[The developer and publisher of the Spike TV-licensed fighting game discuss making an XBLA/PSN game on a tight budget, at an unusual angle for the established, competitive genre, and for an audience of skeptics.]
As a show, Deadliest Warrior has been a huge success for Spike on multiple platforms, and is among the most downloaded TV shows on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Creating a video game around the series was a logical next step for the franchise.
The game, the first published by Spike Games, launched on Xbox Live Arcade on July 14th and on PlayStation Network on October 5th. To date, the game has sold over 225,000 units.
In this postmortem, Prithvi Virasinghe, Spike Games' creative director, and Jeremy Mahler, the game's producer at Pipeworks, tag-team on how the game's development process went.
1. A Common Vision and Goal
Prithvi Virasinghe: I was initially worried we were going down the wrong path by choosing to do a fighter for this game. We would invariably draw comparisons to retail titles like Street Fighter IV, Tekken, and Soulcalibur IV that have been in the market for many years and gone through multiple iterations to become what they are.
We were a downloadable game with a drastically different budget and timescale. Luckily, Pipeworks had experience in the genre by virtue of its Godzilla titles, so we had a good base to start with.
In the very early phases of the project I would brainstorm with my producer, Carlos Giffoni, to determine what would make this game different. What about this game would really appeal to the Deadliest Warrior show fans, hardcore game fans and casual game fans? And how could we create a great gaming experience while also staying true to the main premise of the show?
One of the brainstorm sessions lead to discussions of Bushido Blade and the strategic combat system Square's PlayStation 1 classic used. No fancy combos, no ridiculous powers and health systems -- just timing, spacing and strategy. It really resonated with what we were trying to achieve on Deadliest Warrior.
I immediately called Jeremy Mahler, game producer for Pipeworks, and asked to speak with the design team. Incidentally, they had just had their own brainstorming sessions and before I could get into my discussion, he told me that the team had been thinking that if this game was to be a fighter, it should be a realistic fighter much in the vein of Bushido Blade.
At that moment, we were all on the same page, and had the same vision for this game. This immediately made both Spike Games and Pipeworks gel from a design perspective, after having reached the same conclusion from our own paths. From then on we were able to have really meaningful design discussions throughout the life of the project, as well as use each other for support when facing pressures to move away from the realistic fighting style and embrace a more arcade-friendly format.
Jeremy Mahler: It was early in the project and we had just submitted a build to Spike which had a knight and ninja running around in a Roman-style coliseum, where players could hack away at each other until one warrior died. We weren't really happy with we were seeing, so we called a team meeting to discuss the build and the game in general.
The consensus of the group was that if we created your average run-of-the-mill fighter, we would be compared to all of the Street Fighters and Soulcaliburs already on the market, and we would fail miserably. A new direction had to be taken. What would set us apart from the other fighting games out there and what would make the game fun to play?
We fired up a couple of different fighting games and began brainstorming the core elements of our game. It soon became apparent to us that hardcore and brutal fighting, with bloody dismemberment and one-hit kills, hadn't been done in years.
Not only did this style of gameplay jive with the IP, it was also something that we, as gamers, wanted to play on our own time. We immediately started solidifying core gameplay mechanics while eliminating those elements of the original design that no longer supported the direction that we were moving in.
By the time our meeting was over, we had a solid game plan, there was no question in anyone's mind what we were making, and the entire team was absolutely pumped (some might even say giddy) about what we were about to unleash from our skulls. As it turns out, the end product is exactly what we set out to make from that single meeting which we had at the start of the project.
2. Close Integration with the Show
PV: The Deadliest Warrior team was very involved in the development process, which kept us honest from a historical accuracy perspective but also was invaluable in keeping the game in line with the TV series. Data collected in the show was used in development, and some of the weapons experts featured in the show even did some of the mocap for the game.
Pipeworks went down to the set of the show and trained with the weapons smiths from the show. The show also weighed in on the warrior and weapons designs, as well as gameplay itself. All and all, it was a team effort and we are very grateful for all of the support from the network that the game received.