Maurice Guégan and Sašo Smolej are both 20-year-old students that have become known for being designers who defy expectations. You know their work, even if the names don't ring a bell. Guégan and Smolej are the co-founders of Stabyourself and responsible for Mari0, the amazing Super Mario Bros. and Portal mashup that's been making the rounds the past week.
Yes, Mari0's a real thing the two intend to release eventually, provided Valve or Nintendo don't come forward and ask the two of them to disappear from the Internet with a virtual finger snap. When the final game arrives has yet to be determined, the two tell me. It could happen before the end of the year, it could happen much sooner.
The pair, whom I recently spoke to over email, don't have a real concrete plan about their future in game development. It's unclear what the endgame for Stabyourself is, other than an outlet for their ideas, but for the time being, that seems to be enough for the both of them--and the rest of us are reaping the benefits of their humorous creativity.
Guégan and Smolej's creations have gone viral several times. In Not Tetris, they introduced real physics into the equation, rather than Tetris' traditional "snapping," which makes the game, uh, playable. This unexpected element makes Tetris a completely different kind of game. Not Pac-Man is also in the works--Guégan described the project as "almost finished"--but that one's hook is unknown.
"When I was packing up the first Not Tetris for a friend during development," said Guégan, "I decided to call it that and the name stuck because it fits with the 'it's not what you're expecting' thing. It was since turned into a running gag in the programming forum we frequent, where people will call their untitled games 'Not Roguelike' or 'Not Spaceshooter' until they come up with a better name."
The video "Mario Portal Test 3," in which Guégan shows off what would happen if Aperture Science started hanging out with Shigeru Miyamoto and our favorite plumber was handed a portal gun, was uploaded to on August 14. Since then, it's racked up more than 668,000 views. They had no idea people would flip out, but when it comes to Portal-related shenanigans, players can't control themselves. Portal: No Escape, a terrific short film inspired by Valve's series, is at over 5,000,000 views.
Mari0 was inspired by another video created by Dorkly, a division of College Humor, in which Mario's depicted manipulating his otherwise simple, two-dimensional world with a portal gun in hand.
"Maurice was already working on a Mario clone in Lua [a programming language], as practice if nothing else," said Smolej. "When the [Dorkly] video came along, the idea arose to just add portals to the game and see what happens. Apparently we're not the only ones that like it."
It's magic. I've been playing with an early build of Mari0 and can say watching a video is a fraction of the fun. Jumping around the Mushroom Kingdom as Mario wielding an object capable of ripping apart the fabric of his own known existence is...weird. It's goofy, bumbling fun when playing through the original levels crafted by Miyamoto and co., but it's when you dive into the handmade stages put together by Smolej and Guégan where Portal and Mario truly merge, and it becomes something new.
"When you see Tetris, Pac-Man or Super Mario, you have certain expectations for how the game will behave, what rules you have to abide to and what youíll be doing over the course of the playing session," said Guégan. "With the Not games and Mari0, we're mixing this completely up, giving you a new way to play these games in a familiar environment. It's this transition, from being denied what you were expecting to adjusting to the changes, that we find most enjoyable."
It may sound obvious, but Guégan and Smolej are not simply modifying ROMs dumped onto the Internet. The sound and graphics are extracted from the original game, with the game itself reconstructed with Lua. It's the same process for all the nostalgic riffs Stabyourself's played with.
I tried to pitch Stabyourself on creating Not Mega Man, but they shrugged at the thought, as the two are more interested in playing with physics. They're open to playing around with it, though, if anyone has any ideas.
And why Stabyourself? Simple. Guégan was playing with some scissors and...stabbed himself.
"The scissors attacked me, I'm telling you!" claimed Guégan.
Smolej couldn't resist registering a domain after the incident, the kind of action nobody at Giant Bomb would ever think of taking, if you forget batmanbatmanbatman.com and a bunch of other stuff. Since then, the name's stuck around.
"Whatever else we'd come up with at that point, I'm sure it would end up being worse," said Smolej.
The biggest question facing Stabyourself after being mentioned on every blog everywhere has been when (if?) someone will come and shut them down. Since hitting it big, they have made sure to make their intentions clear: they will not charge anything and the source will be released.
Still, the idea of a cease and desist bringing everything to a halt is a real threat, but they even joke about it on their contact page.
"As far as we can tell from other examples (like Portal: Flash Version and Super Mario Crossover) both companies [Valve, Nintendo] are okay with fanworks as long as they are making no profit off them," said Guégan. "We were actually sort of scared of The Tetris Company because they're known for cracking down on Tetris clones, including free ones, but we have yet to hear from them."
"Though the sudden popularity surge isn't really helping us stay under the radar," quipped Smolej.
"Yeah, thanks a lot Giant Bomb," responded Guégan.
You're welcome, guys.