Feature

Weaponlord's Die-Hard Fans Keep The Obscure Fighting Game Alive

by Jeff Cork on Feb 02, 2016 at 02:43 PM

After Street Fighter II became an arcade sensation, the home-console market felt the aftershocks. The 16-bit era was filled with a host of forgettable fighting games, but a few titles have loomed large in the memories of fans. Weaponlord is one such title. In this month’s issue of Game Informer, I wrote about the Super Nintendo and Genesis game, which was developed by Visual Concepts and published by Bandai Namco. Today, I’m shifting the focus away from the game’s creation, and turning it onto a few players that have latched onto Weaponlord and its peculiarly hardcore take on the genre.

When I spoke to James Goddard, the game’s co-designer, I had to admit I was far from an expert on the game. I rented it when it came out, but was quickly overwhelmed by a dizzying array of layered systems and strange controls. Goddard is keenly aware of the game’s reputation as an imposing beast, and he was able to point me toward what would be my salvation: A fantastic walkthrough video that broke everything all down (and also serves as a great introduction for the game, for people who aren’t familiar with this obscurity).

Alvin Cartuyvels met Goddard in Chicago at an Iron Galaxy Studios playtesting session. Goddard is combat designer for the new Killer Instinct game, but he and Cartuyvels soon learned that they had a common passion in Weaponlord. Cartuyvels is a competitive fighting-game player, and he has fond memories of playing Weaponlord when it first came out in 1995.

“When this came out on the console, literally every day we’d come home from school and crashed until 2 in the morning trying to figure out everything possible,” Cartuyvels says. “Then when we found out it actually plays different between the SNES and the Genesis versions, we would sit there having competitions trying to see who could get the highest combo. Because on the Genesis, the system is a bit more lenient, where you can continue combos that you couldn’t on the SNES. You can do infinite combos on the Genesis that you can’t do on Super Nintendo.”

Years later, Cartuyvels’ dedication paid off. In his video, he and Goddard sit down and essentially break the game apart. It’s an exhaustive look at how the game’s complicated combat works, and shows off some of the crazy things that advanced players are able to perform in battle. That depth is what keeps Cartuyvels coming back to the game – along with innovations such as being able to launch enemies in the air and punish them while they’re airborne.

“What kept my interest was the creativity with the combos,” Cartuyvels says. “They kept it open to the point where you can do certain moves, and if it doesn’t knock the opponent down, there’s probably another button that you can push to keep that combo going. A lot of people are really into seeing the move through.”

While Cartuyvels was digging deep into Weaponlord’s mechanics, graphic designer George Sellas’ longstanding interest in the game is more superficial. Like Cartuyvels, he rented the game when it was first released. He played with his brothers, since the structure of a fighting game lent itself more to controller-passing action better than, say, a platforming game. “I do my best when I play it, but it turns into button mashing with my friends,” Sellas says.

Sellas is no stranger to games, having worked as a contractor for Super Genius Games on properties including Marvel Super Hero Squad and Skylanders. He may not have the same technical in-game wizardry as Cartuyvels, but Sellas used his considerable illustration skills to reimagine Weaponlord’s characters as they might look in a hypothetical modern update to the game, placed against artist Glenn Kim’s original background art. Goddard saw his work, and he’s a big fan of the bold designs. 

I asked Sellas if he could explain what made Weaponlord so appealing to him back then, and why that interest has remained so many years later. “I’ve always been a big fan of Robert Howard and his original Conan stories, and things like that, so I gravitated to it; it spoke to my sensibilities, it was something very different from the more Asian or eastern aesthetics of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat,” Sellas says. “The Conan or Frank Frazeta-inspired visuals appealed to me because they were different at the time.”

Weaponlord’s crazy characters stuck with him. “There are certain old pieces of art or I’ll see certain things from my childhood and say, ‘That was such a cool or unique concept, but there’s something that’s just a little bit off about it, that needs just a little tweak or push to make it what it was really intended to be,’ he says. “My goal is to still stay true to the original intent and to improve upon it without making it radically different; paying homage to something by making it the best that it possibly can be, if that makes sense.”

Take his reinterpretation of Zarack, for example. That character is an imposing man with, well, a spider on his head. “Zarack was a tricky one, because you don’t really see how the head connects to what’s going on on its back. There’s this whole spider body that’s on his back. The way I envision Zarack is that there’s a spider attached to him, its mouth is latched around his head, and you have the spider body going down its back and the spider legs clutching his torso. That was at least how I saw it. Was it what the original team intended? I don’t know, but that’s how I saw it so that’s what I ran with. I pictured it if he were to somehow get the spider off of him, he’d have no skin on his face and weird spider eggs laid under his flesh – just nasty.”

Weaponlord may not be a household name, but it clearly left an impact for at least some of the people who played it back in the day. Goddard says it taught him about the perils of just piling on systems, and he took many of the lessons learned from that game and used them throughout his career working on combat systems. And others, like Cartuyvels and Sellas, have also carried a bit of the game with them as the years rolled on.

For more of Sellas' reimagined Weaponlord images, visit his gallery. And to learn more about the game, check out Goddard's site or follow him on Twitter.