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Skullgirls Interview – Mike Z

Skullgirls Interview – Mike Z

We asked Mike Zaimont what makes Skullgirls the best fighting game ever. As the Lead Designer of Skullgirls and known to most as Mike Z, the man who made his name on Marvel vs Capcom 2 and can now be found on the BlazBlue tournament circuit, he definitely knows what he’s talking about. So here’s his answer in full…

Best fighting game ever? Sheesh.

…OK, here goes nothing.

Because I truly believe that Skullgirls is the first “fighting game for fans, by fans.”

Now, that “by fans/for fans” thing is a bit of a cliché, but the way games are developed and marketed now usually ends up diluting the creators’ intent and reducing it to nothing more than an empty tagline. Reverge Labs is small enough and Autumn Games is hands-off enough that I think our vision for Skullgirls is pretty much intact.

So, yeah – I’m a fan of fighting games. I’ve played just about all of them, and I’m a tournament player and my experiences with the fighting game community influence my every decision on Skullgirls. I wouldn’t have been able to make our engine or design our characters’ moves without the thousands of hours I’ve spent playing fighting games, and I wouldn’t have come up with our anti-infinite system and other refinements without the thousands of hours complaining about and trying to think of solutions to other games’ shortcomings.

When I started making Skullgirls’ engine, I wanted to make a game that was as free and fun as Capcom’s Versus series up through Marvel vs. Capcom 2… but with more characters actually competitively viable. The freedom of that game is why it’s so broken, so I had to stop the worst-case scenarios, infinitely looping combos, if I was going to be able to keep the rest of it.

Just stopping that outright does a lot for the game – people aren’t going to try simply to find infinites, which means people are playing the characters more as they were designed to be played. While it doesn’t mean that there won’t be balance problems, I think it should help keep the meta-game’s evolution on a more stable path. I think it’ll also make the game a lot more fun for newer players and hopefully get them to dip their toe into online play, since they won’t have to worry about someone decimating them with an inescapable combo 15 seconds into the match.

So, new players… While a lot of my thinking originates from my thinking about high-level competitive play, I want the game to be fun for everyone. Contrary to popular belief, these are not mutually exclusive: our inputs are a bit easier to pull off, we allow you to play a single more-powerful character if you don’t quite have the hang of controlling a team, and, most importantly, we’re trying to make really robust tutorials to try and actually teach you how to play fighting games. Not just how to do things, but why you should do them.

When you think about it, the fighting game genre is literally the only one left that doesn’t teach you how to improve or even really learn the basics. I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why, even with the present rise in popularity, the genre is still seen as being so niche.

I think a lot of people will be drawn in by the art – Skullgirls is just a beautiful game, and it’s got a ton of personality and little jokes and references in it. There’s a lot of would-be art critics on the internet, but I think most of them will be swayed when they see it in person, because the game looks so much better at 60 FPS. Seriously, the art and animation is amazing: we have the most advanced 2D engine out there, the most frames of animation per-character, the highest-resolution frames, and great 3D backgrounds that look like paintings

We’ve also got a top-notch soundtrack by the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night composer Michiru Yamane, which is the first time a Japanese composer has scored a western-developed game, and, similarly, the first time a western developer has scored a Japanese composer. We’re going all out here – so much so that people are often surprised when we tell them it’s a downloadable game.

Yep, it’s a downloadable game. As such, it’ll be cheap. Potentially hundreds of hours of play with friends and strangers online for the price of a few cups of coffee.

Oh, and you can drop pianos on people.

For more on Skullgirls, check in with the October issue of Play…

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