Week of Rage: Roel van Mastbergen (Senile Team) Speaks

Good morning beat-em-up fans! Welcome to day one of The Week of Rage: Stage 2.

Seeing as this second tribute week is largely about the massive Streets of Rage fan and homebrew community, I thought I’d kick things off with a really special interview with Roel van Mastbergen, a guy who has helped nurture the scene through his work, as well as the work of his colleagues at development studio Senile Team.

The team created the superb Streets of Rage 2 tribute game Beats of Rage. It’s a fitting tribute to the series, with chunky graphics and well-animated sprites ripped from SNK titles.I have also written a blog about Beats of Rage that follows this post, check it out for download links to the game.

Being open source, the game was since broken down by the fan community and rebuilt into an open source creation kit called OpenBoR. The kit allows developers to create their own side-scrolling beat-em-ups and some fo the projects spawned from OpenBoR are truly superb.

As such, I’ll be posting a new blog each day of The Week of Rage that looks at some of the great games people have made using Open BoR.

For now, here’s a fantastic interview with Roel:

The Beats of Rage Title Card

Dave: Hi Roel, thanks for taking the time to speak with me for The Week of Rage. First, I’d like to explore Senile’s background, how did the studio form and what drove your decision to look at creating Beats of Rage and Rush Rush Racing?

Roel: Before we were a team, we were just three guys who happened to like Streets of Rage very much. As such we were quite annoyed (like many other SOR fans) that the series hadn’t been continued after the third part.

The chances of a SOR4 ever being made seemed to get slimmer and slimmer as well, not to mention the chances of it actually being any good if it were made. So with the means at our disposal, we tried to make the next best thing: Beats of Rage. And judging from its instant and long lasting popularity, we must have done something right.

So from that point on we were a game dev team, though only in the weekends. We figured there was still plenty of room left for improvement in Beats of Rage, so we started working on an even better beat ’em up game called Age of the Beast.

An early version of Senile’s ‘Age of the Beast’

We temporarily suspended that project in 2006 to enter a game programming contest. For our entry we wanted to create something that stood out from the other entries, that was fun and that we could create in a relatively short time. A 2D racing game seemed perfect. Unfortunately, the contest was canceled. So then we had a very tiny racing game, too small to publish and too fun to cast aside.

The front cover of ‘Rush Rush Rally Racing’

We decided to change the title from “Rush Job” to “Rush Rush Rally Racing” and finish the game. Of course that meant that it wouldn’t be finished in the short time we had originally hoped for, but fortunately reviews show that we definitely achieved the other two objectives.

Dave: How healthy would you say the homebrew scene is today? Have we gone full circle to the days of people copying Commodore 64 tapes and Amiga disks?

Roel: It looks very healthy to me. I see strong, helpful communities and nigh-professional tools for almost every platform. I don’t know if we should try to compare the scene today to the Commodore 64/Amiga days, though. They seem like apples and oranges to me. Homebrew is all about communication and sharing, and the internet has changed the way these things take place quite dramatically.

Dave: How easy is it for indies to establish themselves as a new artistic force in today’s industry?

Roel: Easy it isn’t, but talent and discipline will always get you something – if not indie fame, at least a steady job with an existing studio. On the other hand, some seem to get by with more luck than talent. I like to believe that the latter quality will ensure longer-lasting success, though.

Stage 1 of Beats of Rage pays homage to the bar stage of SoR 2

Dave: If I were a largely inexperienced wannabe coder who wanted to make a game from scratch, how easy would I find OpenBoR to learn? Is there a strong community to help newcomers?

Roel: Well, strictly speaking if you’re using OpenBOR you’re not making a game from scratch. But Beats of Rage is known as one of the easiest engines to create your own content for, as it requires no special software or programming knowledge. The more advanced (scripting) features in OpenBOR can be a bit harder to learn, but the community is very active and helpful so anyone with passion, a working brain and some talent should be able to create their own game with OpenBOR.

Dave: Beats of Rage is fantastic, it is a true homage to both SNK and SoR. How did this idea come around and what was the reaction from other indies when you release OpenBoR in public?

Roel: Thank you.

The idea to put SNK sprites in a SOR-like game isn’t so far-fetched, is it? In any case it seemed like a good blend to us.

The pesky bikers even make a return in Beats of Rage too!

I have to correct you there, though, as we didn’t release OpenBOR. We released Beats of Rage, then others decided to continue its development in an open source model and thus OpenBOR was born. Anyway, we did notice that after we released the source code to Beats of Rage and ports to other systems began popping up one after another, other devs soon followed suit and also released their code.

There were also some maladroits who tried to cash in on our success with shady business deals or other schemes, but fortunately we’re not that stupid and on the whole it was a pleasant experience.

Dave: Do OpenBoR developers ever come looking for advice on how to get the best out of it? How impressive is some of the talent you see using your engine?

Roel: Nowadays they mostly turn to the other modder on Lavalit for advice. Some are very talented indeed, and I must say I was especially impressed that people managed to use the engine to make games in other genres, such as shmups and platformers.

Lavalit is the official OpenBoR site and community, featuring tons of great games

Dave: What advice would you give to an indie/homebrew coder looking to create a game and sell it on a service like Steam? What should they avoid, how could they secure a hit game?

Roel: We have no experience with Steam, but my best advice is to just make games for the love of games rather than trying to secure a hit. You have to enjoy yourself while working on a project, otherwise it’s not very likely it’ll ever get done.

Dave: Why do you feel that Streets of Rage has beaten the test of time and remained so popular after so many years?

Roel: I’m sure the ideas about that can vary from person to person, but simply put I think SOR is one of the very few games that just did everything right. The controls are simple and intuitive, yet they allow for enough different moves and tactics to keep things interesting.

Roel champions Streets of Rage’s great elarning curve as a defining feature

The difficulty curve keeps rising steadily all though the game, without becoming frustratingly hard or unfair. And even if you don’t make it to the end you stil feel like a winner because you beat so many enemies.

Dave: If Sega approached you and asked you to make Streets of Rage 4, how would you do it? Plot, characters, music etc

Roel: Well, Mr. X has been dead 3 times already so bringing him back for another episode might look either like a weak attempt to be funny or just plain stupid. Fortunately (in this case) when crime lords pass away, there’s always someone willing to take their place. Mr. X is a fairly generic character so it shouldn’t spoil the fun if someone else gets to take a beating this time. We already hinted at this in Beats of Rage, where the final boss was called Mr. Y.

Space Channel 5’s Ulala in Streets of Rage 4? Sweet notion!

In my vision, playable characters should include at least Axel, Blaze and Adam. Adam wasn’t playable in SOR2 because he was kidnapped, and in SOR3 he was apparently “busy”. We can’t have any lame excuses like that any more, so Adam’s in this time. Max, Skate and Zan should probably be included as well for completeness, although Zan doesn’t add as much gameplay-wise as the other two. Additionally I think the possibility to unlock other popular Sega characters such as Ulala and Gum is an absolute must.

Music is obviously a very important issue for a SOR game. Its soundtracks are part of what made the series famous. In the hypothetical event that Sega would ask us to make SOR4, they would be in luck. Ben, our composer, is very familiar with the sound of SOR and his work for Rush Rush Rally Racing received unanimous praise from reviewers. I have a feeling he would be as thrilled to do the music for SOR4 as the fans would be to hear it.

Dave: Why do you feel Sega has held off from doing a sequel for so long?

Roel: Well, some say it has to do with legal complications surrounding the intellectual property rights to the SOR series, and whether or not they belong to Sega or Ancient. But since Sega has built up a bit of a notoriety for not properly maintaining their intellectual property, others are inclined to believe that the problem lies entirely with Sega. Unless Sega would be so kind as to grace us with a thorough and plausible explanation, I suppose all anyone can say about it is pure speculation.

Dave: If Sega did do SoR 4, what one thing would you advise them NOT to do?

Roel: To put it in one sentence: they should take care not to stray too far from the look and feel of the original series.

Dear Sega, if you do make SoR 4 please don’t ‘Alter’ it beyond recognition. Like this.

That includes changing the perspective to 3D, “re-imagining” the characters or setting, or introducing new (experimental) gameplay elements that don’t fit in seamlessly with the old. In fact SOR3 already went a little too far astray, and is consequently regarded by many as inferior to SOR2.

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