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