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Skinny and Franko - Interview with Mariusz Pawluk

Skinny and Franko Fists of Violence Hero Art
The Real Crude Dudes

Skinny and Franko: Fists of Violence, released in April this year, is probably one of the most, if not the most, violent beat 'em up I ever played. But this Polish game brings way more than violence to the table. It is the result of a desire to play a game that suits the tastes of the mind behind it. More than a game, Skinny and Franko is the fruit of a desire and the will to send the world a message.

To understand that, we chatted with Mariusz Pawluk, co-creator of the series and creative director of the game. He has been developing games since the early 90s' and is the person behind games like Franko: Crazy Revenge and Doman: Grzechy Ardana (Sins of Ardan).

In his recent game, he joined forces with Blue Sunset Games to deliver his vision of a Franko sequel.


TFK - Hello Mariusz! To start our interview, I would like to ask you to tell us a little how is the indie scene in Poland. How is the industry fairing in there?

MP - The INDIE gaming scene in Poland is doing rather well. There are a lot of different companies and teams trying their hand at it. There are also those that have achieved greater success around the world. Generally, I don't follow or focus too much on this market or the teams or people themselves, but I'm rather interested in the games themselves.

As for me personally, for my taste, there are not many Polish INDIES that interest me, but there are certainly many games that people around the world like or could like.

I think that Poland does not differ much from what is in other countries. There are many companies. Many new companies are established, and many are closed. It's not a safe business, so I guess that's the standard.

TFK - Do you have any relation with the original game, Franko: Crazy Revenge?

MP - What is my relationship with the original Franko? Of course, I have a connection with the original, in that I am its co-creator. In 1992, together with two friends, we decided to make a game. One wrote the program - Tomasz Tomaszek, the second one - I invented the game, drew and animated it, and the third one made the music. The same as now. Sławomir Mrozek. These were beautiful, innovative times, without the Internet and easy opportunities to learn anything. We also have to take into account the situation our country was in at that time. Poland. Just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It wasn't easy to make an arcade beat'em up, no one even tried to do it, we were the first to do it successfully, but not without problems.

TFK - When and why did you decide to take an old Amiga game and make a sequel to it?

MP - To be honest, I did not decide to start producing a continuation of the old game Franko: Crazy Revenge. It wasn't my initiative. For me, Franko's period was closed. However, about 10 years ago, thanks to a crowdfunding company that took the initiative to finance and produce a continuation of this game, the topic was revived. After some time, it turned out that the case had failed. The case could generally be closed if I hadn't been 100% personally involved in it as I had already declared at the beginning that I would help them with it. I dealt with the combat system, graphics, and animation.

In the beginning, there were some people employed by the initiators who were supposed to do this and start development of this game, but eventually, it turned out that I was left alone, because everyone, despite their sincere intentions, was not ready in the long to make -this game I mean. So I had to take over the entire project so as not to disappoint the people who took part in the successful crowdfunding. I looked for a new team on my own that would be able to meet the challenge. This is how BSG is here. Not without problems, but no matter what we say today, it has met this difficult challenge. Here I would like to thank CEO BSG Sebastian Kijaczko that, despite the difficulties, his team managed to finalize it.

Franko Crazy Revenge Snapshot showing the titular character Franko stading in front of a knocked down enemy.
The Original Franko!

TFK - How long was the development of Skinny and Franko?

MP - Well, from placing the first pixel to finalization - about 8 years. This was mainly due to those "crowdfunding" problems I mentioned earlier. If everything looked as it should, I think the development time would be shortened by 3 years. Basically, I developed all the graphics, animations, and combat systems myself, with marginal help from third parties on the scale of the project. There are about 30,000 frames of animation in the game, which is a lot for one person. The fatigue was obvious, which can sometimes be seen in the graphics, but that's what makes the game authentic because it was driven by persistence and passion. In this graphic, you can see the imperfections of the tired psyche and the human hand :).

TFK - The art in the game is pretty unique. What were the inspirations for it?

MP - The game's graphics are not my style. It is the result of what the initiators from the crowdfunding company proposed and my modification. Such a compromise. Between their vision and mine. My style is more realistic and dark. I had to balance it. When I was left alone with the project, it was too late to make changes, because I had made too many graphics in this style. There was no turning back. On the other hand, thanks to such a grotesque style, I could afford more. All this brutality is ridiculous and not that invasive combined with the grotesqueness of the graphic style. So I think I avoided a larger dose of kitsch because with more realistic graphics, the animations and moves would have to be even more realistic so that they wouldn't clash with each other. I think it's nice, quite artistic now. After playing for a while, suddenly this strange, caricatured graphic style starts to fit and takes on its own unique atmosphere.

TFK - And what about the combat? Which games inspired you?

MP - Beat 'em up games were the genre that always had the most fun for me when I was younger. I grew up on such classics as Kung Fu Master, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, etc., but the biggest influence was Renegade on ZX Spectrum, Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Vendetta (Crime Fighters2). Which, I hope, can be seen to some extent in Skinny & Franko. If not because of the blows, then because of the Easter eggs on the walls.

Snapshot of Skinny and Franko, showing Skinny on the 4th levael of the game beating a few enemies.
Skinny Action.

TFK - The game has a more “realistic” combat, instead of what we are used to seeing around. What made you choose this style instead of flashy flying kicks and fiery punches?

MP - In Skinny & Franko, the combat is more realistic, because I like this style of games. Honestly, I don't like these games with all the pink farts, colorful sparkles, etc. It's good but for 12-year-old girls. I tried to minimize it in my game. It's true that there were a few strange, more supernatural blows, but maybe that's because I also like playing games about American wrestling and watching these exaggerated, devastating blows.

TFK - The original Franko was pretty violent, and this sequel is even more violent from what we could see. Is there a reason for such gratuitous violence?

MP - This is a fighting game. The fighting itself is brutal. I don't see any reason to infantilize her. There are dozens of other games for this. I have always assumed that a good fighting game is one that allows you to relax, have fun, and relieve the stress of everyday life. A game in which you can torment your opponents, not just hit them and bounce them like bowling pins. This is the key to having fun.

The game is supposed to be a fighting game, not pretend to be one. Close distance, header, knee, elbow, etc. Yes. That's what your gentlemen from Technos Japan did to me :).(The „knee” in Double Dragon haha) I believe there is no such thing as gratuitous violence in my games. Gratuitous and just plain stupid and grotesque violence to the point of fatality in Mortal Kombat. This is truly stupid, forced, and unjustified, even grotesque brutality.

I like brutal games, but not overtly brutal. The game is supposed to be suggestive. Games where brutality is justified by the events of the game. Such an example was the first Manhunt from Rockstar. My favorite game. The second part e.g.; was already greatly exaggerated and the brutality was promiscuous, which gave the impression that it was made up by force.

TFK - It is common knowledge now that you cut some executions and moves from the game. What was the reason behind the cut?

MP - Yes. We deleted some scenes. A few animations, and executions and I softened the dialogue layer. You ask why...hmm. You see, even now, after all the changes that have softened the game, Skinny & Franko is considered a brutal or even primitive game, maybe even distasteful. So if it were even more blunt, it would have even more enemies. Besides, we were a bit afraid of the reaction of the institutions issuing appropriate certifications allowing the games to be sold, as well as the corporations themselves on whose platforms the game was to be released. They could cause some problems. You know how it is. Besides, we were subliminally made to understand that the game was too strong. We preferred to alleviate some things in advance.

Cut content from Skinny and Franko showing a enemy killed by a car's hood while Fanko stands by it side.
Not in the Game.

TFK - Aside from the violence, the game has also some pretty controversial themes that the

player can spot around the world. There was any fear of backlash because of the violence

and the game’s theme?

MP - You know. This game was intended to be, and I think it is, more than just a simple, mindless, and, as some might think, primitive game (Of course, that's what it is). Beneath this layer of brutal, stupid, or primitive mechanics there is something that touches the reality around us. If one is "wise” enough, one will understand the message it conveys. This game is a non-obvious message that shows our reality in a slightly distorted mirror. There are a lot of references to the situation in my country, but also a universal message, which may be very disliked and irritating to "enlightened" people, and is often incomprehensible to the unaware recipient. If you know what I mean. This game wasn't supposed to be an ordinary beat'em up game about nothing.

TFK - How was the game’s reception? Do you speak with the fans?

MP - Game reception. Nowadays, as you know, the beat'em up genre is somewhat marginalized and it is difficult to talk about any fashion or hype for this type of game. So for that reason alone, the game already fits into a niche. Of course, there are 2D beat'em up games that are spectacularly successful and widely talked about, such as Streets of Rage4 or TMNT. But these are really big brands that are driven more by the nostalgia of players who remember these titles from their childhood. Now these people who played it as kids show these games to their children and that's how it goes. Plus, these games have big budgets compared to us. Such SOR4 had four times the budget, even though there would be much less work involved. They have large budgets that go largely to marketing, which works wonders these days. These games were talked about everywhere. They even played ads for Street of Rage 4 before the UFC event. So what are we even talking about here?

Even the industry's largest American gaming websites gave us a wide berth, cutting off our coverage. I think this is part of the policy of silence. For them, the game is not worth spending even a few seconds on. Shame.

This is not even explained by the fact that the game had many technical problems at its premiere, but which game today does not have this problem. Generally, in my opinion, the game is too “strong” and breaks certain stereotypes about games as a safe medium of entertainment.

Games are basically supposed to be about nothing. Beat monsters, shoot zombies, save a girl from a bandit, etc. For them, it is just entertainment. Nothing more. Happy kumbaya!

We also cannot say that alleged brutality caused this state of affairs because games today can be brutal, much more so. It's about something more problematic for them.

If you want to give a deeper message, not necessarily even explicit, but trying to comment on mundane reality, it turns out that is too much for computer games. They're already afraid of it. They are afraid of violating their safe comfort zone. Especially if someone thinks differently about something and you have the nerve to bring up a certain topic. Pity.

Well, we live in increasingly weaker times. Even if democratically elected presidents are banned and silenced, what are we talking about? People are already practicing self-censorship. Soon they will be afraid to even think for themselves. We in Poland have already experienced some sick systems and ideologies in the near past, so at least some of us see what may be coming. Shame!

This pathological process of silencing and censorship is progressing quickly and unnoticed. I'm afraid that a game like Mother Russia Bleeds for example would also have big problems today. They quickly tried to hide it under the rug :).

The reception of the game is as always. Groundless belittling and deprecation of your many years of work. Unproductive criticism is already standard. There is a lot of envy... and I suspect that it is probably not only in this industry. A lot of negative attitudes even before playing the game. Sometimes I even laughed at the criticism because I saw how they got lost and searched for an excuse to criticize. They even criticized that the cars were not as they should be, because they were old, such as Trabants, and you don't see them on the streets anymore. Criticism because Poland doesn't look like that. As if our task was to make a chronicle, and not a fictional game suspended in some abstraction. The complete lack of distance was striking about it all. These are not reviews, this is an outpouring of hate.

Many reviews are written by incompetent people who didn't even spend 5 minutes getting to know the game's combat system. If a game doesn't offer the primitive and well-played Capcom system known from arcade games from the 1990s, it's too much for them and they quit the game, maybe that's a good thing because they don't deserve anything more.

I know that Skinny & Franko is a very good beat'em up. He already has a group of passionate, conscious fans and there is no coincidence among them. This means: the game is very selective. Is difficult, and the combat system requires commitment.

It's not enough to just press one button over and over again. You either like this game or you hate it. This game, contrary to appearances, is a game with a soul that needs some time to learn, and then it shows what it is. If you approach beat'em up like a 5-year-old pressing one button, you will be thrown off by this game.

I assume that we no longer live in the times of coin-up machines where games had to be simple. With three punches. Where we ran left or right forward.

I wanted the combat system to be deeper and different. If I wanted to replicate the old patterns, we would do it and it would take us 5 times less time... two punches, you go to the side, two combos and that's it.

Skinny & Franko is a good, demanding Beat'em up. I know what I did. The game is not a coincidence, but a well-thought-out product, based on my many years of experience and the desire to show that there is still something different and cool to do in this genre and that you can do much more and better. For the first game after such a long break and after such a hard road he had to go through, I think it is too good.

TFK - For you, what really makes a good beat ‘em up?

MP - A good beat'em up game, for me means something that is not a copy of old coin-up slot machine games. I've already played these games in the 90s, so I don't like this system. It makes me bored. You go sideways and hit stiff dummies that fly away like paper rolls in a parabola. How many times can you roll it out? I think that the beat 'em up genre is dead because nothing has developed there. I also don't like the fashionable today of juggling thousands of flashes in the air - the so-called combinations. What is this supposed to be? Fighting or throwing colorful fireworks and hitting dolls that can't fall to the ground. The game and moves must be suggestive, but to be so they must be realistic.

I have to feel this “meat” in the game. The game must bring emotions. Emotions of anger must have an outlet to destroy subsequent evil opponents. You must feel that you are punishing them for the wrong they have done or for trying to get in your way. It has to be suggestive, that's why there has to be blood when you hit someone in the face. A severed head when using a sword.

The game must have balls and the characters must know what they want. The player must have a sense of freedom and some creativity in eliminating enemies, and it’s a very important element, the game must be difficult. “Difficult game = emotions = anger = focus = commitment”, and at the end there is satisfaction. Emotions.

I don't like easy games. I believe that many nice games have been killed by their low level of difficulty because an easy game is boring and not engaging. It makes the game a little shit.

This game is not like that. If you're looking for that kind of bullshit, this isn't the game.

This is not the type of game where you press one button and go sideways.

Snapshop from Skinny and Franko's game showing the two chracters fighitng enemies in a parking lot.
Violence, Bloody Violence

TFK - Is there more planned for the future? Are you guys planning to explore more Skinny and Franko’s world?

MP - I will say this. There are many ideas. There is no shortage of them. It's true that the production of the game really tired me and the team, but if the winds were favorable, I wouldn't rule out pursuing the topic further.

TFK - Is there anything you want to tell your players?

MP - I think that Skinny & Franko is one of the best beat'em ups ever released. I'm not saying this because I stand behind it, but because I know that if I didn't make it and I saw this game, I would be satisfied.

I think this is supported by my experience, which dates back to the 1980s and is not about the experience of a developer, but of a player. Of course, not everything is perfect, because the game had to go through many problems, but this is the first step and a proposal in which direction I would like this genre to go. Of course, it is not only about 2D. It would also be possible to do something in 3D someday.

We would like to thank Mariusz for his time talking to us and wish him and his games all the success he deserves.


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