As huge fans of early-’90s 2D beat ’em ups such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, side-scrolling brawler Raging Justice stood out to us a mile away at this year’s Play Expo in Manchester.
Created by Nic Makin and two of his former colleagues from iconic development studio Rare, the game promises to capture the essence of what made those 16-bit-era games so great, while also bringing them into the modern era with HD graphics and audio.
Our three-level demo featured plenty of nostalgia-filled thrills and spills, as we fought our way through the stages on offer, which played out in increasing levels of difficulty. While at its core, Raging Justice played similarly to how we remember Streets of Rage on the Mega Drive – with interactive environments and thugs of differing fighting styles to battle through en route to an end-of-stage boss – it also offered a whole lot more.
Unlockable two-or-three-button combos, which are introduced into the game gradually rather than being forced upon you from the outset, proved particularly rewarding, while the ability to arrest rather than knock out the enemies around you was also a welcome innovation. Being able to commandeer vehicles such as tractors and motorcycles, meanwhile, added an entirely new dimension to the way we played.
Experiencing Raging Justice’s co-op mode – with arcade controllers, no less – was undoubtedly one of our highlights of the weekend. Teaming up to punch, kick and wrestle enemies to the floor, all the while getting in each other’s way and stealing each other’s power-ups and weapons, brought back fond memories of playing Streets of Rage 2 in our childhood – though with just a few less tantrums this time around.
After spending around half an hour on the game, we dragged ourselves away to chat with Nic, and delve much deeper into the world of Raging Justice.
Chris Mawson: Nic, could you tell us a little bit about Raging Justice in your own words?
Nic Makin: Raging Justice is what we’re calling a nostalgia-inspired game. It’s a side-scrolling brawler, inspired by the golden age of arcade gaming from the late 1980s and early 1990s. This era comprised my formative years as a gamer, and the games that drew me into the arcades were games such as Final Fight, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Simpsons. These sort of games were the pinnacle of arcade gaming. I would spend all my pocket money on them and spend hours standing there, hammering the buttons… They were just fun; there was something enjoyable about watching and playing them.
So what we’re trying to do with Raging Justice is bring that enjoyment into a modern game. So it is very much inspired by that era: it is 2D; the graphics are 3D models that we’ve pre-rendered into sprites to give that authentic feel to the game. But at the same time, it’s a modern game: we’ve got HD graphics and HD audio; it’s 60 frames per second; and it’s going to have – though maybe not at launch – online co-op.
CM: I find your decision on the game’s art style to be really interesting. What prompted you to go down that route?
NM: We looked at various styles, and we could have gone with a pixel-art style, like Scott Pilgrim did fairly recently – that is a fantastic game, and they went with that style. We could’ve gone with something like that to help with that retro look, but we wanted something that looked crisp on a huge HD TV, so we went for the pre-rendered thing. In its own way, it’s inspired by the same kind-of era, from games such as Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country – they pioneered this technique, and then it fell by the wayside when real-time 3D caught up.
So we’re just making the game to look fantastic, and to have nostalgia throughout its entire play, really.
CM: While it does have very much an arcade style of play, I noticed that Raging Justice also has a quite of depth to it as well. I wondered if you could speak a little bit about some of the features you’ve introduced that we might not have seen back in those classic eras?
NM: Firstly, we’re trying to add a little bit more depth to the controls. Traditionally, [beat ’em ups] used two-button controls; there was a jump and an attack button. We’ve gone for four buttons, because on your average joypad these days you’ve got your four face buttons. So you’ve got a punch, a kick, so you can chain combos together – simple combos, but they’re still there. We’ve also got a dedicated button for picking up weapons, because back in the day on Final Fight or Streets of Rage it annoyed me when pressing my attack button would pick up a weapon instead of punching the guy in front of me! And we’ve got a jump button.
So we’re using quite a simple control scheme for a modern game, but we’re trying to make it intuitive. Other features that we’ve got are this whole Good Cop/Bad Cop mechanic that we’re going with, which is something that plays more into it being a console game rather than an arcade machine game, in that each level you can play in, you can play it in such a way that you would be classed as a good or a bad cop. Each level has a quota of enemies to arrest: fulfil that quota and you’re a good cop; pummel them instead of apprehending them, and you’re a bad cop.
Now, to get them into the state to be arrested, you have to stun them, which involves grabbing them and giving them a few sharp knocks to the head. At that point, you’ve then got the choice of good cop/bad cop, where you can either knock them out or arrest them. We did this not only to provide you with a number at the end of the level, but to feed that into your progress as you go along. So at the start of the next level, a good cop will more likely be given a ‘good’ reward: a strength buffer for the first 30 seconds of the game; some of your health is given back; an extra life – something kind of… ‘good’. On the other hand, if you play it as a bad cop, you won’t get those lives back or the strength buffer or anything like that – but you will get a sledgehammer or a baseball bat to start, which is in itself fun. We don’t want to punish somebody for wanting to play as a baddie, as opposed to a good cop – we want both ways of playing to be fun.
CM: I know with a lot of the classic brawler games, they had a dedicated special attack button. I’ve noticed with Raging Justice, however, that you kind of introduce the players to the combos gradually instead. Can you tell us about that philosophy?
NM: We want the game to be very ‘pick up and play’; we don’t want to have to go through a tutorial stage or make you feel like you need to read the manual to play the game. Basically, we want anyone to be able to grab hold of the controller and within seconds they’ve got a good idea of how to play.
You start off with only a very basic moveset; one that’s good enough to play the game with, but as you progress through, your character earns XP based on the number of people they kill with combos and whatnot, and you’ll be given unlocks. These will be things like new combos or new moves, such as a back-elbow move – which is inspired by Double Dragon, famously. You’ll also have a double-dash forwards or backwards for a barge attack. These unlocks just extend the gameplay as we go along, and keep it in that pick-up-and-play style. Rather than throw the player in at the deep end, you get drip-fed the controls as you progress.
CM: We played three stages today of varying difficulty. How many levels are you planning on having in the final version of Raging Justice?
NM: The plan at the moment is nine individual stages across various areas, from rainy streets and a bar scene, to a junkyard and deserted amusement pier, to a big top circus and then the criminal overlord’s mansion. So we’re trying to keep variety in there, but it’s going to be nine stages. On an average, clean run-through, we think that you’re probably looking at an hour to an hour-and-a-half. But the game isn’t designed for that clean run: it is designed to be picked up and played, and enjoyed as you play it. So we expect people to have many hours of enjoyment out of the game despite that core story mode.
Plus, if you don’t finish it first time, you’ll have to play it again. We’re not going to make you go right to the beginning again, though, because that would just annoy people. I mean, I’ve picked up some old console games recently; you get half-way through the game – you’ve spent 25 minutes on it – and then you lose all your lives… start again. And that’s just not fair!
So instead of that, we’ve gone with a Restart Best approach, where at the end of every level, the game will store your health and your score for the beginning of the next level. And when you go to the level select screen and you’ve unlocked that level, you can always start from with the health, life energy and score that you had the last time you played it. And we will always store the best stats that you’ve got. So if for example, you get to level four and you’ve only got one life left, and you don’t have much health – well go back to level three, play it a bit better and that will overwrite the stored saved state. It’s a complicated thing to explain, but it’s intuitive to play!
CM: I believe MakinGames is only a two-man development studio. How have you found making a game of this scope with such a small team?
NM: Slow! *laughs* MakinGames as a studio is myself and my wife. I handle the core development, while Anna runs the studio; she does all of the production side of things and the marketing. I’ve collaborated with some of the guys I used to work with way back when I used to work at Rare: an artist called Jay Howse – who’s fantastic – who’s doing all of the artwork, and a musician called Steve Burke, who’s doing all of the sound design and the composition of our fantastic soundtrack.
Between the three of us, it’s been a challenge; it really has. There’s one programmer and one artist; and this game is art heavy! It is also surprisingly code heavy. It was probably a mistake not to have gone with Unity, but when we went through the choices of what to start with as an engine, Unity wasn’t really an option. Nowadays, we’d probably go with something with a much easier starting base. But it’s just a long of work, especially finishing the game; that’s the hardest bit. You get to a point where it’s 90 percent complete, but that last ten percent; that will take forever!
CM: When did you actually conceptualise the game then? How long has it been to this point?
NM: It’s been a few years now; I’m embarrassed to say the exact time. But it kinda started out as a hobby/passion thing, we got together, and we thought – rather naively – that we’ll do something that we can do relatively quickly. We’re all industry veterans and we just wanted to do something in our spare time; a game that we want to do, a game that we enjoy. We’re great fans of watching Steven Seagal films and cheesy action-type stuff, so we thought what sort of game can we make that brings in that cheesy action: a brawler! The side-scrolling brawler is cheesy action incarnate.
So we got together and started doing this as a hobby over a number of months; years.
CM: As a bit of a sidenote, what games were you involved in making while you were at Rare?
NM: I joined in 2000, and the others joined in around 2001. We started working together on Kameo: Elements of Power. At the time, it was a Gamecube title – it wasn’t an Xbox 360 title – and we saw that through to Xbox 360. I also went and worked on Perfect Dark Zero for a bit. After that, the three of us pretty much worked on most of the titles that followed on from there.
CM: You’re demoing Raging Justice today on PC, Xbox – and tablet, as well. Can you tell us the release schedule for each of those, and whether or not we can expect to see the game on any other platforms?
NM: The current release plan is early next year. We’re very close to finishing the core game, and then we just have a few little tweaks and changes to do to improve the separation between the difficulties – there’s going to be an easy, a medium and a hard difficulty – and a few little things like that to sort out, and then it’s done and then we’re onto translation.
So early next year is our plan for launch. We will launch with ID@Xbox on the Xbox One; we’ve had a successful Steam Greenlight campaign, so we will be on Steam, which will support both PC and Mac, and we’re looking at Linux; and we will also launch for iOS and Android around the same time, give or take.
Going forward next year, we want it to run on anything; we want it to be available on anything. So if you’ve got a console and games are being released on it, hopefully Raging Justice will be on it sometime next year.
CM: Thanks for being so generous with your time, Nick. I for one will certainly be following Raging Justice closely!
For more information on Raging Justice, you can follow @MakinGames on Twitter, or visit their official website. We will continue to bring you all the latest news on the game, as well as a forthcoming hands-on preview.