We speak to lead producer Michael Willette and design director David Verfaillie about the next-gen fighter.
Killer Instinct for the Xbox One marks an important event not only for the franchise and the console but for developer Double Helix Games as well. This is their biggest game yet, and considering that it does several things like introducing a new demo type of paid model wherein consumers can opt for the characters they want and bringing the series back from the brink, there’s no doubt a ton of pressure to deliver.
We spoke to Lead Producer Michael Willette (who submitted the answers below) and Design Director David Verfaillie about the upcoming fighting game, and how it will adhere to both an old and new generation of gamers.
Ravi Sinha: It’s been 17 years since the release of the last game, Killer Instinct: Gold. Obviously, everyone is wondering – what took so long?
Michael Willette: We wondered the same thing! In all seriousness, for the DH team it was right place right time. We found out that MS was looking for a partner to bring back KI and we jumped at the opportunity.
Ravi Sinha: This will be Double Helix’s first fighting game. In fact, it’s one of the biggest games the studio is developing (we still love Strider, though). Does that ever strike the team at times or is there just a bunch of “going with the flow”?
Michael Willette: Our team does have development roots with Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter 2, Weaponlord, Skull Girls, Tekken, and we are very passionate about fighting games. We have a long tradition of working on brawlers and our tech was built around the same principles you’d see in a fighting game. We are very aware of how important this game is, not just to us, but the fans.
Ravi Sinha: Killer Instinct will be bringing back the old combo stringing from the classic titles, and allow fighters to break them. There will be breaks to counters. What can you tell us about the new Special Attacks? How will they affect combat when juxtaposed against what is essentially an old-school style of fighting?
Michael Willette: We see these new features as additions to the evolution of KI’s combat system. In KI 1 there were a limited number of doubles. In KI 2 you had to move down a power level after each linker. In The New KI you can use any auto double after any opener or linker. We also made shadow moves more frequent. Additionally Instinct Mode is a visualization of the fighter when they are at their most primal. They can cancel out of any move to make it safe, reset the combo, and each fighter has a specific trait they unlock. For example Sabrewulf becomes feral with increased muscle growth and his damage output increases by 25%.
"In The New KI you can use any auto double after any opener or linker. We also made shadow moves more frequent. Additionally Instinct Mode is a visualization of the fighter when they are at their most primal."
Ravi Sinha: Almost two decades has passed, and many a fighting game has come and gone, each bringing their own trademark and mechanics to the table. Will Killer Instinct be setting a new precedent for fighting games in years to come? What will be done to ensure it’s not just another face in the genre’s crowd?
Michael Willette: One of our goals was to solve the issues the first games were trying to solve. Having both players’ interacting during the course of the fight; for the game not devolve to a single player experience once in a combo. We want players to make educated reads on the character and the player they are fighting. Using the break anything, open combo system, combined with Counter breakers, we believe there is a new way to play mind games that is very rewarding. For example, if you miss a breaker you are locked out from breaking for 3 seconds. If you successfully counter break someone, they are locked out for 4 seconds, but if you attempt a Counter breaker and fail you are highly susceptible to punishment. It is very high stakes high reward.
Ravi Sinha: Microsoft believes that with the power of Cloud, the Xbox One will become eventually more powerful as developers find intelligent ways of using it. What is your take on this?
Michael Willette: We can gather tons of telemetry data on how people are playing the game which is good for validating design decisions. We can also let players upload and generate their own video content using the GameDVR feature which is a fantastic tool for sharing new game tech with the community.
Ravi Sinha: Continuing on my previous question, will we see Cloud integration in Killer Instinct?
Michael Willette: Yes, for telemetry and video uploads.
"We want to see the genre grow. We love fighters. I think more teams are going to explore open business models and raise the bar for accessibility. Not so much in accessibility for game mechanics, but in access to games that are pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. "
Ravi Sinha: What kind of game modes can we expect? Will there be an in-depth training mode of some kind for new players?
Michael Willette: You can expect an in depth training mode to help people grasp the language and mechanics of KI. They are very unique and we want to make sure everyone can dive into the game quickly. We want everyone to know what and opener, auto, manual, linker, and ender are and how to put them all together for max damage.
We are discussing modes heavily at this time but we want to make sure we have a good suite of Multiplayer options and ways to practice with tons of user information.
Ravi Sinha: Of the next generation titles we’ve seen thus far, Killer Instinct seems to be the only fighting game at all. What are your thoughts on the future of the genre, especially as we move closer to a more mainstream level of acceptance for consoles?
Michael Willette: We want to see the genre grow. We love fighters. I think more teams are going to explore open business models and raise the bar for accessibility. Not so much in accessibility for game mechanics, but in access to games that are pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. Fighting games are very unique, competitive interactions. But they are also highly rewarding. Our hope is that the more information and access we can get out to the public, the more they will become interested in playing.
Ravi Sinha: The Xbox One consists of tons of memory in 8GB RAM. How are you guys using this extra memory in the game?
Michael Willette: Higher resolution textures, dynamic high quality music, and robust screen/ particle effects are just a few things that we are able to do with all of the glorious memory.
"The ability to snap in other videos or content while you play KI is awesome. Imagine waiting in a lobby for your match to start while you read through a gamefaq on some combos you want to practice during the match."
Ravi Sinha: Much has been made about the Xbox One’s two cores and 2-3 gigs being reserved for the OS. What can you tell us about the remaining components working the Hypervisor and game systems? What kind of potential do you think this holds for games on the Xbox One?
Michael Willette: The ability to snap in other videos or content while you play KI is awesome. Imagine waiting in a lobby for your match to start while you read through a gamefaq on some combos you want to practice during the match.
Ravi Sinha: Killer Instinct is one of the few next generation games that will be running at the gold combination of 1080P and 60FPS on the Xbox One. How easy or difficult was it to reach this combination?
Michael Willette: Technically we are running at 720p and 60fps. 60 FPS is another pillar of the project. Anything added to the game that doesn’t allow us to run at 60 is removed or optimized. Nothing would be more frustrating than need pixel perfect accuracy at anything below 60. It would feel sluggish and unresponsive.
Ravi Sinha: The Kinect is big part of Microsoft’s plan for Xbox One and we do know that Killer Instinct is going to use it to identify players and automatically set the buttons to a players liking. Do you think this will drastically change gameplay elements in Killer Instinct?
" Technically we are running at 720p and 60fps. 60 FPS is another pillar of the project. Anything added to the game that doesn’t allow us to run at 60 is removed or optimized. "
Michael Willette: The Kinect features will help cut down on the trips to the button config screen if you have a profile. But we also wanted to make sure that if you didn’t you could quickly change your config at the character select screen, in you online lobby, and that it was as simple as buttoning through the list.
Ravi Sinha: When can we expect Killer Instinct to release? How come it wasn’t made a launch title for the Xbox One?
Michael Willette: Killer Instinct is a launch title.
Ravi Sinha: Is there anything else you want to say about Killer Instinct, especially to the game’s hardcore fans?
Michael Willette: Thank you for the support. It is truly appreciated. We hope to be on this journey with you guys for a long time.
A big thank you to Patrick Gilmore and Richard Bantegui for setting this interview up.