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CrossCode Interview: Radical Fish Games on Console Ports and What’s Next

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Two years ago, indie developer Radical Fish Games released CrossCode, a 2D action-RPG inspired by the 16-bit greats. CrossCode had been in development since 2012, finding early success with a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2015. Now, we’re only a little over a week away from CrossCode making its console debut. Felix Klein of Radical Fish Games was kind enough to take time to chat with us about it all, and gave us some deep insight into the work. Check it out:

Lucas White, Siliconera: CrossCode has had a long journey. Was the Switch/PS4/XBO port work planned, or was this release a more recent opportunity?

Felix Klein, Radical Fish Games: Porting the game to consoles was something we considered early on, even before the game went into Early Access in 2015. The reason it took so long to become the reality is because of our choice of technology: CrossCode is written in JavaScript and runs on HTML5, which is difficult to port to consoles. Once Early Access started, we wanted to prioritize the development of the PC version, which is why we decided to postpone any plans for the port initially. Luckily, our publisher Deck13 took on the task of looking into options to port the game. Eventually, they found one.

Were there any roadblocks or unexpected challenges in making the move from PC to consoles?

Klein: As we mentioned before, the biggest challenge was porting the HTML5/JavaScript code base. Early plans for a port were based on the Nintendo Web Framework, which supported HTML5 games and was available for the Wii U, but was discontinued for the Nintendo Switch.

Since that option was gone, our publisher looked into other ways to run the game on any console. The initial plan was to interpret JavaScript, but this turns out to not be fast enough. The usual runtime-optimizations used by JavaScript engines like V8 for Chrome have also not been an option for specific (confidential) reasons – and they would not have been fast enough for platforms like the Switch as well. Finally, Deck13 found a way to compile the JavaScript code base into C++ ahead-of-time and the result is fast enough to run the game with 60fps on the Switch (we’re being told!). Getting to that point required a good amount of R&D and that is why it took so long.

Can we get an elevator pitch for CrossCode, for the kids?

Klein: No, please watch a trailer. That’s what the kids would do.

Okay, if we really have to:

CrossCode is a single-player Action-RPG with a setting that is kind of meta. You play as Lea, who in turn is playing a fictional MMO. Lea is also mute and can’t really talk to other players. On top of that, she has no idea why she’s in the game to begin with.

The game has very fast-paced action combat, lots of puzzles, huge dungeons, and expansive areas with very sophisticated platforming paths to find hidden treasure. It’s also a fully fledged RPG with equipment, skill trees, trading, and lots of quests.

All of this boils down to a playtime of around 30-80 hours. There’s a lot of optional content so your mileage may vary.

While CrossCode looks aesthetically familiar, its gameplay style looks distinct. Can you tell us about the influences and how that translated to the original creative work?

Klein: CrossCode is inspired by a lot of different games we played in the past.

The graphics style is obviously a throwback to SNES classics like Terranigma, Secret/Trials of Mana and Chrono Trigger.

The overall exploration-aspect and questing is heavily inspired by Xenoblade, whereas the combat is a (maybe more simplified) mix of Kingdom Hearts, Devil May Cry, and others.

The puzzle aspects are obviously inspired by old Zelda games, while the focus on depth and jumping might seem similar to Alundra. Mixed to that is the whole ball-throwing mechanic which is sort of like the egg throwing of Yoshi’s Island.

The MMO setting might seem similar to anime such as Sword Art Online, but was in fact mostly inspired by the older .hack series. Otherwise the plot was inspired by a number of JRPGs (Final Fantasy or Xenogears) but also movies and series.

There are more games that had a smaller impact, like Valkyrie Profile and Chrono Cross.

Really, in practice it’s difficult to list all the games that inspired us, there are just too many of them.

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Because the games industry is so focused on the US and Japan, a lot of times games developed in other countries are deliberately pointed out as such. Does that feel like a positive thing or something else?

Klein: In our case, there was never that much attention on the fact that the game has been developed by (mostly) Germans. Really, a lot of players were surprised when they found out. And that usually happens when they hear our German accent in our gamedev streams.

In general, we think it’s great that games are created in all parts of the world these days. It just means more diverse cultures are reflected in the content of the game. Even in CrossCode you might spot a little bit of German culture if you look past all the hundreds of thousand Anime and Gaming references. Maybe.

What is the German indie games scene like? Are there specific genres and styles that are uniquely popular, and is CrossCode informed by a cultural or geographical context?

Traditionally, PC gaming was always notably strong in Germany. Popular genres are strategy games, simulations, and Point & Click adventures. You have these genres among German indie games as well, but it wouldn’t be indie if people were not open to do whatever they wanted.

Console games and Japanese RPGs were released in Germany as well. For us, those were the games of our childhood and consequently what inspired us to develop CrossCode.

But the reason most of us got into game development in the first place was a little program that was surprisingly popular in Germany: RPG Maker. There has been an active online community of gamedev working with that program and many of them were inspired by traditional Japanese RPGs. Most of our team members first met in this community and that’s how our gamedev career pretty much started.

That all doesn’t mean CrossCode wasn’t impacted by German culture at all though. There are lots of details such as small language jokes, which are hidden throughout the game. But there’s also the overall plot of the game that goes into a somewhat different direction compared to most JRPGs. It’s less about saving the world and destroying the gods, but something much humbler and “down to earth”. That, in essence, is pretty German.

Once an indie game project is crowdfunded, developed and released, what happens next?

Klein: Plenty of stress because suddenly a lot of people played the game and many unexpected bugs showed up. We had to release a lot of hotfixes very quickly. That was for the PC release back in 2018. Hopefully things won’t be as bad for the console version.

Other than that, we decided to release a number of free updates since we didn’t manage to implement the full amount of content in time. And in addition to that, we’re currently still working on a DLC that will extend the story a little bit. It will hopefully be released this year.

How are we feeling about CrossCode overall as a project, and as a years-long experience?

Klein: For most of us in the team it was sort of a life-changing experience since it was our entry into professional game development. It has been an exceptionally long development process and it wasn’t always easy, but we’re very happy with how the game turned out. And most importantly: we’re still excited about game development and want to work on new games.

A lot has changed since 2012. What challenges does a game like CrossCode face in 2020? What about the benefits?

Klein: The art style of CrossCode was pretty much as “outdated” in 2012 as it is today. Gameplay wise we tried to modernize a lot of aspects, but compared with modern RPGs, some features might still feel somewhat outdated. Quest tasks for example only just give you a name of a location instead of a precise pointer, which sometimes makes finding quest related NPCs more work than it should be. For the most part, though, we believe CrossCode’s gameplay should feel modern enough for 2020.

What’s the best aspect of CrossCode that doesn’t get enough attention?

Klein: One great aspect of CrossCode that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the fact that it’s more mod friendly than it initially seems. While we didn’t explicitly add systems to support mods, the JavaScript code base makes the game accessible enough for modders to create their own system to integrate custom content.

So far, we’ve seen new special attacks, enemies, boss fights and even entirely new playable characters. We hope to spend some time highlighting modding projects after we’ve finished the Post Game DLC.

What’s next for Radical Fish Games?

Klein: Obviously, we want to work on a new game! It won’t be a sequel to CrossCode, nor will it use a similar setting. Story wise, we’d like to try something new.

When it comes to the gameplay, however, we want to use a similar mix of an Action RPG with puzzle solving and exploration. Of course we want to improve on several aspects, like finding a solution for the depth perception issues, improve the overall pacing and maybe make puzzles somewhat less annoying.

The project is still at an early stage though, so there’s not much we can talk about yet!

Thanks again to Mr. Klein and the rest of the Radical Fish Games team for taking the time to talk to us!

CrossCode is available now for the PC. It will launch for the Nintendo Switch, the PS4, and the Xbox One on July 9, 2020.

Lucas White
Lucas writes about video games a lot. Sometimes he plays them. Every now and then he enjoys one. To get on his good side, say nice things about Dragon Quest and Musou. Never mention the Devil May Cry reboot in his presence. Backed Bloodstained on Kickstarter but all his opinions on it are correct regardless.