Killsquad combines elements of Diablo, L4D, and fighting games to deliver a fresh experience

At first glance, Killsquad may look like a Diablo-esque isometric co-op action game, and while the title creatively incorporates elements from Left 4 Dead, MOBAs, and more—the combination of these features result in an overall package that feels both fresh and original. Developed by Barcelona-based studio Novarama, the top-down title eschews traditional mouse movement in favor of WASD controls, which is more commonplace in first-person shooters. With Killsquad currently in Early Access, we caught up with members of the studio to discuss how they created the game’s weighty and impactful combat system and to hear how the team has leveraged procedural generation to create the game’s levels while getting an understanding of how the Unreal Marketplace has sped up development.

Killsquad seems to be a game inspired by many genres. What are some titles that made an impact on the game? 

During development, we were inspired by Destiny, Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Diablo 3, and Left 4 Dead, and also upcoming games like Lost Ark, which looks amazing. We also looked at a handful of smaller dungeon crawler type indie games that used procedural stage generation. 

While Killsquad looks like a classic top-down RPG, it plays more like an action game with its WASD keyboard controls. Can you explain why the studio went with this control scheme? 

We wanted to differentiate ourselves from classic top-down RPGs by including elements that make it feel more modern. We wanted to give gamers direct control of the player and to infuse RPG elements into an action game. Your skill as a player in Killsquad is key to progress within the game. In addition, from the beginning, we planned to port Killsquad to consoles and wanted to design a control scheme that would work well on gamepads.

Killsquad‘s in-game leveling system is reminiscent of MOBAs. What motivated the studio to incorporate this design? 

We liked the idea of giving players the ability to choose skills during missions, which we refer to as “contracts” in the game. The difficulty of the mission and/or what types of enemies they fight will determine the types of skills they’ll want to improve and develop, which affects how a contract can be played. For example, I may have chosen a character that is a support/healer, but if I see that the contract is rather easy, then I can start choosing more attack-oriented skills, which means after the mission ends, I wouldn’t have regretted making my skill-tree decisions. We want players to not only think about what they need at the moment, but what they may need later. This type of skill tree system is used in MOBAs, and isn’t common in other types of games. We decided to implement it in Killsquad to give the player more flexibility over a characters’ skill tree. 

While the game is easy to pick up, it’s also being praised for featuring in-depth and responsive controls that allow you to cancel out of attacks. How did you design Killsquad‘s weighty and impactful combat system? 

First, we prioritize the actions of the character by [order of] importance. For example, in Killsquad, the dodge ability has the highest priority. This action should be able to cancel any other movement if it is done within the correct threshold. Our game has many rules based on the priority of specific skills. In addition, we also implemented the classic input cache, which means that if you move the character towards enemy units, we would position characters so they wouldn’t swing at the air and critically hit enemies. We spent a lot of time playing around with the forcefulness of attacks while not sacrificing speedy combat. We also tweaked a bunch of small combat features that might not seem like much by themselves, but mean a lot when combined together. This amounts to a satisfying feeling of combat. 
Killsquad features a variety of creative, monstrous enemies. How did you approach designing them? 

We have a whole team of fantastic artists with Alberto Díaz as our Art Director. Alberto is the one who guides the team on how monstrous enemies should be and [tailors] them to the world they inhabit. He loves everything that surrounds the world of terror and fantasy, so he loves to imagine new enemies and alien worlds. From there, the team iterates on Alberto’s concepts and fosters their imagination to create all the game’s enemies.
Can you talk about how you leveraged procedural generation to create the game’s levels? 

We used Unreal’s level instancing system to dynamically load rooms and sub-levels that are essential for each map. Each of these rooms has several configurations in the form of layers, which can create variation for each area.
When generating the contracts in the game, the design team specifies what type of objective, or objectives, the contract has. From there, a map is generated that supports that type of objective. In addition, they can add many more elements that provide more control over the generated map. This allows us to specify parts of the map that are based on tags we create. So we can generate objects like orbital lasers, meteorites, mines, vendors, and hidden chests all within the editor, without touching a single line of code or Blueprint. 
Considering missions can be played solo or with up to four players, how do you balance difficulty scaling? 

Playing solo might be hard depending on your skills, but our difficulty system is designed to know the number of players in a contract and increases the difficulty and number of enemies accordingly. So, playing with a full squad should [overall] be a lot harder than playing solo. That said, we are still balancing and adjusting the enemy AI. We are also always continuously working to improve the balance of the game. 

Killsquad features awesome attack animations. How did the studio nail these elements? 

Good animations aren’t the only element that make attacks look and feel good. This requires a great rapport between animation and programming teams. In addition, our team members who work on these attacks are fans of action and fighting titles, such as Devil May Cry, Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and Marvel vs. Capcom. These games emphasize timing; combined with trial-and-error animations, this can lead to great results. If frames are off by even a little, players can feel like characters move too slowly or don’t respond well. As a result, we spent numerous months looking at our animations frame by frame to make them feel as tight as possible. 
How large is the development team behind the game? 

At first, the team only consisted of a few Novarama veterans who worked on other games like Invizimals. As the game progressed and grew, so did the team. It grew more than we initially had imagined. At peak, we reached 24 people dedicated to the project, with different people specializing in different roles over time. The Killsquad family is continually growing. 

How long has Killsquad been in development? 

The development of Killsquad dates back to 2016. Our studio was exclusive to Sony for nine years, working on games for PSP, PS VITA and PS3. We developed a saga called Invizimals, which was quite successful in Europe. We made six games, interchangeable cards, and even a television show that [some] can still watch on Netflix. For a long time, we got the benefit of working on a single brand from the ground up, and experienced how successful it became. Focusing on such a strong brand for so long gave us two unique advantages: experience working with a partner like Sony and the ability to create an amazing experienced team. At the end of our partnership with Sony, we were able to become independent and saw the opportunity to work on Killsquad. We began building a game that we, ourselves, wanted to play and chose to go with Unreal as the engine from the beginning because we wanted to focus on fast iteration and fast prototyping. We didn’t want to build the “car” from scratch by having to develop our own engine like with previous projects. We wanted to win the race with all the available tools in the industry. And thus, Killsquad was born. 
What made Unreal Engine a good fit for the game? 

Unreal Engine is a very powerful engine and is perfect for what we wanted to achieve. We are grateful for the visual quality and network support that it has provided us. In addition, it is very intuitive for non-programmers, which makes it easier to work on the project. We must also add that we came from a background making our own engines. At the beginning, we were a bit skeptical about using a commercial engine, but the truth is that Unreal is different. You can get into the engine and modify its code and can verify certain functions, which we loved. We want to thank Epic for making this possible. We learned a lot about the construction of an engine that we didn’t know before.

Did Novarama have any favorite Unreal Engine tools or features? 

In general, we are delighted with all of the Unreal tools. Being able to use the Ability System plugin, especially in regards to network code, has made our work much easier. We use many Unreal tools, everything from Blueprints, which helps us prototype to Sequencer for cinematics. Our animation team found animation Blueprints particularly helpful because it allowed them to work autonomously without a programmer. The particle editor and material editor also allowed our game to look great. It’s very difficult to choose only one favorite, as all of these tools have been very helpful. 
Did Novarama leverage the Unreal Marketplace in any way during development? 

Yes. We purchased some plugin tools for our artists and programmers, and that really sped up certain tasks. We also purchased packs of decorative assets for some of our seasonal events and we’re currently looking at buying more.

How do you plan on evolving Killsquad throughout Early Access and beyond? 

Our Early Access plan is to improve the game with all the feedback from our community. Currently, we’re making adjustments to our contracts and adding quests that will make the game more entertaining. Luckily, we’re at a point now where we can iterate on the game to improve it for launch. We’re also working on a new world and many more enemies. Beyond that, we’re working on a console version of the game. 

Thanks for your time. Where can people learn more about Killsquad

Thanks for the interview! You can find more information on Killsquad by following us on Facebook and Twitter @killsquadgame. You can also get the latest info on the game on our YouTube channel.

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Author: Jimmy Thang