BleedingEdge

From a Passion Project to Bleeding Edge: Interview With Ninja Theory’s Rahni Tucker and Gerald Poon

Ninja Theory’s Bleeding Edge is a few short weeks away from launch. The 4v4 brawler has already been making waves online, capturing the attention of players. The Cambridge, UK-based studio has a long, respected catalogue of titles behind them, including the critically acclaimed Hellblade: Sensua’s Sacrifice. But how did a studio so focused on single-player, narrative-heavy games decide to tackle the competitive online space?

I was able to sit down with Bleeding Edge’s Creative Director Rahni Tucker and Senior Designer Gerald Poon. Tucker has been with the studio since the days of DmC: Devil May Cry, while Poon joined the studio in 2013 and has set his focus on Bleeding Edge for a large portion of his tenure.

During our chat, I learned how a passion project turned into a game that is aimed at boosting the diverse lineup of titles Ninja Theory has planned. Tucker and Poon also discuss what it means to be a part of Xbox Game Studios and how launching day and date on Xbox Game Pass helped ensure the team created an accessible game for players who may not be intrinsically pulled towards a competitive multiplayer title.

Bleeding Edge Gameplay3

Steve: Bleeding Edge is a step in a new direction for Ninja Theory. Where did this idea stem from? What made the studio decide to pursue a multiplayer experience at this point and time?

Rahni: Ninja Theory has always had a heritage in third-person action combat. It’s like a strange rule in their games. Personally, I really like to work on melee action combat. So, I wanted to do more of that. At home in my spare time, I play a lot of online competitive team games, I like playing supports, there has to be a team. So really its combining passions for me. 

I put that together and pitched that to Nina Kristensen, and Tameem Antoniades, the co-founders of Ninja Theory, and they gave me a small team. We started prototyping and here we are!

Steve: You kind of touched on it, Bleeding Edge has been described as a 4v4 frenetic brawler. Obviously, melee and close quarter combat is Ninja Theory’s bread and butter. What are some examples of melee and combat mechanics the team were eager to test in development that hasn’t been explored in the past?

Rahni: It was tricky at the beginning. We didn’t even know if it would work. When I originally pitched the idea, I said: “Look, no one has made this game before.” I don’t know why. I don’t know if no one had thought of it, it didn’t seem likely. Maybe they’ve tried it and it didn’t work for some reason. So a lot of time was spent in the beginning trying to figure out how do we even achieve this both technically in terms of networking and also in terms of game design. 

In a single-player game, it’s fine to go out and do a 100-hit combo on an AI and it’s no problem because the AI doesn’t feel bad. You can’t do that to another player. You have to make sure the player being hit has agency has options available. We spent quite a bit of time prototyping the length of a good combo, how many evades a player should have, how often they can use them. What are the other options for getting out? We had to find that balance of feeling empowered as the player doing the attacks but also feeling like you have agency when being hit. A lot of prototyping and playtesting.

Steve: Coming off of Hellblade, and now being in the mix of Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 and Project: Mara, Bleeding Edge seems to be diversifying the portfolio. Can you talk about how Bleeding Edge fits into the contemporary catalogue of games being developed at the studio? 

Rahni: Yeah, I think it’s fairly representative of the difference between me and Tameem as Creative Directors. Tameem is the Creative Director for the other projects in the studio. Their direction is kind of a product of his personal passions, where Bleeding Edge is a product of mine. So I can’t really talk too much about Tameem’s projects because I’m not involved, but I think that’s the reason for the difference you see between those projects.

Steve: We’ve just been introduced to Mekko, who now rounds out the sizable roster. What can you tell us about this character and how Mekko fits into the fold?

Gerald: So the character really started as a concept. One of our concept artists drew a picture, no context at all (laughs). He just drew it and thought it was cool. We saw it and thought it was a really cool character and we liked the design of it. We didn’t even know what his abilities were, we didn’t know if it was a tank or a healer, but we knew we wanted it in the game.

Rahni: It was one of the first concepts we had actually. 

Gerald: It was one of the original concepts and we knew we wanted to work on him a little bit later. We needed a core group of characters first. That’s how the character first started.

In terms of how [Mekko] fits into the current roster, we obviously have a few tanks, a few healers, and a few damage-dealers. We tried to keep the number of options per hero class similar. We thought we could use another tank because we were at a point where we needed another option. 

When we design characters, we want them to feel different. Say you like playing tanks, Makutu can hold a point, he has a lot of health. Buttercup is good at peeling, she can throw her hook and pull enemies away when they’re trying to kill your allied healer. We didn’t have a ranged tank so I thought it would be a cool playstyle if you liked playing ranged characters while tanking. So that was the main design pillar of Mekko. How it came to be was from a lot of prototyping and testing.

Steve: One of the notable advantages Bleeding Edge has upon release is its accessibility on Xbox Game Pass. We’ve already seen consideration to that, with regards to the tutorial. Where there any other considerations Ninja Theory had knowing there would be an influx of players jumping in through Game Pass?

Rahni: I think you hit the big one. Onboarding for new players, especially players who aren’t familiar with the genre, who may not have played class-based games before. Maybe they don’t know what objective control is. People who are familiar with competitive arena-based games are going to understand a lot of the stuff we have in the game without needing too much training. 

Someone coming from hack-and-slash or fighting games or somewhere else may not understand that lexicon yet. We did spend a fair bit of time during our technical alpha making sure new players to the genre can get into Bleeding Edge in a comfy way.

Steve: Did that have anything to do with how the classes were structured?

Rahni: Yeah, we split the characters into classes to help you find someone––they don’t have to strictly be played that way. One of our QA guys actually plays Makutu as a healer. He can do quite a bit of healing if you know how to. Some will play damage-y with Kulev, so they’ll take him as an offensive-healer and focus more on the damage. El Bastardo is kind of like a bruiser and can be taken more for damage rather than the tank as well. 

They’re not confined to the classes we put them in on the hero select screen. It’s there to help guide you as a new player so you can say: “Hey, I like this playstyle so I’m going to have a look into this category.”

Steve: It can be a lot to jump in and not know who to choose!

Rahni: I think it helps round out the teams as well. You can identify and say: “Okay, we have one of them, one of them, one of them. That’s a good base.” 

Steve: Is Bleeding Edge going to be an ongoing project for the team? Do you have post-launch content plans in store for players, whether it be in-game events or new fighters?

Rahni: We’re absolutely going to be supporting the game going forward, we have a live team ready to go. We don’t have a roadmap and such to share, but we have a massive backlog of features the team wants to put in the game. New characters, we’re obviously going to keep making those. 

On top of that, we have a massive feature set we’d like to add but we’re looking to what the community is saying and comparing that to our vision for the game and we use that to prioritize the features we work on next. We’re still a small team and that’s not going to change. We averaged 15 people across the projects so we’re going to carry on that mindset and philosophy. It’s important for us to pick and choose what we’re going to add next. 

In the first beta, a lot of players asking for competitive and ranked modes. We had a lot of requests for music in the game, which was something I was not necessarily expecting. It’s cool, people are liking the music and they want more of it. We moved those sorts of things up on our priority list based on feedback.

Steve: To wrap things up here, how are you monitoring community feedback? Are there specific channels you’re looking at?

Gerald: We have a Discord channel that is very active. We have a subreddit and forums. We look at the forums and channels quite often, but we have a Community Manager who pours through all those outlets to get a sentiment as to what people are saying. We’ll have regular catchups and he’ll give us that feedback. 

Bleeding Edge releases on Xbox One and PC on March 24th, 2020.