This is an unfinished concept that has been a thorn in my side since high school. One day I may actually get it developed... However, the sad fact remains that I came up with this idea before Macromedia Flash was a thing, and I'm still here writing about it days after the internet has been scrubbed of Adobe Flash Player. I still remain hopeful (ish).
Son’Uva the wizard grew old. In her great power, time and space bent to her will and she foresaw her own demise. Determined to control her fate, she sent an offer throughout the universe: Defeat her in glorious battle, and claim the source of her infinite power - her own beating heart...
The challenge was sent across the cosmos, weaving between dimensions until all who deemed themselves worthy answered the call and began their epic journey towards power.
Like most traditional 2D fighters, the object of the game is defeat your opponent in a 'best out of three' match. Your arsenal is simpler than most modern-day fighters, consisting of one heavy attack and one light attack with variation depending on the player's current position (jumping, standing, ducking). In addition, fighters can block, throw and perform special attacks. Upon the ultimate defeat of an opponent, the fighter may perform a rather violent finishing move. Sure, call it a Mortal Kombat Klone, but this (if ever completed) will be the greatest of the poorly executed knockoffs, mark my words!
Where the game deviates from other fighters is in the use of special moves. To avoid a scenario of cheap repetitive projectiles, the fighters are limited to only 6 special attacks per round. If the player wishes to perform a finishing move upon victory, there must be at least one special move available.
Look, I started thinking about this game as a teenager in the 90s, obviously it was going to rip-off Mortal Kombat. However, for copyright's sake, let's not call it a rip-off, let's refer to it as a homage to one of the greatest franchises of all time.
As stated earlier, a finisher move can only be executed (no pun intended) if the player still has a special move available to use, otherwise you'll be depraved of any true winner's satisfaction.
Fearing the outcome of Son'Uva's challenge, Heaven's Host sent their deadliest warrior to participate in the tournament - Azriel the Reaper. Azriel's orders are very clear: destroy Son'Uva and slaughter any being who seeks to obtain her power.
If you think of the characters in terms of good and bad guys, Azriel would technically align on the 'good' side; being that his mission is to save lives by eliminating Son'Uva's power. Still, I can think of nothing more menacing than the Angel of Death participating in tournament of his own specialty. That being said, I had some explinations for how the power levels of these characters balance out, but I decided to scrap that angle... Nobody plays these kinds of games for realism anyway.
Hayden's success as a soldier made him top of the line to be recruited as America's answer to Son'Uva's challenge. Unbeknownst to the government, he harbored deep emotional trauma from his life of killing and suffered a mental breakdown during a VR simulation designed to train him for the mission ahead. After slaughtering the personnel in the training facility, Hayden began his trek towards Son'Uva, unable to determine if his reality is actual or still virtual...
Hayden's psychosis aligns him closer to bad on the 'good/bad scale' of characterization. He isn't sure if he is still in a simulation, but rather than seek help, he continues to kill without remorse; going so far as to actually enjoy it. His weapon of choice is an ignitible diamond blade - just chalk it up to "experimental government tech".
A killer for hire, Sadis-Jyn is notorious for his use of deadly spools. Living by a code, he never takes offers against the innocent, and in turn has been known to murder employers who would hire him to do so. Fearing Son’Uva’s offer could place innocent lives in harm’s way, he reluctantly enters the competition, believing the wizard’s power is safest in his own hands than in the hands of a potential tyrant.
Sadis-Jyn is somewhat of a neutral entity in the competition. He believes what he is doing is the right thing while disregarding his own moral compromise as an assassin, and what ultimate power in the hands of a killer could lead to - even one who lives by a code.
Side note: This character was not a creation of my own, but rather a good friend of mine who mocked me up a fighter in a white suit and a fencing mask. I think the name was his idea too... I definitely didn't come up with it. I would have called him "Spool Man". Come together with your hands.
He is the leader of a terrorist unit known as Moab, intent on eliminating all forms of government. Canaan has spent his life rising through the ranks, sometimes by the blood of his own brethren. As he dreams of a world drowned in chaos, Canaan plans to use Son'Uva's power for the purpose of his organization and finally bring the Earth to its knees...
While most characters in this game range from neutral to fairly good, Canaan is about as evil as you can get - perhaps more so than the title villain. He's a disciplined killer who is devoted to an organization hellbent on terrorizing the planet, even going as far as to use the greatest source of power in existence to serve his wicked masters.
Jack has given everything to keep his community thriving and honest, but as unemployment and poverty increase, so has the mob’s presence in his area. Fearing for his children’s safety, Jack enters the competition with nothing but his fists and a hand-made baseball bat. If the local law enforcement can’t keep the mob away, then perhaps the unlimited power of a wizard can.
A genuine underdog, Jack has surprised even Son'Uva herself as he ruthlessly and violently makes his way to the top as one of the few fighters remaining. Jack serves as the embodiment of the everyman, right down to his name, which is just slightly more original than ‘John’. He serves as the human element - a single dad fighting to protect his children as well as a community of working-class townspeople just trying to make a living.
In his early years, he was known as the Incredible Flying Man, a circus act from a simpler time in Earth's history. When rumors pertaining to the origin of his then "high-tech" rocket machinery began to surface, he fled the public eye, fearing for his life. Thought to have died years ago, he mysteriously resurfaced upon news of Son'Uva's challenge. Seemingly un-aged and more advanced, he now dons the title of Archfiend... And what was once a circus act has become a horrible display of violence as he topples countless warriors in pursuit of Son'Uva's heart.
Archfiend is an oddball in the lineup. He was originally going to be a more hellish, supernatural-based fighter, but there were already so many fighters in that category that I decided to go in a more alien-tech direction... I thought it give more depth to the universe being established. At least as much depth as a silly 2D fighter can really have.
Gazael was once very close with the Gate Keeper, Legacy. Upon his disappearance, she spent centuries searching for her old friend. When Son’Uva resurfaced with Legacy by her side, Gazael was furious and demanded she be allowed to participate in the competition. Her request, however, was denied due to Azriel’s involvement (which could pit Angel against Angel - a forbidden act). Without hesitation, she surrendered her Angelic status and fell to Earth. Now, with only a portion of her former glory, she relentlessly fights her way through hundreds of warriors in a race against time to save her old friend from Azriel's wrath… before the consequences of her actions find her.
Like Azriel and Maith, Gazael is an angelic character who's wings will briefly appear based on various actions. In addition she has a halo which can be seen as well - this was to separate her as a more innocent and good-aligned character than her other angelic counterparts, who while still fight on the side of good, behave in a manner that is more akin to an antihero. She's also designed after my wife, so there's that too.
He is little more than a servant of the law; a mere executor of justice. Holding no independent thought of his own, he requires no mouth, for he has no reason to speak, only act. There is only guilt or innocence, nothing in between, and for this reason, Maith is rarely unleashed by his masters. Today he holds Gazael's number. Because he has little care for the competition, Son'Uva has allowed him to continue his mission, finding him to be an interesting wild card should one of the combatants cross his path...
Originally Maith was intended to be a hidden character that was nothing more than a color swap of Azriel (a la Reptile, Smoke, Noob Saibot, etc...), even his moves were the same with a slight altering of appearance. However he grew on me and I decided to make him his own unique character with his own unique set of moves. I designed his attacks to revolve around the manipulation of blood, then a year later Mortal Kombat 9 re-imagined Skarlet as a blood-manipulating ninja and suddenly Maith was, yet again, a cheap MK knockoff. Curse you, Ed Boon!!!
Nark's origins are as mysterious as his strange artistic abilities of manifestation and decimation. With his pencil he can draw anything he imagines and bring it to life, and with his eraser he can destroy nearly anything it touches - even reality itself. Nark lives as a drifter and has roamed the earth for years searching for a purpose. Upon hearing of Son'Uva's offer, he made no hesitation in entering the competition, where he has eliminated his enemies in the shadows and is yet to be found by the remaining fighters…
Originally Nark was to be a hidden character that would have played as a re-skinned version of Hayden, but, like Maith, he became his own unique fighter with a move set more suited to his strange appearance. Basically Nark is an artist self-insert (hence the giant #2 pencil he wields), and resembles yours truly circa early 2000’s.
To some, he is known as "The Keeper of the Abyss". For centuries, this entity has held the keys to the Underworld. At some point in Son'Uva's lifetime, she grew powerful enough to enslave this beast and he now serves as not only her personal guardian, but as the final test for any warrior to be deemed worthy of challenging Son'Uva and potentially claiming the ultimate prize... Her power.
Legacy's title is the "Keeper of the Abyss", but upon seeing him in action you quickly realize he is the abyss itself. The majority of his moves involve the arms of tortured souls struggling to escape (or even dragging you in with them). In the tradition of cheap MK knockoffs, Legacy was meant to be the large hulking mini-boss before the scrawny wizard, however his backstory with Gazael makes his tale more of a tragedy, as the path to victory involves the destruction of an innocent mind slave. You should be ashamed of yourself.
As explained in the game's plot, Son'Uva is an immensely powerful and ancient wizard. So powerful that the mere opportunity to claim her power has sent warriors from not only Earth, but planets and dimensions beyond frantically slaughtering their way to her fortress. Her tale, however, is not entirely sinister in nature, but rather a final attempt to conquer the one thing she genuinely fears - fate.
In a rare instance, the main villain of this game is in fact seeking to be defeated. Fate seemingly demands she die someday, but in Son'Uva's great power and stubbornness, she plans to do so on her terms, and her terms alone...
Nephilim belongs to a race of beings conceived of an unholy union of Angel and Man nearly 4,000 years ago. Immortal, yet forbidden to ever enter Heaven's gates (nor Hell's for that matter), his kind were outcasted and shunned. Wandering the earth alone, Nephilim seeks to obtain Son'Uva's prize and use it to become human... whether his mortality leads him to Hell or to Heaven.
This was one of the earliest characters designed for the roster and originally looked much, much different. He was going to be the miniboss and would have appeared as a large hulking beast outfitted in a half black/half white attire (symbolizing his hybrid origins). Ultimately the character was scrapped for the laziest reason - When he switched which direction he was facing, I didn't want to go through the effort of re-illustrating his frames to show the black side of his outfit, so instead I created Legacy as Nephilim's replacement.
Years later I redesigned Nephilim as more of a Jack clone with all black skin and half his face illumunated in the shape of a skull. Sadly, I never got around to fleshing him out more beyond this.
Lord help me with this one... Leo was yet another self-insert, this time taking the shape of a man fused with his pet schnauzer (I grew up with a mini-schnauzer named Leo, hence the name). A Were-Schnauzer, if you will. His moves involved changing various parts of his body into werewolf-esque appendages. A fist would be a monstrous wolf-like arm, he could morph his face into a dog and bite you, etc... He was silly, to say the least. I'm still not sure what the purpose of giving him a scarf was.
But it wasn't all for nothing, I took the face I designed for him and applied it to Nark's character (who was basically just Hayden with a spiky wig at the time). So there was that.
This was the very first stage designed for the game. If you grew up in the vicinity of Derry, NH, then you're most likely familiar with Pinkerton Academy (the high school with a campus that is slowly absorbing the entire town like a cancer). Pinkerton is most recognized by its trademark clock tower, a beautiful brick monolith overseeing its students like the Eye of Sauron. I always wondered what was up there - I mean obviously normal clock tower stuff - but my imagination always got the best of me. Given my overall view of the High School experience, the best I was able to assess was that it was blood stained room of torture, complete with an endless supply of dangling meat hooks.
And there you have it. The Tower stage.
I had planned on making an upper level to this arena where you would fight within the actual clock section of the tower, but I was too lazy to draw gears. I'm not what you would call a go-getter. In any case, the animation on this stage was minimal with some meathooks swinging back and forth in the background. Not bad for a first attempt at video game backgrounds.
The Badlands are basically your view of the game's overall location. The area you're standing in is battle-torn and devastated from the previous challengers who have ultimately failed. In the far distance you see a large structure with a bridge leading towards a floating island. Directly underneath the bridge you can see the silhouette of the Pinkerton Tower. It's meant to give some context as to where different stages are located, but really they're just sprinkled in as easter eggs to fill the background some. The stage was inspired by the Mortal Kombat II arena, Wasteland. While I was getting my butt kicked by the insane difficulty, I was focusing mostly on the scenery, wondering if I could spot other arenas from the previous game.
Obviously there was going to be a bridge. And obviously the intent was to have somebody get slapped off of hat bridge and fall to a gruesome death. I don't even know that it's necessary to write much about it, you all know the purpose this stage serves. Moving on!
Oh look, the bottom of the bridge! When Mortal Kombat's bridge bottom has a few heads on pikes, it's imperative that you exaggerate your version to the MAX! Bones everywhere! If you were to zoom in from the Badlands stage to the Tower's silhouette, you'd see this horrific sight. Why is my High School standing proudly in the middle of this awful depiction of misery, you ask? Artistic Freudian slip.
… I was not a fan of High School.
While suffering from a creative slump, I asked a good friend of mine to help me brainstorm a new arena for the game. He quickly mocked up a golden, ancient tomb setting and passed it along to me. There were some minor differences from the final product, the largest being that his design had two large golden beast statues with spikes meant for impaling - I took it in a different direction and made the tomb more of a shrine for the title villain, however those statues were the inspiration for a very specific statue in the Badlands. You can probably guess what its main function is.
If you haven't picked up on the reason I named this stage Edgell's Tomb, well, it's because my friend's name is Edgell. Explained.
This arena was ripped right out of an old comic I drew in college that I'm never going to show the world because it's too embarassing now. Generators fueled by people. The existence of this stage paints Son'Uva herself in a more sinister light, which wasn't my intent, I just thought it looked cool.
I've been bleeding this idea dry since 2007, but it's one of my favorite things to draw - The DNA Tree. Aside from just liking the idea, I added this stage in to show how ancient Son'Uva is, showing bones of prehistoric beasts as well as a tree symbolizing the simplest breakdown of life itself.
But who am I kidding, I just love drawing trees shaped like double helixes.
For the epic showdown against Legacy, you fight within the Cathedral as Son'Uva oversees the match in the background. Rather than just making a simple church, I decided to incorporate every fighter from the game into the background design; they aren't too hard to spot if you're looking. I thought it'd be fun to play with the idea that either A.) Son'Uva always knew these fighters were coming for her, and these characters have been implemented into the design of the cathedral for centuries. Or B.) As a demonstration of her power, she can recreate the room at will. Both options are equally unsettling.
Upon the defeat of Legacy, all hell breaks loose - literally. Being that the abyss is now open for business, the souls he was maintaining inside of him are now released and have begun wreaking havoc all over the cathedral. In a fiery scene, you see their arms bursting through the stained glass windows in the background and emerging from the giant stone cauldrons. It is at this moment that Son'Uva emerges to grant you your final challenge.
Of all the stages, this one was always my favorite because it felt cinematic - Something you don't generally get in standard fighting games. It also was disturbing in that even if you won, what were you supposed to do about all the lost souls you just unleashed upon the world?
With the exception of the Cathedrals, each stage has been given a deliciously gory death trap for which to humiliate your opponents with upon their defeat. While these were a fun addition, the amount of additional animation per character that they required made me wish I had just stuck with one or two. Live and learn. In any case, enjoy the showcase below:
Music is one of the most important elements to any game. When it's good, it can make even the poorest made games iconic. When it's bad, well, that game better be one of the finest examples of expert game design ever conceived. Having lots of musical friends, you'd think I'd be swimming in fresh game tracks... However, as it turns out, having musical friends means they're busy doing their own creative projects. So I was forced to make my own soundtrack for Son'Uva. I did what I could, feel free to take a listen.
The timeline of this game's development gets hazy as time goes on, but aside from doodles and brainstorms throughout the late 90s/early 2000's, it really began taking form in 2009. I had been laid off from my job due to the market crash of 08' and found myself with more free time than I knew what to do with. So, like the mature adult I was... I started designing a video game! Over the next few months I created a basic storyboard, character outlines and even developed some basic Flash animations for Hayden (who was named Hunter at the time). I blogged my overall progress in July, and if you feel like seeing some crudely drawn work from a decade ago, the post is still up here. You can read some of the early bios, old character descriptions, and if you really care, learn where I came up with the name Son'Uva (Spoiler Alert: It's really dumb).
It was around this time that I was reached out to by a Flash gaming group in the UK who sounded interested in helping me create the game. They agreed to help with the game in exchange for some freelance illustration work on some games they were already developing. It was an interesting relationship, but one that ended on a sour note, sadly. On the flip side, I used that opportunity to flesh out each character more and focus on what kinds of moves they would showcase.
That basically summed up the work for 2009. The game was much more fleshed out, some early animation was getting done, but ultimately I had to focus on job hunting and contract work to pay the bills, so not much more got accomplished in that time.
The following year is where the meat of the work took place. After a brief hiatus, I revisited the work I had done and found that the animation angle was going to be a big hurdle. So I went back to the drawing board on the look and feel and ultimately arrived on a much more simplified look and feel, resembling something closer to my current style of illustration. To simplify things further, I created each fighter in segments (arms, legs, torso, head, etc...) to make animation less involved (i.e., moving an arm up or down versus having to redraw the entire character in a new pose 100 times like a flip book).
Animation was the primary focus of 2010, and I began getting more and more comfortable with the newer approach to it. I was blogging fairly heavily during this time as well to document all the progress I had managed to achieve; this proved useful as I've had to reference it a number of times just to create this page. In addition to animation, I created a handful of arenas and developed new fighters for the game... It was pretty much the most productive year I've ever had on this game.
The following year was a lot of the same, although not as consistent in the amount accomplished. I had begun a new job in 2010 and by the time 2011 rolled around my responsibilities there kept me much busier... Oh, and there was also thing - I got married. So needless to say, Son'Uva was a low priority at best, but I kept at it when I could.
In 2012 I made a giant leap in the game's development - I actually got it to a point where it was playable! Playable in that you could move your character around the screen and make him perform various attacks. It wasn't perfect, but it was actually functional and for the first time, a real playable game actually appeared doable.
Then I got my wife pregnant.
What can I say, life happens. My final update on that version of the game was March 10, 2012. I was excited about the progress, but given that I had a son on the way, my focus was elsewhere and wouldn't return to Son'Uva until mid/late 2014. Besides basic growing up stuff, a lot changes over the course of 2 years - mainly my skill as an artist. Looking at all of the work I had put into Son'Uva over those few years frustrated me because all I could see was underwhelming art. It bothered me so much that I changed course for Son'Uva and started over with an art style that never gets outdated - PIXEL ART.
Maybe it was a good idea, maybe it was a bad idea, but it was an idea nonetheless and so long as it got the ball rolling on Son'Uva it was good in my book. One of the benefits to going the pixel route was that it didn't take very long to get a handful of characters completed and fully animated for testing controls. And tested they were, 5 of them to be exact: Azriel, Son'Uva, Gazael, Sadis-Jyn & Hayden. So essentially (with the exeption of half the roster) I was caught up to where I had left off in 2012 and it took only a few months to get there. It was time for the next phase to begin... AI.
This is where things got rough. I had a general idea of how to code the behaviors, but my limited code-knowledge by this point made the task more tedious than anything I had been used to up to this point. The fun part of creating a game was over - the creativity, the art, the music - and it was time to buckle in and learn to code. It took some time, but I eventually managed to get a formidable opponent in the form of a CPU character. The logic wasn't all that complicated, for every action my character took, the computer basically rolled the dice on a response. It was no different than playing a slot machine, but at least you could actually play the game for a change. And thus was born the very first REAL playable demo of Son'Uva.
It was quite a thing to behold - I was finally playing the game I had been thinking about since High School (albeit an extremely alpha, bare-bones version of it). The joy was short-lived. By this point, Flash was quickly going the way of the dinosaur and with the rise of mobile phones, the few people that DID see the demo weren't capable of playing it even if they wanted to. So it was time to improvise... But not for another year.
With Flash out of the picture, I found myself yet again starting from scratch. At least this time I had the art assets ready to simply be plugged in to whatever game-making program I deemed worthy (and by worthy, I meant cheap). Enter GAMESALAD & STENCYL. Gamesalad was shiny and new, it seemed to get halfway decent reviews and the coding was handled via drag & drop. So I gave it a go. Before long I was back to where I had left off with Flash, only now it was in a fancy new game-maker and had to potential to be played ANYWHERE. No Flash Player required!
Yeah, it was a bust. It ran like crap, it barely loaded half the time and the file sizes were GIGANTIC. I'm sure in the hands of a more experienced developer it could have turned out better, but this program was advertised as essentially Game Making for Dummies. So I rage-quit and downloaded Stencyl the following year. For sure it had to be better! ... Yeah, no, it sucked too, only this time I had gotten even FURTHER into the AI process and was making some serious progress.
And sadly, this is where the sad tale of Son'Uva ends. When Stencyl failed me I threw in the game making towel and scurried back to my true passion - Just making art. I began work on a comic book the following year...
And somehow in the process made a freaking video game!
While the game itself was never playable (pre-pixel version), I did use the animations to create a handful of examples of how I intended the gameplay to look. Enjoy this little compilation of what was meant to be: