GamesBeat: You worked on another non-traditional fighting game with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. A game I loved, by the way, but it was never really embraced by the fighting game community. What lessons did you learn from that game?
Killian: That game got a lot of crap it probably shouldn’t have deserved, but I also can’t really take credit for too much one way or the other. I got there four months before it shipped. Four months before a big title like that ships, you’re not going to be able to complete redo anything. But that was an interesting game. It was a mix of traditional fighting game mechanics and Smash Bros. One, Smash Bros. is one of the all-time greatest achievements in fighting. It has a lot of unique ideas. It’s not a traditional fighter in a Street Fighter, King of Fighters kind of sense, but it’s got a lot of unique ideas, all the great Nintendo characters, and a ton of other stuff. The production values on that game are stellar. They kill it pretty much every time. Not from the competitive side, but Sakurai’s pretty much on record — I mean, for me, I wanted to build a game that was closer to my own past, closer to my heart, which was the more traditional side-to-side fighting experience.
GamesBeat: How did you come up with this sort of robot theme for this game? It seems like a lot of fighting games these days stick closer to the old martial artist theme.
Killian: For sure. It is a little different. For us, we were super excited about what we called the variant system. If you go to the select screen or the loadout screen, you see all those different buttons you can select. We just turned off about two-thirds of those buttons. In the build we had a week before, they were all on and online. We’re reining it in so we have more stable choices. But what we were excited about on the meta side — the metagame is super interesting and important to me. You can basically swap out all the special moves with other special moves. It ends up being like 108 different possible combinations per character. Some of those are pretty subtle. Some of those are fairly distinct as far as the different moves you can do. Some of them are like, this fireball starts up a little slower and hits twice instead of once. That would be a more boring variant. It might be important in certain matches, but it’s not a dramatically different move.
Other moves are completely different. Vlad has his little elbow-mounted rocket right now. He has another variant that should be online in about a week with a missile strike from the sky, which plays totally differently. Vlad is still firing a missile at you, but the gameplay impact of the move is completely different. One is basically a fireball, one is more like a trap or a land mine. It lets us paint with a subtler brush.
There might be a character who — a grappler like Talos has a hard time getting in against characters like Chel, who has a good long-range game and can keep you out. But one of the Talos variants that was, again, online last week — he has a variant where he can do a shoulder charge. He can also do it in the air, and basically it gives you an option to — if you’re getting pelted with too many fireballs on the ground, you can do a short hop and do the shoulder charge in the air and you recover on the other side of the fireball. Now you’re in Talos’s optimal range, more up close. He has grabs and things like that. It’s one option you have that helps you in a fight. Obviously that’s not going to win a match, but it gives you another option.
If you run into a particularly tough matchup for your character, you can adjust your loadout to optimize your chances. We have a guy at work who’s kind of the theory master. He has these great ideas for the characters’ loadouts. The only bad part is he always loses because he’s not actually good at the game. But he has all these great ideas. Thinking of a good variant is a long way from winning a game. But it does open up the doors for you. If you’re in a frustrating situation you can try to switch stuff up. It keeps older characters that you’ve played for a while — It keeps them fresh if you have new options and new moves. But if you don’t want those options you don’t have to take those variants. You can stick with what you already know and want. It’s a nice balance of familiarity and strategic options.
GamesBeat: You still have things like dash-canceling and jump-canceling. The initial impression might be that you don’t have to do inputs precisely, but when you get into it — when I was playing it before this interview, I was already figuring out combos and juggling and all this stuff. It definitely seems like a neat project. I’m interested to see how the community takes to it and where it goes from here.
Killian: We’re excited to put it in front of the most vicious audience possible. We want to get some of the EVO guys playing. They’re a nasty bunch, but they’re guys I’ve known for most of my life. They will tell you if your shit stinks. We’ve been having some of those guys play. They’ll be some of the first people we want playing in our early alpha, even though it’s — We know it’s not finished. We know there will be problems. But we want the toughest audience in the world to go at it and realize that there is a real game here. As you notice, you start to see the way the game extends beyond — fighting games aren’t just about doing special moves. It’s about precision. You see how that factors in.
We also have this enormous meta of characters with so many different possibilities. There will be a lot to chew on. We’ll hopefully be able to roll more out at a pretty consistent pace. We have six more characters we’re working on now. We’ll keep the characters and the variants rolling out at what we hope is a good pace to try to find what works for the community. At the beginning we just want the game to feel great online, and for people to be able to give us feedback.
Updated on July 20 to correct spelling of the GGPO networking solution.