Strik­ing gold Can fight­ing-game vet David Sir­lin lower the genre’s en­try bar­rier?

A fight­ing game for to­tal be­gin­ners: how a genre vet­eran hopes to trans­form funds into fun­da­men­tals

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He worked as lead de­signer on Su­per Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, was run­ning the Evo­lu­tion tour­na­ment be­fore it even bore the name, and has placed in the top eight three times at the cham­pi­onships as a pro­fes­sional player:

David Sir­lin

is se­ri­ous about fight­ing games. It’s per­haps sur­pris­ing, then, that the one he’s cur­rently de­vel­op­ing is aimed at a far more ca­sual au­di­ence.

Fan­tasy Strike is a 2D fighter with an ex­tremely sim­ple con­trol scheme. There’s a but­ton to walk left, an­other to walk right, a third to jump and a fourth to at­tack. Quar­ter-cir­cles and multi-in­put com­bos are nowhere to be found: two more but­tons trig­ger a spe­cial at­tack each, while press­ing At­tack and a Spe­cial to­gether un­leashes your su­per. That’s your lot. Our im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion is scep­ti­cal. But then, Fan­tasy Strike’s pur­pose isn’t to preach to the choir. “I think that, while I have my roots in hard­core games, the real op­por­tu­nity is to go much wider and get a whole bunch of new peo­ple into the genre,” Sir­lin tells us.

This is not the first time a prom­i­nent fig­ure in the fight­ing-game com­mu­nity has sought to bring brawl­ing to the masses. Free-to-play, eight-but­ton 2D ro­bot rum­bler Ris­ing Thun­der had vir­tu­ally the same MO be­fore it was bought and shut­tered by Riot Games last year. It was di­rected by Evo co-founders Tom and Tony Can­non, and pro­duced by for­mer Cap­com em­ployee Seth Kil­lian, all of whom Sir­lin knows per­son­ally. Al­though Fan­tasy Strike was in de­vel­op­ment long be­fore it, Sir­lin ac­knowl­edges the sim­i­lar­i­ties. “You could put Seth’s text [about Ris­ing Thun­der] right next to mine [about Fan­tasy Strike] and you couldn’t re­ally tell them apart,” he says. “The prob­lem was that their game, I felt, was much more com­plex. So it was con­fus­ing, be­cause they’d say a thing, and then we’d say the same thing, and then we’d have to go, ‘But, for real!’. They chose a point on the spec­trum that was pretty close to Street Fighter IV, but with eas­ier con­trols.”

By con­trast, Fan­tasy Strike has been stripped back and re­built from the bare es­sen­tials. “The rea­son that our game is so dif­fer­ent, I think, is ac­tu­ally be­cause of Dive­kick,” Sir­lin says. “When I saw Dive­kick, my eyes re­ally opened. It caused me to think, if they can do all that with only two but­tons, what if there was a third but­ton? What if you could walk left and right?” Sir­lin be­gan to de­sign Fan­tasy Strike in the small­est in­cre­ments pos­si­ble. “By start­ing with some­thing sim­pler – too sim­ple, maybe, for what I was af­ter – and adding to it un­til you reach the thresh­old where you’ve got the game­play you want, the re­sult is a much more stream­lined, el­e­gant de­sign. Ev­ery­thing from top to bot­tom is about ac­ces­si­bil­ity. It wouldn’t have looked that way if I started with some­thing like Street Fighter IV and made the com­mands eas­ier. The bag­gage of the genre would still be there. I hate to say some­thing neg­a­tive, but I feel like that’s what hap­pened with Ris­ing Thun­der. It’s just not quite com­mit­ting to this idea as much.” It’s some­thing you cer­tainly couldn’t ac­cuse Fan­tasy Strike of. From the cooldown-cen­tric su­pers, to health bars split into hit-equalling seg­ments, to coun­ter­ing an op­po­nent’s throw by sim­ply not press­ing any but­tons, ev­ery­thing that feels coun­ter­in­tu­itive to fight­ing-game vet­er­ans is prov­ing rev­e­la­tory to the new­bies playtest­ing it.

Of equal note

is how Fan­tasy Strike is be­ing funded. Part of the game’s bud­get is from ex­ter­nal in­vestors; the rest will be made up of back­ers buy­ing shares in the ti­tle via crowd­fund­ing ser­vice Fig, where Sir­lin hopes to raise $500,000 by Au­gust 25. In Fan­tasy Strike’s case, 24 per cent of to­tal rev­enue will be sec­tioned off and dis­trib­uted to those with stakes. But Sir­lin is also run­ning a Fan­tasy Strike Pa­treon, where fans can also sup­port the game fi­nan­cially. He’s care­ful to make the dif­fer­ence clear. Once the Fig ends, in­vestors will re­ceive Steam keys for an “early-early ac­cess”, highly-pol­ished build of the game. Sir­lin’s Pa­treon pre­dates

Fan­tasy Strike, has been re­branded for the new game, and is a way for long­time sup­port­ers to re­ceive up­dates, play pro­to­type builds and even have a di­rect say in de­vel­op­ment.

It’s a con­vo­luted fund­ing process. But de­vel­op­ment costs mean it’s a nec­es­sary one, and hav­ing run five pre­vi­ous Kick­starters, Sir­lin knows what he’s do­ing. His pas­sion for bring­ing the genre to a new au­di­ence, mean­while, can­not be un­der­stated. He thinks of fight­ing-game skill in two cat­e­gories: ‘con­tested’ and ‘un­con­tested’. ‘Un­con­tested’ dis­plays of tech­ni­cal prow­ess – the likes of a Daigo parry, for ex­am­ple – are of less in­ter­est to him than ‘con­tested’ skill: de­ci­sion-mak­ing, strat­egy, out-think­ing the op­po­nent. “Ev­ery­thing in that cat­e­gory, to me, is what’s ex­cit­ing,” he says. “If some­one was pretty good at that, but couldn’t re­ally ex­press it be­cause they couldn’t do the un­con­tested skills, that’s re­ally sad to me. I want more peo­ple to feel that.”

“I think that, while I have my roots in hard­core games, the real op­por­tu­nity is to go much wider”

David Sir­lin has de­signed fight­ing and strat­egy card games, and wrote ‘Play­ing To Win’, a book on com­pet­i­tive gam­ing

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