Iron Galaxy lead combat designer Adam "Keits" Heart talks to Shacknews about what's coming in Killer Instinct: Season 2, offering details on balance tweaks, TJ Combo, Maya, and how the game will evolve over the course of the coming months.

Killer Instinct lead combat designer talks Season 2, Combo, Maya, and more

By Ozzie Mejia, Sep 02, 2014 11:00am PDT

Now that Double Helix has moved on to new ventures, new Killer Instinct developer Iron Galaxy is just about to ready to put its unique stamp on the Xbox One-exclusive fighting game. We found out last week that the Season 2 mechanical changes would hit the game on September 23 to coincide with TJ Combo's early access deployment, while also hearing about some of the major balance changes to come to each individual character.

With Iron Galaxy having a grand vision for Killer Instinct, Shacknews reached out to lead combat designer Adam Heart to learn more about what's in store for Season 2. Among the items on the agenda: character changes, TJ Combo and his evolution, Maya and her deep backstory, other items that may be in line over the coming months, and just how much Killer Instinct will change before next year's Evo championship tournament.

Shacknews: Going all the way back to the big E3 announcement, what can you tell us about TJ Combo? How will he stand out from the other characters currently in the game?

Adam Heart: TJ Combo is a brute of a character. He is a bit of a hybrid, but can definitely fill the "tank" archetype using his armored Powerline attack. That alone makes him stand out as a terrifying momentum based force. There are countless other things, as well (he has more animations than anyone else in the game)... his move set is huge! So many fun abilities!

Shacknews: Based on players going hands-on with TJ Combo at E3 and Evo, what has the feedback been like so far? What about the character do you feel needs to be improved?

Heart: We got a lot of feedback both about visuals and about gameplay. We take all that stuff into meetings and talk about all of it. We figure out what we agree with and what we don’t, and figure out how we can address concerns we agree with without blowing the budget or timetable. Ultimately, the entire team wants to produce a really fun, kick-ass character that people just love playing, so we do everything we can to make him feel powerful visually and feel powerful in play.

Shacknews: Speaking of new characters, you guys announced at Evo that Maya would be re-joining the KI cast, but with a bit of a twist. What can you tell us about Maya and how she differs, both visually and mechanically, from the last time we saw her in a KI game?

Heart: In KI2, Maya was some amazon from thousands of years ago making stabby stabby. Not a lot going on. We've decided to reimagine her as a modern day character, so this Maya is not technically related at all to the old one, outside of the core theme of dual daggers and her name. Today's Maya works with a secret group of international monster hunters. She and her people keep the world safe from things like Sabrewulf and Sadira to the best of their abilities.

In gameplay, the new Maya carries two ancient daggers. One is fueled by light, and the other by evil and darkness. She is the only person in the recorded history of her clan to be able to hold both of these at the same time without being driven mad by the opposing forces contained within. During gameplay, she can throw these daggers to try to level them up, and then she can spend those levels by throwing them both at the same time for some powerful effects. Of course, if you miss, you’ll be without your dagger and you’ll need to go pick it up. Being without a dagger or two really costs Maya a ton of options, so she is a high risk, high reward character. Traditional high risk characters have tons of options but low health. This one has tons of options, but has to risk some of those options in normal gameplay. Its very interesting!

Shacknews: You spoke about the 'Jail' system and how it needs a bit of a revamp. In what ways are you looking to fix the 'Jail' system?

Heart: Mainly just trying to detect more accurately who dropped out of a match so that the right people are put in jail. We are working on these solutions every day!

Shacknews: You talked about adding Air Combo Breakers to the game. What made you guys want to add this mechanic and which characters do you feel will be most affected by this change?

Heart: We think the idea of two-way interaction during combos is important to the new KI, and juggle combos just ignored that in Season 1. So, in Season 2, you can’t score unbreakable juggle damage in the same way, but you have counter breaker attempts you could make, and you’ve gained the ability to cash out juggles using Shadow Enders. Sadira is definitely the most affected by this, being juggle focused, but TJ needed this to be fair as well.

Shacknews: Since Air Combo Breakers are being added to address one particular issue with combat (juggles), will you guys be taking similar looks at other mechanics for possible tweaks in the future?

Heart: We announced a massive change list [last week]! We addressed a ton of concerns the playerbase had about Season 1, so look forward to trying it all out!

Shacknews: What's been the immediate reaction to the character changes announced? Which characters, in particular, do you feel have seen the most improvement?

Heart: Orchid, Spinal, and Fulgore feel the most improved to me. Reactions have been shockingly positive. We did have to tone a few things down or move them around for the good of the overall game, but we tried to make sure that players of those characters also got "new toys" to play with so they could create new strategies for themselves.

Shacknews: Ken Lobb mentioned at the Evo panel that he can envision Killer Instinct lasting for the duration of the console generation, with new content gradually being added over the next several years. Do you envision Iron Galaxy being along for that whole ride?

Heart: We would certainly be honored to be! We are extremely passionate about this game and we love working on it. If people want more, we want to give you more!

Shacknews: What are some new game modes you've been thinking about adding, whether for Season 2 or beyond?

Heart: I can’t get into this right now, but we have something coming later in season 2 that makes me light up like a kid on (holiday) morning. It's... amazing!

Shacknews: The Evo Grand Finals between CDJR and Rico Suave were intense. Given what Iron Galaxy has planned for the game in the next 12 months, do you expect next year's tournament to unfold in a similar fashion?

Heart: I expect next year’s event to be filled with exciting matches and lots of chaos. The new characters this season are as nuts as the season 1 characters, so the matchups are going to be extremely interesting. I’d love to do a Season 1 vs Season 2 side event where we pick the best player with each character and make them fight as teams against each other, too!


Killer Instinct's Season 2 changes will take effect later this month when Combo hits early access with the Killer Instinct: Combo Breaker Pack. Season 2 officially kicks off on October 15.

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