Capsule Force is drenched in anime. Specifically, sci-fi anime from the 1980s exudes from its every pixel. To look at it is to see a labor of love, crafted by Klobit – a team of only three people: Eric Wenske on programming, design, and art; Kat Wenske on music and sound effects; and Angela Zavala on character art and design.
Recently, Siliconera was able to talk to Eric and Kat about Capsule Force ahead of its arrival on PlayStation 4 and PC on August 25th. The pair talked about how they studied various ‘80s anime to obtain the look they wanted for Capsule Force, as well as the design aspirations, the music and sound production, and also why they decided to bring the game to PlayStation 4 rather than any other console.
You’ve previously said that you’re fans of 1980s space anime aesthetics in particular. Could you give some examples of what you mean, explain what it is that you enjoy about them, and how this has informed Capsule Force?
Klobit, development team: Many animes from the 1980s have a combination of silliness and thought-provoking subject matter that the team finds really appealing. Aesthetically, we really enjoy the character proportions, the crazy outfits, the environments, the use of color (even for environments you wouldn’t initially imagine to be colorful!), the use of midi and synths, the imperfections in picture and sound, and a future imagined from the 1980s. With these notes in mind, one can see parallels between the shows and video games of the mid to late ‘90s. Capsule Force in particular, brings forth the ‘80s silliness/exaggeration via speedlines, explosions, colorful space outfits, and giant energy beams while having a vague backstory taking place in the future year 1999 about capturing entire galaxies into capsules.
Eric Wenske, designer: While working on Capsule Force, I wrote a tool that would collect screencaps from videos and wrap them into an image grid on a web page so that I could have a large collection of reference shots. There are a lot of running themes found in these shows that we tried to make use of. From the crescent-moon explosions of Macross to the geometric wall patterns of Dirty Pair, to the frontier environments of Galaxy Express 999, a lot of ‘80s anime inspiration has seeped into Capsule Force.
The other big influence on Capsule Force that you’ve pointed out is 16-bit Japanese arcade games. Are there any specific ones that you feel have led to Capsule Force’s design? What about these games do you hope to capture?
Klobit: We often describe Capsule Force as a ‘90s arcade game about an ‘80s anime. Capsule Force definitely attempts to capture the style that those games delivered. Specifically, the “How To Play” screen was inspired by old Neo-Geo games like Twinkle Star Sprites. The Japanese announcer saying English phrases like “Get Ready!” and “Ok!” was inspired by games like Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble. The scrolling menu backgrounds and game UI were inspired by almost every 16-bit game of the ‘90s. Competitive games like Windjammers and Money Idol Exchanger were also huge inspirations to make a twitchy fun arcade-style multiplayer game with our own flavor added.
Eric: With regards to how it affects gameplay, I’ll have to turn to my past. I grew up on old Sega games and spent countless hours (and still do!) in Space Harrier, Sonic, Outrun, Panzer Dragoon, Virtua Cop, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5, Shenmue…I could make this list so long. All the way up through the Dreamcast, Sega games had an arcadiness to them (even ones that didn’t go to arcades!). So often, you could just jump into a Sega game and immediately be tossed into the action, and I miss that! More than anything else, the qualities these games exhibit have influenced the types of games I make and want to continue to make in the future.
How did you come up with Capsule Force’s music and sounds? Are there any specific examples you drew from? Any favourite bits of your work (maybe a song or a specific sound) that stood out to you for any reason?
Kat Wenske, composer: I wanted Capsule Force to evoke a sense of nostalgia without necessarily being creatively limited to 16-bit era restrictions. Music in particular for Capsule Force was a bit tricky for me as I hadn’t worked on music in this style before. For inspiration, I listened to old ‘80s anime music and early ‘90s arcade games to help get in the groove and help wrap my head around the types of instruments and sounds that were commonly used. My goal was to capture the essence of the ‘80s/’90s and pepper that with whispers of more modern VSTs and sounds. I mean, Capsule Force is supposed to be a futuristic game set in the past, right?
Sounds were an interesting hurdle. I wanted to craft sounds that had an old anime-like feel but exists in a game environment. Finding that happy median normally resulted in blending musical instruments, tonal sounds, random SFX (ie. glass bottles, slinkies, lions, etc.), and modern appliances (ie. impact sounds of washing machines). It’s really easy to overcomplicate a sound and not sell the “story” of what is happening (ie. the tram moving), so there was a fair bit of massaging.
Generally, I try to stay away from super specific references to avoid accidentally pulling from a reference. Instead, I like to gravitate more towards the “feel” of something (ie. Sonic city-like level or “what would it feel like be bombarded by bubbles?”). As for favourite bits of my work in Capsule Force, I really enjoy the Sega-like feel of Starlight City’s music and Endless Tower’s waltz. I really like waltzes.
One unique aspect of Capsule Force is that killing your opponent isn’t the prime objective. Instead, the teams must try to ride a tram to the final screen to win. It’s similar to Nidhogg. Was this an inspiration at all? And why did you decide to incorporate this rule over, say, normal deathmatch rules?
Klobit: We have both played a lot of multiplayer games, and think modes like “Capture the Flag”, “Plant the Bomb”, “Defend the Area”, etc. are more interesting than vanilla deathmatch. They add a new variable which multiplies the complexity of tasks, and bring in a brand new set of skills. In Capsule Force, it is interesting to watch players who have strengths in platforming over aiming and vice versa and how they contribute to their teams.
We were looking for interesting ideas to prototype, and while there are similarities to Nidhogg (which is a great game!), we actually got a lot of inspiration from Team Fortress 2’s Payload mode where players must guide a cart to the end of a set of railroad tracks. Eric in particular has always been a fan of getting from one place to another using tracks, and it fits the ‘80s anime sci-fi theme of the game.
We prototyped various versions of tram movement. Vertical tram movement was the first idea, but we quickly scrapped that for horizontal movement. Then, we added an extra tram as an elegant way to both add complexity and keep the action spread out across the screen.
What type of competitive play do you want to encourage with Capsule Force and how is this reflected in the controls? You have shielding, charged-up beams, and infinite jumping, for example, why choose these mechanics over others?
We wanted the characters to feel powerful, light, and swift. The power comes from the one-hit kills and anime-style visual effects and sounds, but the lightness and swiftness come from responsive controls and fast movements. There are a lot of games these days with movement that waits on animations, but Eric’s always preferred the other way around. I hit jump, so jump already! I need to dodge that GIANT ENERGY BEAM after all!
We wanted a game that is quick to pick up but hard to master.
The game was also built to deliver complexity with a simple set of controls. Let’s make things analog and make use of the buttons we do use! A character’s speed is tied to how far the left stick is pressed. The jump height is dependent on how long the X button (on a PS4) is held down. Pressing it again will allow a double jump. Aiming is also done with the left stick and allows 360 degrees of accuracy. Pressing square fires a shot, and its speed is dependent on how long the button is held. Hold X down for half a second, and an even quicker unblockable energy beam is fired. Dash through and away from that unblockable beam with R2! Deflect normal shots back at an enemy by hitting Circle for a quick shield impulse.
Another aspect of old animes that we wanted to capture was the idea of air battles. Anytime your fire your gun, use your shield, or dash, you gain the ability to jump again. You can use this infinite jumping to reach high places, maneuver around level hazards, and stay away from opponents on the ground. Also, you can float through the air by charging your weapon. Doing so will slow down your air momentum giving you more time to aim at your target while also becoming a target yourself in the air. Both of these moves combined can make for some really interesting battles on the top half of the screen without either player touching the ground!
You’ve mentioned that Capsule Force has eight arenas altogether. Could you give us some insight into how varied they are, both visually and how they’re designed to play?
The eight arenas were inspired by various space, city, and frontier environments that pop up in retro anime and include a space station, a forest, an ancient temple, lava-filled caverns, a martian base, an alternate dimension, and a night-time cityscape. Every stage has its own unique set of hazards that protect a team’s base. Spaceport 5 has turrets that fire. Lava Caverns has fireballs and lava falls. Starlight City has microwave beams which disable guns and shields. The level layouts mixed with the different hazards create a different experience for every stage!
The other feature confirmed for the game are the single player missions. What variety of challenges do these offer – is it mainly a tutorial or have you built in a proper learning curve with tough challenges at the end, perhaps?
The are four categories of missions: Target Practice, Danger Zone, Dash, and Advanced Target Practice. The mission mode isn’t a tutorial, but the aiming and platforming required to do well will translate to multiplayer matches.
Players are ranked on how fast they can complete the mission objective. Doing well will unlock more missions, alternate outfits, multiplayer stage layouts, and concept art. Completing Mission Mode unlocks an arcade-style Mission Rush mode which is an insane race through every mission while the time is constantly ticking down. Players must break targets and get to checkpoints to add time back onto the clock!
There have been quite a few of local multiplayer games popping up from smaller studios recently. Could you speculate as to why that might be? Is there a growing or pre-existing market there that has been overlooked?
When we started working on this game, there weren’t a lot of local multiplayer games coming out! I can only speculate on which factors contributed to the rise in these games. We often go to Arcade UFO, a Japanese-style arcade in our city which houses many Astro City and Blast City cabinets with games like Twinkle Star Sprites, Windjammers, Mr. Driller G, etc. That led us to realize that we wanted to make that kind of competitive experience. Playing online games is a lot of fun, but there is something special about it being personal and yelling with (or at) your friends next you.
Was there any reason that you chose to bring Capsule Force to PS4 over any other consoles? Would you like to also bring the game to other platforms if you can?
We felt the Sony audience would be a good fit for Capsule Force. The PlayStation and PS2 had their fair share of fun and quirky arcade-style games after all, and the current PlayStation audience still embraces Japanese style/inspired games. The game is also built using the XNA / FNA / MonoGame frameworks, and with MonoGame already running on the PS4, it made the Capsule Force port to the platform much easier. We are open to bringing the game to more platforms, but we would need to make sure it makes sense for this small 2.5 person team!