Feature Article

Forging WeaponLord

The blood-red light of the warrior's moon fills the night sky.

On a warm April night in 1995, two developers reclined on their balcony and stared up into the sky. It was three o'clock in the morning, and a hundred stars stared back as the pair swapped stories of heroic barbarians and monstrous demons. These late-night discussions were common for James Goddard and David Winstead. Together with the team at Visual Concepts, they had spent the past 13 months building a game designed to give Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat a run for their money.

That game was WeaponLord.

Since development began, this one-on-one, weapons-based fighting game consumed Goddard and Winstead's lives from dawn to dusk. When they were not in the office, the two game makers were back at the two-bedroom crash pad they shared with game tester Fred Corchero. Armed with crates of Snapple and Easy Cheese, the three alternated between competitive bouts of Street Fighter and endlessly tuning their usurper to the throne. This is the game they always wanted to make, and each is confident WeaponLord will be more badass than anything the fighting game genre has seen before.

The final draft for WeaponLord's box art by comics artist Simon Bisley.
The final draft for WeaponLord's box art by comics artist Simon Bisley.

Part One: DJAMES and Dr. Dave

Throughout the early 1990's, a lasting divide between Eastern and Western fighting game design was forming. Eastern fighters, such as Street Fighter and The King of Fighters, had a reputation for fast-paced, highly complex play; while Western fighters, such as ClayFighter and Primal Rage, demonstrated a simpler, slower-paced approach. Unless you were Midway, creators of Mortal Kombat, it was suspect to think the West could bottle the technical wizardry of the East. Then along came WeaponLord. Designed by a small team in California, this game sought to combine Eastern complexity and Western brutality into one muscle-bound, broadsword-wielding whole. WeaponLord's creators thought they would conquer the world with this game--but they had to make it first.

"There was no Internet back then," Goddard said, "so if you knew these tricks, such as doing a walking pile drive with Zangief, people thought you were a voodoo priest or something!"

James "DJAMES" Goddard never cheated at Street Fighter, though plenty of people accused him of such. "There was no Internet back then," he said, "so if you knew these tricks, such as doing a walking pile drive with Zangief, people thought you were a voodoo priest or something!" Knowledge was power, and Goddard knew all the tricks. In 1991, he was hired by Capcom, creator of Street Fighter II, as a game tester, and quickly rallied that into an apprenticeship at the company's Japanese offices. He then took that knowledge and worked his way up to support designer and advisor on Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, followed by master game balancer on Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. Goddard was learning from the best, and those lessons would help him immensely when developing WeaponLord.

David "Dr. Dave" Winstead was in the right place at the right time. The time was 1989, and the place was Gary's Game Corner, a locally owned comic book and video game rental shop in Redwood City, California. Not far from Gary's, a little magazine called GamePro was just getting off the ground. The editors would sometimes stop by to peruse the games selection, and Winstead was always there to toss in his two cents. Eventually, this made an impression on Patrick Ferrell, one of the magazine's founders, who tasked Winstead with turning his stream of advice into a few demo articles for the magazine. Before long, the young writer found himself taking screen shots part-time, and eventually becoming a full-time editor.

Then Street Fighter II happened. In 1991, Capcom's breakout fighting game landed in American arcades, jump-started arcade culture, and created the template for a new genre of gaming. Unlike most arcade games, Street Fighter didn't have you compete over a high score. It was direct competition against the person standing next to you, and if you lost, it was because the other person was better, plain and simple. Winstead was enamored. "I told the editors this game was crazy! I'd never played anything like it. You really got this buzz off fighting another person." He knew Capcom had struck gaming gold, and he pushed for coverage in the magazine. After some convincing, his editors relented, and suggested he contact Capcom about purchasing a Street Fighter II arcade board. Given the game's popularity, they were sure to have plenty in stock.

No Caption Provided

Capcom didn't have any in stock. It could barely keep up with orders already because of the game's explosive popularity and didn't have any extras to sell to random magazine editors. But Winstead kept calling, and one day an exasperated Capcom representative handed the phone off to James Goddard. When Goddard learned that he was talking to the Dr. Dave of GamePro magazine, he got an idea. This was a golden opportunity to get arcade coverage in a console magazine. He arranged to get Winstead a board, and in the meantime he invited the writer down to Capcom's offices to check out the latest version of the game. The two hit it off quickly, and within a few days they were meeting regularly to play--and analyze--Street Fighter. They were obsessed.

Roughly a year later, in 1992, Goddard offered Winstead a job working with him at Capcom R&D. The R&D department was currently a one-man operation, and Goddard needed someone who shared his passion for the game and who could help shape its future. Winstead, still early into his career at GamePro, wasn't sure at first, but the other editors encouraged him to follow his dreams and not let this opportunity pass by. After much consideration, Winstead accepted Goddard's offer and Street Fighter became his full-time job. "The work was never done," he said. "We would bring the arcade board with the latest build home, and we'd play religiously three or four hours a night before emailing updated suggestions to Japan."

As the former journalist settled into his new life at Capcom, Goddard was already planning his next move. By 1993, he was becoming frustrated with Capcom's direction for the future of Street Fighter. The 25-year-old developer was ready to try his hand at game design. And Ken Lobb was going to make that happen. Lobb, an employee at Namco, was working on an unannounced project (codenamed "Melee") and encouraged Goddard to join the team. Little did Goddard know this was because Lobb was planning his own move, and when Goddard made the jump, so did Lobb. Melee ended up in Goddard's hands, while Lobb joined Nintendo to develop Killer Instinct.

No Caption Provided

Meanwhile, Winstead remained at Capcom a little longer, helping publish Aliens vs. Predator and other games. But eventually--inevitably--his old friend came calling, and the offer was even more enticing than before. This is our chance, Goddard told him, to finally make a fighting game of our own! This wasn't going to be one of the many copy-cat Street Fighter II clones flooding the market. It was going to have weapons. It was going to be a gritty, "no-bullshit" take on barbarian style. It was going to be their game.

This was an offer Winstead couldn't refuse.

Together again, the duo took stock of their new team. Visual Concepts was known for its work with Electronic Arts on various sports games, including Madden and NHL. Recently, the developer had taken its first, awkward steps into the fighting genre with ClayFighter on the Super Nintendo. Now they were working with Japanese publisher Namco on Melee, a four-player brawler. A handful of Visual Concepts' staff, around 20 people, was assigned to work on the game, and they didn't bat an eye when Goddard proposed taking it in a new direction.

By January of 1994, Melee had been scrapped and development was in full swing for WeaponLord (the project's new codename). However, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. The golden age of the 16-bit game console was waning, and a new technology--3D technology--was on the rise. Change was coming to the realm of video games, and WeaponLord, an original, 2D fighter developed for home consoles, was looking to become the last of its kind. As an American team supported by a Japanese company, Visual Concepts had been granted the leeway to create exactly what they wanted. It was an envious circumstance that would, for better or worse, forge WeaponLord into a fighting game unlike any other.

These early sketches detail Goddard and Winstead's vision for WeaponLord's weapon clashing mechanics.
These early sketches detail Goddard and Winstead's vision for WeaponLord's weapon clashing mechanics.

Part Two: Mountain of Skulls

The roar of rock and roll filled James Goddard and David Winstead's small office at Visual Concepts. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, the two fighting-fanatics-turned-game-developers drummed along with the beat as they pored over WeaponLord's latest incarnation. Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest--these were the game's unofficial soundtrack, and a constant fixture around the office. Around the corner, lead artist Alvin Cardona and his team acted out different attacks using makeshift weapons, while across the hall the two programmers worked tirelessly to compress all this creativity into three tiny megabytes. Development had begun!

One of WeaponLord's first battles.
One of WeaponLord's first battles.

True to its name, WeaponLord's heart was in its weapons. The game was designed to take Street Fighter's fundamentals into uncharted territory. "We were really pushing to keep players at close range," said Winstead, "so we designed the game to make everyone use their weapons as much as possible." Most design sessions between the two developers began with "Wouldn't it be cool if…" and ended with their lead programmer explaining everything that could go wrong. Still, Goddard and Winstead were not deterred, and they continued iterating until they had one of the most complex, and brutal, fighting systems to date. Weapons could collide mid-strike, attacks could be parried and countered, weapons could be broken, and players could strike opponents who were on the ground--these designs were extremely complex for their time, maybe too complex for their own good.

"In the first two weeks after I started on the project we already had a rough skeleton of all the mechanics for the game," said Winstead, "so we were able to start drilling down in the characters right away. Man, I look back on it now and realize, yeah, we really made this game complicated!" WeaponLord demanded precise, calculated play--and gave nothing to button mashers. Victory was never an accident, it was a reward. Goddard and Winstead were confident that seasoned fighting game players would relish the chance to test their skills against this complex game.

Unfortunately, this mentality left a lot of players behind. "All of those systems combined to make an extremely advanced game for 1995," said Goddard. "At the time, my young ego told me, 'Hell yeah, we're designing so many cool mechanics!' but now the 22-year veteran tells me, 'Yeah…that was over design.'" The team wanted to ensure their game wasn't just Street Fighter with swords. So they took every chance they could to put their own spin on genre conventions, such as creating some new command inputs, like holding down a button and then inputting the directions to perform a special move.

"The idea of everything just being a dragon punch or a fireball motion seemed like sacrilege back then," Goddard continued. "Those inputs were just way too common, and it would have felt like ripping off Street Fighter. We wanted to honor Street Fighter by using some original commands--but, of course, the reality is we would have been more accessible if we hadn't. The idea of having to seek knowledge in a fighting game was huge back then, which is part of the reason why WeaponLord was so deep."

No Caption Provided

Goddard wanted WeaponLord to have an art style all its own, something different from the anime style of Street Fighter and other Japanese fighting games; something that could match its bloody, over-the-top action. The answer: barbarians. As a lifelong fan of Conan the Barbarian comics, the movie Highlander, and the artwork of Simon Bisley and Frank Frazetta, Goddard wanted to give the cast of WeaponLord a threatening, hyper-muscular look unlike any other. To help him do that, he found a kindred spirit in Visual Concepts' lead artist, the late Alvin Cardona.

Right out of the gate, Cardona's designs were in line with Goddard's testosterone-fueled vision, and his team rallied behind him. "[Cardona] knew where he wanted to go with this game, and helped us get where we needed to go--he was basically the Hannibal to our A-Team," said artist and animator Omar "Omz" Velasco. "He brought us all together to work on this thing, and was a great leader for us. He was genuinely personable, and helped many young dudes get where they are today. I was lucky to have him as my first [boss]."

That first battle recreated in the final game.
That first battle recreated in the final game.

"We were all really excited to be working on a fighting game that pitted barbarian characters against each other wielding awesome killer weapons," added artist and animator Ray Wong. "I remember there was a wall with a ton of sketches pinned to it. [Cardona] used it to show what final drawings were approved, and maybe some work-in-progress stuff as well, for reference on the game's look. This was an awesome sight to see and inspirational. He set the bar high for everybody to follow when doing the art for the game, and we all did whatever it took to make the best game possible."

Together, Cardona and his team worked through character concepts, sprites, and key animations. Due to cartridge size limitations, they knew WeaponLord was going to be light on the number of frames for each attack animation, so they had to make sure each frame they included looked as cool as possible. This lead to some admittedly outlandish poses, but wasn't an issue as long as the game looked badass. And if anyone ever got stuck on a tricky attack, they could always pop in one of the many martial arts movies littering their area for reference. Either that, or pick up the wooden sword and shield and act out attacks personally.

WeaponLord's arenas needed to be just as violent as the warriors themselves. Working remotely, background painter Glenn Kim painted skull-and-spike-filled stages, including the game's iconic mountain of skulls. However, much to Kim's dismay, his impressive paintings were then scanned and converted into 256-color, 8-bit images. "I didn't even know what that meant at the time," admitted Kim. "I remember when they showed me the first converted image, I said, 'That's what it's going to look like?'"

After being scanned, the backgrounds were handed off to Cardona's team, who then cleaned up the images pixel by pixel, added in animations, and separated the layers--all by hand. Thankfully, for the majority of stages they only had to touch up half of the image, which would then be flipped on the other side to make it appear whole. "It must have been a very meticulous, painful process," Kim said. "Had I known all that was going on, I would have kept the details much simpler. But even after the first one, no one said, 'Glenn, you have to dial it back,' so I just went for it all gung ho!" Below is a gallery of Kim's concept art for WeaponLord's backgrounds.

Part Three: Drunk on No Sleep

As WeaponLord's art came together, the designs were then shipped to the game's composer, Brian Schmidt, who worked remotely from Chicago. A Visual Concepts veteran, Schmidt took one look at these threatening images and knew exactly what they needed. "They looked very big and dark and muscular," he said, "so I wanted to give them a sort of heavy rock feel, but with an orchestral feel in the background and a bit of chanting. It honestly didn't take a lot of time to decide on the style of music."

Schmidt would begin a composition in complete silence using pencil and paper. "When I had something I was happy with, I'd go to my midi synthesizer and tweak the piece to match the Super Nintendo's capabilities. In the case of the Genesis, I didn't use midi. I used a text editor I'd written that could interpret these text music files and compile them down into something the Genesis could play." The finished tracks were then sent back to Visual Concepts' HQ and became an instant hit. The heavy drum beats and wailing guitar gave each fight a threatening energy that fit perfectly with WeaponLord's style.

"We mixed the music down a little lower than is typical for a fighting game. That let the music beat deep and heavy without stepping on the sound effects."

But the sound effects weren't fitting. The game's emphasis on weapon clashes demanded that the sounds of metal-on-metal violence be perfect. "The problem is, if you record a sword hitting something else, it actually sounds kind of wimpy," Schmidt said. To find that perfect sound, the composer was forced to try some unexpected combinations. "Some of the final weapon sounds came from a metal nail file hitting a pizza pan--it's all trial and error. You bang two objects together, pitch the sound down, stretch it out, and manipulate it into something that's, well, badass!"

No Caption Provided

Six months into development, production on WeaponLord was proceeding smoothly. Everything--characters, stages, music--was at a sufficient level of badassness. But there was one lingering problem that kept rearing its ugly head: cartridge size. WeaponLord was being developed for a 24-megabit cartridge--roughly the size of a modern MP3 file--which made compressing a serious challenge. To make matters worse, Goddard wanted huge character sprites that dwarfed the genre's standard, which only compounded the size issue.

No Caption Provided

"People always wondered why the characters were so big," Goddard said. "That's because we wanted larger-sized characters to help put the focus on weapon-to-weapon clashing." In order to see the weapons clash onscreen, they needed to be big, which meant they needed to be wielded by even bigger warriors. "It was a technical feat to jump from 90 pixels tall to 120 pixels tall--and still run at 60 frames per second! Later on we realized at 24 megabits we were maxed out on space; we just couldn't add any more characters. That's why our dudes have a ton of moves, to make up for the fact there are only seven characters."

Upgrading to a 32-megabit cartridge was an option, and would have solved a lot of problems, but it was ultimately deemed too expensive to be practical. Visual Concepts had to make do with what it had, which generated no shortage of troubles for the team's two programmers: Steven Chiang and Aki Rimpilainen. Chiang was on staff from the beginning and was intimately familiar with the Super Nintendo's limitations. "The SNES had this sprite draw limit," he explained, "and if you exceeded the number of hardware sprites, they wouldn't draw, leaving 'holes' in the characters. A couple of us built a tool to hand-optimize the sprites within a character, and I'm pretty sure I hand-optimized the sprites in every frame of animation for every character to avoid hardware sprite draw limitations."

In addition to combating hardware limitations, Chiang was helping Goddard and Winstead design WeaponLord's fighting mechanics. "Part of the tool system I had to create was building break points into our animations. So, on the back half of this swing, I'd insert this break point, and if you already had a special command queued up, the game would cut off that swing's animation and go into your other command." The three then worked together to adjust the timing of attacks so players could combo them together, but not too easily. They then had to hand-draw, and redraw, collision rectangles for each attack. "It had to be just right. If you were off a pixel, it could be the difference between being balanced or broken."

"More programmers back then didn't have a formal education--they grew up hacking the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 and later on used those skills to make video games," said Rimpilainen.

Rimpilainen joined the team partway through development to bring WeaponLord to the Genesis. "The SNES version looked better overall--it had more colors and better audio capability--but the Sega Genesis hardware had a more modern CPU, which I took advantage of by scaling everything down: audio sample rates, color depth for characters and backgrounds, etc. This made the Genesis version run faster than the SNES version, and I was able to add in some dynamic environments as well as using the extra CPU time."

Having only two full-time programmers on staff might not seem like a lot, but as Rimpilainen explained, that was really all you needed. "Back in the '90s, one or two engineers could handle all the programming for a game. Now it's common to have five to 10 per game. Back then we used assembly language instead of a complied, higher-level language such as C++. Coding in assembly is incredibly tedious, but also rewarding since you know exactly what the CPU is doing. Perhaps partly due to this, more programmers back then didn't have a formal education--they grew up hacking the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 and later on used those skills to make video games."

James Goddard (left) and Steven Chiang (right) take weapon-on-weapon clashing very seriously.
James Goddard (left) and Steven Chiang (right) take weapon-on-weapon clashing very seriously.

As New Year's Eve came and went, and WeaponLord passed its one-year development mark, spirits were running high at Visual Concepts. The game had a clearly defined vision, and everyone was excited to see it brought to life. During their off-time, Goddard would round up as many co-workers as he could for a monthly pilgrimage to the Sunnyvale Golfland arcade, where they honed their skills in the latest fighting games. One evening they gathered for a very disappointing Highlander: The Final Dimension screening, and later for a very exciting Star Trek: Voyager kickoff party. The hours were long, but also a lot of fun.

For Goddard, long hours meant long nights passed out on the air mattress propped up behind his desk. "There was this rush of building a game with your own hands; it was real exciting and pushed me to just keep going. We were just this young team trying to kick ass and do an awesome barbarian game. In fact, I remember not leaving the office for three days straight--it was that insane! That three-night run was a big turning point: when your boss shows up and then sleeps on the floor alongside you, that is what cements your relationship with the team." After the night was done, Goddard would simply tilt his air mattress back against the wall and go right back to work.

Some nights were crazier than others. "James and I would actually do these late-night karaoke sessions in the office," admitted Winstead. "You know, when you've been working all night and it's three in the morning, sometimes you just go a little cuckoo and need to unwind. James had this three-disc boom box with detachable speakers and a microphone jack in the front, and we used to put on Dio's "Holy Diver" and all kinds of other crazy crap. Of course, we just substituted all the words with our own words since we were basically both drunk on no sleep. It was terrible, and crazy, and fun."

Part Four: Pending Collapse

Jeff Anderson was glad he didn't have to break into WeaponLord's source code--the creators had offered to do it for him. As a game cracker for Catapult Entertainment, it was his job to reverse-engineer Super Nintendo games to make them compatible with the company's online multiplayer service, XBAND. The XBAND modem docked with games similar to a Game Genie, and for a monthly fee, players could compete with people across the country. This was no small technical feat for the team at Catapult.

"Essentially, there were a few small windows in a game's code where you could insert code overlaying what was on the cartridge without the game realizing it," explained Anderson. "For example, when the game would check for the input of the second player's controller, we would intercept that command and route it to the player inputs coming from our modem. We would then have to buffer the inputs from the local player for a few frames to ensure both games coincided with each other."

Goddard and Winstead were already intimately familiar with XBAND, having spent countless hours in online matches back at the crash pad. They knew online play was the future and were willing to tweak their game for its online debut. "Knowing we were going to have a quarter-second lag from New York to California, we realized we couldn't have any startup frames on our thrust blocks," Goddard stated. "We also added cross-up protection by designing a rising thrust block that would counter those attacks easily." Of course, there were other issues the pair couldn't account for. "After a match, anyone could just hit *69 and call you on the phone," Winstead said. "We ended up getting a lot of trash talk that way!"

No Caption Provided

"Struck down by the hand of Korr, the great demon lord Zarak is dead. Bathed in the blood red light of the warrior's moon, the barbarian raises his weapon to the gods. As the power surges through Korr's veins, the voices of a thousand dead heroes chant his name. The battle cry of the weaponlord echoes across the lands… The prophecy has been fulfilled!!"

By April of 1995, Visual Concepts was feeling the pressure. WeaponLord's July release date was fast approaching, and there was still so much to fit into the game--including a story mode. The scene above from Korr's story mode ending perfectly captures the savage tone Goddard and Winstead were striving for. "The story didn't really take shape until the very end," said Goddard. "We were smart about making sure not to take focus away from the core game." WeaponLord's story was split between its two primary modes: arcade mode, which gave insight into a character's past, and story mode, which told what happened after the game ended.

No Caption Provided
WeaponLord at E3 1995.
WeaponLord at E3 1995.

While story mode survived the cut, another critical mode did not: training mode. For a game this complex, the team knew some sort of instruction would be vital in helping new players adjust. Though it never made it past the concept stages, WeaponLord's training mode would have run players through 20 lessons on the game's mechanics--from simple weapon clashes all the way up to its graduating lesson: death combos. However, memory limitations were already getting squeezed as far as they could, and the team was running short on time. Training mode was cut, but the work invested would find a second life in another Namco fighter. For now, however, Visual Concepts had other matters to worry about. A new trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, was coming up, and it sounded like it was going to be pretty rad.

E3 1995 was an electric time in gaming. 3D graphics were the next big thing, and everyone was excited to see where they would take the industry. During Sony's keynote address--in which it announced its PlayStation console--Olaf Olafsson, president of Sony Electronic Publishing, said, "In the 16-bit past, technology suddenly got us closer to achieving [the industry's] creative goals, but not nearly close enough. This is evident by the pending collapse of the 16-bit platforms, which we're all witnessing much faster than anyone anticipated."

"Pending collapse." These were ominous words that hung over the show's 2D attractions, including EarthBound, Castlevania: Dracula X, and Killer Instinct. At Namco's booth, Goddard and Winstead were witnessing this change up close. WeaponLord had an attractive display--including an amazingly awesome/awkward live-action trailer--but was also sharing space with another new Namco fighter: Tekken. Tekken was 3D, it was fast, and anyone could pick it up and start mashing out combos. WeaponLord wore its difficulty on its sleeve, which created some issues when giving quick show-floor demos.

"People would then come up and try to mash away on WeaponLord," said Goddard, "and I would have to stop them and demonstrate how to play. That was the first indication that maybe our game was too hardcore." Goddard and Winstead were working in shifts on the show floor and taking notes on all the feedback they received. This was the game's first public showing, and they wanted to collect as much data as possible. "When they saw the weapon clashing, that's when their eyes lit up, and the death combos as well had people going, 'Holy crap!'"

The two developers returned from E3 with a difficult choice to make. Attendees had consistently stated that WeaponLord was "too slow." Would the team ignore this feedback and move forward on schedule, or take extra time to retune the mechanics? Always one to put fan feedback first, Goddard chose to take an extra month to make changes. "We lessened hit pause as combos progress, speeding them up about 10 percent as you go through a combo, and sped up the game 5 percent overall." With these last-minute adjustments made, the game was ready for manufacture--it was ready to go gold.

No Caption Provided

However, that extra month in development ended up costing WeaponLord immensely.

WeaponLord reviews from Game Informer (top) and GameFan (bottom).
WeaponLord reviews from Game Informer (top) and GameFan (bottom).

"Back in the '90s, going gold was a big deal," said Schmidt. "You couldn't do a patch or a downloadable update; that was it. The game was burned into ROMs and set forth for all time." And so, after 19 long months of development, WeaponLord was submitted for approval from Nintendo and Sega. The game earned a clean bill of health--no bugs--which raised the team's spirits, but then came the gut punch: Sega was short on 24-bit cartridges. Just like that, Goddard's one month delay ballooned into a three-month nightmare. As the industry raced toward its 3D future, Weaponlord was forced to wait. "Everything just stalled out," Goddard admitted. "After all that time--all that work--the game was just out of our hands."

With nothing left to do for the game, the team at Visual Concepts withdrew for some much-deserved R&R. "We were so beat, we all scattered to our various locations and disappeared off into the blue yonder," said Rimpilainen. "We came back roughly three weeks later wondering if we'd sold any copies." They had, but not nearly what they'd hoped. The three-month delay from August to October of '95 meant WeaponLord was released against Killer Instinct and Sony's revolutionary PlayStation console. The game was supposed to ship 750,000 units to retailers, but after the delay, that number dropped to 200,000 units. It enjoyed (mostly) favorable reviews from the press, but simply got lost in the shuffle.

Despite its devastating impact, the team knew the cartridge shortage alone wasn't to blame for WeaponLord's performance. "I think when we aimed for hardcore, and hit it on the head, that was ultimately WeaponLord's biggest success, and also its biggest downfall," explained test and design apprentice Fred Corchero. "We were too close to the project. Playing it as much as we did and bringing in tournament players to test it heavily influenced the tuning and balancing of the game. WeaponLord was hard because that was the game we wanted to play. It was too hardcore for mainstream players. That was a hard lesson to learn as a designer, but I'm glad I learned it early in my career."

"That was the fun of it, in a way, because none of us really knew what we were doing," Kim added. "We were just doing what we thought was cool. There were no hard-and-fast rules on how to make a fighting game--or any video game. We didn't have all this data. It was just, 'This is what we want to make. I don't care. Let's do it!' That was the attitude back then, and it was my attitude as an illustrator."

No Caption Provided

In the tightly knit community of fighting games, each game has an impact. Some make a big splash that quickly fizzles out, while others--like WeaponLord--cause a tiny ripple that carries out for miles. Visual Concepts didn't conquer the world with this game, but it certainly made a lasting impression. Years later, Winstead repurposed the game's scrapped training mode for Tekken 2. And it's hard to deny that the guard impacts and parries from Soul Edge and Street Fighter III, respectively, bear a striking resemblance to this game's hit-deflecting thrust blocks.

But what's most impressive is that today--nearly 20 years later--WeaponLord still enjoys a cult following in forum posts within the fighting game community and across the Internet, a fact that makes the developers extremely proud. "A few years back I was working at a company that had a gladiator game in the works, and 'leaked' a really blurry image to see how it would resonate with players," said Corchero. "We were following the thread at work, and someone mentioned 'Weaponlord 2' as a guess. The thread turned into a plea for WeaponLord 2. It was very bittersweet to see that there were people that wanted it, but knowing that it wasn't the answer to our blurry picture."

Perhaps, one day, the warrior's moon will come out again.

"Korr returns to his people, the Tarok. His days of wandering and fighting in the combat arenas are over. With his great victory, Korr's soul is finally at ease. He can now prepare to assume leadership of the tribe. Only one thing in life troubles Korr. There is still no word of his twin brother, Kang. One day, they will meet again. Korr prays it will not be in battle."

This article is dedicated to the memory of Alvin Cardona. Thanks again to all the WeaponLord team members who let me harass them with questions over and over, including game tester Ben Cureton whose interview I didn't have space to use. In addition, if you're curious why there has never been a WeaponLord 2, I spoke with the team about that as well.

No Caption Provided

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Back To Top
163 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for skorpiqn
SKORPIQN

WeaponLord needs a HD remake or a true update. 90's games like this rocked, Eternal Champions, Primal Rage, Samurai Showdown, Killer Instinct & Mortal Kombat come to mind.... these games were brutal, dark, had amazing soundtracks and stand the test of time. Kids today have no idea what they missed out on, because everything is overly kiddy, cartoony and friendly in today's age with the ESRB around.

Avatar image for petran78
petran78

Does anyone remember Barbarian? A similar game on computers in the late 80s. at that game also both swords would clash. Barbarian 2 was very different though. Weapon Lord looks like its spiritual successor

But it had the best scene in any fighting game. if you decapitate the opponent, an imp goes to take the body and kicks the head away!

Avatar image for spideyj08
spideyj08

wow, that was a great read, i never got to experience any gaming back then, but by the end of this write up i felt i lived through it all. thanks

Avatar image for julianozuca
julianozuca

I hope this helps such an amazing lost gem to be re-released, re-made, re-hashed, whatever... :P There's so much crap being thrown at us lately, why not ressurecting a genuinely interesting IP?

Avatar image for skorpiqn
SKORPIQN

@julianozuca Absolutely!

Avatar image for darnzyo
darnzyo

Great article, Maxwell.

A detailed development history of other classic games would be fantastic. It doesn't have to be purely fighting games unless you want to look exclusively at that genre. I would enjoy a diverse selection of games researched in similar fashion.

Thanks again for this one :)

Avatar image for spectreSE7EN
spectreSE7EN

My brother and I played the hell out of this game. Korr was my favorite. Great game. There were more fluid fighters at the time for sure, but for me, it was always about the concept and the atmosphere that made this game what it was. This game introduced unique weapons to each character which really wasn't done by many fighters at the time. Awesome article and it brought back many memories for me.

Avatar image for Sux138
Sux138

I've played this game back in the day on the genesis; it was pretty shitty. And Slow. Remember King of Fighers 95, NeoGeo was flying miles above this.

Avatar image for Maxwell
Maxwell

I've noticed a lot of you asking about WeaponLord 2, so I put together a quick blog post detailing what Goddard and Winstead would like to see in a sequel.

Avatar image for Sikrion
Sikrion

Hi I'm grumps

Avatar image for 3v1LR0n1N
3v1LR0n1N

I played this as a kid... i always loved the idea but hated the execution. the controls were too stiff for my liking... well compared to other fighting games at the time, and quite frankly i got bored real fast with it.... I did like the art style though thats what drew me to rent it lol

Avatar image for Klyern
Klyern

HOW DAFUQ DID I MISS THIS GAME

Avatar image for trivolution
trivolution

The 90's where games were made by developers owned by developers and not by businessmen.

Avatar image for shmuppafromhell
shmuppafromhell

@trivolution And when you bought a game, you knew for sure you were actually getting the whole game. We'll always have the memories.

Avatar image for blackace
blackace

I still have the SNES version. It's like brand new. The game is kind of hard to find now. You'll have to pay over $50 for a complete version of the game, but can get the cartridge by itself for under $20. The game was excellent for it's time. One of the best fighters for the SNES. I would love for them to make a sequel for the new generation consoles. I'd definitely buy it.

Avatar image for The__Haunted
The__Haunted

thank you for this amazing article! I play the game almost everyday on my psp when I use the bathroom, always testing longest strings and death combos. I bought the snes version back then and I won't forget the first time I played it and got my @ss handed over by Divada, I was like wtf this is the easy mode?!?

Avatar image for shantd
shantd

I'd never heard of this game but thanks to a well researched and well written article, I'll always appreciate the work that went into WeaponLord. Terrific article Max, thanks.

Avatar image for Atalalama
Atalalama

I occasionally still break out my SNES cart of this game.

<3

Avatar image for MaxBlaze
MaxBlaze

I recently played through this via the Fusion emulator. Very awesome game. Brings me back to the 90s. I wish there were more games with this level of badass artwork in them today. Very creative and cool looking.

Avatar image for Rimshot42
Rimshot42

Goddard looks like Kenny Powers lol

Avatar image for shantd
shantd

@Rimshot42 LOL I was thinking the exact same thing.

Avatar image for DSkinMasque
DSkinMasque

Great read. A game head of it's time.

Avatar image for Ten_Tigers
Ten_Tigers

I would sacrifice every last one of you on a mountain of skulls for a new Weapon Lord game.

Avatar image for Neo_Sarevok
Neo_Sarevok

Soon as I saw the artwork, I instantly remembered this game; however, I never played it back then because there were too many fighting game clones. To name a few, there was Clay Fighter, Primal Rage, Killer Instinct, Rise of the Robots, TMNT Tournament Fighters, and yes, even Shaq Fu. This genre was beaten to death so bad, the instant I saw anything resembling a 2-D fighter, I was turned off.

Avatar image for Maxwell
Maxwell

Wow, I'm glad to see so many of you enjoyed this article! I wasn't sure if anyone would actually give a flip about WeaponLord since it's not that well known, but I'm glad to see I was wrong. If you all want to see more articles like this, let me know which classic fighter game I should look into next.

Avatar image for powerdesignkid
powerdesignkid

@Maxwell I liked WeaponLord but I loved the article because it was insightful, informative, and interesting. You did actual in-depth reporting and produced an article worth reading. That is quite an achievement for a site known for shallow soundbites and slanted stories. Kudos!

Avatar image for Grizzmeister
Grizzmeister

You wrote a very good article about a spectacular game.

By virtue of being an uncompromising game Weaponlord has secured itself a place in video game history. Hopefully we can get an HD remix or better yet a true sequel.

BTW, thanks for letting some us know that Alvin Cardona passed away. Your article was a fitting tribute.

Avatar image for StonerDemon
StonerDemon

@Maxwell Maxwell, now that you're posting this article, maybe you can help us to know a little about some very, very obscure PS launch games. These games were supposed to rock the launch of the Playstation, but I never knew anything new about them. I'm talking about Team 47 Go-Man and Razorwing. Do you know them?

Avatar image for Maxwell
Maxwell

@StonerDemon No, I've never heard of either of those games before, and Google so far has not been much help...

Avatar image for DSkinMasque
DSkinMasque

@Maxwell @StonerDemon Thrill Kill.

Avatar image for DSkinMasque
DSkinMasque

@StonerDemon @Maxwell That's a great idea! Perhaps you will also gives us other cancelled PS1 fighting games like that one with the dominatrix in hell? :D

Avatar image for StonerDemon
StonerDemon

@DSkinMasque @StonerDemon @Maxwell You mean Cardinal Syn, I guess! How about a heavy metal fighting game? I'd love to see Ozzy VS Rob Halford, or maybe Lemmy VS Tom Araya!

Avatar image for Giancarlo
Giancarlo

@Maxwell Sonic The Fighters

Avatar image for JURGMANDR
JURGMANDR

Great article. Too bad I'd never heard of this game before. :(

Avatar image for alien33
alien33

@JURGMANDR I had read about this game on the GamePro magazine (summer 1995), but I never had the chance to play it too.

Avatar image for dantesergei
dantesergei

@alien33 @JURGMANDR

Hey i have that magazine still, though i never had the chance to play the game.

Avatar image for alien33
alien33

Great article, brought back many good memories from the 90s. Good job Maxwell!!

Avatar image for skunknuts
skunknuts

Great article, Maxwell, and very complete with the music tracks and artwork. I REALLY hope we get to see more of these.

Avatar image for hitomo
hitomo

its like a 16bit prototype of SoulCalibour, really ... but lackluster overall

Avatar image for kuda001
kuda001

Saw this game on Game Grumps and it looked kinda okay. Still would have preferred the usual Street Fighter, MK and TMNT: Tournament Fighters. Couldn't play Killer Instinct well and Rise of the Robots was alright but forgettable.

Avatar image for Badmutha
Badmutha

@kuda001 I made the unfortunate decision to buy Rise of the Robots on 3DO back in the day... Regret the game, and deeply regret the system.

Avatar image for diabolik_023
diabolik_023

interesting

Avatar image for Smokescreened84
Smokescreened84

Can't say I know the game, I might have seen something about it in the past but with so many games and so many fighting games that were very much the same as one another then it likely didn't register much with me.


A remake might do well, maybe, if they can make it different enough to stand out amid fighting games like Injustice, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and more.

Avatar image for Tanares
Tanares

Never got the chance to play it...

Avatar image for Ranma_X_basic
Ranma_X_basic

I think i vaugely remember this game. i never played it or owned a copy but i remember it and it looked pretty cool. i should try and find this game and buy it since i still own my snes.

shame this title never received a sequel.

Avatar image for kingman_73
kingman_73

We made an episode of this game on my youtube channel over 2 years ago. I love this game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CtK7AVH9Bk

Avatar image for Johny_47
Johny_47

Looks like Goro from the insect World =P

Avatar image for Rubberninja
Rubberninja

I am 40 this year, and a hardcore fighting game fan. . . I played this game when it first came out on my SNES. . . and to this day I still tell my fighting game friends (and now my 15 year old son) that this was the best game I ever played. The mechanics and skill of Street Fighter and the gore of Mortal Kombat. Thank you for this article that highlights a legendary game that the majority of today's gamers have never heard about.

Avatar image for deathblow3
deathblow3

@Rubberninja man i used to love this game may get a used snes and acopy just to play again

Avatar image for GSyyMega_LoseryyGS
GSyyMega_LoseryyGS

thoroughly enjoyed this epic article.