A Brief luncheon with Mad Fellows

Late last week we had the pleasure of checking out the announcement trailer for Aaero, an on rails shooter with great visuals and a great soundtrack (and we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t remind you that you can read all that just over here).

We’ve been in touch with Mad Fellows, the micro-studio behind the title, and they’ve been kind enough to grace us with a little of their very valuable time. We had six big questions for them, and our little chat went a little like this, as we spoke to Paul Norris, and Dan Horbury.

Pixel Bandits – Hello there Mad Fellows, and thanks for spending some time with us today. You’re a pretty small team over there, so we imagine you spend most of the time working closely together, but do you each do a bit of everything, or do you separate things out between yourselves and focus on specific tasks?

Paul Norris: There’s only two of us and Dan is basically just eye-candy, it’s me that does all the work.

Dan Horbury: ooh, flattery….wait hang on…

PN: I’m only kidding, anyone that knows us knows that isn’t true. Have you seen Dan? Um… I seem to have opened this by ripping into Dan. (Sorry mate).

DH: Nothing new there then!

PN: We each have very different skill sets and our responsibilities on the project don’t overlap at all. I think this is part of the reason we get so much done.

As the technical director, Dan does all of the coding. The reason we can have such a small team is because he creates amazing tools that make extremely complicated tasks easy enough for us to do on our own. He’s also single handedly ported the game to each of the consoles. There… Feel better now?

DH: *a solemn and contemplative silence blows through the room*

PN: My background is art, game design, sound design and music production. I am responsible for how it looks, sounds and plays. We also worked for a year with a very talented artist called Kostas who built most of the 3d assets.

DH: As for me, I’ve been programming ever since getting my first computer (Atari 800xl), just being able to get a machine to do things you tell it compensates for a lack of social skills. 😉

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PB – Mad Fellows itself has not been around for too long but separately you’ve both been in the industry for some time and on some pretty big titles, but ignoring huge sales and critical acclaim, what have been your favourite titles to work on?

PN: I’m very proud of the DJ Hero games. We had a team of DJs in London that did most of the remixing. I worked with them and ran a team at FreeStyleGames that created the gameplay for the tracks as well as doing some of the remixing ourselves. I think I had about 3 or 4 of my own remixes in DJ Hero 2.

DH: I’m also very proud of DJH1&2, there’s a lot of blood sweat and tears that went into crafting those games. Amusingly, I also really liked working on the Buzz series of games, their focus on fun simplistic gameplay was refreshing and surprisingly rewarding.

PN: As well as working on DJ Hero, my team at FreeStyleGames created the download tracks for many of the Guitar Hero games. The thing I’m most proud of is probably the Dragonforce DLC pack. It’s all full-on, epic, 100mph shredding.

It was also amazing to have so much feedback from the community. We’d be cheering in the office and watching YouTubers full-combo and 100% our tracks.

Mad Fellows’ upcoming title, Aaero

PB – We love the look of Aaero so far. With a great soundtrack and some pretty bold visuals, this on the rail shooter is one we’re definitely keeping an eye on. It feels a lot like a spiritual successor to the 2001 title REZ, which launched on Dreamcast and PS2, a title which we couldn’t get enough of. Can you tell us any more about your inspirations behind the title and what you hope will be hitting our screens next year?

PN: I’m a massive fan of REZ. There was something about putting headphones on and zoning out that you just didn’t get from other games. It was certainly a big influence on Aaero.

Having worked on a lot of ‘tap in time’ games, we realised that they tend to polarise people. We wanted Aaero to be something very different. We wanted it to play like a rail-shooter but have the tight connection to the music that is such a buzz in music games.

The ribbons of light that you follow in Aaero are designed to match the filters and effects used in the songs. It’s a lot more analog and flowing than tapping to a beat. Those instruments are only heard if you are on the ribbons. A lot of time was spent getting this to feel exactly right. It’s the ribbon gameplay and the 1:1 stick controls that set Aaero apart from similar games.

Other influences include Panzer Dragoon, Gitaroo Man, Journey and even Space Harrier. There’s little bits of everything in there.

PB – One of the hot topics at the moment on our social media, digital download or physical copies, which do you prefer and why?

PN: I used to prefer physical copies of games because I liked having them in my collection. Recently, though, I’ve noticed my collection becoming more about my Xbox Live, PSN and Steam libraries. Although it makes me sound really lazy, I like to be able to just fire up whatever I fancy playing from a list without messing around with discs.

Having said that, as a developer, it’s always nice to see your games on the shelves of your local shop.

If I’m honest, as a gamer, I thought that finally being able to download console games online would be amazing. I thought it would reduce the price significantly. On the contrary, the latest blockbusters are always far more expensive to download than to buy from the highstreet. Once you have your season pass, extra content, in-game currency, mystery boxes etc. it’s easy to spend £100 without having anything physical to show for it. I think that until the prices drop, people will prefer having a physical disc so they have something to trade in when they’ve finished.

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PB – If money and time was no object, after you’ve completed Aaero, what would your dream project be?

PN: We set up Mad Fellows to make exactly the games we wanted to make. Aaero actually is our dream project at the moment. In the future, I’d maybe like to work on something narrative driven because I’ve not done anything like that before. I’d also love to do something like Limbo where the atmosphere relies heavily on the sound design. Sound design is one of my favourite parts of any project.

Being such a small team has some great advantages. We can stay very true to our original visions. It’s the opposite of ‘design by committee’. Our ideas don’t get watered down and because we don’t have a lot of overheads to cover, we don’t have to limit ourselves to games aimed at the mass markets. We want to make the most of this and innovate rather than scaling the team up and competing directly with the big studios.

DH: Having said that, there’s a few space shuttles gathering dust out there, it’s time we get back into space 😀

PB – To finish, you’ve both had a lot of time in the industry, and we know it’s a tough one to come up with, but what’s your top 5 from the last decade, and of course, is there anything you think we should know about Mad Fellows, Aaero, or anything in particular?

PN: Wow, that is tough. I play a LOT of games. I love all of the Telltale games. I spent a lot of time playing The Witcher 3, most of which was playing Gwent (I’ve put a fair few hours into the Gwent standalone beta too). Life is Strange was absolutely stunning.

DH: (Too busy writing tools for Paul to use ;o)

PN: Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Gitaroo Man. Rez. Parappa the Rapper (we’re out of the ten year limit now).

Online, I play a lot of Destiny. Both my Warlock and Hunter are up to light level 400 now. I’ve also played more hours of Minecraft than I readily admit to. We’ve got an insane world that’s all built in survival mode that represents years of our lives.

I’m a massive Halo fan and I think 343 did an amazing job taking the reins from Bungie.

On PC I mainly play DayZ and try to convince everyone I meet to play through The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide. The design of those two games left me absolutely speechless.

This isn’t helping the top 5 is it? Okay…

Mass Effect (I actually thought the ending of the series was great)
The Witcher 3
Destiny
BraidLimboThe Stanley Parable (Can I get away with these as one?)
Life Is Strange

I’m not happy with that list. I’ve changed it about 100 times.


We’ve had a great time chatting with the lads at Mad Fellows, and of course we’ll be keeping you up to date with all the latest developments with them and their… well, developments. Aaero is expected to launch in February 2017 and will be coming to PC (Via Steam), PS4, and Xbox One

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