The butt of all videogames…

What do you get when you cross Atari with Graphite Lab? You get the magical, puzzle perplexing combination that is Kombinera and today, we’re really going to spoil you with our latest Miketendo64 interview.

One of our longer interviews to date, we’re not just by just one developer who worked on Kombinera, but three and just recently, they were on the receiving end of a pretty extensive Q&A.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s introduce you to We hope you are sitting comfortably, because it’s time to strap in for another Miketendo64 interview, but first, let’s introduce you to Phil Snowbarger, Matt Raithel and Jacob Lear:

The Three Wise Men:

Miketendo64: Before we dive right into the probing questions, we always like to start things off nice and light. Therefore, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Phil Snowbarger: I’m Phil Snowbarger, a 23-year-old artist and animator. I’ve always loved video games for as long as I can remember; I grew up playing games like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and anything that I thought looked cool from the used games bin at GameStop.

I’ve always been interested in how games were made, and have always wanted to make one of my own, though never had much success or made much progress going solo.

Because of that, I thought that working in games wasn’t for me, so I pursued a degree in interactive design, thinking I would end up working as a UI or motion graphics designer, but this ultimately led to me meeting Matt Raithel, studio director at Graphite Lab, and getting a job working as an artist there.

Jacob Lear: I am Jacob Lear, a 23-year-old game designer. I wasn’t much of a gamer until my early teens when I sat down with MW2 and WOW. It was then that I fell in love. I am the kind of guy who chooses one game and will only play that game until it has nothing left to give.

Though I had all this passion for games and creative outlets, I never imagined being able to legitimately pursue game creation. I had graduated from Saint Louis University with a degree in Biology with the intention of going to medical school. However, I managed to pursue games in my free time and it has led me to this point. I can now say I am a game designer!

Matt Raithel: I’m Matt Raithel. I’m, uh, much older than Phil and Jacob. I own and operate Graphite Lab, a full-service development studio located in St. Louis, Missouri, USA! I got into games in 2004, working on the GBA as an artist. I’ve worked on just about every platform since then, from the Nintendo Wii to the Atari VCS; mobile, too.

Miketendo64: And now to follow-up, what is your role at Graphite Lab, and what is the extent of your involvement with Kombinera?

Phil Snowbarger: I work full time as an artist at Graphite Lab.  I co-created the prototype for Kombinera with Jacob, doing most of the code/art/audio.  For the full release of the game, the programming responsibilities were handed off to our developers at Graphite Lab, which allowed me to focus my efforts on developing the visuals and the audio.

Jacob Lear: I now work full time as a game designer at Graphite Lab. I co-created the prototype for Kombinera with Phil, doing the level designs. For the full release of the game, I continued to do the level design, both making a majority of the levels and leading two other designers to help make all of the 300+ levels in a cohesive direction.

Matt Raithel: I’m the Studio Director. I’ve overseen the general production of the game and led the collaboration between our team and Atari. I’ve done some light playtesting and given feedback on visual development, but the team has worked so well in delivering a fun experience that I’ve not had much criticism to give!

Kombining an (Oliver) Twist:

Miketendo64: To properly kick things off, can you tell us a bit about Kombinera? What is it and how does it play?

Phil Snowbarger: Kombinera is a puzzle platformer with a unique and interesting twist.

What makes Kombinera special is that the player controls every character on-screen simultaneously.  It really challenges you to think, plan your moves, and see the environment differently.

Jacob Lear: Bouncing off of Phil, some characters will have unique abilities, and when the characters merge, the abilities are passed down. This creates a level of complexity when deciding which characters to merge first in order to properly traverse the level and merge with all the balls.

Miketendo64: Said to feature an “in-depth, complex, heart-tugging emotional storyline,” could you provide us with a brief example or two of the game’s emotional narrative?

Jacob Lear: I think the gameplay and trailer speak for themselves. But it does bring up a great point that we are open to movie deals, as we think our personable main character and complex character-to-character interactions would make for a great film. Maybe a trilogy…

Miketendo64: King Kombine is trapped in the Kave of Kaos and it is up to the players to save him by solving many puzzles, but where did the inspiration for Kombinera come from?

Phil Snowbarger: For me, Kombinera has many sources of inspiration, some notable influences are games like Thomas Was Alone, Fez, Super Meat Boy, and Sound Shapes, just to name a few.

Jacob Lear: For me, Kombinera was less inspired by other games and more inspired by my love for logic and puzzles. Being able to express that passion in video game form is quite satisfying.

Another Piece of the Puzzle:

Miketendo64: With Kombinera getting exceedingly harder as players progress through the game’s 300 levels, how hard was it for you guys to come up with so many perplexing puzzles?

Jacob Lear: It did take quite some time to develop so many levels, each unique and varying in style, but it was made easier by the many ways difficulty could be varied. While creating puzzles, having an extra ball, or being a bit larger map, or even introducing another obstacle were all methods that could significantly change the difficulty and keep things fresh. Not only this, but the more puzzles we made, the easier it became to create new and more complex levels.

Additionally, the method of creation is significantly different than the process of solving. When you create a level, you start with an ideal way to solve the level and introduce obstacles to make sure it can only be solved in such a manner. When solving, you have no idea what the ideal solution is, so you have to go through and test all the possible solutions if you don’t see one immediately.

Miketendo64: From multiple hazards to multiple abilities, can you give us a quick walkthrough as to what to expect?

Phil Snowbarger: One of our goals with Kombinera was to challenge players and introduce mechanics that would shake things up and change what’s possible, making you see the environment in new ways.

The abilities are some of my favorite parts of the game, there are balls with reverse gravity, mirrored controls, and balls that can’t jump.  Sometimes it can break your brain, but they’re super fun to play with, and they allow for some really clever and challenging solutions to puzzles.

Miketendo64: For the players bound to get stuck, are there any tips and tricks to Kombinera you can share to help players get started?

Phil Snowbarger: Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t worry if you die a lot, especially as you’re first getting started.  Also, the grid in the background can be a very useful tool to help you line things up and know how far you can move without having to shift your focus.

If you’re really stuck and can’t figure something out, maybe go for a walk and come back with fresh eyes, or ask a friend/roommate/sibling/parent or anyone nearby for help, sometimes you just need to see things from a different perspective.

Jacob Lear: Often the environment is shaped in a particular way. If there is a “random” wall jutting out, quite possibly it’s not random and you are supposed to use that wall in some way.

Don’t be Cross there’s no Cross-play Progression:

Miketendo64: When did development on Kombinera first begin, and how was the development process for all involved?

Phil Snowbarger: The development of the original prototype began in February 2021 when Jacob and I decided to participate in the Brackeys Game Jam.

That was a really fun and fast experience, we were both pretty busy the week of the Jam, I believe I was working on Bratz at the time and Jacob was still in school, so most of the work was done that weekend.

We were both satisfied with how the game turned out at the end of the Jam and decided we wanted to continue developing it, so we worked on it here and there in our spare time until eventually, we were blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with Graphite Lab and Atari.

Matt Raithel: Once we got involved with the game and connected with Atari things began moving pretty fast. We did a major code and art pass to refactor some systems that were quickly built and prototyped. We also built more robust level editors and tools that would allow the team to move more quickly.

After getting the prototype refined, we started with level expansion, narrative, and other quality-of-life improvements. As a final pass, we went through and introduced the narrative cutscenes and some features that add to replayability, such as the par-modes and the collectibles. Overall, it was a really well-organized development due to how strong the core team was.

Miketendo64: With a game like Kombinera, precision control inputs are a must, how did you go about perfecting the control scheme to get the most out of the game?

Phil Snowbarger: When initially developing the movement for the player, one of the primary goals was to create something that felt good, while also giving the player enough control so that their focus could be on solving the puzzles rather than the difficulty of moving the character.

We implemented a lot of common tricks used in other platformers, like coyote-time, jump buffering, and variable jump height, to give players the smoothest experience that we could.

We also played the game a lot to get everything feeling just the way we wanted, as well as to keep the controls as simple as possible.

Jacob Lear: Just as Phil said, we wanted players to focus on the puzzles rather than worry about the movement. Not only did we design the controls this way, but we also focused on creating levels/puzzles that would not have players too caught up in perfecting timing and precision platforming.

Rather, the levels are very oriented toward figuring out the correct level progression instead of perfect timing and jumps. Not to say it won’t be encountered from time to time.

Miketendo64: Given the many different platforms Kombinera is planned for, are there any differences between all versions, or is it the same version, regardless of platform?

Matt Raithel: We have some unique content for VCS players that we think they will enjoy. We also took some serious time to perfect the controls on mobile. Directional input is done pretty poorly on a lot of older mobile titles

We demand such precision in Kombinera that we had to devise a way for players to reliably and naturally control the objects no matter where they happened to press. Getting our “touch anywhere” approach to work took time, but we hope the mobile audience will appreciate it.

Miketendo64: As a quick follow-up, since Kombinera is releasing on multiple platforms, for the players that have more than one platform, will cross-play progression be utilized, and if not, are there any plans to add it post-release?

Matt Raithel: It’s a wonderful feature, but we don’t have it set up to support cross-play at launch. We have a backlog of ideas we would like to implement if the fans support the game, and I would love to support players moving from one platform to another.

The Mobile Connection:

Miketendo64: Given the number of mobile games you have released over the years, what led to the decision to not limit Kombinera to mobile-only, but also bring it to consoles?

Matt Raithel: I got my start making games on console with a studio that used to be Graphite Lab’s parent company. So, I’ve always had console development roots. It wasn’t until 2010 that our team shifted to the mobile market. I love making mobile titles, but missed getting to share our work on consoles as well. Kombinera was an important step in cementing our role not just as a mobile developer, but as a developer for all platforms.

Miketendo64: Depending on the success of Kombinera, would you consider bringing any of your other games to other platforms?

Matt Raithel: Many of our games are collaborations with publishers and licensors. We would love to bring our other games to as many players as we can, yet it isn’t completely up to us to make those decisions.

Miketendo64: Bratz, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Craig of the Creek, Clue; having worked on so many different IPs, are there any in particular that you’d like to work on next?

Matt Raithel: There are so many (and there are some that may have even gotten away)! Steven Universe is a brand that we always wanted to work with, but as that show has wrapped up, it may not be in the cards for us. I’ve always loved the Kid Icarus franchise and would love to bring that franchise forward in a few unique ways!

Hive Minds:

Miketendo64: You previously worked on Hive Jump, a title released on Steam, Switch, Xbox One and the Nintendo Wii U. We know some developers had their share of horror stories when developing for the Wii U, but how did you guys find making a Wii U compatible title?

Matt Raithel: The Wii U was a great system for Hive Jump. We received a lot of wonderful support from Nintendo and we were even part of the first Nindies group with Shovel Knight, Runbow, and some other Nintendo favorites.

Our challenge with the Wii U was that we developed a lot of our systems with PC frameworks as a foundation and those didn’t translate too well when going to the Wii U. We had to make some tough choices during development about what to focus on.

It was a stressful time, but I’ll always be glad we pushed forward on the Wii U. We had a fair amount of our Kickstarter supporters come from the Wii U audience and I was determined to not leave them without a version they deserved.

Miketendo64: Would you ever consider doing a sequel to Hive Jump?

Matt Raithel: Several of the original team members of Hive Jump are off making other things in other places now, but everyone loves a good reunion story, I think. It’s not out of the question for me, but we do have our hands on some other ideas that would put any Hive Jump sequel quite a ways out.

Working with Atari:

Miketendo64: You are no strangers to the mobile market, nor are you strangers to working on big IPs, but how did the collaboration between yourselves and Atari come about?

Matt Raithel: We first started working with Atari on a mobile puzzle title which was released in 2020. It wasn’t until later in 2021 that we reached out to them about a potential publishing role on Kombinera.

We first shared an initial prototype with them along with a document detailing our plans for the completed version. It took several months of conversations over email and video conference to reach a decision.

We felt from the very beginning that Kombinera would feel at home in the Atari portfolio, so while we did have other publishers interested in the title, we were most excited about Atari being involved.

Miketendo64: With Atari on board as publisher, just how much involvement did they have with Kombinera and how have you found the collaboration?

Matt Raithel: We met with Atari multiple times each week to discuss development progress, share ideas, and get feedback.

They were wonderful to work with and really sought to understand our goals for the game before we discussed any feedback. Some great features like the short-hop came from that feedback and have made the game a more fun experience overall.

Dreaming the “N” Possible:

Miketendo64: Since we are a Nintendo site, with the likes of WayForward being allowed to work on the upcoming Advanced Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp and Brace Yourself Games developing 2019’s Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda, if you had the chance to work on ANY Nintendo IP, which one would be your dream come true and, if you were in charge of the entire project, what kind of game would you like to make?

Phil Snowbarger: I’ve never really thought about that before, but I’ve always been partial to Mario and Kirby, so doing something with either of those would be awesome.  I think a Kirby/Kombinera crossover similar to Cadence of Hyrule would be pretty sweet.

Jacob Lear: I think working on a game like Pokémon or Zelda would be amazing. I love the RPG elements and think there are many unique areas those titles have yet to explore.

Final Words:

Miketendo64: Since Kombinera is by no means the only game Graphite Lab has been involved in, we would love to take this moment to talk about some of your other games. So, are there any games you would love to recommend to our readers?

Matt Raithel: Hive Jump is worth a look. We also developed RollerCoaster Tycoon Puzzle with Atari as well.

Miketendo64: Other than Kombinera, does Graphite Lab have anything else lined up in the pipeline that gamers the world over could hope to enjoy sometime later in 2022 and 2023?

Matt Raithel: There are a few things in production for sure! We can’t announce anything yet, but this won’t be the last time we collaborate with Atari or bring new ideas forward. Keep your eyes on our social channels for other announcements and news!

Miketendo64: Final question, is there anything you would like to say, or any additional comments you would like to add, for our readers and your fans? The floor is yours.

Phil Snowbarger: When we first created Kombinera, we never imagined that it would grow into something as big as it has. I’m super excited to finally get to see people play the game. We worked really hard on it, and I hope people can have as much fun playing it as we’ve had making it.

Jacob Lear: I am stoked to be able to share Kombinera with the world! Can’t wait to see what people think and to work on what is next!

Matt Raithel: Thanks for helping us get the word out, and thanks to the teams at Graphite, Joystick, and Atari for the wonderful collaboration!

Phil, Jacob and Matt, you have our utmost thanks for taking the time and spoiling us so much with your answers. We would also like to thank our readers or making it this far. We hope you enjoyed what you read and in you liked everything you have heard so far, Kombinera is out now on Nintendo Switch.

About Kombinera:

Control multiple colored balls simultaneously in this brain-bending puzzle platformer. It’s up to you to combine every ball and complete each perilous level. Can you solve them all? Can you save King Kombine from the Kave of Kaos?


Core Features:

  • Progress through 300 increasingly complex puzzles.
  • Encounter new hazards and abilities.
  • Replay levels to achieve best times.
  • Grab collectibles to unlock new levels
  • Vibrant neon visual style accompanied by ambient electronic audio tracks.
  • In-depth, complex, heart-tugging emotional storyline.

By Jack Longman

In 2015, when rumours of the NX and Zelda U were everywhere, my brother and I started Miketendo64 and we've been running it ever since. As the Editor-in-Chief, I have attended video gaming events in three different countries, been to preview events, and penned more than 4,000 articles to date, ranging from news, to features, reviews, interviews and guides. I love gaming and I love all things Nintendo. I also love Networking, so don't be afaid to reach out. Email: / Website: YouTube channel:

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