Killer Queen Black Interview With Co-Creator Joshua DeBonis

TJ Denzer,

July 11, 2018 9:55 AM

With Killer Queen Black expanding the arcade sensation's roots to Nintendo Switch and Steam, we spoke to co-creator and Bumblebear co-founder Joshua DeBonis about the transition and keeping the arcade scene happy.

Killer Queen has been around for a minute now. It all started in 2013 as a team-based arcade game that combined the best worlds of Joust-style combat and Mario Bros. arcade platforming with five-on-five strategy and teamwork. Now, more than five years later, co-creator Joshua DeBonis and his friends at Bumblebear Games are preparing to expand the Killer Queen universe to the world via Nintendo Switch and Steam with Killer Queen Black.

Killer Queen Black isn’t a simple port of Killer Queen Arcade. It’s an experience built from the ground up for home consoles and PCs that DeBonis and his crew hopes will cultivate an all-new field of enthusiasm and competition for both classic Killer Queen fans and newcomers alike. With that in mind, Twin Galaxies spoke at length with DeBonis about the challenges of rebuilding his game for home console, the drive to keep previous fans and arcade scenes happy, and plans for the future of Killer Queen in all forms.

Twin Galaxies: As you prepared to expand Killer Queen to Switch and Steam, was there any goals in particular you had in building or improving the game for home versions?

Joshua DeBonis: It wasn’t so much that we set out to improve the game as much as we were out to build a version of the game that worked well at home. We felt like four-on-four was a better number for players because a lot of games have been following that style and we doubted people had just 5 controllers sitting around. More than that, Killer Queen Black is meant to be a sort of altogether different game that’s great in its own ways.

TG: What are some of those differences beyond team size?

DeBonis: With four players instead of five, we reworked the maps. There’s a different density we worked out for the smaller teams with platforms and items that works better on a smaller screen for home gamers. Also, because it offers online play, we built some features to help against any sort of issues with gameplay delay from connection. The Joust style of momentum-based attack in the original was really susceptible to lag, so one of the things we worked with was that you hit a button in order to attack which feels a little better and allows players to accommodate for a bad connection. Beyond lag, introducing an attack button meant we could also introduce a variety of new weapons to work with that button. There are five in the game right now and we plan to add more down the line that will do all sorts of different things.

TG: Communication has also traditionally been an important part of Killer Queen, strategizing around either berries, the snail, or whatever your team needs to win. That won’t be much of an issue on Steam where Discord and things like it exist, but what about Nintendo Switch? Will there be a way to talk with teammates there?

DeBonis: I can’t give an exact answer to that because it’s not something I’m personally working on, but I can say there are plans for it. Outside of that, I do believe that one of the biggest places that Killer Queen Black will shine is when you’ve got a group of people on the couch playing against other teams online together. The game has always been built with that social aspect in mind where friends will chat it out, coordinate on the fly, and have a good time together. That said, yes, there are plans for communication on Nintendo Switch.

TG: One of the new features of Killer Queen Black is the addition of this mysterious “black team”. What is that? How does it work? Is it limited to a skill-tier or a platform? How do players or teams gain the rights to be the black team?

DeBonis: Right, so the black team plays the same as the rest, but they look really cool. At any given time, there can be one black team, and the only way to become the black team is to defeat them and you get to keep that entitlement until somebody defeats you. It’s not necessarily the best players, though it will likely bubble up to the top. There will also be a ranking system in the game that will offer achievement and progress for players that want to be the best, but the black team is just another one of those unique rewards for playing well and winning.

Killer Queen's maps have always cultivated a myriad of styles and strategy. That's going to stay intact in Black.
Killer Queen's maps have always cultivated a myriad of styles and strategy. That's going to stay intact in Black.

TG: That seems neat to the point of gaining that accolade, being able to see how long you can hold it, and maybe even some extra challenge where teams will compete to be the longest-running team to hold the black team title for the most consecutive games.

DeBonis: For sure, and we have another system of progress where for every win that you get, you get a notch etched into your sword if you’re playing from an account. And after so many wins, you retire that sword and get a different, better sword. We want to figure out how to make those win notches special when you win as the black team. We’re not there yet, but it’s in the works. My hope is that it will be difficult to hold onto the black team title for long. If the matchmaker is doing its job, you’ll be running into equally skilled teams who will make it challenging to keep winning.

TG: Killer Queen has always been a sort of interesting social experience where people come together, brush shoulders, and work to win. Do you worry at all about alienating the arcade and local crowd by bringing Killer Queen into an online multiplayer setting where you don’t need to be around others?

DeBonis: I did worry about alienating any of our fans. We didn’t decide to do this game lightly. We worked carefully with our players to get a read on the community, feel out the pulse, and be very careful about how we were going to execute this. That community is very important to us, both creatively and socially. We’ve all built this thing together and it has mostly always been about giving the community what they want. So we didn’t want to do anything that would hurt that community. Killer Queen Arcade is going to continue to be a supported and beloved thing for us. But with Killer Queen Black we really just want to crossover to home and allow more people in. And for the most part, our fans understand and have been happy about it. We got a lot of commentary saying people were excited and happy for the expansion, that they couldn’t wait to see where it would go. We were happy for that. It was really touching. And with the way we’ve gone about testing, including players and the arcade community along the way, we’ve tried to pay it back by reassuring our fans that their voices are heard.

TG: Earlier you mentioned that the team is building Killer Queen Black to be quite different in play. Is that going to be a factor for Arcade players?

DeBonis: I feel like Arcade players are going to enjoy this, but they’re certainly not going to be as good at it starting off just because they’ve played Killer Queen Arcade. We built Killer Queen Black up in a lot of ways as its own game and there are going to be things to learn and unlearn as you move over from the cabinet to the console, but we think for Arcade players, it will just be another cool way to seek challenge in the Killer Queen universe. My hope is it will be a thing where the two games feed into each other and don’t detract from one another in any way.

Players that have played Killer Queen in arcades will know what's going on, but there will be a lot of new wrinkles to learn when it comes to Black.
Players that have played Killer Queen in arcades will know what's going on, but there will be a lot of new wrinkles to learn when it comes to Black.

TG: Leading up to E3 2018, there was a little bit of a leak that led to some games for Nintendo’s E3 Presentation getting outed before the conference. Killer Queen Black was among them. Knowing what you know about where you are now, was this a problem? How did it help or hurt compared to how your team worked with Killer Queen Arcade?

DeBonis: The marketing roll-out was completely different. We didn’t originally intend for Killer Queen to be a commercial product. We showed it at a festival and thought that’d be it, but the interest grew and we put more resources into it as a result. It was slow and there was no real moment where we “launched” the original game, it just grew and grew to the point where we had a game, then we built a cabinet, a community sprouted, and then we built a competitive scene. It was very organic and now we have a good community to show for it. I love everything about it because I like working closely with the community when it comes to building the game. So when it comes to Killer Queen Black, we had to be a little bit careful about revealing it too early. We were working with Nintendo and they wanted to make a big splash at E3, so it was very under wraps (with a few hints here and there). But when the leak happened, it brought a lot of interest to the game. I was inundated with press and players asking about it and it was mind-blowing. Moreover, the leak kind of ended up working in our favor because there in the leak, our game was sitting beside big things like Fortnite on there. It brought us this attention where our name is right next to one of the biggest games in the world right now, so even people who hadn’t heard of us might take a chance on checking it out. It ended up working really well. Now that we’re out in the open, we’re back to being open with our development and communicative with our community.

TG: And as you move to consoles, one can’t help but question the future. Arcades are coming back a little bit, but they still don’t have nearly as much clout as the home console. That said, would you say that there’s something you can get out of Killer Queen Arcade still that you just won’t be able to get out of the home counterpart in Killer Queen Black?

DeBonis: Absolutely, the games are both great in different ways. Of course, one of the advantages of Killer Queen Black is that players will be able to play it even if they don’t live anywhere near an arcade, but the arcade game is still its own thing and absolutely worth experiencing beyond the home version. Interestingly, we’re seeing more interest in the arcade in the wake of Killer Queen Black’s announcement. The thing that’s always been just as important as the game is the community around it. A lot of arcades that have Killer Queen Arcade also have great groups of people that nurture the experience and invite new players to join in. They’ve built an overall scene that I think is way more important than the game itself. I think that’s the most important aspect of Killer Queen Arcade. The competitive scenes often stream and it’s awesome to see what kind of gameplay and style people bring to this. It’s still just so visceral to be able to stand next to four other people to try to win while other people cheer you on. It’s a different type of experience than you’ll get with Killer Queen Black, but that’s nothing against Black. There’s also something to be said for grabbing some drinks with your friends, relaxing on the couch, and playing an online game together. It’s two different environments and two different styles of game for them, but both of them are worthwhile in their own way.

This is a game that has always been best enjoyed with friends right beside you, but online play will still be enjoyable.
This is a game that has always been best enjoyed with friends right beside you, but online play will still be an enjoyable option.

TG: Speaking of social and competitive, Killer Queen has built itself up into a state where clubs across the country compete locally and also travel to compete with each other. With the addition of Killer Queen Black to the scene, what do you hope for the future of Killer Queen social and competitive as a whole?

DeBonis: I want to see the game continue to evolve in the way people interact and play with it. I already see different playstyles and neat new tricks every time I watch a tournament, but with Killer Queen Black, I would love to see an influx of players that bring new thoughts, approaches, and ideas to the game. Killer Queen Arcade’s competitive scene was slow to grow because you can only play it at specific arcades, but now this game will be in front of everyone and hopefully that will mean more growth, with new ideas and playstyles as a result. I want to continue to grow BumbleBash, which is our game’s annual grand championship. Our third annual one is coming up later this year in Portland, Oregon. It’s continued to grow every year and I want it to continue to become something really big, especially from a spectator standpoint. One of the things we’re doing is building better tools for streaming with the game to encourage a better spectator, caster, and gameplay experience, and I want to encourage communities to utilize that. I guess I don’t want to see a whole lot of things change drastically with competitive Killer Queen. I just want what we’ve built to continue to grow and evolve.

TG: What’s the plan after Killer Queen Black is released. Will there be additional content or features? As a follow-up, can Arcade expect additions as well?

DeBonis: For sure, as I said before, we’ve got ideas for further weapons in the works. There’s no specific roadmap of content, but I can tell you we do have plans to create further maps and some type of single-player content as well later on. Part of it depends on what we can get in before launch. As for Arcade, we do intend to continue supporting and adding to it. Every cabinet has a server connection that actually makes it so we can patch new builds to the cabinet, so it’s actually quite easy to do as far as getting it out there to the arcades. A lot of times it’s just bug fixes, but it can also include new maps and content. One of the interesting things about Black is that it’s given us more resources to be able to work on Arcade. So now that we’re out of the early prototype phase for Black, we can put a lot of effort into new stuff for the Arcade game. There won’t be much crossover because the games play so differently, but ideas that come out of one version that work will feed over to the other. With what’s been going on with Killer Queen Black, Arcade is most definitely going to continue to benefit, and vice versa.

Beware the snail if someone's already riding. You'll be nothing more than a diversionary snack.
Beware the snail if someone's already riding. You'll be nothing more than a diversionary snack.

TG: Good to know. And finally, on behalf of the Killer Queen community, where are the hats?

DeBonis: (laughes) No hats! So, we have a bit of a contentious running joke with our community about putting hats in the game. They love to playfully heckle us about it. My co-designer Nik Mikros has developed a staunchly anti-hat position, though I have to say, we’ve both been more into hats in our daily lives lately. That said, sorry folks. No hats in our current plans for the game.

It would appear that Killer Queen Black is going to be quite the experience for players of all types. We certainly love our time spent with the arcade and look forward to the unique features we can expect to see when Killer Queen Black comes out on Nintendo Switch and Steam in Winter of 2018.

Be sure to check out the official website for Killer Queen Black for more information, and for the opportunity to sign up for future Beta testing. You can also find Killer Queen Black on its Twitter channel for the latest news and updates on the game or join in the Killer Queen Black Discord and get involved with the game’s growing community.

Want to know more about Killer Queen’s social and competitive community? Check out our interview we did with the Austin Killer Queen group, KQ-ATX!


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