We're in a lobby of sorts, hurtling through the sky at breakneck speed towards the ground below. James Silva, Ska Studios' self-described 'lead dishwasher', is showing me the team's latest offering. After choosing our characters, we fall to our deaths among dilapidated urban brownstones. ‘This block is actually based on an area of Scotia, New York, where I’m from. That movie theater right there? That is inspired by Scotia Cinema on Mohawk Avenue'. EMTs arrive to defibrillate our broken bodies back to life. So begins my hands-on with with co-op brawler Charlie Murder.
Our conversation begins innocently enough, and I inquire about how the development process has been coming along. 'We started about four years ago, but have been working on it in earnest for around two and a half years. We’re–'
I have accidentally hit a button and subsequently curb-stomped an adversary, ejecting his brain through his eyes. Somewhat understandably, James breaks mid-flow.
‘Did you notice the eyeballs?! A brain and two eyeballs came out! How a brain comes out so neatly is… well, I guess it's science.’
Whether demons are ripping off the faces of their hapless victims, or someone's internal organs are being ejected, everything in Charlie Murder is over-the-top, pushed to the edge of reason. It is gratuitous for sure, but never less than comically so, drawing parallels with gory B-movie classics such as The Evil Dead movies.
It's not all stomping and face removal, however. I collect some yeast. A bizarre power-up, perhaps?
'That’s a beer-crafting ingredient.' James clarifies, 'You can use them to craft beer, which then lets you permanently increase your stats. Michelle [Ska's lead artist and James' wife] and I wanted to add beer crafting because we'd love to get into homebrewing beer. So far, this is the closest we've come.'
When not embroiled in the beer-crafting minigame, players can collect food as well as clothing and other such equipment to improve their character's stats. Some of it is frankly ingenious. "Hats will typically grant you stronger magic. You know, since they keep your head warm."
Behind its blood-soaked façade, Charlie Murder is not only charming but also surprisingly in-depth. The rabbit holes in the game are as surprising as they are hilarious. I soon meet another of the game's identifying features: Smartphones. Using the directional pad, players can access a variety of inspired features. James explains:
“If you hit Up on the pad, you can check your current level progression through our social networking site, Squ.iddl.us. The more followers you have, the higher your level. If you hit Right, you can check your emails, which serve as documentation for the various items in the game. Down brings up the camera. If you take pictures of your fellow teammates, you can unlock buttons which are punk-rock relics and grant passive status effects, such as +5 damage.”
For a game so superficially silly, there is a surprising level of complexity. James sums it up as 'a dumb brawler made deep.' They have even coined a term for the nascent genre: A 'brawl playing game', or Brawl-PG.
'We spent a whole lot of time putting a huge range of stuff into it. There are weapons, clothing, beer-crafting ingredients, oh and tattoos. Wanna go get tattoos?'
Of course we do. Blank though my own canvas may be, I must confess that I have always been curious about getting ink done. We find a local tattoo artist, and hold down X to start the buzz of the needle.
'Once you get a tattoo, your shirt disappears. You can put it back on through your inventory, but I mean, when you’ve got tattoos, you wanna show them off.'
I ask why the game centers around this punk-rock theme, if that touches on some aspect of James' formative years.
'Oh, for sure. I was in a band back in high school. It’s a teenage phase, but there’s a bunch of interesting culture to it. My musical skills didn’t improve with my age to the point where I could be in a band now. I played drums then, and have learned guitar since, but there's no way I could be in a band now. So yeah, Charlie Murder is something of a homage to those days. When you didn’t have to be good at playing music to be in a band.'
While the game looks and feels ready to release, it is a complicated time to be launching on current generation hardware. Will Charlie Murder make it to Xbox, or is it set for the next-generation?
'It’s coming to Xbox Live Arcade... It’s certainly not coming to PS4... Currently, it’s just the Xbox 360. We’ll be coming out before then [Xbox One], I think. '
I see James visibly searching his brain for the magical PR phrase. I lend him a hand: Is he not talking about it right now?
'Yes! To reiterate: ‘talking about it’ is not what is happening!'
Charlie Murder is currently still in development and is scheduled for release on Xbox 360.
This interview with James Silva was conducted by Christopher Floyd on March 23, 2013 at PAX East. It may not be reposted in its entirety without permission.