Linking the Past to the Present – Iron Galaxy Studios Takes Killer Instinct Into a Whole New Era

By on October 23, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Since its return for a second season of content, Killer Instinct has not been afraid to shake up the status quo. Developer Iron Galaxy Studios has added both new mechanics and old faces to the Microsoft Studios fighter, creating a product that feels familiar even while the series wanders into uncharted territory. And as the months pass and new characters release, it is certain that Killer Instinct will evolve into something much different from the original product.

I spoke to Iron Galaxy’s Adam “Keits” Heart about the path their studio is taking with Killer Instinct, the bumps in the road and whether we might see one of my favorite boss characters show up in this chapter of the franchise.


Paul Dziuba: There have been quite a few changes to Killer Instinct from Season 1 to Season 2, from the new aerial juggle system to character rebalancing all the way to the eight new fighters. What were the goals Iron Galaxy had in mind when creating this second round of content?

Adam Heart: With the rebalance and updates, we had to consider a lot of things. We have, essentially, three groups to consider. What does Microsoft love or hate about Season 1 and what would they like to see changed? How do the designers and combat guys at Iron Galaxy feel about that topic? And, of course, we have our community team monitor forums and perform focus groups and surveys to try to pin down what we think fans of all skill levels want to see changed.

And, as if that wasn’t complicated already, we have to sit down and discuss our plans for Season 2 and figure out how it all fits together. This requires all the top minds at both Microsoft and Iron Galaxy to really think about what we plan on adding to the game and theory-fight our way into answers that keep the entire cast competitive and balanced. And its not just balancing character vs. character…we must also balance risk vs. reward within the whole system.

To answer your question, the goal from our MS/IG development team is to make the game as fun and entertaining as possible for players of all skill levels, while doing our very best to ensure that no matter which character you decide to love, you’ll have a reasonable shot at being competitive. Another goal we have is to really make sure every new character is a unique experience in the context of Killer Instinct.

PD: What is the hardest part about making large additions—characters, system changes—to a game that Iron Galaxy originally had no part in developing?

killerinstinctone-maya-smallAH: I think the hard part is figuring out an entire set of development tools you’ve never used. Thankfully, the tools we use in HexEngine are pretty easy to work with and provide a lot of flexibility and quick iteration times! Another thing that can be difficult is having to assume what the intention of some design decisions was. Fortunately, the guys at Microsoft who worked on Season 1 are still here grinding away with us on Season 2, so they can provide context and guidance when needed.

PD: You recently commented on Twitter that much of the “strong, scary stuff” in Killer Instinct isn’t going to change, and immediately people jumped on that. What did you mean by the statement, and what does it mean for Killer Instinct going forward?

AH: I think of a game like Street Fighter IV as very tame, while I view something like Darkstalkers to be a very wild take on the traditional fighting game. Of course, you have your Marvels and your Guilty Gears that are just completely insane. And then I look at Killer Instinct Season 1, and it’s not tame at all. It really gives me that wild, adventurous vibe. It’s like the developers didn’t care that something might be scary or powerful, they tried it anyway. We want to keep doing that. We want to try new, scary things that cause players to think deeply about each new character matchup that gets added to the game. We don’t want you to say, “This character is like that character with a few differences.”

So, the statement I made was really saying, “Are you scared of Orchid Grenades? Wulf’s Feral Cancel? Call of Sky? Good! Lets make every character scary!” That is what the team here is trying to do. We want to wow and terrify you.

PD: As Iron Galaxy expands or revitalizes parts of the Killer Instinct universe, what kind of limitations are placed on development? Are any characters or ideas considered off-limits?

AH: Having spent many months working with the awesome people at Microsoft, I can confidently answer “NO” to this question. Nothing is off-limits. When you see some of the stuff we are doing this season…I mean, I still can’t believe we are trying some of this stuff! It’s wild!

PD: Ever since Iron Galaxy has taken over work on Killer Instinct, the company has held various focus tests for the title. How have these tests helped the development process?

AH: The focus tests are fantastic. We get unfiltered gut-check responses from mid- to high-level players that we can discuss and take action on the next day if we think it is needed. There are a lot of things TJ Combo can do, for instance, that we tried because our focus groups wanted a bit more in certain areas. These guys give us invaluable feedback and it’s fun getting together with them to pound on new changes or a new character.

PD: Characters such as Maya, Riptor and Cinder all each only appeared in one Killer Instinct game, but fans are very glad to have them back. How important is nostalgia to the success of Killer Instinct?

killerinstinct-eyedol-editAH: Nostalgia is very important. People want that thing they love from the past again, no doubt about it. Season 1 had to deliver hard on that with seven returning and reimagined characters. With Season 2, we get to go half and half. You get TJ, Maya, Riptor, and Cinder, but you’re also going to get four brand new faces to the Killer Instinct universe.

This is exciting because its a real test-the-waters moment for the franchise. Does Killer Instinct have room to expand its universe and will fans respond well to these additions? If so, the franchise probably has the legs it needs to go far into the future. #Broccoliman

PD: Lastly, I have one more important question: When is Eyedol?

AH: Counter-question: Why do you like this character design?