An Interview With Lab Zero Games CEO Peter Bartholow
Lab Zero Games’ upcoming title Indivisible combines MetroidVania-style exploration with a battle system that takes cues from classics like Valkyrie Profile. Gamers Heroes got a chance to sit down with Lab Zero Games’ CEO Peter Bartholow during E3 2018 to learn more about this one-of-a-kind title.
Gamers Heroes: What made your team want to explore a game that combines MetroidVania-style exploration with action RPG combat?
Peter Bartholow: We’re known mostly for Skullgirls, which is a fighting game. While we all like fighting games, only a handful of people on the team actively play them. Pretty much everybody on the team likes playing RPGs and platformers, so that was certainly of interest to us. Mike, our design director, always wanted to make a MetroidVania, and then this opportunity came up. When we were pitching projects, we pitched to another publisher, and they said they wanted something kind of like Child of Light. We all went and played Child of Light, came back, and said, “ok, what’s this game, it’s a platformer with an RPG battle system, what’s another game like it? Oh my god, it’s Valkyrie Profile, it’s one of our favorite games.” It also has a fighting game-style of battle, which is a good fit for our team. So that’s how we got there.
Gamers Heroes: How has Lab Zero worked with 505 Games to promote the game?
Peter Bartholow: They’ve been great. I think you’re going to see us move more into promotion, now that we’ve got a new release timeframe. We still lead the way with our social media stuff and updates for the backers for the crowdfunding campaign. They tend to amplify that and also do things like these events. You’ll see more of a concerted marketing push closer to release.
Gamers Heroes: The game was originally announced in 2015. How has the game evolved and changed since then?
Peter Bartholow: It has changed a lot. At that time, it was just a prototype that we released when we were doing our crowdfunding campaign. That was something we made in about three months. There was no way to make the game, so in the meantime we developed our tools, built the level editor, and all that kind of stuff, so we could efficiently produce content. We were also not happy with the environments in the prototype – it was the best we could do with the time and resources we had. I think you’ll notice if you compare the prototype to what we’re showing now that there’s a huge improvement in quality, textures, and the general feel of the environments.
Gamers Heroes: How has the Lab Zero staff grown since the release of Skullgirls?
Peter Bartholow: We’ve about doubled. There were two phases to Skullgirls – there was when we were at Reverge Labs, a different studio, and then we split off and formed Lab Zero. When we split off, we were about eight people and now we are 18.
Gamers Heroes: The IndieGogo campaign for Indivisible was able to raise more than two million dollars. How do you feel about the community support so far?
Peter Bartholow: It’s been fantastic. Our crowdfunding campaign was a tough one; it was pretty touch and go there for a while, but we wouldn’t be here talking right now if our community hadn’t banded together to support the game and really push it. We love our community, and we literally owe them everything.
Gamers Heroes: What inspired the concept of “Incarnations?”
Peter Bartholow: It started out a little bit differently. The reason will be given in the story, why these people can be absorbed by Ajna. A lot of it is a gameplay idea that you have a platforming game and you don’t want three other characters following you around. A lot of it came out of simplicity, and getting a battle transition without too many characters on the screen.
Gamers Heroes: Some of the backer goals offered the ability for backers to design NPCs, monsters, bosses, and more – what was it like working with the fans? Was there anything that was off-limits?
Peter Bartholow: Working with the fans has been pretty great overall. There are definitely things that are off-limits. Not that it’s come up, but NPCs get to submit a line of dialog if they want, and obviously we’re not going to accept anything that’s racist or whatever. Overall, it’s been really great. A lot of the fans are just happy to work with us on anything. Some people had very detailed ideas, while others had fairly vague ideas and wanted us to develop for them a bit more. Other people were happy to support it and were happy to let us do something, and just put their name on it. It’s all been very positive.
Gamers Heroes: Can you tell us some of the things that have come up so far?
Peter Bartholow: There are three background Incarnations. Those are actually going to be kept secret until the game is released. We showed one of the backer monsters in the trailer, it’s a frog with a coconut on its back, which is based on an old folktale about having a worldly view. It actually fits with the theme of the game. We revealed another one, a shaman character that will appear in two regions of the game. And then there’s the NPCs; there’s a wide gamut of them.
Gamers Heroes: How have you been able to adapt the Z-Engine, which was originally used for Skullgirls, for Indivisible?
Peter Bartholow: It is the same engine, but it’s massively expanded. The Z-Engine has a level editing tool built right into it. What’s really nice about it is that you can switch in and out of editing and gameplay mode instantly, so there’s no baking the levels or anything like that. It is incredibly important for a team of our size.
Gamers Heroes: One of the stretch goals that wasn’t reached was multiple endings and a hardcore bonus dungeon. Would you consider revisiting it in the future via DLC?
Peter Bartholow: We’d consider it. There are no plans to do it right now, but maybe if the game does well enough and 505 wants to support us that way, we could do it. But right now there aren’t any plans for it.
Gamers Heroes: What has it been like working with Secret of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta?
Peter Bartholow: It has been an absolute joy. I’m not sure if he would say the same about us, because we have very specific ideas for what we want. He’s been incredibly easy to work with. More often than not he gets things right on the first try, or it just needs a number of little tweaks here and there. He’s really good at taking the level art and turning that into a sound for the level. It’s been great.
Gamers Heroes: On that note, what has it been like working with Titmouse and Studio TRIGGER? They have a very unique style, so how have they been able to adapt your style for the opening animation?
Peter Bartholow: We’ve been releasing a lot of the pre-production art Yoshinari did for the opening online, so you can see how he adapted it. It’s more our characters in his style, but it’s been really great. The Titmouse storyboarding process went really smoothly, and from there it went over to TRIGGER. There was some back and forth on pre-production, getting character details right, things like that. And then one day awesome stuff began showing up. It’s been great; we’ve had very little feedback to give and very few changes we’ve had to request. The opening is done, but we’re not going to reveal it until the game is out.
Gamers Heroes: Thank you for your time.
Indivisible will be out in the first half of 2019. You can learn more about the game here.