TMNT x JL Turbo: Developer Interview
We have a real treat for this special issue, the first of a number of interviews with developers and people in the industry. Today we have an interview with Ay (Twitter: @aywhatsgoingon) from the development team of fan made fighting game TMNT x JL, who is the graphics lead and creative co-director. He creates stage concepts, edits and converts graphics, hires pixel artists, illustrators and musicians to make content for the game.
For those unaware, TMNT x JL is a fan made fighting game that has recently made the line up of Combo Breaker 2022, a fighting game tournament that includes the best of the best in the competitive scene. A huge achievement for the team, and totally deserved, as this is a real standout title.
The level of work, effort and sheer quality put into every aspect of the design is absolutely unreal for a fan made game. We love fighters from a casual perspective, and honestly if you had shown me a video of screenshot of TMNT x JL Turbo you could have easily convinced me that this was a genuine game from the 90s. So enjoy this interview!
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Side note, Ay’s interview was so detailed that we had to use a lot of links to fit in everything, so please check them out! Also, please click “view entire message” if this has reached your inbox to read the full interview.
First of all congratulations on making it on the Combo Breaker line up! Could you tell us a little bit about how that came about?
Thanks a lot! This project started in 2017 in the SNES Fighter Discord and we managed to attract the attention of people throughout the years, including Combo Breaker’s Rick who also happens to be a TMNT fan.
TMNT Tournament Fighters SNES was at Combo Breaker 2017 and it was accompanied by a strong and passionate community. Mugen developer Kamekaze is known for creating a lot of content and characters for the program.
When our community organizer Tobemorecrazy suggested a character that was an alternate version of Shredder, one snowball turned into an avalanche and things took off. This was roughly in July-September 2017 when the TMNT X Justice League project started to take shape. We released the first version of the game on April 15, 2020. We had a lot of plans for real life tournaments, but alas, the world was not a suitable place at this time.
While the world was still in a pandemic in early 2021, the Combo Breaker decided to host an online event called “Look Alive” that would highlight what fighting game communities have been up to (online tournaments, video/game production etc.). TMNT X Justice League was also featured there, because we held online tournaments via Parsec and because we made a name for ourselves by having famous names attached to our project.
TMNT X Justice League Turbo was announced in early 2021 and we took the opportunity to also show off the game during Look Alive. The tag gameplay was well received and everyone was impressed by what we achieved!
Summarized, it’s because of Tobemorecrazy who has been in the scene for literally decades and who has connections to everyone, that our game ended up at Combo Breaker. I’ve said it several times, but passion and hard work are contagious and sooner or later, people will notice your efforts.
How did you start getting involved with TMNT x JL and what is it like working on a fan made game?
TMNT was announced as DLC for Injustice 2 in November 2017. I was browsing a fighting game news site for articles on that and saw someone link to the SNES Fighting Discord in the comments where they talked about TMNT Tournament Fighters CE, which is a romhack that features quality of life improvements. This was actually used during the Combo Breaker tournaments!
I never heard of Discord before, so I decided to check it out. I picked out a random name (aywhatsgoingonhere sounded funny, now I wish I picked a more practical nick, haha) and ended up in the TMNT X Justice League channel, where the project was still in its infancy.
TMNT Tournament Fighters SNES was one of my favorite games in my childhood. I rented it so many times –I couldn’t find it in stores– and I loved everything about it: the graphics, the moves, especially the music, the sound effects etc. Growing up, I was a huge TMNT (or TMHT if you will) fan and I lamented the fact that Tournament Fighters SNES was the last good TMNT game, because I didn’t care for the 2003 TMNT series when it aired, nor did I like the few games I played based on that series.
I’m from 1986 and I got my NES in 1990 – even back then I knew the first TMNT game was unfair– and I loved being creative: drawing, arts and crafts, photoshop, you name it. It was always my dream to work on a game, and this was my chance to contribute to a game that I wanted to become a reality so bad.
I started testing the game and very quickly, I got more tasks and responsibilities. Editing stages, working on general graphics and so on. Many mistakes were made, but I learned a lot and had the time of my life. Even though there weren’t many of us in the core team, we were very motivated and the community contributed a lot of knowledge and feedback that were worth their weight in gold. Another thing I often take for granted is that Kame and I are on the same wavelength, we’ve only had a couple of minor disagreements regarding content throughout the years. There are projects that fall apart because of drama, but we’re blessed that we don’t have to worry about that. I have a lot of creative freedom, but the burden can also be tough. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The first TMNT X Justice League (Vanilla) was on Mugen, and Kame wanted this game to be its last hurrah – to absolutely squeeze every single drop of blood out of it and push the convenient, but often unreliable engine, to its ultimate limit. That aligned with my interests, because I wanted my first ever game to be a knockout and to be a worthy unofficial sequel to one of my favorite games ever. Whenever Kame wanted to step up with possible game features, I would be there to follow him. One of the modes in the game is Card Quest, a survival mode where you can purchase trading cards to power yourself up every 5 rounds. I created the graphics by reusing a lot of existing images and reframing them in a comedic way. There are over 100 cards to collect and they can have silly effects, try it out!
Keep in mind that I have an unrelated day job, I do all of this in my free time, haha!
Why TMNT x JL and not say TMNT x Street Fighter or The King of Fighters x JL?
From my point of view:
TMNT X Street Fighter don’t have many similarities in their nature. TMNT and DC are comic oriented and they crossed over before, so the green freaks hanging out with superheroes is not a foreign concept.
King of Fighters is also one of my favorite series, but I would never work on a game like that. There are so many run of the mill Mugen projects where Capcom and SNK fighters are scrambled and recycled without care and reason, I do not see the appeal of working on a project like that. Also, the rosters in these games often reach ridiculous amounts like 60+ or even 100+, I could never finance the content to give a project like that tender loving care like I did with TMNT x JL. We have custom artwork, dialogues and music for every fighter, as well as a cinematic ending and many other touches like special animations. Not to mention the commissioned artwork for promotional materials.
Certainly, there are many TMNT characters that I would love to have in the game, like Slash and Krang, but Kame decided early on that the graphic styles of the fighters would be consistent, without clashing visuals – that is often the case in fan made games. Our source is TMNT Tournament Fighters SNES and if we’re going to introduce new fighters, they must have a resembling art style. Luckily, we had Motorroach who created Casey Jones in the style of TMNT TF SNES. Fun fact, after our game he also worked on the upcoming TMNT Shredder’s Revenge!
With TMNT X JL, we created two sequels in one game and carefully wrote the story to accommodate that. There’s an actual dimensional incursion where the Justice League cast is dropped into the TMNT universe! Be sure to play the Story Mode to experience the one true canon epic™ and see what happens!
What is your favourite aspect of the game? (Who is your favourite character or what is your favourite stage for example)
My favorite aspects of the game are the many, many references and natural evolution of the game compared to TMNT TF SNES. Art, story, animations, stages, music, characters, combat system etc. It is an unofficial sequel that has so much content that I can’t help but be proud of it. We worked on this every day for the past 4.5+ years and we are still fired up!
It’s hard to pick my favorite stage, but I completely adore the ones where a musician is present to play their tune while the fight is going on. That idea resonated with a lot of fans and moving forward we will continue that tradition!
I’d say that April is my favorite fighter, because our TMNT consultant and superfan Oldmanwinters managed to bring in Renae Jacobs, April’s VA from the 1987 cartoon.
She first reprised her role in the official prologue of TMNT X Justice League, called April’s Diary: April's Diary - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles X Justice League
This video covers the events between TMNT TF SNES (late 1993) and TMNT X Justice League (July 1995), Oldman and I wrote the script and decided to give April a training arc where she got drilled heavily by the 4 green brothers. In the game script, she also has special intros with custom voice samples for characters she encounters – it meant a lot to us that we could continue the legacy and give sweet closure at the same time.
That is why April is my fave, because she is quickly developing into a fierce fighter who can stand next to her shelled comrades and face off against the pesky enemies who used to kidnap her every hour. April is pushing herself to become stronger and help her friends. I think there are some similarities to our development story, when I put it that way.
We have a lot of plans for April, stay tuned!
You've worked with some amazing names from the video game industry so far, tell us about some of the names you’ve worked with and how that came about
This is a good time to name drop the talents I managed to bring in:
Former SNK artist and King of Fighters 12 art director. He’s my favorite artist and I’ve known him since 2012. Nona created characters for our promo illustrations, pixel art for the game intro and the portraits for the character endings in TMNT X JL.
TMNT comic artist who was there since the 80s. Oldmanwinters recommended him to me and I convinced him by pitching our project and clearly detailing the carefully crafted crazy crossover game that we created. Jim made several promo pieces for us.
An actual animator who worked on Rise TMNT: Because why not?
A relatively new composer who worked on King of Fighters XIV. I commissioned him to design the sounds for the super flashes since the first TMNT X Justice League!
Former SNK composer who did a lot of work, including Art of Fighting. That was the first SNK game I played on the SNES, I remember being impressed by the zooming camera.
Former SNK composer who created music for Samurai Shodown and the jazzy tracks for the bad boy of the King of Fighters series, Iori Yagami. I commissioned two tracks in those genres that fans would both appreciate!
Former SNK composer who created music for Metal Slug 1-3. Fun fact, Yasumasa Yamada is friends with Yasuo Yamate and Takushi Hiyamuta, which is how I got in touch with them!
TMNT X Justice League Turbo had 3 new fighters and these legends composed the themes for them. I remember struggling so much designing the stage for Takushi Hiyamuta, but luckily our angel in grace Leila, a pixel artist from Argentine whom I commissioned since the first game, delivered a stellar concept that I fully understood and accepted. I pitched this project to so many artists and musicians, and it was because of Leila’s animations and graphics that I had so many successes.
Former Konami artist who worked on TMNT Tournament Fighters SNES. Satoshi Yoshioka created the cutscenes/UI, Wingnut and Armaggon for that game. I commissioned him to create animations for those two characters and a Turtle.
Former Konami artist who also worked on TMNT Tournament Fighters SNES, he did the pixel art for Karai, the final boss. For TxJ Turbo, Yoshiki Akasaka created the concepts for Karai’s new attacks and I commissioned ManyNinjas ( https://twitter.com/ManyNinjas ) to turn them into pixel art. ManyNinjas is very talented and was in fact praised by both Mr. Yoshioka and Mr. Akasaka.
An artist who made art for a very long time, including the iconic Western Street Fighter 2 box. Sadly, he passed away last year. The tribute thread I created on Twitter sums it all up. He was a true talent whose art and positive personality inspired many all over the world. I will do my best to make TMNT X Justice League Turbo the best TMNT game, period.
The artist who drew Konami, the thread also sums it up well.
These people created so much content that I enjoyed in my childhood and this game gave me the opportunity to tell THEM what to create for us. Life’s crazy, I tell ya! I always tell people whom I hire that they will be proud to have their name attached to our project. It has been a chain reaction of success stories: there were instances of people joining the project just for the fact that someone else already contributed.
I have achieved a lot with this project and I am not planning to stop anytime soon. There is a lot for me to learn, to create and to cherish.
As for future plans, it has been announced that we are working on the next chapter of TMNT X Justice League and Oni Karai is one of the new fighters.
However, game development can’t be underestimated, especially if your crew is a handful. This time around, I don’t want to impose a strict deadline on the team like I did with TMNT X JL Turbo – we will finish all of the planned content.
And just what is that content? I’ll just say what I always say: Stay Tuned!