When you look at the behemoth that is Super Smash Bros. these days, game developers with an idea for all-star brawler could be forgiven for thinking 'what's the point?'. Nintendo's series has grown to become the byword when it comes to frantic fighters, and it fills its genre niche substantially.
Still, there are a couple of examples of smaller games squeezing in alongside Nintendo, and now there's a new challenger on the scene: Bounty Battle is an all-star indie hero brawler from Dark Screen Games. Originally revealed for Switch back in March, and delayed from its scheduled release in July, it's finally dropping on 10th September and bringing its particular flavour of local competitive scrapping to Switch (and other platforms, of course).
We recently caught up with Francois Von Orelli from Dark Screen to find out more about the game and the challenges of assembling this large roster of indie brawlers.
Nintendo Life: First up, can you tell us a little about Dark Screen Games and the team working on Bounty Battle?
Francois Von Orelli: Dark Screen Games is a small company, (creating mainly video games) based in France, in the Alsatian region. Like many companies that start today, it works mainly thanks to freelancers, and the support of external people. For Bounty Battle, the team was minimalist, and it consisted of only me and two programmers (they never worked together but took turns to finalize the project). So, I took care of everything that was not "code" in the game.
When did the idea to assemble this all-star line-up of indie characters come about? How long has Bounty Battle been in development?
I think this idea came in 2015, there were already around ten playable characters in the game to test local multiplayer games. To date, only the character "Tyran" has remained in the game roster, the others have simply been deleted or their design and gameplay have been completely reworked. Being a fan of both the Super Smash Bros. series and independent games, I thought it would be really interesting to be able to bring in heroes from other universes. I started to look into it, then I sent emails and was eventually able to integrate awesome characters from equally awesome games that I loved. The game has therefore been in development for 5 to 6 years on my part.
With fighters from over 20 different games, what was it like corralling all these characters from different studios? We imagine it involved a lot of paperwork.
there are 23 characters from other games ... and yes, that involved contracts and a lot of emails! But the other studios were generous, understanding and super friendly
The basic roster of the game includes 30 characters, including 5 original and 2 from old personal projects, (I’m hoping one day to dedicate their own game to them respectively)! So, there are 23 characters from other games ... and yes, that involved contracts and a lot of emails! But the other studios were generous, understanding and super friendly, that's what's remarkable about the indie scene! I was therefore able to receive original files, and very useful helpers in order to improve all the characters to the best of my ability, while keeping visual coherence between the different universes (from pixel art to 3D).
With so many art styles to combine into a coherent whole, how did you go about adapting specific characters for the universe of Bounty Battle? Which ones were the most challenging from an aesthetic perspective?
I like challenges, otherwise I would not have embarked on such an adventure, strangely it was not the most complicated characters that posed me the most problems, because often as soon as I received a positive response to the incorporation of a new character in the game, motivation and adrenaline made me work quickly! I often had a hard time converting characters from pixel art into a cartoon under "spine". Often the projects were still in funding, and therefore the character design was not finalized as well as the gameplay of the hero, so I had to make some alterations to the design and the animations, but over several years of work it's fine!
So, the adaptation of the characters took place naturally over time, and the characters who were the biggest visual challenges were Gully and his minion Calibretto (Battle Chasers: Nightwar), as well as" the Agent of Death "and his minion (Death's Gambit) but I know that in the near future I will have other challengers like "Razputin from Psychonauts" and many others...
These characters also have wildly variable abilities in their own games. Can you describe for us your process of deciding on a moveset and how a fighter should feel in this particular game?
It is very difficult to balance a game in which all the characters and their movesets were not planned for fighting games. At first I tested, played, and finished where possible all these games, then when skills were unlocked within their respective games, I wondered if they could be adapted into the game to some extent. It was also a challenge to be able to render it correctly in Bounty Battle, because when you have so many characters, you cannot (at least in my case), afford to make hundreds of different movements. For example, there are tons of weapons and objects in Dead Cells, whilst in Darkest Dungeon, the Crusader has a much more limited choice. I think everyone will find a character they particularly enjoy playing.
Tell us a little about the minion companions (bespoke summonable helpers for each character) and how they affect gameplay.
The idea of minions came to me when I saw some monsters & NPCs whilst playing the guest character’s original games. I just thought it was a shame not to offer even more, and I also wanted to stand out from the competition. Often the minions are intended to fill in the gaps that some class of characters can have, they can buffer, heal, attack, and modify game parameters for example. Minions have several attributes: they can not be affected by a player and remain on the combat arena as long as the player who made it appear remains alive!
There are more fighters than arenas in Bounty Battle, so how did you decide on which game worlds to turn into arenas?
In time there will be more, unfortunately I did not have more time to finalize new game arenas, but in time, I understand that each character will have his or her arenas of combat dedicated to their universe. So, there will be free DLC with additional combat arenas if all goes well!
Obviously, Smash Bros. is a huge influence on any character brawler game. Were there any specific elements of Smash that the team wanted to capture in Bounty Battle? Conversely, was there anything you wanted to avoid?
Super Smash Bros. has had many iterations, and I will always be a big fan of the first on N64, and the one on my GameCube! But strangely, even if the idea of mixing lots of characters is very attractive, personally, I never wanted to make a carbon copy of that game. Of course, I will have to be compared to other games of the genre. What I liked from Super Smash Bros. is the 2.5D view, and also the possibility of facing more than 2 other fighters simultaneously. Bounty Battle differs in that it has life management, energy and Bounty Points systems, as well as a bonus that gets awarded to the strongest player. There are no percentages modifying the gravity of the characters and the games are therefore more restrictive at the edge of the map. While Super Smash Bros. will remain the benchmark of the genre for a long time, Bounty Battle offers a different approach altogether.
While Super Smash Bros. will remain the benchmark of the genre for a long time, Bounty Battle offers a different approach altogether
The game is launching on multiple platforms – how has it been keeping the game running well on Switch versus the more powerful home-only consoles? What’s been the biggest development challenge?
The porting of the game on the different platforms was done by our publisher Merge Games. I followed the progress of the portings and yes, it is a real challenge because rare are the recent games to have no visual downgrade when they are released. Especially since visually 2D was important to me.
Do you have any plans to add more fighters down the road? Were there any fighters you wanted to add but couldn’t, for whatever reason?
Yes, a lot of characters could potentially be added in the future, probably for free with their respective arenas. Here are some examples: Razputin from Psychonauts, a character from Gang Beasts, the hero from Mutant Mudds, Sundered, UnDungeon, Metronomicon, Children of Morta, etc. There are lots of other characters that I would like to add, there are some who have declined the invitation currently, others are waiting for their game to be finished, and others that will not be there for reasons of right, or because I never had an answer ... I made a lot of requests when the game was not at all developed, understandably it was not easy at that time to have trust in the project.
When not working on the Bounty Battle, what games—on Switch or elsewhere—has the team been enjoying recently?
Above all, I must admit that I am still a big fan of retro gaming, homebrew and arcade. But on the consoles of this generation, I still play a lot of Darkest Dungeon and Dead Cells which are really wonderful. There’s also Borderlands 3 and Luigi's Mansion 3, and I look forward to Rogue Legacy 2!
Finally, is there anything we haven’t touched on which you’d like to add?
Yes, a functional network for Bounty Battle is my main concern, we hope it will be added as soon as possible. But in the meantime, we will find other ways to allow the community to get involved, with prizes at the end!
Our thanks to Francois for his time. Bounty Battle is out on 10th September, so be sure to keep an eye out for our review.