Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Kaiju Big Battel: Fighto Fantasy - The Cutting Room Floor

Hello monster maniacs! As the one year anniversary of the release of Kaiju Big Battel: Fighto Fantasy approaches, I’ve taken a look back at the journey along the way. As with any project, the end result is never exactly what we expect when we first get started; I’d originally planned on making a 4-6 hour game that would release in early 2017! As the game got bigger, time for both Soda Piggy and myself became more limited. Fortis was brought on to help finish some graphics and some Glock & mr8bit tracks from older Super Walrus Games demos got reused here. Certain things had to be scrapped or revamped in order to reach a reasonable release date and a finished game we could all be happy with. Here are some of the missing pieces and bits that evolved along the way. Heavy spoilers ahead for the entire game!

Title Screen

The game’s title screen went through three versions. Here’s the original, used in the game’s initial reveal:


I love this art, but it gives away all of the game’s important characters. Vegetius in particular works better as a late-game surprise. It’s a great promotional piece, but less functional as a title screen; the game’s menus simultaneously covered too much of it and were too hard to read with so much going on around them.


This was the second version, a title screen that plays up the Final Fantasy parody aspect more prominently. It’s clear, clean, and menus integrate nicely with it. This ended up being the screen we used in the final game.

 

This was the final title screen drawn and it was used in the game for a long time before we switched back to design #2. The reasoning here was that this art already appears in the game’s "What is Kaiju?" introduction scene, so seeing it twice in such a short time when starting a new game felt redundant. We also used this graphic (and variations of it) in much of the game’s promotional art on Steam, where it worked well at a variety of sizes.

Hero Sprites

At first, the game used a more realistically proportioned art style for its characters. This was changed fairly early in development when we switched to a cartoonier style that made it faster and easier to design characters along more standardized templates. 

American Beetle and Silver Potato concept sprites in The Abyss
Final hero graphics
The original art wouldn’t go unused! Recolored versions of the original hero sprites would be used for the Evil Clone Hero battle graphics players encounter towards the end of the game.

Graphics Development

For much of the game’s development I used hideous placeholders I quickly threw together for NPCs instead of waiting on Soda Piggy to finish art for each character before developing areas of the game. This helped the development move forward at a mostly steady pace as we each worked on our own part. Some of his early NPCs underwent redesigns as development continued, so let’s take a look at one of those guys.


Here we see a Roman senator who's thrown his support behind Dr. Cube. In the top left we have my hideous placeholder graphic used during development. To the right, Soda Piggy's first draft of the character. At the bottom, the completed work!

In later parts of the game I would draw handfuls of NPCs myself while Soda worked on the game’s remaining large format graphics and Fortis took the reigns on smaller enemy sprites. I took existing sprites and recolored, modified, and moved bits and pieces to make them work and hopefully blend in well with Soda’s work!

Modern day club-goers wearing recolored, modified Roman togas
One of Fortis’ enemy sprites
Hero HQ

The Kaiju Hero HQ underwent major revisions some time after the game’s first public demo was released. Originally it was a series of six rounded rooms that you traveled between using a central elevator.


I liked the animation for the elevator but during testing quickly became tired of waiting for it as I moved between each floor. If this was frustrating me, it would have driven players crazy! I took a couple of weeks to fully remap HQ, which involved rewriting a lot of code for cutscenes, NPC behavior, etc. to fit the new map layouts. The final HQ would keep most of the original graphics but connect the rooms side by side, eliminating the need for the elevator. Much faster to explore with no downtime for the player.

New HQ also got a kitchen and a couple of bathrooms

Another change to HQ was a cut that made me a little sad but made sense. That disco floor in the Party Room was originally functional; each hero could perform a unique dance that would give an XP boost the first time and teach Dusto Bunny his ultimate spell once the player had seen every dance.

Turns out scripting and animating dances that actually looked good took a ton of time! The only one I finished was American Beetle’s and I wasn’t thrilled by it. With development running long, there were more important places to prioritize than this goofy side bit. Instead, Dusto now learns his ultimate spell by interviewing each hero for his radio show. Less visually appealing, but does more to flesh out the characters.

Game Flow

Originally, players would explore Rome as the game’s first major area after finishing the introductory section. We built a miniature version of the Rome map for use in the game’s first public play session at PAX East 2016. This was before we’d really settled on a visual style, so the Rome pictured here looks quite a bit different from what made it into the final game.


Early in development, I decided to swap the Rome and Egypt zones around. There were a couple reasons for this: First, I decided to make the game’s time travel plot follow a linear progression through time, rather than the original plan to jump back and forth in history. The Egypt section takes place earlier in history so it makes sense to visit that one first. Second, the Roman zone was always planned to be a large city with lots of careful exploration and tons of NPCs to talk to. I thought this might be a little overwhelming to new players, so Egypt’s open desert with a small town and a few important locations felt like a more natural way to ease players into the game’s world and flow.

Aside from swapping their position in the story, design concepts for Rome and Egypt didn’t change much during development. The initial designs of Russia and Boston went largely unchanged too, though Russia probably needed some more direction and another revision or two, given the negative audience reactions to that zone.

Tokyo

This brings us to the biggest development change to the game’s story and design, one that I believe ultimately worked out for the best: Tokyo 2016.

After leaving 1970’s Boston, players would travel to Tokyo a mere two years in the past from when the game takes place. There would be a bunch of jokes about how long ago this all feels and the heroes would run into past versions of themselves that they’d brawl with. You would go to a bar/restaurant and watch an old Kaiju Big Battel match on the TV while the heroes reminisce.


Vegetius would be the game's largest sprite by far.

Eventually the peace would be shattered by the arrival of Vegetius, a colossal turtle Kaiju who towers above the city. Players would fight him at ankle-height and not be able to do a thing, forcing the heroes to retreat and come up with a real plan for once. They would then need to seek out three scientists throughout the city who could work together to build a device that would allow the heroes to become super huge, each of whom is currently occupied by gangsters, Dr. Cube cultists, or monsters. The longer Vegetius spent in the city, the more tears would begin to appear in time and space, and portals would start dropping junk from other time zones into Tokyo.

After the heroes got huge they’d defeat Vegetius and seal the rifts around town. Just as the last one seals, they’re sucked into a portal that takes them back into The Abyss, where they’d encounter a Keeper of Time who explained how their adventures had mangled history terribly before giving them Cube’s final location: The Moon in the year 3030.

This area would have required a substantial amount of new graphics at a time when development was already behind schedule. Some basic structures from Boston would have been reused, but we would have needed a ton of new signs, lots of neon, and totally different interiors. 

Dr. Cube also didn’t really have any role in this zone. Egypt has him raiding the pyramid, Rome has him secretly working behind the scenes to manipulate politics, Russia has him attacking the survivor HQ, and Boston has his whole radio show schtick; with Tokyo, his goons would be out causing trouble but he wouldn’t be directly involved in any of the Vegetius story. This felt a little weak after he played such a prominent role in the Boston zone story.

It was a tough decision but the correct one to cut Tokyo from development. Instead, after completing Boston players are sucked into a void much like the one that would have appeared in Tokyo post-Vegetius. Now, players find themselves in The New Abyss, showing the initial area from the game’s introduction growing into a thriving landscape full of weird mutants and distorted artifacts. This became a fully fleshed out area, rather than a small room where a Keeper of Time would dump some exposition.

As they would have in Tokyo, players explore New Abyss sealing time rifts and ultimately confronting a giant Vegetius, though they never become huge themselves. Rather than fighting their past selves, the heroes battle evil clone versions here and in the next zone. Dusto’s clone, Worsto Bunny, was referenced post-Russia and moved to Boston so the whole cloning theme doesn’t come out of nowhere.

I was able to reuse and modify graphics from throughout the game to create this amalgam area, bringing all of the visuals and themes up to this point together into one messy mixture of chaos. Gameplay reflects this, with the optional Abyssal Coliseum bringing back enemies and locations from the entire game. It really sells how badly both the heroes and Dr. Cube have befouled the timeline, and the Keeper of Time was replaced by the much jokier Head of State in order to really explain the damage. New Abyss would become my favorite part of the game, in spite of originally only being a blip in the storyline. Skipping Tokyo helped streamline both development and the story, and the end result is a greatly expanded version of the game’s strangest area.


Cats

One of the earliest side quests implemented in the game was that in each zone players could find and adopt a different cat, culminating in a visit at Hero HQ from a spirit who grants the player with a powerful new attack after testing them in combat.


Originally that spirit was going to be the ghost of Polo Cato, a long-forgotten Kaiju Big Battel character. In spite of not actually being a cat, Polo Cato would appear as a sort of guardian for the lost pets and would be one of three super bosses to appear towards the end of the game.

Unfortunately no good visual references for this character seem to exist anywhere! The best we had was the picture above, which doesn’t really show the character in enough detail to work off of. I reached out to a couple people at Studio Kaiju but it seems no one has any better image of him.


I ultimately decided that it was fine to just cut this character and that no one would miss him. Instead players meet the Queen of All Cats, an ancient god figure depicted a tubby tabby in a crown. She congratulates them for their acts of kindness and there’s no boss fight, just a feel-good conclusion to a game-long side story.


Sea Amigos

This one was a bit of a bummer to cut, but there wasn’t enough time or budget at the end to add these guys to the game.

The Three Sea Stooges
 When players explore Boston, the pond on Boston Common is foul, filled with trash spewed by the monster Gomi-Man. After completing the zone, players are immediately whisked to New Abyss, but if you do go back to Boston later and explore the area again you’ll find that the water has now been cleaned up and looks nice and blue.

The fresh, clean water would play host to a three-man team of watery Kaiju rogues: D. W. Cycloptopuss III, Unibouzu, and Call Me Kevin. The fight would involve the three Sea Amigos using moves that boosted each other’s abilities while wearing down the heroes, forcing players to focus on debuffing as much as on doing damage.

This fight would have involved three new large boss graphics, NPC graphics to go along with them, new attack animations, and a new battle venue. It would have been easily missable by players and simply wasn’t feasible to add by the end of development and had to go before any development had started on this side content. This is the one side quest I would love to revisit and add back in if the game is ever successful enough to warrant going back.

Dino Kang Hero

Dino Kang, the squeaky boss of the Egypt zone, was going to be a playable hero in a side game unrelated to the main content. It would unlock from the title screen menu after a certain point in the story had passed and would feature Dino Kang jumping into the time machine alone and rampaging through the Age of Dinosaurs, eventually meeting his own mom and getting a tearful goodbye (with his squeaks in place of any real dialogue.)
 


This was planned very early on but cut before we reached the midpoint in development. It would require an enormous amount of resources to build an entirely new time period, multiple new dinosaur buddies, and a whole host of other graphics. I couldn’t justify the time it would take away from finishing the actual game, even if it would have been a fun zone.

Hero Intern Program

After the Dino Kang plot was scrapped, I started planning another side game that would unlock after completing the main plot. Players would build a custom Hero Intern using selectable bits and pieces from the game’s various NPCs and the Kaiju Heroes would send that character out to previous zones to perform menial tasks, ie. going back to Rome to return a hat Pedro had borrowed from the groundskeeper he befriended.

This one wouldn’t have needed much in the way of new resources, but I also couldn’t really find a good way to make it fun. The joke behind it all was that by performing all these crappy tasks the Intern was the actual hero who saves the world, completely unknown to the Kaiju Heroes. I liked that idea but so much of what was planned revolved around fetch quests and I just didn’t want to do that to the player. This was another piece I’ve considered revisiting if possible, but as for now it’s left in the dust bin.

The Ending/Sequel Hook

I always knew that the game’s finale would involve brawling with Dr. Cube on the Moon in 3030, but what happened after that changed a few times.

Very, very early on, before I’d even completed Egypt, I planned on having the player defeat Dr. Cube and then have Kaiju Big Battel’s alien warlord Uchu Chu the Space Bug descend for a final battle, forcing the heroes and Cube to team up to beat him. This was dumped pretty quickly; I wanted to do the whole "Surprise villain is the REAL final boss" thing that so many Final Fantasy games have done, but Uchu Chu is an established character in the Kaiju universe who would be too big to throw in for a one-shot fight with no story.


Instead, the surprise final boss would become a giant, Cube-infused version of the Goobles, the gooey monsters that torment players throughout the game. This allowed for a more bizarre looking demon enemy, one that required a lot less story behind it while simultaneously making a lot more sense within the context of the game.

Once Uchu Chu was dumped as a boss fight, I thought about putting his space ship in the game’s final shot of the Moon or having a cutscene where Dusto Bunny intercepts a subspace transmission before cutting to credits. This was thrown out very quickly when I stopped and thought about how much I personally hate "Well, that’s that! But tune in NEXT TIME to see the REAL threat!" endings that keep cropping up in action movies these days. So, Uchu Chu and friends were instead relegated to an arcade minigame. Apologies to the Space Bug fans out there!

As for sequels, the one I had planned involved Dr. Cube escaping the heroes’ beatdown at the end and firing up his time-traveling Space Slug one last time before it explodes. He’d vanish from history, undoing the damage he’d done throughout the game, leaving the heroes perplexed about what had just happened. Still, they’d think, "Whatever, job well done! Let’s eat some Hero Cake."

Meanwhile, Cube would find himself waking up in a new dimension, an altered reality where the Kaiju Heroes ruled Earth as tyrants. The sequel would involve him traveling the world recruiting his allies to take down these maniacal ex-heroes. The former heroes would have teamed up with Uchu Chu, using Space Bug technology to control the Earth. Cube would be seen as a hero to the people, but really he’d still be the same selfish jerk he always was, fighting not to liberate the nations of Earth but just to take down his rivals so he could take over again.

Thinking back on those ideas, having the freedom fighter who battles to save the world from dictators and space colonialism be a villain who’s only in it for the power, fame, and money is not a message I wanted to send. It feels tasteless and cynical to me now, where Fighto Fantasy is defined by colorful optimism even in the face of terrible threats.

There are no plans for a sequel at this time, and I decided to end Fighto Fantasy with actual closure rather than a sequel hook. Cube’s captured, history’s saved, and now there’s two of each hero running around to get into trouble. I think it feels very complete, in spite of the bits and pieces we lost along the way!

Thanks for reading this look at Fighto Fantasy’s cutting room floor, and thank you most of all to those fans who supported this game from announcement all the way through release! Happy anniversary, Fighto Fantasy!

7 comments:

  1. The more you talk about Tokyo, the more I think you made the right choice in cutting it. This is a good retrospective. Looking back, I'm not sure how this could have ever been a 4-6 hour game. The things we figure out when the project is finished.

    Congrats on the first anniversary!

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  2. Tried playing the demo, but ps4 controllers don't work on Steam? Steam says the game has full controller support, but I've had this problem before with other games.

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