One of the games that is starting to garner a lot of attention on the UK indie scene is Wulverblade; a side-scrolling beat-em-up from the creative team at Fully Illustrated. The game is essentially a classic arcade-style, hack-and-slash brawler along the lines of Golden Axe, but set in ancient Britain around the Roman occupation.
Wulverblade’s virulent visuals have made it a mainstay at trade shows over the last year, and the game certainly generated a lot of buzz at this year’s Manchester Play Expo. During the event, we were lucky enough to secure an interview with creative director Michael Heald, and hear his take on this violent look back at British history.
Adam Lloyd: So Michael, we have just a quick go on Wulverblade, and the demo we’ve played seems a lot like a wave-based, horde mode style of game.
Michael Heald: Yeah, what you’ve played here is the wave mode – that’s an unlockable extra in the game. The actual game itself is an eight-level campaign, and the levels are quite a substantial length, so it’s a chunky, side-scrolling beat-em-up. You’ve got your classic end-of-level bosses, mid-level bosses, and we have a really strong story that kind of intertwines the whole thing and brings it all together, which is all based on real history surrounding ancient Britain and the invasion of the Romans.
AL: Yeah, we did notice that we were fighting the Romans at quite a few points. Can you tell us a little more about the setting, such as who we are and who we’re fighting?
MH: Absolutely. Well it’s set around 120AD, which is a point where the Romans had conquered what we would now call, all of England – back then it was just Britain; we didn’t have England, Scotland or Wales. The Romans had their sights set on the north of Britain, which we call modern-day Scotland. So the theory goes, and there’s no historical fact to back up why Hadrian built the wall that he did, but the northern tribes were known to be incredibly furious. They were seriously hard work to manage and hard work to deal with, so eventually Rome gave up and erected a 20 foot high wall, 78 miles wide with around 1,500 soldiers on it 24 hours a day. Wulverblade is the story of those northern tribesmen and their quest to keep their land as their own.
Chris Mawson: So who’s the main history buff on the team?
MH: That would be me, being the Brit *laughs*. The rest of the team are based abroad bar the sound designers, and this is kind of my baby from the outset. I am obsessed with ancient Britain.
AL: We noticed there are quite a few special moves that you can do, so there appears to be a tactical element to the game. Is this an intentional design choice?
MH: Yeah! So I’m a hardcore retro gamer. When I say hardcore, I mean that I own most of the arcade games that this is based around; a hoarder is probably the word. That’s what’s formed the backbone of Wulverblade here. While I love the simplicity of games like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, we didn’t want to keep it at that level of simplicity. We wanted to add an extra layer to it for modern gamers, hence the wider moveset. There is more emphasis on grappling, projectiles, and air combat as well.
On the other hand, modern games have expanded the moveset of a character beyond what I would say is the human ability to absorb that amount of information. Many games have 100, 200, even 300 different moves that you’ll unlock throughout the game. I’m not a big believer in that method. I like to give a player a decent selection of moves from the outset, and then it’s the job of the player to master that moveset. This means that you can play the game, button mash, and still have a good time, but you can also master it by learning how to evade, how to block and how to parry. Wulverblade has a blocking mechanism that doesn’t mean that you can just sit behind your shield all day; you have to learn how and when to use it.
CM: I wanted to ask you a bit about the art style, because it’s very much a cartoony, 2D sort-of design. Where did the inspiration come from?
MH: It basically comes down to the fact that I am a 2D illustrator, which is my day job. This art style is my art style, so when it came to making my dream game, and that’s what led it to look the way it does. In my early days, I was inspired by a lot of the output from Cartoon Network, and I’m also a massive fan of Jeff Agala and the guys from Klei Entertainment.
CM: I guess that style lends itself to the brutality and violence in the game, giving it a cartoony, over-the-top feel rather than something that’s too extreme.
MH: Yeah. When you do it in a cartoon style, it gives you a little freedom. In Wulverblade, you can remove someone’s head in combat, pick it up and use that as a weapon. When you write that on paper it sounds grotesque, but if you put it in a cartoon setting, it just tends to make people laugh. It is extreme, but it adds to the fun nature of the game.
CM: Moving on to the Wulverblade’s development, how many people are actually working on the game?
MH: The core team is five people; myself, Dennis the animator, Evan the technical artist, and we’ve got Brian who is the main hardcore coder, and then Colin who does a lot of the UI programming. Outside of the core team we pay external contractors such as The Verbal Vigilante who are the sound designers. They’ve worked on just about every major motion picture that you’ve been to see over the past few years, such as the recent Batman films and The Hobbit, and they’re amazing. I’m going to miss off people and I hate when that happens!
CM: Is Wulverblade your first game?
MH: This is the first game of my own. I have worked on many other games in different capacities, from a UI artist to main game artist, to the person behind the branding and website, so I’ve worked on all kinds of levels on different games.
AL: So what platforms are you looking to release on?
MH: Initially we’re going to launch on Xbox One and PC, which will be around March/April next year, and then we’ll be jumping straight into finishing the PS4 and Wii U versions. We don’t know when these two versions will release yet; being a self-funded indie game we run out of money all the time and we have to go away and secure funding.
CM: Have you relied on crowdfunding at all?
MH: No, we’ve done it the painful way! We’ve worked our backsides off with contract work to fund the game through our day jobs.
CM: Early Access isn’t an option then?
MH: To be honest, we’ve just been focussing on getting the game done. We’re also a little bit scared by Early Access where, in some places, it has gotten a bad name for itself where people have abused the system. Most people don’t abuse it, but we’ve been hesitant to try it ourselves.
CM: Thanks very much for your time, and best of luck with the game!
You can learn more about Wulverblade by visiting the game’s official website. The game is scheduled to hit PC and Xbox One in the first quarter of next year, with PS4 and Wii U versions to follow later.