This is Game 101: between now and May, PCGamesN will be engaging in a kind of vicarious immersion therapy - looking through the eyes of five teams of Staffordshire university students as they make, break, fix and, finally, finish their first game. Or rather, games - five of ‘em, each based on a story from the Grimms’ 19th century German fairy tales. Today, we’re taking a look at a fighting genre mash-up in the Japanese tradition.
I’m going to tell you all about The Grimm Battles, but not before somebody reinforces that fourth wall with something. Here, prop it up with this MacGuffin. Okay, let’s go. You’d better hope that your disbelief is suspended from a particularly strong mental beam, because this series is about to get meta.
Tom Dodd and team were asked to make a game based on one of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, the tome-like compendium of children’s stories first published in Germany in 1812. Instead, they’ve chosen to make a game about the tome itself - a mash-up fighting genre piece which sees the denizens of the book rail against the titular brothers in an attempt to escape their papery prison.
It’s going to be tough. The team are using Unreal Engine 3. They could have built a first-person shooter. Instead, they’ve decided to go mano a machine with the engine to create a 2.5D pugilism sim in an adjacent vein to Street Fighter, featuring 14 characters from the tales, special moves and “everything you find in a fighting game”.
“We’re making a game in a fairly short space of time and we’re still learning the process,” says Tom. “Even though it’s incredibly difficult, it’s good for us. We’re learning a lot more because it’s complex.”
Tom points out that the last Mortal Kombat was made in Unreal. Hardly a prime example of the genre, but a technical proof of concept to aim the ship at.
“The engine wasn’t designed for exactly what we’re doing, but it can be done,” he says. “Anything’s possible really.”
The team - who’ve dubbed themselves Unwrap Studios - already have the main menu mapped out in their heads. From top to bottom: Versus Mode, Practice Mode, Story Mode. It’s the latter that they hope will set it apart from its genre predecessors - a plot-driven set of scuffles across six to eight backgrounds, culminating in a face-off with the Brothers Grimm themselves.
Each fight will end with an expository cutscene, in which the two siblings recline in armchairs and machinate (steady) with a third mystery character - the game’s final unlockable skin.
For the tech demo above, the team exploited placeholder art and Unreal Tournament character models. The bulk of the work is still in front of them, and Tom knows it.
“As producer I’ve planned out everything that needs doing for the next semester,” he says. “We’ve already gone into the studio and recorded voices for every character. We’ve also got quite a lot of motion capture data done, ready to be edited for animation. Our game is animation-intensive so we have to get on top of that early.”
I ask if it’s Unwrap’s own squad of programmers, scripters and modellers who’ve provided the motion to be captured and the voices to be recorded. Tom replies in the affirmative, and confides that, in lieu of ladies, the all-male team jumped in to provide female character soundbites in the time-honoured Jacobean tradition.
“That’s something to look forward to, definitely”, he deadpans. Just to confirm: that’s the big bad wolf, locked in mortal combat with a Red Riding Hood in sonic drag. Better go and check that disbelief is securely fastened before The Grimm Battles is finished in May.