It gives me great pleasure to share out latest interview, this time the guys behind the awesome looking Arcade exclusive, Skycurser
What is Skycurser "SKYCURSER" is a horizontal, meat-on-metal, shoot ‘em up (shmup) that is in active development for JAMMA compatible arcade cabinets. Strong influences on the game include Id Software's Doom, Nazca's Metal Slug, Namco's Splatterhouse, James Cameron's The Terminator and Michael Jackson's Thriller. In this game, a lone pilot in a one of a kind airplane battles humans, animals, and machines infected by a plague-like disease emitted from a star. The goal of the pilot is to survive waves of enemies by “bursting” them open in spectacularly gory fashion with a brutal yet practical arsenal of weapons - machine gun, shotgun and katana blade. In order to progress the storyline, the pilot must remain untouched by enemy objects. The game ends either by the death of the pilot or destroying the source of the infection.
The game portrays the heroic events surrounding Guy Griffin's attempts at destroying the source of a space-based plague that has infected the planet and left him as the last man on Earth. Aiding him in ridding the world of the plague is an advanced warplane, SKYCURSER, designed and built by his grandfather in response to premonitions he had about the end of the world.
Can you tell us a little about you and your team?
I’m 32 years old and am recently married. Chris and Brad are 33 and both have young children. We’re regular middle aged guys from Indiana.
When we started developing SKYCURSER we all worked at the same company. Strangely, for a time I was Chris and Brad’s boss. That didn’t last long once I left and started my own management consulting company. Now, I spend my days running a small management consulting business and handling SKYCURSER’s hardware and software stack as well as all the typical producer stuff. Chris works for a cloud hosting company called Bluelock and is our multi-talented creative person that had a scholarship to art school and was signed to Metal Blade records back in his early twenties. Brad is our amazing self taught programmer and a Senior Software Engineer at Oracle.
What made you want to make an Arcade exclusive title?
Childhood. Street Fighter II.
Preadolescence. Street Fighter II.
Being a kid. Street Fighter II.
Seriously, being a kid in the late 80s and early 90s, it was impossible to have not been influenced in some way by the arcade scene in some way. As kids we couldn’t pull together everything needed to make a game, now we can. So, we’re doing it.
Also, we’re all makers. Me, Chris and Brad all love to make things. We always need a project to work on and they aren’t typically small undertakings. About ten years ago, Chris and I were going to start a business restoring arcade games. We redid a handful before we realized the business probably wouldn’t scale very well. Before that we were convinced we were going to make an arcade fighting game with the MUGEN engine as the base. Concept artwork probably still exists on a Zip disk somewhere. Again, that was about ten years ago. But, for as long as we’ve known each other, Chris and I have had some degree of arcade fever. As for Brad, he’s wholly on board because of arcade and indie game dev community he’s come to know. Two amazingly great scenes that provide tons of motivation.
Can you tell us the ideas behind the game style and the game as a whole?
The game’s core style idea is to make a pure, authentic 2D experience where every pixel in every sprite was hand placed by an artist. I use Photoshop but don’t use any rendering effects or filters. In a sense, I’ve limited myself graphically to what was available to artists when I was a growing up in the arcade. That’s why we’re developing the game at a resolution of 320x240 and with a limitation on the number of colors per sprite even though the hardware can definitely handle more.
As for the ideas behind the game, we’re dead serious when we say SKYCURSER is influenced by Doom, Terminator and Thriller.
Yeah, I mean, can you think of any grouping of intellectual property more brutally influential to kids born in the early 80s than Doom, Terminator and Thriller? The concept for SKYCURSER’s shotgun is definitely pulled right out of Doom and Terminator 2. As for Thriller, rumour has it that if you start Mission #1 at the same time as the album it syncs up just like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. Rumour has it.
Perhaps this is jumping the gun, but any plans for future games?
Obviously, finishing SKYCURSER is the most important task at hand. But, I’ve definitely got the game dev bug. We’ve talked about game two a few times and we’ve got an idea that’s unstoppable. The second game is going to be a blockbuster.
I confirm game two’s blockbuster potential.
What's been the hardest part of the process so far and why?
To be honest, nothing has been that hard in terms of problem solving. The tools and talent we’ve assembled haven’t hit anything that we didn’t almost immediately know how to solve. But, I’d be crazy if I let anyone believe that making a game isn’t hard. The time investment alone is pretty unreal. For example, Chris has probably spent over a thousand hours just on the graphics in the last year. Brad streams his coding sessions on Twitch almost every day during the week. Each sessions is between 30 - 60 minutes. And, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rebooted the dev hardware in attempts to work out the boot up bugs.
The hardest part for me is trying not to neglect all the other stuff in my life. All I want to do all day is hangout with my son and draw sprites.
The hardest part we’ve come to realize is prioritizing ideas. We’re all creative people so ideas are commodity. A dime a thousand. You get us talking at the bar and we have 20 new features to potentially add. The hard part is picking out which ideas are good and which are bad or outside the vibe of the game.
When do you think the game will be ready to ship?
We’re planning on being able to ship a near complete version of the game and hardware in Feb 2016.
What will the costing be for people here in the UK and the EU as a whole and whilst we are at it lol for our North American readers?
We haven’t confirmed a price yet. However, we’re planning on releasing a run of dedicated cabinets that will likely cost thousands of dollars. We’re also planning on a run of conversion kits and plain boards. The kits will likely be well under a thousand dollars and the plain boards will be around $300. We’re not planning on making a huge profit off any of this. We mostly just want to jumpstart indie arcade game development and give people a platform on which to do it.
Besides the PCB, will you be making a complete arcade cabinet conversion kit like they did back in the day?
This would possibly include a marquee (plexiglass or translite), bezel (cardboard or plexi), control panel overlay and side art? Or if not, might you be releasing hi resolution graphics/imagery for the game that people could use to print/create their own custom cabinet artwork?
Definitely. SKYCURSER conversion kits will include a marquee, control panel overlay and side art in addition to the board and game software. We plan on having conversion kits available for both american/european style cabinets as well as japanese candy cabinets.
When will the release date be?
The goal is February 2016. The team thinks we can hit it.
How many PCBs do you expect to produce?
As many as possible! We want to to see SKYCURSER in as many arcades and home collections as possible. At the moment, we’re thinking there’s demand for approximately a thousand.
Any plans to release the soundtrack on CD?
It’s definitely an option. But, since Chris has been casually putting all the tracks up on SoundCloud, it’s not front of mind to produce an official OST in disc form. When we’re dreaming, we often keep coming back to the idea of getting other music producers to contribute tracks. We’d love to get someone like Lazerhawk or Mitch Murder to lend us a track for the game. That would be wild. Hopefully they read this!
Will this JAMMA game have stereo sound options? Or mono sound?
Since JAMMA is mono, the game is being optimized for mono sound. However, the game and game board will be able to output stereo for players that want it.
How many buttons will the game use and how are the various buttons/joystick combinations used for control/attack etc?
SKYCURSER is a three button game with an eight way joystick. The game code also recognizes start and coin insertion over JAMMA. As pilots of the SKYCURSER jet, players get a minigun/vulcan on button one, a shotgun on button two and a katana blade on button three. The minigun is an automatic weapon that fires as long as you’re holding down the button. The shotgun is semi auto and must be pressed for each round fired. The katana blade can be swung at any time and will hit enemies in a full 360 degrees arc around the jet. Specials similar to EX moves from Street Fighter III are activated by button combinations provided a player has a certain amount of energy built up in their meter. Super moves are executed by more complex button combinations.
How far into development are you?
We started in January 2014. So, it’s almost been 16 months.
Have you thought about porting this game to other platforms after it's finished?
We have. However, we’re committed to the arcade community and that’s our focus. If there’s enough demand for a port, we’ll highly consider it. It’d be amazing to one day see the game mentioned on video game blogs as “ported from the arcade to Playstation 4.”
If you don't plan to release the game to consoles yourself, are you open to the idea of licensing to anyone who may be interested in porting to consoles?
Porting the game to modern consoles and mobile platforms wouldn’t be hard and if we ever decided to do it, we’d probably do it ourselves. But, if someone wanted to help with promotion or publishing, we’d almost definitely be open to it provided the arcade community had been properly served first and foremost.
Making something new for the arcade community is really what SKYCURSER is all about. If we release on consoles it will be because the arcade community said, “ok, do it. It’s time. We want our friends without JAMMA cabs to be able to play it.”
I really like the music! What were your influences for the soundtrack?
Thanks! The music is really fun to make and is a good break from staring down sprite animations all day. My main influences have been what are typically described as synthwave artists like Perturbator, Lazerhawk and Mitch Murder. Oh, and Gucci Mane. Before we had any original music, the first mission had Lazerhawk’s “Dangerous After Dark” setting the tone.
Can you share any exclusive footage or developments with us?
The cellphone image below is HOT off the Cruz sprite press. It’s a reconcept/reworking of the meter bars from the current builds. The original and still current meter bars are tied to the cockpit cam. This obviously poses a UX problem since when combined they are so large. So, we’re designing options where the meters are detached from the cam. In this concept, the cockpit cam would slide in along the top of the meters.
For those that haven’t been with us in our design meetings/at the bar, the current gameplay idea for meters is that they build up as the player kills things with the corresponding weapon. Each meter cools down to a certain point if the killing stops. EX-style special moves may be used with each meter. Supers can be activated that use combinations of meters. For example, players can pull off a Vulcan super or a Vulcan + Shotgun super. Obviously, using specials and supers depletes the meters.
The next image is an in-game screen capture of the first super move. When a player activates the super, a spectral griffin hatches in front of the SKYCURSER jet, grows to its full size and then tears across the screen, talons out. In this particular image, the griffin just decimated a swarm of mutants and left them in a cloud of their own blood.
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