For a game set in the future, Capsule Force dwells an awful lot on the past. Veterans of the Sega-Nintendo console wars will feel right at home with the game’s chiptune soundtrack, and its big-headed characters evoke ‘80s space anime like Star Blazers and Robotech. The title’s retro appeal goes beyond mere aesthetics: for the full experience, players will have to squeeze onto the same couch and play together in person, just like the old days.
Capsule Force is part of a resurgence of couch-based multiplayer, which fell out of favor when Xbox Live popularized online play on consoles in 2002. The PlayStation 4 is leading the local multiplayer renaissance, with titles like TowerFall Ascension and Paperbound already on the market, and many others waiting in the wings.
In the age of online gaming, local multiplayer feels quaint, but it helps sell Capsule Force as a retro experience. “Most of our lessons came from older arcade games,” says Kat Wenske, sound designer at Klobit Games and one of the three members of the Capsule Force development team. “We wanted something that is quick to pick up and play, but requires skill to master.”
From all indications, the Klobit team is on the right track. As Wenske explains, “Capsule Force has three main goals: destroy your opponent, ride the tram, and collect the capsule.” Players are dropped into one of eight arenas, where they must force their way into an enemy base by riding on moving platforms. Get deep enough into the base, and you’ll find a capsule. Grab the capsule, and you win.
That’s easier said than done. The opposing team is trying to do the same thing, and Capsule Force matches quickly devolve into a turf-based tug-of-war. Combat is fast, frantic, and supremely deadly, and every screen is loaded with traps and obstacles designed to halt players’ progress. Ultimately, the game looks something like a mix between Super Smash Bros. and Mega Man, combining strategic multiplayer combat with unforgiving old-school platforming.
True to its old-school arcade roots, the title was designed to be a competitive game first and a single-player experience second. “Because both teams have the same goal … rounds have a lot of intense back-and-forth gameplay,” Wenske says. The game changes depending on how many players are involved: “One versus one is perfect for honing your skills,” Wenske says. “Team dynamics are key in two versus two, and two versus one introduces a unique challenge, as the tram runs at full speed for the solo player.” While there is a 32-mission single-player campaign, the game is really best enjoyed with a group of friends.
“Capsule Force’s sound design and composition focus on evoking a sense of nostalgia,” explains Wenske. Angela Zavala’s pixel art characters harken back to the old Sega Genesis games that inspired Eric and Kat Wenske to found Klobit in the first place. Even the story trades on its retro appeal: on the official PlayStation blog, a brief introduction to the game begins, “It is the year 1999. It is the future.”
Still, Wenske notes, while the Klobit team “wanted to capture the essence of the 16-bit era,” Capsule Force isn’t “tied down [by]its limitations.” The sound and music are recorded using present-day software like Pro Tools and Cubase, and Wenske says that the game’s “sound effects actually have whispers of modern elements,” including current-day “objects, machinery, and nature sounds.” Similarly, the tech powering the game is all modern. Lead engineer Eric Wenske wrote a custom game engine using the Microsoft XNA platform, while MonoGame is used to bring the game to non-PC platforms like the PlayStation 4.
Wenske isn’t worried about the game’s retro stylings alienating newer players, either. The title uses a modern control scheme, with analog stick-based aiming that would’ve been impossible on retro controllers, and Wenske is confident that “the twitch-based nature and overall pacing of Capsule Force appeal to both those [who]find the aesthetics appealing and audiences that enjoy modern games.”
Once Capsule Force launches in summer 2015, don’t expect Klobit to deviate from its old-school focus. While the studio’s next project hasn’t been announced yet, Wenske urges gamers to “stay tuned for more awesome ‘80s and ‘90s anime and video game aesthetics!” The Klobit team are clearly doing what they love, and if that passion translates to the game itself, then Capsule Force could be a treat not just for nostalgic older gamers, but for youngsters in search of something “new” as well.