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Interview with Mike Zee: Lead Developer on Skullgirls

Skullgirls Screenshot - 866992

A baffling amount of work goes into making a traditional 2D fighting game. For each playable character, countless frames of animation have to be seamlessly stitched together, and considering even powerhouse Capcom has resorted to 3D models, finding a team still committed to doing business the hard way is rare. For that reason, we were excited to talk with Mike Zee of Autumn Games, lead developer on SkullGirls. Viewing the game in action, we were blown away by the gorgeous hand-drawn 2D graphics and couldn't wait to hear more about this upcoming release.

GameZone: So what is Skullgirls? What can you tell us about the game?

Mike Zee: Skull Girls is a 2D fighter that is designed to be as easy for a beginner to pick up as possible and also as tournament-worthy as possible.

GZ: It looks very polished. What's your team like--how many people do you have working with you on this one?

MZ: We have somewhere around sixteen people in the office, and then we have a huge number of art contractors. Actually, all the art is drawn at twice the resolution of the screen. So we have animators and cleanup artists and all the stuff animated feature films and stuff have. But we can do it for a video game.

GZ: Well, that's awesome. Are you a big fan of fighting games, personally?

MZ: Oh, yes! I play BlazBlue at a tournament level. I've played Marvel 2 (Marvel vs. Capcom 2) since it came out ... a lot of older things. I'm a big fan of Killer Instinct, but I probably shouldn't say that out loud.

GZ: I think that was one that the fighting game community never ... It hasn't aged well.

MZ: It's an amazing one-player game! But as soon as you play against another person, yeah.

GZ: So would you say those games have pretty much influenced your development of Skullgirls?

MZ: Aside from Killer Instinct, yeah. Lots of Marvel, lots of Guilty Gear, lots of Darkstalkers.

GZ: How many characters do you expect to have for this game?

MZ: The roster is actually not finalized yet, so I can't say because of NDA [non-disclosure agreement].

GZ: How many characters are you showing off here today?

MZ: We were generously allowed to bring two! Which is enough for people to play against each other [laughs]

GZ: What are these two characters we're seeing here?

MZ: One is Filia. She has a symbiote attached to the back of her head named Samson, who enhances her attacks as hair. And then the other one is Cerebella, who has a hat with giant muscular arms.

GZ: Now obviously the game has a very unique style. What is the story behind these girls? What is going on in this crazy world? I know fighting games tend to have pretty wacky backstories.

MZ: The bit of it that I can actually say ... The artist, who's most of the creative force behind the plot, is gonna be doing a bunch of press stuff in about a month, so he'll talk a lot more about it. But basically, there was an artifact named the Skull Heart that's been around for thousands of years. And every seven years it grants a wish to whatever woman happens to possess it. If her heart is pure, then the wish is granted, as is. And if her heart is not pure enough, then the wish is twisted, and calamities befall everything, and then you actually get what you wished for.

GZ: So we'll have to look forward to seeing more of the story as you guys release more details.

MZ: Yes, I'm actually pretty tongue-tied. It's kind of annoying!

GZ: What platforms do you guys plan to have this coming out for?

MZ: It's a downloadable game, and it will be on both PSN and Xbox Live Arcade.

GZ: And do you have any idea of a window when this might be coming out?

MZ: This year, but I can't be more specific.

[Mike then took the time to give us a quick demonstration of the game in action, showing off his incredible joystick skills and racking up a rather impressive 107 hit combo. He then took the time to explain how the Skullgirls system rewards such a complicated combo attack.]

MZ: Now, the point of that combo is that it's long, but it's different and creative. If I do some very short loops like you generally see in competitive play ... Watch this.

[Mike began a simple looping attack, constantly launching the unmanned opponent into the air over and over with the same chain. As the uncontrolled player started glowing red, Mike instructed me to press any button on the opposite joystick, which immediately broke the combo.]

MZ: Basically, if I do anything that's infinite, or real easily repeatable, you can get out.

GZ: So there's actually an escape system?

MZ: Yes. But if I do something very long like the one that I started with, but it's all different and varied, then I can do the whole thing.

GZ: So the game basically rewards being creative, as opposed to finding some degenerate combo loop.

MZ: Very much.

Skullgirls is currently slated for release this summer. You can find out more at their website: www.skullgirls.com.

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Vito Gesualdi GameZone.com Senior Editor, DraftMagic.com Editor-in-Chief, NoNoComedy.com Contributor, and the hardest working man in show business. King of video walkthroughs for new games. Follow me on the twitters @VitoGesualdi.
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