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interview: Skullgirls creative director Alex Ahad

When Alex Ahad debuted his first work in progress demo at Anime Expo 2008, Skullgirls was simply a project that he and some friends had started to put together in their free time. The game has since amassed a large following, its growing popularity made more apparent by a strong showing at this year's E3.

As a fan of both eastern and western art styles, Alex was not afraid to mix elements from both disciplines when designing his characters. These unique character designs, combined with a legitimate 2D fighting game engine created by well-known BlazBlue player Mike Zaimont, played a significant role in getting Skullgirls the attention it deserves. With the addition of Michiru Yamane on soundtrack duty, the fighter is set to make an noticeable impact on the fighting game community when it releases later this year.

otakuxgamer got a chance to speak to Alex earlier this month and queried him about the importance of fighting game stories, what he thinks about bringing in guest characters, the creation of movesets and fighting styles, and discussed which character he feels will end up being the safe pick for those familiar with other fighting games.

Before we get started, can you go over who you are, what you've done, and what you currently do?

My name is Alex Ahad. I am the creative director behind Skullgirls. I've been working on the actual art and character designs for a while now. They are designs that I've been working on since my early college days. So, I guess this is my first major thing. I've done some work before for Gaia Online and some individual stuff like my friend's anthology Lava Punch. And I've had illustrations show up in a couple books before, like Udon tribute books and guest art for one of the Scott Pilgrim comics.

What did you do for Udon?

It was illustrations that showed up in the tribute books - the Street Fighter tribute book and the Darkstalkers tribute book. Nothing too major.

In your opinion, how important is the story when it comes to fighting games?

I think it adds a really neat context to the characters. I would say that it depends on the type of fighting game fan that you are. I mean, there's two types - those who are really fascinated by the characters, and those who are obviously more on the competitive side. Hopefully, Skullgirls can address both people. I do think story is [important enough for us] to try to find a way to put as much effort into developing it as possible, but ultimately, the game is the most important part.

So far, we have seen that Skullgirls features a cast of all original characters. Have you thought about including any guest characters as other companies have done? Maybe one from a previous collaboration?

I don't know if we can do that anyway since we're a separate company, but I would prefer original characters. One day in the future, who knows? It would be fun to do some crossover. That's more down the line if anything.

I noticed in some videos that when someone is defeated, she stays on screen. Are you going to leave that "feature" in?

I hope so. I think it's pretty interesting. A lot of people have pointed out that feature. I hope we can keep it in because I want to see if we can use that in some way. I believe it doesn't take extra memory to have the character on there anyway and it's just kind of a neat detail.

Is the game going to have any type of comeback mechanism?

You mean like X-Factor? No. I believe that Mike is very much against that type of philosophy. I can't make the most definitive calls on anything gameplay-related because I'm more on the art side of things, but I'm pretty sure that this is something that Mike is against.

In the blog section of the official Skullgirls site, I read that you attend the recording studio sessions. How did you explain the "garbage day" line to the voice actress?

Oh. She knew it already. I just explained - "can you say garbage day?" - and she was actually surprised that we were even going to make that reference. But she already knew exactly what we were talking about, so it was quite easy to get the right read.

How do you choose the movesets or fighting styles? Are these kinds of decisions made before you are finished designing a character, or after?

It's sort of a mix... I guess it'll be mostly before. For example, in a lot of cartoons there's a lot of gags involved and stuff dropping or things being thrown. So, with Peacock, it might take her a little bit longer to telegraph her attacks, which kind of lends to her being more towards the zoner type of character.

With that in mind, we kind of had that general sense. But then, me and the artist just brainstorm a bunch of moves along with Mike, choosing which of the moves to keep; we kind of develop a moveset through going back and forth between the artists and Mike.

Is Michiru Yamane done with the soundtrack?

You mean all the songs? No, there are still a few more.

Are there going to be character-specific themes?

If all goes well, but mostly right now we are doing it per stage. We'll see. I can't make the exact call on that yet.

When people first pick up a new fighter, they tend to gravitate towards characters with playstyles that they are familiar with. In most cases, it would be the character that is most similar to Ken or Ryu. Will Skullgirls have a Ken or Ryu "clone" that these players can start out with?

Not directly. Not like straight up exactly a shoto, but the closest right now, since she is more or less the main character, is Filia. She's the closest to the most familiar type of character. She's got a DP. She's got a projectile, but it acts a little differently than the hadouken. But still, she's got the basic pieces. So, she's the closest one, I'd say.

RELATED Alex Ahad's deviantART page
RELATED Alex Ahad's home page
RELATED Skullgirls developer blog

Note: This interview turned out to be much shorter than I would have liked simply because a large number of the questions that I would have asked have already been fielded by Mike Z and other Reverge Labs employees in the Skullgirls threads at NeoGAF and The studio has done such an excellent job with staying in touch with the community that I was having trouble coming up with original questions. So, if you want to know more about Skullgirls, make sure you give those threads a visit.

RELATED Skullgirls thread @ NeoGAF
RELATED Skullgirls thread @

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