The task of making a game on your own budget, with your own resources, requires a certain type of passion and a massive amount of time. Doubly so if the area your game is moving into is uncharted territory — and triple so, if you release your game for free.
When I sat down with Steven Wu of Media Hive Entertainment, the questions I prepared in advance never made it off the page. They didn’t have to — I discovered very quickly that Mr. Wu is a straightforward, passionate man that knows exactly what he wants to say. Considering he’s responsible for the genre-blending indie mobile game Ink Wars, that all-cards-on-the-table attitude is not only an admirable quality, but an explanation for how Ink Wars has managed to stick around years after its adventurous entry into the marketplace. Amazingly enough, Capcom’s own competitive mobile puzzle game, Puzzle Fighter, was released and scheduled to be removed during Ink Wars‘ lifespan.
Ink Wars takes the heart of Puzzle Bobble‘s two-player mode and fleshes it out with player reading, diverse character selection, and super meter. Anyone that’s come to SRK probably has an idea where Wu likely got these ideas from:
“I’ve been a fighting game fan since the first Street Fighter,” Wu said. “I was 5-or-6 year old kid in an arcade, a nervous kid too afraid to jump on. But I did, and I loved it, and a few years later Street Fighter II came out and I watched the older kids playing it. That stayed with me through my teenage years when I became quite competitive. I can say I was one of the best in our country back then.”
Wu’s outlook on gaming, and the original source of inspiration for what would inevitably become Ink Wars, began in the arcades of Auckland, New Zealand. Even if Ink Wars isn’t a fighting game in the classic sense, the competitive core is clearly inspired by it — and the FGC has noticed. Justin Wong, Smug, Ryan Hart, gllty, and more all make appearances as selectable characters in the game, with Wong himself having something of a hand in beta testing the project. (Though the guest spots aren’t just reserved to the FGC — even mixed martial artist Mark Hunt appears in game, for example.)
“Street Fighter is something Justin Wong and I had in common. We met in 2016 — I flew from Auckland to L.A., then drove seven hours to San Jose to get his feedback,” Wu recalled. “As an esports champion and professional competitor, it was important to see what he had to say on the game’s strategical depth.”
The game has evolved a lot since 2016: starting out with local-play only (with each player holding a side of the tablet), the game now supports online play anywhere in the world. I actually got to play a few games with Wu, on a phone connection between the U.S. and New Zealand — and to my surprise, it was a great connection, despite the distance.
“I want to do something for the competitive genre that I love. People born after 2005 are growing up with their first gaming experiences on smart phones and tablets. They can’t even walk and talk properly and they are already swiping on their parent’s phones. It’s a trend you can’t fight against. So I thought about, “How do I design a game that’s competitive, that resembles fighting games, but at the same time is easy to control for touch devices?”
He lamented the current mobile versions of fighting games simply aren’t quite right — Wu’s goal with Ink Wars is to bring the mind games of the FGC to touch-devices in a way that makes sense for the peripheral, instead of it just being a pared-down port.
“What genre of game is accepted by a majority of the player-base on phones? Games like Candy Crush and Bubble Witch. They have general appeal, and most of these games are clones of one or two models. Generally, puzzle-fighters are based off of “Tetris”, like Capcom’s Puzzle Fighter. But you never see the bubble model used for versus type games on mobile. We went that route, designed our own innovative battle grid, and built the strategic elements around it.”
“Each character has different bubble patterns, speed, strengths and weaknesses. There’s a super system that you can use either offensively or defensively. There’s enhancers that you can equip per battle. There’s trick shots like ‘Rebound’ that let you add bubbles back to your own side, and if you think your opponent will try a Rebound, you can deny it on reaction, or play in a way that keeps them from setting it up. Ink Wars tests mental awareness and game knowledge in a complex way, but does it in a format that anyone from age 6-to-60 can do on a mobile system. There’s many layers of depth but the controls — aim, shoot, and switch — can be learned in 15 seconds.”
For those within the FGC interested in game design, Mr. Wu’s project should be an interesting follow. He’s already held several tournaments over the few years in New Zealand and has expressed interest in bringing more events stateside. If nothing else, his story is an excellent example of how the core concepts of fighting games can be translated in an infinite amount of ways — so long as you work at it.
And that’s exactly what Wu is doing.
“The team, on and off, was comprised of both part-time and full-time talent. It could be anywhere between 10 to 15 people. After we received such a positive reaction from our initial trade show, I just thought, ‘Oh, this game has to be made.’ I’ve spent almost all of my savings, and I’m going to push this thing into the stratosphere of mobile esports.”