Interview

Click Em’, Sock Em’: Exploring Volta-X’s Inner Mecha Combat Workings

In Conversation With Game Director Fumiaki Shiraishi

By Clement Goh
Published August 20, 2020
Click Em', Sock Em': Exploring Volta-X's Inner Mecha Combat Workings 12
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Volta-X only takes a computer mouse, fox, monkey and elephant to play with in GungHo Entertainment’s latest online robot fighting strategy game. Every click is mapped differently for a player’s mech, which is armed to the teeth for precise battles. In our recent preview of the game, we found that Volta-X had flipped the genre of many beat-em-up Kaiju games before. But GungHo manages to do so with a new playstyle that encourages critical thinking and micromanaging over simple fighting-stick combos which have long defined the niche library of games.

For new fans and Kaiji veterans alike, it’s also a new way to see combat through Volta-X. The mechanic is also ingrained within a fully fleshed-out plot in similar ways to Pacific Rim, but also separately through over-the-top effects and a unique choice of music that glamorizes that feeling of being inside a weaponized hunk of steel. Of course, the experience really starts when players send their first flying robot fist at another solid giant face.

CGMagazine spoke with Volta-X Game Director Fumiaki Shiraishi, delving into the pieces of pop culture which shaped it and just what makes this fighting game more mental than physical.
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Volta-X – GungHo Online Entertainment

CGMagazine: What went into the decision to make Volta-X a strategy based fighter? Were there other original concepts for the game’s combat?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: The original request from our CEO was to design a PvP game. I went through all the different genres I could think of and thought about making it PvP. So, turn based JRPG PvP, a side scrolling shmup PvP, 3D dungeon crawling RPG PvP… and in that process, one idea I had was simulation PvP. For a while, I was thinking of creating a city-building simulation PvP. I helped design a game called My Life as King a long time ago, which was a weird city-building RPG game where various villagers run around and do things, so I was thinking whether I could make that into a PvP. From there I started thinking about ideas about micromanaging small characters and brainstormed on various worlds for that to take place. I first thought of spaceships, then realized that’s basically FTL. I thought about huge bases on the backs of dinosaurs, but eventually landed on giant robots. So if anything, it wasn’t that we wanted to make a robot game, and then landed on a strategy-based fighter. I was looking for a strategy-based fighter, and eventually landed on giant robots.

CGMagazine: What were some of the challenges in making Volta-X’s combat accessible for RTS newcomers? How about veterans from the conventional mecha beat ’em ups?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: Trying to keep the game understandable and accessible has been an on-going challenge. At any given moment, you have seven rooms and three crew members to keep track of, just on your side. If you include how you also need to keep track of your opponent’s state, that’s a lot of information! We’ve iterated on the UI dozens of times, and we’re still making tweaks. One change we’ve made, for example, is that you can now attack from rooms even without a crew present. Our original design was that you needed to have a crew to attack, but this was sometimes mechanically very difficult for newcomers. Now, you can simply keep attacking with the rooms that are ready, which is our version of button mashing in fighting games such as Street Fighter. Players are definitely better off if they make sure the crew is empowering attacks, but we tried to make easing into the game possible.

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Volta-X – GungHo Online Entertainment

CGMagazine: Why was it so important to make players manage their crew members on top of their Voltas during fights?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: For me, the fiction I wanted to capture for this game was being a crew member in a Volta. I wanted to simulate putting a seatbelt on when being launched in a Rocket-Punch, or being electrocuted when hit with Electric Shock. Once we started going in that direction, I felt like we stumbled on a gold mine. While there are a lot of robot/mech games out there, I thought the inside of the robot was a lot less explored in video games. First, I think there is an inherent humor in thinking about what goes on with the crew inside a giant robot. To attack the opponent with a rocket punch, our crew has to sit on a chair and strap on their seat belts as they launch. When the robot gets hit, the crew has to frantically fix the rooms, or extinguish fires. One thing the crew doesn’t do, and I wish I could add this somehow, would be to frantically scoop out water with buckets… maybe we’ll add underwater battles. Apart from the fiction though, we’ve found that there’s a lot of strategic considerations focusing on the crew. Should I extinguish the fire, or attack with the Drill? Should I repair the Shield or the Drone Launcher? Our better players can even anticipate what the opponent crew will probably do also. They’ll start a fire in a chest, for instance, wait for the opposing crew to get there to extinguish it, then hit the same room with Shock to get them stunned, and then finish them off with a Pile Bunker. So I think the combination of the fictional humor and the strategic depth makes this game interesting.

CGMagazine: How will Volta-X’s growing player base affect matchmaking and the way players have to adjust their Voltas for combat?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: We’ll have to see how that turns out. On one hand, I’d be ecstatic if we have enough players that meta becomes a thing. On the other hand, if meta becomes too much of a thing, I feel like it sometimes robs you of your ability to mess around with whacky loadouts and weapons. In Magic: The Gathering, which I played most back during Dark and Fallen Empires, I was always the guy who wanted to play with an Elf Deck or a Dragon Deck, but those were rarely competitive enough to play even against friends. We hope to continue to add Events and even single-player content that encourages or rewards exploration.

CGMagazine: The game also features some interesting sound choices during the game’s intense fights. What notes did the team take for Volta-X to look and feel the way it does?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: I’m noticing you’re an audio person. I don’t often get questions about sound or music these days. We worked with some great industry sound designers, who set up the basic sounds early on. They created sounds that were a mix of retro robot sounds and very video gamey sounds. On top of that, we added the animal sounds to give it a slight flavor.

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Volta-X – GungHo Online Entertainment

CGMagazine: Each mech in Volta-X also has their own perks, but how did you strike a balance between drawbacks and not making them too powerful through upgrades?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: It’s hard to say at this point if some of the Voltas are too powerful or not. In development, you just don’t have nearly enough people to know for sure. In general, we tried to focus on creating Voltas that seem fictionally interesting, rather than Voltas that are balanced. For instance, with Warrior, the idea was a prototypical robot with a dark-side. For Tank, the idea was an artillery focused mech that can shoot barrages of weapons. V Buster, is a heroic combining robot that makes a comeback in the last moments of the battle. So we started with what we hope is an iconic, and interesting, cast of Voltas… and then we hoped that they’re reasonably balanced. I think the result looks positive so far. I think every Volta does feel unique, and while they’re not perfectly balanced across the board, there’s no one who is clearly way too strong at the moment. But again, I’m sure the players will let us know if we got that wrong.

CGMagazine: In customizing the game’s Voltas, were there any color choices which call back to kaiju and mechas seen in other media?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: Pramin Phatiphong, our Art Director, has been strict about the color choices for the Voltas. On one hand, he’s tried to rein in the colors we use so that the art style remains cohesive. I think he was inspired by existing media, like Eva Unity 01 and Ultraman. We definitely want to increase the player’s customizations going forward, and will look for inspiration in other beloved worlds.

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Ultraman – Tsuburaya Productions

CGMagazine: What were some of the things from the kaiju and mecha genre that shaped Volta-X’s unique combat system?

Fumiaki Shiraishi: I think we mainly borrow ideas or situations from various other worlds, and try to work in our combat system. So the Rocket Punch, is obviously a staple of the older robots like Mazinger Z. The Tank’s stretchy arms are in various robots like Getter Robot. V Buster’s combined ability is inspired by the Sentai robots, while Wyvern’s transform is borrowed from Transformers. On top of that, the Kaijus that we have in our game is our love letter to the Kaijus in Ultraman.

Click Em', Sock Em': Exploring Volta-X's Inner Mecha Combat Workings
Volta-X – GungHo Online Entertainment

CGMagazine: I also have to ask – How did the team decide on Jazz as a driver for the game’s unique soundtrack? 

Fumiaki Shiraishi: Early on in the design process, we decided to go for the Super Robot vibe, rather than the Real Robots. So basically, we went for pre-Gundam design. That put us in 1967-1977 territory, and we decided to run with that. (So in the fiction, we have robots made in USSR and East Germany). I remember talking to our composer, Wataru Hokoyama, who I’ve been collaborating with for many years. I remember talking to him about the time period and theme we’re going for and then we ended up having a conversation saying we’d both do some homework about the kind of sounds we want. A week later, we found out, we both independently landed on the same kinds of inspiration, which were the themes to Mission Impossible and James Bond, so we went from there. The good thing about working with Wataru is that he can come up with great music no matter what weird world you ask for, so I’m always excited to hear what he composes next.

Volta-X is now available digitally on PC and Nintendo Switch.