Not to be mistaken with the novel by Clive Cussler…
Welcome back to yet another Miketendo64 interview and do we have a good one for you today. Having already made its console debut, we were recently given the chance to talk to Drakkar Dev to learn more about their latest release, Blackwind. With promising gameplay, high-octane action and engaging graphics, we had a lot to ask and a lot got answered.
Without further ado, it is time to get this interview underway, and for that, first we must introduce you to Manlio Greco:
Bongiorno Signore Greco:
Miketendo64: Before we dive right into the probing questions, we always like to start things off nice and light. Therefore, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Manlio Greco: My name’s Manlio Greco, I’m 48, I’m from Italy, I’ve been working in the video games industry since 2006 and I consider myself a creative person with a particular interest in fantasy and sci-fi contents.
Miketendo64: And now to follow-up, what is your role at Drakkar Dev and what is the extent of your involvement with Blackwind?
Manlio Greco: I’m the programmer and co-founder of Drakkar Dev together with my colleague and friend Domenico Gallo (lead artist).
Drakkar Dev is a very small team, Blackwind was developed by only 6 people, so everyone of us has roles and skills that blend each other.
In Blackwind, I’ve done all the programming, contributed to the game design and story development.
Engaging Gameplay & Gorgeous Graphics:
Miketendo64: To properly kick things off, can you tell us a bit about Blackwind? What is it and how does it play?
Manlio Greco: Blackwind is a sci-fi action game that blends hack n slash, twin stick shooting, platforming and environmental puzzles. It tells the story of a kid (James Hawkins) trapped inside a prototype battle armour that finds himself lost on a foreign planet that has just been invaded by an alien race.
Miketendo64: When creating a game like Blackwind, how extensive was the process in trying to map the controls to exactly how you need them to be and how hard was it to get the game to run in your desired fashion?
Manlio Greco: One of our creeds is we need to be “humble”. There’s no point in trying to reinvent the wheel when someone has already done very well what you’re looking for.
For the controls we mapped the well-known mechanics to the well-known buttons (talking about game controllers) in order for the player to feel familiar with them. I know there are different “school of thought” even in this field but we tried to do our best to have comfortable and easy to pick-up controls.
Miketendo64: Blackwind certainly looks like a game that delivers on some fast-paced combat. Is there much difference in how each version differs in terms of graphics and performance? (Switch vs PS5 for example)
Manlio Greco: All platforms Blackwind is delivered to feature the same gameplay. Some platforms run the game at 60 fps, others at 30 fps but the gameplay still works great because it was designed to run well at 30 fps. Of course, there are differences in terms of graphics quality or fps through the various versions.
In terms of graphics, Blackwind runs at 30fps on Nintendo Switch with some settings adapted to the console. Considering the amount of effects (post-processing, HDR, tons of bullets, particles, etc.) I think it looks very good on the Switch. It uses different settings for portable and docked mode with the latter delivering the best quality.
Miketendo64: With such rich visuals and detailed environments, what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered as part of creating the game’s design?
Manlio Greco: We wanted the game to feature elements with a good amount of details. For instance, the Battle Frame (the main character’s power armor) is a very complex object with a lot of moving parts and details that don’t blur even in close-ups (as can be noticed in the very first scene of the game).
We used some techniques borrowed from other great games and developers (such as Star Citizen) adapted, of course, to the scale of our game. I think the results are good and we’re satisfied with the overall look.
Miketendo64: In terms of difficulty, just how challenging will players find Blackwind?
Manlio Greco: The answer is: just the amount you want. Blackwind features three levels of difficulty. The classical Easy, Normal and Hard. If you’re a skilled player you can complete the game just dying a couple of times.
If you prefer a smooth story with no hassle you can opt for the Easy mode. Normal is the balanced choice. The good part is you can change the difficulty at any time (even during combat) so you can just pick a difficulty level and change it over the course of the game.
Miketendo64: Is there anything in particular that prompted you to go with a top-down, third-person style of gameplay instead of first-person? Was first-person ever considered?
First-person games are great if you have to shoot. In Blackwind you shoot a lot, but not only. You also do a lot of hack n slash and the first person is bad with hack n’ slash. You also do some platforming and that would have been even worse in first person. The top-down was the best choice for us. It allows you to do all the previously mentioned things with ease and it’s the best choice especially for the twin-stick-shooting part. You also see what lies around and behind you: enemies, dangers, without having to turn the camera very often.
Miketendo64: Game development is never without its own issues. From ideas that can’t be realized, core gameplay mechanics getting overhauled or budgetary cuts, were there any cut ideas and content that were unable to be properly realized in Blackwind?
Manlio Greco: Actually, yes. There have been some ideas about things you could do with the Battle Frame that we had to cut. Mostly because of the global pandemic. It struck hard in our country (Italy) and we wasted a lot of time working remotely.
Luckily, we found some good ideas to fix the things in a smooth way and what the game is now, in terms of gameplay or story, is as cool as we wanted it to be from the beginning, just with different choices.
Miketendo64: When developing Blackwind, was there anything from the outset that you wished to accomplish in this title that you couldn’t in the previous installment?
Manlio Greco: Blackwind is a new game for us, it’s not a sequel to a previous game. It has features our previous games haven’t got but I think it’s quite natural as we, as developers, try to improve ourselves during the course of our career.
Where did the inspiration behind Blackwind come from and what prompted its creation?
We took inspiration from games, mainly Darksiders 1 & 2 and God of War for the gameplay. Also, the Alien movies, and Avatar movie played a large role in terms of sci-fi settings and the story.
Blackwind is also full of references from many other movies the players can find out as easter eggs. For the Battle Frame design, the Japanese anime “Gundam” was one of the sources of inspiration.
Miketendo64: Video game development is a lot like the development of a child. It is very involved, the hours are long and each child and development process, is completely different from the next. How does Blackwind compare to the other games you’ve worked on? Did you learn anything new about yourself and the development process?
Blackwind was quite unique in its development. Our previous game, War Tech Fighters, was quite different in terms of gameplay. We had some experience of platforming and hack n’ slash mechanics from our previous titles so we blended them to have what became Blackwind in the end. We learned that every game is different, what can work for one is not necessarily the best choice for the new game and vice-versa.
Miketendo64: If you had to pick one singular moment that is your most favorite moment during the entire development of Blackwind, what is it and why?
Blackwind story changed a lot since the very beginning. When we decided to change it to the current one version it was a great moment because it adds a lot of depth to the characters and the overall mood of the game. It may look like Blackwind is just “a prototype armor fighting aliens”. It is not. Things are obviously not as simple as they look at a first glance and you may find the aliens are not the real threat (oops…spoiler!).
Miketendo64: Looking back at your development cycle, is there anything you would do differently?
Manlio Greco: I think that any project “could have been done differently”. It doesn’t mean it can’t work the way it is now. Having infinite time and unlimited resources one could do the best game ever but…the reality is you have to deal with time and budgets so we had to do our best to deliver the best game possible for our team in that given time and budget.
James Hawkins and his Alien Oppressors:
Miketendo64: With James Hawkins starring as the game’s protagonist, can you tell us a bit about this would-be hero and what his life is like before the events of Blackwind?
James Hawkins (a clear reference to The Treasure Island) is a 15-16 old kid. He has recently lost his mother. His father, Prof. Hawkins, is a scientist and he’s working with the army on new Battle Frame proto-types. James is trying to build a closer relationship with his father that still thinks he’s too young and needs protection.
As his father needs to move to a new colony, Medusa-42, he brings James with him with the promise of “starting a new life on a foreign planet”. James sees this as a new adventure like kids usually do.
Miketendo64: With James Hawkins having to pick up the controls to a Battle Frame rather quickly, should we wish to survive, could you walk through some of the powers the suits possess?
Manlio Greco: Actually, as shown in the game’s intro, there are two Battle Frames in the game. One is what James’ father built for the army, the other one, the one we’ll use throughout the game, is very similar but with an integrated, highly evolved AI, codename “Blackwind”.
“It’s like having a best buddy on board” says James’ father.
The AI is what renders the Battle Frame so powerful. Its main core can “evolve” and unlock new powers. The powers the player will have at the beginning are: Laser Shooting, Energy Blades (for melee), homing missiles, the ability to Dash at high speed, and the usual jump and double jump.
The Battle Frame can also deploy a flying drone that can be used for exploration, combat (it’s quite powerful actually) and interaction with the environment especially while solving puzzles.
As the Battle Frame will find some peculiar element in its journey, the B-Wolfrium, it will evolve, augmenting its power that will bring the “Black Mode”, a time warping combat mode that slows down time.
Other powers are the Powerwave, a powerful energy blast that destroys everything around the player, with the option to set things on fire; an Energy Shield that can protect the Battle Frame and even reflect damage back and the Raknos Healing, the ability to self-repair the suit.
Every power can be upgraded with the skill tree.
Miketendo64: With the Rankos being the invading aliens, looking to bring war against humanity and the pilots of Battle Frames, can you tell us a bit about the extraterrestrial villains and give us a brief introduction to a couple of the enemy types players can expect to encounter?
Manlio Greco: The Raknos are an insect-like alien species. They’re organized like a hive, with a queen ruling over the individuals. They are not a primitive species though. They developed an advanced technology even if their tech is based on biology. Basically they “mutate” to do different jobs.
So, you can find biped Raknos, wasp-like ones, spider-like ones, just to mention some of them. Others can be huge and fierce like the War Beasts that are extremely dangerous since their armor can block normal bullets. A note about the “invading aliens”: are you sure they are actually “invading”? Maybe there’s something else behind…(oops, second spoiler).
Droning on about Takedowns, Sequels & Skill Trees:
Miketendo64: Got to say, the finishing moves in Blackwind are absolutely stunning. Just how many fierce takedowns made it into the final version of the game and is there one in particular for you, that stands out the most?
Manlio Greco: The finishing moves are one of the hardest things we had to develop. They involve two characters, often of different sizes, and many other parts or “pieces” since the Battle Frame will dismember the enemy in inventive ways. Every enemy that is “terminatable” has its own finishing move and we wanted the finishing moves to be as fierce as we could.
Finishing moves are not a merely aesthetic feature though, they serve the gameplay. Finishing an enemy rewards the player with “power orbs” that, once collected, allows the player to perform special attack/moves like launching homing missiles, generate power blasts, raise a shield or heal. So the more finishers you make, the more powerful you get.
Personally I like the finishing move for the “swordsman” alien. I think it’s one of the fiercest in the game.
Miketendo64: Skill trees have become a very common feature. How soon into Blackwind’s development was it decided to utilize a skill tree?
Manlio Greco: In Blackwind you can do many things, from combat-specific ones to special powers.
The choice for a skill tree was quite obvious from the very beginning. There were just too many skills to have one giant skill tree. We wanted the skill tree to be very readable even on small screens like the Nintendo Switch so we split all the skills in three separate trees, General, Combat and Special.
Miketendo64: We’ll be honest, we love the Battle Frame Drone feature. At what point in development did the drone become an essential feature and can you tell us about its functions and uses?
Manlio Greco: People playing Blackwind usually think of it as a tool to solve some puzzles. It’s actually much more! You can think of it as a different character. Yes, it can’t do melee but it’s very powerful at shooting, it can deploy mines and traps, very useful against hordes of enemies. It flies and it’s small in size, so it can reach places the Battle Frame can’t.
You can even release it in battle and letting it fight at your side, or you can take control of the Drone and let the Battle Frame help you as an AI. It can be used in coop mode too. When properly equipped the Drone is very powerful as it’s hard to be hit (due to the small size) and can be devastating with its shooting and the mines and traps.
Miketendo64: Was local co-op something you were always hoping to implement or something that happened over the course of development?
Manlio Greco: We wanted to give the player the ability to play with a friend and the Drone is very suitable for this task. We even re-designed some parts of the game to be a bit different when playing in coop mode.
Miketendo64: For the completionists out there, other than just beating the main campaign, what else does Blackwind have to offer in terms of content and roughly, how long does it take to beat and complete?
Manlio Greco: There are collectible skins that alter the look of the Battle Frame. They are scattered across the game’s maps. Not all of them are immediately available, some requires a bit of work to get collected. Many of the skins are inspired to well know sci-fi characters.
Other than that, there are upgrades in the game, in the form of “B-Wolfrium cores” that increase the suite abilities. Some of them are hidden and, when found, reward the player with more power/health. The game is of course designed to be beaten even without these “extra” upgrades.
Miketendo64: Depending on how well Blackwind is received, is this a game you could see yourselves supporting with post-game content or developing a sequel for?
Manlio Greco: We would hope so!
Dreaming the “N” Possible:
Miketendo64: Since we are a Nintendo site, with the likes of WayForward being allowed to work on the upcoming Advanced Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp and Brace Yourself Games developing 2019’s Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda, if you had the chance to work on ANY Nintendo IP, which one would be your dream come true and, if you were in charge of the entire project, what kind of game would you like to make?
Manlio Greco: Who doesn’t want to do the next Zelda??
Miketendo64: Since Blackwind is by no means the only game Drakkar Dev has been involved in, we would love to take this moment to talk about some of your other games. So, are there any games you would love to recommend to our readers?
Manlio Greco: Our previous game, War Tech Fighters, is one we hold dear in our heart. It’s a love letter to the “giant robots” genre. It’s available on many platforms, PC, Switch and other consoles. We worked on it for nearly three years. Developing it was as hard as rewarding.
Miketendo64: Other than Blackwind, does Drakkar Dev have anything else lined up in the pipeline that gamers the world over could hope to enjoy sometime later in 2022 and 2023?
Manlio Greco: We’re embarking on a new project that will start in the next few months, very different from what we’ve done before. I can’t share many details except that it is very much story-driven and with a unique setting.
Miketendo64: Final question, is there anything you would like to say, or any additional comments you would like to add, for our readers and your fans? The floor is yours.
Manlio Greco: We’ve put all our efforts into Blackwind in the last two years and we’re continuing to support the game with patches and fixes. We strongly hope the players see the passion we’ve put into it. Thanks.
A huge “thank you” goes out to Manlio for taking the time to answer all our questions about the very impressive and explosive Blackwind. We’d also like to thank our readers for making it this far. We hope you enjoyed this interview as much as we did and look forward to the next one.
Blackwind is a top-down sci-fi action game that puts you in the shoes of a teenager trapped inside a prototype battle armor suit during an alien invasion. Face off against enemies, cut through their ranks, and fight back in a last-ditch attempt to stop a planetary invasion.
When the starship Pandora is shot down, James Hawkins finds himself trapped inside a military prototype Battle Frame armor as he hurtles towards Medusa-42. As the Raknos hordes ravage the planet and leave every human mining colony in ruins, James doesn’t have long to discover how to operate the Battle Frame if he wants to survive his dangerous surroundings and find his missing father.
But James isn’t alone on his quest – an unexpected ally hides inside his Battle Frame…
- Choose your playstyle: Engage in melee combat, shoot at will, launch missiles at enemies, or use special Battle Suit powers to survive showdowns.
- Fiercely terminate your opponents with brutal moves.
- Evolve your Battle Frame with new powers and expand your skill tree.
- Use the Battle Frame Drone to expand your fighting and exploring capabilities in the single-player campaign.
- Local Coop Mode: the Battle Frame and its Drone can be controlled by two players.
For those who would love to experience Blackwind for themselves, it is available now on the Nintendo Switch.