Interview: Pocket Rumble’s April Sewell and Christian Stewart Matt Perez December 18, 2014 Features Inspired by the two-button fighters on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, Pocket Rumble intends to bring a level of accessibility to competitive 2D fighters by placing more emphasis on strategic decision making and less on complex, timed button inputs. Essentially, if you can perform a Hadoken and Tornado Kick in Street Fighter, you’ll have already mastered each character’s moveset. Aside from its easy to pickup, tough to master mechanics, Pocket Rumble also features a plethora of game modes, including ranked online multiplayer. Other indie titles even make cameos as bosses, including Kick from Divekick, Fencer from Nidhogg, Dust from Dust: An Elysian Tail and the Kid from I Wanna Be the Guy. Developed by Pittsburgh-based Cardboard Robot Games, Pocket Rumble achieved its $22,500 Kickstarter goal this week. Before their successful campaign came to a close, we asked April Sewell and Christian Stewart a few questions about their fighter. 1) This seems like the perfect fighter for someone like me who loves the genre but has only mastered Ryu from Street Fighter. What was the inspiration for making an accessible yet competition-ready fighter? April: It’s just something both of us have talked about wanting for a long time. Things like Able Mode in [SNK vs. Capcom:] Match of the Millennium definitely helped inspire some of our ideas, but the overall vision was something I think we’ve just both always thought should exist, and no one has really done it yet, so eventually we just stepped up to the plate to do it ourselves. There’s been games who have taken some steps to be more accessible but haven’t fully committed to it, like Persona 4 Arena, and there’s been games that have gone all-out to be really accessible, but don’t actually have all the mechanics of a traditional fighter, like Divekick. We wanted to keep basically all the core mechanics you see in a footsies-heavy game like Street Fighter or Samurai Shodown, but make it absolutely as accessible and streamlined as possible within the bounds of that. 2) So you had a Kickstarter for the game a year ago that was unsuccessful. What did you do in the year since to improve the game and its chances of being funded? Seems as though you got in contact with a lot more indie developers and chiptune artists, as well as polish up the game. April: Yeah we definitely did a lot more networking, with some help from Chucklefish, but more importantly we really re-evaluated a lot about the game, and I think we came back with something that you can see a lot more thought and effort has gone into over the last year. We didn’t really make any major changes to the overall direction we’ve taken, because we’re committed to our fundamental design, but everything needed to just be better. Everything needed to turn up a few notches. We had a lot of all-night discussions where we’d just pound our heads against a wall until we came up with a better idea that solved a design problem we had that until then we might have thought we were just stuck working around. We sent builds out and got a lot of feedback from people like [Skullgirls’] Mike Z who know what they’re doing, and we took their feedback seriously. We developed the mechanics a lot farther to a point where we’re much more confident in them. We put a lot more work into polishing the graphics and greatly increased the amount of frames in each animation. And along the way we hooked up with some people who have been great additions to the dev team and have contributed a lot to making the game more impressive. 3) Obviously the graphics are informed by Neo Geo Pocket games, but are there specific inspirations for the character designs? April: Well each character is built to feel very different, and all of them are influenced by things from different games. Tenchi is a very classic Street Fighter shoto, and his schoolboy look is kind of inspired by Sakura. Naomi has some gameplay ideas from various SNK characters like Ralph, Andy, Rock, and her visual design was pretty much just female Terry when we first showed her last year. Even after we changed it a lot you can still see where it started. Keiko is based a lot on [Arc System Works] gameplay, especially Persona and the puppet characters from Blazblue, and I think the Lolita-influenced character design just fits with that vibe. Hector is very based on Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade, and to justify that in our modern high school setting we thought up this otaku character who’s obsessed with samurai movies and somewhere along the way we decided to make him also obsessed with spaghetti westerns because those films sort of continued the same stylistic lineage. So you’ve got this samurai cowboy dude who’s trying to be very stoic and badass and is always referencing Leone and Kurosawa and stuff. And all of the characters are sort of like that. Their gameplay references some specific things from other games, and even if their visual design doesn’t directly, it’s very informed by their gameplay so it kind of all traces back. 4) Is this a game you’ll be constantly monitoring and balancing, similar to what we see with League of Legends? April: More or less, yeah. We don’t want to be too overeager to “fix” things that with a little time might turn out to not actually be detrimental, cause there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had with discovering all the obscure elements and weird new tech in a game and seeing how the meta evolves because of it, like you’ve seen over the years with things like Marvel [vs. Capcom 2] and [Super Smash Bros.] Melee that didn’t have the benefit of patching. We don’t want to eliminate that entirely, and aren’t planning on just jumping in and patching out any exploits that people might find unless they’ve been tested a while by the community and have proven to do a lot more harm than good. But we do plan to make periodic balance patches for basically as long as there is still a community playing the game. And our gameplan for that is to focus on buffing the lower-tier characters that have difficulty competing at high level, trying to avoid nerfs as much as we can. 5) How will DLC work? April: DLC characters are free and will just be released as part of patches/updates to the game. We’re not really fans of paid DLC, and this game is a good opportunity to experiment with avoiding it since we don’t have a lot of the expensive things like voice actors that are involved in adding new characters to other games, we’re working at a really low resolution, and we have less animations per character with our 2 buttons than the 4-6 other games have. That all adds up and makes adding new characters astronomically less expensive for us than like the $150K they needed to raise for Skullgirls. We’re hoping we can add more characters to the game and see an increase in sales as it gets people’s attention, and maybe there’s people out there who don’t think 8 characters for $10 is enticing enough but might see 12 characters for $10 and decide that’s a good deal. 6) What are your favorite fighters? Favorite on the Neo Geo Pocket? I’m guessing SNK vs. Capcom is up there. April: My favorite game growing up was Street Fighter Alpha 3. I would stay up all night playing that game and get blisters on my thumb from the old PS1 d-pad. Then I got really into Guilty Gear XX when that came out. Those were the 2 games that probably were the most formative for me as a fighting game fan. Lately, though, I kind of dug back and rediscovered Samurai Shodown 5S and have gotten really into it, and of course the new Smash I’ve been playing like crazy. And [Ultra Street Fighter 4] is my favorite game to watch currently, but I haven’t put enough time in to get any good myself. My favorite on Neo Geo Pocket is absolutely SvC: Match of the Millennium. I still play that game all the time. On top of it just being an excellent game, it keeps the style fresh in my mind for when I go to work on Pocket Rumble. Christian: I played mostly Virtua Fighter when I was younger, especially VF4E, but now I mostly play 2D fighters. I’ve been playing pretty much every 2D fighter I can get my hands on over the past two years looking for interesting mechanics within the scope of 2D fighters, but recently I’ve been playing a lot of [Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo] in preparation for a new arcade opening up in Pittsburgh. Match of the Millennium is hands down my favorite on Neo Geo Pocket, though. 7) Could you also give me some background on Cardboard Robot Games? Is this your first commercial game? April: This is our first commercial game. Christian, the lead programmer, and [I], the lead artist/composer have been working together here in Pittsburgh for the last 3 years or so on a variety of web games, small game jams, and commissions, and now that we’re tackling our own full-fledged commercial game, it’s still just the two of us collaborating on the actual game design, but we’ve picked up a few more devs who work with us remotely on some of the code and art assets. 8) Could you give me a one-sentence synopsis of Pocket Rumble? April: Pocket Rumble is an NGPC-inspired 2D fighter that takes classic Street Fighter gameplay and streamlines it for simplicity, clarity, and accessibility without sacrificing any of the core mechanics.