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Indie studio Glass Bottom Games thinks there’s a better way to get your aggression out than typing in all-caps at a stranger on the internet: punching. Its newest game, Spartan Fist, is a brawls-to-the-walls roguelike where you punch your way through a gauntlet of cats in mech suits and “grandpa ninjas.” It hits PC on May 15.

The grandpa ninjas are cute, Glass Bottom founder and CEO Megan L. Fox assures me. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less deadly. Spartan Fist will ship with four levels, culminating in a boss fight, and it’s a cheeky romp that’s not afraid of getting silly. It has a colorful boxy aesthetic, much like Glass Bottom’s previous voxelated games Hot Tin Roof and Jones on Fire. Even though you’re letting your fists fly against enemies, the violence is cartoony rather than gory.

“I try to make spaces that are safe places in which to express yourself,” said Fox in a phone call with GamesBeat. “In this case, Spartan Fist is kind of a safe place in which to express aggression and rage, but channeled in a direction where if your mom walked in and saw you playing this, she wouldn’t break the TV with a baseball bat and take you to the doctor. It’s OK. It’s a game. Have fun. Get that out. Have fun there.”

This philosophy comes from a dark period in Fox’s life. Her mother passed away while the team was developing Jones on Fire, and she buried herself in her work. Eventually, though, she faced her emotions.


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“I think I dropped a bowl of spaghetti in the carpet, and as I was trying to scrape that up, I actually punched the floor hard enough to break my hand,” recalled Fox. “I didn’t know I’d broken my hand at the time. I finished scraping the spaghetti back and I sat angrily on the couch while my family looked at me, horrified, and I ate spaghetti that was covered in carpet lint for a full 10-count before I admitted maybe something was wrong.”

Spartan Fist is meant to be a game for people when “you need some kind of outlet or you’re going to punch a floor so hard your wrist explodes,” said Fox.

Why punching?

The fisticuffs is timely, given how Nazi-punching has entered the public awareness. Fox ties it back to the punk ethos of “raging against the machine” and the idea of “violence for social good.” In a country divided, maybe players need more catharsis than ever, short of actually taking to the streets and punching each other. Spartan Fist also has the benefit of eschewing guns and weapons entirely for fists.

“It’s more socially relevant now than it would have been a couple of years ago. Also, speaking of, since there’s the movement, socially—guns, right now, maybe aren’t the coolest thing,” said Fox. “Folks are kind of not liking them, you know? For reasons? So making a first-person game that doesn’t have guns is—maybe now is a good time to back off on the guns a little bit and see if we can find some other fun things to do.”

Spartan Fist has seven different fists, some more outlandish than others. Alongside the stone fist and bandage fist, you also can pick up kitty fists. You can dual wield fists and perform combo attacks, and each fist also has its own special effects and three stances that can be used against different enemy formations.

The whole idea of a first-person puncher is also in part inspired by games like Monolith Productions’ Condemned and ACE Team’s Zeno Clash. These are titles where punching was often more fun than guns. Id Software’s original 1993 Doom was also a source of inspiration — particularly the way the main character Doomguy’s weapons and fists would have an “over-the-top sway” onscreen.

“It gave this kind of swaggering-up-to-the-bar-for-a-brawl, cowboy-movie kind of feel. That swagger that you don’t really get in other games as much,” said Fox.

Player behavior and community

In order to make a game that’s just punching, Glass Bottom had to be careful about avoiding “degenerative play patterns.” These are player behaviors that might prevent them from fully exploring or enjoying the game. For instance, Fox and her team considered adding projectiles into the game, but they predicted that that skill would easily become overused.

“What we always came back to is, the second you add a projectile to a game like this, players are going to find that projectile and say, oh, I can just stand back and spam this and I never have to get near people and I’ll be unkillable,” said Fox. “So you put stamina on it so they can only do it every two seconds. Now they just sit there and don’t do anything and run away and shoot the fireball every two seconds. It creates this degenerative play pattern that spins off into the world’s least effective, most boring first-person shooter.”

Fox compares it to RPGs where players have the tendency to min-max or to stockpile healing items. So developers have to anticipate that and try to avoid encouraging those kinds of behaviors so that it’s “more fun and not a grind.”

This is also how Glass Bottom is approaching its story. Fox says the gauntlet isn’t what it appears to be, and it definitely has deeper lore. But only players who go looking for it will find it. For everyone else, it can simply be a game about punching.

Fox also has the same open approach when it comes to modding. The studio plans on updating the game with new content after launch, as is expected of the roguelike genre. But folks will be able to tinker with the types of fists from the start.

“I don’t like the idea of a game that’s locked down in a way where players can’t ever touch anything. It’s not as fun. You have the game. Why not be able to do what you want with it?” said Fox. “So we’ll ship with a cheat mode. The cheat mode will probably be disabled by default, but there will be an obvious and simple command line to enable it, which players will find in the first 30 minutes. And you can mod it, change what the attacks do, change the combos, make your own attacks.”

Modders will be limited at first — for instance, they won’t be able to change the appearance or particles — but Glass Bottom is open to supporting more capabilities in the future depending on what the community wants.

And maybe the community will grow around Spartan Fist. Fox points to something called “Heavy Boxing,” a community of Team Fortress fans who gather in arenas to watch two players tussle as the character Heavy. Not everyone is hunting for guns and weapons in their games; for some people, fists are enough.

“There are sub-movements that are trying to make games around just the throwaway fists in first-person games,” said Fox. “We kind of wanted to make a game that was just about the fists. Like in Skyrim. There’s always the unarmed skill tree, but it very seldom is as satisfying as the swords or anything else. Playing it ends up being this weird—I’m going to do it anyway because it’s fun, rather than it’s actually rewarded by the game. No one really focuses on it. So why not make a game that’s just about this and see how far you can push it? It turns out you can push it pretty far.”

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