Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Matt Bitner – Lead Developer of A Robot Named Fight, now available on Steam. A combination of classic retro adventures the likes of Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra and Diablo, it’s a wild retro meets modern experience designed the old-school way, by Bitner, virtually all by himself.
About A Robot Named Fight:
Combining the best of the Metroidvania and Roguelike genres, A Robot Named Fight’s monstrous creatures, huge item variety, quirky writing and synthwave soundtrack hit the sweet spot between retro and modern platformers. Also, the game features local co-op. Start a new game, have a friend join in and battle the Megabeast side-by-side ‘90s style.
For More on the Game, Click Here.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Matt Bitner: A Robot Named Fight was an idea I attempted some seven or eight years ago when I was first learning to program in ActionScript 3. It was something like “Mega Man meets Diablo” at the time. I left it on the shelf for a long time as I pursued a career making mobile games for a company called Hitcents. In early 2016, my grandmother died of complications with lung cancer and COPD and left me in a position to pursue the game full-time again. The game is dedicated to her. I’d had years to stew on the concept and learned a lot from my love of roguelikes and my hobby as a not-so-great Super Metroid speed runner. The result is the procedurally-generated platformer you see today.
OSGM: What has development been like so far?
Bitner: I’ve been developing the game more or less by myself for just over a year. My wife has done all of the social media marketing and I’ve had friends help with QA and creating trailers. My friend Zack T. Jones did the awesome art you see on the store page and helped me storyboard some of the intro and endings. In the final months, I got in contact with a PR firm, Novy Unlimited – and they’ve been a tremendous help in promoting it as well. Still, I’ve largely made the game in chronic isolation – constantly in crunch mode. It’s been really great to finally put it out there and have a community to interact with on Steam and Discord.
OSGM: What makes this game special?
Bitner: There are very few Metroidvania/roguelike mashups out there right now. I could be wrong, but I believe A Robot Named Fight is the only one out there with item-gated progression, a single overworld map, and permadeath. It’s also the only one I know of that’s more focused on the Metroid as opposed to the vania. The intended item order is randomized at every run. There are potential sequence breaks. It’s been getting really positive feedback from both Metroidvania and roguelike fans.
OSGM: What games influenced this one the most?
Bitner: The biggest influences on this game are definitely Super Metroid and The Binding of Isaac. I intentionally made the controls and player movement feel as close to Super Metroid as possible. I think Super Metroid is arguably the greatest game of all time. Myself and millions of gamers are forever indebted to Makoto Kanō and Deer Force. The Binding of Isaac is far and away my favorite roguelike, and the nature of A Robot Named Fight’s meta-progression pulls heavily from Edmund McMillen’s modern classic. Still, you can see the influence of a lot of other games in there, too. Megaman, Contra, Doom, Abadox, Splatterhouse. That’s a long list!
OSGM: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Bitner: “You guys.”
Making a game with a big studio or even a small team is radically different than making a game by yourself. With a team, you have the benefit of a more diverse skill set and the camaraderie of other people. You can stay focused on a more singular task. Developing the game entirely by myself has been daunting, but it has also enabled me to work quickly – understanding all the moving parts of the game inside and out. I haven’t had to compromise with others’ creative input, which has its pros and cons. It’s scary to self-finance a game and not have a steady income during development. I’ve learned to wear a lot of hats and often argue with myself over feature-creep and sticking to budgets and deadlines. The typical dynamics of a game development team have kind of manifested as personal neurosis.
OSGM: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Bitner: To be completely honest, development has been not so fun and wild. It’s been more taxing and arduous, yet fulfilling. Still, toward the end of development, I started streaming on Twitch while working – and a nice little community of several people grew around it. I would stream play tests – and they’d spot bugs for me, keep me company … and every so often encourage me to day drink. (I’m looking at you, Erik.) Since launch, more people have popped up on Discord and in the discussion boards on Steam. The other day, I was talking to a guy who’d found some cool sequence breaks that could potentially let you skip a large chunk of some runs. Stuff like that has been really rewarding.
OSGM: Why do you think preserving old-school game mechanics in new games is important?
Bitner: I think old-school games still have so much to offer the world of gaming. Hidden gems like Infiniminer and classics like Dungeon Keeper inspired the likes of Minecraft. Rogue was made in 1980. Metroid was ’86. Both of these games have inspired some of the most popular indie genres as of late. I imagine that there are a whole lot of genres waiting to be discovered in under-appreciated gems from the past. There’s also a kind of unpolished charm to a lot of old-school game mechanics that you’re not likely to find in too many AAA titles. Things that are strange or not immediately intuitive. To many, permadeath sounds like a terrible idea on paper, but it can be really rewarding.
OSGM: Retro-themed games are thriving on consoles today thanks to games the likes of Kamiko, TowerFall and Super Meat Boy among others. Any thoughts on this making its way to consoles?
Bitner: I would love to get my hands on some dev kits and start porting the game to consoles. It’s made in Unity, so it wouldn’t take very long to port at all. There are no concrete plans yet, but don’t rule it out for the future.
OSGM: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Bitner: My parents got me a Sega Genesis for Christmas one year. I was only four years old when that system came out, so this was a few years later. I remember being through the roof. My reaction at the time would probably be a viral video now. So that’s a big one. Playing Doom on my dad’s 486 when it came out was a defining moment.
OSGM: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?
Bitner: Metroidvania and Roguelike is a really unintuitive genre combo. Some of the principles behind those genres seem diametrically opposed. I’m really happy to be among the handful of games attempting to crack it. It has a lot of potential for the future. I hope A Robot Named Fight contributes a whole lot to the idea of what a Roguevania / Metroguelike / Roguetroidvanialike is meant to be.
OSGM: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Bitner: This is a really good question. I’ve been noticing that roguelike fans find the game a little too easy, while Metroidvania fans have found it to be too difficult. They each have their own contradictory gripes. I’ve been doing some extra balancing in the days since release to address some of this. It will be a very interesting game for people that enjoy speed running Metroidvanias. But ultimately, I believe the people that are fans of both genres will get the most enjoyment out of it. That includes me.
OSGM: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Bitner: I hope A Robot Named Fight is remembered as a forerunner of a really cool genre combo that hopefully takes on its own personality. I know that sounds lofty, but I guess what I’m really saying is: I hope someone makes an even better Metroidvania / Roguelike in the next few years. That might not be the best thing for me personally, but after almost eight years invested in the idea. I really hope to see it take off.
OSGM: What are your goals for the game? / What’s next?
Bitner: The game is complete in more ways than one, but I really hope to keep supporting it. Working by myself, I wasn’t able to get in every item idea and boss fight and an odd secret that I wanted to. I have a backlog of notes that I hope to slowly trickle in as free updates. Eventually, I might tackle a larger paid DLC. The nature of the game really lends itself to ever-growing content. Games like Terraria and The Binding of Isaac have really inspired me in that regard.
OSGM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Bitner: I hope people bear with me. This is my first solo release, but I’m dedicated to this thing. I’m sure there will be some missteps along the way, but I really want to keep it alive for a good long while.
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the upcoming book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.