While it hasn’t gotten as much attention as Castle Crashers or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a solid entry in the revived beat ’em up genre. Mages took the characters from the Phantom Breaker fighting game and used them as a base for a diverse group of playable characters. Oh, did we mention this has online play too? Siliconera spoke to Masaki Sakari, producer at Mages, to talk about how Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds was developed and how a guest character from Steins;Gate got into the game.
Phantom Breaker started as a fighting game. How did the project for the side scrolling beat ’em up, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds, get started?
Masaki Sakari from Mages: When we thought of a genre where lots of people can play together, the first one we came up with was side scrolling action. By keeping the controls consistent, we wanted to keep the learning curve for our fighting game audience as easy as possible, and vice versa. Furthermore, one of our staff members developed Guardian Heroes, which was another reason we picked the genre.
What’s the difference between making a beat ’em up like Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds now compared to a decade ago when the genre was popular in with Final Fight in arcades and Streets of Rage on Genesis?
There really wasn’t much of a difference, partly because we wanted to create an “old school” feeling game using “old school” methods. Nevertheless today’s users are very vocal, so we knew we had a big challenge ahead of us. By saying this, I do not mean to offend or criticize our own fans and gamers; however, it is very easy for simplicity to be viewed negatively. We feel that pixel and dot animations is just another form of expression, but realize it can be overshadowed by the appeal of even social games. Nevertheless, it is easy to relate to our users because I, too, am a fan of Gears of War and Halo.
Can you tell us about the process of making sprite based characters?
Speaking in regards to the graphics, instead of discussing camera position, or light sources, or polygon count, or bones, we decide the size of the smallest and largest characters. That way, we can start working right away (of course, I’m exaggerating quite a bit here). At the same time, the work we do might not be viewed as efficient, compared to 3D. We cannot reuse assets, and each sprite is made by hand. Which means, we cannot change their costumes, and we cannot reuse animation, etc. If we shift around all of a character’s sprites and come up with a new special move, we consider ourselves quite lucky.
Overall, it’s a very tedious process, but also very satisfying when the final product is a good one.
In older beat ’em ups, characters generally aren’t that different from each other. Usually one character is faster, one character is slower, and one character is average. How did you make the characters in Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds feel unique from one another?
Originally, the characters were designed for a fighting game, which is where I think a lot of their originality comes from. On the other hand, we intentionally made the differences stand out less when it came to gameplay. As an example, when a character levels up, the only available stats to change are: Attack, Defense, etc. If we push this too far, the game can be viewed as difficult, and many users may shy away from the learning curve.
Which boss monster is your favorite and how did you come up with the ideas for the boss monster designs?
I love the scene where a huge phantom comes in to interrupt you. The scene plays homage to several other action games, but I would say the biggest influence is Tecmo’s Techmo Knight.
Adding Kuriso from Steins;Gate was a neat surprise. Why did you select her and will we see any more "science adventure" series characters in the game? Or maybe you can make a Steins;Gate beat ’em up!
That is simply because Steins; Gate and Kurisu were very popular. Also, during Co-Op play, we wanted to include a character that has ranged abilities. She was necessary for the sake of character variety, and I feel her special attack was a perfect fit. Unfortunately, we do not plan to add any more characters beyond Kurisu, though I would love to, personally. I suppose it would be entirely up to the users.
Online beat ’em ups are making a comeback with games like Castle Crashers, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and of course Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds. Why do you think people are more interested in these games and how do you want to evolve the genre?
I think it’s because they can be enjoyed by lots of friends, together, without thinking about much. The learning curve is not that large. Personally, I would like to see it evolve and bring more “treasure hunting” into the picture, while paying attention to the learning curve. Knowing it will be tedious; I think I would still like to make the game using pixels and sprites.
Whatever happened to the US version of the Phantom Breaker fighting game? Is that still in development?
The development has been done a while ago. Personally, I had hoped it would be released before Battle Grounds. Right now, all we can say is that we’re doing the best we can to get the game out.
What’s next for Phantom Breaker? Will we see another fighting game? Beat ’em up? Adventure game? Vertically scrolling shooter?
I cannot go into details right here, but I would love to be able to release it in the near future. Of course, before we can think about that, we need to solve the problem with our US version.
With the success of the Corpse Party, Zero Escape series and The Walking Dead, will Mages bring any of their adventure games overseas?
We would love to push our visual novels to western shores.