Interview: Bertil Hörberg Talks Super Punch Patrol And More

The mastermind behind Gunman Clive, Mechstermination Force, and Super Punch Patrol dishes on his new game and a lot besides.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/28/2020 12:40 Comment on this     ShareThis

Designer Bertil Hörberg has slowly but surely been building up one of the more interesting collections of indie games in the industry. While not prolific, Hörberg instead puts a great deal of craft and thought into each of the games that he makes. The result has been the Gunman Clive duo of shooter-platformersMechstermination Force, which married the guns-ablaze glory of Contra with the enormous boss fights of Cuphead, and now Super Punch Patrol, which is Hörberg’s take on classic brawlers like Final Fight and Streets of Rage.

We were fortunate enough to have the chance to ask him about his new game, how quarantine impacted his work, and what he might have in store down the road. Without further ado, here’s our chat with the designer himself!

Nintendojo: Super Punch Patrol is a return to a visual style very reminiscent of Gunman Clive. What about this sketch-like aesthetic seemed the perfect fit for your new game?

Bertil Hörberg: In some ways the style came before the game. I did some rendering experiments in my spare time while working on another project last year (that I should still finish someday), and I think it works especially well on the characters, which is really the heart of a beat ’em up, and the bulk of the workload. I had thought a bit about making a beat ’em up before, and this style made it possible to create a lot of content quickly and still look good and stick out.

ND: The world has been in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic for months now. It’s presented a lot of logistical challenges for development teams all over the globe. Even as a one-person team, how did COVID impact the creation of Super Punch Patrol?

BH: Honestly the game probably wouldn’t exist without covid, at least not in this form and not now. I was actually planning to take a break from development and some extended time off to focus on my personal life and mental health, and I shut down my studio last fall for this reason (I had a small team while working on Mechstermination Force but back to being solo again now), but as the pandemic started there wasn’t really much else to do than stay home and sit in front of the computer, so I picked up this project and started working an unhealthy amount instead.

ND: Expanding from the last question, on a personal level, how has the pandemic impacted you as a designer and an artist? Were there any emotional or physical challenges that arose as a result of being confined to your home working on the game?

BH: Being stuck at home meant it was harder to get any feedback on the game. I usually don’t do a lot of external testing, but I at least let my friends try my games every now and then during development, which I couldn’t do now. And being a Switch game means I can’t easily send a build to other people to try out either. And of course the game supports local co-op, which is kind of tricky to test by yourself. It wasn’t until towards the end of development that anyone else had tried the game at all, and even then I only properly tested multiplayer a handful of times before release.

ND: The death of George Floyd ignited a firestorm of emotional outpourings and reactions. You’ve stated on social media that this presented a challenge to you in depicting a trio of heroes who are police officers. I’m a person of color, myself, and I really loved the three characters and your portrayal of them. How did you find the sort of “sweet spot,” so to speak, in crafting these three and the backdrop for Super Punch Patrol?

BH: I originally just wanted an as simple non-plot as possible, and figured the easiest way to to justify the violence without a complicated plot or a damsel in distress was to go the law enforcement route. Even though it’s rather silly and the gameplay is as far from real police work imaginable. Then when craziness started (not to say police violence/racism is a new issue), I wasn’t sure what to feel about my game. Was it wrong to depict violent cops in this climate, even though it’s just some silly retro tropes? Was I being arrogant for thinking my game was culturally relevant enough to even matter how I portrayed anyone? I considered changing it; it’s basically two paragraphs of texts and a few details in some of their costumes to remove the police references. But in the end I felt it was better to just stick with it (and I also just wanted to finish the game).

As for the character design process… Nils is just generic hot guy, Anders is basically Black Haggar. And Selma is, well, a woman, which I’m not very good at designing or modelling so I’m just trying my best to make her look ok-ish.

ND: They’re all your babies, so rather than asking you to pick one, how about instead you give us the inside dirt on Police Chief Anders Punch and Nils and Selma Snyting. What’s something interesting about each character, whether what inspired their creation or some detail that fans might not notice?

BH: Some fans might see some strong similarities between Nils and a character in an old prototype for a project I showed a long time ago: Also some of their unlockable costumes correlates to their hobbies listed in the character bio; Nils has a Gunman Clive cosplay as well as a generic superhero costume, Selma a karate Gi, and Anders a Golf outfit.

ND: Gunman Clive, Mechstermination Force, and now Super Punch Patrol: you’ve got a trifecta of series now that pay homage and innovate within the sphere of retro video games. What about the games of the past drives your passion as a creator? How do you manage to so effectively update retro gameplay for today’s players?

BH: On one hand I’m just an old fart who’s a sucker for retro games. But also I think there are a lot of things that are fascinating about that era. Back then even the biggest most prestigious titles were done by very small teams by today’s standards and could afford to be weird and different while still considered mainstream, and even a lot of the more niche games have had a huge influence on the industry and gaming community. I think if I’ve been successful in updating the gameplay it’s probably by not updating it quite as much as many other indies try to do. I focus more on updating the look and maintaining the gameplay while many do the opposite. Even though some game mechanics or entire genres are heavily influenced by technical limitations at the time they can still be equally valid today, and not all newer trends are necessarily better or fit in every game.

ND: Can you walk us through the basics of crafting the perfect level in a beat ’em up like Super Punch Patrol? What provides the quintessential brawler experience, in your estimation?

BH: Oh I wouldn’t say I’ve in any way managed to create perfect levels. For simplicity I’ve avoided all sorts of platforming and other level-hazards and interactive elements that you could really use to spruce up a level if you’re making a bigger project. But I’ve tried to make a good variety of enemies and then also making each enemy wave feel different with a variety of ways to spawn in enemies etc. That’s all there is to it really.

ND: The soundtrack in Super Punch Patrol is very catchy. Who are your musical inspirations?

BH: The music here, like in Gunman Clive and part of the Mechstermination soundtrack, is composed by my brother Arne. To some extent I just let him do what he wanted, with the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack as a general reference. Interestingly a couple of the tracks here are reworked from songs originally intended for some of my previous canceled projects, so they have some influences you probably wouldn’t expect in a beat ’em up in this setting otherwise, but still work great.

ND: The game has just come out as of this writing, but you’ve got a real Hörberg-verse going at this point. Do you ever contemplate expanding into other forms of media beyond games? Particularly given how visually creative your games are, they seem ripe for interpretation beyond the realm of pixels and polygons.

BH: Haha no I’ve never really considered that, and with how light my games are on story I don’t see much point in trying to adapt them into other media.

ND: Closing thoughts: where do you go from here and what should fans look forward to from you in the future?

BH: There is kind of an expectation when you get a bit of indie success to make bigger and bigger games. But I’m not really interested in that. I struggle a lot with motivation and stress when working on big projects, which is why I’ve had several cancelled projects and been burnt out a bunch of times. This was a huge step back in terms of scope and dev time, closer to Gunman Clive 1, and I think I’ll try to keep it that way if players are okay with smaller games, or I’ll just take that extended break that I was planning before this.

Thank you so much to Bertil Hörberg for taking the time to chat with us. Our review of Super Punch Patrol will be live this week and we will also be running a promotion to win a copy of the game—keep it tuned to Nintendojo for more!

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