Hey guys! This an interview with Mr. Amir Latif, who worked on a game that eventually because Mario Artist Paint Studio/ Sound Studio for the N64 DD. Huge thanks to LuigiBlood (We’ve done an interview with him previously here), who introduced us to Mr. Latif. I’d also like to thank the SG Discord chat, whose members helped suggest some great questions! I originally sent the questions to Mr. Latif in a set, and once he replied to them I sent some additional follow up questions. Please enjoy this history, Mr. Latif discusses quite a bit of games he worked on for the N64. Amir Latif can be found on Twitter here. His studio: Me, We. studios can be found on Twitter too!
Could you please briefly introduce yourself, and how you got involved with Mario Artist Paint Studio/ Sound Studio?
My name is Amir Latif, I’ve been making games since I taught myself to code on a Commodore 64 in the early 80s.
After finishing my Masters in Computer Science, I ended up working with friends I’d worked with in the 80s at Software Creations. They had a great relationship with Nintendo and were tasked with writing a Music Driver & Composition Tools for the N64 – that was the first thing I worked on.
Around that time we took delivery of an SGI Onyx workstation – a beast of a machine that did some basic Open GL emulation of the first N64. The final hardware was nothing like it but it got us going. That game started out as something entirely different, it was called Creator initially. Over the years a lot of it got dropped, some of it ended up in Paint Studio (we didn’t work on Sound Studio – ALL my lovely music composition work for that project got dropped).
How much experience did you have with the original Mario Paint before working on Mario Artist? Do you have much nostalgia for the SNES title?
I don’t think I’d ever played it to be honest. We tracked down a copy of it when our project got steered in that direction, but I think that was a couple of years into development. Like I say, the original Creator game was a different concept entirely.
What exactly did you work on with Mario Artist Paint Studio/ Sound Studio?
I did a lot of the building blocks for the original engine; tools to export 3D models for creatures and landscapes, renderer, animation systems, player control, AI, a bit of everything. When the project switched to being part of the Mario Artist suite, I concentrated on the audio creation package. We had a simple but full composition package, so you could place notes, make them longer, drag them around, copy and paste blocks, add effects, change instruments, change banks, play with pre-existing songs etc. We also had a cute riff editor too, for short loops and drums etc. It was great!
Why did you stop working on Mario Artist Paint Studio/ Sound Studio?
The game had very little direction to it from the start. Then designers and producers came and went, it still had no goal. After working on it for 3.5 years I could see the end was still nowhere in sight (it took over 5 years to finish!). In the meantime, friends and I had decided we wanted to do our own thing so we left and started up a team call ZedTwo Studios. Our first game was an N64 game called Wetrix. A fantastic little game!
Looking at the final game (footage from LuigiBlood), do you remember any content that is missing from the final release?
I think you guys have probably played and seen more of it than I did! I’d say more than 80% of the code ever written for it was chopped out. My flocking fish seemed to survive though! That was great fun to write.
(Video by Yoshiiller)
Did you work on, or have knowledge on other proposed Mario Artist entries (Game Maker, Graphical Message Maker, Sound Maker, Video Jockey Maker and Creator)?
Like I say, Paint Studio WAS Creator. No idea about any of the others.
What was the original goal for this series of games? How did it change over the course of the development?
The original concept for Creator was a playable Sim-like world with Dinosaurs, Seaworld creatures, African animals. Like I say, the design didn’t really get that detailed.
It changed massively when Nintendo finally decided it was going to be part of the Artist suite, but that was after my time.
Why was development moved to the 64DD?
Again, after my time. I suspect Nintendo were experimenting, as well as wanting to be able transfer assets between packages, which obviously couldn’t be done on cartridge based games.
Do you have any more information about the original concept for Mario Artist? The one about editing 3D environments and characters including their textures?
Sorry, I don’t.
What was it like developing for the N64 DD? What issues did you run into while developing for the platform?
Sorry, I didn’t get to work on the hardware, I’d left before that change in tech happened.
Do you know of any projects that were potentially in development on the N64 DD that the public has never got their hands on or seen before?
Sorry, I don’t.
Which of the ideas were dropped when Nintendo of Japan took control over the project?
Most of the free-roaming of the animals – I think they’re on rails in the final game? I haven’t played it yet! That and all my love audio work!
Do you know any information about Mario Artist & Camera, the proposed U.S. release?
Sorry, I don’t.
What inspired the user interface for the Mario Artist games? It looks very different from its predecessor, and a lot more like a PC program than a traditional game.
Sorry, I don’t know.
What was the reasoning behind the various 3D scenes you could explore/take pictures in? Like the underwater, Mars and prehistoric ones? Was this a holdover from the original game concept?
The underwater and dinosaur worlds were part of the original game, as well as some stunning models of lions, elephants, giraffes etc I didn’t know about the Mars world until one of the guys told me about 10 years later.
What other projects did you work on while at Software Creations?
Just the Sound Tools (developer tools for the N64) and Creator.
Follow up Questions:
Video by My own Little World
The English Wikipedia page for Wetrix actually has some disputed information on it. There is some debate on the origins of Wetrix; was it originally purposed as a tech demo for the N64?
The game was originally conceived as a PC title. I managed to squeeze in a port to N64 (when I should have been working on other things!) and we had a demo on a cart ready to show the publishers who thought they were only getting a PC game. That deal with the publishers Ocean pretty much kickstarted the company.
How long did development of Wetrix go on for? Were there any concepts left on the cutting room floor?
I think development went pretty sweet. Lead dev was on PC by John, porting and making it look pretty in 3D was by David Gill and I, with graphics by Ste Pickford. The core tech demo shaped the game, which led to the concepts of the lakes, which led to the score multipliers. It all went pretty well and as planned.
Did you work on Vampire Circus (and later Taz Express)?
VC never made it out of prototyping as I recall. I think I was working on Wetrix sequels on the Dreamcast (and possibly Aquaqua on PS2) when Taz Express was in production, I don’t remember working on that one.
What are some of the challenges that Pillage / Future Tactics’ faced in development?
It was the biggest title we did at Z2, with a proper story, multiple characters and pretty complex level building. Lead Artist Andrew Pearce will definitely remember the months of time he put into collision data building, only to have it replaced by some clever code.
How would Creator export animations? Were there any plans to connect it to other titles?
After my time I’m afraid, I don’t know about this.
Why was the development Creator switched over to the Mario Artist suite? Was it Software Creations decision, or was it pressure from Nintendo?
The game was always a Nintendo property, though they had little input on it in the first 2-3 years. The decision to incorporate it into the MA suite was entirely theirs.
Since leaving Software Creations, what have you worked on?
ZedTwo as I say was around for about 7 years, we released a bunch of great games such as Wetrix, Aquaqua, Future Tactics. I worked in mobile for a while following that and have been running a small team called Me, We Studios for the last few years. We’ve mostly done mobile games, we did a game called OrcOrcOrc for iOS that did ok for us, released Ovoid this year. We’re currently working on a PC/Console prototype called “Historical Hotshots”.
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