Exploding Rabbit's future is linked to the past.
Just over three years ago, the studio's founder, Jay Pavlina, released the first game he'd ever worked on. Super Mario Bros. Crossover's conceit was both familiar and novel. In the Super Mario Bros. remake, players can platform through the Mushroom Kingdom as a number of 8-bit icons like Metroid's Samus Aran, The Legend of Zelda's Link and Mega Man's titular hero. It still has about 10,000 players a day, according to Pavlina.
Earlier this week, Exploding Rabbit released a teaser trailer for Super Mario Bros. Crossover 3.0, which will incorporate levels from a quirky, little-known port of Super Mario Bros. released for two Japanese personal computers in the 80s.
"I just kind of always wondered what it would be like if you could play as Link in Super Mario Bros.," Pavlina told Polygon in a recent interview about how the game came to be, its new update and how the eight-person team at Exploding Rabbit used Super Mario Bros. Crossover and Kickstarter to shack up in the Midwest and build their first original game, Super Retro Squad.
He learned about Hudson Soft's Super Mario Bros. Special port about two years ago. A forum user sent him a link to a ROM hack of the levels incorporated into an NES version of Super Mario Bros. He found an original version of Super Mario Bros. Special built to run on the Sharp X1, which he described as "the superior version."
"My whole team played through that game," he said. "It was just horrible because it's so hard to control."
There are two main problems with Super Mario Bros. Special, he said. The first is that the walk-left-to-right platformer's screen doesn't scroll.
"It's kind of like Zelda," he said "where, like, if you go to the edge of the screen, it'll scroll over and it'll stay on that screen until you get to the edge again.
"The other problem is that the controls are horrible. It's just really hard to control. There's some parts where you have to jump on really small platforms. Another weird problem is that the speed will sometimes change. So, if there's an enemy on the screen, the game will be running slow. Then when the enemy falls in to a pit, the game will speed up. If you were running and trying to jump over a pit at that point, there'd be a change, and you'd pretty much just fall in the pit because you can't time it right.
It wasn't until about three months ago when Exploding Rabbit decided to add Super Mario Bros. Special to Super Mario Bros. Crossover. Pavlina created a level editor, and Exploding Rabbit began recreating the levels to include in Crossover.
"I just wanted to bring more attention to it because I didn't think a a lot of people knew about it," he said.
Super Retro Squad: a new game inspired by old favorites
At the same time, Exploding Rabbit has been working on a new game, Super Retro Squad, which was funded through Kickstarter last July. The Kickstarter video describes it as the developer's chance to make an original game based on Super Mario Bros. Crossover but with characters and its own score inspired by iconic NES characters.
Super Retro Squad vastly exceeded its $10,000 funding goal and ended the campaign with $53,509. Since then, the developers at Exploding Rabbit have used some of the Kickstarter funds to buy a house in Ohio, move in and develop the game together.
Exploding Rabbit had a meeting about Super Retro Squad this week to "make sure this is the kind of game we want to make," Pavlina said. The developers decided that the extra funds meant that the game needed to get "a bit bigger" than their original pitch. That will delay the teaser trailer they were planning on unveiling in the near future, but Pavlina believes that it'll be worth it.
"Now that we're together in person, we're doing something a lot bigger than what we originally talked about in the Kickstarter," he said.
"I think it'll get people pretty excited."
Super Mario Bros. Crossover 3.0 is set to ship in the next couple of months. According to Pavlina, Super Retro Squad is slated to ship "sometime in 2014."