Developer Interview: Causal Bit Games On Scratching That Hardcore Itch With Insanity's Blade
Posted by Damien McFerran
"This is how I want to feel while I split my enemies in half"
We recently reported on the confirmation that Causal Bit Games is bringing its retro-inspired action title Insanity's Blade to the Wii U eShop. Looking like the best 16-bit hack-and-slash game you never played, this digital download aims to capture the feel of genre classics like Rastan, Black Tiger and Ninja Gaiden. Causal Bit founders and directors Chris Obritsch and Daven Bigelow were kind enough to sit down with us to chat about the game, the Wii U and working with Nintendo. Splitting enemies in half was also mentioned, so consider yourself warned.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a little about the development team behind the game? What prior experience do you have?
Chris Obritsch: Causal Bit Games is a two-man development team. I do all of the graphics, sound FX and lead code. Daven codes a lot of the tricky stuff — he's the math! Creative wise, I have a background in multimedia design and have been doing design for the past 10 years. I worked as a Creative Director on Print and Web Projects such as Maxim and various Industry Publications. I began building games for clients professionally in 2013, but game development has been a hobby since 1987 on my Commodore 64. I am also an avid collector and player of retro video games.
Daven Bigelow: I have been a game development enthusiast and indie dev for many years while also being a published author on Construct game development. Often I can be found making an example or tutorial file, or teaching game development to anyone who wants to learn. Chris and I have become good friends since meeting in 2011 and have established a really strong creative and problem-solving think tank between the two of us, and we always have ideas of what’s coming next.
What games have specifically inspired the creation of Insanity's Blade?
Chris Obritsch: Insanity's Blade is a lot of my favourite games jumbled into one! It started off as a tribute to Batman and Ninja Gaiden on the NES, but it didn't feel like enough to me. It became a little bit of Black Tiger, Magic Sword, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — insert your favorite classic here! Basically, anything I love playing and coming back to started being thrown into the mix. The cart scene is a nod to Rondo of Blood, although is technically nothing like that fight. The multiple daggers is very Black Tiger. The monster overload is very Magic Sword. But the game still plays like a combination of Batman and Ninja Gaiden on NES — just with a lot of extras.
Daven Bigelow: I really love the retro games, and whenever Chris is thinking of what to do next we both search our memories for the awesome 8-bit and 16-bit games we used to play and bounce ideas around until we have the perfect addition to the game experience.
"Insanity's Blade is a lot of my favourite games jumbled into one...basically, anything I love playing and coming back to started being thrown into the mix"
The title started as a tribute to 8-bit gaming, but has recently moved into the realms of 16-bit visuals. What's the reasoning behind this change?
Chris Obritsch: This is actually the second version of the 16-bit arcade-style visuals. I had started another version to see what it would look like with full-blown 2D FX and a flattened out stage. I had made real time 2D shadows, but it killed the engine and I dropped it. The game started off as 8-bit and I had always loved the idea of a really nice homage, but as we progressed it just didn't feel like it was doing my story justice, and I wanted to add so much more to the game that a Nintendo [NES] couldn't possibly do. It was when we added co-op into the mix that I decided we had crossed the line — the game on an NES would have flickered so bad and slowed down with the co-op sprite it would have been unplayable. So to 16-bit we went! I started drawing the graphics in a backup of our working files and then showed it to Daven — he loved it. We also did a vote on our Kickstarter to see if everyone was OK with it, and it went over without a hitch! Only a couple of people asked that we keep the NES graphics as a second version of the game. So the game will come with the arcade graphics and an 8-bit NES version.
Daven Bigelow: Insanity’s Blade felt like it had reached its potential in the 8-bit version, and although it was a really solid game, we both felt we could do even more with the story and gameplay experience by upping it to 16-bit. Both versions will still get released, so it really was a win-win situation.
What's the reaction been like from the community to the PC demos you've released so far, and how have you incorporated this feedback into the final product?
Chris Obritsch: So far the majority of people who have played it, especially with the latest beta, have loved it. Most of the feedback came during the original beta release with Kickstarter, and we have listened to most of it. Things like fixing the wall jump, adding co-op, widescreen support and difficulty settings have all been added in. We want people to have as much fun playing the game as we do, and have compromised in several areas to make sure they do! And by compromise I mean to not make it impossibly hard — I live on that stuff, but from the feedback we got there aren't many dinosaurs like me left!!
Daven Bigelow: I’m really happy to see the positive feedback we've been getting, after all the hours bug fixing and coding new features Chris and I always appreciate the welcomed response! There has been some struggle too, of course. At one point we were releasing new betas almost every week and it was interesting to make a new post saying “Download the new demo!” and shortly after watch “Let’s Play!” videos appear with a three-week-old build.
"If Capcom and Konami still made games like this, I would be throwing my money at them all the time"
Shovel Knight is another download title which seeks to emulate the experience of past consoles. Why do you think there's such interest in this kind of retro visual style today?
Chris Obritsch: For me, this style is what I grew up with. It's what I still want to play. I still love it — it still feels like a video game when you can see the pixels and see that someone spent time drawing out the animation for something. The art style still shows. A retro game was/is always a quick burst of intense excitement. You won't typically waste a day to a week of your life playing a retro game, unless it's an RPG. For someone like me who has no time to play games for extreme lengths of time anymore, this is just a better choice. I will always love not being hand-held in a game. I love the rush of adrenaline when you get to a really hard boss and you know that if you die you have to do everything all over again — or at least from a previous a checkpoint. If Capcom and Konami still made games like this, I would be throwing my money at them all the time!
Daven Bigelow: I definitely agree with Chris, and also think it’s awesome that these games both have their own unique elements and stories to tell. On top of the retro elements it’s really great that the games are playable on the computers and consoles of today. The games industry may remember the thousands of classic titles and ask "Why make more?" but to me it’s indie titles like Shovel Knight or Insanity’s Blade that let us reconnect the best parts from gaming’s past with modern comforts like widescreen and modern controller support and say, "This is why I loved my NES, this is the story I want to tell, and this is how I want to feel while I split my enemies in half".
You've gone for an authentic audio sound as well — can you talk us through the production of the game's chiptune soundtrack? How important was it to get the music right?
Chris Obritsch: I was raised on music so I'm a bit of a perfectionist with this stuff. Although I've done a couple of the songs on the soundtrack, I wanted people who could step up to the plate and blow my mind. The music is all done through freelancing — we had one musician doing things earlier on but now we have a 10-year veteran of chiptune music step up and he's knocking everything out of the park! The music is all authentic Famicom VRC6 chiptunes, no exceptions. Because the VRC6 had more channels it sounded more like early arcade music. And in my opinion this stuff is far better than early arcade music! Whenever my new musician sends me a sample of what he's working on, I'm like a kid in a candy story — it's just epic stuff, can't wait to get the whole track!
Daven Bigelow: I love listening to chiptune music even outside of the games themselves, so I knew that memorable music would really make Insanity’s Blade even better. It was Chris who did the talent search but he found some great candidates and I think it’s a big part of the game now!
"The other game we have in the works is being developed with the Wii U in mind so we are looking forward to showing that one to the public a little more after we have it cleaned up"
You're very early into the process of porting the game to the Wii U, but what has Nintendo been like to work with so far? When can we expect to see the game hit the eShop?
Chris Obritsch: Nintendo has been fantastic so far! No delays, and everyone is terrific! But it's very very early on so there isn't much to tell. Once we have a better idea of how to tackle the Wii U port we can give a better timeline.
Do you have any plans for a 3DS version as well?
Chris Obritsch: I'd love to say yes, but this is a very up in the air. It will have to be developed separately from what we've done so far. We'll see further down the road if this is an option.
Daven Bigelow: I sure hope we can get on 3DS, that would be awesome.
Will you be looking to make use of the Wii U GamePad's second screen in any way?
Chris Obritsch: For this first game, there's not really much of a point aside of showing the game on the screen. The second game we have planned has split screen and we can always use the second screen for the second player. Lots of options there!
Daven Bigelow: Yeah, there’s nothing too fancy that we expect to do with Insanity’s Blade, but we'll see how it goes.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Chris Obritsch: Yes we do — Insanity's Blade has a long storyline. We will probably split it up into three games. We'll see. The other game we have in the works is being developed with the Wii U in mind so we are looking forward to showing that one to the public a little more after we have it cleaned up. Right now the alpha version is on the back burner until Insanity's Blade is completed — since there are only two of us working on the code and GFX!
Daven Bigelow: We are always thinking of cool ideas and writing them down for later, it will be great to announce them as well after Insanity’s Blade is out in the wild!
Thanks to Chris and Daven for giving up their time to speak with us.