Skull Girls: Developer Interview
Would you say the beat-em-up genre is experiencing something of a boom at the moment thanks to sequels and reboots of series like Mortal Kombat? In what ways do you feel Skullgirls a timely release?
CapcomÂs recent offerings have clearly revived interest in the genre. ItÂs a huge challenge to launch a new fighting game, so the fighting game resurgence should mean there are more people willing to give Skullgirls a try than there might have been a few years ago.
We also offer an alternative in both gameplay and art style to the name-brand series, and response to our early previews seems to show that there are many fighting game fans looking for alternatives.
Skullgirls looks set to be the antithesis of unbalanced character rosters, infinite combos and other game breaking issues that sneak their way into 2D brawlers. Was it always your aim to deliver the purest and most honed 2D fighter out there? What is your key aim with Skullgirls?
We set out to create a fighting game experience with the fast pace and creative combo possibilities of CapcomÂs Versus games, but without the potential to abuse infinite combos and other exploits. We think this will bring back the freedom and creativity that old-school fighting games provided, while offering the balance and gameplay mechanics competitive fighting game players have been craving.
YouÂve also enlisted the help of BlazBlue champ Mike Zaimont throughout development. How valuable has it been having a pro player like Zaimont on board? Did his presence make you think twice about any moves or features in particular?
MikeÂs been the project lead and lead designer from the beginning – the gameplay is all his. Skullgirls wouldnÂt exist and would be impossible without him, and his reputation in the fighting game community has really helped us build a community despite being a relatively unknown and new developer.
WeÂve heard that Skullgirls offers 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 modes and that character strength will upscale or downscale depending on the mode chosen. What other game parameters can be tweaked and why do you feel this depth of freedom is vital?
Actually, you can match any team size against any other team size, so thereÂs a huge amount of variety and strategy to play with in our tag system. We hope this level of choice and flexibility will keep players finding new ways to play for quite some time. As for other features, well… stay tuned.
How will you look to convince less versed beat-em-up players to try out Skullgirls? Is there a training or challenge mode to teach you the basics of combat?
We really want to ensure that the game is accessible to new players. Not just new Skullgirls players, but even new players to the fighting genre. The fighting game community looks pretty closed to outsiders, and the games themselves are just as responsible for that, if not more so, than the players.
So we expect to have the most robust tutorial mode out there: not only will we teach you the moves and the basics, but also why theyÂre important. And weÂre working to make our special moves easier to execute without dumbing them down, which should benefit all players and let them focus more on the fighting strategy. As for challenges, weÂve got some interesting things in mind, but weÂre not ready to announce anything quite yet.
Can you give us an insight into how Alex Ahad became involved with the project? How did you pitch the game to him? How intricate is the process of animating the characters and tweaking them as the command lists shift throughout development?
Mike and Alex had been working on Skullgirls for years as a doujin game in their free time before Reverge got involved. Mike was working on a fighting game engine while Alex was working on his original characters, completely separately and unaware of the other. Later, mutual friends introduced them to one another, and Skullgirls was born.
The animation production process Alex developed is pretty intricate, and weÂll be talking more about that in detail in the future. Briefly, moves are designed and balanced before full animation is complete, and Mike makes adjustments as needed as the frames are completed and assembled into a playable character.
Just how tricky is balancing and what common mistakes do developers make that lead to the roster being unbalanced? How much work is involved to ensure elements like character power, defense and attack arc are all honed to perfection?
Game balancing is one of the most difficult parts in all of game development, for single or multiplayer games in any genre – if a game is too hard or easy or too full of exploits it wonÂt be fun. The biggest mistake developers make when it comes to game balance is not devoting enough time to it, since game balance is an evolving and iterative process.
As a company, we believe in having our games be in a playable state and actually have them be played as early as possible in development. Skullgirls has been running at 60fps and almost crash-free since before Mike and Alex joined Reverge, and this allows us to test all new additions to the game as they are made. From their earliest design stages, every aspect of new characters are tried out directly in gameplay, and by the time the character is fully colored it is already significantly balanced.
We also try to get as much external feedback as we can, and Mike has been taking Skullgirls to tournaments and local arcades for the last year. He also runs a weekly playtesting session with a local group of fighting game fans, and as he says Âwhen half of them think a character is too good and half of them think the same character is just awful, we know we’re on the right track.Â
However gameplay balance continues to evolve once a game gets into playersÂ hands, especially a fighting game like Skullgirls. Luckily our engine is entirely data-driven, and it will be easy for us to adjust any balance issues that crop up as the community does things that we didnÂt even dream were possible.
In the grand scheme of things, where would you place Skullgirls next to the counters and technical intricacy of Street Fighter III Third Strike and the diverse move set of BlazBlue?
This is a pretty broad thing to try to nail now, but the Skullgirls team describes the gameplay as less technical than Third Strike and more technical than BlazBlue. WeÂre aiming to be roughly on par with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and Guilty Gear in terms of complexity of systems and situations.
Really, with our tag system, custom assists and some other wrinkles, IÂd say our focus is on variety and strategy. WeÂre hoping to achieve the kind of depth and tactical interplay needed to keep players hooked for a long time.
Aside from standard blows, specials and combos, can you tell us what technical maneuvers can be performed, such as air counters, snap backs and crossover counters?
Lots to discuss here, and IÂm going to have a paraphrase Mike for most of it.
WeÂve got assists, and you can even customize them to use any normal or special ground action when they come in. On top of that, each assist enters from a unique direction to keep your opponents on their toes. And, yeah, you can snap your opponentÂs characters out for another. Anyone tagged out will regenerate health, too.
YouÂll be able to chain multiple charactersÂ supers together, as youÂd expect from a team game. Teams can also opt to spend one level of meter to counter in another character while blocking, even in the air, and you get some really interesting strategic options when you combine this with the custom assists.
Since super meter is so strategically important, we let you build up to one level of meter by missing with normal attacks, but only if youÂre not retreating from your opponent.
Pushblock is available in the air and on the ground, and will erase their targetsÂ regen capacity instead of dealing damage, and and shortens the block-stun of attacks that lands while in the pushblock animation.
Chains, special-to-super cancels, airdash-cancelling normals, and kara-cancels are present as well, if youÂre up on your fighting game terminology!
What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing the games industry and if you had the power, how would you fix it?
WeÂre in the online world now, and games on any platform need to be able to easily deliver new content and communicate across the internet in order to keep up with the highly connected experiences people have grown accustom to.
The wide range of capabilities and rules on all the different platforms for delivering games make it a challenge to create a truly modern online experience. In an ideal world, all platforms would be more open technology and policy wise to enable the creation of more expansive and consistent online experiences, in order to expand our industryÂs options.