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Divekick producer talks inspiration, balance, and says 30 more characters are designed

by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Dec 12, 2013 12:00PM PST

It's hard to gauge at what point Divekick went from an inside joke about fighting games to a completely capable fighter that stands on its own merits. The two-button combat is just a low enough barrier of entry to entice newcomers, but also carries a surprising amount of depth and nuance. It's an engaging duel with two players sweating bullets until one person connects on the lethal one-hit-winning divekick.

To understand Divekick's evolution means exploring the game's origins and how it has manage to embrace the most competitive aspect of fighting games, while also bringing something wholly unique to the table. Iron Galaxy producer and One True Game Studios president Adam Heart took some time away from kicking opponents in the face to talk some Divekick with Shacknews and also take some questions from the Chatty community.

Shacknews: Where'd the idea for Divekick come from? How did the team originally think up this concept?

Adam Heart: Divekick is, essentially, a late night joke turned into a video game. Some friends and I were up very late during the release weekend for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and were joking about how overpowered Divekick moves tended to be in the genre. I joked 'What if there was a game called Divekick, and the characters were named Dive and Kick, and there were only two buttons, Dive and Kick.' Stephen told me that he believed he could make that game, so we enlisted my wife as an artist and set off to make this zany game to use as a side attraction at a fighting game tournament that I host each year in Chicago.

The original design document fit on one page. It had five characters (Dive, Kick, and three hidden fighters) all with unique movement and attack properties. It even included information about how 'the line' would solve our timeout problem -- death in one hit means that you cannot use health to determine a winner. A few items that were not on that page found their way into the game during development of the prototype. When the game was first playable, it wasn’t really fun until we added Kickbacks (back jumps). Once those were in, everyone who tried it was having a blast. We added Gems to spoof unpopular pay-to-win mechanics. We also added fraud detection warning and named the dojo after things our testers were saying while playing.

Our testers would be invited for a four-hour play session, and 14 hours later they were still in my house screaming at the TV and at each other. When we released the first trailer for the game, done by Zaid Tabani, the response got us really pumped up and put a lot of time into polishing the game for its first public show at Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 8. Fans there lined up to play all weekend, competing for prizes, and they all demanded a commercial release.

Our small rookie team at One True Game Studios had no idea how to release a game, but we wanted to please our fans. We opened a Kickstarter and made our goal with a few days left to spare. During that month, we had a few publishing offers, and after a lot of discussion, we decided to team up with Iron Galaxy Studios to both develop a more fully realized version of the game and release it to the public. We cancelled the Kickstarter (which means we didn’t take anyone’s money) and we honored most of the backer rewards anyway, because we love our fans.

That leads us to today, and that is the short version of the full story of how Divekick came to be.

So many of Divekick's characters are based on real people. How did you pitch the idea of Divekick to these people and how did they react to it?

Its not a hard pitch. If I came up to you and told you that I’d like to put a caricature of you in a video game, you’d probably say yes without any fuss.

A lot of fighting games get bogged down by the idea of balance tweaks, making sure every character is essentially on a level playing field. Do you feel that Divekick's core idea has reduced (or even eliminated) the need for balance tweaks and how important is that towards ensuring its staying power?

Let me get my philosophy on balance in gaming out of the way first. I believe that 'Fun is greater than Balance.' I would rather play a fun game that is totally out of wack and has tons of characters that cannot compete than play a boring game in which every character has the same chance. I play games to have fun. I compete to have fun. If the game isn’t fun, I don’t care how balanced it is.

To address the question, the answer is no. If anything, we’ve made balance even more important. In a game where a character has, say, 40+ different attacks and 3+ different special moves that have damage/utility and possibly even super moves, defensive options, universal sub systems, etc., small changes can have huge effects. Making that jab that comes out in 4 frames suddenly come out in 3 frames instead can change the way that character plays a ton of his matchups. It's crazy how delicate the ecosystem is in a traditional fighting game.

In Divekick, these problems are amplified. Our characters have a fraction of the amount of options compared to other games, so changes are even more delicate as a result. Making someone’s attack just a little bit faster could have a devastating effect on the game's balance as a whole. Beyond that, it's really difficult working on something so outside the box, because I can't take the lessons I've learned about fighting game design for the last 15 years and apply most of it here. It's so unique.

On the plus side, most of the best Divekick players in the world right now work here at Iron Galaxy Studios. I think we really understand what we've built, and understand where it needs to go to please players who love it, but may not fully understand it just yet. Plus, we love working on it!

Are you surprised at the cult following that Divekick has received?

Do we have a cult following? How do I get a mainstream following? I appreciate anyone and everyone who gives Divekick an honest chance. It's a weird game, but I think it's something special and I hope lots of people agree.

You've brought Divekick tournaments to events like EVO, where I saw a giant setup near the indie gaming booth. Generally, how many participants do you get and how does their experience range?

Last year, before the game was out, we were getting 3rd or 4th most entries at most fighting game events we appeared at. At EVO, we only took on-site registration (no online pre-registration) for one day and we ended up with 330 players, more than some of the official EVO games.

Divekick is a game that you can learn by watching very easily. It's a great game to compete in, but you don't have to practice constantly to keep up. Busier people really get into it for this reason.

Competitive people just hate losing, but it's easier to handle if you can shift the blame off of yourself a bit. Perhaps you were too busy with work to practice lately, or your opponent had a technique you'd never seen and you couldn't figure out what was happening without some training mode time? In Divekick, when you lose, it's your fault and you know it. You feel it. Players get extremely upset and it's great!

Are there any additions or changes we can expect to see in the Xbox One and PS4 versions of Divekick? And when do you expect those versions to be ready for release?

We can't talk about this just yet, but we will have some details soon. We want to make the game more awesome!

'LoioshDwaggie' asks: Has the fighting game community embraced the idea of Divekick or do you feel that they quickly dismiss it?

It’s pretty half and half. Almost everyone I've met who is dismissive either tries the game and changes their mind, or categorically refuses to try it and continues being dismissive. I understand why the game is so divisive. It is really different, the humor is very targeted, and the art doesn’t appeal to everyone. I think the best thing to realize is that we wanted to make a fun, funny game. We aren't trying to replace traditional fighting games, we just want to supplement them with something a little more entry level. We have a lot of the depth of a traditional fighting game, you just don't have to practice for weeks to start experiencing it for yourself.

'Smoochy666' asks: Do you feel like sales or reception have been hurt by Divekick catering too much to hardcore fighting game players or do you feel like you've managed to capture some of the casual gaming audience?

Our booths at PAX East, E3, and PAX were swamped with players of all gaming backgrounds. We've had hundreds of casual players thank the team for making a fighting game that they can finally enjoy. I really don't think the game caters to hardcore fighting game players, though the humor definitely does.

I, personally, really like inside jokes. If I don't get a joke, I get to learn something about someone else's culture or background and to me, that is super cool. Not everyone agrees, obviously, but the whole game is a love letter to the genre and to the people who make me smile, laugh, rage, and work hard every year.

'alias' asks: How successful do you feel Divekick has been at bringing new players into the fighting game world?

That’s hard to gauge. Take [Super Smash Bros.], for instance. Before 2007, I very rarely met a person playing traditional fighting games who said their first fighting game was Smash Bros. Today, I hear it all the time. I have dozens of friends who started with Smash and then moved to traditional fighters. I meet people on the road all the time who started with Smash first.

Divekick hasn’t been out for very long. It will probably take a few years to be able to answer this question. I hope some people really dig the mindgames in Divekick and try out traditional fighting games with a better mindset going in as a result. Time will tell!

'ashkie' asks: Do you intend to continue supporting Divekick in the future with new content or characters?

If I had infinite time and budget, of course. I have designs for over 30 more characters, all unique, and all play with two buttons. We aren't ready to talk about the future of Divekick just yet, but we definitely want to support it and add more content, and we are figuring out the best way to go about doing just that.