s doing damned well at it and knows it more than anyone around him. (And if they don’t, he’s reminding them of it every day).
Shoutout to Robert Allen, who was the unsung hero of both Jazz 1 and 2 (and a dozen other games). He was a great guy to work with and to know. Shoutout to Tim and Mark (although Mark needs a kick in the ass now and again, and he knows that).
Shoutout to Alexander Brandon, a talented musician and a decent guy (who also has a kick in the ass coming to him. He might not know that, but hopefully he’s reading this. LOL)
Last but not least, to Dean Dondrill, a talented animator who I think tried to swoop in and steal my job away from me. (ha ha ha) He brought a lot to the table when he came in and definitely pushed me to bring even more to the project. I actually only met the guy once, but I try to check up on him on the web now and again and see that he’s still doing some incredible artwork.
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Eat your lima beans, Johnny.