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PAX East 2013: Secret Ponchos dev on combining elements of LoL and Street Fighter into a Spaghetti Western shooter

Secret Ponchos Screenshot - Secret Ponchos

If you haven’t already heard, Secret Ponchos was one of the bigger indie surprises at PAX East 2013. The game offers up fun, strategic, and twitchy shootout combat with a variety of characters to choose from and a focus on pure competitive multiplayer. I had a chance to speak with Caley Smyth, UI developer at Switchblade Monkeys, about the game’s features and ambitions.

GZ: How did the idea for Secret Ponchos develop?

Caley Smyth: Well we really wanted to make a spaghetti western game, and the initial thing you think of with that is a shooter. Spaghetti Westerns are all about dueling, right? We started with the camera right behind the guy like in Dead Space or something like that. Just on a whim, because we love League of Legends, we love MOBAs, we don’t want to emulate these games but we felt like there was something missing and something different. So we brought the camera up and we realized it really changes the dynamic of the game. It became something really active. A lot of things happened. The environment suddenly became part of the equation. It became really fun to move your guy around the environment and run around.

We’re also Street Fighter fans, we love the fighting mechanic of Street Fighter, it’s so finely tuned. That’s important because our whole game is based on the concept of dueling. So we tried to tie in the fact that we had this game where the combat is really responsive and works well with the controller. You compare that to MOBA games, and if you put a MOBA on a console it’s not really responsive. They’re more about micromanagement, right? We wanted to avoid that, we wanted an in-the-moment combat game. But I think we managed to create something totally unique.

Secret Ponchos

GZ: Tell us about Switchblade Monkeys

Caley Smyth: Our team comes from a really experienced background. We have ex-Blizzard, ex-Radical, lots of industry experience here. Our art director has worked on DC properties and Transformers, so the team is no rookie team.

We thought the game would take like, one year. But what happened was one person would do such a good job that someone else in the process had to do a good job, and then the next guy had to spend even more time.

GZ: So it’s becoming a much more ambitious game?

Caley Smyth: Exactly. It’s way better than we thought it would be. We thought we were making this super-casual game, but then we changed the camera and that changed everything. We started working on the characters and that introduced more ideas like different range mechanics, different fire rates, and then we added power-ups -- it just kept spiraling.

GZ: What kind of modes will you have?

Caley Smyth: There’s one vs. one, two vs. two, four vs. four, and then free-for-all. We really like teamplay because with these environments there’s a lot of strategy, and with a team you can really see it happen. There’s a custom mode too where people will be able to set their own rules.

For the demo here we wanted to have a time limit and respawning. In the team modes there’s no time limit, it’s over when you’re dead.

Secret Ponchos

GZ: So it’s like an elimination gametype?

Caley Smyth: Oh yeah. All of a sudden you can be the only guy left and that’s awesome. The scariest thing is when suddenly your team is gone and you’ve got three guys hunting you.

GZ: What’s going on with this cast of characters?

Caley Smyth: We have six archetypes. We have this matador character, and she doesn’t even have a gun. She just has to get in and out quick, but when she gets in she has all these super cool moves. We have Poncho, who has a whip and a short-range shotgun. He has these moves where he whips you and pulls you in to shoot you with his shotgun all in the span of a second. Kid Red is fast, he can hide behind cover and play more sneaky. Then there are other characters that are so slow that the sneakiness just isn’t worth it. Like Gordo, he’s like your Heavy in Team Fortress. He just spams bullets, they don’t do a ton of damage, but if you’re in a team game he’s the guy you want out there providing cover fire.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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