GamesBeat: So you’re cutting through some of the bullshit and getting straight to the metagame, trying to anticipate your opponent.
Killian: Yeah. I’m fully aware this is considered crazy within the bubble of the fighting game world. If you had asked me three years ago if this would work, I would have told you no. But today we built it. This is a prototype. And it does seem to actually work.
We want to try to remove the barriers to people really playing fighting games. Things like special move inputs, we want to get those out of there. Also, online in fighting games has historically been considered just total bullshit. It’s a kind of online technology that’s been successful in other games, like shooters — when you use that kind of code with a fighting game it doesn’t work. The space in which you play means you can’t use those kinds of predictive algorithms. But there was this development 10 years back called GGPO, which is a rollback-based networking solution. That was invented by my partner, Tony Cannon. I wanted to work with him on this game, because online was a big priority. That revolutionized online fighting games. On the back of raw player support, companies like Capcom and Namco Bandai and Iron Galaxy all ended up buying that technology and trying to build around it going forward.
But again, online is usually kind of an afterthought. Let’s make a great game. Six months out, what do we need to do? We need to get the ESRB logos in, make sure all the voice acting is finished, and oh, yeah, we gotta bolt on the online and fix that up. You get varying results.
We want to think about this game as an online game from day one. Before we even had the ability to do damage to one another, anything like a game — as soon as the characters could move, we were playing it through servers in Oklahoma, which is a good stretch from where we are south of San Francisco. We wanted to make sure the experience was as tight as possible. At no point were we ever playing offline.At no point were we playing with fake lag inducers or something like that. We were playing under actual online conditions at all times. We’re like, look, if this doesn’t work, we don’t have a game. That’s our level of commitment to online. It wasn’t like, let’s make a fighting game and online is tacked on at the end. From day zero, this was how we were going to build it.
That’s the other thing about fighting games. Usually you have to pick up your console or your stick and go to your friend’s house or to EVO. Hanging out with your friends is fantastic. But that’s also — I don’t know. Most people like to go home now. Maybe they can get a friend to come over. But getting a bunch of friends over to play, it’s awesome when it happens, but the reality is it doesn’t happen too much. Also, for people trying to learn a fighting game, you need local people to play with. That’s already really hard. You have people driving hours every week to do that. They want good competition and they can’t get it online. They’re willing to drive hours to a place to try to make that happen.
But you also need people who are just about as good as you. There’s no matchmaker for in-person competition. You might get a guy who’s way better than you, and that’s not fun. Or maybe there’s some guy who’s way worse than you, and that’s also not fun. The more I think about it, from where my mind is at these days, it’s a testament to how awesome these games can be. You have to suffer a lot to play them even a little bit. You have to put in a crazy amount of work. But that experience, when you get it, is great. I want to try to make that possible for more people.
I didn’t just want to make another fighting game. I think fighting games are doing their thing. It’s great. They’ll be fine. That tradition is strong. But a lot of games have made an effort to be easier. The entire trajectory of Street Fighter, from Street Fighter one through Street Fighter V upcoming, has been getting easier every single time. That’s been the direction. I’m jumping to the end of that line a little bit. Even as they make those kinds of moves to be easier and easier — you can judge against your own experience, but they’re still hard. Even if it isn’t turning away 95 percent of the people who want to play –I’ve been there. I’ve spent months on a game. Oh my gosh, there’s a million people online, this is the best! Week two, okay, there’s 150,000 people online, that’s pretty good. And then by week three it’s 15,000, and those are the guys who survived the culling. But even if you make the moves easier and you don’t alienate 95 percent, maybe you still alienate 80 percent.
I want to make a game that is an absolutely hardcore fighting game, but the one thing I’m making sure of is that you can’t mess up your moves. You get to do your moves. People still mess them up — hit it at the wrong button. That’s the full extent of the hand-hold. You’re not going to fail the motion for these moves. We built a completely straightforward, core fighting game. That’s the only thing we’ll do differently.
GamesBeat: Instead of that whole barrier, you have cooldowns, which is a different thing to see in a fighting game. How did you come to that idea?
Killian: There’s a few directions. We wanted the moves to feel good and powerful, but there can be downsides. If you can react to any move with another move, and then you’re injecting core fighting stuff like invulnerability, you don’t want to just boil it down to a reflex test. The game can go wrong in many ways. The cooldowns allow us to make the moves feel really good and be really strong, and then we can rate their strength with how long we think the cooldowns should take to recover. There’s ways you can sort of fudge around that. It’s a unique balancing tool, but it also creates a ton of interesting situations. That was another thing we tested early on and thought, I don’t know if it’s going to work. When I hear it as an idea, I have an immediate negative reaction to it, because I feel like it’ll slow me down.
If you try a character like Chel in our game, this down-the-middle iconic fireball/uppercut type of character, you don’t want to feel like you have to wait 10 seconds to throw another fireball. That’s not a fighting game. But you look at those kinds of moves and they have a cooldown of under a second. That’s a really fast, rapid-fire move we want to support. The uppercut has a bigger cooldown. If you do this move, you better land it. If you land it and keep your combo going to get to the ultimate at the end, you’re only at maybe two and a half seconds until you’re back up again for another uppercut. That’s a nice thing to do.
It creates these interesting micro-situations that we hadn’t really anticipated. We’ve seen things like this in other games, but it might be that you continue with an uppercut and you do a combo that can do more damage, but also burn time for your cooldown to be up by the time you’re recovering. You get these interesting situations where I know that for two and a half seconds, Chel doesn’t have an uppercut. That limits her options in a certain way, but only for a brief window. It gives me these little windows of a crack in a character’s defense. Something you could beat easily every time — If you had your cooldown up, if it was recharged, it would be no problem, but I know you don’t, and so I can attack in a new way through those little spaces. That was a little happy surprise.