Mike Mamula is one of the creative forces behind the hit video game series MX vs. ATV. A game designer currently working on the series' latest release MX vs. ATV Supercross, with a tentative release date this summer.
Mamula raced amateur motocross in Florida and throughout the Southeast in the Winter Ams, Gold Cup series and Florida Trail Riders MX, among others. One of his most memorable races occurred in Hilliard, FL when he won all six motos. In 2003, he went over the handlebars landing on his head. His life forever changed.
Determined and left with no regrets, Mamula turned an art hobby into a career and when Rainbow Studios (name later changed to THQ Digital Phoenix and assets acquired by Nordic Games in 2013) called after seeing his work for Motocross Madness 1 and 2, he gladly took the job.
Mamula's accident hasn't kept him off real-life MX tracks either. He rides Honda Pilots, an ATV with a roll cage, and has ripped around Gatorback Cycle Park in Florida, where the Mini Os were held in November, and now the dunes where he lives in Arizona. He also is pretty adept at using a hand cycle and has plans to compete in an Ironman Triathlon.
Age you started riding: 10
What motorcycle did you start on: Honda Cub, then KX80
Where you work: Phoenix, AZ
What?s your job: Game Designer/Level Designer
- MX vs. ATV Unleashed PC
- MX vs. ATV Untamed
- MX vs. ATV Reflex
- MX vs. ATV Alive
- Animated track maps for Green Arrow
1. You grew up racing amateur motocross, how did you get involved with that?
My Dad raced back in his day, then sold the dirt bikes around the time he got married. Growing up we would go to Supercross and I would go through Cycle Trader circling bikes I wish I could have. My Dad always had a few street bikes, but my mom said that if he sold all his street bikes he could fill the garage with dirt bikes, so he did.
2. You had a terrible accident in 2003 - what happened?
Yes, the short answer is I broke my back at T4, T5, and T6 and damaged my spinal cord. This happened at Hard Rock Cycle Park in Florida. If you know the track, the section leading up to the water tower jump had a split section at the time - eight pack on the left, and double/double/triple on the right. This was first moto of the day, and I went right and cased the triple and just went over the bars landing on my head. Pretty much exploded my vertebrae. Being a motocrosser, this was not my first injury, but I knew right away something was way wrong.
3. What did you go through emotionally knowing you?re now paralyzed and you'll never ride again and how did you push forward?
I get this question a lot, and my answer is always along the lines of "no regrets." We all know the risk you take every time you swing your leg over the fender. My first questions weren't along the lines of will I ever ride again, but rather what other activities can I get involved in. I was also eager to get back to college and just get on with life. A good friend of mine, who was also in a chair, had three Honda Pilots - the ATV with a roll cage. I ended up buying two of them and those things rip around pretty good. I've done some laps around Gatorback MX and SX track, and some general trail riding. Then after moving out to AZ, and having the dunes in Glamis so close, I try to get out there as much as possible. Though currently I'm down because I got a little crazy and crushed the roll cage. Finding parts for a 25-year old machine is tough.
I also try to stay busy and active riding my handcycle. One of these days I'd like to complete an Iron Man triathlon. Us wheelers are a tight group, and being friends with Ricky James, David Bailey and Doug Henry and seeing what those guys do gives me a lot of motivation. Plus, I'm not much one for team sports so I figure that is a perfect goal.
4. Was game design your way of staying in the sport you loved or was it something you already planned to get into?
Well art was always a hobby of mine, especially the transition to digital art. Back around 1999/early 2000's I was making tracks and gear for Motocross Madness 1 and 2. After I got hurt, I generally spent more time playing and modding those games for fun. A little light bulb went off in my head and I realized I could make a living doing this sort of thing. At the time, I wanted to work for Pixar. But I never really got that far, as Rainbow studios saw some of my work online and asked me to work for them. So in the end I lucked out and was able to stay involved in the sport.
I also do the animated track maps with the Green Arrow, so I get to do some animation work that got me interested in this career path in the first place. It's funny how things come full circle, because through some of the relationships I've developed I've been able to bring some of the moto industry closer to the game, and vice versa.
5. What's your favorite part of game design?
The daily challenge and problem solving. Every day is something new and it is always evolving. There are a lot of long days and late nights, but it is really cool seeing your hard work come to life, and ultimately sharing it with the world.
6. Do you look at real life tracks for inspiration?
All the time. Whether it translates to gameplay such as Phoenix's triple/triple/triple section, or an iconic environment like Washougal or a mixture of both such as Daytona. In the past, our tracks were usually set in an exotic or over-the-top setting. I think you'll see us keep it a little more true to the sport with our tracks now.
7. Clearly you can create fun tracks for games that'll never work in real life do you have a favorite track that's game only and a favorite track that could be emulated in a real Motocross setting?
It's funny because I like tracks that have a lot of rhythm and does something out of the ordinary, such as going up into the stands or outside the stadium. We have some real tracks with these features, so I'm not really sure who inspired who there. But I guess what is unique to video game tracks is the fact there is no risk of injury at hucking a huge quad like in real life. I'm ok with that!
8. What's your process when it comes to designing and deciding what goes in a game?For the most part I just try to make something fun. You can't always design fun on paper, so just playing around with different track layouts and jump combos is my approach. We have really good development tools that allow us to create and tune content pretty quickly. I just wish we did not have deadlines and ship dates that ultimately limit how much final content we can create.
9. Do you put little hidden gems for people to find in the games you create?
Oh yeah! We try to add a lot of depth and details that real riders would understand - like the rider pulling a tear-off. Within the levels I like to put creative jumps or lines to discover. Other times we might provide a blatant discovery like putting a 250 2-stroke out in a free ride world for you to hop on and ride. And there is always the chance at making a bit of an inside joke like some of the butt-patches.
10. Who wins - dirt bike or ATV?
Well I am biased. I'll always side with the 2-wheeled variety. And even more-so if it is a 2-stroke! But this is a game and there needs to be a balance there, so the PC answer is whichever one you are better at.
Written By: AndrewT