E3 2011: 10 Thoughts on… Skullgirls (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3)

I was able to get a hands on demonstration of upcoming 2D based fighting game Skullgirls, a game that can be best described as a fighting game created by diehard fighting game fans. Personally, I don’t like the term ‘hardcore’ gamer, as it is a label seemingly slapped onto anything that has more than an easy difficulty level. That term, though, is the only one I can think of to really describe the people involved with the creation of Skullgirls. They come from a community of fighting game fans that have practically invented another language that is made up of technical terms that the average gamer might not understand. Hell, part of the game design team is Mike ‘Z’ Zaimont, a tournament champion. These are people who live and breath fighting games.

Like myself for example. The demonstration and discussion was nothing like any other E3 meeting I had. At times it felt almost like a crash course in fighting game mechanics and design. These are some of the thoughts that I had about Skullgirls during that discussion.

1.) The first thing anyone is going to notice are the graphics of Skullgirls. The hand drawn 2D animation was built in a 3D engine. Everything looks amazing, there is a larger color palette than what I’ve seen from other games, and the art style looks unique and vibrant. The game looks so good, it’s a joy to even watch it being played.

2.) I was shown how the game allowed you to choose from one to three fighters in versus, so, if you wanted, you could choose one fighter to go against a team of three. The game balances this by making the one fighter have more health, and would be more powerful than normal, but at the expense of being able to use assists. This is straight out of Capcom Vs. SNK, and something that really hasn’t been done in the decade since that game’s release. I thought that was pretty cool and should provide some variety, though I can also imagine someone being really good at one character and smashing everyone else.

3.) There is the ability to customize assists to different controller inputs. So if D, DF, F and P is easier for you to do than the pre-programmed input, you can adjust the default to this. I like that idea, since there are times I just can’t pull something off. No matter how much my brain knows the input, I can’t make my hand do it, if that makes any sense at all. It is nice to see some flexibility here.

4.) The lighting was amazing, and even when characters were shifting forms on screen, the shadows were spot on. It’s a small thing, but it is the attention to small things that I appreciate. Usually, if the developer can master design down to the little details, that means that there will be less problems in the final product.

5.) I was told about how they understand that people find ways to manipulate and break fighting systems to gain an advantage. While they understand that it will likely happen with their game as well, they are trying to balance it to such an extreme degree that it will hopefully be harder to do so. Part of this is protection against unblockable attacks and instant follow ups, so that a person is never trapped without the ability to get out of an attack animation. The game is designed so that the blocks last twelve frames of animation, which takes a fraction of a second, but should prevent cheap attacks. That’s really the way it should be though. It should be about skill and not relying on unblockable attacks or exploiting frames per move. Of course, there are plenty of fighting game fans that would argue that understanding a move down to the very frames per second it takes to pull of is in itself part of skill play.

6.) Another form of protection from move exploits that they have developed is that there are no infinite combos. If one player gets another player into a combo they might normally keep doing infinitely, the next time they input the same combo, red sparks stark flying up. The defender can now hit any attack button to counter and get out of the repeated attack. I kind of wonder what kind of feedback they’re going to get from the fighting game community for design ideas like this, but as someone who gets stuck in infinite combos, I love this idea. I will probably still lose, as they mentioned that if you keep mixing the combos up, you can still do a lot of damage, but at the very least I know that I will not get stuck getting juggled the entire match.

7.) The developers talked about what was still in development for the single player aspect of the game, and said this was something being worked on, so take this with a grain of salt. They hope to plan on adding a tutorial mode that will work on teaching the players how to play the game instead of just teaching them how to do combos. For example, the Marvel vs Capcom 3 Mission Mode teaches people how to do combos, but not feints or the best time to grab an opponent. The same is true for how to utilize different abilities, as the game doesn’t teach this all that well. The Skullgirls team hopes to have a single player mode where the game teaches the player, and referred to it as almost puzzle game like, as in, the computer might do specific patterns, and it will be up to the player to figure out how to defeat it. By doing so, a gamer can learn another aspect of the game better.

8.) There is no simple mode. Instead of turning a six button fighting game into a simplified three button fighting game, the developers plan on making it so that the combos don’t require a ton of different inputs to pull off. The reasoning behind this, as they explained to me, was that a simplified system teaches the player only how to fight with the simplified controls, so that they have to completely restart from scratch when they move to the six button control scheme. The game will also recognize the inputs you are trying to do, like a full circle input, so that instant timing isn’t always a requirement.

9.) The character design rocks. I suppose that’s more of a personal commentary but maybe it is because there are so many game sequels coming out it occasionally feels like I’m seeing the same character design, or similar character design in a lot of fighting games. The crazy character designs and moves they were pulling off were a breath of fresh air.

10.) My head hurts, or at least it did after talking with them about the game, because it was so much information spoken quickly while also demonstrating how that works with the game running next to us. These guys know their stuff, they know fighting games, they obviously love fighting games, and Skullgirls feels like the effort of people who are enjoying what they are making and is reflected in every angle of the game.

Skullgirls is just amazing on every possible level. I can’t wait for the release of the game.



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