Old School Gamer sits down with Michael Heald (Founder, Fully Illustrated; Creative Director, Wulverblade) to find out what inspired this ass-kicking Golden Axe-infused arcade experience on the Nintendo Switch and how retro games and a love of the Mega Drive helped make it all possible.
For More on the Game, Click Here.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How did you get involved in gaming?
Michael Heald: It all started out with an unhealthy obsession for games back in the days of the Spectrum 128 and Commodore 64. I saw my first games running on those machines and became instantly hooked. All the way through school, I wanted to get into gaming – but back in the ‘90s, the games biz wasn’t seen as a serious place to take your life. But I never lost hope. I carried on drawing characters right through school and college and then finally took the jump and went to Uni to study illustration and design.
From there on in, I was determined to work in the industry one day – no matter how long it took. Roll on almost a decade later, and my first break came. I started helping out indies around the world with their art/design needs, and things started to spiral. Before I knew it, I was in business for myself, Fully Illustrated was born, and I started pummelling all my spare pennies into making Wulverblade a reality.
OSGM: What are your fondest childhood gaming memories?
Heald: There are SO many. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with my best mates huddled around a Speccy playing Saboteur and Lotus Esprit! Huddling around the Street Fighter 2 arcade cab when it first arrived in our local arcade. Playing PGA Tour with my dad on the Mega Drive. Man, the list is endless. Gaming has been such a focal part of my life growing up. I can relate a game to just about any major moment throughout every year of my life. Gaming has just been with me through every up and down.
OSGM: Retro gaming console of choice? Why?
Heald: Mega Drive. It was the first machine to 100% blow my mind as a teenager. I went to a friend’s house who’d just got one when they first hit UK shores (his parents had separated and his dad wanted to give him a peace offering) – and seeing Streets of Rage in all its glory was almost too much to handle. I was in love. From there on in, I was a Sega fan. I bought absolutely everything else and LOVED my SNES almost as much, but there was something about the MD that just ticked all my boxes.
OSGM: What inspired Wulverblade?
Heald: A lifetime of gaming! I’ve always loved side-scrolling beat ‘em ups – my go-to genre, even after it died off. As time went on, we started to see less and less of them – and I always said to myself, ‘I have to make my own one day.’ Time went on, and my almost equal obsession for ancient British history merged into the idea – and Wulverblade took shape. I could mix my two favourite things into a single achievable dream!
OSGM: Why do you think games like Golden Axe are still so beloved?
Heald: Simplicity. There’s something quite cathartic about becoming a complete badass – walking around an environment and simply kicking ass! I know it sounds brutish (and very basic), but it’s true. The old saying “keep it simple, stupid” is really true. Modern games have gotten SO complex now that quickfire gaming is such a rare treat. These old beat ‘em ups just feed a very basic need in your gaming diet.
OSGM: What does this game make the genre it’s in better?
Heald: We’ve not just “re-done” an old game here; we’ve opened up the combat a lot whilst at the same time keeping it solid and retro in its base mechanics. We’ve added combos, air combos, deeper grappling, heavy weapons, rolls, dashes and a number of other moves that really expand the combat beyond the classics. We spent just over a year finessing this combat system – and I’m very, very proud of what we’ve achieved with it.
OSGM: What was development like?
Heald: INCREDIBLE! Making this game has been my dream for many, many years – and when I finally managed to team up with my friends at Darkwind Media, things just slotted together perfectly. We’ve worked SO well together as a team, it’s unreal. I’m here in the UK, and the rest of the guys are over in the US – so we’ve spent 99.9% of the time working via Skype. It was only this year that we finally met up in person. It’s been an incredible journey.
OSGM: How did Wulverblade change during development?
Heald: In more ways than I can list, to be honest. The main one would have to be the core gameplay. Originally, this was going to be a single-player story all about Caradoc – but as time went on, and I teamed up with Darkwind, they rightly pointed out that as wonderful as the overarching creative idea was, it needed to be multiplayer. They were so right. I then changed the story and took his siblings from simple story characters into playable characters. This then required the whole story to be re-written. But that wasn’t just it! ALL the story scenes had been illustrated ready for animation … and none of them had Brennus and Guinevere in! So every scene had to be adapted to hold the trio. All those changes and additions cost a small fortune, too – ha ha!
OSGM: What did you learn about yourself through this game?
Heald: That I’m entirely obsessed by my own game and the world that it’s set in. I’ve gotten to the point where no week is complete without a dose of ancient Britain – be it a movie, a road trip, anything. I have to get my slice of history every day! And that’s not just it: I’m forever daydreaming about the exploits of the characters, their backstories, etc. I could carry on creating this world for the rest of my years, I think.
OSGM: Why is this a must-play on the Nintendo Switch?
Heald: It’s the closest thing to playing in an arcade that you’re going to get. You can take the Switch out with you, drop it down next to your buddy, slide off the Joy-Cons – and BAM: You’re side by side playing co-op. There’s nothing else that offers that – and playing in person with a friend is just an unequalled treat!
OSGM: What’s next?
Heald: More Wulverblade! I want to stay in this world, I want to do prequels, I want to do side stories, I want to do sequels. Even if the game doesn’t sell all that well, rest assured that in one way or another, I’ll be staying with this story for a long time!
OSGM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Heald: I truly hope that players get to experience the game from beginning to end. There are some pretty special events that happen in Wulverblade – and only the people that play through will witness them. I can’t wait to see people’s reactions as they work through the game!
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.