XBLA gamers had to wait about six months longer than their PSN counterparts did, but the waiting finally ended on Monday. That's when the frequently delayed Skullgirls Slightly Different patch finally arrived on Xbox Live Arcade. Just one day later, on Tuesday, it was followed by the release of the Color DLC, which offers eight packs of four new character color palettes for $1 each or $8 for the entire pack.
Slightly Different is the same patch that Peter Bartholow, CEO of Skullgirls developer Lab Zero Games, told XBLA Fans last month would likely be releasing within two weeks of his statement. (That didn't happen.) It's the same patch that Lab Zero said in January was unable to be released due to Microsoft's stingy patch size limitations. (They eventually downsized it.) It's the same patch that was in November revealed to have been developed by new studio Lab Zero Games, not original developer Reverge Labs. (It's the same core team.)
Yes, Lab Zero's biggest little patch has had quite the pre-release history on XBLA. But now, it's all just that: history. "#Skullgirls owners on Xbox 360…please load up your game now!" Lab Zero tweeted Monday morning. The patch that contains new features, bug fixes, tutorials, gameplay changes and more was finally out.
The long-delayed Skullgirls patch that originally arrived on the PlayStation Network way back on November 20 of last year should finally be available on Xbox Live Arcade within the next two weeks, Lab Zero Games has informed XBLAFans. Lab Zero has been working on getting the "Slightly Different" patch onto XBLA for months, but its enormous original size (590 MB) thwarted the developer's previous efforts to release it.
"So, if all goes well, the Skullgirls Xbox 360 patch should finally be out soon," Lab Zero CEO Peter Bartholow said via email. "We won't know exactly when it goes out – [Microsoft says] it'll take two weeks, but [Microsoft] actually estimated that it would likely only take one."
The patch is currently going through Microsoft's certification process and cannot release unless it successfully passes. "But we don't expect it to fail," said Bartholow in response to a follow-up email from XBLA Fans. XBLA gamers' prolonged wait for the patch should be over once it is finally certified. "As soon as it passes certification it will be pushed out," Bartholow asserted.
Lab Zero Games, the caretakers of XBLA and PSN fighting game Skullgirls, last week reached a couple more stretch goals in its Indiegogo DLC crowdfunding campaign. Newly pledged funds will go towards the creation of the game’s first male character, Big Band, along with a stage and story mode for the saxophone lung-implanted veteran of the “Grand War.”
The man with the musical respiratory system’s story mode will focus on “a grizzled veteran tackling a new threat.” His stage will come complete with a new track from Michiru Yamane.
As of this writing, $449,504 have been pledged by Skullgirls fans. That number puts the campaign on pace to eclipse what was originally the final stretch goal of $625,000, which would mean Lab Zero would create a level and story mode for a fan-voted mystery character. The mystery character will be bankrolled at the $600,000 mark.
That mystery stage and story mode is no longer the final stretch goal, however. Polygon reports that, in an interesting move, Lab Zero is now offering to donate usage of the game engine it created for Skullgirls to developer Mane6 for use in its Fighting Is Magic game. Magic was originally a My Little Pony-themed game until IP owner Hasbro stepped in and put the kibosh on Mane6’s usage of the license.
Update: In the brief span of time since this article was published, Lab Zero Games was able to raise another $25,000, meaning it has hit its first stretch goal: Squigly will now get her own stage and story mode. Original story follows.
Lab Zero Games was hoping to reach its goal in 30 days. Some thought the notion of raising $150,000 for a DLC character for XBLA, PSN and PC fighting game Skullgirls would be "impossible." As it turns out, it was — just not in the way many onlookers were thinking.
It didn't take Lab Zero 30 days to raise the funds it requires to finish designing the character Squigly and get her into its game. It didn't even take 30 hours. In less than a day, the independent studio that last year was sculpted out of some bits of clay that fell from Reverge Labs was able to raise the full $150,000 it says it requires to bring Squigly to gamers.
"In less than 24 hours, #Skullgirls has raised $150k for Squigly!" reads a tweet that went out this morning from the official Skullgirls account. "Everyone at Lab Zero is humbled. Thank you so much!"
Shortly thereafter, Lab Zero Games CEO Peter Bartholow provided XBLAFans with details on the character's XBLA release. First, a title update and mandatory DLC pack that will add Squigly — along with any stretch items that the Indiegogo campaign is able to hit — will be released. An initially free-of-charge Squigly unlock will be released simultaneously. Squigly will remain free for a 3-month period and will set gamers back $5 from that point forward.
The story of Skullgirls' development, release and post-release support just may have more twists to it than its top-heavy characters have curves on their pixelated bodies. It started with two men, each with a skill, a passion and an idea. In 2009, longtime fighting game fan and tournament player Mike "Mike Z" Zaimont began programming a fighting game of his own. Elsewhere, unbeknownst to Zaimont at the time, artist Alex "o_8" Ahad was drawing a new fighting game universe of his own into existence, complete with characters to populate it. Eventually the two were introduced and merged their pet projects together at Reverge Labs into the game that released on XBLA and PSN in April of last year as Skullgirls.
Critics generally gave the game a favorable reception, with its combined XBLA and PSN score averaging 80% on Metacritic. Gamers gave it a fairly warm reception, too. The developer was excited when Skullgirls sold 50,000 copies in its first 10 days on the market. Although the development team informed XBLAFans on Thursday that Skullgirls has failed to turn a profit to date, we were also informed that the game has performed well enough that publisher Autumn Games is interested in green-lighting a sequel if it can successfully dodge the sticks and stones City National Bank has thrown its way.
With a PC version, DLC characters and multiple sequels in the plans, things were looking up for Zaimont, Ahad and the rest of the crew at Reverge. Then everything went quiet. Months went by without a single update on the port, downloadable content or the sequel. It was eventually revealed that the Skullgirls team had been let go by Reverge Labs in June of 2012 after developer and publisher allowed their contract to expire without agreeing upon a new one. More sticks. More stones.
Whether it was the entire team that was let go or some fraction of it has been a matter that was up for some debate. Reverge blogged that it was some of the team, while the displaced developers once said it was "the entire" team. When questioned repeatedly by XBLAFans over the past couple of months, neither of those factions nor Autumn has been willing to go on record to clear the air. The one thing that has been abundantly clear, though, is that the contract expiration effectively brought about a game over screen for future Skullgirls content and its would-be creators.
Or did it?
Update: Lab Zero has informed XBLAFans that the studio has been working with Microsoft and has successfully shrunken down the size of the update some, though they declined to go into specifics about the current size of the update. Look for a full follow-up article coming soon. Original story below.
Lab Zero Games, the studio now responsible for all things Skullgirls following publisher Autumn Games and original developer Reverge Labs parting ways last summer, still hasn't been able to get the patch that released for the PSN version of its fighting game in November onto the Xbox Live Marketplace. The holdup, apparently, is Microsoft's XBLA update file size limit.
A tweet from the official Japanese Skullgirls Twitter account went out on Friday claiming that the update is exponentially larger than what Microsoft will allow. The update Lab Zero put together for its fighting game is roughly 590 MB in size — a whopping 147.5 times the size of the paltry 4 MB limit the developer says Microsoft places on updates. A rough Google translation showed that the Skullgirls team is under the impression that it's possible to be granted an exception, but the process is arduous.
The revelatory tweet came on the same day that the main Skullgirls Twitter account stated that the team was "frustrated." It's not clear whether its frustrations are directed at Microsoft size limits or the two sides' inabilities to get something worked out, but XBLAFans has followed up in an attempt to find out exactly what the team is unsated with and will update this story if we get a response.
Regardless of where the developer's frustrations lie, Lab Zero Games is working with Microsoft to get the patch out "as soon as possible," so there is still hope that it will make its way to XBLA. Skullgirls fans might not want to get their hopes up too high for it to appear anytime soon. The patch has been "held up in MS submission and holiday limbo" since as far back as December 12, according to an earlier tweet by the game's official account. Though the team was said to be "pushing hard" later that very week, the calendar is nearing an entire month later and it sounds as if little, if any, progress has been made.
It was revealed last week that "the entire" team responsible for Reverge Labs' XBLA and PSN fighting game, Skullgirls, had been laid off this past June. In an interesting twist — and a welcome one for the displaced developers — publisher Autumn Games was revealed to be in possession of the IP and the publisher decided to bring together the team responsible for it under a new banner, Lab Zero Games.
Upon hearing the news, XBLA Fans reached out to Reverge, Autumn and Lab Zero in search of clarification as to the nature of the split and the current state of the studios and the Skullgirls property. Though multiple requests for comment from the Autumn/Lab Zero camp have gone unanswered as of publication time, Reverge Labs CEO Richard Wyckoff was willing to briefly talk about the lay-offs last week.
"I can't say much except that Reverge completed the Skullgirls contract with Autumn Games when we shipped the game in April and we aren't currently engaged by Autumn for any other Skullgirls work," Wyckoff told XBLA Fans via email. "Because of this we did have to lay off some of the Skullgirls team."
The video game industry, like most entertainment industries, can be a cold business. It's not uncommon for a few bad reviews of a game or debut sales numbers that fail to reach blockbuster heights to lead to massive studio layoffs, with the ax sometimes falling on entire teams or studios. As if that wasn't depressing enough, layoffs can even occur when a release garners strong sales and decent review scores. Though gamers are just hearing about it now, five months ago that became the fate of the team at Reverge Labs responsible for developing XBLA's Skullgirls.
In June, "the entire" group that developed the XBLA and PSN fighting game was laid off by developer Reverge Labs. Members of the development staff were gagged during the intervening months, but they have just recently been able to open up about the matter. In an introductory post on its new website, the team briefly discussed its severance from Reverge and revealed that it's not all bad news: Lab Zero Games, a new studio comprised of the former Reverge employees, has been founded in Los Angeles. What's more, Lab Zero is doing "everything in [its] power and then some" to return to working on a planned Skullgirls DLC character and a PC port "as soon as possible."
It's an unlikely development in the team's saga, made possible by the fact that Reverge never owned the IP. Publisher Autumn Games apparently retains full rights to all things Skullgirls, and it "is fully behind the new studio," according to Lab Zero. The two sides are going to continue collaborating on future content for the game thanks to Autumn's support of the developer. More merchandise and "a few other things" are in the works on top of the previously mentioned DLC and PC version.
IP battles between developers and publishers have been well-documented over the years. Both parties traditionally seek to secure the rights to a game franchise and deals are regularly signed or passed upon based on insistence of ownership by one side, the other or both. This case is unique in that the creators of a new IP actually benefited by not being granted ownership of it. Had Reverge seized control, Lab Zero would obviously not be in a position to continue working on the game today.
Update: Autumn Games says that this is isn't the correct release date and aren't sure how official the date is. We'll keep you up to date on its release.