When the creative team behind the 2D shoot-'em-up Mercenary Kings first met, they were working on a little game called Scott Pilgrim vs The World. During that time, they spoke loosely about creating "the kind of game they loved to play as kids." It would be a classic action game with pixel art, but feature modern gameplay elements, and it would totally, totally awesome. Flash forward a few years, and they're on the road to making it happen — check the trailer here — and we couldn't be more curious to know more. So, we dropped 'em a line with a few questions. Read on for their answers, check our their project here.
Can you talk a bit about where the idea for Mercenary Kings came from?
The idea came up when the production of the Scott Pilgrim game was nearly completed. Stéphane Boutin and I were working at the Ubisoft Chengdu studio at that time. We didn't really have plans for new projects so, we started talking about making another game with Paul Robertson, Jonathan Kim and Jean-François Major. At first, we simply wanted to make a 2D run-and-gun game, but when we started planning it, it evolved and eventually became something else. Probably because we were influenced by a bunch of other games we were playing at the same time!
The storyline only came up recently. We focused on the theme and the core gameplay elements first. Then we started having a bunch of ideas for the characters. Once we had a good basis, I wrote a synopsis to tie everything together.
You mention in your video that this kind of game is "the kind you love to make" — is it just nostalgia, or is there something more? Would love to hear about it!
I can't deny that nostalgia is part of the games we make, but I strongly believe that there is something more. I was disappointed when all games became 3D during the advent of 32-bit and 64-bit consoles. I felt that there was still a lot of cool stuff that could be done in 2D, but it suddenly stopped in the 90s. I like to think that our games could be what would have happened if consoles never made the switch to 3D. So yeah, our medium is pixel art and it bares a factor of nostalgia, but we use modern technology and new gameplay elements to make something fresh.
Paul Robertson is obviously a great choice for animating a game that looks retro but has some modern twists, because he's often talked about how the constraints of pixel art help him be more creative. Are there particular challenges to creating this type of game that have been productive or interesting? Or maybe it's all just great and exciting. Illuminate us!
Although we've all been making 2D games for a long time, there are always new and unexpected challenges on a game project. On Scott Pilgrim, for example, the level of interactivity with weapons and objects combined with the complexity of the animations made the amount of work involved in animating the interactive objects a real daunting task! On Mercenary Kings, with the weapon crafting system, we decided to have some customization visible on the sprite (which is always more complicated to do in 2D than in 3D because you can't simply swap a texture on a model). It was a challenge to come up with a good method that works in all situations. Also, doing non-linear environments is going to be an interesting challenge on the level design side.
Curious to know some of the people who have influenced you in the past and present day. Can you name a few?
It might be cliché but like many game designers I've always looked up to Shigeru Miyamoto. And since I'm such a big fan of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune has always been huge influence. George Kamitani, Shinji Mikami and the developers at From Software are also very inspiring. I'm a big fan of Japanese game designers in general, but I also have a lot of admiration for fellow indie developers such as Derek Yu, Brian Provinciano (can't wait to play Retro City Rampage!!!), Jools Watsham, Phil Fish, Renaud Bédard, Kris Piotrowski and Nathan Vella to name a few.
What's your experience been like using Kickstarter so far?
It's very exciting but it's also more time consuming than we initially thought. Jean-François and I are currently taking care of our Kickstarter campaign as a full time job (and even more)! All in all, it's a great experience because we never did that much communication for our games in the past, and Kickstarter really helps give more exposure to Mercenary Kings.
Are there any things you wish you had realized before hitting "Launch"?
Well, we realized just after hitting the “Launch” button that the Gamescom event was starting the same day. So, when we wrote to game journalists about our Kickstarter, they replied saying that they were excited to talk about it, but were crawling under Gamescom news and thus didn't have much time allowed for something else. So, our timing was kinda bad. However, it's looking good anyway, so we're confident that we're going to reach our goal!