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Brawling to the beat: an interview with God of Rock’s Derek Neal

Modus Games' EVP Derek Neal summons the God of Rock!

What do you get when you cross a fighting game with a rhythm title? Well, probably a few confused looks and a rising sense you’re a bit off your rocker – but aside from that! You’d get Modus Games’ God of Rock, and let me tell you: if anyone can handle such a uniquely challenging combination of genres, it’s Modus. Their previous output – as indie devs to be watched – has been characterized by constant innovation and a refusal to back down from concepts other studios may shirk from. This is epitomized in the setup for God of Rock, which seeks to marry traditional beat-em-up gameplay to the precision and timing required of the finest rhythm classics. Very disparate fields, to be sure; and yet there’s an undeniable draw to the prospect. Fancy bashing an expy of Michael Jackson via the fists of a knockoff Elvis? Modus have you covered.

Just how did the idea come about, then? And what challenges did Modus have to overcome to get the game to where it is now (i.e. launching in a week)? We had a chat with the studio’s EVP of Production, Derek Neal, who was only too happy to elucidate everything.

Genesis of Rock

MV: Tell us a bit about the premise and gameplay of God of Rock, in your own words. How does it take inspiration from existing rhythm games and fighters, and how does it differ? How was the idea of merging these two genres conceived?

Derek: The combination was primarily born out of my own experience. I have played competitive fighting games for a long time, as well as rhythm games, and I’ve always thought there was some overlap – for example, doing long combos in a fighting game requires hitting buttons with particular timings. One moment where I had this thought very strongly was while practicing parrying in Street Fighter 3 – a feature in that game which basically necessitates learning the “rhythms” of all the moves.

The gameplay uses core rhythm game concepts, like notecharts and hold notes, but in a competitive setting. The players can attack each other whenever they want and in a variety of ways, the effects of which are translated into various special effects occuring on their note charts.

God of Rock Elvis
Now, where have I seen this mug before? The local Spoons, perhaps?

Some rockin’ characters

MV: Give us more of a sense of the characters the players can expect to meet. How were these decided upon, and how does your choice of character affect the gameplay?

Derek: Every character has a suite of unique abilities, and they all play very differently. They are largely styled after popular fighting game archetypes, including rushdown, rekka characters, stance characters, charge characters, and so forth. They also have mechanics that interact with each other in various ways, creating good and bad matchups. For example, Champ has many mechanics that give him a bonus when he gets a “Perfect” or “Flawless” rating. But Edith has a debuff power that temporarily limits the enemy scores to “Great” at the highest, which is therefore extra effective against Champ.

This dynamic extends to other characters, too. Queen has a cheaper-than-usual EX reversal, allowing her to interrupt the gameplay of characters like Johann more easily. Lynn has a move that puts opponents’ special moves on cooldown, which can be a problem if they are relying on certain combinations of buffs or debuffs. And so on.

School of rock

MV: During the game’s development, what challenges arose, if any, in trying to marry the gameplay of a rhythm game to a brawler? Was it a learning experience?

Derek: We went through many failed prototypes – pretty much nothing was easy with this project. Some of our earliest attempts at special moves, for example, required the inputs to be done to the beat. But it was very slow, very hard, and didn’t “feel” much like a fighting game. We tried temporarily replacing the other notes in the note chart with arrows to make the inputs work, but that was too abusable. In the end, it took a lot of iteration to get to where we are now.

God of Rock gameplay
Smash fans can vouch for how important it is to keep things balanced.

Probably the most surprising thing to me, personally, is just how easy it was to make the characters completely overpowered. Almost every character in the cast has completely broken the game balance at one point or another. In that way, it is also much like a regular fighting game – small balance tweaks can have surprising, outsized effects.

A new sense of rhythm

MV: What sets God of Rock apart from previous projects Modus Games have undertaken? What lessons have you learnt from prior games that you’ve brought forward into this one, and are there any aspects of this title you’d want to see expanded upon in a potential sequel?

Derek: This is the first rhythm game developed by Modus Games, but it has a very tongue-in-cheek style and a lot of attitude. It also takes a lot of risks with new gameplay directions, and in general is a genre-bending first in a lot of ways. We are very proud of it. The most gratifying thing would be if the rhythm and fighting game competitive communities continue to support it (as they have been already). We currently have 30 tournament organizers who have told us they will be running tournaments of the game on launch week, and we hope that more will continue to happen.

MV: Bit of a round-robin one to finish off; what are some members of the team’s favourite music games? Did any of their qualities fold into the project?

Derek: For me, my favorite music game is definitely Amplitude. I actually worked on this game, back in the PS2 days. I spent hundreds of hours playing it.

But, our beatmap artist, Geoff, would definitely say Dance Dance Revolution. He was a competitive DDR player, and has been making fan beatmaps for the series for years! He’s been an invaluable asset in making the game feel and play its best.

Buying rock

God of Rock interview header

Well, that about wraps it up! God of Rock will be available starting on April 18. You can find it on Steam, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch; so basically every format under the sun, so no excuses not to try it out if you’re interested. We’ll of course be reviewing it in short order, so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, many thanks to Derek, Geoff and the rest of the Modus team for participating!

Will you be picking up God of Rock? Let us know!

Bobby Mills

Motor-mouthed Brit with a decades long - well, two decades, at least - passion for gaming. Writer, filmmaker, avid lover of birthdays. Still remembers the glory days of ONM. May it rest in peace.
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