With EndCycle VS less than a month from its full release, I was fortunate enough to speak to the dev team behind the card game fighter. I say team, it’s more of a partnership over at 12B3, made up of Daniel Dorner and Gal Axis, high school buddies turned start-up gaming studio.
The duo has been making EndCycle VS for over nine years, having tested their mettle as part of the Megaman Battle Network series development team. With their final product waiting to drop onto metaphorical shelves, it’s a digital exclusive for now, it’s an exciting time for the studio, but as you’ll notice, it’s clear that 12B3 see EndCycle VS as just the beginning of its larger than life universe.
Not only did I get to interview Daniel and Gal ahead of the launch, but I also got to experience the game early access, and jump into some online battles with the creators. If you missed that abject humiliation on my part, be sure to check out our EndCycle VS preview for all the need-to-know information, including some gameplay tips from the devs.
Pocket Tactics – We spoke about your experiences working on Megaman during the playtest. What other influences went into creating EndCycle VS?
Daniel: Uh, Smash Bros, for the pacing of it all, for the cartoonishness…
Gal: Then also, believe it or not, Final Fantasy XIII, the trilogy, because it uses a similar control scheme for the attacks, and we like the strategic pacing that you don’t often get in fighting games. We really wanted to incorporate that in the game, where you almost have an RPG-like element to the attacks, and how they interact with each other.
One of the things that struck me was the character design, from the antagonist Noise characters to the main cast. Did you have any particular influence when creating your world and characters?
Daniel: That’s a good question. It’s been a long time since we designed most of the characters, right Gal?
Gal: Yep. I think for us, we really wanted to convey the things we grew up loving, be that One Piece, or older cartoons like the Last Airbender. It’s not necessarily just older cartoons, though, we’re also inspired when it comes to art style by modern cartoons like Stephen Universe, and a bit of The Owl House.
In relation to that, the sound world seems well crafted for the sci-fi aesthetic. Were there any particular influences there?
Daniel: Well, the (Megaman) Battle Network games, of course.
Gal: Yep. So, I’m a big lover of video game soundtracks, and I think Daniel is as well. We’re both listening to them while we work. I don’t think there was a single soundtrack that we said, “ok, we want something exactly like this”, we always went in the direction of what fits best for the kind of game that we’re creating. In the same way that you say it fits the game, that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve, so I’m really happy you thought that.
Happy to give you an accidental compliment there. I noted that you guys have worked on the game for over nine years, so I just wanted to gauge the biggest challenge during the development?
Daniel: For me, personally, the hardest thing was to find balance. Right now, we’re full time. Last summer, Gal and I decided to live from our savings, and develop full time. Before that, it was very hard, besides a job and school, Gal and I met in high school, so it was tough getting through that, pulling through and not stopping. I certainly had to take a break from development, but Gal pushed through.
Gal: I’ve been powering through for the last nine years!
Daniel: And I’m glad you did. When was my break, 2020? When the pandemic hit, it was very difficult for me to focus on the game, but I’m glad that Gal pulled me back in. I was like, “well, I forgot how fulfilling this is”.
Gal: From my end, the most difficult thing has always been getting into the state where you allow yourself to show it to other people. As a game developer, you often hold a mirror to yourself, and notice every little mistake you’re making. So, it often gets hard to say “ok, this is where we put the finish line”.
The thing that made us come so far is the fans, really, because of them, we get so much valuable feedback that we could never see, and that only came because we allowed ourselves to release the game early access. We’re often a bit embarrassed looking back on the early access, but we’re still proud of it, because getting things done as a game developer is very tough when you’re always striving for perfection.
On the topic of development – I noticed an open-world EndCycle demo from 2018. What led you to change the concept so dramatically?
Gal: So actually, with Endcycle, we’re looking to make it a franchise of games, not just a single game, so EndCycle VS is kind of our first entry in the series. We decided to go for a card-battling action game, a fighting game, instead of an RPG game, simply due to time and resources. As a startup game studio, it gives us more time to polish the battle system, and put all of our efforts into that rather than create a living breathing game world. Though, we did kind of do that with the adventure mode anyway.
Daniel: Yeah, but in a condensed version. The specific point we decided to shift into the VS format was when one day Gal came online and asked me for a game, and I said, “yeah, I can’t come over though”, and he replied, “we can play online now, Daniel”. After playing online, we decided that’s it, that’s the soul of the game, that’s the core we need to focus on.
Back then, we’d been working on the open world prototype for two years, and we hadn’t got as far as we thought we would, but with the online battles, it felt great, and we knew what we wanted to do and that we could do it, so we rebranded to EndCycle VS.
Gal: Kind of, yeah, and we decided to make EndCycle VS the prologue game, and our prologue as a game development studio.
In terms of the relationship between the gameplay and the narrative, did you have the story idea first and decide to build a game to suit, or did the mechanics inform the creation of the plot?
Daniel: It’s a mix, I think. Both influence each other. I think the very first was Jump and Run?
Gal: Yeah, you just triggered a whole bunch of memories. It definitely goes in the direction that we’ve been planning the story for a long time, for longer than EndCycle VS.
Daniel: Yeah, the story from the prototype is still basically the story of EndCycle VS, there have been a lot of changes, but the structure is still what we wanted to adhere to.
Moving onto gameplay, I really enjoy the depth in the move pool, with thousands of different attacks, the Bomboyage homage to Spiderman’s Green Goblin being a personal favourite. Which of the moves, or builds, do you always go for?
Daniel: I mean, that’s a hard question because as a game designer, I have to try a lot of different variations, so I usually randomise my deck with the auto-fill feature before jumping in. But my favourite strat is probably one of the push and pull strategies you can access with the push and pull style, using the lance to ping pong enemies around the field.
Gal: So for me, I like attacks that hit heavy and hard, setting up a bunch of things before unleashing some mayhem on the field. What I really like, as well, is the Notice Me attack. With it, you can hit up to three times, storing damage for a final explosion, and I like trying to find ways to load up that damage.
In terms of character, I really like Jeremy. Through his ultra attack, you can play songs on an onscreen keyboard with two octaves, forcing your opponents to listen. There’s a whole bunch of easter eggs in there, for instance, you can play the first part of Undertale’s Megalovania prompting some hearts to pop up on the screen. That’s a nice little easter egg.
Daniel: Yeah, Jeremy is really fun. In our last tournament, everyone was trying to out-Jeremy each other to pull a cool tune in their finishing move.
I like that, it makes me think of the Metronome only competitions from the online Pokémon meta. You could have a Jeremy only tournament for players to showcase their keyboard skills.
Gal: We’ll remember that, we were planning on having some more customisation for online formats, we might add that in.
Daniel: Yeah, that sounds fun.
Considering how many different attacks and combos are in there, how much work went into the balancing process? Was there a depth in mind, or did you continue to create new ideas during the development?
Daniel: Yeah, it’s definitely the latter. We come up with an attack idea, we put it into the game, and our fans tell us it’s not balanced.
Gal: Yeah, that’s how it goes.
Daniel: That’s how it goes every time, so we fix it, and when we fix it, we come up with a new idea, put it in, and fans tell us it’s not balanced.
Gal: And that’s the cycle, but we’re looking forward to it coming to an end soon. We’re not really thinking about balance though, we’re mostly thinking about what’s fun, what will combo well, what will create new options for the player. Like the most recent addition, the mind-game style, that forces the opponent to move against their will. Balancing comes later when we release it, we put fun first, and our loyal fans point us in the right direction.
Talking about different game formats, I felt that with all the different modes, the game could suit either a whole evening long session, or a spare ten minutes on the train. Is this something you thought about during development?
Daniel: At first, we wanted to focus on online solely, then we thought it would be great for people to have something to play on their own, so they can practice. We came up with a lot of fun ideas like onslaught, battle cycle, and adventure mode.
Gal: We were inspired by Slay the Spire and One Step from Eden when it comes to that. We realised we had an amazing battle system, and thought why limit ourselves? So, we went in 100% with that. We often had talks and said “what if someone doesn’t have a full hour to do a full run in adventure mode?” so we added a save feature, now players can decide how much time to dedicate.
Onto future plans, are you aiming to bring EndCycle VS over to other devices like iOS and Switch?
Daniel: iOS and Switch, definitely, and ideally the other consoles as well.
Gal: For now, we’re concentrating on Steam and Android to limit our workload. When the full version is running well, and dependent on the success of the first release, we’re planning on bringing it over to more consoles.
The big one, what’s next for 12B3 as a developer?
Daniel: The next step is adapting to player feedback, then porting to iOS and Switch. Then all being well, we’ve got some secret plans for the next stage in the series.
Gal: We’re not allowed to talk about behind the scenes things, but we’re for sure looking into creating another game in the series, and of course, we’ll keep updating EndCycle VS post-launch with new content, and reacting to how people feel about the balancing. We’re definitely looking forward to keeping the EndCycle experience live well into the future.
That’s great, I suppose my final question is, is there any way I can get a plush Q.T. designed and sent to my house?
Gal: Merch would be great, absolutely, at some point.
Daniel: There exists a plush design for Q.T., I know that.
Well, get this thing moving, my wallet is right here. Anyway, thanks again for your time, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final version.
Daniel: Thanks so much, it means a lot.
What struck me most about my time chatting with Daniel and Gal about EndCycle VS is how much they prioritise the player experience over their own desires for the game. In getting their title into early access as soon as possible, and developing a community in good time before launch, they managed to gauge what their prospective audience most wants to see from a card-based fighter, and the results speak for themselves.
All in all, I’m very optimistic about the future for EndCycle VS, and I’m happy to admit I look forward to sitting down with a final version of the game for our big review next month. With any luck, my Q.T. plush should arrive at just the same time. Make sure to check back in when EndCycle VS comes to Android on April 20 for our thoughts on the finished product.