How a shared love for retro games led to the creation of Kaze and the Wild Masks

PixelHive lets us in on the origin of Kaze, the development process and their admiration for the 90’s gaming era.

By Linda Bendsneijder

Release Date

T.B.A.

Age Rating

PEGI 7

Developer

PixelHive

Publisher

SOEDESCO

Rotterdam, The Netherlands - September 3, 2020

Kaze and the Wild Masks is a retro-platformer inspired by classic 90’s games such as Donkey Kong Country 2® and Super Mario World®. The colorful platformer takes you on a trip down memory lane as you side-scroll your way through the Crystal Islands. You play as the fierce rabbit Kaze and face enraged living vegetables in a variety of ways thanks to the powers of the Wild Masks. Pounce ferociously like a tiger, soar through the sky like an eagle, sprint fiercely like a lizard and rule the sea like a shark.  With difficult challenges, hidden bonus levels and smooth platforming, you will soon find yourself hooked to accomplish everything. 

Kaze and the Wild Masks embraces all the classic 90’s platformer elements and gives it a personal touch with modern-looking pixel art graphics. The vibrant colors, lively characters and various environments show that development studio PixelHive puts a lot of love and care in bringing the world of Kaze and the Wild Masks to life. We recently had a chance to sit down with one of PixelHive’s team members to get to know the Brazilian development studio and find out what their motivation is behind creating a retro platformer in these modern times.   

Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and the team behind Kaze and the Wild Masks? Where are you guys from and what’s your story?  

Hi! I am Paulo Bohrer, the music composer and sound designer behind Kaze and the Wild Masks and one of the founders of development studio PixelHive. We are a small game development team based in the city of Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state in Brazil. Most of the team have been developing games for many years prior to Kaze and the Wild Masks, and we all shared a hive mind-like desire to develop a retro game that we could actually call ours, something that went back to our roots as young gamers and shared the magic of those “simple” yet powerful games that we grew up with. 

          "Nostalgia, respect, admiration and homage are the words that define why we wanted to make this game" 

As a game development studio from Brazil, how is the game development scene there?

There are so many great titles being released from all corners of Brazil - we definitely have a lot of talented developers here. The game development scene here is always growing, but at a slower pace than we want. We face all challenges of a country still in development, not enough incentive programs coming from the government, and funding is somewhat complicated since many investors are very conservative and don’t yet understand the industry well enough to invest in games. We have organizations and entities putting all their efforts in trying to change this scenario though, and even with all the challenges, there are many Brazilian studios able to release games that stand out to the whole world. 

How long have you been walking around with the idea of making Kaze and the Wild Masks and when did you start developing the game?  

Kaze and the Wild Masks has been in development for about 5 years. The original idea came from Cristiano Bartel, a programmer, tech artist and also one of the founders of PixelHive. He wanted to make a retro-platform game inspired by the 90’s classics, so he came up with the first prototype build for the game. The main character was a male grey bunny, running in boots and wearing a hat - the name of the character wasn’t Kaze yet and I think at that time we referred to the game only as “Project Bunny” haha. That’s when the team behind Kaze started to take shape; we all felt the connection with the game Cristiano was making and saw the full potential behind it. So, one by one we started to join the project that ultimately led to the creation of PixelHive Game Studio.

What moved you to make a game like Kaze and the Wild Masks? 

I vividly remember when I was just a kid at the age of 7 and I would put a cassette tape recorder in front of the TV and just record in loop my favorite game songs. Later I’d take those recordings to my piano teacher and she would learn the songs by ear to teach me afterwards. I think that we Brazilians are very nostalgic people by nature, haha. It’s very likely that when you meet someone from here, we will open up and start sharing our passions and overwhelm you with our stories (Wait, not all Brazilians are like that? Just me? Ok, sorry!).  Every one of us developing Kaze and the Wild Masks has a story just like that and we know that many people around the world feel the same way. Nostalgia, respect, admiration and homage are the words that define why we wanted to make this game.

"We simply want to provide fun and enjoyable moments to other people in the same way that we were affected by the games in our 90s childhood"

How did you get the idea of the story behind Kaze and the Wild Masks?

We did lots of brainstorming sessions to decide what our main plot was going to be. At first, we had just a bunny killing vegetables - we thought that was a funny concept. But we soon wanted to create a more complex world for the game. So, we found ourselves with lots of questions that needed answers. Why are these veggies evil? What are Kaze’s motivations? How do we tell the story of the Crystal Islands in a way that communicates well with our gameplay? - and many MANY more. That’s when we decided to hire a video game writer to help us out with that. Her name is Kali de los Santos and after months of collaborative work the story started to take shape:  

Kaze is a curious bunny that loves going on adventures and exploring uncharted places. One day, she heard whispers of a strange story about a forbidden temple that holds an object of extreme power. With her adventurous friend Hogo by her side, they are able to discover the sacred temple, and inside it a magical ring resting on top of a decorated pedestal. Kaze approaches carefully, though unable to contain her curiosity she touches the ring and by doing that unleashes an evil power that starts consuming the Crystal Islands. Her friend is cursed in the process and imprisoned inside the powerful ring. Kaze does not feel like a heroine; she spread the curse across the land, imprisoned her brother inside a magical ring and released an evil shadow that is destroying everything in its path.  

That’s how our story begins. Now Kaze will need to understand the true power of the magical ring - the power to control the legendary wild masks - in order to save the land and set free her dear friend Hogo. Players will experience this story by watching cinematic cutscenes and by unlocking beautiful scrolls that contain the story behind the powerful ring and the secrets of the Crystal Islands.

What ideas from other games did you bring with you into Kaze and the Wild Masks and how did playing these games also influence you to do things differently?  

Since Kaze and the Wild Masks is in its core a love letter to classic platform games, many aspects were influenced by our favorite titles. In the game Kaze will spin her ears to fly through the scenarios in order to collect crystals and letters with the name K-A-Z-E spread across the map to gain rewards, there are hidden bonus stages in every level that you must complete in order to get a full completion percentage by the end of the game. Boss fights are based on good reflexes and waiting for the right time to attack/jump on their heads. Those who are familiar with platform games will immediately see our references here.  

Of course, we wanted this game to have its own “voice”. At one time in the project we were literally recreating levels of our favorite games just to see the dos and don’ts of what we want to include in Kaze. 

"I love exploring the levels for secrets while crushing some veggies along the way (sorry, mom… I still can’t eat all my veggies)"

What does Kaze and the Wild Masks have to offer that sets it apart from similar games?

We definitely put great efforts into making this game unique. We wanted to give a more ‘modern’ feel to the game experience as a whole, so players can expect more tight and responsive controls, and a high-resolution pixel art style that is not limited to the constraints of the 16-bit era. The same goes for the high-quality audio samples and recordings -, we removed the idea of “lives” that was present in our references, and designed a very attractive game for speed-runners. In fact, game flow is something that we really care about, so the level design was planned in a way that allows players to finish levels at their own pace. Casual players can enjoy a walk in the park, while hardcore players can go fast without feeling disappointed. The story and world building were thought to be quite unique as well, and we think that is fundamental for a platform game. While players explore the Crystal Islands, we want to give them a feeling of a refreshing and exciting new world, replete with creative scenarios, populated with charismatic characters that, hopefully they will be happy to meet. 

What are the most significant changes about the game since you initially started this project and why did you decide to make these adjustments?  

Many changes were made since the beginning of the project. For starters, the original idea was to make Kaze and the Wild Masks a mobile platform game, so during the first year of development we had a mindset of doing a limited small game. I’m glad we dismissed this idea! Now the game is coming to Nintendo Switch™, PlayStation®4, Xbox One and Steam® - and we couldn’t be happier!  

 Another big change was the design of Kaze and her antagonists. As I mentioned previously, Kaze was a male, grey and brown bunny, wearing a hat and boots, looking like an anthropomorphic version of 'kid Indiana Jones', while her foes were all childishly goofy. I guess it was in the second year of development that we started gathering feedback from fellow developers, and by then we knew that we should change the overall design of the characters - the game was becoming a product for young children only, but in reality we wanted to make a game for everyone, from adult gamers that wanted the nostalgic feeling of being transported back do the 90’s, to teenagers and young kids that might play a pixel art platform game for the first time. That’s when we started remodeling a lot of the game visuals for what you see today on the screen. 

What is the most rewarding part about developing games?

The idea that we’re doing something that we love, that we are making something that might inspire and delight. We simply want to provide fun and enjoyable moments to other people in the same way that we were affected by the games in our 90s childhood.

"I have a feeling players will constantly have thoughts of “oh, I see what you did there” while playing Kaze and the Wild Masks"  

What do you like the most about Kaze and the Wild Masks?

The audio part!!! Haha, kidding aside, I like so much stuff about this game. I really like the character, I think Kaze is adorable, she’s a badass that loves exploring and going on adventures. I love the high definition pixel art with its many levels of details, the tight and responsive controls. Above all else I love exploring the levels for secrets while crushing some veggies along the way (sorry, mom… I still can’t eat all my veggies). 

Are there any Easter eggs or fun references to other games/series hidden in the game?

Let’s see if the most hardcore players can find them! In a sense the whole game is a fun reference to classic platform games and I have a feeling players will constantly have thoughts of “oh, I see what you did there” while playing Kaze and the Wild Masks.

If you were to start developing Kaze and the Wild Masks again from the beginning, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

Particularly, I’d say we would probably give more focus to the pre-production phase of the project. For instance, when we decided to make Kaze a game for consoles and PC instead of a mobile game, a whole new world opened before our eyes. Suddenly there were way less limitations and we started seeing the game we really wanted to make; we started to get the gameplay feel and the emotional feeling of nostalgia that we initially wanted. Decisions like that should be taken early to avoid rework and make the process of development smoother and faster.

A digital and physical version of Kaze and the Wild Masks is currently in the works for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam. Curious to learn more about the game? You can have a look at the trailer below or head over to the Steam Page to wishlist the game! 

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

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Kaze and the Wild Masks

Go on a journey as Kaze in this 90’s classics inspired platformer. When the Crystal Islands get cursed, Kaze needs to save her friend Hogo while facing enraged living vegetables. Find the Wild Masks to unleash the powers of the legendary guardians and master land, sky and sea.

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