A few years ago, a man of the name Blank Mauser started on a platform fighter called Earth Romancer. With the game’s first trailer being here. It’s our privilege to be able to cover him.
Lucas Guimaraes: Tell us a little more about yourself.
BM: I've been playing games competitively for the better part of the past decade. The first fighting game I tried playing competitively was Guilty Gear Slash. Being young and living in Iowa meant competition was hard to find for me. So eventually I moved on to playing more obscure games through netplay such as Touhou 7.5 and Melty Blood Act Cadenza. Nowadays I've met so many great people through local smash that the community is a huge part of my life! I've traveled and competed in many titles, won some tournaments, even dabbled with some smash mods as a backroom member. I just have an endless curiosity and enthusiasm when it comes to the genre that keeps me coming back.
LG: What about you as a dev?
BM: As a developer I've wanted to make games since I was in grade school. I remember bringing floppy disks to my teacher in 5th grade of these shoddy gamemaker platformers. Though from then on the path only got rougher for me. My family wasn't very supportive of it, and my academic life went through a lot of turmoil. I knew that to become a developer there was only one route I wanted and most likely was able to go. I've self-taught myself nearly every aspect of the process now from programming and 3d modeling/animation, to real-time fx and video editing. Earth Romancer is a labor of love and there are times where I even work 14 hours days, but my passion for making a great experience keeps it fulfilling.
LG: How did you get into Smash?
BM: My first experience with Smash was as anyone else. Just a fledgling who played with friends, but you always have that one friend who gets a little too into it. That was me basically. Looking at my old smashboards account (Which nobody can know about) it looks like I stumbled here around 2008. Watching MLG videos and arguing about the outcome of Brawl, I spent a ton of time just being an internet warrior basically. When Brawl came out I played a bunch of wifi until I felt I was good enough to enter my first local, where I got 2nd place. I was around 15 years old at the time. With no car I was just an awkward kid bumming rides to tournaments, but everyone made me feel like I belonged and it was some of the best times of my life. Eventually I moved on from Brawl to its mods, and then finally Melee. My interest in traditional fighters never wavered and I always went back and forth between the two communities playing both.
LG: What is Earth Romancer?
Blank Mauser: Earth Romancer is the best action-platformer RPG with a party battle mini-game in it. Okay but for real, Earth Romancer is a culmination of all my experiences as a player. It draws influence from everything that defined my childhood. With Earth Romancer I wanted to finally combine Smash with traditional fighting games in a way that I felt was right. I didn't want to compromise parts of either experience. I wanted the intimate player interaction, flexibility and the finely tuned balance of risk/reward from fighting games. On the Smash side I wanted to maintain the high movement, the free-form combo expression, and the tense off-stage game. Everything about Earth Romancer is a way to add these elements without messing up the delicate neutral game of Smash. Its like adding layers on a cake. The bottom of the cake is still solid by itself, but everything else is just more to enjoy. I think when people give Earth Romancer a try they'll find things to be really intuitive, but for people who want to dig deeper I tried to leave so much more for them to explore.
Even though I didn't expect my first game to be a fighting game, I knew that it would be one of the few projects to really keep me interested the whole way through. It hasn't failed me in that regard at all.
LG: How is your team like? Their process?
Blank Mauser: My team is mostly made up of people and studios I contract, along with friends of mine who are competent artists. I make all the design decisions, which makes sense since I also undertake 100% of the financial risk and responsibility.
This means I may either block out ideas myself, or gather reference before beginning any kind of work. Everyone I work with is remote so I'm usually sending things back and forth through Discord with individual people. This makes the
process a bit different with each person, but overall I'm really happy with the help I get!
LG: What is your creative process?
BM: When I design any game idea I first think about what I crave from the genre that hasn't been done yet. Then I look at why it hasn't and what could be done about it. If there is something about it I don't like, what can I do to make me like it? At the end of the day my game ideas revolve around what I personally want to play, but I think also about how to convey these ideas to others. Earth Romancer seems like a complicated game on the outside, but in my head I'm always thinking about how to make everything as intuitive as possible. The way I see it, if no one is teaching gamers the joy of understanding a complicated game, there will be no gamers left to enjoy them and complicated games will only grow more rare.
My favorite feedback about Earth Romancer thus far are comments like "I didn't know i wanted a Smash game like this until I saw it." That kind of remark is intensely validating to me as a designer. Gamers are a fickle audience. You can't simply just ask them what they want. You'll lose the element of surprise. Earth Romancer's design philosophy revolves around making all these connections that haven't been made before. Not just combining traditional mechanics with Smash, but also tying different variables of battle together in creative ways. I think people will really understand that as I unravel more and more of the mechanics in the future.
LG: Ideas/thoughts Around Balance?
BM: My aim is to balance everything, but I understand this will most likely take a lot of time. Character balance is important, but whats most important to me is the balance of different strategies. The mechanics of Earth Romancer encourage
each individual to express themselves how they want. Example, if you're mainly a redshift mode player you might practice a lot of techniques that build red meter quickly. Tricky cancels, movement options and advanced shield pressure would define a majority Redshift main. While a Blueshift main might focus more heavily on precision and match-up knowledge. Solid defense, complex feints and baits, and opportunistic play would define a majority Blueshift player. Then of course, there will be people who choose to play a mix of both!
This means that two players can pick the same character and play them completely differently. At the end of the day, a designer must confront the fact that their game will eventually be solved. In a game that does not include any random factors, the two things that matter most are:
1) How long it takes to solve it.
2) How much the player's playing it influence it.
A game with low player interaction will usually turn out the same regardless of the people you give it to. A game with higher player interaction could have drastically different results depending on the pool of people playing it.
This is why classics like Vampire Savior and 3rd Strike can have times where they are dominated by players who pick low-tier characters or even random select. The game that you create, and the game that ends up being played
should be two different things. While you give people tools, it is the players who put in the effort and creativity that ultimately define it.
LG: How did you get started with game Dev?
BM: I began game dev in grade school, making shoddy platformers and 2D shooting games using Game Maker. Games already dominated my thoughts and time so it was only natural that i had a lot of ideas I wanted to bring to life. I started off simply programming, but I dabbled in pixel art and composing music too. Eventually I got myself a digital tutors account and started learning 3D modeling and animation. I picked up Unity3d and C# and never looked back.
Currently with Earth Romancer the only aspect I don't touch is the music. I programmed the original prototype of Earth Romancer, then Schmoo found me on reddit and he refined the physics further. Otherwise, I program all the character's abilities and hitboxes. When I receive art from different people its my job to bring it all together. Making modifications to the textures, visual fx, and sometimes blending animations. I have a hand in every step of the process from concept to sometimes executing it entirely. I'm primarily a programmer, but I've also done animations, hand-drawn vfx, wrote all of Earth Romancer's story, handle social media and edit the fancy trailers you see online. Of course, a lot of the final product is still owed to a small, but dedicated group of individuals!
LG: Where do you draw inspiration from?
BM: Since I play so many fighting games a lot of moveset ideas are inspired from characters who I always thought were cool, but never got to shine because of how weak or impractical they are. In terms of characters and setting I have way too many to list. I love Gainax anime, One Piece, Steven Universe, science-fiction novels etc. I will say though, what really drove me to create video games were the soundtracks. Music from Masashi Hamauzu and Go Shiina took me places I never dreamed of before. I really wanted to bring those places to other people.
LG: What are your goals for the future?
BM: I have lots of goals for the future, but right now I'm taking it a step at the time. I'd like to make a DMC-style action game next, or possibly a real-time strategy. Games that can expand upon Xamsara, the universe Earth Romancer is set in. For now I'm focused completely on Earth Romancer and its potential sequel if it does well.
LG: Any advice for people who want to pursue creative endeavors?
BM: Do your research. To obtain something you want to make sure you're working smarter, not harder. There are so many resources on the internet now to learn, but you have to make sure you're spending your time wisely. Most importantly just don't give up. Earth Romancer wasn't my first game by any means, and if I had a chance to do it again I wouldn't start with a fighting game as my debut project. Perseverance is truly the key to success.
LG: What platforms can we expect to see Earth Romancer on?
BM: Right now I'm planning for a PC release and am open to any consoles. Most likely Switch or Xbox One simply because I think their controllers will be most familiar.
LG: When can we expect a release on Earth Romancer?
BM: I hope to achieve an early access release by this time next year, if not earlier.
LG: Any last words to say for those reading?
BM: I'm working diligently on Earth Romancer and I hope everyone will give it a chance! There are still so many surprises to come so I hope you won't dismiss it early. The support I've gotten so far has been encouraging and I hope I can continue this journey with you all for as long as possible.
LG: Thank you for your time!
Finally, you can follow Earth Romancer at @EarthRomancer and Blank Mauser at @BlankMauser.