Bartlett says using the Mario series as the game's basis made sense as a way to get people's attention and create a game people will like to play. "We believe that Super Chick Sisters has an extremely broad appeal. By parodying a series with such universal appeal like Super Mario Bros., we think we've created a game that will resonate across all demographics of people who are online, particularly the young people that KFC so clearly targets with its advertising."
"We certainly hope that the game has crossed [Mario creator] Shigeru Miyamoto's desk and that he enjoyed playing our tribute to his masterpiece," adds Bartlett, a Wii owner whose first gaming loves included Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007. "That would be a dream come true for me."
The PETA team found inspiration in other Mario parodies found on YouTube and Flash games like those on Newgrounds.com. After some research on casual gaming, and the realization that an anti-advergame would stand out from the crowd, they moved forward. "As a non-profit, we have an extremely tight budget for this type of project," Bartlett says. "Fortunately we have an amazing Flash developer in-house, or else this game might never have been made."
That developer is 27-year-old Karen Nilsen, a web designer who says she forced herself to stop playing games for about 15 years, to keep herself from becoming addicted to them. "I must admit the research [for Super Chick Sisters] was fun," she says, also by email. "I had - and still have - strong urges to rush out and buy a Nintendo DS system to play the New Super Mario Bros. Nintendo really created a masterpiece there."
As her first experience with game design, Nilsen says Super Chick Sisters took four months of three-days-a-week work to create, not counting evenings spent reading about basic trigonometry, ActionScript animation and using Flash for game design. After hearing about KFC's chicken-raising practices, Nilsen's two sound engineer housemates volunteered to create the sound effects and Mario-esque music found in the game.
Programming, drawing graphics and recording sounds are parts of the creation of most videogames, but Super Chick Sisters had an additional requirement: The PETA team wanted to make the game fun enough that people would want to play, but serious enough that it still relayed their often grim message.
"There's no doubt that painfully cutting off the sensitive beaks of baby birds and then scalding them to death is inherently uncool," Nilsen says. "To build a game - one that people would actually want to play - around these ghastly facts was an enormous challenge. To be successful in the world of net-based games we had to give it an edge, and that meant we had to polish the graphics, sound and gameplay until it all gleamed. If we wanted gamers to hear the message, we had to respect them and deliver a decent game."
For Super Chick Sisters, PETA chose a kind of negative product placement approach to make their point. Enemies have the face of Colonel Sanders, and the famous Kentucky businessman himself is the final boss, disguised as Mario nemesis Bowser. Blood-smeared KFC logos adorn the walls of some levels. And if players stop to read, various human protesters or horrified animals give information from PETA on how they say KFC treats its chickens. One protester tells you, "KFC is scalding chickens to death! Many birds are still awake when their feathers are scalded off in 'defeathering tanks.' Can you imagine THAT?! Yuck!"