By Josh Speer / September 12th, 2017
After getting the opportunity to play A Robot Named Fight, I was so intrigued that I decided to chat with the creator, Matt Bitner. The following is a transcription of my interview, with my questions in bold.
How did you get your start as a gamer? Is there one particular game that drew you in?
I was exposed to video games at a very young age. The earliest game I remember playing was Transylvania on my parents’ old Apple II. I loved Ghost House and Wonder Boy III on Sega Master System. However, I don’t think I really knew I wanted to create games for a living until Doom came out, and I discovered the modding community around it.
It’s always incredible to me when developers make games all by their lonesome. Are there any special hurdles you encountered that would have been alleviated by having a team to work with?
I think the biggest hurdle was honestly just the isolation. I worked about 9 hours a day, 5 days a week by myself for just over a year. I didn’t have to compromise on anything I didn’t want to – but I also didn’t have a team of other developers to bounce ideas off of, celebrate milestones with, or boost morale when things got tough. My wife Kayla, who also helped market the game, helped fill this role. Also, I’m not a great animator or trained artist, so I had to do a lot of research and seek out knowledge and opinions from more experienced friends. I was able to make the game by myself, but only because I had people in my life supporting me.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the game is the premise, which features a machine utopia beset by the arrival of the fleshy Megabeast. How did you come up with such a strange and creative adversary?
The idea of a planet-sized organism isn’t anything new. I think I first encountered the idea in the game Abadox for NES. There was Ego in the new Guardians movie, and the comics before that. I’d wager a lot of manga is probably lousy with them. I just wanted to take that idea of a big space orb that’s a gestalt biological organism and juxtapose it with the kind of robot world you’d see if there’d been little to no human resistance in Terminator or The Matrix, and a couple thousand years past. What if Mega Man had to fight a bunch of psycho-sexual Cronenberg flesh beasts?
Which was more challenging? Designing the game, creating the music or programming it?
Programming the algorithm to build Metroidvania style levels with a random intended route and a different item order was arguably the most difficult task during development. That algorithm really is at the core of the game. I had to write it in a way that minimized the amount of content I’d have to create to satisfy it, the different room permutations, etc. – because it was all work I was doing myself. On the other hand, I had to teach myself to animate because I had very little experience with animation prior to this game. I’d made some stop motion movies with Play Doh and LEGO men as a kid, but that was about it.
What is your favorite retro console?
I’m a huge fan of the Super Nintendo. I think it has a lot of the best games ever made on it. However, growing up, I was a Sega Genesis kid. Mortal Kombat had blood on the Sega Genesis. It had gory games like Splatterhouse 2. I was really sold on that as a kid. Looking back, however, the SNES had better designed games.
You worked in the game industry for 4 years. What were some of your personal highlights during those years?
I worked at a company called Hitcents, and we made a game called Battlepillars. It’s not a perfect game, but I’m still really fond of it. It was basically Swords & Soldiers with these militaristic caterpillars you constructed out of different segments. It was the first game I’d worked on with online multiplayer.
Assuming that A Robot Named Fight sells well, any chance for a sequel? Or possibly a metroidvania set in another universe?
I’d actually like to put out a lot of free updates for it if it does well. It’s the kind of game that’s easy to expand upon due to its roguelike nature. I want to add new items, new environments, etc. Maybe I’ll eventually do a larger, paid DLC. I have some other game ideas I’d like to tackle as well, but none of them are Metroidvanias.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the procedural generation. As a fan of games which utilize that feature, I’m curious – how difficult was it to program such a feature?
Procedural generation can be a little tricky in and of itself. Making procedural generation play nice with all the trappings of a classic Metroid-like game was really challenging, especially given that it’s also a platformer. Variable jump heights and gravity defying traversal abilities were big concerns when it came to avoiding progression breaks. I wanted the intended item order to be random every time as well, so rooms largely had to work in any order. Just naming variables associated with traversal concepts was a challenge. I really had to dissect the way Metroidvanias are constructed.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, some of the games you drew inspiration from (such as Super Metroid) should be very flattered. Are you at all concerned that aspects of the game are too derivative?
The main character moves dead up like Samus from Super Metroid. It’s animated like Samus from Super Metroid – and to a lesser extent, Bill/Lance from Contra III. Half of that comes from the fact that I love the movement in Super Metroid. I speedrun that game in my spare time (not well, mind you). I think it’s one of those rare perfect games. I didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken. The other half of that comes from my lack of experience animating and the need to learn from other animations while I worked. I do wish I had the resources to pay a brilliant animator that could’ve used their years of experience to give the main character a bit more of their own personality. I both dread and expect the comments that will claim the game is just a copy of Super Metroid. However, I also know that copying is part of how art gets created. You copy and transform and combine things. I know that Shovel Knight is DuckTales and Mega Man and Mario 3. I know that Super Cyborg is just Contra, and it’s still a lot of fun. I hope people don’t get too distracted by the Super Metroid in my game and realize I also stole a lot from The Binding of Isaac (which itself stole a lot from The Legend of Zelda). I hope they see Mega Man X in there. I hope they see Videodrome and hear the music of David Borden.
I adore pixel art, but I know it’s painstaking work. Approximately how long did designing all the creatures of the game take?
I wish I’d logged all that time. Designing and animating all of the creatures and environments in the game ate up most of the development time. Some of the larger bosses took at least 48 hours to fully animate because it was all cell animation. I know because I’d start them one week and finish them the next. Some parts were 60+ frames. I did get a lot faster toward the end of development, though. It’s a lot of experience to pack into a year.
If you could bring A Robot Named Fight to platforms other than Steam, which would you most want to play the game on?
I would love to see the game on the Nintendo Switch. I feel like it’d be right at home there.
What reaction do you most hope for once gamers have had a chance to play A Robot Named Fight?
I hope gamers feel satisfied with the game but still want more. I want to make new games. I hope they find some of the depth I intentionally hid in the sparse narrative.
Any last words you want to share with our audience?
Death to the Megabeast!
Once more I’d like to thank Novy PR for setting up the interview and Matt for taking the time to answer my questions. Be sure to check out A Robot Named Fight if you enjoy Metroidvanias on Steam!
A Robot Named FightInterviewMatt BitnerMetroidvaniaoprainfallSteam