As some of you might remember, just recently I wrote about Big Evil Corporation’s 16-bit puzzle platformer “Tanglewood“. Well, since I liked the game so much. I decided to reach out to Big Evil Corporation for an interview, and they accepted my interview request (yay!).

So I got the chance to do an interview with Big Evil Corporation’s Matt Phillips (game developer and the project leader of “Tanglewood“). So we talked about everything from Kickstarter, game development, “Tanglewood” to Matt’s next game project =) (the game is said to be yet another brand-new 16-bit game) And with that said, please enjoy our interview with Matt Phillips 😉

matt phillips tanglewood

Say hello to Mr. Matt Phillips! And in case you wonder what Matt is holding in the picture. Well, it’s the SEGA development kit that Matt (with friends) used to make “Tanglewood” for the Mega Drive (picture credits goes to nottstv.com).

Robin TGG
I’m going to kick-off this interview by letting you introduce yourself to our readers =) So please go ahead and do so 😉

Matt 
Hello everyone! My name is Matt Phillips, I’m a programmer from Sheffield, England, and I’m a huge Mega Drive fan. I’ve worked on a few big titles in the last 10 years or so – many in the LEGO franchise, Homefront: The Revolution (and its built-in Timesplitters 2 arcade), the PS4/Xbox ports of Songbringer, plus a few other unannounced things. I’m the Director of Big Evil Corporation, a games studio making brand new games for classic consoles.

big evil corporation

I had a feeling that I was close to the truth with my question about the origin of the name “Big Evil Corporation” (which is the name of the indie game studio that developed “Tanglewood”).

Robin TGG
How did you come up with the Big Evil Corporation company name? And why did you pick that name? (is it a diss to big game publishers and developers?)

Matt 
Yes, exactly that – I’d like to become the anti-corporation corporation. Ethical approaches to, well, pretty much everything. We’ll see how it goes, but expect a lot of tongue-in-cheek references to big studio malpractices, crunch culture, hostile work environments, tight deadlines and cash grabs.

tanglewood logo

“Tanglewood” is out right now for PC (Windows, MAC and Linux) and Mega Drive. There’s also a demo that you could download and play.

Robin TGG
For those who don’t know what “Tanglewood” is all about, could you give us a brief introduction of the game?

Matt 
It’s a 2D puzzle-platforming game designed and programmed for the SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis. It takes inspiration from story-based, cinematic platformers of the ’90s, like Flashback, Another World, Heart of Darkness, Abe’s Oddysee, and their recent descendants like Ori and the Blind Forest, LIMBO, and INSIDE.

Robin TGG
So how, why when and where did the story of “Tanglewood” start?

Matt 
It’s been in my head for many years now. It originally started out as a dark and moody, silhouetted platformer with a not-so-friendly story, a bit like LIMBO. As I got better at coding for the machine, and I got help from some artists, the story grew into something a bit bigger and brighter, but still retained its uncomfortable terror roots. I think I was still working at Traveller’s Tales at the time of its inception, I was privileged to meet some veteran Mega Drive developers there, whose stories and experiences coaxed me into finally giving this a go for myself.

tanglewood kickstarter

892 backers pledged £54,830 to Tanglewood’s Kickstarter campaign. Thus, “Tanglewood” got fully funded (the original goal was to raise 48,000 pounds).

Robin TGG
What thoughts went through your mind when you found out that “Tanglewood” had reached its 48,000 pounds Kickstarter goal? (which the game did back in December of 2016) And what was the Kickstarter experience like for you?

Matt 
That was the longest month of my life. I was in a constant state of panic throughout, especially when the funding dipped in the middle, I had no idea if the campaign was going to make it or not. When it finally crossed the goal it was like a weight had been lifted from my chest!

So if I were to make another game like this, I don’t think I could do the crowdfunding thing alone again. It’s been amazing receiving all of this support, the funding has enabled me to do something completely outrageous, and our little Kickstarter community is such a lovely bunch. I’d still need some help next time, it’s quite a lot to manage and it’s constantly on my mind that I have a lot of people to disappoint!

sega mega drive

Believe it or not, but there’s actually a Mega Drive cartridge version of “Tanglewood”. In other words, you could play “Tanglewood” on your Mega Drive if you want to.

Robin TGG
Did you decide very early on in the development process that “Tanglewood“ would be a 16-bit game? And that you aimed to release the game on a SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis cartridge? And how and when did that idea come by?

Matt 
That idea has long since been brewing, all the way from my childhood. It was a dream of mine as a 9-year-old kid, armed with a Commodore 64 trying to learn to make lame ski-slope games in BASIC. I had a Mega Drive at the time and I’d always wanted to see my own game for the system on a shelf! I guess I never really grew up.

Around 6 years ago I decided to finally take the plunge and learn how to program for the machine. I didn’t really know what TANGLEWOOD (codenamed Project Watershed at the time) was going to be, I just made a basic platforming engine with Sonic sprites to test, and it very slowly grew out of control.

Robin TGG
Which games have inspired “Tanglewood” the most? And which 16-bit games do you love the most yourself? (new as old)

Matt 
The big hitters would be Another World and Abe’s Oddysee. I got so engrossed in those worlds as a child, I must have put several hundred hours into the Oddworld series alone. My favourite 16-bit game has to be the original Sonic the Hedgehog, though – it brings back the best memories and it was a game that shaped my childhood.

tanglewood the beast himself

I have played the PC version of “Tanglewood” for about four hours now, and I’m enjoying the game so far (“Tanglewood” really looks and feels like a brand-new 16-bit game).

Robin TGG
How has the feedback and reviews been so far for “Tanglewood”? (good? bad, mixed?) And are you happy with the launch of the game?

Matt 
So far – for the past 18 months since the Kickstarter – the feedback has been excellent all throughout, which is pretty terrifying to be honest. If anyone was holding back any constructive feedback, it’s a bit late now! Launch day so far has been crazy, my inbox is full and my Twitter notifications won’t stop! Not the worst problem to have.

Robin TGG
On a personal level, I really like “Tanglewood” (I will make a review + video as soon as possible), because the game reminds me about the golden era of 16-bit platformers. That’s also why I’m curious to know if you plan to add new content to the game later on?

Matt 
Yes indeed, perhaps not to the Mega Drive version, but for the Dreamcast port I have a long list of extras that I’d like to add. A lot of it is cut content from the MD version – since that was an unfortunate but obligatory part of trying to squeeze it all into 4MB – but there are still quite a few original ideas in there.

tanglewood be quick or be dead

While I was playing “Tanglewood” I couldn’t help to think about games such as “Sonic the hedgehog”, “Another World”, “Abe’s Oddysee” and “The Lion King” (maybe it’s just me, but that’s the vibes that I got from the game).

Robin TGG
Is there anything that you wish that you would have done differently during and after the development of “Tanglewood”?

Matt 
Yes, there was one mistake I’d made very early on in the process that cost me cartridge space dearly, and something that would have set the game back another 6 months if I were to go back and correct it (a lot of assets would need to have been redrawn). I won’t bore you with the technical details, but I’m confident the next game is going to be twice as big, since I’ll get this compression technique down right from the start, before any assets go into it.

Robin TGG
I’m aware that “Tanglewood” is out right now for Windows, MAC and Linux, but is there any plans for a console release beyond the Mega Drive?

Matt 
Yes – Dreamcast. We’re doing the same again – writing it on original development hardware, using (top-end) tech available at the time. I’m currently sporting a Pentium III PC running Windows 2000 for the job!

nathan stanley aka freezedream

Nathan Stanley (aka freezedream) is the mastermind behind the soundtrack for “Tanglewood “.

Robin TGG
How did the soundtrack collaboration with Nathan Stanley (aka freezedream) came to be? And did you already know early on what kind of music that you wanted for Tanglewood?

Matt 
Freezedream won me over instantly with a track called Rain, from his cartridge album. I was a big Aphex Twin fan, and it sounded like one of his quieter tracks, I fell in love with it. I knew I wanted TANGLEWOOD’s soundtrack to be pretty, and I knew I didn’t want constant looping BGM like most arcade games of the time.

A more cinematic experience worked for the ideas I had – break out a piece of music when something interesting happens, something is chasing you, or you’ve discovered a new area. Nathan just “got it”, he pumped out track after track of pure gold, all fitting the briefs.

tanglewood hell awaits

In case you didn’t know it, “Tanglewood” was programmed in pure 68000 assembly language, using original development tools and processes from the 1990s.

Robin TGG
What’s it been like working with Matthew Weekes (Environment Artist, Freedom Planet), Simon Butler (Character Artist, Ocean Software, Atari, Team 17, Probe) and Adoru C. (Character/Cutscene Artist, Pier Solar).

Matt 
Matt W. steamrolled straight into the role, right from his first test level I knew I had a winner. He’d not done Mega Drive art before, but his work on Freedom Planet gave him a fair idea of what to expect. He managed to get so much out of the system, and with my buggy, unfinished tools to boot.

Armen’s work was outstanding, I had some vague ideas for cutscenes that I didn’t explain very well, but he made it work right off the bat. I still have a stash of pencil storyboards he drew early on in the project, I might get them framed.

Simon, unfortunately, didn’t end up working with us in the end – but you’ll forgive him when you find out what he was working on! I’d love to bring him aboard again some day and see what he can really do on the Mega Drive. In Simon’s place we hired Krzyzstof Matys, an Amiga artist, who managed to crack out some outstanding enemies, bosses, and a load of finishing art that made the game shine.

tanglewood nymn

Nymn is the main character and hero of “Tanglewood”.

Robin TGG
What’s the story behind the main character of “Tanglewood”? (the character creation process, etc.) And how did you come up with the name “Nymn”?

Matt 
The character was created our of necessity after the environment was designed, not the other way round. The game was supposed to be dark and terrifying, and I really didn’t want a brave hero, that’s been done to death. I wanted something scared, meek, and fragile, but with skills of evasion. A fox or meerkat-like shape suited, so we combined the two and Nymn was born. The name came from my friend’s pet rabbit, which I think came from an NPC in World of Warcraft, but I can’t quite remember.

tanglewood dreamcast

Yep, Big Evil Corporation aims to release a Dreamcast version of “Tanglewood” as soon as possible (perhaps the game will launch to other formats in the future as well? Let’s hope!).

Robin TGG
What’s your hopes, plans and expectations for the rest of the year? And is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

Matt 
Step one is to see TANGLEWOOD released into the wild, and to see the cartridges shipped in a few weeks, then it’s full speed ahead on the Dreamcast version. At the same time, I’m arranging a team to start work on the next game! The next one will be on the Mega Drive again, but a different genre. We’re going for a platformer-shooter with hover mechs. That’s all I’m revealing for now!

tgg author avatar robin ek
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
Twitter: @TheGamingGround

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