Smashmuck Champions: PAX Interview

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Smashmuck Champions was the first game that I had the pleasure of trying out while at PAX Prime. It’s an online battle arena in the same vein as League of Legends, but rather than being a simple clone of the more popular games in the genre, Smashmuck Champions strives to do things its own way. I’ve never played League of Legends or DotA 2 so I can’t tell you how exactly the game stacks up against them. What I can say is that the game I played at the Smashmuck booth felt good. Really good! The environments were colorful yet treacherous, the characters controlled well and were easy to use and understand, and the game moved quickly without feeling rushed. Beyond all that, this is a game that has personality! The look is unique each map has its own brand of manic action going on in the background which also interacts with your match. Combine this with a roster of unusual characters that each have a unique qwirk to them, and you have the makings of something special.

I had the opportunity to speak with Allan White, the art director for Smashmuck Champions, and was treated to a breakdown of what the game is aiming to do and what players will like about it.

We began the interview by talking about what makes Smashmuck different from the other games in the genre. White described the main focal points of the game to be accessibility and open development. He said that it’s meant to be a fast-paced action game, meaning that the focus is getting players in and out of combat quickly and for teams to play the game through informed tactical decisions.

We than moved onto talking about specific elements within the game, starting with the various gametypes available to players. He said that Smashmuck currently has 5 game modes and went on to describe “Siege”, one of the game’s more unique gametypes.

“[…]Siege is our very twisted take on the DOTA format. There are two lanes for you to push, a garrison with minions to destroy like you’d expect, but in the middle of the map there’s a giant cartoon bomb. Teams have to decide whether to ignore it, defend against it, or try to use it.”

He described the inclusion of the bomb and the choices it presents helps keep the games varied and interesting from match to match. Along with inclusions such as the bomb, he mentioned that Smashmuck’s emphasis on positioning and the inclusion of the ability to jump as you traverse the map also lends to the varied and manic nature of the gameplay.

White described every aspect of Smashmuck as supporting the fast-paced gameplay. The maps are smaller than what is considered normal, characters move quickly, and players won’t be spending a lot of time waiting to respawn.

We then focused in on the “Destroyer” gametype, which features giant robots. Allan broke down the game mode, saying that the object is for the opposing teams to scramble to fuel their robot in order for the robots to face-off in the central arena of the stage. That’s not the only way to play though. “I’ve seen teams do the exact opposite.” said White. “Instead of fueling the robot they’ve completely ignored the fuel and instead focused on the opposing team and it’s destroyer, and won that way. There are many way to win here.”

The focus of the conversation then changed to the item-crafting mechanic in the game and how the game’s free-to-play status affects this. White explained that while the game is Free-to-Play, it isn’t “Pay-to-Win”. “Everything in the game that affects game stats is available in the game with our common currency,” White said. “Players earn crafting parts by completing challenges and even get a big bonus for completing all the challenges in a given day. Doing this allows them to even access the cosmetic items that would usually be available with rare currency.”

We then moved onto how community created content is involved in the game, since it is advertised as one of the game’s features. White explained that the game had been in open development since it was about 8 months into production. This meant that they could incorporate a lot of player feedback into how they were developing the game. “We even have fan designed characters and abilities in the game,” said White. “Each PAX [PAX Prime 2012 and PAX East and Prime 2013] we’ve hosted a panel and basically had the fans shouted at us what the next character in our game should be, and then we made it happen.” White went on to discuss fan involvement in the game post-release. He said they’d like to keep doing the PAX panel created characters and that they’re also working to include fan-designed skills for the game that people posted on their forums for them to review.

We also touched on how character customization affects the game. In keeping with the game’s focus on accessibility and fast pace, White reiterated that there is no mid-game progression. “You won’t be spending time in the shop trying to decode the meta and hoping you make the right call there,” said White. “All of that happens in the pre-game menu.” He said that you have two things that level up. The first is your account, which White said grants you access to better versions of things like runes. The other leveling element is found with the weapons, which each have their own level and are only leveled up by playing the game. “Each weapon also has bonus stats, which means that leveling up a weapon does not get you a better [overall] weapon. Rather, it lets you skew it towards a specific playstyle. Additionally, some of these weapons replace one skill with another, so you can get even more drastic in terms of how you set up your character.”

Next we discussed teamwork in Smashmuck Champions, specifically the ability of one person to either carry a team or ruin it by being AFK or just a poor player. White explained that they’ve done a couple of things to combat things like toxic players. The first is the game length, which ranges from 5 to 15 minutes. The benefit here is apparent, since a bad player doesn’t have as much time to make problems for their team. “We’ve also put a lot of effort into making sure that new players, even if they’re having a bad first match, can still get that game winning point,” said White. “We’ve been seeing that happen a lot, so we know the balancing is working there.”

We also spent some time talking about the visual style of the game. As the Art Director for the game, White had plenty to share about it. He started off by saying that they wanted to make sure that this wasn’t going to be another fantasy game. ” I really wanted to make sure there was a balance between awesome-looking characters and cute characters,” said White. He explained that it was important to have both so players would be better able to find one that fit them.

We concluded the interview with by discussing White’s current favorite Champion. “I definitely a big fan of ‘Kunak’, our Yeti hunter. He has a little owl side-kick who can harass enemies, but my favorite ability of his is a long-range throw attack with his javelin,” said White. “Anybody in that line that he hits gets pushed, and I don’t play the game to win. I play the game to push people off the ledge and just laugh maniacally. We get a lot of rage quits in the office when I get to playtest!”

As stated before, Smashmuck Champions is  a free-to-play game that is currently accessible through the smashmuck website and can also be found on Steam early access. I had a lot of fun demoing it and recommend giving it a try, after all it won’t cost you anything more than some time; time that will be time well spent!