There was only one game at the PlayStation booth at the recent EB Expo that consistently had a line of people waiting to play it. Assassin's Creed: Liberation, maybe? LittleBigPlanet? Need For Speed? Nope. It was upcoming brawler, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale.
When I met with the game's director, Omar Kendall, he was looking on as a group of PlayStation staffers jumped on the game, eager to play while they had the chance between the day and night sessions. They seemed to be having a lot of fun - hooting, yelling, and groaning when their best-laid plans didn't pan out the way they'd hoped.
But despite the fact that people who play the game seem to enjoy it - a lot - All-Stars has received derision from gamers. It's been dubbed a clone of Super Smash Bros., and for some gamers that's enough to turn them off. We talked to Kendall about the game and the criticism surrounding it.
Can you explain a little bit about what you do as the director of the game?
My background is in design so I think I still even now trend towards really doing deep dives on the design side - so that’s level design, character design, system design - [I’m] really getting a bit further down than a director typically does. You hear the term ‘vision holder’ a lot: when I close my eyes I see a vision of the game, right? And I try to make sure that the artists, the designers and the programmers are all moving in that direction, [toward] that vision, that end user [experience]. When I’m holding the controller and I hear the sounds and I see the sights, what that experience is like.
I think because I come from a design background, I tend to have a stronger opinion about characters, and what they do, the actions they perform. And the levels - how big a level is, how many platforms there are in it, things like that.
But in general if anyone’s doing something they’re hopefully doing something to meet the criteria that I’ve established in my head. I really try to communicate that out to the team so that everyone understands the direction that everyone’s moving in.
Obviously the game has been compared a lot to Super Smash Bros. How would you get someone to play it who has already dismissed it as a clone?
Yeah, well... I like the phrasing of that one, I’ve never heard it quite like that before!
If you really like Smash and you don’t like the idea that there’s another game out there that kinda plays like Smash, I don’t know why that would offend you. It seems if you like Smash you’ve got this other game that might be a little bit like it but a little bit different in some other ways. Maybe that would appeal to you. I don’t just play Street Fighter, I play Mortal Kombat, I play Tekken, I play everything that comes out in that space.
Maybe you’re someone who thinks this is a cash-in and maybe there’s something there, nothing substantial, nothing from a quality standpoint. I think the best thing that we can do is to have that person play the game. We have a beta that’s running now and obviously we’re showing the game at a lot of different shows. Give it a chance, I think when you’ve played the game it makes a lot of sense. I’ve been showing the game off all day long [at the EB Expo] and people were having a lot of fun with it. So I’d recommend that to you.
If you’re just a person who really likes Nintendo and just hates the idea that someone else is up there making another game that Nintendo has tried to make at some point, I don’t think there’s really anything I can do for ya, you know? I think you have an open mind about games and you understand that fundamentally all games sort of build on the strength of games that have come before them, and try to add something new and interesting to gaming at large. I don’t know what else to say.
Bioshock's Big Daddy was added to the All-Stars roster at E3 this year.
So the key difference between All-Stars and Smash is the way that you get kills, right?
Yeah, I mean the core gameplay difference - aside from the fact that it’s a PlayStation game, right? - is the super system. You’re fighting not to deplete health [of other players], you’re fighting to build up energy. Each character has a super bar, and you have three different supers. And they’re each a little more expensive and cost additional energy. They’re also better at killing. Your level one super will come to you pretty quickly because it’s kinda cheap. It’s a little bit risky, but it’s good for getting one or two kills now and again. But your level twos and level threes are much more powerful, more expensive, but the kills that come with those supers are a little more assured.
So you’ve got level threes like PaRappa’s [from PaRappa the Rappa], where he’s putting on a little concert, and he’s singing “Oh, I gotta believe” and everyone drops dead. You’ve got Kratos [from God of War], who transforms into his Aeris version, he’s got the Blade of Olympus with him, and he goes on a killing spree. The level three supers are also the big, cinematic, over the top supers - again, a little more expensive - that are really good at getting killing.
The super system itself really drives all of the decision-making in PlayStation All-Stars and creates an interesting experience that I don’t think a lot of people have had exposure to before.
How did you deal with someone like Kratos who’s from an adult game, and put him in something that’s PG?
(laughing) Well I think there are some places that you can’t go in a PG game, Kratos has a level of violence that we don’t really broach. I think what makes Kratos is more than just those extreme, gory elements. I mean, he has blades that he uses, a specific way of fighting, very specific combos, a wide source of magic, and different elements like that.
If you incorporate that into a moveset that makes sense, I think the players will respond to it, and it will come off as feeling like Kratos even though he’s not dismembering people left and right. The essence of a character is more than just the extreme parts of that character.
Like the way they move at the most basic level, as well?
Yeah, pretty much. And also their motivations. We have a story mode, which obviously is not canon, you know. Kratos’s adventures are not permanently changed by his PlayStation All-Stars stint. But we pick up at a very specific point in the God of War storyline. And the motivations that Kratos has for his participation in PlayStation All-Stars are very authentic in terms of motivations that fuel him in God of War. So I think there are a lot of elements that you can draw on to really capture the essence of a character.
God of War's Kratos fights on a map designed around Ratchet & Clank.
There are still some characters that people might say are missing from the roster. Are you likely to be expanding on the roster post-release?
I hope so, yeah. We’ve got the 20 launch characters that we’ve announced. I think there’s enough interest there - and ultimately we’ll see when the game comes out - that fans would be interested in additional characters, additional levels, all sorts of additional content. And we would love to provide that content if the interest is there.
So you combine two different environments for every level - how did you do that while keeping a consistent theme?
The idea with the mashups was that we were slamming all these characters together. You have Kratos fighting PaRappa the Rappa. It made sense for us to go all the way with the levels as well. So the levels, we take advantage of the combination of the different worlds to play off of fans’ knowledge of the PlayStation world. So we have this level called Alden’s Tower, which is a level from Infamous. And then we have a mashup where Carmelita from Sly Cooper is sort of flying around in the background. Sly Cooper and Infamous are both developer by Sucker Punch [Productions].
If you’re playing the game and you don’t know that, you’re just playing a cool level. But if you do know that, and you know about the inner workings of the PlayStation universe, you’re gonna appreciate the mashups, I think, on a different level. We apply that thinking all over the levels.
This map, Alden's Tower, is a level from Infamous with elements of Sly Cooper.
What kind of game modes can we expect to see? Are there team modes?
I mentioned there’s an arcade-slash-story mode. We’ve also got combat trials, which is a single-player mode. It’s kind of edu-tainment, where you’re going to learn a little bit about your characters, a little bit about about the general systems, about the game. But you’re also going to have some fun, face different challenges. There’s a Fat Princess level where there’s a bunch of cake all over the level and your challenge is to run around and collect cake. And we’ve got normal fighting game stuff like practice mode, we’ve got a tutorial. Because some of our game rules are a little esoteric, we’re going to explain some of that stuff.
And then, in terms of match types, we’ve showed the three-minute, four-player free-for-all match but we’ve also got a ‘stock’ mode, where you’ve got a limited set of lives. So once I’ve been killed three times I’m kicked out of the match and whoever’s left standing at the end wins.
And then we’ve also got a kill limit mode which is ‘first person to X number of kills wins’, which is a super offensive mode. You just wanna get out there and get as many kills as fast as you possibly can.
We’ve got teams, like you mentioned, you have play 4v4, 2v2, 3v1 if you want. You can play 1v2v2 and all combinations therein. You can play all of those variations both offline and online. We have our ranked online modes which are our tournament modes, so we’ve got a four-player free-for-all tournament, we’ve got a 2v2 tournament, and then we’ve got quick match types where you can mix and match all the match types that you want.
And then even in our versus mode, if the three of us were at an apartment and we wanted to grab a fourth player, we could just go online and grab player number four. And we could have the experience that way.
Who’s your personal favourite character to play?
My favourite character to play is Nariko [from Heavenly Sword]. She’s just got a play style that I like, she’s what I call ‘high risk, high reward’. You have to gamble a little bit, but if your gamble pays off you geta reward and you feel really smart. But you know, throughout development I’ve had favourites all the way along. PaRappa was my favourite for a while, then Sly Cooper. The roster's just a lot of fun. I’m a big God of War fan so every now and again I’ll pull out Kratos. I think the roster is interesting, it has something for everyone.