Skullgirls began its life as two separate “doujin” projects. Tournament fighter Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont had begun working on a fighting game engine, while Alex “o_8” Ahad had begun working on a world, story and characters for a fighting game. Some years later, mutual friends introduced them to one another, and their two personal projects were merged into the game we see today. Richard Wyckoff and Emil Dotchevski began Reverge Labs in 2010 after Pandemic Studios was shut down. Mike Z teamed up with Wyckoff, also a former Pandemic employee, and Reverge Labs to bring Skullgirls to home consoles.
In May of 2012 Autumn Games, the publisher for Skullgirls, became embroiled in a lawsuit alongside Konami filed against them by City National Bank over allegations of fraud. With their assets frozen by the courts, Autumn Games was unable to give Reverge Labs their share of the profits from sales of their game. Suddenly without income, the developer went through a series of layoffs before eventually dissolving, with the core team reforming under the newly branded Lab Zero Games in November of 2012.
While the future of Skullgirls was uncertain, Mike Z and co. were bolstered by the continued support of their fans who helped them raise $78,000 in donations for breast cancer research in their bid for a spot at the EVO 2013 fighting game tournament. Though they were reluctant asking for even more money from people who had already shown them so much generosity, on February 25th, 2013, an Indiegogo campaign for $150,000 was launched to fund development of their first DLC character, Squigly.
To help justify this seemingly large sum, Lab Zero Games decided to be upfront with their contributors by providing a detailed list of projected costs for every facet of Squigly's development. Despite their transparency, their campaign was still met with a surprising amount of skepticism from the gaming community. Many simply could not believe that a single character in a video game could cost that much to fully implement.
These people proved to be a vocal minority, however, as Skullgirls rocketed through their initial goal almost immediately. The team already had a number of stretch goals in place, however, eventually enticing their fans to donate a total of $829,829 by the end of funding on March 28th, 2013. Among the stretch goals hit were four additional DLC characters including Big Band, a robotic version of the existing character Ms. Fortune, and two additional characters to be voted on the community at a later date, and the donation of the Z Engine powering the game to fellow independent fighting game developer Mane 6.
Skullgirls' primary design goal is to be a great competitive fighting game, mostly by addressing some of the design and balance issues that plague other games in the genre.
Skullgirls' online experience is built upon the Good Game, Peace Out (GGPO) networking library, a favorite of the hardcore fighting game community.
Central to Skullgirls’ design is a unique infinite detection system, designed to make the game somewhat “self-balancing.” If the game detects that a player is looping a combo, the hit-sparks will change color and the opponent can break out of it with a single button press. However, as long as the player is changing up their combo and improvising, the combo can continue.
“Ratio System” Tag Battles
At the start of battle, each player can pick one super-powerful character, two stronger characters or three normal characters - team sizes don't need to match. Single characters do more damage and have more HP, but lose the strategic advantages of character assists and the ability to regenerate health while off-screen.
While each character comes with a few preset assists, Skullgirls also offers support for custom assists, allowing you to choose an assist move by inputting its motion during character selection. Aside from super moves, any ground action can be chosen - this includes throws, normal attacks, dashes, and any special move.
In order to shift the game’s focus from executing difficult moves to fighting strategically, the game features simplified inputs.
For example, if a character has any 360 moves, the game will be able to tell if the player completes a 360 even if the player didn’t execute it at speeds that would be required in a Capcom fighting game, such as Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX. Not only does this make it easier to execute these moves and make grappler characters more accessible (at least after the player looked up move lists online), it also prevents the character from hopping (which occurs whenever the 'up' direction is pressed) at the apex of the 360 movement.
Additionally, the number of motions used thus far is lower than that of other games in the genre - most special moves require simple quarter-circle motions.
Building Super Meter
Players can build their super meter by whiffing normal attacks (attacking without hitting the opponent), but only if they stay in place or are moving forward - moving backwards and attacking will not build meter. Additionally, only one level can be built this way - if the player already has a super stocked, normal attacks must make contact with an opponent to build any more meter.
High/low unblockables exist in many fighting games, and are an extremely strong tactic when discovered. In Skullgirls, however, after a character blocks a high or low hit, they are protected for a period of time from being hit by the other type. The protection is short enough to not affect regular gameplay, but long enough that a player can successfully defend against the first attack and still be protected from what might otherwise be an unblockable second attack.
Legend has it that every seven years a mysterious and ancient artifact known as the Skull Heart grants a single wish to a young woman. However, with this power comes a terrible price: if her heart isn't pure, she'll be transformed into a monstrous being of immense power known as the "Skullgirl" and unleash chaos upon the world.
Female fighters from all over the Canopy Kingdom now seek to claim the Skull Heart from the current Skullgirl. Some seek power for themselves, some to heal their friends or the war-torn world, while others seek to destroy the Skull Heart forever. Whoever defeats the Skullgirl will decide the fate for the entire world... at least for the next seven years.
Skullgirls has eight playable characters, although there are plans to release more later as DLC. The eight launch characters are: Filia, Cerebella, Peacock, Parasoul, Ms. Fortune, Painwheel, Valentine and Double.
Filia was an average schoolgirl, but one day awoke without any memories. In their place was a powerful parasite named Samson, grafted to her head in the form of unruly hair - with eyes and teeth, no less. Unable to remember how her partnership with Samson began, Filia must trust the ancient being and wield his strength if she ever hopes to piece together her past... and survive the inevitable confrontation with the Skullgirl.
Filia is a "rushdown" character. As such, she has only three special moves and makes up with it with lots of maneuverability and easily-comboed normal attacks.
Cerebella is the biggest sensation in the Cirque des Cartes - a tumbling, soaring dynamo of star power! Throughout the kingdom, Cerebella is admired for her daring, and lusted after for her curvaceous form. Sadly, the kind of approval she craves is the one kind she isn't getting: what Cerebella really longs for is praise from her patron and de facto father, mobster Vitale Medici, who rescued her from the street for a life of fame.
Faced with Cerebella's inherent goodness, the only way Vitale can keep her doing such dirty work is withhold affection. Cerebella is the only person capable of controlling the living weapon Vice-Versa, so the cold and calculating Vitale must keep her wrapped around his little finger.
Cerebella is a grappler with command throws for virtually any situation. Unlike typical grappler characters, she doesn't have difficulty getting in close, either, thanks to an armored charge and aerial glide.
The magnum opus of the Anti-Skullgirl Labs, Peacock is a mechanical monstrosity built from a broken little girl.
When she was rescued by the Labs’ Dr. Avian, she was just the orphan Patricia, her mind and body broken by the slave traders that captured her in the aftermath of the Grand War. Taking pity on her, Dr. Avian rebuilt the child with an arsenal of reality-defying weaponry, which was promptly twisted by the memories of the cartoons Patricia used to escape the pain of her slave life. Perhaps irretrievably damaged, she behaves like a rotten, spoiled and extremely unstable child. Terrifying as she may be, Peacock may very well be the best chance the Labs have to destroy the Skullgirl.
Peacock is a "zoning" character, and plays a mean game of keep-away with a variety of projectile attacks and escape moves. While she's best at a distance, she can still hold her own up close.
The princess of the Canopy Kingdom and leader of its elite military, Parasoul's own mother became a Skullgirl when she was a child. She is fiercely protective of her little sister, Umbrella, and is frequently torn between defense of her country and defense of her family. Wielding the living umbrella, Kreig, Parasoul fights with grace, poise and cunning.
Parasoul is primarily a "poking" character, and uses a variety of "charge" moves. In addition to her long attack range, she can place napalm "tears" created by her umbrella around the screen as traps, as well as call on her troops for a variety of support functions.
A pun-loving cat burglar, Ms. Fortune is a feline humanoid of the undead persuasion. With her friends in the Fishbone Gang, she was hired to steal the Life Gem from the head of the Medici Mafia, which she swallowed it for safe-keeping. When the Mafia caught her and the rest of her gang, they murdered them, chopped them to pieces and threw them to the bottom of the ocean. The power of the Life Gem suffused Ms. Fortunes body, and she alone survived the ordeal, but her body still bears the scars of her murder - as a result, she can detach her head and stretch her body along those scars.
Ms. Fortune is a hybrid "rushdown" and "puppet" character. She can detach her head and control it independently from her body, and many of her attacks function differently depending on whether or not her head is currently attached.
A normal schoolgirl named Carol, until she was kidnapped by Valentine and transformed into Painwheel. Host to two synthetic parasites called Buer Drive and Gae Bolga, Painwheel draws her power from pain and fury.
An "aerial dominance" character, Painwheel can fly using her Buer Drive blade and charge her attacks, as well as confronting foes with spikes that eject painfully from her body. She can also contort her body into inhuman shapes and unleash her rage with brutal moves.
The only survivor of the Last Hope, a group of special Anti-Skullgirl Lab operatives, Valentine now dutifully serves the Skullgirl. She keeps to herself, so much of her true nature and personality are unknown.
Valentine is a "rushdown" character with the ability to inflict status effects on her opponent: damage over time, increased hit stun and button lag, although only one may be active at a time. Her level five super allows her to revive a fallen team mate to one third of their health - made possible thanks to the fact that in Skullgirls a team mate's corpse remains on the screen after they are eliminated.
An amorphous creature capable of assuming the form of any person, most frequently a smiling nun.
A 'mimic' character, each of her normals looks like that of another character but will have vastly different frame data and properties. Though she transforms into other characters during her specials, they are completely unique, such as a projectile using Parasoul's gun, a Cerebella rush based on R-Mika's Flying Peach or a Sub-Zero ground slide as Filia. Her level five special transforms her into a Moai head in an homage to Gradius.
DLC & Other Characters
Initially shown on the game's website as part of the standard cast (before Valentine, Double, or Marie were even revealed), were undead opera singer Squigly and Parasol's little sister, Umbrella. To ensure that the game's antagonists were well-represented, Squigly and Umbrella were moved to future DLC. Due to legal and financial troubles (most of which centered on Skullgirls' publishers Konami and Autumn Games in an unrelated suit), Reverge Labs was closed down, and these characters seemed to be stuck in limbo. However, following Reverge's reformation as Lab Zero, work was restarted on Squigly following a record-breaking IndieGoGo funding drive.
Also featured as a possible second DLC character in this IndieGoGo funding was Big Band, a giant former police detective with a saxophone-shaped iron lung, that was seen in the background of one of the stages. A fair number of the game's background and story mode characters were listed for a potential fan-voted third DLC character, depending on funding, which included the return of Umbrella, as well as the game's boss, Bloody Marie. The rest of the list of potential characters for the fan-voted DLC was filled out by Black Dahlia, Mrs. Victoria, D. Violet, Annie, Stanley Whitefin, Hive, Leduc, Ileum, Brain Drain, Andy, Feng, Taliesin, Hubrecht, Regina, Beatrix, Ottomo, Eliza, Yu-Wan, Minette, Beowulf, Scythana, Roxie, Juju, Panzerfaust, Adam, Molly, Isaac, Venus, Aeon, and Samson, for a total of 32 potential DLC characters. Sadly, Juju was almost immediately eliminated as she got caught up in legal struggles. She was nearly fully inspired by a fan comment on the Skullgirls' Facebook page, to which the fan decided to flex their legal rights.
Voting occurred in 4 week-long rounds, where fans first had 4 votes to divvy out to any of the initial characters. The next round would feature the top 16 from the previous week's vote, and fans would only have 3 votes. Third round would give fans 2 votes on the previous round's top 8, finally ending with a top 4 with fans having only a single vote to pick the next DLC character. This whole process occurred a second time for the second fan selected character so that choices didn't interfere with each other.
The first vote went down like this. After the first round of voting, the top 16 were Aeon, Annie, Black Dahlia, Beowulf, Brain Drain, Eliza, Feng, Isaac, Bloody Marie, Minette, Molly, Panzerfaust, Scythana, Stanley, Umbrella, and finally Venus. After the second round, the choices were reduced to Aeon, Annie, Beowulf, Eliza, Isaac, Minette, Panzerfaust, and Stanley. The winners of the third voting round were Aeon, Annie, Eliza, and Minette. An all female final four for the final round of voting resulted in Eliza as the ultimate winner, officially making her the 3rd DLC character for the game.
Late in the campaign, a fan favorite from a Lab Zero animation, Robo-Fortune, was promised to be made into a fully playable character (instead of just an alternate voice pack for Ms. Fortune) with her own stage and wacky story mode.
Fans who donated for tiers $1000 and above became eligible to have a character of their own design placed in one of two new DLC stages; a casino and an elegant ballroom.
Skullgirls features a powerful 3D engine to power its predominantly 2D presentation.
Characters are assembled from three layers (line, shading and color) and colored via a custom shader. They are illuminated by dynamic rim lights and per-pixel lighting generated by light sources in the environment and hit sparks.
The backgrounds are 3D, although use minimal geometry and high-resolution textures to retain a painterly look.
Averaging around 1400 frames of animation per character, Skullgirls features the most frames of animation per character of any 2D fighting game. Additionally, the sprites are of very high resolution - they're twice the size they are on the screen for filtering and zoom-in purposes.
Reverge Labs announced that Skullgirls' soundtrack will be composed by Michiru Yamane, a composer on numerous Castlevania games.