Well-known for being a notable Super Street Fighter II Turbo competitor, former Capcom developer and author of the book “Playing To Win,” David Sirlin has been an integral part of the FGC for more than a decade. He is also the designer of a multidude of card and puzzle games, such as Yomi and Puzzle Strike, that borrow concepts and ideas from fighting games and you find at his website, Sirlin Games.
During PlayStation Experience 2016 earlier this month, I stopped by Sirlin’s booth to play and talked about his latest creation-in-progress, Fantasy Strike (based off of the characters and world of Yomi), a new fighting game with the goal of attracting both new and experienced players with easy-to-pick-up controls and a low execution barrier, while still having the depth and strategy of classic–and modern–fighters. You can read my first impressions of the alpha build in an earlier post.
Marcos Blanco: When and how did the concept for Fantasy Strike first pop up?
David Sirlin: I’ve wanted to make a fighting game for many, many years. I think Divekick was a big influence. The reason I say that is because when you hear how Divekick works, it sounds like it’s going to be a garbage game, like there’s nothing to it. But when you actually play it, it really exceeded my expectations. There was a lot more to it than I thought, and I was really impressed by that. It really opened my eyes and made me think of designing a fighting game in a different way. Instead of thinking about “Lets take Street Fighter or Guilty Gear and try to make it more accessible by making those games easier,” I started thinking from the other end of the spectrum. We started with Divekick, like what if you added the ability to move left and right? That would change it. What if you added one attack button? That would change it. And piece by piece, I added things in my mind until I felt like it was capturing what’s fun about more complicated fighting games like Street Fighter.
Fantasy Strike actually started as an experiment. We didn’t know if it would be a good idea. Would it be compelling? Would it be fun? I did a prototype of it with a programmer. After only one month, it was playable and we started showing it to close friends and other people. They liked it and they encouraged us to keep going. It just kind of built up from there, and as we got a little farther and farther, people were more encouraging. Somewhere in the first few months we realized–okay, this is not an experiment anymore. Everyone we showed this to seems to like it.
Marcos Blanco: Do you think the simplistic nature of Fantasy Strike might turn off the the hardcore crowd of gamers that like heavy execution in their fighting games? How are you going to market this game towards both the casual and hardcore groups of fighting game players, after the game is finished, to get it into as many hands as possible?
David Sirlin: What’s fun about fighting games? Execution can be one thing that’s fun about fighting games. The reason that tournaments are so hype is strategy, the decisions, great zoning, great reads, frame traps and all the techniques that aren’t about hard combos. Everyone understands that. The question is what percentage of all of that should execution really be? If you ask different players, you’ll get wildly different answers. Some are going to say the more execution, the better. I come on the other end of the spectrum, where I know it’s there and I respect it, but I actually want it to be as little as possible, because I find the other parts to be more compelling. I think the strategy and decisions are the most exciting parts of fighting games to me, and difficult execution gets in the way of that. If someone wants their fighting games to have as much execution as possible, they have lots of games to choose from.
We can still get them to be interested in Fantasy Strike, but we wouldn’t appeal to them because of execution. So the casual, and hardcore market that wants the game to be more about strategy, would be an appeal. Players from almost any fighting game can come to Fantasy Strike and very quickly–in a few minutes–be ramped up to playing the real game. So that’s one way you can appeal to even the execution-based player, because they’re getting an experience with their friends from other fighting games that’s hard to have in another way.
Marcos Blanco: There are some characters in Fantasy Strike such as Setsuki, Geiger and Rook who share striking similarities with certain characters from the Street Fighter series, when it comes to character types and move sets. Was this intentionally done to pay homage to that series, that seems to have influenced this game?
David Sirlin: Some of it is and some of it isn’t. I guess Geiger being somewhat similar to Guile and Rook being somewhat similar to Zangief are on purpose. If we want to have an iconic grappler and a charge character archetype, we’re trying to signal to you “Hey. It’s that.” It just helps you know what the point of the character is, when there’s some kind of reference to something you’re familiar with. A good example is Rook’s jumping spin attack. It reminds you of a lariat. Everybody knows lariats go through fireballs because we’ve been trained in that forever; it’s kind of like the universal language so we don’t to explain to people “Hey. That move goes through fireballs.” That’s the reason it’s in the game.
Marcos Blanco: When the game is finished and released, do you have any future plans for DLC content afterwards such as additional mechanics, modes or characters?
David Sirlin: We have several game builds planned for release, not even after. I’d like to hold back on talking about that until they’re a little more solid. If you go to fantasystrike.com, we have shown one of the new modes called Arena Mode. This idea fits especially well in a simple fighting game, as opposed to a complex one like Guilty Gear. Before you play, you pick one of three power-ups that alter your moves in some way and then you pick one of three again and again until you have a total of five power-ups. Then you do a run where you play as this character you built with the five power-ups, against other people who do the same, until you win like 10 times or something and get as far as you can; similar to Hearthstone. For release, we are going to have 10 characters. It’s the same 10 that you were in the Yomi card game, but Yomi has 20 characters now, which are the same characters that are in all of my card games. So I think everyone just understands and expects that those same 10 expansion characters will find their way into this game, too.
Marcos Blanco: When people play Fantasy Strike on both a casual as well as a competitive level, what do you want them to feel about this game as they’re playing against each other?
David Sirlin: That’s a tricky question [laughs]. The first emotion that comes to mind is surprise, like I had with Divekick; like there was more to this than I thought. I don’t know the name of it, but there’s a feeling I’ve experienced in competitive games. I think I’m just trying to communicate that feeling over and over to people. I made Yomi, a card game about fighting games, because I’m trying to capture what’s fun and to pass it onto everyone else in a way that doesn’t use dexterity. I wrote “Playing To Win” which was about looking at the inner circle of competitive people, and passing on their secrets to everyone else. Again, I don’t the know the name of the emotion, but it’s just the thrill of competition, that’s what I hope a wider audience would take away with it.