We first caught wind of Capes in the hazy days of early 2023. The turn-based superhero tactics set-up sounded like a novel idea, albeit one that we were worried might tread on the toes of one Marvel's Midnight Suns which, remember, we were still expecting to see on Switch.

That Switch port was eventually cancelled, and we Nintendo fans were left with an 'XCOM-meets-X-Men' gap in our game libraries. Almost one year on, Capes is set to fly into that gap.

But a Midnight Suns clone this is not. There's no Spidey, Wolverine or Doctor Strange to be found here. Instead, developer Spitfire Interactive brings together a team of original heroes, a fresh storyline and comic book references a-plenty to provide a new take on the equally new subgenre.

As we approach the game's 29th May release date, we were lucky enough to sit down with two of the creative minds behind Capes, Cade Franklin (Creative Director / Designer) and Morgan Jaffit (Writer) to get into the weeds of what goes into making a game like this in the age of the superhero.

Our conversation covered an Endgame roster-sized list of topics including the team's tactical inspirations, favourite comic books, Switch port challenges and Cade's time on LEGO Masters Australia (yes, really). So, get your super suit on and let's take off.

Nintendo Life (Jim Norman): Let's start with the big question — can you tell me a bit about Capes and why you decided to make it a strategy game?

Morgan Jaffit, Writer: It really came from the passion of our Tech Director, James Scott. James was a big fan of Freedom Force — a pausable strategy game that I had been involved with nearly 24 years ago — and he's also a huge superhero fan so he was keen to build something on that basis.

A two-phase strategy game made a lot of sense for us as a team. Most of us previously worked on Hand of Fate, a game that combines turn-based elements, card play and some live action. On that project, we learned that live-action combat is really hard! It's difficult to deliver and you're competing with the best studios in the world — the God of Wars and the Arkhams. Our preference has always been to pick a place where we think we can have a strong impact.

Turn-based strategy was an excellent opportunity to do that. We felt like we had some things to say in that space to add to the genre and the conversation.

Was this in a pre-Marvel's Midnight Suns world?

Morgan: Yes, it was! Almost every game I have worked on has had some great big competitor moving around at the same time and I think that there's a reason for that. There's a real truth to ideas having 'their time'. Some pressures exist in the environment that lead to similar games.

XCOM is a great game and one that we've had a lot of comparisons to, but the similarities are pretty superficial

Given that our original pitch was "it's a bit like XCOM mixed with X-Men," it wasn't awesome news to hear that the XCOM team were going for the same genre. But the real truth is, there's so much room for interpretation and different approaches. The more we saw what Firaxis Games was doing with Midnight Suns — which is great, by the way — the more comfortable we were because it lives in a different place to what we've built.

I think we have very similar audiences, so I wouldn't have wanted to launch in the same release window as them. But for those who played Midnight Suns and are craving something with a slightly different take on superheroes, we've got something to offer them. For people who found that bits of Midnight Suns didn't gel for them, this might be the thing for them.

The approach that I've always found makes sense when you realise that there's a competitor out there making things that are either superficially or substantially similar to you, is that you've got to go back to why you were making that game in the first place. Stick to your knitting and carry on.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

In that case, Cade, could you tell me about some of the differences between Capes and other games in the genre?

Cade Franklin, Creative Director / Designer: XCOM is a great game and one that we've had a lot of comparisons to, but the similarities are pretty superficial.

We picked mechanics that would help us tell a superhero story. For example, we don't use RNG. All of our actions are explicit in what they do and the outcomes they produce. Another big one is that we don't have a cover system. A lot of turn-based games do, but we felt that it's not very heroic to be cowering behind a wall. It's much more heroic to be running in and swinging a punch that isn't going to miss its target.

Were there any other tactical inspirations that you looked at during the development period?

Cade: The big one for me was Into The Breach. That's a game with really precise movement and actions where you can move very deliberately around the play space, knocking enemies back and repositioning them. That plays a big part in this game too. You're always knocking enemies off ledges, or into other enemies to do more damage, and even moving other environmental props around. So that's probably the biggest influence on Capes' tactical combat.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

And what about superhero media? What comics, movies and TV shows did you look at while preparing for this project and how have they been realised in the game?

Morgan: So much superhero DNA runs through this.

My age tells you which comic books are my wheelhouse. I was very into Chris Claremont's X-Men in the '80s, and then I had a front-row seat for the British Invasion and the deconstruction of the genre with Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and the whole Vertigo line. So by the time I was an angsty teenager, I was looking at Days of Future Past, which is a storyline that just stuck with me. And you can tell it stuck with me because of how it is reflected in the events of Capes.

I still think Claremont at his height was more influential than any other author on everything that we see in modern comic book movies. It was Claremont who really pushed the ensemble soap opera side of things to a new height. The X-Men comics through the '80s were all about superheroes fighting supervillains, but they were also about interpersonal drama — Nightcrawler and Colossus go out on the town for an evening, have dinner and talk about their lives — and I really appreciated that part.

this was a story that was initiated in the early COVID days

Capes is a knowing wink towards us not being in the '80s anymore. It's interesting to see how comic movie fandom has grown to a bigger scale than comic fandom ever was. Comic book movies have really hit their stride since they worked out how to do some of the fun things that comic books do — crossovers, storytelling, setups and these big complicated interwoven worlds, etc.

I hope that Capes feels like it has a relationship to those '80s comic books, but through the knowing and reconstructed lens that we start to pick up in the '90s and 2000s. Astro City is a big influence on how we view things and everything Alan Moore has ever written is amazing. There are little nods to all of those influences throughout the game.

Cade: Obviously, Morgan has a real passion for comics and it's kind of infectious! For me, it's a case of taking that script and working out how we transform it into a game. How do I tell that story through our mechanics? How do I tell that story through each of the characters? We've got our world, so how do I bring that to life?

There are lots of threads in the game, some of which are answered and some are left open. I'm really proud of that. I feel like it adds to the size of the world we've created — there's more to it than what's explored exclusively in this game.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

From that inspiration, you have created a group of original superheroes. How have you ensured that they aren't obvious Marvel or DC reskins?

Morgan: Superheroes always have an archetypical strength and value and there's always a relationship between their power, story and personality. When you're going through those archetypes, you risk running up alongside things that already exist. It's a tricky thing to do!

When I think about this type of game, I think about sitting on my couch and playing it on my Switch

For Capes, we had a story that we wanted to tell, and all stories are fundamentally about the time in which they're written. So this was a story that was initiated in the early COVID days, thinking about powerful forces in the world and what you can do to push back against them, thinking about questions of legacy and what it has to offer and how to make space so that people can take up space in the world. Because of those questions, necessary characters arise to push and pull against that story. As characters start to get added to the ensemble, you start to understand how they fit in and what needs to push and pull against them.

Certain characters existed in very early drafts of the storyline and were much more four-colour, golden-age heroes. 'Facet' has made multiple steps through the creative process to arrive at who he is today, but there are other characters who came online later in the piece who had different things to push against.

It was always a question of how to find and combine interesting powers with interesting stories relevant to the big picture. Hopefully, we've ended up with something that feels like we made it as opposed to anybody else.

How has this originality translated into the characters' Ultimate Abilities? How did you go about crafting a movement and an animation that encapsulates each hero?

Cade: Mechanically, we knew that each of our eight heroes needed to have a strong and distinct feel in terms of what powers they had, how they played and what value they provided in a fight. Some were easier to produce and we had endless ideas for what they could do in a game space. But for others, we had to work out how to make the hero feel distinct from the rest of the cast and have them bring value differently.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

Which character has been your favourite to play during development?

Cade: Facet would probably be my top pick. He is a defensive character, so you might think that he doesn't do any of the cool things, but he offers so much to his teammates. One of our mechanics is Team-Ups, and Facet's crystals have such great utility in the game. It's a lot of fun.

And my close second would be Rebound. Her mobility is very useful and you've got to be really tactical about how you use her.

Morgan: Yeah, I also enjoy playing Rebound. She's the first character that we got feeling great. And then the bar got raised for all of the other characters.

There's a philosophy that I absorbed from a Halo weapon-balancing lecture where they said, "The goal is not to make everything feel balanced. The goal is to make things feel radically unbalanced in their lane so that things feel great doing what they do". For example, it's a problem when a rocket launcher becomes a short-range weapon because it starts drifting into the shotgun lane where it is too powerful. But in your lane, you can be really powerful.

I also really enjoyed the process of casting the voices for each character. The team we worked with at OMUK did a remarkable job of finding a young diverse cast and getting amazing people into the booth. It brought some of the characters to life and seeing the actors bringing their voices to bear has made me happy.

How much attention has been paid to the Switch port specifically? Is there anything in particular that you had to do to make sure that it's running great on the platform?

Cade: When I think about this type of game, I think about sitting on my couch and playing it on my Switch. We developed the game on PC first because we were a small team and that's where we were aiming, but we were excited at the opportunity to make it run nicely on the Nintendo Switch.

It was something that we put a lot of effort into. Dan Treble and James, our two main programmers, put an amazing amount of effort into getting it running really well. Shawn Eustace (Art Director) optimised the art because we want it to look as good as possible, no matter where you're playing it. I think it plays really well on Switch. That's the platform that I'm looking forward to the most.

always do a little bit of what you know and a little bit of something fresh

Morgan: Yeah, Dan and James have a real background. They were instrumental in getting Hand of Fate 2 running on the Switch, which was a lot of game! Along with Chris Webb (who also worked on that team back then), they were pushing the boundaries of what indie devs were delivering on Switch. Capes has been developed in Unreal, but it wasn't their first rodeo.

With any cross-platform development, you can get in trouble if you wait until the end of the process to target a platform like Switch. But James and Dan kept us honest from day one.

Cade: We had gamepad controls functioning very early. These games traditionally play well with a mouse and keyboard, but we wanted to make sure that the controls felt right when it was played on a gamepad or Joy-Con instead.

You mentioned Into the Breach earlier which employed touch controls on Switch. Is that something that you have implemented here?

Cade: We haven't actually. It's just Joy-Con in this particular case.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

We have also briefly touched on your work on Hand of Fate and Freedom Force. How have those previous projects helped inform this one?

Morgan: If there's one big philosophical truism that I've taken through the last decade of my career, it's to always do a little bit of what you know and a little bit of something fresh.

That's one of the things that was fun about Capes as a project. It did sit in a similar space to Freedom Force, but that lets us leverage things we knew how to do well while also leaning into a space where we hadn't delivered a game before.

Cade: Looking at Hand of Fate, it's clear that we love to tell stories. That game had a lot of disparate stories to spark your imagination about what was happening in the world. Capes was storytelling again, just in a more linear structure.

I'm really excited to launch this one and see what the future holds

There's a huge cast of characters in this game. In Hand of Fate, where those would be mildly touching one another, this feels like a more cohesive world and story to tell. So again, touching on what Morgan said, we're taking a little bit of that storytelling stuff from before and then spinning it in a fresh way with this game.

This is your first game as Spitfire Interactive though you have worked together as a team before. What was it like to get Capes off the ground under a new label?

Morgan: I ran Defiant Development with Dan for a decade but reached a point where we couldn't get a project funded and had to wrap that up. Defiant arose from the ashes of Pandemic Studios back in the day and the truth is that when you find great people and you like working together, that is an incredibly valuable thing.

We're seeing this happen across studio closures at the moment, with great teams getting folded up. I was so exhausted at the end of Defiant, that I wasn't in a position to carry on, but it was James, Dan, Shawn and then Cade who were like, "No, it's really important to us to keep making things together, to not lose what we built there". To the extent that it's possible, I've tried to help make that happen.

Capes is a game about what age has to say to youth. If you want to take a big message from it, it's to make space. It's not like I'm 100 years older than Cade and James, but, I guess, I'd had a go driving the boat and it was time to let somebody else take the wheel. That's what this whole process has been about.

Spitfire is a creative entity driven by James, Cade and Shawn, and it feels rich, vibrant and exciting. I'm excited and a little emotional about the fact that they've got their first full game out now and about what that means for the future.

Image: Daedalic Entertainment

And how does it feel for you, Cade, to know that Capes is almost there?

It's been a heck of a journey! This is our first time using Unreal, so a lot of things have felt fresh and new. There have been stresses at times, but there's this excitement about what's possible.

We're finally about to release this and share it with everyone and it's a statement about what we like to produce and the type of content we like to make.

We're really excited to see the wider audience play it. We've seen people play the demo, people have had some access to preview builds, and in the age of streaming, you get to hear people's thoughts as they're playing, which is great! Honestly, I'm really excited to launch this one and see what the future holds.

Finally, I couldn't leave without talking a little bit about Lego Masters because, Cade, you won the first season in Australia!

Cade: To be fair, the UK did have a Lego Masters before us, but we were the first with the new format.

Is there any overlap between your passion for Lego and how you design games? Or are these two completely separate worlds for you?

Cade: They're actually very similar to me. Video games are the digital version of my creativity, and Lego is the physical version.

My time on Lego Masters in particular drew a lot of inspiration from being a game developer. It was like a Game Jam, and every episode felt like 'Here's a crazy game idea, go and make it, except we're using Lego today!' So there was definitely a lot of crossover.

And Morgan, do you have any passion for Lego?

Cade: He's a parent, so he just has to pick it up off the floor [laughs].

Morgan: Yeah, I have a different relationship with Lego! I will say that I just don't think any of the other teams were prepared for the fact that Cade had been doing this professionally for the decade leading up to it. Everybody else was like, 'Cool, we're on a game show for the first time, we'll sort all this out,' while Cade's like, 'I was born to do this'.

Cade: [Laughs] I was meant to be there for sure.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Our thanks to Cade and Morgan for taking the time to talk to us and to Michal and Julius for setting up the meeting. Capes swoops onto the Switch eShop on 29th May for £33.00 / $39.99, with a 10% discount available for pre-orders.