With its gorgeous 2D visuals and old-school sensibilities, Battle Princess Madelyn has been on our radar for months now. A love letter to games like Ghosts 'n Goblins and Black Tiger, Madelyn is built using Unity and is currently scheduled for release on Switch and Wii U - yes, you read that correctly.
We spoke to Causal Bit Games' Chris Obritsch about how the title is shaping up.
Nintendo Life: Since we last caught up in the Spring, how has development progressed on Battle Princess Madelyn?
Chris Obritsch: Very well! We’re getting close to the end at this point - though we’ve recently pushed the game back for the sake of polish. The game has expanded way beyond the size it was originally intended, thanks to the Kickstarter stretch goals. We have also included a cameo for Locomalito and Gryzor87’s Maldita Castilla character Don Ramiro, as well as the introduction of a level set in Spain, which will be reimagined versions of stages of their original game. We’ve completed writing the script for the in-game cinematics and plot. The music and animations are complete. It’s basically coming down to myself and the core team members to finish up and clean up. It’s very exciting!
Can you talk a little about the dual challenge of developing for Switch and Wii U? How different are the platforms as development environments, and are there any challenges getting the game to run smoothly on either system?
Since we are working in Unity, there isn’t much of a difference for us. We have brought someone external in for helping with porting the game at this point and aside of the controls there really is no difference to highlight. The Switch version is running like a champ right now, and the Wii U only needs minor tweaking so far.
Can you talk about your experiences working with Nintendo to date?
We haven’t really had much need to talk to them directly at this point. We aren’t hitting any snags with developing the game for the switch and the Wii U is just a matter of optimization.
You released a demo on PC, how has the response been from players?
Outstanding - the feedback was invaluable. We were even surprised by people complimenting how our Pre-Alpha is so polished already! Some heavy changes have been made for tuning since we did that build. Controls are much snappier, and collisions are working properly when attacking enemies below you. Madelyn has additional jumping animations, and bugs reported have been fixed, of course!
Did much of the feedback lead to notable changes in the game?
Two big feedback changes we did were notable. The first being the ability to jump onto ladders from the ground - this actually allowed for some neat gameplay in the mid to later levels of jumping between ladders and over deadly obstacles. Another was shooting from ladders. We originally had 4 way shooting from ladders but it made the game way too easy. We opted to leave in the ability to shoot left and right but not up and down. It just felt wrong... almost sloppy.
The Kickstarter campaign was a big success, hitting multiple stretch goals; what were the biggest factors in that positive result, do you think?
Outside of our marketing team? I think people hearing that this game is for my daughter and that she is so heavily involved in the development was a large factor. I was very hesitant to even mention that she was involved when it came to the Kickstarter, it would have been nice to let the game do its own thing. But I think that her story of being involved in making the game is what got it the most attention. Limited Run Games agreeing to do the PS4 physical run of the game was a gigantic boost as well.
Have those stretch goals added any particular pressures to development?
Of course. This is why we have always said that the game has a Q1 2018 release date (the Feb one on Kickstarter was just an estimate before the additions - you can’t change the Kickstarter details once the campaign is live). I now have to do - on top of the already roughly 50 stages of story mode - 10 extra levels of Arcade Mode. Additional art is needed to blend the stages together seamlessly, additional coding to allow for the alternate, faster paced gameplay, etc. All of the NPCs had to be drawn, the backer weapons and the additional armours as well. On top of NPCs being drawn, they are now all characters Madelyn will interact with. That’s added a bit to writing, art and code, but we wanted to make it a special experience for the backers and not have them all clumped into a bar spouting out their names!
Has the game evolved in any notable ways over the past six months, and is Maddi still heavily involved?
Maddi is, of course, still heavily involved, and as of this writing, I think she still owes me some enemies and a boss drawing! The removal of the Mario-styled map system for a more “open world” approach, and the addition of fast travel using Fritzy (the dog)’s magic has sped up the way the player will access certain areas. It ties in better with the story and the levels (until the mid-point of the game) can be travelled through directly, but leaving an area either left or right side of map where there is a sign or even upwards if a road and sign exist.
When can we expect the game to launch?
The Feb release was just because we had to set a date for Kickstarter, and without hitting the Stretch goals, this was a very possible target. However, it’s always just been an open Q1 2018. Though as of the end of January we decided to hold back on that to polish the game a bit more. We had a few snags in the last few months with things being passed to us a little after their deadlines which while not major, still delays other parts of development.
What's been the most exciting part of development in your view, and on the flipside, what’s been the biggest challenge?
Working with Maddi, and seeing her get excited over her ideas coming to life, is for me the most exciting and rewarding part of the development. Last November was her seventh birthday and she hasn’t really come to grips of how this game is affecting people, either. We receive personal emails and messages from people saying they’re so glad that this game is giving her a voice - and them! It doesn’t matter that she is a girl - that she can be whatever she wants to be! And this was never the intent of the game, as I’ve mentioned to others before - if I had a son instead I would have done a game for him.
That brings me to the most negative part of the game development so far - the ever-loving public opinion! People who don’t know the background of the game, outwardly insulting us or saying it’s entirely made up just to sell a game. I think the best thing I read is that I have an imaginary daughter! I’m just happy Maddi isn’t on the internet looking for or reading these things. I’m not an activist pushing my views or anything - I have absolutely no opinion on these things. I’m simply doing this for my daughter - she wanted a game, she’s getting it, because I can do it! We take the insults with a grain of salt. It is the internet after all - people are entitled to their opinion - no matter how silly and uneducated their comments are! At the end of the day they don’t know us and we don’t know them.
The lower end consoles are a bit of pain to maximize performance with Unity, but nothing we shouldn’t be able to handle. We’ve had to make a few visual sacrifices for consoles so far but nothing too drastic, but as the designer and artist for the game it’s a real kick in the pants. I want everything moving and animated but it’s just not always possible due to memory restrictions and what the different consoles can handle shader wise. Since the team is scattered around the globe it’s sometimes harder to communicate what you mean simply by words alone. We always manage though - we always have video and audio references. But sometimes capturing video to send someone a bug is a pain in the but when you’re permanently in crunch with your own work! So far, the team has been outstanding and I hope Maddi is proud of what we’re accomplishing, even though she doesn’t fully understand the extent of what we are doing yet.
Do you have any final words for our readers on what they can expect with Battle Princess Madelyn?
Buckle up! This is going to be one heck of a game! I’ve had people tell me they spent two to four hours in the Pre-Alpha demo, exploring and looking for secrets and the dolls and that they loved every second of it! I tell them “Good! Because there are nine more levels of that for you to do in Story Mode alone!”. And for those people who are old and cranky like me, and want a true retro game fix and don’t have 10+ hours to put into exploring story mode, look no further than arcade mode! I’ve got pro retro gamers and testers testing the levels and enemy layouts to make sure the rhythm and flow is just right! Madelyn and myself are just as excited to play the final game as everyone else!
Thanks to Chris for his time.