One of the games we were most excited to see at PAX East 2013 was Secret Ponchos, the intense twin-stick arena fighter set in the world of a Spaghetti Western. Contributor Anthony Amato, Senior Editor Nicole Kline, and Editor-In-Chief John Scalzo met up with President and Creative Director Yousuf Mapara and Art Director Jose Lopez and had a fantastic conversation with them while trying out the game. Nicole got her butt kicked by an eight-year-old, but that didn’t mar our first impression of the game, which was: we want more as soon as possible. Read on for the full interview we conducted with the incredibly talented guys at Switchblade Monkeys.
Anthony Amato, Warp Zoned Contributor: So [Secret Ponchos] is like a player’s arena kind of game, right?
Mapara: Yeah, it’s kind of like Team Fortress, but top down. And then imagine a lot of fighting mechanics and fighting game influence, ok? And then that’s all wrapped in a stylized Spaghetti Western-art direction, and music direction.
WZ – Anthony: I guess the other part would be, how many players does it go up to?
Yousuf Mapara: It currently goes up to eight players. We actually built the game to play one versus one, as a dueling game, but then changed it to smaller maps, so it’s more of an intimate shooter, like taking cover back and forth, and then we added two versus two mode, four versus four mode, and then eight player free-for-all mode. And in the eight player free-for-all mode, players respawn, but in the other modes, when you die, you’re out for the round. So it’s kind of cool because it’s kinda like Street Fighter, where you win a round if you kill the guy, and it’s best two out of three, but if you’re in a three player match or something, or three versus three, imagine two of your teammates die, like they’re idiots and right away they get themselves killed, it’s all up to you now to take out those three guys.
Nicole Kline, Warp Zoned Senior Editor: No pressure!
Mapara: Yeah! So that mode’s my favorite because every bullet matters. It’s really like a Spaghetti Western. It’s more tactical. And then that free-for-all mode, it’s more, it’s perfect for this kind of stuff because it’s just like a chaotic shootout.
WZ – Anthony: So I noticed you have some guys with melee weapons, like the whip, which I guess is sort of a ranged weapon with at least a maximum range – is there ammunition for the six shooters and so forth? Do you actually have to count your shots?
Mapara: Yeah, yeah, a six shooter has six shots.
WZ – Everyone: [huge laughter]
WZ – Anthony: Six shots? I was watching something the other day, and I was like, watch how many shots this guy takes! It was in some big movie, and it was like, 16 shots or something, out of some little snub-nosed revolver!
Mapara: When you play the game, you really have to keep track of your ammo, because you’ll be in a very tense situation with another player, and the next thing you know, you’re out of ammo. And then we have the players, you know, they’ll lean back and start to reload and stuff, so it becomes a very vulnerable situation.
WZ – Anthony: So since it’s based on Spaghetti Westerns and shootouts, are some players just quicker on the draw than other ones?
Mapara: Yeah, for sure. A lot of top-down games, they’re meant to be against AI, and so they have a lot of auto-lock, and we tried to limit the auto-targeting so you have to have a good shot. So a player with a good shot will be really successful in this, and some of the archetypes really play to that. Like the character Killer, he’s got a really fine aiming reticule, so he’s more of a precision character, but it feels really good when you’re a good shot with him. And then you have some characters like Poncho, who have some spread with their shotgun…
WZ – Anthony: Is that the guy with the Gatling gun?
Mapara: Oh yeah, and the Gatling gun guy! So, there’s a range of characters, but I mean, I like the precision shooting kind of guy.
WZ – Anthony: So I noticed that when you aim, it throws a line out. That suggested to me that it’s twin stick, right? One is moving and one is aiming?
Mapara: Absolutely. And the line, at the edge of the line, that defines your range. So that’s where a lot of the spacing from a fighting game comes in, because someone might be just out of your range, and you have to kind of like dive-roll in and shoot them, and then dive-roll out. It’s very precision spacing.
WZ – Anthony: So the other thing I noticed was, at least in the trailer, and I just saw him do it, when he went up against the wall he kind of leaned up against it, like he relaxed a little bit. Is it like a stealth thing, or is it a healing thing, or is it just cinematic…?
Mapara: It’s all of the above, I guess, because you can take cover behind a tall object, or crouch behind a tombstone or something. When you take cover, your stamina regenerates faster, you reload faster – if you’re running, you reload slow and your stamina doesn’t regenerate. And the other thing is, if two characters are on screen, but one of you is taking cover behind an object, the characters don’t have a direct line of sight to each other, so the character will actually fade off the other screen. So there’s a line of sight mechanic, and you can use that to take cover and do rolls from cover object to cover object, and kind of flank your opponents.
WZ – Anthony: So you deal with the fog of war by just having the character disappear?
Mapara: Yeah, it’s like fog of war, based on line of sight.
WZ – Anthony: And would you say that the different characters fall into the same sort of classes that you would expect? Like a Tank, and a Controller-ish kind of character, or Assassin…?
Mapara: I think those archetypes, we see them a lot because they’re very strong. But we didn’t really set out to copy the archetypes. Some of our guys sort of bend it. Like Phantom Poncho, he’s, I’m not really sure how to explain him – like Killer, he plays a precision type of character. If you have a good shot, he’s really effective. That might not be a standard arcehtype. Phantom Poncho, he kind of moves slower, and he’s got a shorter range, but then he’s got like quick burst movement, so you can like, burst in, take a shot, burst out. His shotgun is his primary, but if you use his whip, and you whip somebody, they’ll get wounded, and they’ll get slowed for a few seconds. You can also whip someone and disarm them, like pull their gun out of their hands. So he can really weaken you first, and then move in for the kill. So he’s kind of like some weird predator.
Jose Lopez: Another element with the characters is the transition of what we’ve seen in a Spaghetti Western. It’s like a transition of all the stereotypes of all the different characters, like you see the Banditos, the cooler like Ninja/Assassin types, everything hits the iconic elements.
WZ – Anthony: I have a bunch of questions about that. Which one’s Lee Van Cleef?
Mapara: Oh, I guess he’s more similar to Killer, for sure.
Lopez: Killer? I think he’s a combination of Killer and Poncho.
Mapara: Oh yeah?
Lopez: I think Poncho’s so mysterious. He’s kind of super cool and relaxed.
WZ – Anthony: So the other question is, I haven’t seen a full line-up of the characters, is there a Desperado knife-throwing character? Is there an Indian character?
Mapara: We really have a strong desire to continue making characters after we launch the game. So Jose’s just got so many drawings that we want to make, and we don’t even care if we have to make it on our own just to chuck them in after the game launches, we just want to do it. Killer, though, his secondary weapon is a hunter’s knife, so he can throw it, he can slash you with it, stuff like that.
WZ – Anthony: What’s the format? Is it on consoles? Is it a download game, or are you doing full retail?
Mapara: Downloadable at the lower digital price points. We’re not sure of our full SKU plan right now because we’re kind of in the process of negotiating all that, but we’re trying our best to bring it to as many platforms as we can. And if we can kind of find the bandwidth to do it well, we want to add a PC SKU. We might have to do a little bit of fundraising or something like that. So we don’t just chuck it on, we want to really tweak it so it plays well on the PC.
WZ – Nicole: So far, it’s XBLA and PSN, right?
Mapara: We’re approved on PSN but we’re still, it’s kind of a mess, we don’t even know what SKU it’s going to end up on, because we’re in the middle of negotiating with everybody, so…
Lopez: But we’ve noticed that here at PAX there’s a huge interest in making it for the PC as well, so we’re definitely thinking about it.
WZ – Anthony: Well it’s tough with anything that uses the analog sticks, to get people to have the controllers on a PC, and clearly you would need two analog controllers for this.
Mapara: Yeah, on analog controllers it’s no problem, but I think it might be too much to ask to expect people to have that, we’d probably have to support keyboard and mouse. And we really, it’s not a point-and-click game, it’s an animation, twitch responsive game, so we would want to convert that feel, and bring that feel to the keyboard and mouse interface.
WZ – Nicole: Well that’s one of the things, we went to the Sportsfriends panel yesterday, and that was one of the things that they were saying, that they’re making these PC games, but they’re making them with controllers, like they’re using the analog…
WZ – Anthony: They’re trying to promote PC players having controllers.
Mapara: That’s good! I think that would be an awesome evolution if, just, I mean some point-and-click games are awesome, but it’s just another tool in the toolbox.
John Scalzo, Warp Zoned Editor-In-Chief: What do the maps look like? I see the haunted graveyard. What other kinds of Western-themed maps are we going to see?
Lopez: That’s a good question. We have a train wreck, we have a saloon…
WZ – Nicole: Of course you need a saloon!
Mapara: Yeah! The train wreck level, there’s a bridge, and it’s been exploded, and a train crashed in a big train heist.
WZ – John: Like in Back to the Future III? [laughter]
Mapara: There’s gold all over the place, and it’s just a good shootout environment. The saloon is, you’re fighting in the streets of the Lonetree, with like a big hangman tower with bodies hanging, and you can run in the saloon and the walls fade out and the ceiling fades out, so you’re kind of running in and out of interiors. It’s a fun map.