There's no telling when things will return to something like "normal" after the COVID-19 pandemic. Even optimistic, grounded estimates call for a year or more of sustained social distancing. Arcades across the world are suffering, and so too will dedicated arcade game manufacturers. For Brooklyn, New York's BumbleBear Games, arcade shutdowns are a problem that warrants an uncharacteristic solution: making a single-player home game.
Late last week, BumbleBear launched a modest Kickstarter campaign for Abs vs The Blood Queen, a home spin-off of its multiplayer arcade game Killer Queen. A five-versus-five team game that's equally accommodating of high-level play and drunken gallantry, Killer Queen has attracted local scenes that are so loyal it can be hard to imagine it existing outside of an arcade. Now, between this and 2019's release of Killer Queen Black, it'll be the second non-arcade spin-off within a year.
As a single-player game, Abs vs The Blood Queen may seem like a bigger departure than the multiplayer-focused Killer Queen Black, developed with LiquidBit. Black, however, has some very unique mechanics and quirks. Meanwhile, BumbleBear's building Abs vs The Blood Queen off of Killer Queen's existing, arcade-native code. Instead of teams of workers led by queens competing for victory, Abs vs The Blood Queen pits the lone player character, the tiny shirtless worker nicknamed "Abs," against an undead horde.
USgamer reached out to Josh DeBonis, co-designer of Killer Queen, to ask how Abs went from concept to Kickstarter. "We never even considered making a single-player Killer Queen game until about a month ago," DeBonis tells USG. "When the shutdown hit, we realized that we needed to temporarily pivot as a company to meet the changing situation."
BumbleBear hopes to finish the game within six weeks, in part because the studio is confident it can do it quickly, and also to ensure there's a revenue stream for the company and relevancy to players stuck indoors. The movement mechanics and other familiar elements will be unchanged from Killer Queen, grafting years of fine-tuned design into a new 2D side scrolling adventure.
"That said, there were many mechanics we had previously explored in Killer Queen, but had rejected because they didn't work in a multiplayer environment," DeBonis adds. "It so happens that some of them work great in a single-player environment such as traps and hazards, riding a giant scorpion, and jump pads."
With over two weeks to go, Abs vs The Blood Queen is already within striking distance of its $33,000 Kickstarter goal. A stretch goal at $55,000 would see a Switch version join the PC, Mac, and Linux release. There will also be Abs vs The Blood Queen arcade cabinets made if they're ordered as backer goals.
DeBonis tells USgamer that while BumbleBear hasn't seen an uptick in interest for homebound arcade machines since shelter-in-place orders started, the company has been "pleasantly surprised" to see how many backers want the custom fight stick at the $420 level. Fight sticks are a maybe for the future, but smaller home arcade cabinets probably aren't. "Ultimately we're most interested in continuing to make games to be played in public," DeBonis says.
Even though single-player may seem like an unintuitive direction for a Killer Queen spin-off to go in, BumbleBear has come away from the release of Killer Queen Black feeling good about getting players outside of arcades engaged. "I can say that we were slightly concerned that releasing Killer Queen Black might damage the communities at bars," says DeBonis. "We've now seen that it wasn't an issue. If anything, Killer Queen Black has generally helped strengthen and grown the arcade communities."