Lizardcube’s Omar Cornut and Ben Fiquet talk about Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, games they’d like to remaster, and more
Now-defunct studio Westone’s SEGA Master System classic, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, saw a loving re-master earlier this month when developer Lizardcube released Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap on the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Despite being nearly three decades old, this lovingly-crafted re-imagining of the beloved 8-bit adventure is a fresh shot in the arm for the series, offering a new generation of players a chance to experience the shape-shifting romp for the first time. We at Hey Poor Player had the chance to chat with the game’s lead programmer Omar Cornut and lead artist Ben Fiquet about their journey to bring Wonder Boy to the modern era, breathing new life into a timeless classic, and the other retro franchises they’d like to revisit in the future.
HPP: Hey there, Lizardcube. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about the recent release of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Of all of the games to resurrect for the modern era, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is definitely comes as a pleasant surprise. That said, can you tell us a bit about how this remake of the Master System classic came to be?
Omar: Well, it’s a favorite of mine and of many people who had a Master System back in the days. And I was always interested in that console both from a technical and a preservation point of view. Back in 2013 I was so curious to know if the original had yet unearthed secrets that I started reverse engineering the game ROM, studying its behavior, how the data was laid out, how the algorithms worked. Eventually I realized I had enough knowledge of the game internals to attempt making a faithful recreation of it. This is when I contacted Ben Fiquet, whom I had worked with on Soul Bubbles (DS) a long time ago. I knew he also loved the series and I admired his art style. We started doing research for what a remake could be, eventually pitched it to the original creator, then secured a publisher, etc. etc. That little obsessive fan/hobbyist project became a reality!
HPP: I have to say, the ability to swap between the overhauled visuals featured in Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and the original 1989 game’s 8-bit aesthetics is probably one of my favorite features in the game. It’s really incredible to see just how the game’s humble looks evolved into such gorgeous hand-drawn landscapes. Can you walk us through the creative process of breathing fresh life into the original game’s visuals?
Ben: Thanks. When I was a kid, I really loved the world of Wonder Boy, it was so rich and vibrant, full of colors. What I wanted to do with this remake is mainly to convey that feeling I had as a kid. I tried to represent what in my mind would have been the intent of the original team. I focused on trying to have an ’80s anime kind of vibe but in the same time breathing all that makes me the artist that I am today. I come from a fine arts and traditional animation background, so naturally I intended to have something that looks like natural media and hand drawn animation.
I started most of the locations by doing a mockup (an illustration that represents what would be the final image) and after that cutting things apart and put it in the game engine.
The animations are all hand drawn because I find there’s a real beauty in this technique. It’s something you don’t see much nowadays.
HPP: On the topic of recreating the game’s world, which of these remastered areas are you the most proud of?
Ben: Well, I like them all. I tried to have very distinctive areas which you could enjoy as much as the next one. I particularly like mouseland, the area just left to the village. There’s a real depth and charm in it.
HPP: There’s no question that the Master System is often greatly overshadowed by the NES. That said, many of the system’s most beloved games are still relatively unknown to the average gamer. Did Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap’s relative obscurity when compared to its contemporaries concern you at all when approaching this project?
Omar: Not really, because we thought it would be a good occasion for players who had an NES to discover this game they missed out. It was the type of game back in the days that kids and magazines would be talking about, so surely many of the NES players of that area had an idea that this series existed. Now they can play it!
HPP: What are some of the challenges that come with bringing a decades-old title to a new generation of players?
Omar: We tested the game on many players and found I worked reasonably well. It has its retro quick, and we actually make hundreds of small improvements to the game. But we wanted to preserve the essence of the original and didn’t stray away from it too much.
Ben: We knew players gonna compare the two games visually, especially with the retro mode. I had to make sure that the new graphics were relevant in every aspects.
HPP: I have to say, while I loved the jazzy re-imagining of Wonder Boy III’s soundtrack featured in The Dragon’s Trap, the new style came as a bit of a surprise. What made you decide to take the soundtrack in this swinging new direction?
Omar: The art style itself employs traditional techniques, and we wanted to use a similar approach with the music. Michael Geyre used real instruments from all around the world and composed the tracks around the locations. The game takes us to pretty random locations – you open a door in the sky and appear in the desert – so the soundtrack follows that, it’s quite eclectic. There’s jazz but there’s also all sort of local folk, egyptian and japanese music, even bits of tango. I think it is a surprising soundtrack for some players, but it really sticks.
HPP: What is the likelihood of seeing a physical release of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap? And if it gets to that point, do you anticipate it being a wide-release, or something more in-line with similar limited releases from distributors such as Play-Asia and Limited Run Games?
Omar: With DotEmu we are now working on doing physical releases. There is an edition we are planning for Asian markets first (China/Korea) and then planning other things for the west, some deals are very close to happening so it may happen soon. We are probably going to do PS4 first because it is easier, while trying to figure out how we can do Switch cartridges.
HPP: If you were to remaster another game that originally released for the Master System, what would it be?
Omar: Hmm, maybe Psycho Fox? Or a Shinobi game, even though Shinobi isn’t strictly a Master System game, which is how many people played it.
Ben: Psycho Fox is cool, but the controls are a total nightmare. I loved Alex Kidd but I don’t think the gameplay still holds for today’s gamers.
HPP: So, now that development of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap has concluded, what can we expect to see from Lizardcube in the future?
Omar: We don’t know yet! We may look at the possibility of doing other remakes, if we can find a suitable game that everyone loves and which we can get a license for. I mean, I’d love to do the old Zelda but Nintendo would probably never give that away. Maybe Kid Chameleon?
I am also interested in getting back to make original games. But I also know it’s a very hard thing to design a game, so maybe we’ll move in cautious steps.
Ben: Like Omar said, it’s way too early to tell which direction we might be heading. I’d love to remake other games that might benefit from this treatment. But also thinking about original games, who knows.
HPP: Lastly, do you have a message you’d like to say to those who’ve spent the past week diving into Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap?
Omar: Well, we hope people will enjoy it! It is definitively a retro game that’s not ashamed to play like a retro game, so we hope the lack of direction won’t put too many explorer off the path of experiencing this lovely classic 🙂
Ben: Thanks very much for playing the game, I hope you all like that great adventure that is Wonder Boy.
So, have you had a chance to check out the game for yourself? If so, how’d you like it? As always, we at Hey Poor Player love to hear what you think. Be sure to sound off in the comments section below and let us know. And in case you missed it, be sure to check out our Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap review. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what Lizardcube is up to, be sure to follow their adventures on Twitter and Facebook.