A Game That Makes Games: How an Indie Studio Crafted the Genre-Blending 'Supermash'

Supermash - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy Digital Continue
Joe Tringali, the game's director and co-founder of developer Digital Continue, discusses his inspiration for the creative new title and the seemingly endless challenges it can cook up for players.

During a recent live-stream showcase of independent video games, Nintendo unveiled a number of upcoming titles that ran the gamut from role-playing adventures to puzzlers to platformers. One newcomer that stuck out was developer Digital Continue's Supermash, a "game that makes games" by randomly generating levels based on the player's choice to meld two different genres together.

"The idea came out of a crazy thought of how to communicate to people what it feels like to make games, even though it isn’t at all how you make games," Joe Tringali, co-founder of Digital Continue and Supermash director, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s just the feeling of trying crazy ideas and the magic of discovering what this idea can do."

The concept originally came to Tringali back in 2016, when he first founded Digital Continue with fellow gaming vets Bobby Pavlock and Nitin Venugopal. Tringali had previously co-founded and served as chief operating officer at developer 5th Cell, best known for the Scribblenauts series, a puzzle game franchise where players could type in a word (raccoon, chainsaw, zombie, etcetera) and it would populate in the game world and be able to be interacted with. 

"All of the games we worked on at 5th Cell are a huge part of how I see game design," says Tringali.

Given the small scale of the new studio, the idea that would eventually become Supermash was shelved for a few years, until development began in earnest — though it wasn't a success right from the get-go. "We went through like three phases of the game," Tringali explains. "The first phase was very open, a lot of small pieces that sort of worked but were very unpredictable with what kind of games it would create."

"The second phase," he continues, "we combined some other things together and created a system that more accurately resembled combining genres instead of just gameplay types. The game didn’t come together until about 70-75 percent of the way into development."

In Supermash (which is currently available on PC through the Epic Games Store with plans to launch on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in the future), players pick two genres — say, platformer and RPG — and the game's system "mashes" them together to produce a playable game. The process is randomized and results in nearly endless permutations of challenges and new game types.

"I don’t know a practical number, but there are more games generated than I think you’d be able to play and complete," says Tringali. "The important thing is, because it’s a system generating the game, we don’t really control or script what the actual game does. That was a purposeful design decision we made early on, but the result of that is the system sometimes produces things that you would never see a real game designer make."

Some of those productions are quite challenging, as it turns out. "Some might seem impossible," Tringali says, but notes that it might just take more perseverance on the part of the player. "I’ve seen people give up on mashes that I know they probably could beat if they kept trying."

It all lends itself to a social aspect of the game, something that Tringali and the team were very apt to include. "From the very beginning, we wanted a way for people to be able to share mashes they enjoyed and ones they can’t beat to either validate the fact that it’s unbeatable or prove them wrong," he says.

With games like Mario Maker, Roblox, Minecraft and the upcoming Dreams on PS4, there has been a growing trend over the past decade of games with user-generated content. Tringali sees it as a new normal for the industry and something that younger fans, who are now maturing into customers with their own disposable income, have come to expect.

"With the younger generation, it’s what they know," he says. "As they get older and start buying and playing more games I think the expectation is going to be there in a bigger way. Games have always offered something that other media can’t, which is the player’s ability to impact. Moving toward a place where the player has a direct ability to create the experience or manipulating it in very tangible ways is really exciting and will be a big part of the future."