Sony announced today that former Capcom community manager and special combat adviser Seth Killian is joining their Santa Monica team as lead game designer. Apart from promoting Capcom's many fighters, Killian is also the co-founder of the Evolution Championship Series (or EVO), a yearly fighting game tournament held in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had the opportunity to speak with him about his new position, his thoughts on the upcoming PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, and indie fighter Divekick.
Seth Killian, Lead Game Designer, Sony Santa Monica
What is your new, official title within Sony Santa Monica Studio? What are your new responsibilities?
I'm the lead game designer for Sony Santa Monica's external group. That means I work on design with Sony's outside studios, which includes groups like Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan), ThatGameCompany (Journey), SuperBot (PlayStation All-Stars), Queasy (Sound Shapes), and many more. The games I'll be working on are themselves very different, so I expect the responsibilities to change correspondingly between, for example, a fighting game and a platformer, but overall I'll be working with the teams on all design and creative aspects of the projects.
What prompted your decision to leave Capcom? After devoting so many years of life to that company I'm sure it was not something you settled upon lightly.
Capcom was (and is) very close to my heart. The teams there have been extremely gracious with me, and showed a great deal of trust in me to work on the fighting titles specifically. Towards the end of my time, that trust extended to titles even outside of the fighting genre, but to focus purely on the design side at Capcom would have required that I move to Japan full time, which wasn't a path for me (also, my Japanese is really, really bad).
Why did you decide to join Sony Santa Monica? Had you considered other developers?
I've been lucky enough to have a variety of interesting opportunities, but the decision to join Sony Santa Monica came down to the people and the projects. Frankly, I think they're one of the best-kept secrets in the industry--everyone knows their work from AAA giants like God of War to more personal games like The Unfinished Swan, but I don't think people realize so many of these great projects are coming through the same studio. Also, between the internal group working on God of War and externals like SuperBot, they're loaded with fantastic combat designers, who make me feel right at home. They speak my language.
What lessons from Capcom will you be bringing into your new role at Sony Santa Monica?
One of my key takeaways was that attention to detail--right down to individual frames, a super-crisp responsive feeling, or a piece of key music--is what can elevate a good or decent game to real greatness that people will remember or play for years. If you think about why Facebook paid a billion dollars for Instagram with so many other similar photo-sharing apps around, even if that's an extreme example, it's a very clear illustration of how important the little differences in products are to people who use them a lot. I'd like to apply that same level of craft in my future Santa Monica Studio games.
Why did you decide to stay in the video game industry? Do you think you'll ever return to your life as a teacher?
I've given a lot of talks at game design programs at different colleges and even had some invitations to teach game courses, and while it's something I'd love to do someday, I still feel there's a lot to do in making games directly. With more and different kinds of people getting into development, and easier access to the relevant tools, I actually think that right now is the most exciting time in the history of games.
Who do you see as the greatest competition for Sony PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal?
Frankly, it's greatest competition is itself. There's inspiration from games like Smash Bros. and Marvel vs. Capcom, but it's a fundamentally different kind of experience. The core is definitely there, and it's got that infectiously fun quality that makes you want to play again immediately after a match ends (I haven't mashed so hard on the countdown timer since SF2!), so I think its success will come down to people giving it a chance to win their hearts.
You would obviously be missing out on a lot if you dismissed, say, a King of Fighters or a Mortal Kombat as "just Street Fighter with some different stuff," so I'm hopeful that people will take a second to really understand all the amazing stuff the SuperBot team has poured into All-Stars so far. It's got a fundamentally different approach to the genre in some respects, but one that creates a ton of interesting situations and new ways to think.
Between Persona 4 Arena, Injustice, SFXT, Smash Bros., and PlayStation All-Stars, many developers are turning to existing IPs to support their fighting games. Do you see this as a continuing trend, and what is preventing more completely original fighters?
A great IP is always helpful in the marketplace, and iconic characters can even inspire designers, but to me it's really the mechanics that define a fighter. From that perspective, some of the mechanics in original IP fighting games are actually more conservative than the sequels or the games using licenses. All-Stars definitely has a lot of fan-service IP from the Sony universe, but it's core gameplay is something we haven't seen anywhere before.
Harada-san recently responded to some very vocal fans through Twitter about their concerns with the Tekken voice actors. As someone who has worked closely with the community, where do you draw the line between what the community wants and what is best for the game?
You'll never be able to please 100 percent of everyone, but ideally those things are very close. The community in my mind are your biggest and smartest fans, so if you're doing something they really dislike, you should reconsider your position as a developer. If you still feel an unpopular direction is the best one for the game, ideally you could explain those choices to the people they affect, but you are responsible to do what you believe in your heart is best for the product. It's a relationship that requires trust in both directions, but as long as both sides are working with the best interests of the game in mind, something good always comes out of the dialogue.
What are your plans for EVO this year--both as a part of Sony Santa Monica and for you personally? Any potential matchups you're especially hyped for?
Justin Wong has been looking stronger than I've seen him in years and actually beat Daigo at CEO's recent Street Fighter finals. I'm a romantic when it comes to this stuff, so I'd love to see Justin face down one of the all-time greats in the final match and come out on top. It may be a long shot, but I'd love to see it, and it would be an amazing cap to Street Fighter's 25th anniversary.
So, Divekick, what do you think?
Great mix of simple controls, deep gameplay, conceptual elegance, and just plain fun. I think it's got a bright future.