Interview: Trading Blows, Remembering The 80s/90s With The VHS Story Creators



VHS Story (or Video Hero Super Story) is a strategic tycoon game in which you manage the lifestyle of an upcoming streetfighter. It caught our eye for its throwback to 80s-90s culture and fighting movies of those eras, all of it rendered in cohesive pixel art.


The small team behind VHS Story recently saw it Greenlit after only five days. So it seems that we’re not the only ones intrigued by the game.


After Lily Kulaga, one of the smallteam, broke the good news to us, we decided to take the opportunity to find out more about VHS Story, and so we asked a few questions. Below, Sviatoslav Cherkasov, the game’s lead developer, tells Siliconera about how a love of movies and games from the ‘80s and ‘90s led to the creation of VHS Story, explains why you won’t actually fight in the game yourself, and also details the various paths that you can take through the game’s story—from hero to prisoner.



To get us started, could you tell us who you are and give a brief overview of VHS Story?


Sviatoslav Cherkasov, lead developer: We are a small indie team of three members from Russia, St.Petersburg. We started game development as a hobby six years ago and now it is our full-time job. We are all about 30 years old, so we spent our childhood in the era of NES/Sega consoles, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, and movies with S.Stallone, A.Schwarzenegger, J.K.Vandam spread on VHS cassettes.


We love that era and want to make a game full of nostalgia and different references to the culture of that time. We are big fans of strategic games of all kinds. So, we decided to mix these two things and the idea of “VHS Story” came out.


In our game you’re controlling a character who is just starting his sports career as an underground fighter and wants to get to the very top (remember the “Rocky” movie?). You have to workout to become stronger, buy new equipment, learn new moves and beat lots of opponents. But also you have to go to work to earn some money, buy food, and take a rest. That’s the main idea. It is like a Street Fighter manager.


What, specifically, is it about the ’80s and ’90s and its culture that you wanted to capture with VHS Story?


Actually, we want to capture as much as possible. We have a huge document filled with facts and screenshots from different VHS movies and 80s-90s games. We want the player to meet characters they can recognize. For example, you can order a pizza and meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Alligators.



What are the range of activities that players can do to improve their fighter’s performance? Is there any risk that comes with making these choices?


First of all, you need to work out. At the beginning of the game you don’t have enough money to buy your own sports equipment, so you have to use the gym (paying the member fee, of course). But increasing your characteristics is not enough. You need to progress through the skill tree to unlock new fight moves and tricks. And the only way to do that is to fight and gain experience.


You have to build your own fighting style but it won’t be suitable for all opponents. Sometimes you will meet fighters whose style will efficiently counter yours. So, you will have to find other ways to deal with them. For example, you’ll be able to pass some quest lines and get special abilities, or you can try to bribe him or his coach.


How important is it for the fighter to have a job outside of the ring? What jobs are available and how do they play in the game? Is it possible to become a full-time fighter?


At the beginning of the game your job is the only legal way to earn money. You will not get enough money just from fighting. At that point you can work at the construction site or at the pizza delivery place. The jobs are not a big part of the gameplay. It is just a way to exchange your time for the money. Also you’ll have an option to rob people on the street or even become a part of a mob.


But as you progress, you get better fights, and earn more money from them. At some point in time you may even run your own gym.



Moving on to what is presumably the main part of the game: How does the fighting work when players step into the ring? How tactical is it? What kinds of opposition will players go against?


Actually, the main work is done before you step into the ring. As we’re making a strategic tycoon, we want it to be played quite slow, without any arcade elements. So, you have no direct control of the fight and it has nothing to do with your reaction.


Your character has a list of skills and fight moves and the most important part of the fight is to choose what moves you’ll be focusing on (using more often). So, that’s some way similar to the building a deck in a card game – you need to pick those moves and skills that will suit your opponent. You can choose a defensive strategy of build an all-in fighter.


And the trick is that in most cases you have a very few information about your opponent (but you can always spend some money or time trying to figure out more information about upcoming fight and your opponent). You can’t calculate everything. But you can tweak you tactics during the fight. For example, if you see that something doesn’t work, you can replace it. As can your opponent.


Fighting games aren’t uncommon. But a tycoon fighting game, such as this, certainly is. Why did you want to make a fighting game with a broader focus on the fighter’s lifestyle?


Most of 80s-90s movies were about fighting in our experience. Most of the games we played were also about fighting. So, in our minds, we had no option. Also, fighting is a good place for trying out different tactics and keeping the gameplay variable. And we found that watching your character fighting without any direct control is very exciting.



Is there any way for players who just want to focus on the fighting part of the game to play it like that? Say, an extra game mode?


We’re thinking about such a mode but I can’t say anything for sure.


You say that the story is non-linear. How many paths are there through it and what affects which one you get? And could you give a few examples of what might happen?


First of all, we don’t want our game to be story-driven and to be played like a quest. So, most of the stories you see during the game are optional and random. You collect your own story like a puzzle.


But, sometimes, you bump into important things. For example, there are lots of decisions in the game that will lead you towards being either a good hero or a bad boy storyline branch. In some cases you even can be put in a jail. And yes, there’s a gym right in the prison yard where fighting will take place.



How have you managed to fund the development of VHS Story? How has the pre-order system worked out for you?


The main funding source of our game is our enthusiasm. We also have a small mobile game project that brings in some money and leaves some time to work on VHS Story.


Also, at the same time we started our Greenlight campaign we opened pre-orders on our site for those who want to support our project in its the current state. For now, it’s more psychological motivation pushing us along than real funding.


Finally, do you have any plans to bring the game to platforms outside of PC?


Yes, we’re using Unity, so there will not be a problem to port our game to mobile and tablets after the PC release. But we’re not sure for now. We don’t want to make VHS Story a free-to-play game for mobiles, but it is very hard to earn some money from a such a small premium game. So we decided to use all our forces to make a PC version for now.

Chris Priestman