When regular folk hear the term “Creative Director” they think Don Draper. That’s fair enough. When we hear it, we think Mike Mika. Involved in more awesome games than you can shake a stick at (don’t believe us, click here), his tales are truly a thing of folklore. So here is our Adrian’s heart to heart with said retrogaming genius…
Mike, you’ve had such a long and successful career in gaming, how did you get the opportunity to enter the industry?
So many factors: parents who supported the idea of making games when there was no concept or point of reference for what a career in games might even look like; the countless people who imparted programming wisdom at a time before the internet or game development courses in school; and friends who helped me and encouraged me to create games and try to get them published. I grew up at a time where you could write a game and sell it at your local computer store, or submit it to Electronic Arts for publishing consideration. The competition was a lot smaller back then. I was one of maybe dozens of people trying to get a game published at any given moment. It’s really remarkable how explosive the 80s were in computing. You could buy a magazine at the local convenience store rack that taught you how to create character animation in a single issue, and provided the code for you to hack and manipulate, and four pages later in the same magazine you could learn how arcade game AI worked. It seems unprecedented now. By the time my career officially started in the 90s, I had already written dozens of games.
Is it true that when you were working on KLAX for the Game Boy Color you included a wedding proposal in the game? If so, how did your partner react when you finally uncovered this amazing Easter egg?
It is! I was so certain that someone would figure it out before my (now) wife, I hid it really well. We also have about a dozen more hidden Easter eggs, too. I put it in KLAX because the only games my wife liked at the time were puzzle games. She never played any of the games I worked on. She told me “If you make a puzzle game, maybe I’d play one of your games.” So I hid the message in KLAX. I would leave the game out with the code on a piece of paper. She never played it. It was FOUR YEARS later that I got a call from Chris Bienek of Tips and Tricks magazine asking if I had any undiscovered codes for their 100th issue. Why yes I did! They published a special section in the magazine addressed to my wife with the code. I left it out for her to do and left the house. She finally put the code in and said yes. She was kind of miffed that I waited four years, but I swear I tried to get her to play it sooner! (Best. Proposal. Ever. – Ed)
Can you reveal any other ingenious Easter eggs you have included in any of your games?
Well, I try to put as many in as I can in every project. In NFL Blitz for Game Boy, we had hidden arenas and mini-games. In the European version of KLAX, we hid a complete remastered version of Atari Adventure in the cart (what!!! – Ed). In #IDARB I put so many in I don’t even remember which have been found or not.
Is it true you have helped work on over 120 games, and if so which game did you have the most fun working on?
This is always a hard question, because some of the most painful productions were the most fun in hindsight. I really enjoyed the Death, Jr. series, and I really enjoyed working on Little Nicky for Game Boy Color. I’ve worked on some big games, but those obscure games were really a great experience during production. The most fun I’ve had, though, was on #IDARB. It was very satisfying to make a game the way I used to make them as a kid, by honing the design with a group of friends. In this case, with a group of thousands online.
You have had numerous roles in the video game industry, what role gives you the most satisfaction?
Programming. It’s the ultimate rush for me. I love making things and I especially love working on mechanics. Platforming games are my joy in life, but I am always hesitant to start one because there have been so many lately.
Which game are you most proud of working on and why?
I’m most proud of working on a game that wasn’t even mine: Donkey Kong. A few years ago I hacked the game for my three year old daughter who asked me one day if she could play as the girl and save Mario. The experience was eye opening for me and my daughter’s simple request touched a lot of people. It’s changed the way I approach game design now. I will always strive to create games that enable everyone to feel represented.
Is it true that you were once working on a Bomberman title for the Atari Jaguar?
It’s true! In 1994, my friends and I formed a company that began work on the title for Atari. We managed to get the multiplayer game up and running before Atari shut down all Jaguar related efforts (boooooo – Ed).
Wow! Is there any chance this title could yet see the light of day, especially considering the strong and passionate Jaguar homebrew community?
Strong and passionate is an understatement! I love this community because they will keep all hope alive. And if they hadn’t been persistent all those years, we may have overlooked the archive we found in my brother’s garage. He was the lead programmer and the key person behind the game. So many people have offered to help, and we may reach out to them, but until then, it has been backed up and my brother, along with another Jaguar scene aficionado, plan to get it up and running and made available to the community (yippee! – Ed).
You’ve mentioned it a few times but can you explain to our readers what they can expect to see from your latest gaming project #IDARB?
It’s now out on Windows 10, and we’ve had a couple of DLC packs released. We’ve been busy paying the bills with other projects but #IDARB continues to grow. We’ve been working on a few features for a while now, and it’s been challenging. The game was a pretty great success for us and it’s opened quite a few doors. Soon we hope to announce what all that is. Any #IDARB fan out there will appreciate what we have cooking, I think. I hope.
If you could give one piece advice to anyone looking to work in the video game industry what would it be?
Don’t wait for opportunity, make it. Make games, hack games, learn what tools you need to create the idea you have in your head. Everything you need to know and learn is available online, from resources to game engines. There is no excuse anymore! If you want to make a game, you CAN make a game, you just need patience and perseverance. Don’t be lazy!
Great advice Mike! We’ll bring things to a close with this conundrum, if you could go for a drink with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
The giant worm thing from Nidhogg. Because I have a lot of questions.