DARYL ALLISON: SENIOR PRODUCER, CAPCOM
An all-action brawler in which you take charge of cybernetically enhanced soldiers, Spyborgs is a game marked at first glance by an inkling that the classic arcade action of yesteryear is exploding back to life before your eyes.
We sat with Senior Producer at Capcom, Daryl Allison, to find out more about the game; discovering in the process that bringing Spyborgs to life has been a labour of love that started out with the highest of ambitions and ended well only due to a healthy dose of self reflection, elbow grease and old-school sensibilities from the talented team behind it.
Spyborgs has been a long time in the making. Can you give us some background as to how the game first came about?
Capcom had been getting feedback from fans that they wanted to see a classic-style Capcom game on Wii, so we began looking for developers that had the right qualifications to make it. We didn’t quite know what the game would be at that time, we just knew there were certain sensibilities that a developer needed to have to create a game that would be successful on Wii.
About that same time, Bionic Games was founded and was made up of a lot of guys who were previously with Insomniac Games and had worked on the Ratchet and Clank series. They started to develop a couple of ideas, Spyborgs being one of them, and they were looking for a publisher – so it was kind of just a meeting of two worlds: They had the sensibilities we wanted and we were the type of publisher they wanted to work with.
Originally Capcom met with Bionic Games to look at another project, but although that didn’t work out, we saw these character images on the wall – primarily Stinger, Clandestine and Bouncer [Spyborgs’ three central characters, Ed.], and our executives wanted to know more. So Bionic Games changed their pitch and, immediately, things fitted together.
We recognised the social aspect of Wii – multiple people playing locally. It’s not as much about one guy with his headset on, playing online against other people somewhere else, but it’s about having fun playing locally.
The original concept of Spyborgs was about trying to tap into that cooperative gameplay ideal, whilst creating a Wii-specific platform-action game that recognised there was an audience on Wii that could appreciate quickly-changing gameplay styles.
Then, at Captivate 08 [Capcom’s Media Summit held in 2008, Ed.] we unveiled a prototype of Spyborgs as it was then, and in listening to the response of the press and talking internally there was a feeling that while in concept the game was great, the overall experience wasn’t coming together.
So shortly after that we just stopped thrashing on the elements that weren’t working and looked at what was. And at the core was this brawling, co-op action. When we decided to focus on the strengths, on what was working – the co-op, the action – we pretty much pressed reset on the project.
And that was a great experience for Capcom to recognise: “This team is talented, we want to build something right for Wii.” Many publishers would have decided at that point either to kill the project or quickly wrap it up, get it in a box and stop spending money on it.
The relevant people at Capcom went ahead and extended the process by a year. They knew we had a specific goal of creating a certain kind of game for Wii gamers, and they knew that we were working with a particular group of developers because they could achieve that, and it was a case of taking the elements we had and building something new.
So the Spyborgs you see today at E3 is the culmination of that. Not just a co-op brawler, but one that deserves to have the Capcom label on it.
What’s the key gameplay concept at the heart of Spyborgs? And just what is a Spyborg, anyway?
To summarise the game, it’s Ratchet and Clank meets Devil May Cry in a classic arcade brawler - like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage or Final Fight – made for today’s market.
Collectively, the Spyborgs are a cybernetically enhanced super team. One of your ex-team mates wanted more power – he’s that evil guy who used to be a team mate, broke away and wanted to turn himself into a god. So he’s starting to take out other Spyborgs to harvest their abilities and build himself into this weird thing. I say it that way because I can’t be too specific right now!
The story is a classic case of betrayal and revenge. Your former team mate is revealed in the game’s cinematic prologue as having carried out a failed attack on our main heroes. This gave away who he was, and now that he knows the Spyborgs are aware of his identity the game begins with him launching at attack on Spyborg headquarters and trying to wipe out everyone who’s left.
Each of the Spyborgs were recruited into the Spyborgs initiative based on them excelling in some area of martial arts, or just being the best special ops soldier or something like that. They’re brought in to have their natural abilities enhanced even further. At the core they’re human, they had these abilities in the first place and then their cybernetic abilities enhance them even further.
All the enemies you fight in the game are robots built by this bad guy because he’s taken his tech so much further, and even he’s not really human anymore. He used to be, but there’s very little left of him that is.
Fortunately though, because you’re cybernetically enhanced you can continue to upgrade yourself over the course of the game; unlock new moves for your characters, gain new weapons, new armour and things like that. And every time you upgrade you actually get to see a physical, visual change on your characters. And similarly, the enemies upgrade over the course of the game, so you’re not just fighting the same guys. And you’re not fighting the same guys that just have more armour – their abilities enhance and they take on secondary behaviours that change the way you need to attack them. This also mixes with your new moves, so even though it’s a standard brawler at first, the mixing and matching of upgrades between players and enemies means combat evolves throughout the game.
How is the game structured, and do you think it’s a title people will return to time and again?
From the beginning, I guess you could say you have five major portions of the game world, and there are 35 stages over all of those. You have a kind of 3D view of the world and you choose your stages from that as you progress. It’s a pretty standard arcade classic brawler in that sense.
As you’re going through that, you gain experience in combat and can always break away to the upgrade screen at any point to be upgraded immediately. Then there are really cool, really rewarding stage completion screens that tally up your combos, grade you on how well you’re playing and give you upgrade bonus points based on your performance.
We also have medals, which are essentially to mark certain achievements. Those serve not just as additional challenges to give players some interesting side things to do, but as you gain those medals it unlocks additional bonus content. So they’ll unlock concept art, they’ll unlock developer documentaries and they’ll also unlock additional upgrades and additional game modes.
So after you’ve played through the story for a while and achieved certain things you can back-up to the main menu and choose these other modes – which we’re not revealing yet! But the standard brawler experience of playing through the game is going to be great, and it’s going to show everything we’ve talked about. But then the ability to replay those levels by taking a fully upgraded character back to the beginning and gaining new achievements that you couldn’t get otherwise will give you a reason to go back and get a bigger combo, a better high score and things like that.
One of the game’s core concepts is “teamwork”. Is it accurate to say that even in the one player mode, you’ll always be working within a team?
Yes, teamwork and co-op play is always there, whether there are two human players or one human player playing, there are always two heroes. So, obviously, if you and I are playing we each choose which guy we want to play with and then every couple of stages we have the opportunity to choose different heroes and go into combat – so we can switch who we’re playing with.
With the single player game, I choose who I want to play with and then I choose which AI I want to take in with me. So, similarly, I get to keep swapping back and forth which combination of heroes I want to play with. And then, during gameplay in single player, I can swap between those chosen characters. So we’ve actually seen some of the designers and some of the testers who really get into the game pull off cool combos that weren’t expected - because they can trigger something with one player, switch to the other one and do something that wasn’t necessarily designed into the game but still works and is cool to see.
Similarly, we have special attacks. The majority of these are built around cooperative combos. Some of these are available from the beginning of the game and some can be unlocked, but essentially these are team attack sequences.
Depending on which hero triggers the sequence, there’s a unique combo to use against each different type of enemy. So if you think of Capcom as a fighting game company and of how our fighting games have regular combos, and super combos and special ones on top of that, we are trying to bring that into the brawler as well to some extent. And the great thing about the motion controls is that it’s more intuitive to continue those combos.
So instead of these really sophisticated stick movements and multiple button combinations – that I can’t do – you’ll find that if your hero gets in a position where they’re lining up to punch, then the motion that you need to make is a punch. It’s intuitive, in that your hero gets into a certain position and then the motion the game asks you to make matches what you’d expect your character to do, and what you physically want to do. And all of those sequences are built around the idea of the team and cooperative gameplay.
Spyborgs has a distinctive style and personality. What informed that overall feel?
You could say the style is informed by where the development team has come from, and their pedigree and past success. There’s a lot of personality in their previous work, and they bring in ideas of their own and keep things fun in terms of gameplay and fun in terms of making you laugh at what you see. For example, we’ve got this big, epic boss you fight and you can jump on his head and beat him enough to cave it in. And then he’s a little bit stunned and his face is deformed for the rest of that battle. Or you’ve got a guy with a tractor beam so you can lock onto the boss’s hand and get him to punch himself. It’s just about being a game and having fun with it, and Capcom have just tried to encourage the developers to bring their brand of humour into this game as well.
We’ve touched on Spyborgs’ spiritual connection with classic arcade games of the past. Do you think it’s a title that will be accessible to people who don’t have experience of playing such titles?
The game has a dynamic tuning system. So from anyone who picks up the controller for the first time, and has very little experience of playing games, all the way up to those classic Capcom fans who picked up Mega Man 9 and loved it because of how hard it was – we want it to appeal to all of them.
Out of the box there are four difficulty levels that go from novice to hard. And it’s designed so that you look at how they’re described and choose the difficulty level that fits you. So you might think, “I’m a novice, I’m not familiar with playing these games but I want to play because my son bought it and I’ll play with him.” And at that point the game becomes tuned for just button-bashing. But, under the hood, the game begins to recognise as you get better at it and effectively says “Ok, let’s challenge you a little more to keep it interesting, let’s make sure that the game pacing is such that it stays fun and that you don’t get through it too fast.”
Similarly, if you choose “hard” the game will notice the times where you’re struggling. We don’t want people to get stuck on something for too long and get frustrated – we’re building a game to entertain you, not to frustrate you. At all difficulty levels there’s a range where it can get a little easier to help you through a difficult moment or a little harder to ensure things stay challenging for your level of gameplay.
So, yes, anyone of any level of experience can pick this up and play it.
From the outset, Spyborgs was an ambitious project. Do you feel you’ve achieved the goals you set yourself?
I can say I’m proud of the game. To say that we’ve achieved the aim depends on whether enough people pick it up when it’s out on the market and love it. We knew it was big challenge, and a bit risky, but that challenge actually became a great growth experience to identify what makes a game successful
We believe we’re delivering on that epic, cinematic experience that you’re used to getting out of Capcom games. We’re also delivering on what the hardware can do graphically and what the motion controls were meant for. We’re bringing all that into Spyborgs.
Mr. Allison, thank you very much for your time!