In an attempt to capture the beauty and quality of the perfect fighting game, Michael Zaimont, aka “Mike Z.”, has created the perfect recipe. With his release of Skullgirls, Mike took the gamers by surprise by mixing the best components of several fighting games as well as adding some of his own ingenious ideas to make the ideal fighting game. We were lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with the creator himself and find out what was going on in his mind to not only create this flawless blend in his imagination, but also make his dream into a reality.
Mike Z started as a developer for Pandemic Studios and worked on games such as Star Wars: Battlefront 1 & 2, Mercenaries 2 and The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Since then, he has moved on to Lab Zero Games to work with his team on the surprise hit Skullgirls. Within the first ten days of its release in April 2012, the game had already sold over 50,000 copies online. In December of 2012, Mike and his team released a patch for the game with new and improved updates.
What really motivated you to put this game together and do what you’re doing now?
It first started with playing video games, obviously. When I started playing fighting games, they kind of took over everything else I was playing because there was that extra layer of depth. After you learn the moves, then the meta-game starts to evolve.
When I was in college, I was doing computer science, so I started making a fighting game engine and I stuck to it because that was the thing I always wanted to make, because it appealed to me the most. I moved here and got a job with Pandemic and worked on a bunch of games that I am proud of being a part of. But the thing I enjoyed most was doing the melee combat still, like when I did the heroes for Battlefront 2. That was amazing because they had light sabers and that was totally different than blasters, which was mostly the rest of the game. So I kept working on my engine in my spare time because that’s what I really, really wanted to do.
The underpinning of my motivation is to do something right. I see that there are problems that fighting games currently have, I see the way that developers approach those problems, and I wanted to make something that really addressed the relevant problems in the genre.
So you left a company you were secure with. I’m sure there was some fear so how did you cope with that?
Oh yeah, there was a crazy amount of fear. I decided that if I really needed to, I can find a job to survive. I can ignore the fact that I got a college degree and get any job in order to live. When you have a particular skill, there are things that having that skill enables you to do. For example, I could write a script if someone needed, that’s something practical that my experience allows me to do. Then there is stuff like designing a moveset for a fighting game, scripting the characters for it, and finding the balance for it which requires my experience to do, but it’s also something where it matters that it was ME who did it. Get it? At Pandemic, they needed someone who had my skill-set but it didn’t necessarily have to be ME that did it. Working on Skullgirls needed my personal touch and was something that I needed to do, myself, which made me decide to leave Pandemic and work on the game.
So you didn’t want to be another drone basically.
It’s the difference between using my skills and using my talent. I had the opportunity to use my talent along with my skills to work on this. And if it didn’t work out, I could have possibly gone back or gotten another job if necessary.
What would you say makes you different than others?
A special combination of ignorance and arrogance. There actually haven’t been many people that have analyzed fighting games like I have, so whatever I say is going to sound arrogant. I’m not too sure why, but I guess it’s because I’m stupid enough to take risks. We wanted to be different than other gaming companies. Everything we did was super public. We took all of our demos everywhere we went for people to try it. We wanted to do everything that other game companies don’t do.
Did the game meet your expectations?
Yes and no. Yes, that people enjoy it. I’m very happy with the reception that it got in the fighting game community, but the thing that any creator sees is the problems with their creation. So like a frame is misaligned or something doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to; all the stuff that most people can ignore. And I’m nit-picky and pessimistic so I see a lot of problems that people don’t see. One of the things I am happiest about is that my IPS (infinite prevention system) does what it is supposed to do. I am happy that the experimental stuff we did worked out and the IPS did what it actually what I wanted it to do.
Eighty Sixed would like to thank Mike Z for his time and contribution to the gaming community. Please check out Skullgirls available now on the PlayStation Network and on XBox Live. Also, you can follow Skullgirls on Facebook and watch Mike’s weekly “Salty Cupcakes” stream on the Eighty Sixed Twitch channel.
““If you are somebody who wants to create something, the most important thing you can possibly do is actually starting on it.” – Mike Z.