Sitting Down with the Team Behind Upcoming Indie Fighter “Punch Planet”

Note: Originally uploaded on Shoryuken. Post has been slightly altered from original upload.

The world of indie gaming is always an interesting place. The norms of game creation and the formulas of game design we have come to expect just do not apply. Paying attention to successful indie titles is a fascinating endeavor, and today we have our eyes set on the latest independent project to visit the fighting game scene: Punch Planet.
After their most recent success with Steam Greenlight, we decided to sit down with Sector-K–the team behind Punch Planet–and get into the minds of the people putting this title together. If you’d like to get more information on their game, check out their site or their Twitter for updates as development continues.

John ”Zidiane” Silvia: Could you all introduce yourselves?

Lee Wolland: My name is Lee Wolland. I’m the art director and technical artist on Punch Planet. I’m a native New Yorker currently residing in Brooklyn. I work day-to-day as a Technical Director in 3D character animation for movies, games, and commercials. I was keeping an eye out for programmers to collaborate with on an indie fighting game, and that’s how I came across Will’s Double Tap engine. I reached out to him and we had very similar philosophies, and decided to start working on the game. Once it was ready for playtesting Will brought it to some local game nights and that’s when he met Paul, who is now our sound designer and composer.

Will Graham: My name is Will Graham, I’m the programmer and gameplay designer on the team. I’m originally from Tacoma, WA but I’ve been living in San Francisco, CA for about six years now. I’ve been playing video games my whole life, and have been making them on my own and professionally for over ten years now. About three years ago, I left my job in the gaming industry and started the project, mainly as something to learn Unity with as I looked for new employment.

Paul O’Rourke: My name is Paul O’Rourke, I am the sound designer and composer on Punch Planet. My path to fighting games and audio for video games started at the exact same time. I got introduced to the competitive side of fighting games during my QA days at Sony. Shortly after, I left Sony to go to a trade school for audio, and started attending tournaments for SFIV. I met Will at a local fighting game tournament a few months back. I saw Punch Planet, and noticed they hadn’t worked on the audio side of the game yet. We had a Skype session the next week, where I met Lee, and it was pretty clear that we were on the same page for what we wanted out of a fighting game.

John: How did you guys decide on making a fighting game over anything else?

Lee: I’ve been a fan of fighting games my whole life. For years I wanted to work on the artwork for a fighting game, but as I started to play more competitively I also got into the technical side. I’ve been working on a 3D pipeline for animation and games since around 2008 and in 2013 I started to develop a fighting game engine. I did R&D for about a year, developing new tools for the pipeline so it could integrate well into a fighting game project. Once I felt I had gotten as far as I could without a dedicated programmer, I started my search for a like-minded collaborator.

Will: I had been playing a ton of SFIV since it came out, so using that knowledge motivated me to work on my own engine. It wasn’t supposed to last this long, but I was enjoying myself so much that I just kept going. Since I’m not much of an artist, most of my time was spent building a good pipeline for adding and maintaining characters. There is a ton of data that goes into what makes a fighting game work. It was important for me that the engine would scale efficiently, so that down the road if and when I decided to expand into making a game, it would be easy to use and balance. As a gameplay programmer, I’ve learned that developing fighting games offers a huge amount of satisfaction. The nice thing about the genre is that the gameplay is so contained in the fighting system, so everything you do has an instant and observable effect on how the game plays and feels.

John: The art style is very distinct, as is the musical taste. What influences possibly inspired the art style, characters, or design of the game?

Lee: I grew up with a lot of classic sci-fi action movies and comics like Heavy Metal magazine. I always wanted to take those inspirations and bring them together into a single story with a bit of humor to it. I think the cartoon-graphic look is a good fit, since it isn’t meant to take itself too seriously.

Paul: With a science fiction setting and fast paced gameplay, the score naturally settled into a very energetic style, with some callbacks to great 80s synth sounds. I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, so the creative process has been extremely natural so far and quite a lot of fun. I think the inspirations are too numerous to name on a project this well-suited to me.

John: What is going on in the world of Punch Planet? Why are these characters beating each other up?

Lee: When I was working on the story for Punch Planet, I didn’t want to be limited to a scenario where everyone needs a reason to fight each person. For story mode, I wanted to treat it more like a beat-em-up where Roy and a few other characters can have a more focused story path. Then, for versus mode, it’s more like an exhibition where you can choose to fight any character from the story, regardless of his or her history.

John: How big is the final roster going to be? What is everyone’s favorite character on the roster so far?

Will: We have eight characters planned for our initial full release, but most of their movesets and features have yet to be designed. I’m really looking forward to implementing Dog, he’s going to be rushdown-heavy and I think I’m going to have a ton of fun putting him in the game. We follow a very interactive approach towards implementation of characters, we like to start with a base direction and kind of experiment to find what works and what is fun.

Paul: If I had to pick one, I’d say Cid is right up my alley. Great buttons in neutral with strong pressure once she’s in your face. I wasn’t involved in the bulk of Roy’s creation, but it’s been great seeing new characters get designed, implemented and iterated upon. Cid is shaping up to be a real badass, and I think a wide array of players will find her fun right away.

Lee: I think Roy is my favorite character in the story, but for everyone out there who is a grappler main like me, Tyara is going to be your happy place.

JS:  As far as the gameplay, what inspires the system mechanics and general gameplay? What is the plan for how this game will play and feel?

Will: Mostly just aiming for having a dynamic neutral-focused fighting game with good movement options, solid defense options, mixup options, and satisfying attacks. The details of the balance and pace are normally adjusted through play testing. It’s really easy to implement something and think it’s done, but once it’s in the hands of people playing with it you can see if it fits that mold or not, so I try to get as much playtesting as possible from my local group of players.

John: What are the feature mechanics of your game, how were they decided on, and how will they work in the final product?

Will: The main game mechanic revolves around the Time Cancel functionality, which serves a few different purposes and uses the TC meter, which is gained slowly over the course of a match.

The Double Time Cancel (DTC) is a way to cancel the recovery of a desired move, much like a Roman Cancel or FADC, which is used to create new combos, make attacks safer, and provide mix up opportunities. The input for the DTC has carried over from my work on the engine, and is done by double-tapping the same button of the move you want to cancel. You can dash, jump, and attack out the DTC and it costs one TC meter. I really like the freedom that mechanics like this bring to fighting games and I wanted to have the same sort of effect on ours.

The Jump Time Cancel (JTC) is a similar to the DTC but it’s used specifically to cancel a character’s dash into a short jump, which provides a lot of openings for fast overheads that catch the opponent off guard. This move also costs 1 bar of TC meter. I really like short hops but we want the game to generally be more ground based, so making it cost some sort of resource was a good way to limit its use but keep options it gives.

The final mechanic is a defensive technique called Absorb Time Cancel (ATC) which is used to absorb an opponent’s attack and allow for a counter attack opportunity. It doesn’t cost bar to use but the player will lose some TC meter if their attempt was unsuccessful. There is a long period of recovery at the end of the attempt, so going for this counter requires a good read on the opponent. We really wanted to have a solid defensive move that allows players to quickly change the momentum of the match.

Paul: We’re using Wwise audio middleware, and it’s opened up some great opportunities to evolve some of the aspects of audio in fighting games. One of the early features we’re testing is some great state-driven music with some sub-mixes of the song that will fade in as the players health gets lower.

John: Are there any other aspects of your game do you think will set your title apart from other fighters in today’s market?

Will: Right now it’s not really about trying to set us apart from other fighting games. I think the bar is set so high and is so difficult to achieve, that it’s important to focus on nailing the core aspects of fighting games before focusing on how to make the game different.

Paul: I think a huge boon to this game is that all three of us are tournament-experienced players. All of the crazy option selects, input exploits, etc. in previous fighters are techniques we’ve all personally used. I think this not only helps in our development process, but also on the creative side of things, as we already have a deep-rooted understanding of what to look for in a fighting game. We hold the game to the same standards we’d want out of a fighter, and I think that’s going to lead to a very distinct first impression when people play Punch Planet.

Lee: Punch Planet is going to have a lot of personality and style. I think the emphasis on story in and outside the game make it unique.

John: The landscape of fighting games has been changing over the past few years. Games have gone from focusing on hardcore tournament players to focusing on casual fans, and most recently focusing on the esports scene. What is the target audience for your game? Additionally, will the game be balanced more towards tournament play, or casual play?

Will: I think it’s important to build a fun game first and foremost, and for fighting games, to me, that means two players can continue to play the game for hours without getting bored. I believe that if you nail this aspect while implementing a way to reward people for playing, you can create a compelling game that most players can enjoy. That said, veteran fighting game players should feel right at home playing Punch Planet, but I’ve spent a lot of time on the input system to make sure it feels consistent and accessible.

John: How complete is the game in its current state?

Will: Gameplay-wise, the game is pretty far along. Most of the mechanics are working as intended and feeling pretty good. For the game overall: not complete at all, still a ton of stuff to implement. More characters, solid netcode, game modes, AI, training features, lots left to do.

Lee: People can expect to see the visuals, effects, and animations improve as we continue to add more characters and receive player feedback.

John: When will the folks at home be able to get their hands on the game? Either a playable demo or the final product?

Lee: So far we’ve been doing local play testing in San Francisco at some game nights. We hope to expand that soon and give more people an opportunity to play at upcoming events. We had a great Greenlight campaign, and are looking forward to having the game available on Steam once it is ready for something on that scale.