Cerebrawl is an upcoming fighting game being made by a team of fighting game veterans. Specifically, it’s a 2v2 fighting game with a tag team system and is described as a “love letter to Marvel vs. Capcom 2.”
A team of fighting game veterans getting together to make, yes, a fighting game is worth investigating. Hence, Siliconera caught up with artist Eliot Min and community manager Aaron Oak to find out more about Cerebrawl.
The interview below goes into details of the fighting mechanics, the world and story, various character designs, and the idea of having an endless beta modeled after Skullgirls.
First off, you have some notable talent on your team. Could you introduce the various people working on Cerebrawl and what they’ve worked on in the past?
- Eliot “NIW” Min – Previously of Harmonix, 38 Studios, Disney. Art director, lead animator, unapologetic anime fiend.
- John “Little Foot” Mena – Previously of Vigil, Crytek, and all around charming fellow. Engineer.
- Aaron “Goodnews” Oak – Previously of Gosu, Disney, Microsoft. UI design, community management, and anything else the team doesn’t want to do.
- Matthew “2 Mello” Hopkins – Mashup artist famous for Chrono Jigga, composer on the Read Only Memories soundtrack. Sound engineer.
- Wilson “Ill Will” Fermin – Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, Marvel vs Capcom 2 player. OG from the NE scene. Combat Designer, Hype engineer.
- Yusuke Tsutsumi – Currently at Zillow, organizer for 8-Bit History. Engineer, has been known to rap in Japanese.
You described Cerebrawl as a "love letter to Marvel vs Capcom 2" before. What is it about that game in particular that you want to capture in Cerebrawl? And how do you plan on doing that?
One thing that makes Marvel vs. Capcom 2 so attractive is that it allowed players a lot of freedom as far as fighting games go. The combat was so open ended and robust that a large part of playing at a high level was about how imaginative and creative you could be in imposing your will. This meant that there was almost an artistry in playing MvC2 at a high level.
Even without comeback mechanics, the characters were deep enough to always let you feel as though you had a chance even in a losing situation. MvC2 rewarded you for character knowledge and taking advantage of the systems the game had to offer. Almost any single character had the depth worthy of a lifetime of study, multiply that by three, and you had a depth that was limited only by your imagination.
It’s this essence of “creative play” that we want to bring into Cerebrawl. We want to bring the depth that makes studying characters rewarding, but also add an element of teamwork. Where knowing how to play with your teammate is just as important as understanding how your characters synergize.
The other big influence on the game is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. In what ways will Cerebrawl be similar to it?
Something we love about Third Strike is how the game would transform based on the skill level of the players. When the game is played by top level players, the game would just flow from situation to situation in a smooth and flawless manner. Even if you didn’t understand the minutiae of the game you could watch a match like a well choreographed fight scene, and the players personality, intent, and skill became immediately apparent to even the untrained eye.
Similar to MvC2, Third Strike allowed the players a lot of freedom that allowed for some seriously creative play. But even outside of gameplay, Third Strike was such an attractive piece of work. Everything from the audio to the UI had so much right with it, and the art was just ridiculously smooth and good looking. I believe there’s a slight divide between these games and the rest of the video game playing community. And I think that’s because they were such well crafted pieces that they attracted even people who weren’t necessarily interested in video games.
In an arcade setting, which this game was designed for, the amazing soundtrack attracted people even before they could see the cabinet playing this game. With one of the greatest soundtracks of any fighting game, the lively beats drew people towards it. A big reason we wanted 2 Mello on the team was that we wanted to recreate this effect that music has on people. We want to make an alluring piece of work that can attract people from all walks of life.
Could you explain how the tag-team system will work in Cerebrawl? Are you doing anything new here?
We’ve always liked the idea of making a team-based fighting game. We’ve seen games that have a team element to them, but was never satisfied how they were implemented. When Street Fighter X Tekken came out we were really excited, but we thought we could come up with a system that would encourage more team-work and coordination between the players on a team. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 had a more attractive team system. And our system is more similar to this, but we think we can get way more mileage out of the mechanic by implementing it into a more flexible MvC2 style system.
The way the tag team system will work in Cerebrawl is the point character calls Assist Character on screen. When the Assist Character’s player is prompted, he/she can input one normal/command-normal or special move that can be performed from the ground. When the Assist character reaches the play space, they will perform the inputted move, then jump back off screen.
Other than that we plan on having the staple mechanics of a team fighting game, such as; raw tags, team supers, delayed hyper cancels, etc.
Let’s move on to the game’s setting: Harmon City. What kind of city is it? Who lives there? How much of it will we see in Cerebrawl?
Harmon City started out as a typical modern large city. But Cerebrawl takes place during a transformative time for Harmon City. An imagination bomb has been dropped at the city center (it looks like a massive brain with a bomb tail sticking out of it). The blast covers the entire region, and everyone’s thoughts spill into reality. Reality couldn’t hold all the possibilities happening at once, so every mind was split into a separate dimension. As these dimensions collapse back into reality, citizens of Harmon City must fight for real estate, so their imaginations will have a place in the newly forming Harmon City.
Each character will have their own stage. And each stage will represent the character’s ideal world that they want to bring to Harmon City. So the amount of Harmon City we see will be dependent on how many characters we’ll end up making for the game.
How about character designs? First off, what various fighting styles are you looking to include in the game? And secondly, how will you differentiate these characters visually?
The cast isn’t really designed from the ground up with certain martial arts styles in mind like, say, Tekken characters are. Some have previous training, like the Tac Knight, and some have no training at all, like Battle Witch. To start out with we’re creating the three characters that represent the spectrum of character sizes. We plan on having the Tac Knight to be one of the largest characters in the game, and Susan the smallest, with the Battle Witch being the median size of the character roster.
The story of Cerebrawl means that a character’s appearance is really only held back by their own imagination. This is great for designing characters, because it really allows us to not hold back on designing weird and wacky characters.
Another way to differentiate the characters would be to not only accentuate the fighting styles of each character, but also try to communicate the personality of each character as much as possible. For example, where the Battle Witch will be bursting with violent energy, the Tac Knight will be poised and disciplined in his animations.
You’ve mentioned that the stages in the game will break and collapse, affecting the meta. How so? Are you working on any features similar to this that add further dynamism to matches?
The stage breaks don’t take the meta much farther than extending the stage and shrinking the stage. There are no interactables etc. The walls you decide to break change the dynamics of the neutral game. Defensive characters will prefer breaking the walls to extend the range they can run away, where as rushdown characters will want to break the floor and take the fight to closer quarters so they can get on their opponents quicker.
We’re also experimenting with how specifically the wall breaks and floor breaks will change character’s damage output. This will subtly change the meta as well, seeing that players will have to choose whether they want the extra damage from wall breaks at the cost of a different meta once the stage size is changed.
We’re hoping elements like this will lead each match to build up to crucial decisions that will affect the matchup.
Are you hoping that Cerebrawl will become integrated in the fighting game community? Are you designing the game with that in mind? Also, will there be features inside the game that make it easy for livestreaming or, at least, recording footage?
Integrating into the community is based on whether the community wants us. We work hard to make sure that the game is designed well, but also designed around what the community wants. We’re very open to feedback. One thing we want to do that’s entirely for the community is design Cerebrawl for tournaments. Unlike fighting games that were designed for the arcade, that were then adopted into tournaments, we want to create a game that is designed with tournaments in mind.
There will be a tournament mode that disables the start button – to pause you actually have to press L1 + R1 + Start so there are no accidental pauses. And in first to X amount of wins formats, the winner of a match will get to choose the next stage. This will be important because the meta of each stage will vary, since the layout and size of each stage will be different.
There will only be live recording if we can get onto the PS4, which is what we’re aiming for currently, as well as PC, Mac, and Linux. We’ve heard some concern about not being on the Xbox One, and we’re open to that as long as we have the resources for it. As it stands, since we’re bootstrapping this ourselves, we’re pretty limited.
It seems that you’re being very open about the development of Cerebrawl, even livestreaming it as you go. In what various ways are you building up and working with a fan base while building the game? And what is this "forever beta" version that you’ve mentioned?
Yes, we want to be completely transparent with the development of Cerebrawl so that the community is a large part of our development process. We want to make sure the game succeeds, and the only way to do that is to make a game that the community has a say in. The FGC will let you know what they don’t like, and loudly, and we will take full advantage of it.
The forever beta is an opportunity for players to try out new characters, and help us test balance changes before they hit the main game client. Is it similar, if not exactly the same as the Skullgirls Endless Beta? Absolutely, it’s a fantastic idea and we’re huge Mike Z fans.
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