Tekken isn't the only major fighting game series with a sequel that starts off costing nothing. The Xbox One's launch day fighting game Killer Instinct will also be free. You'll get one character, Jago, to play against anyone.
And you'll get a rebirth of a long-dormant series.
You can then pay for other characters.
"We wanted to do something disruptive," Microsoft producer Torin Rettig told me as people played the new Killer Instinct near us at a Monday night Xbox One showcase tied to E3. "We wanted to do something that took into consideration how most people play fighting games. Most people who play fighting games aen’t even going to play half the characters. Why not let them play the characters they want?” Each character other than Jago can be purchased individually. Players will be able to buy bunches of characters at a better value.
Killer Instinct is a classic fighting game series that appeared on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo and arcades in the mid-90s. It was made by Rare, a studio then partnered with Nintendo but now owned by Microsoft. And after nearly two decades, Microsoft finally brought it back—though not exactly with Rare.
The new Killer Instinct is being primarily developed by Double Helix, the studio behind recent Silent Hill and Green Lantern games. It is being produced in-house at Microsoft. The team is sending builds to the original Killer Instinct studio Rare, but, Rettig said, “Honestly a lot of the original people at Rare who made Killer Instinct aren’t there anymore.” Ken Lobb, a Nintendo game maker who has been at Microsoft for the last decade, is helping keep an eye on the game.
Double Helix seems like an odd fit. They haven't made fighting games. Microsoft actually reached out to several studios to see if they’d be up for the game. “Double Helix stood out head and shoulders above the rest,” Rettig said. “Their pitch was awesome, their passion was great. They have really passionate fighting gamers in the studio. They had a great engine.”
Rettig said that this new Killer Instinct should feel like a rebirth of the franchise and that it should feel updated from its original 90s aesthetic. “We wanted to capture some of that but we also wanted to modernize it for a bit,” he said. “The way Double Helix approached their concept is that there are like three main articles that define what the character is about.
“For Jago it was his belt, his sash and his sword. These are things that spoke about what the character is about. It may not be apparent, but Jago’s monk outfit is torn down. And in the original Killer Instinct there was the idea that Jago had this thing called the Tiger Spirit, and he felt betrayed by the Tiger Spirit. Seeing that his sash is pulled down, it’s [showing] that he’s in conflict with the Tiger Spirit. That level of thought was put into not only the character but how that was put into the design.
“For Sabrewulf, Sabrewulf is a man and beast in constant conflict with each other. If you look at Sabrewulf, he’s got like the torn jeans and everything, but if you look at his idle animations, he’s got a twitch. He’s basically a mad scientist trying to cure himself. We’re not showing it, but Sabrewulf’s stage has that motif.”
Rettig said that Killer Instinct was known for having a menagerie of characters, from beasts to aliens and skeletons, and that that will be back.
The original was also renowned for its massive combos, which are back with a tweak. “Killer Instinct had this kind of unique system where you would piano down the buttons,” Rettig said. “You had to piano down in order to continue the combo, but you could continue it. You were kind of locked into a combo state. We have that, with big combos, but we also have combo breakers. You don’t want to be stuck there in a combo and not be able to fight back. We wanted there to be a two-way interaction within the combo.” Someone can interrupt a combo, and then the interrupted player can defend themselves. “We wanted it to be like a game. 'What’s his next move going to be?' I have to guess what your next move is going to be so I can make a break. If I guess wrong, you can continue the combo for free.”
The game will use Kinect for voice commands to switch options in the game’s training mode. This removes a lot of menu navigation.
Killer Instinct will be out on day one when the Xbox One launches in November. If you get the console, it seems like an automatic thing to try. After all, it'll cost nothing, for starters.