I had the chance to speak with Eric Kozlowsky recently and ask him a few questions about his time at Retro Studios.
How did you come to work for Retro Studios?
I was working as a Lead Environment Artist at Square Enix. Unfortunately the project I was working on was canceled and the entire team laid off. This was in March of 2011. I spent some time putting feelers into the open and when an opportunity at Retro came up I sent my stuff in and got an interview.
What was the work environment like at Retro?
Retro is pretty laid back and easygoing. They respect their employees to manage their workload and get their work done. Out of all of the studios I’ve worked for I think Retro has one of the best cultures. I’ve never seen so much inter-department friendships before. Normally The artists are friends with Artists, Designers with Designers and Engineers with Engineers. But at Retro this wasn’t the case at all!
Retro’s games are typically overseen by Kensuke Tanabe, do you have any stories you can share about him? Any comments on how he interacted with everyone?
Tanabe-San was mostly focused with Design. So I didn’t have much professional contact with him as art was pretty much left to the stewardship of our Creative Director. Personally every time I talked with him he was super friendly and easy going. He even signed my Hyrule Historia book (Tanabe-San was scriptwriter on Link to the Past, and he headed up development on Link’s Awakening.)
What was it like to work on the Donkey Kong series? Did the series legacy intimidate or excite you in any way?
I have to admit that DK has never been a favorite of mine when it comes to Nintendo characters and game. I was a fan of the original DKC. Yet I never played any subsequent releases save for DKCR to prepare for my interview. However as I the project went on I gained a whole new appreciation for the big guy! There game design in the games is really something else. The way the levels can be attempted in a speedrun is really mind blowing.
Then there is the legacy of the art! I mean when DKC released back on the SNES it was a trailblazer for the coming 3D generation of games (even if it was 2d gameplay). So trying to live up to that legacy, as well as the phenomenal art in Donkey Kong Country Returns was very intimidating. As it stands now out of all the games I have worked on (over 10 at this point) I am most proud of Donkey Kong Country:Tropical Freeze!
I can definitely say now Donkey Kong is one of my favorite Nintendo franchises!
What would you have liked to work on at Retro?
I would have LOVED to have worked on Star Fox. I even pitched a proposal before I knew that Miyamoto-San was working on Star Fox Zero. I think I have the document laying around somewhere 😛
I can’t wait to play Star Fox Zero next year.
Can you share any funny workplace stories from your time there?
It’s tough to think of just one, after 4 years working there it starts to bleed together. Most shenanigans happened AFTER work! 🙂
What led to you deciding to leave Retro?
It’s tough being an artist in the game industry. It’s very easy to get comfortable and fall into habits that don’t push your skill. I felt I needed to try something new, to test my abilities and try to grow. Time will tell if that was a wise decision!
Are you personally excited for Retro’s next game, whatever it may be?
Of course! I can’t wait to see how it’s grown since I left.
Do you feel Retro can now do more than 1 game at a time or would they be best served the way they have been doing things so far…just your opinion.
Personally I think Retro will always do what is best for Nintendo. When I left it was one team, but I’m sure if Retro wanted to move to more teams they would produce the same stellar work they always have!
What was it like when you had the chance to meet some of the higher ups at Nintendo?
Meeting Miyamoto-San at E3-2013 is one of the highlights of my career. I got him to sign my gold NES cartridge of The Legend of Zelda, the very same one I had when I was 6! I even pushed my luck and asked him to sign my DK tie that we were wearing to promote DKC:TF and he not only signed it, he drew DK on it! MIND BLOWN! Easy to say that both Zelda and the tie are framed and hanged in my office.
My biggest regret was seeing Iwata-San at that same E3 but I was too shy to introduce myself to him. I was devastated by his passing.
E3 had only been going for a day, and yet, it felt like we were all overwhelmed by the sheer number of announcements from both Sony and Microsoft, and while the internet argued (and still is) over which one did better, we were witness to the last of the Big 3; Nintendo.
And just like the previous 2, a slew of announcements were made, but really most of it were things we had already expected, plus some eShop titles.
In any case, for those who missed it, here is the rundown, first, for Wii U:
Super Mario 3D World – For the first time a 3D Mario title with multiplayer capabilities, it will be developed by the same team that worked on Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, it will allow for use of 4 characters which include Mario, Luigi, Toad, and for the first time in over 2 decades; Princess Peach, a new Power-Up: the Cat Costume was revealed, seemingly adding some new level of gameplay with it. Scheduled to launch this December.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – The only real surprise this E3 for Nintendo was this game, marking the return of character Dixie Kong, Retro Studios takes on this series once more, attempting to bring more Donkey Kong the Wii U, with an improved graphical look, this game is set to be released this November.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD – An improved version of the original 2002 hit for the GameCube, bringing new items such as the Tingle Bottle, which allows to send messages to Miiverse by using a bottle and dropping it in the ocean, also faster sailing mechanics. Scheduled to launch this October.
Mario Kart 8 – Apparently ditching the silly titles for good, this new game adds a new gameplay element with anti-gravity, and marks the return of bikes to the series, will have great online integrated to Miiverse. Available Spring 2014.
The Wonderful 101 – Created by Platinum Games, this title focuses on combat between Wonder-Red, and the group of heroes working for him, using them to attack enemies while looking and sounding like a classic superhero comic book. Launching September 15.
Bayonetta 2 – Also developed by Platinum Games, showing the main character’s new look as well as some combat, looking as chaotic as ever. Game launching 2014.
“X” by Monolift Soft – Aiming to be an open world title, and adding the ability to control humanoid robots, this title that is being developed with Xenoblade experiences to mind, seems to aim for a higher bar than that title. Available 2014.
Wii Party U – A party game, involving different tabletop games, this Mario-partyesque game will launch this October.
Wii Fit U – Just what it sounds like, set to be released this December.
Pokemon X Version and Y Version – For Nintendo 3DS, the biggest news is about Pokemon, that will release this October, the game has revealed the already speculated Fairy type, which will become the 18th type in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – (Not shown on the stream) A nice throwback title to the prequel of A Link to the Past, in this title, Link will be able to travel along the walls, allowing for different tactics to puzzles. Out this holiday season.
Yoshi’s New Island – (Not shown on the stream) Offering a variety of art styles, Yoshi returns in his 3rd adventure for the Nintendo 3DS. Out this holiday season.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team – The 4th game in the Mario and Luigi series, this will add the ability to jump into Luigi’s dreams, game out August 11.
Outside of those, there were also quite a few third party tittles glossed over, here are the tittles that you may have missed:
Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Ubisoft – Wii U – Oct. 29
Batman: Arkham Origins – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment – Wii U – Oct. 25
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment – Nintendo 3DS – Oct. 25
Deus Ex: Human Revolution -Director’s Cut – Square Enix, Inc. – Wii U – 2013
Disney Infinity – Disney Interactive – Wii U, Wii, Nintendo 3DS – Aug. 18 (still making titles for the Wii?)
Disney’s Planes – Disney Interactive – Wii U, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS – Aug. 6 (DS too?)
Just Dance 2014 – Ubisoft – Wii U, Wii – Oct. 8
Rayman Legends – Ubisoft – Wii U – Sept. 3
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment – Wii U Nintendo 3DS – Fall 2013
Shin Megami Tensei IV – ATLUS (Index Digital Media, Inc.) – Nintendo 3DS – July 16
Skylanders SWAP Force – Activision Publishing – Wii U, Wii, Nintendo 3DS – Oct. 13
Sonic Lost World – SEGA – Wii U, Nintendo 3DS – Holiday 2013
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist – Ubisoft – Wii U – Aug. 20
Watch Dogs – Ubisoft – Wii U – Nov. 19
Well hope nobody was disappointed. Ericyo and I, are very excited for some of these upcoming games and had a great time working to bring you, the audience, as much information on Nintendo as possible. We will continue to do so in the future.