Ever since the release of games like Double Dragon, beat’em ups (also known as brawlers) have been a relatively well known genre to those who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. Although perhaps not as prevalent as they once were, some brand new notable beat’em ups have released in the past few years alongside rereleases of the titles which inspired them. One of these newer beat’em ups is Speed Brawl, which released just last month on September 18. We sat down with Art Director Eric Angilillo, and Story Writer/ Marketing and PR rep Lee Thomas to talk about their inspirations, development challenges, and what’s next for their fast paced hard hitting game.
So Speed Brawl is unique in that it’s not just about defeating enemies, but also about how fast the player can defeat them. What inspired this concept?
E: In the early days of development, we knew we wanted to make a brawler, but we were experimenting with ideas for how to modernize the concept and not make yet another nostalgic throwback about defeating a metropolitan criminal empire with your fists. With the popularity of online competitive games always growing, we got the idea of contextualizing the game as a competitive sport. This naturally led to things like laps, medals, and a ticking clock. We tried the game without the timer but found that keeping it there pushed players to brawl faster and always be on the move, which led to more exciting gameplay.
L: As Eric said, we love brawlers and fighting games. And on top of the nostalgic brawlers of the 80’s and 90’s are these modern highlights. The Bayonetta and Devil May Cry series’ really pushed the genre in new ways. The Arkham games, and even more recently Spider-Man, prove the notion that stringing together improbable combos is not just tied to a niche audience and can have very broad appeal. Viewtiful Joe and Lethal League innovated even further and remained compelling fighting experiences. The initial kernel of an idea, that the player’s momentum and speed would translate into a damage boost, was a sort of surprising discovery. We tested the mechanic and it felt good, fresh even. Once we added props, pole-swinging, and other environmental objects that contributed to the player building speed, we were having fun. Having the goal be to always push the envelope, then pull back to ensure consistency and readability, continues to be the way we approach Speed Brawl’s ongoing development.
So what interested me originally was the animation used in the opening and launch trailer as well as the art style of Speed Brawl. What was the art style inspired by?
E: It was initially difficult to find the right style for a Victorian-set universe. We didn’t want to fall into the typical tropes of a “steampunk”-like setting. Instead, we took influences from various 80’s/90’s animes and Saturday morning cartoons. What would an 80’s anime look like if it happened to be set in the Victorian era? On the Western side, we looked at Thundercats, Silverhawks, and that other sort of team-based cartoons. On the Japanese side, we took inspiration from Dragonball and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure by way of Power Stone. Classic 8-bit/16-bit sidescrollers were limited to using pixel art, but I think if the developers could have, they would have made those games look like the animated shows of that time, and that’s the look I wanted to achieve with Speed Brawl.
Most enemies in the game are bugs, but there are a few human enemies as well. Why were these the chosen enemy types?
L: We spent a long time discussing and experimenting with different enemy types. The beat-em-up genre as a whole usually fulfils a core promise of being able to punch someone else in the face. So while human enemies were never completely removed, we leaned heavily on the dynamic nature of the Selenite designs in order to create more unusual attack patterns and behaviours for the player to go up against.
There’s also this pretty dark underbelly to the world we created. One of the things we wanted in the subtext of the game and its story was a feeling of exploitation. That the brawlers were inside the machinations of an imperfect system, that they fought for what they thought was valour and status when really the sport was set against them. It’s maybe something of a trope-y sci-fi convention, but it was a neat way of adding to the dystopian vibe of the game. The league owners hire human enforcers, these enforcers wrangle the Selenites into battle, and the brawlers are the ones in a cage!
But once the sound effects and squelchy visual effects were added, it was clear that smashing bugs and bullies was a satisfying and over-the-top experience.
E: Initially, we had more human enemies, but we found using humans was actually more limiting to how we designed them. By using fictitious aliens, we were able to concept out whatever we wanted and have a much greater visual variety. The game moves so fast that it actually really helps to have contrasting silhouettes on the enemies in order to quickly identify them. Human characters wouldn’t allow for quite as much contrast.
When a new league is unlocked, a new shop with stronger equipment is unlocked as well. Why do it this way rather than just having one shop that continuously unlocks stronger equipment as players progress?
L: Originally there were a lot more complex interactions surrounding equipment and items in the game. We had brand relationships, wear and tear, and similar considerations for the player. In the end, we opted to create a simpler system with very clear relations between the shops and the various leagues in which you brawl. We also wanted to ensure players wouldn’t miss a clear curve upwards for the strength of their gear. Multiple shops helped that, and we got to use some of our favourite names and references too – names like Willy’s Whack Shack and Treats of Rage.
L: This is kind of a taste thing. I love big crazy ideas, rich vocabulary, and peculiar deviations from the norm. But I also like worlds to be cohesive and have an internal logic. Maintaining that cohesiveness with a team full of creative thinkers coming with up ideas to be expressed in more than words – in game design, in art, and in the sound – was the hardest challenge. I know from other writers, on bigger projects, that there’s often a huge amount of people involved in the writing process and that scope and extreme ideas often have to be reduced or condensed to maintain cohesion. In Speed Brawl’s case, funneling it through just a few people enabled the world to remain consistent but also spiky!
E: One of the trickiest things was balancing the speed with the fighting. Some early versions of the game were super fast but lacked the “oomph” one expects from a brawler. They felt too much like light platformers. If the brawlers in Speed Brawl didn’t stop a bit when attacking, their punches ended up lacking weight and feel. It was also tricky building the heavier characters of the game. We needed the variety, of course, but even the heavier characters needed some speed. With the tag system, we were able to allow players to select a fast and a heavy character to take into a brawl and allow them to switch on the fly, depending on the circumstances.
I noticed that the “Auto Float at Jump Apex” was automatically turned on when starting the game when from my experience it made jumping from one enemy to another more difficult. What influenced this decision?
E: Air juggling is very satisfying, but a lot of beat-em-up players are less familiar with platforming jump timing and found air combos difficult to execute. We wanted to make air juggling more accessible to these players, so we made the jump apex very floaty. This allows players to launch enemies into the air, jump to catch up to them and have a more generous time window to successfully continue their air combo. A side effect of this floating is that more experienced players expect to fall down faster, so we allow them to turn off this feature. A lot of us, including our lead combat designer Vince, prefer playing with this feature off. However, during testing of the game, less experienced players would frequently avoid jumping or air-combat and the float makes that side of Speed Brawl easier to digest for newcomers.
Can we expect additional content for Speed Brawl in the future, and what’s next for the team?
E: There’s so much we conceived at a concept level but couldn’t include in the initial release of the game, so we’re hoping to put out some DLC.
L: Our initial focus is on polish and seasoning the game. We want to do this in full view of the existing players and also entice new players to pick up the game. We’ve watched with fascination and delight as Dead Cells was iterated upon while in Early Access. We’re following a similar strategy to that game: small iterations quickly tested on our Steam build, with the best iterations being polished further and added to our console ports. There’s a long road of development and content being planned for Speed Brawl, and some amazing art concepts are sitting in folders… new worlds, new brawlers, new elements and additions. Providing players come along for the ride, there’s a lot’s more speed, and even more brawl.