PlayStation All-Stars: Seth Killian Interview
People know you as Capcom’s fighting games guy. How did you end up joining Sony Santa Monica?
The story of coming to Capcom is probably only slightly more crazy than the story of coming to Sony. I’ve been lucky in life to find the right people at the right time. So actually, I’ve got friends at Santa Monica trying to make me think about going somewhere else. I was working very hard at Capcom with bosses on three different continents, eight hours apart. So it was a 24-hour cycle, during which something was always happening.
So it was very hard but it was really a show of faith from the Santa Monica, just from discussions and knowing some of them personally for quite some time, that they thought this would be a good role for me. The role is basically floating between different teams and talking about different kind of projects and they knew I would be able to communicate with a wide variety of people, obviously on a very technical level about a wide variety of games.
Even though everyone knows me for fighting games I think quite a bit about other games as well. Even at Capcom, there are beginnings of… they do some sort of internal reviews to look at the development of not just fighting games but other games as well. And I was part of that. So some experience in the wider world of games there.
I was excited about Santa Monica’s range of games. For me, they’re without question they’re one of the best studios in the United States. Maybe the best. You’ve got games like God Of War on one side and games like Journey on the other, all coming through the same studio. You’ve got Unfinished Swan and All-Stars.
I think Valve, I have the highest respect for them as well, you know a Valve game. You know the kind of game you can expect from Valve. Obviously they’re very high quality but I don’t think you would get a God Of War and a Journey and an All-Stars coming out of a group like Valve. Even though they’re amazing.
So the fact that that’s all capable of coming through one studio like Santa Monica is exciting, not just because I really like those games but also because it’s a great challenge for me personally. I felt like I was at a good place at Capcom. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes you want to put yourself in a position to fail.
You want to be challenged.
Yeah! Exactly. So I’m learning a lot of great new things, got all sorts of new challenges just like I had when I joined Capcom, so I’m very happy with that.
Given the timing of when you joined, how much input have you had with PlayStation All-Stars in particular? I noticed there are no characters with Psycho Crushers or headstomps.
[laughs] I’ve been asking for it. Everybody needs a headstomp, yeah! So obviously when I got there, the team at Superbot had already built an incredible game. What we were doing at the end was polish and focus, not just on the characters but the whole package of the game and trying to make everything else in the game match up to the core combat, which I think is really addictive and sticky.
Balance, to me, is where I want to spend the rest of my focus and obviously that goes not just right up to launch but beyond. So we’ll be following that all the way through as well as… you know. We’ll be looking at a lot of different things.
But I’ve known a lot of the team for a long, long time in different capacities. The development world can be really small and obviously the fighting game world even smaller, so it’s good to get a chance to work with these guys that I’ve known for years and been playing with for years.
I’ve already made the Psycho Crusher joke but who do you actually use in All-Stars?
I was going to say, Evil Cole has almost a Psycho Crusher, and I actually use Evil Cole! Or I did, but they nerfed him a little bit. Win a couple of tournaments at the Superbot offices and guess who gets nerfed, the winner!
Evil Cole is still great. I still play him. Probably my favourite character right now is Nathan Drake. I like Uncharted a lot but Nathan Drake is, to me, kind of a wise-cracking Han Solo type of character. And I don’t usually like that kind of character. That was the guy who was always picking on me [laughs]
So I don’t need that guy but I like his play style. I like picking up the barrel and following it in for mayhem. I consider him the strong sort of mid-range character. I consider him kind of like, the Guile of All-Stars. Throw out the barrel, like a Sonic Boom, and you follow it in and you’ve got the low forward and you’ve got to know all the right ranges…
And everyone hates you for it.
Yeah! Exactly. And you slowly grind them down until they put down the controller. He’s not quite as grindy as Guile. Certainly not as turtle-y. Turtling won’t get you very far in All-Stars. So yeah, Evil Cole… I actually think Good Cole may be better than Evil Cole so I’ve been trying to practice him a bit. Ironically they’re very, very different characters.
So I’ve been having a lot of fun with Nathan Drake, been playing a little bit of Parappa now. I’ve been inspired by some of the stuff I saw seen online from players I don’t even know during the beta. I was like man, these guys are really good Parappas. I got to go back and play Parappa again so I don’t get schooled!
What was it they were doing?
They had some really interesting resets. They had one way of resetting combos which I had not considered before which is to do rather than the hold uppercut, to do the short uppercut and jump-cancel it into a down dive, which leads to a lot of great stuff. It keeps you in a short range. So I hadn’t seen that before and I was like, I got to steal that.
That’s the classic thing with Youtube now isn’t it? You see some new tech and you think I’m not going to steal it. I’m going to, er, ‘borrow it’. Give it back later.
[laughs] I steal shamelessly! I steal all the tech and improve on it. I had a proper training mode and none of the people the beta had that. I was able to improve on all their tech in short order but I know they’ll catch me very quickly once the game is released.
But it’s that kind of stuff, seeing new possibilities. With another guy, he had a wall bounce into a level 1 combo. I knew those was possible but I didn’t know this particular one was possible and his was better than mine.
With what character?
Parappa. It was shoulder-tech into the skateboard slap. If you’re close enough to a wall… it’s all distance specific, which I actually like.
Wall bounces in Capcom fighters are consistent. No matter where you do Ryu’s EX Donkey Kick, they always hit the wall and bounce off to a range where you can basically do the same combo. There’s a tiny bit of variance but not really.
Whereas this, characters have a specific velocity and they lose velocity over time if they approach the wall, so if they’re going above a certain speed, they’ll bounce off and then you can continue the combo that way. It’s actually a key part of the gameplay. If they don’t, they’ll sort of clunk the wall and plop down over there.
So knowing those ranges, knowing what the optimal combo is depending on your relative positions to a wall or a platform or a ledge or whatever, it’s one of those emergent parts of the gameplay at a high level.
This may sound like a strange question but are you guys looking at All-Stars as a serious, competitive high-level game?
We absolutely are and I don’t want to be the guy doing the hard sell on that but it’s just the people who made the game, that’s 90% of what they play. They play hardcore competitive games. So it may have a happy rapper but they’ve actually made a completely competitive game, although it doesn’t really look like it.
I don’t want people to take my word for it. I think this stuff will emerge very naturally with the gameplay once it goes out into the wild. I hope people can get involved early so the game has a chance to succeed. But absolutely, there are major competitive elements.
Part of our issue is we keep showing free-for-all matches in all of our assets and things that go out. When you see free-for-all, you see four characters ping-ponging off each other and there doesn’t seem to be any particular strategy. Sometimes when you play you go ‘oh I’ve got this guy and I’m doing some tricks and moves’ and someone comes in and level 1s you in the back.
Free-for-all definitely has an element of variance. It’s not randomness. Strong players will win free-for-all matches. But it’s got an element of variance that is not as welcome in the core fighting game scene. But that goes away immediately when you start doing 2 v 2 or 1 v 1 matches, where there is no variance whatsoever.
Is this the kind of game you’d like to see at Evo then?
Yeah. So the good early sign is that there’s a bunch of other tournaments that are sort of the ones everyone watches, they happen in early January, who have been very interested in All Stars and asked if it can be part of their event. So that’s a good early sign.
Evo will really be dependent on the players. If we can find the audience and the audience is there… because that’s the thing. There are great games every year that don’t make it to Evo. Whether it’s BlazBlue, which obviously everyone thinks is a great, really interesting core fighting game but sometimes doesn’t have the audience in the US or outside of Japan, that’s not able to hold up… doesn’t get to Evo. So obviously we need All-Stars to be popular in that way, to some degree. But I think in terms of gameplay, it absolutely deserves to be there. I’ll say that without question.
I also personally hope it’s there. Not just as part of a legacy or being proud as a developer to have a game that ends up at Evo, which is a pretty great honour, but just because I think it’s also going to attract a new audience that wouldn’t have played a traditional fighting game.
I think getting those guys exposed to the wider world of fighting games is really good for everybody. It will put a lot of fresh blood in the scene and I’m absolutely confident people that will begin their fighting game career with All-Stars will end up playing our traditional favourites in Tekken or Street Fighter or Marvel.
I remember the year Smash Bros was there and the reception that got wasn’t great. Does that worry you with PlayStation All-Stars? Or are they different enough that it will avoid that?
I don’t think anybody sees them as different. Or the man on the street doesn’t see them as different enough, which is unfortunate. It’s obviously understandable because they look quite similar on the outside but the core mechanics of the game is really nothing like Smash. So I think actually in one sense, if we just made a Smash clone, we’d probably have been in a much better state [laughs]
But we wanted to do our own thing! And make the kind of game that’s sticky for people who have played a lot of Capcom games and traditional fighting games. So it’s the genre of fighters like Smash but the core mechanics are much, much closer to Street Fighter or Marvel in the detail. And… where were we on this?
I was asking about Smash’s reception at Evo and if that was a worry for you.
Yeah. So Smash is complicated because it has had its own scene, which it has had for a long time. Many of the scenes of games at Evo were basically defined by Evo. Whereas Smash always had its own world and events and competitions for a long time.
And then the other challenge, because Evo likes to play with as few rules as possible. Like, you don’t ever ban something and items in Brawl were not overpowered and so they played with items, which the Smash community doesn’t approve of. Because of the variance again.
So I thought it was a fantastic tournament but the Smash community didn’t like it because it had items, therefore it didn’t count. But those guys have their own great community and yeah. I don’t know if it’s too late for Smash. Actually, somebody did a poll on Facebook about what games they want at Evo and the Smash community totally took it over and dominated every game like, 10-1 for Smash.
So somebody in the Smash community wants to be there! Whether the rest of the community at Evo wants them there… but that to me is the glorious thing about Evo. I remember back when I was part of that, I remember when we introduced a Marvel game for the first time into the Street Fighter world, everyone was like ‘boo! It’s a button masher! There’s no skill in it! It’s ridiculous! It’s for children! It’s an idiotic game! Boo!’
Was this Marvel vs Capcom 2 or before that?
Yeah, it was Marvel vs Capcom 1. And 2 as well. And Marvel vs Capcom 1 is a really interesting game. Very competitive. But 2 was the same thing. There were the same complaints about that too. It’s a button masher for idiots, for children…
And then Justin Wong won everything.
Yeah, well, that’s the thing! If it’s a button masher for idiots, how come the same guy wins all the time? By elevating his game with interesting tactics? I’ve been around the scene for such a long time that I can remember when Marvel were introduced. ‘Boo! Scrubby games for idiots!’ When 3D games like Soulcalibur and Tekken were introduced, ‘boo! Button mashers, Eddy Gordo!’
When arcade switched to console games…
Yeah. ‘Boo! Console games are inherently bankrupt!’ So you know, there’s an inherent conservatism in the fighting game community, which and respect part of it but at the same time, history shows they’re usually wrong [laughs]
Growth tends to be a good thing! Not always and not every game works out but generally speaking they do. All these games share a lot of the same core concepts. I hope people discover All-Stars and maybe I should be out there doing a harder sell but I want them to discover it on their own and believe, rather than doing me a favour being like ‘okay Seth, for you we’ll take it.’ It has to earn its way and I certainly think it’s capable of that.
So all said and done, what do you see as the future of fighting games?
Well that’s part of why I’ve been trying to make a game like this for a long time and I’ve been very interested in trying to make a game like this for a long time.
Part of the way to keep things fresh is to open the door to new players. For a game like Street Fighter, that’s very difficult because there’s a legacy of 20 plus years for mechanics. The motion for hadouken is something close to sacrilege, right? You can’t do that without alienating people who have been part of the scene for 20 years whereas if you’re trying to introduce new players and they say ‘I want to do the big fireball. How do I do the big fireball?’ And you say ‘quarter-circle forward, then quarter-circle forward again quickly, then press all three punches.’
And they say ‘what? Why would I do that?’ and they’re sort of alienated by it. Some are attracted by the complexity but for every one you attract, you turn away 10. They go and play Call Of Duty, hit the trigger and kill somebody.
I think the way to really expand fighting games is to make them relevant to new audiences. So hopefully, I think All-Stars can be a good piece of outreach in terms of it’s drawing a lot of characters, so I think we’ll get a lot of people who are fans of the characters who are interested in the game, even if they wouldn’t consider themselves as interested in fighting games. And I think these people will learn a lot of the core concepts of fighting games and maybe move onto the other ones as well.
So I think part of what’s important for fighting games, people talk about educating people on fighting games and better tutorials, I think that’s only going to go so far. Those things are all great, absolutely, but they’re only going to go so far. The tools now, versus when I was learning to play fighting games, are literally a thousand times better.
There are great tutorials for any character in any fighting game you can imagine, there are infinite match videos of amazing players doing amazing things, there are in-game tutorials, there are infinite opponents from around the world online. So I don’t know if educational tools are enough. So maybe one way of outreach is which characters haven’t been part of fighting games in recent years but also keeping the inputs really simple because I’ve always believed that complexity is not a necessary companion to depth.
Throwing a simple hadouken is just as interesting with a one-button command as it is with the motion it actually is. It’s about when to do the move, it’s about relative position on the stage, it’s about outguessing your opponent and baiting them and those things are all present even in games with relatively simple controls. They’re all certainly present in All-Stars.
So I hope that’s a way of drawing in a lot of new people and it’s also a game that requires a little less investment, at least to get going, than some of the other traditional fighting games, which frankly sometimes aren’t fun. Especially the more convoluted ones aren’t fun until you’ve spent months and months and months playing.
I feel like All-Stars, especially in free-for-all, is fun right away. Even if you aren’t great at it, you think at least I got some hits in and I got that guy with a level 2 super, that felt really good. So you get moments of victory you don’t necessarily get in other fighting games…
I noticed that in our office – when we put it on there were lots of people wanting a go who wouldn’t go near a Street Fighter or a Tekken.
Because there’s always some dude who will beat the tar out of them, you know? In this game, it’s not just fresh, but it’s also approachable while having a lot of the same core concepts.
Fighting games, to me, are still one of the great genres ever invented so I don’t want to see them collapse under their own weight again. I’ve seen that once and we had to wait a long time until they came back [laughs]
Ono said that customisation was the future of fighting games and that’s where the idea of gems for Street Fighter X Tekken came from. As someone who was once at the forefront of that battle over the perception of gems, how do you see Ono’s viewpoint now?
I think customisation is definitely one way of going. Obviously Call Of Duty is very successful with loadouts, which has been aped in a number of ways and Capcom had a bit of that earlier on with the Street Fighter III games, where you had selectable supers and you could customise your characters a bit.
I don’t know if Street Fighter X Tekken is the best test case of whether that’s a workable concept just because the way it was implemented was not popular with the community. Paid DLC turned a lot of people off early, unfortunately. So that’s one direction but also for games like Street Fighter, it’s not possible to go in this sort of, relatively simple input kind of direction.
If I had to play the same kind of cards that Ono-san had to play, which of course I did for many years, I think customisation is a really interesting possibility for fighting games. But it needs to be done… it will be tough to start over from Street Fighter X Tekken and find a new way to introduce those same kind of concepts in a way that people are more open to.
Kat and Emmett have been confirmed for DLC, who else is on the way? Any hints? No names. Just hints.
Well… I can’t say we’re going to address everyone’s concerns or desires. There are obviously a lot of requests for characters we don’t own but some of the people who have been vocal on forums asking for specific characters, they’re going to get their way. If things work out.
The two characters I want is the horse from Shadow Of Colossus and the Dodge Viper GTS from Gran Turismo 5. Any chance?
[laughs] Never say never! What about a horse driving the car?
The headline writes itself!