Gang Beasts developer Boneloaf is working on a game that is currently bringing anarchy and chaos to fighting game tournaments, expos and living rooms all over the world. Who knew being punched square in the gob could be so much fun? Dave Cook speaks with the team to see where all this carnage is heading.
”I join the crowd to see two of these strange creatures going hell for leather, punching each other in the face with reckless abandon, while the other two are locked in what can only be described as a bear-hug comprised of equal parts hatred and ultimate respect.”
I'm sitting playing some Ultra Street Fighter 4 at the third annual Hypespotting fight tournament in Glasgow, Scotland watching my Elena get utterly wrecked by a seasoned Rolento player. Suddenly, just as I drop another round, an almighty roar erupts from over my left shoulder. I turn, half in annoyance at being panelled yet again, and half in curiosity to see a big crowd of fighting game fans swarming around a nearby table.
The group is roaring and jostling each other like they're at the front of a Converge gig, laughing intermittently to the chagrin of a few pro players who are here to focus and win the main tournaments. I walk over to the throng of upstarts and peer over some of the smaller lads to see a quartet of squishy plasticine men hobbling around a texture-less wrestling ring like they're in desperate need of a shit.
Oh, it's Gang Beasts. I should have known.
I join the crowd to see two of these strange creatures going hell for leather, punching each other in the face with reckless abandon, while the other two are locked in what can only be described as a bear-hug comprised of equal parts hatred and ultimate respect. One competitor pushes while the other pulls, each hoping gravity will favour them as they dangle precariously on the edge of the ring ropes. A moment's silence is met by a thunderous orgy of whooping and jeers as one blobby man knocks the other out of the ring.
Gang Beasts is the brainchild of Boneloaf, a three-man team made up of the Brown brothers James, Michael and Jonathan, as well as a soon-to-be-added fourth member. It's gaining mass notoriety online and aross the fighting game circuit here in Scotland. It's also appeared at a local fight event in my home town and recently enjoyed a prolific stint at Gamer Network's PC and indie show Rezzed. You can download the prototype builds here.
Here's a video of our very own Sam Clay throwing down in a four-way punch orgy last week:
”Gang Beasts already has a strong following on YouTube and other channels, thanks in part to the game’s physic engine, which can see simple brawls turn into death-defying wars of wits and perseverance at the drop of a hat.”
So what the hell is Gang Beasts, exactly? On the surface it's a physics-based brawler that sees four players trying to ring-out each other across a range of hazardous stages, each designed to give rise to insane scenarios that you can't help but shout about. The combat system puts you in control each of your putty-man's arms with punches executed by button taps, while holding a command makes them grab on to enemies or the environment. It's highly unorthodox, but it works.
You can knock your mate out then toss their limp, rag-doll body off the side of a skyscraper, or latch onto each other and grapple on the edge of a ferocious saw-blade pit, before either player's focus breaks and they tumble to their death. It's hilarious stuff that never fails to draw a crowd of bewildered, but engrossed onlookers. It speaks to those who remember four-player matches of Power Stone, or retro classics like Streets of Rage, but ask anyone who plays it and they'll like take away their own personal links back to other games.
Boneloaf isn't exactly sure what Gang Beasts is at the moment, as it's only been in development for a few months. It started life as a fantasy brawler called Grim Beasts, but as soon as the team coded in a satisfying punch mechanic, the teams' love of '90s scrolling beat-em-ups took hold, and the urban beat-down simulator we see today was born. It's early days yet, but a quick chat with the guys unearthed a smashed phone box-worth of secrets, as well as a steaming hot chicken that I ate for extra health. It was terrible.
"We felt we could build a company off the back of this game," James explains. "People have been offering to support us through donations or offering to buy it. We've had a few comments from people saying, 'take my money' [laughs]. We've had close to 150,000 downloads of the game, obviously it's free at the moment and there's a number of people who have downloaded all three builds, because there's been variations of the content in them. So only a small percentage of that might be people willing to pay for the game, but that might be enough to fund the rest of development."
James adds that Boneloaf's plan is to get Gang Beasts on Steam Early Access then sell it for a discounted price during its first week, as a way of funding the rest of development. If that doesn't work, the team will speak with publishers about bringing the fighter to market, which is something it's already doing. Over on the Gang Beasts IndieDB page, the trio has made clear it would like to see the game release across PC, Mac, Linux, Android, PS4, Xbox One and Wii U one day. It's currently on Steam Greenlight now.
Fortunately, Gang Beasts already has a strong following on YouTube and other channels, thanks in part to the game's physic engine, which can see simple brawls turn into death-defying wars of wits and perseverance at the drop of a hat. Take the highway stage for example, which sees all four combatants battling on the roof of two precarious, speeding trucks. Straight up punching is fun, but the hilarity truly kicks off once fighters start trying to push each other onto the asphalt, forcing them to cling on to the vehicle for dear life. It looks as bonkers as it is to play.
While the prototype is insanely good fun on its own there's plenty of work to be done, and a lot of content left to be added before Gang Beasts can launch in full. The team was more than happy to share its plans with me.
”There’s a story mode complete with distinct districts of Beef City that cover all the ’90s beat-em-up tropes, such as an industrial zone with conveyor belts and mechanical traps, a seaside amusement pier, and a classic street setting.”
Michael sums up the Gang Beasts premise as, "If Street Fighter went drinking," when I ask him for an overview of how the game has been received so far. The notoriety began with a positive appearance at a local game event in Sheffield, after which Boneloaf gave attendees a build to take home. The IndieDB download came next, and within an hour of publishing that first prototype, Giant Bomb had already featured a Gang Beasts let's play on its site. The team had no idea it would take off so fast.
"The priority for us is to try and get some version of online multiplayer in," James replies when I ask him for insight into what future builds may hold. "There may be technical reasons why that doesn't work out too well, so we just need to take advice on it and try to get an implementation that minimises the impact on network latency. Because the game is somewhat 'sloppy' [due to its purposely scrappy combat] we may just about get away with it, but we need to do a lot more work on that."
"And there's the whole character customisation stuff," Michael adds. "So, just the idea that you could have a cape on and get it caught in a grinder, things like that, or detachable hats you can steal off someone."
"Back-hair," Jonathan interjects as his brothers laugh. "On some of the larger bosses they may have back hair or chest hair. Chest hair works. Just things that dangle so that other players can grab onto them."
Speaking of bosses. The Boneloaf trio tells me that while the recent Gang Beasts prototype includes a larger stage boss, they're keen to give players the chance to step into the shoes of these savage brutes. They told me that gamers could perhaps set up a match where three regular fighters take on one human-controlled boss, and that they're looking at a wide range of different character models and enemy types. The opportunity to create your own gang, complete with outfit and colour themes is absolutely on the cards.
”It’s clear that the full game will be bigger than the prototype that’s available now, but when something so simple proves to be so much fun, pulling in cheering crowds with ease, you have to figure that Boneloaf is on to a winner already.”
There's a story mode too, complete with five or six distinct districts of Beef City that cover all the '90s beat-em-up tropes, such as an industrial zone with conveyor belts and mechanical traps, a seaside amusement pier, and a classic street setting.
In a nod to 1979 gang flick The Warriors, each area will be governed by its own crew who will give players a rough time. Luckily, there will be a manner of physic-based weapons like plant-pots and pipes lying around to tip the scales a little. You could even take people out using stealth by dropping something on their head from above. It's early days yet.
"I think the thing that we haven't explained that well is that all of the arenas we're modelling at the moment will be steps within the larger story," James explained. "So you'll be able to play through them or choose to play them alone. So in the story mode you'd go to a subway station, get on a train then go to a district, fight through that district then end up at another subway station. If you wanted to play multiplayer you'd be able to look at the map and just say, 'I want to play this arena.'"
"In the multiplayer you'll be able to play pretty much as any character we've made," he went on. "It doesn't need to be as balanced as the rest of the game. If I want to challenge you as the largest boss in the game, you either accept that challenge or don't, because trying and failing can be fun as well, so we want to try and support all those kinds of combinations.
"Plus there's things like our take on capture the flag. I mean, it'd be our take on capture the flag, there won't be a flag but something that makes sense to do with the city. But we can do things like VIP where you've got a boss to protect and they've got a boss to protect, various game modes like that, and there will be stuff like just smashing up a vehicle in a set time period, that sort of thing as well."
”I’ve sat and played Gang Beasts a lot with my friends these last few weeks. I’ve hurled them through glass windows, dropped them into meat grinders, tossed them into the path of speeding trucks and enjoyed every single second of it.”
It's clear that the full game will be bigger than the prototype that's available now, but when something so simple proves to be so much fun, pulling in cheering crowds with ease, you have to figure that Boneloaf is on to a winner already. The team tells me that customisation will be crucial to the final build, giving players the tools to create a unique gang, complete with outfits and cosmetic items. Best of all, the trio are fully committed to keeping the game open for modders. In fact, they're welcoming it.
"I think we'd like to do something along the lines of GTA 5's clans but it'd be a bit simpler," Michael tells me in regards to Boneloaf's multiplayer plans. The possibility of 4v4 custom gangs is absolutely on the table, and the idea of leaderboards denoting the best gangs certainly appeals. James adds that if the netcode doesn't work, then it won't appear in the final build for the sake of keeping things to a certain quality standard. "We have to look at it because people asked for it," he stresses.
What's interesting here is just how quickly word-of-mouth has propelled Gang Beasts into the spotlight, and yet the Boneloaf crew is keen to keep development rolling in tandem with the wants and feedback of its community. That's the beauty of having a prototype out there so early, and all throughout my interview, the team tells me that what they're getting is essentially free QA testing from passionate players who want to see the game grow and improve with time. That speaks volumes about the industry today.
I've sat and played Gang Beasts a lot with my friends these last few weeks. I've hurled them through glass windows, dropped them into meat grinders, tossed them into the path of speeding trucks and enjoyed every single second of it. I'm one of those people who sorely misses local multiplayer games that dispense madness by the second, and the fun that comes with sitting next to my mates on the couch as we get increasingly pissed and competitive.
Gang Beasts fills that gap perfectly, and has all the right ingredients to become a heavyweight contender in the fighting game genre.