05/18/2022

KUBO 3: A New NES Cart by a Seven Year-Old

Interview with SJ games


By Jared Petty

A lot of us, I expect, played around with game design as kids: Pinball Construction Set, Adventure Construction Set, Garry Kitchen’s GameMaker, and their ilk facilitated the creation of a host of imaginative, mostly-uncompleted game ideas for young people, and to this day the RPG Maker and Dreams communities create some pretty stunning things. My early childhood video game aspirations development were mostly limited to graph paper, a little BASIC and LOGO programming, level editing in games that allowed it, and some game-maker tools.

There are those of us who spend a lifetime saying we’re going to make, finish, and publish a video game someday… and then there are the incredible seven-year old kids who actually do it. KUBO 3 is a new top-down and side-scrolling NES game about a crystal-collecting cowboy turtle designed and developed by a kid, (with some help from his dad). It’s charming, clever, and absolutely adorable entertainment. You can pre-order a real, physical NES cartridge right now at Limited Run Games, but only through May 22.

For more context on this charming trailblazing terrapin and his many adventures, here are a few words from the creator (and dad).

LRG: Hi! A question for both of you at SJ: who are you, and what is Kubo 3?

SJ: I'm SJ Games, I'm 9 years old and I create video games for the NES, with the help of my dad dale_coop. I made small projects and demos Kubo 1, Kubo 2, ROB'N, and Rescue Time... and also KUBO 3.

KUBO 3 is a game for the NES. The main character is called KUBO, a cowboy turtle who has to save the village by traveling around the world looking for crystals in 4 different levels.

LRG: How old were you when you designed Kubo 3?

SJ: I started making KUBO 3 when I was 7 years old. We worked for 1 year on that project, not always... but from time to time, some weekends, sometimes during school vacations.

LRG: For both of you: Is Kubo 3 your first game? The "3" in Kubo 3 suggests this is a sequel...

DC: KUBO 3 is the first complete game that SJ made. Before that, he made small projects to have fun, to get used to the software and to get used to the limitations of the NES. There were demos called KUBO and KUBO 2, the story takes place just before the events that we can see in KUBO 3.

LRG: For both of you: what are your roles on the SJ Games team?

SJ: I invite the story, draw the graphics, make the monsters, the items, the level design. My dad does the code and helps me with things I don't know how to do or that I've forgotten.

LRG: Many children dream of becoming game designers, but very few publish games so early in life. What was your journey from "this is something I want to do" to "wow, I made a game!"

SJ: When I was 5 years old, my dad dale_coop showed me one of his old consoles, the NES. I didn't know what it was (I was playing the Wii U instead), I wanted to try it, I really liked it. I didn't know that my father knew how to make video games for the NES. When I learned that, I told him "Ah, I would love for you to teach me how." Ever since I've been playing, I've always wanted to make my own video game.

My dad and I started by doing little workshops. We recreated in pixels a character that I had drawn before on sheets of paper.

This story is actually quite funny. When we were on vacation, I wanted to draw a cowboy, coloring the skin in beige, but as I didn't have a beige marker, I took a random color. I did the skin in green on my cowboy. It became a cowboy turtle.

On the computer, with the help of my dad, we redrew this character in pixels in the software, created several monsters (in particular a zombie which is one of my favorite monsters) and then I created blocks to then design screens. We worked together. My dad explained to me how to do each step. And we assembled all the screens around a little story. And here it was, the creation of the very first KUBO.

I didn't know it but for my 6th birthday, my dad surprised me by giving me the game in a physical cartridge, my first game on NES cartridge! I was very happy. Since then, I have continued to make other little games.

LRG What tools did you develop to create Kubo 3?

SJ: We used NESmaker, it's a software that allows you to create small NES games quite simply. You draw your characters, monsters in pixels, animate them, and build your levels.

DC: NESmaker is perfect for working with beginners or young people. Of course you can't go very far with this tool by default. To make a complete game, you have to get your hands in the code and implement everything the project needs.

LRG: What were the inspirations for the game's story?

SJ: My inspiration is the trips I take with my family, where I discover different landscapes and cultures. Also, I watch a lot of movies and cartoons. I like to play video games and that inspires me very often (like, for example, Zelda). And also in the books and manga I read.

LRG: What was an unexpected challenge you faced in creating Kubo 3, and how did you overcome it?

SJ: At the beginning of the project, there were no crystals, you had to collect sacred objects: a boomerang, a feather, a shark fin, ... but during the first beta tests, some players, when collecting the boomerang, thought they could use the boomerang as a weapon. When in fact, no, it was just a sacred item to collect.

I had to think about how to change this (the story and theme of each level was based on these items) and decided to replace all the items with sacred crystals, which are much easier to understand. This was one of the big challenges of the project.

DC: For my part, Seiji gave me instructions, what he wanted for each level, what behavior for each monster or bump... and I had to code the features when they weren't available in NESmaker. Sometimes he asked me for very complicated things and I had no idea how I was going to implement it (like for example, the water physics in the sea level... and creating its boss).

Another difficulty at the end of the project was the addition of several languages in the game, especially Japanese (to make the dialogues fit with as few katakana as possible, because I didn't have enough space). I had to call Seiji's mother, who is Japanese, for this part.

LRG: What's your advice to people who want to create their own games?

SJ: When you start something, even if it becomes difficult, try not to give up. Just because you're a kid doesn't mean you can't do what adults do.

LRG: What's next for SJ Games?

SJ: We're currently developing a new game, Skate Cat, which is a platform game with a cat that skates. It will be released around Christmas, or end of the year, I hope. Then we'll see about the other projects.

Thanks to all for your support!

Pre-orders for Kubo 3 close this Sunday. Secure your copy today!

Limited Run Games:

the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.

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