Memory, strategy, and speed are the most crucial set of skills you have to use for a fighting game. Of course, this only really applies if you are a serious fighter gamer trying to get to the top of the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat/Tekken etc. ranks.
If you are the average gamer like me, it’s more likely that you will remember a handful of basic combos and barely make your dodges. Occasionally, you’ll manage to corner your opponent and panic spam the one attack (combo) you can remember at the moment. It is fun and chaotic and a lot of the game’s finer design is left unseen to casual gamers. Then comes a fighter game like Sclash.
Sclash takes the opposite approach to a fighting game. It’s a game that trades speed for patience and the tension of a gunslinger duel at high noon. It’s a game that rewards observation and prediction instead of reactions, and it appreciates when you land the perfect kill shot to get the victory. Our team got the opportunity to talk to Bevel Bakery’s Game Designer Bastien Bernand to learn more about their 2D Plug and play fighting game, Sclash.
What is Sclash?
Bastien: The idea behind Sclash was to make a simple, tense 2D fighting game where one hit is enough to win. There are only three buttons (actions) you can use, and there are no combos. The action is paced to give you the chance to figure out what to do and master the moves right away. Every action is constrained by an original stamina mechanic that we haven’t seen in any other 2D fighting game.
So yeah, the intention was to make a different, accessible fighting game that’s paced to be very tense but playable for everyone. Not just for players who are super strong at fighting games. There’s no loading time, you just enter the game right away. Each fight will only last for 2 to 5 minutes. We really wanted to have a formula that’s really simple and straight to the point for everyone. But one that still has tension and depth to it.
Can you tell me a little bit about the stamina mechanic?
Bastien: Of course. So Sclash is a samurai dueling game. As such, we wanted it to be tense and paced like the samurai duels you see with anime and other media like it. The way we did that was with the stamina mechanic. The player has 4 stamina bars, where each action uses 1 stamina bar. It does, however, refill over time.
As a result, the player cannot spam the action buttons. They cannot corner and overwhelm the opponent. Sclash is a game where you have to carefully choose which actions you trigger and when. You spam, you die! It’s a little slower-paced than other fighters as it quickly comes to a point where players have to step back away from each other. All because they’re out of Stamina. There are more ups and downs, and moments where they rest and observe. The players get some time to understand what’s going on. To process the action, and understand the opponent’s play style. I think it makes the fight more interesting.
What was the inspiration for this gameplay?
Bastien: In terms of fighting we took a lot of inspiration from games like Nidhogg, Samurai Gun, and Samurai Showdown. Another inspiration was Divekick where you only fight with one button. From the start, we wanted to make something that was accessible and that is what led us to develop the Stamina mechanic. For our concept, we were also heavily inspired by animes like Samurai Champloo. This is what forms the DNA of our game.
Did you get to the concept of a Samurai Duel through this inspiration from Anime?
Bastien: Well, at first Sclash was simply supposed to be a fighting game, with one button to attack and a simple move set. There was no samurai involved. But we knew we wanted the tension and that is what eventually led us to the samurai theme. It was something our team loved, what with our interest in anime and games with those themes.
What was your approach to balancing the game? With figuring out how many stamina bars to give players and planning out character speed? For instance, movement doesn’t draw from stamina, right, just actions?
Bastien: The player has three core actions that they can use, that drain their stamina — the basic attack, parry, and dash. They do have a fourth action, the punch (pommel strike), which doesn’t drain the stamina bar. The player has to balance how they play the game against their four stamina bars. The basic attacks are simple but you can master the attacks and maximize your stamina.
For example, if you punch the opponent as they are triggering an action (interrupt), you can not only stop them, they will lose a stamina bar. Similarly, if you successfully parry an attack, you can gain a stamina bar. You can also charge your attacks for more damage to take full advantage of your stamina. If you learn to use that with dash and your other movement, to be able to get behind the enemy and master the timing of a pommel strike, you can get very good at the game. It’s these little elements and how you use them that makes the game very dynamic and where you can truly build your skill. This is the rock, paper, and scissor element of a fighting game.
As for balance, of which actions cost how much stamina, the speed of character, and stuff, we just tested and adjusted as we went along. Sclash is not meant to be a highly competitive, super precise fighting game. It is for everyone. We will change and grow as we see more players play and as we receive more feedback.
Will it be difficult to master these nuances you mentioned, even if it’s easy to step into the game?
Bastien: Anybody can master Sclash. Of course, players who are more used to fighting games will have an easier time. We can’t do anything about that. But I don’t really see anything that would be a skill gap, from a developer’s perspective. But it’s easy for me to say that I guess because I pretty much played the game every day for four years.
The one thing that differentiates newbies from more experienced players is the use of the pommel strike. To know when and how to punch opponents because this is a move that can seem like it’s useless at first, but it can really tip the scales. It’s not hard to do, it’s just a matter of remembering ‘Oh yeah, I can do that.’ And then realizing when is the optimum moment to use it.
We want the player to feel like they know what they are doing quickly. So when you start a game, the two players are very far apart in the arena. It gives them time to try their moves and understand what they’re doing before they clash. Understanding the available actions is a process that will happen in minutes. When we explained the game to new players at conventions and events, we just invite them to play. We tell them, OK, each action uses stamina. You can attack, parry, dodge, and punch. And we just stop here, we don’t say anything else because we don’t want to overwhelm them. They have always discovered the rest. The details of how the actions can affect each other.
It was very important for us to create a wide arena so that the player could dash to the edges and try the moves. So that they can get the space to get control of the situation. It prevents your opponent and you from just immediately attacking. Sclash is a simple and straightforward fighting game, but it’s not like there’s nothing to learn either. You just don’t need to spend days or hours mastering it. I think it’s pretty cool.
Since a big part of fighting games is understanding/reading the animation of the opponent character, what was your approach to crafting animations? How much reaction time will the player have?
Bastien: In Sclash, attacks, for the most part, are highly reactable. If you pay attention, you cannot be killed out of the blue. It’s not like in Street Fighter, where when Ryu just throws a jab at you and you can’t do anything. Where you can parry but only after a while since the animation is so quick. Since our game can result in death with one hit, we couldn’t make the attack that fast. Additionally, it isn’t all that easy to kill with the first attack.
In fact, being the first to attack is risky in Sclash. An attack is indicated by its animation and sound design. There are recognizable sounds to all the character’s movements and distinct voice acting. The challenge of Sclash is more about playing with your and your opponent’s stamina. Of tricking them into not having any stamina, so you can kill them, flank them up to attack their back, etc. You have to earn the deadly hits. Of course, if your opponent fails to parry or dodge you may just still be successful with your first hit.
But yeah, we tried making the animations really evident, with a reasonable wind-up and follow-through. Actions like parry and punch of course are instant animations since they are what you use as reactions. Of course, if you miss your attack, you will be heavily punished with a certain amount of lag.
What is the inspiration for the art style of Sclash?
Bastien: We did not intend on having any specific direction at first, like the theme, the art is something that developed over time. We just created stuff, like the concepts and animations of the character. We realized that we had something we could really lean into. It was a style that was also formed by our constraints. Like, I didn’t have the time to finish. So it’s brushy and rough and we embraced that. It gave us this kind of painterly aspect. I have got to say that it also really helped with making assets because we didn’t have to finish them to put them in the game. So it made things faster.
The end result was this painterly beautiful style, with soft colors that blended into colorful visuals. Since the characters were animated frame by frame, we added additional brushstrokes to make little mistakes everywhere. It has given Sclash an original look that strikes the eye and is recognizable and great for conventions and in today’s market. So yeah, we are really proud of this. This game, as a whole, started with concept and gameplay, where we wanted to make something fun. And then we expanded as we went along.
So it sounds to me like you’ve done the art and the development aspects of this, right?
Bastien: Yeah, I mean we are a three-person team, so we’re all pretty flexible in our skills as far as I’m concerned. Everything that’s art related, I mean, I made all the animations and illustrations. I also integrated the art into the levels and programmed a lot of the gameplay and base systems of the game. Stuff like the UI etc.
My teammate Eloïse Gur wrote the story and dialogues and was the driver of the story mode. She also designed the characters that we then worked on together. She’s currently taking care of communications. Our last team member is Victor Callot, who’s kind of the more skilled developer. He made the online mode and created the AI and the input system. The harder stuff to make. We are all game designers. So we all participated in game design.
What are the various different ways in which the final game will evolve? So aside from just your one-on-one fighting that you can just plug and play, what is the story mode and online going to look like? How will it change?
Bastien: Well, the online mode is currently just like the current one-on-one couch mode but with online matchmaking. We might add more gameplay modes later. As for story mode, it’s not going to be like other fighting games where you fight with one boss after the other.
Instead, you will get to walk through the environments and experience a story. You will also find yourself in different fighting scenarios, sometimes with a boss and sometimes against groups of enemies. We are trying to mix it up and have something that’s more of an adventure journey rather than just a series of fights. There will be narration, and it should last about an hour to an hour and a half.
I wasn’t expecting a story mode; that is an amazing surprise. You are a three-person team and you have basically made 2 whole games! A fighting game and an adventure game with the same fighting mechanics.
Bastien: Yes, when it comes to the combat itself, it’s the same gameplay. But yeah, there’s narration, cutscenes, dialogues, and an environment you can explore.
The story mode was hard to create because it was clear, all along, that we did not originally intend for the game to have a story mode. So it was hard to make it happen. I don’t want to give you any spoilers so you will just have to play the game. We just wanted to give our players more, to ensure that the game has more content.
Even so, it took four years to make. After all, we are just a team of three, who have other jobs. It took time to refine everything. The mechanics, the online mode, porting to console. We’re lucky we have the partners we have, who helped make it happen.
Sclash is a great example of the kind of work and love that goes into a fighter game. It is also a great example of the ingenuity of smaller teams who look to create an interesting version of the games we are familiar with.
Sclash is now available on all platforms.