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Interview with Mason Butterwick, Developer of ‘CLASH!’

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Many fighting games feature onslaughts of combos and button presses, requiring hours and hours of practice to even approach the expertise of the pros. CLASH! – Battle Arena bucks that trend. It eschews complex inputs and combos in favor of a slower, more deliberate playstyle. It’s meant for friends who need a simple, easy-to-learn fighting game that they can pick up and play right away.

That piqued the interest of us here at Goomba Stomp, and we decided to call up Mason Butterwick, the developer of CLASH!, to conduct an interview. During the interview, Butterwick answered questions about the development process, his thoughts on fighting games overall, and his advice for aspiring developers.

Mason Butterwick has been working on games in one capacity or another since he was a child. At about the age of 12, he discovered GameMaker, messing around with the development tool as a hobbyist. By the time college rolled around, Butterwick was forced to make a choice: pursue a career in music or take the first-ever game design course at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. He went with the latter, and it was during this time that Butterwick first came up with the idea for CLASH!

CLASH! – Battle Arena


When you were developing CLASH!, what was your favorite part of the process?

I’m not sure. I’ve always wanted to go into game design, so I enjoyed coming up with ways to innovate on fighting games. Because I believe as an indie developer, you’ve almost got a kind of responsibility to break from the norm. You have a lot of freedom that big companies don’t have. So I definitely wanted to do something that was a little different.

What was your biggest surprise developing the game?

I think the biggest surprise to me… was the amount of development time that goes in when you think you’re 90% done. It’s that polishing phase, and the marketing, and the publishing of the game, was what really surprised me. Like, the time from where I’d usually go “this is basically complete” to it actually being complete was… immense. Like, maybe 50% of the time, when I thought it was 90-95% done. So that was surprising.

On that same subject, getting into sales and marketing, what’s it like trying to compete for attention on Steam? A lot of games come out for the platform every day, so what’s your struggle with standing out?   

I think the choice of game was not very helpful for me for marketing. The game’s very simple, right? What you see is what you get. You can fight your friends, or you can fight the AI. With marketing, you’re always supposed to show something new, but I really didn’t know what to show people. I really didn’t have too many things to post, and I think that was my biggest problem. You’ve got to have a constant presence, or else they’ll forget about you.

So I really kind of held off on marketing until the very end when I could start showing things. I think most of the success I had was on Reddit. I got a lot of attention on Reddit when I was posting gifs of gameplay, right? I got people interested. And then sales weren’t great, but I wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t even expect to make any money–this was a portfolio piece to get a job, but I’m happy that it came out, and it made at least a little money. And I’m just happy to have something that people enjoy. Like, it’s a good feeling.

That makes a lot of sense. Is there a part of the development cycle that’s particularly stressful, or difficult?

(laughs) Coding’s always fun. Whenever the game just basically catches fire, and falls apart, and you have this stressful moment, like, “I don’t know where this is coming from or how to fix it.” It’s rewarding as well, but it’s rewarding because it’s so stressful.

 So you mentioned that you wanted to kind of break the mold, and in the trailer, you emphasized the lack of complex inputs and combos in CLASH!. Was that desire to stand out what motivated you to do that?

Kind of. I was thinking about my target audience, and I was thinking back to that couch–what we needed in that moment was that you could learn really fast and start the game immediately. With CLASH!, you can start the game up and fight in a few seconds, even, and you’ve got a quick tutorial, with everything you need to know.

I was playing the new Street Fighter, and modern fighting games can be pretty intimidating, especially going up against experienced players. But at the same time, I watched a video about early Street Fighter. Like, before Turbo, the gameplay was a lot slower and more deliberate, and I kind of wanted to visit an alternate universe where Turbo never existed.

Was this more simplistic approach something you wanted to implement from the beginning?

Yeah, that’s a good question. At the start, I had a lot more on the table. There was jumping, to begin with. That was one of the first things I took out because it added so much complexity that I don’t think I really needed. Like anti-airs, and air-grabs. I was like, “what would happen if I grounded it a little more, focused on the swordplay?” The footwork was something I really wanted to think about–having a sweet spot that you have to manage; you could be too close to hit your opponent, which is not the case in a lot of fighting games. It’s the exact distance your weapon is effective at.

What are your thoughts on the fighting game genre overall? Do you think that these complex inputs are a problem? Are there under-served niches that you think could bear to be served a little more?

No, I really like where they’re at right now. I think there could be a little more innovation with the mainstream titles, but with the complex inputs, that’s exactly what it needs to be for high-level play scenarios. That’s EVO–all the hype moments come from knowing how difficult these things are to do, and seeing someone pull it off is incredible. For those major titles where people are going to be spending that time learning the game, complex inputs are what you need.

But I was going for something much more casual, so I wanted it to be accessible to people who’ve never even played a fighting game before. I was just thinking the indie game space for fighting games–that’s one of the reasons I made [CLASH!], because there wasn’t a lot there. I think indie games could offer a lot for fighting games. There’s a lot of potential there.

Would you say that Game Maker is the best option for solo developers?

For what I was using it for, I don’t think there’s anything better. It definitely suited my needs at the time.

You mentioned that sales were kind of a struggle. How do you stay motivated when you’ve taken a blow?  Like, hypothetically if there’s a negative review or if sales don’t meet goals, how do you cope and keep chugging along?

Yeah, I think that’s almost a unique problem to artists. You’ve got to be able to take it. All criticism is valid. I always kind of believed that the only helpful or constructive criticism is negative criticism. “You did a good job.” Thanks, but that’s not helpful to me. I can’t build off that. So I kind of welcome the negative feedback as areas to improve. It does sometimes kind of hurt, like it’s my baby, but it’s all valid, and you’ve got to look at it from that perspective.

I’ll leave you with a last question: do you have any hot tips for aspiring developers? Anything that you’d suggest to help with morale or a great resource to get started?

I think mostly, it’s just, “do it.” Right? Like, the planning phase is very important, but make sure you’re always working on it, don’t lose focus, and just do it. And see it through, I think.  


CLASH! – Battle Arena is available on Steam for $5.99 USD.

You can also check out Mason Butterwick’s website here.

Brandon Curran was born in a damn desert before being spirited away to the arboreal paradise of Portland, Oregon. He likes grey skies, green trees, and a steady mist of rain. When he's not writing articles about game design, he's working on that book he's totally gonna finish. In his spare time, Brandon plays video games, paints miniatures, and mutters to himself

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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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