How The Designer Of An Excellent Arcade Game Wound Up At Nintendo's E3 Booth

Killer Queen is one of the best games I have ever played. It's a five-on-five electronic sport that happens on one screen and encourages deep communication and coordination. It can instantly turn anyone into an e-athlete.

You can be easily forgiven, however, for not having played it: Until Killer Queen Black arrives on the Nintendo Switch later this year, the game exists exclusively in 100 massive arcade cabinets scattered throughout 70 cities around the world. I talked to designer Nikita Mikros on-camera at E3 about the new, slightly smaller-scale version of the game.

In this video, you'll see Mikros barely contain his excitement: A game he worked on is being displayed in the Nintendo booth at E3 alongside such legends as Super Smash Bros. As an aspiring game designer myself, I can imagine no greater honour.

The original Killer Queen is two teams of five players. Killer Queen Black is two teams of four players. It has local multiplayer. It has online multiplayer. The controls are simple enough that one Joy-Con is more than sufficient for playing the game. If there's a game better-suited to playing at a party, it's probably already illegal.

The rules are simple: Every player controls a character. Three of the characters are drones who can run and jump. Drones can collect berries, which they can use to fill their team's base, or they can cash these berries in at power-up stations to earn upgrades such as deadly weapons.

One of the players on each team plays as the queen. The queen can fly, and wields a deadly sword. It's the queen's responsibility to convert power-up stations to her team's colour by flying through them.

You can win by accomplishing one of three goals: Fill your base with berries to accomplish an "Economic Victory", kill the opposing team's queen three times to accomplish a "Military Victory", or ride the snail at the bottom of the arena toward your team's basket to score a "Snail Victory". The snail is comically slow. Winning a Snail Victory results in screams shrill enough to require earplugs.

Disclosure: I am real-life friends with Nikita Mikros. We live less than 2km from one another in Brooklyn - both of us serendipitously equidistant from New York's premier fighting game venue, Next Level Arcade.

I became friends with Mikros because, two years ago, I devoted a large chunk of a lecture about designing the hypothetical "Perfect Sport" to a dissection of Killer Queen. My thesis was that Killer Queen, which takes place entirely on one screen, with no UI or HUD (for example, you can see queen eggs in the nest, denoting how many queens remain) is a game which transforms spectators into players.

Someone watching over your shoulder may pick up on a microscopic burst of nuanced behaviour from a particular player, and whisper into your ear to "watch out for that guy there". You were probably too busy to notice this nuance without the spectator's help. Thus the line between spectator and coach - and the line between coach and player - blurs fascinatingly.

It is this phenomenon that elevates Killer Queen to masterpiece status. In my lecture (which you can watch here, by the way), I went on to extrapolate multiple hypothetical game designs that leverage this "spectator as player" dynamic, using my studio's own prototype GRABJACKERS as an example.

Killer Queen developers Nikita Mikros and Joshua DeBonis were, as fate would have it, in the audience of my lecture. We ended up becoming friends, and in a roundabout way that's how I ended up interviewing Mikros at E3 2018.

I played several rounds of Killer Queen Black, and it delights me to report that it's just as good as the original. It's also a little faster (the arena is smaller and more zoomed in). It also has some weapons the arcade original didn't have. One of those weapons is a laser gun.

"People were always saying there should be a laser beam. 'Dynamite with a Laser Beam,'" Mikros told me.

Well, they listened to the fans - including the fans who begged them to put the game on the Nintendo Switch.

Killer Queen Black is coming to the Nintendo Switch later this year.


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