Many garage game designers dream of getting their project off the ground, but there are lots of unknowns between now and the final project. We spoke to Alex Ahad (creator) and Ryan Tharp (lead programmer) about their 2D fighting game, SkullgirlS. Their project is currently in a pre-alpha stage and while they might be a long way from a polished build they are enthusiastic about making their game more than more than a one shot product. Merchandising characters is something that more indie game designers might want to consider after reading this. If selling postcards can bring down development costs and drum up business why not do it? Read on to hear about SkullgirlS, the process of designing a game while having day jobs, selling character goods at anime cons and some thoughts on XNA.
Siliconera: Let’s get everyone up to speed about the game? What is SkullgirlS about?
Alex: Ok~ well, Skullgirls is a 2-D sprite based fighting game that me, Ryan, and a group of my friends are working on together. The game has a cute gothic type of setting and an all girl cast with monster elements. The story of the game is about this powerful entity that appears every seven years. It is known as the "Skullgirl" and is powered by this mysterious entity known as the "Skull Heart" This Skull Heart is said to grant a wish to the girl who can defeat the Skullgirl.
Siliconera: There are already plenty of 2D sprite fighting games out there. What’s going to separate SkullgirlS from say Guilty Gear, which seem to share a similar style?
Alex: Well, we want to look at games like Guilty Gear, Vampire Savior, and Melty Blood for inspiration. Other than the all-female cast, what we want to do to make our game unique is a heavy focus on story (in the Story Mode at least) as well as on characters and gameplay. Also, we want the style to reflect the sense of design from the range of the 1930’s to 50’s, which is different than Guilty Gear’s quasi-futuristic appearance. In terms of gameplay, we will use subtle differences, such as the possibility of a separate block button, and an enhanced version of the characters which we call the "Super Mode." Also, I suppose there have not been as many new 2D fighting games now as there were before, so I feel like, it would be nice to bring a new one to the public.
Siliconera: Are there any other features in gameplay that are original to SkullgirlS?
Alex: Well, we are still deciding on the specifics of the gameplay. One thing we are considering is the use of evading. This has been present in some 3-D games, but not as much in 2-D ones. It works similar to the parry in Street fighter 3 in that you press forward to do it, making it a risky move. However, if done right, it will make the character actually slip past the attacker and appear behind them. This is good for getting out of corners. However, the person evaded will still have an opportunity to attack back. This could lead to some interesting exchanges. At the moment, we have been focusing on just getting a working fighting game though, so all of this is in theory, and still needs to be tested.
Another idea I definitely want to do is known as a "Super Mode." In a sense, the "Super Mode" reflects what we see in shonen manga, where the main character goes through a powered up transformation. In Skullgirls, we want it to be a rather radical transformation. This is not just a temporary addition of stats to the chara, but an actual change to a different, more monstrous set of moves and appearance.
Siliconera: As independent developers what tools are you using to make SkullgirlS?
Alex: Ah Ryan will expand on the tools~ but yes, we are independent. We all have our own jobs or are going to school, so we work on this after hours in our spare time.
Ryan: We are using Mac and PCs, Most of the coding is done in Microsoft Visual Studio 98 in C++ and the rest in X-Code (GCC). Photoshop is used for the Sprites/Graphics. Goldwave for editing the audio files. And vim/notepad used for managing the several game INI files.
Alex: In terms of pixel art though, I use Photoshop CS and ImageReady. Those are pretty useful for making and testing the animation.
Siliconera: You make each frame of animation in photoshop? How many frames are there per character?
Alex: Yes. They are drawn in Photoshop using a tablet after making several rough thumbnails on paper. Hmmm, that varies. Right now most of the punches and kicks are only between 2-4 frames. Some of the special moves are 8 and above. As I got more familar with animating and making sprites, the number of frames started to increase. I think Peacock (who I made second) has more frames at the moment.. However I am going over Filia and adding more.
Ryan: We have about 70-90 frames per character right now. We plan to have about 1,000 per character (including supermode)
Siliconera: Have you ever thought about XNA?
Ryan: XNA, yes, already talked to my friend who’s helping with the debugging, who’s a DirectX guy that says to convert the code would be easy.
Siliconera: As an independent developer what’s your take on the XNA concept and the cross platform capabilities of it?
Ryan: I’m not sure if I know everything that’s out there to know about XNA, right now seems to be more details about the cheaper XNA Express. The idea behind XNA is great but the realities of stretching across multiple platform sounds abstracted and limited, and when you leave it in the hands of Microsoft, I get weary.
Alex: I think XNA, if it can reach a wide audience, could be good. It sounds good in theory and like a great possibility to spread the game. I guess we will need to develop the game further and see what would be good when that time comes.
Siliconera: I know this is a long time away but what about distribution for SkullgirlS… how do you plan to get it in the hands of prospective gamers?
Ryan: I believe we’re going to self-publish the game and sell it online and at conventions. We would like to do a really nice package design and also have a maybe like a collectors edition with some really neat things included.
Siliconera: Do you plan to merchandise the characters?
Ryan: I believe so, I think one of SG’s strengths is the Character Design, and we’ve received a lot of feedback on them. We are already selling a set of 11 postcards at conventions. We hope the merchandising can help us support and extend our development efforts.
Alex: That would be nice, but obviously making the game comes first. But we were selling a postcard set at AX (editors note: AX is Anime Expo) this year, and that seemed to go well, so it’s certainly a possibility!
Siliconera: Do you think you’ll make more money on the characters or the game?
Ryan: Really depends on how nuts we go on the merchandising. The merchandising feeds the game and the game feeds the merchandising. From web-comics usually the merchandising does better, and I think that they will probably be pretty close because we are self-publishing and distributing and don’t have the traditional reach, though we have a while to drum up interest. Though it’s interesting to note, at the convention the guys are the ones looking at the self-playing game demo and mostly the girls looking at the postcards.
Siliconera: When do you expect Skullgirls to be released?
Alex: We hope to have a more complete demo by AX next year, and I suppose we could go for an estimate of summer 2009 for the completed product.
Siliconera: Wow! That’s a long time away.
Alex: Yea, I think our more solid goal is to try for a completed demo by AX, the other date you could say is a bit generous. I think we could get it done sooner. Again, it depends on work and other factors too.
Siliconera: I see, but don’t you think by the time the game is completed games would have evolved quite a bit?
Alex: Right now we are going through experimenting phase, as we figure out how to animate certain actions, what the physics behind certain motions are, how the AI. should work, and what gameplay works and what don’t. This, in addition to creating the characters, menus, and story elements does make the process start slow. It will definitely pick up once we get the gameplay down more solidified.
A playable build of SkullgirlS is online and more details on the cast of characters over at the SkullgirlS site.