Aside from being the Capcom Community Manager, an all-round Street Fighter master and the guy who SFIV's boss was named after, Seth Killian is also one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. It was a pleasure then, to sit down in the relative calm of a hotel room just around the corner from the carnage that was GamesCom and chew the fat about everything from the pains of balancing, to generating "a giant storm of crap."
I also went head-to-head with the man himself, but the less said about that, the better.
GamingUnion.net: So what's your role this time out, are you still an advisor, or...?
Seth Killian: [Laughs] That's always what they call it, "special advisor." Because we don't know what else to call it. So basically - I generally feel more comfortable dealing with very specific things - but we sat down at the beginning of development and had a discussion about what is a Marvel game. What makes a Marvel Vs Capcom game.
GamingUnion.net: And what is that, in your mind?
Seth Killian: Well, obviously it's things like super jumps and a large character cast and the tagging and all that, but for me I think it came down to - it sounds a bit silly, but this is exactly what we agreed - at the beginning it just wasn't insane enough.
One of the gauges of insanity is how much crap there is on the screen. It doesn't have to be constant crap on the screen at all times, but if you are playing well, or you want to generate a giant storm of crap, if you are able to do that, then - when people pass by and say, 'I have no idea what's happening there,' then you've nailed it.
So yeah, you can start it slow and play it like any other Street Fighter game, but the Marvel games have a level of insanity just waiting there underneath. So when you start becoming a little more virtuoso, there's just a screen of nuttiness.
GamingUnion.net: That's the thing that has always amazed me about Capcom fighting games. They are always pretty accessible, and I consider myself a decent player, but if I go to Shoryuken I have no idea what they are talking about, but I love that that depth exists.
Seth Killian: [Laughs] I know what you mean. That's the thing that has kept me immersed in fighting games for essentially my whole life, they give you what you put back. And the Versus series draws that line more clearly than the rest of them, because these games are actually easy to get into than the traditional Street Fighters.
But they also have more possibilities in a lot of ways. There's more characters, more moves, that kind of stuff. So if you want to spend the time, you can get pretty far.
GamingUnion.net: The sheer depth always makes me wonder how on earth you QA test games like this. It must be a nightmare.
Seth Killian: [Laughs] That's one of the darkest arts in all of Capcom! So one is just you play the shit out of it, you have everybody playing it, so you get as many excellent, excellent players in the QA department as you can and you play it as hard as possible. But you have to have a bit of a sense for it.
There's spreadsheets and things like that, but they're never gonna tell you 'Chun-Li's too good.' Y'know, even if Chin-Li is winning too much you have to be able to ascertain why exactly, so that requires people that are into, a bit.
At this moment, somebody barged past, knocking my elbow. With a chuckle, Seth immediately asked, "Do you want him thrown out of here?," before exclaiming, "He's done in this business!"
[Still laughing] Yeah, so it's a bit of a dark art. But if you spend the time with it, you get a sense of who has what strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you want those liabilities. You don't want any one character to have an answer to every situation, that's what gives you the flavour, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.
GamingUnion.net: This isn't to say that it's unbalanced, but there are always characters that reveal themselves over time to be a little stronger than the rest. For example, somebody like Sagat. Has anyone separated themselves from the pack in MvC3?
Seth Killian: So far, in this game it's been a matter of who's most finished, other than straight character dominance. Dante [from Devil May Cry] is the most finished, right now. And he's probably the strongest, certainly at the introductory level. Also, he's abetted by the fact that right now he has more special moves than any character in Capcom fighting history.
He's not like Ryu, for example, with whom you can throw a fast fireball, a medium fireball or a slow fireball. Each of Dante's moves are all radically different. So in one, homing missiles shoot out of his sword and in another a giant sphere of energy charges up around him. They're not small variations, they're totally different. So he's got a lot of answers.
But right now, pound for pound, my money is on Trish [also from Devil May Cry]. She's just got a lot of nasty tricks and traps. So that's what it comes down to for me.
Ultimately, it's about controlling the space on the screen and limiting your opponent's options and shutting it down. She's really good at that. You feel really trapped against a good Trish player, it's like playing against a really good Dhalsim, where he seems weak, but when you come up against a someone who really knows his way around him, you don't know what to do at all. This guy's got me completely.
GamingUnion.net: So, shall we have a game together?
Seth Killian: Sure! Do you have any experience with Marvel 2?
GamingUnion.net: Of course, love it!
Seth then proceeds to effortlessly destroy me while showing off Trish's frankly infuriating traps, the sheer range of Dante's specials, and a new light, medium, strong, launcher combination that flips your opponent into the air long enough to unleash a devastating air combo.
As we played, I carried on asking him questions in a attempt to throw him off his game. It didn't work. I think I hit him once. Because he let me.
GamingUnion.net: Do you play at tournaments any more?
Seth Killian: I go to a lot of tournaments, and once in a while I'll compete afterwards. But they [Capcom] sort of ask me to shy away from competition. Which, frankly, is OK with me in one sense because I don't have time to play like I did, competitively. So it annoys me to basically lose when I feel I should be winning.
But when I'm running a tournament - basically I have the choice between running it, or playing in it. If you do both, you do both badly.
GamingUnion.net: Going back to Marvel Vs Capcom 3, I've got to say I prefer the character models to Street Fighter IV's.
SK: Yeah.They have a flatter look, in some ways. It's a bit less stylised in one way, but it's definitely more comic-booky. It fits with this game and is also a throwback to that older Street Fighter style.
Seth then hits me with an impressive combo.
GamingUnion.net: Ouch. How do you guard against infinite combo loops?
Seth Killian: With Marvel v Capcom 3 we have a few built in fail-safes. So one is something called damage scaling, it does less and less damage with every hit.
But there is also other stuff that we're experimenting with - it starts to get pretty arcane. So something like hit stun decay. Which is to say, normally if I walk up to you and do a fierce punch it does x amount of damage and x amount of stun and you recoil in the same frames, but there's one system we're playing around with - which is not final at all - where the longer a combo goes on, the less stun any of those hits do.
So basically, the way you reel after getting hit with a fierce punch, you start to reel less and less. So the same loop is possible for a few times, but then it starts to degenerate. Eventually, you run out of options.
El Fuerte has an infinite loop in Street Fighter IV. But we actually left that in on purpose. We didn't know about it when the game shipped, but we left it in for Super Street Fighter IV.
At the beginning, people were like, 'Oh, this has ruined the game.' but we felt that El Fuerte could do with some additional tools, he not the strongest character in the game. So even though it's an infinite loop, it's not the end of the day in terms of balance.
But with Marvel v Capcom 3, even if you find a loop, because you have three characters in your team, the worst thing that happens is your current guy dies and another comes in. I mean, this game is full of devastating combos - we are definitely trying to avoid it, and we have a few more tricks up our sleeve.
Although, saying that, the people that are usually able to do these things are people that play to a high level anyway. So they would probably beat you even if they weren't doing it. [Laughs] It's not like the ten year-old from down the street is going to pick that up on youtube and start beating you with it after being unable to win before.
Indeed, such was my merciless beating I'm not even sure I could defeat that 10 year old any more. We put the rather snazzy Madcat fight sticks down and continued our chat.
GamingUnion.net: So, what's the deal with the online modes that the game is shipping with?
Seth Killian: There's still a lot of back-and-forth internally about it, frankly. So, at a minimum you can expect your standard online modes where you can have a friendly match or a ranked match, as well as all your offline modes.
But set your expectations there and hopefully we can go in some fun new directions beyond that.
GamingUnion.net: I was surprised that Street Fighter IV (and Super Street Fighter IV) shipped with the basics. Why was that?
Seth Killian: It was a pre-patch, so it was something they wanted to do. It was just time, we ran out of time.
From this end, this is the kind of game where character balancing takes probably half the development cycle. Then there's the character models, and the backgrounds are important. But, as you've said the game isn't fun if it is not balanced properly and that is very, very difficult to do. Especially with a game that's as free as Marvel v Capcom 3, this is a very open game with a lot of possibilities.
So that takes forever. You want to meet all the player expectations, but if there is something that you want to do that you're not able to get to - patch it in later.
GamingUnion.net: Seth, thank you so much for your time.