There are times when you just want a good solid brawl. Not in real life, oh god, no – none of that silliness, even when it’s too warm and you’ve been cooped up in the house for so long you’ve forgotten how to use the bus. No, I mean a brawl in a game.
Thank the powers that be (aka Ground Shatter) for Fights in Tight Spaces, then, which brings together fights and tight spaces in a way we’ve not seen since… well, probably John Wick Hex, really. But that quick comparison out of the way, it’s fair to say Fights in Tight Spaces adds a hell of a lot more strategy and – shock – thought to proceedings over Bithell Games’ fantastic-and-flawed film tie-in. Oh, and Bithell Games is also providing support as well as publisher Mode 7, so there’s some more crossover for you.
The big move into strategy comes in the form of the deck of cards you’re always using to fight. Yes, Fights in Tight Spaces is a combination of turn-based tactics and deck-building, with the skin of an action movie skin wrapped around it.
There’s going to be lots of action movie references here, by the way, and none of them are being dismissive of the game: “The very first pitch that I sent to Paul [Kilduff-Taylor of Mode 7] said ‘Are you interested in Fights in Tight Spaces: it’s Into the Breach/Hoplite meets a Jason Statham film?’ and it hasn’t changed much since then,” explains James Parker, founder of Ground Shatter and lead designer on Fights.
“Fandom of proper stupid action movies has permeated all of Ground Shatter’s output,” he says. “So I’ve always wanted to make something that reflects the action trope of a character stuck in confined quarters with a bunch of bad guys. And a few ideas were whirling around in my head on how to achieve that, and in the end, I mashed them all together into what you see now.”
The tight spaces of the title are indeed that, with a small grid-based level featuring all of the action in any particular encounter. Even so, the initial plan was to have things even smaller: “Originally I wanted to have very tight spaces like the back of a car,” Parker says, “but that was going to prove too inflexible. We were also going to go bigger in the environments, but we found that even a classic 8×8 grid ended up too large for the sorts of fights that we wanted to choreograph.”
That focus on ‘stupid’ might make you think the game lacks some cognitive capacity, but with the help of Mode 7 – creators of the superb Frozen Synapse – there’s definite strategic chops behind the big, burly brawls. “Players love a really clear, bold concept,” explains Kilduff-Taylor, “Right from the first trailer we’ve been able to show characters doing cool, exciting moves as new cards are played from the deck.
“That’s a direct connection between aesthetics and mechanics, which is something I’ve always been keen on. I love games where you can just take a glance at them and go ‘I want to do that’, so right from James’s earliest pitch I felt that we could convey that to an audience without too much trouble. The game’s highly readable, but it also isn’t boring to look at – that’s actually pretty rare, and the titles that nail it tend to do well.”
Balance and overcomplicating things are probably the two big worries for any team making a game with a genre mix like Fights in Tight Spaces, so it’s good to hear Parker is all over it: “The biggest issue is that we’re always having to juggle the potential for the player to have too much control in the fight space, and hence it being too easy, or have too little, and hence it being too difficult or frustrating,” he says.
“So every time we add a new feature, move, or enemy type, we have to be careful about the knock-on effects.” Another part of the balance is simply by keeping things uncomplicated. The deck-building aspect is straightforward: a random selection of cards to choose and some enhancements. That’s it. “Because we’re dealing with all the extra complexity and tactical character movement on top of deck-building,” Parker says, “we wanted to keep the metagame more straightforward and approachable and concentrate on the moment-to-moment smashing of baddies’ faces into things.”
With a title like Fights in Tight Spaces and core mechanics revolving around… well, fights that are held in spaces which could be considered ‘tight’, you might be forgiven for assuming it’s all just a throwaway – a bit of a jape to pass the time. Not so, as Kilduff-Taylor explains: “I’d love this game to stand out from the crowd of modern deck-builders and be something that people bring up in conversations about the genre as a whole,” he says.
“We’d love the chance to build on it as a foundation and add even more ridiculous moves, abilities, and so on – it’s something that everyone involved would be delighted to keep working on for a long time.”
Genre: Fighting (in tight spaces)
Developer: Ground Shatter
Publisher: Mode 7