Battle Princess Madelyn: The Journey From Simple Prototype to Pixel Art Epic
A deep look into the journey of how Battle Princess Madelyn went from a prototype to a Kickstarter success.
In 2017, a small video game development team from Canada called Causal Bit Games took their project Battle Princess Madelyn to Kickstarter to raise $60,000 (CAD). In only a few days the project had been successfully funded, and the backing kept on growing and growing. In the end, Battle Princess Madelyn ended up hitting $212,665 with 3,402 backers excited to see the side-scrolling title finally release in the future.
At that point, the title’s success had sparked interest all over the internet, but the funds weren’t the only talking point, as there was something else catching people’s attention. The title was being co-created by a child, and her father was working with her to create a game inspired by Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Other inspirations came from Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap, Magic Sword, and even Castlevania. There’s also inspiration in the art, looking to the styles from the golden arcade age of Capcom.
With the game nearing completion, I wanted to take a look into the origins of Battle Princess Madelyn, as well as the development timeline, the hardships, and the fun moments along the road to launch. As a result, I spent a few weeks trawling through the Kickstarter updates that focused on the history of the developers and learning about the people behind the title, with my understanding of the game and its development growing deeper the more I researched.
I reached out to the Creative Director of Causal Bit Games earlier this month — the father of Battle Princess Madelyn herself, Christopher Obritsch — to get a better picture of the project’s life. The following is how Battle Princess Madelyn came to be.
Battle Princess Madelyn is a side-scrolling action adventure title that follows a young protagonist named Madelyn in an attempt to save her kidnapped family from an evil wizard. She’s joined with her ghostly dog Fritzy, her companion who saves her from the wizard’s deadly blast during the intro of the game. Together they venture through various pixel-art style levels, overcoming enemies and puzzles throughout the world.
The life of Battle Princess Madelyn began in 2012 when Christopher Obritsch, a video game developer, was tinkering with the Construct Classic engine. His goal was to create a concept that looked reminiscent to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, which Chris himself says ended up playing more like Konami’s Contra.
The title at the time was known as “Go!Go!Maddi!” and featured Chris himself as the protagonist with his baby daughter Maddi on his back shooting bubbles. His character was essentially her vehicle and allowed her to move around while she used magic to destroy enemies in the world.
But where did this love for developing video games come from? As a child, Chris’ father would borrow a friend’s Intellivision system, and one Christmas, a then eight-year-old Chris received his own Intellivision. It was around then that he became inspired to start drawing pixel art onto graph paper. Chris’ next console was the Commodore 64, a console that led to him staying after-school with his elementary school teacher teaching him how to code. Chris’ love for consoles continued since, and he’s always been fond of his Genesis and SuperGrafx systems.
Chris started getting into music and GFX afterwards, which led to him taking up programming in college and then multimedia design in his late twenties. It was in studying multimedia design that he learned about web/graphic design as well as coding with some game development involved. He taught himself the rest while he focused on earning money by taking on graphic design-related jobs.
It was in July 2012 when his to-be co-developer Daven Bigelow first began talking to Chris through the Construct Classic forums online. The exchange found Daven improving Chris’ understanding of how to chain sprites together and the two ended up continuing the discussion over on Facebook. This, in turn, led to a friendship starting to form, and the start of the duo’s steps into the future of Battle Princess Madelyn.
Later on in 2012, Chris’ daughter wound up hospitalized after falling ill with pneumonia. With Maddi in terrible shape, she was nursed to health after spending a week in an isolation unit at the children’s hospital. Chris made the choice to abandon his Go!Go!Maddi! side project so that he could instead focus on both his family and his full-time job. It was from there that he continued working as a creative director/art director and layout specialist for various magazines such as Maxim Canada, National Post, and more.
One day, a conversation between the two developers led to Chris sharing an idea of his; a visual novel titled Insanity’s Blade that had been penned in his early twenties, with plans to turn it into an NES title. The visual novel had a short-lived life on ‘WTFmag,’ a website run by his wife Angelina, some friends, and himself. It was a place where writers and artists could “stray from the norms.”
This exchange with Daven was enough to inspire Chris to begin building up a sprite set as a joke, piecing together the hero known as “Thurstan.” He grew carried away and, suddenly, an entire level has been created, complete with a boss fight. Little did the duo know that this would later become their first title together, going under the same name as the visual novel, Insanity’s Blade.
Insanity’s Blade was being brought to life as a side-scrolling NES-themed title. It told the story of a father venturing into the depths of hell to rescue his wife and daughter; armed not only with a sword, but one fueled by his own hatred and grief.
A newer version of the Construct Classic engine eventually launched, being known now as Construct 2. The pair jumped into the new build to start work on Insanity’s Blade and take it even further with the help of the new engine’s benefits. These benefits brought a range of improvements, features, and capabilities to export to multiple platforms.
As the two progressed on their title, Chris was working on other projects on the side. One of those projects was an interactive music video for RamJam called Escape from ‘85. The hard work paid off and, as a result, the RamJam project was nominated at the British Music Awards.
While it might seem like Chris was busy working on so many projects, he hadn’t forgotten about his prototype Go!Go!Maddi!. Somehow, during his hectic schedule, he had been silently transferring parts of the project from the old Construct Classic engine over to the new one. However, things were about to get a lot busier for him.
Causal Bit Games had formed in 2014, originally known as nDev before becoming the company we know today. For the span of Battle Princess Madelyn’s development, Chris and Daven worked with about 10-12 people on and off while outsourcing work, with a console release being the main focus.
Insanity’s Blade took to Kickstarter in 2014 and it ended up becoming successfully funded. Meanwhile, the pair were also struggling to get to grips with the new game engine, running into developmental issues. In 2014, Insanity’s Blade launched shortly past its initial release date on PC through Steam and continued to be updated over time with bug fixes being implemented. Chris was also busy working on another project for RamJam and also gained a new job at a local video game studio.
Battle Princess Madelyn had started to flourish into life when a conversation between Chris and his daughter sparked up new found inspiration for Go!Go!Maddi!. Chris discussed ideas of making a game featuring her in a world similar to Ghouls n’ Ghosts: Maddi replied with, “But girls can’t be knights, Daddy. Only boys!”.
Chris instructed her to choose the color of her armor and then, together, the father and daughter worked to build sprite animations of Maddi running and shooting. After months of working on these ideas, Chris had an HTML5 prototype that he pushed out to the public, gaining positive feedback and attention from indie gaming news sites.
The game was originally named Princess Knight Madelyn, but online searches led to discovering inappropriate content, which led to the name being changed to Battle Princess Madelyn. As it turned out, shortly after that final name was decided, Nella the Princess Knight, an animated children’s TV show, began broadcasting on Nickelodeon.
Daven was finishing up the final bug fixes for Insanity’s Blade and the two developers made the choice to pursue this prototype. In addition, they chose to move the project to the Unity engine that was only just gaining popularity to allow them to not only improve performance, but to be able to bring the title to consoles. Daven rewrote the prototype’s game logic in C# while Chris created new sprites, gameplay mechanics were introduced, and soon Battle Princess Madelyn had started to come alive.
Chris had made a start with implementing pixel art, lighting, and normal mapping which resulted in the game getting the visual style everyone adored. There was also some experimentation with how the Unity engine handled both code and scene design, something that was noticeable in the pre-alpha build. Development became a dance that saw the two learning the secrets of the Unity Animator and state diagrams while Daven also wrote up helper scripts to mimic frame-specific animation controls from the Construct 2 engine.
Maddi had always been a fan of playing her father’s projects with an iPad since she was as young as two. While Chris’s games were fun, she found herself smitten watching him play Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Robocop, Sunset Riders, Legend of Hero Tonma, Ghostbusters, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. As Maddi grew older, she became drawn more to the simplicity and inviting world of Minecraft, Splatoon, and Plants vs. Zombies. Despite her gaming, Battle Princess Madelyn was still being worked on, with Maddi helping bring new ideas to the table, art ideas, and even level design.
Fritzy had been in the game’s prototype since 2015, but when 2016 came about, the family’s pet dog passed away. Chris chose to help Maddi deal with the loss by having Fritzy as a ghost. This not only introduced a new mechanic to the game for Chris to tinker with, but it was a way to help Maddi deal with the loss of a best friend. In the game as it is now, the pup sacrifices himself in order to save Madelyn, loosely based on the scene in Disney’s The Black Cauldron (1985) where Gurgi sacrifices himself to save his friends.
Chris was still at his old job when he and his wife found out they were expecting, and a new baby girl was on the way to join the family. Towards the end of spring 2016, Chris and his family were due to visit Disney World, but his mother underwent emergency surgery a week prior: as a result, she was unable to join them. A day after they returned, Chris and his wife chose to visit his grandfather and tell him that they were expecting a child.
Chris’ grandfather was in a lot of pain, and they hoped that he was able to hear Angelina tell him that they were expecting Sofia before Chris and his Mother rushed his grandfather to the hospital where they stayed with him. It was on Chris’ short journey home to check on his wife and Maddi that he received a call from his mother telling him that his grandfather had passed away.
His grandfather played a large part in his life, raising him for the better part of his teenage years. Chris decided to dedicate the game to both Fritzy and Grampy. Their characters are present from the beginning during the story mode of Battle Princess Madelyn.
Worryingly, Chris and Angelina had attended a scan one day which revealed some medical complications relating to a tumor, which appeared to be growing next to the couple’s expected child. Chris was still hard at work at his full-time job and felt helpless being unable to help Angelina out as much as he wanted to. He ended up pining for the hours that he’d sit down with Maddi working on the prototype for their game.
Despite the seeming complications, Sofia was born safe and healthy. After her arrival, Chris and his wife grabbed a bank loan, got hold of the money they had been saving, and hired a PR firm known as PR Hound. This firm would take control of the Kickstarter campaign for their game and utilized media such as photos, video, and text sent over by Chris and Daven. Despite the duo working with Kickstarter previously for Insanity’s Blade, having PR Hound on board allowed them to focus efforts on the game. Sofia also made it into the game after she was born, with her developer father designing and creating a character for her. Maddi’s little sister is now at the start of the story mode alongside her other family members.
While working on a demo of the title for Steam Greenlight in preparation for the Kickstarter, Chris was talking with Gryzor87, the musician behind the arcade action title Maldita Castilla by developer Locomalito — or as it’s known in the North America and PAL regions, Cursed Castilla. Gryzor87 agreed to create an arcade soundtrack so the title could have a variation of music. The arcade soundtrack would play through during the arcade mode of the title, while a more orchestral soundtrack was being worked on for the story mode.
PR Hound worked closely with Causal Bit Games, such as working on the game’s admittance to Steam Greenlight and getting things ready for the Kickstarter campaign, which would begin in March 2017. While running the Kickstarter, they organized additions to the game in relation to tiers, various rewards, and more content that helped generate interest. The result was the game raising CA$212,665, way past Causal Bit Games’ goal of CA $60,000. This news got picked up by many gaming outlets, and soon word was spreading about Battle Princess Madelyn on a larger scale.
Before Battle Princess Madelyn was even a Kickstarter project, the team had sights set for a release in November 2018. However, during development, more additions and changes needed to be implemented which kept adding to the size of the game. Issues with the engine came forth, more additions needed to be made, and the title had to be delayed for the better.
After the Kickstarter, the original musician didn’t believe they’d have enough time to create the music for Battle Princess Madelyn. Gryzor87 took over the entire soundtrack and ended up with Chris creating a character for them in the game. Not only that, but an entire level was dedicated to Matilda Castilla and implemented into Battle Princess Madelyn.
In 2018, PR Hound started their subsidiary publishing firm Hound Picked Games. Prior to this, Chris and the Hound Picked Games team had already developed a friendship through their PR adventures and had discussed the possibility of Hound Picked Games co-publishing Battle Princess Madelyn.
While Chris and Daven were not actually present there, the game had appeared at the Tokyo Game Show in 2018. This was the first and only show the game had appeared at, as the majority of the game’s Kickstarter money was spent on rewards for backers and development of the game rather than flight tickets. The team does have plans to appear at more shows in 2019 once the game has been released, however.
Building up to the announcement of the release date, Hound Picked Games and Causal Bit Games pushed out a new trailer announcing that the title would be arriving in fall 2018. Shortly after that an official trailer landed with the release date finally set for December 6, 2018. Everything from leading up to the release would focus on bug fixing, marketing the title, press releases, and more.
As the years passed, Maddi grew older, but she still found solace watching her father work on the title and play it. She kept coming up with ideas to add to the game as development went on: these would be either added to the game or put aside for a potential sequel. It was also a learning experience with her experiencing more about the difficulty behind developing video games, and how to be humble about it.
While Maddi grew more excited about the game getting closer to launch, seeing the sweet innocence in the title she helped grow, Chris was growing worried. Paternal instincts kicked in and seeing the ugly comments and content around the internet had him questioning the choice to add his daughter’s name to the title.
Chris admits that he will be making this up to his family for years to come, as he was putting in 16–20 hours a day most weeks to create the game. While he may have left his full-time job to work on this title from home, he still found himself tied down to his desk. His wife looks forward to getting him back, but has been supportive throughout the entire project. Angelina, among other things, actually directed the trailer we saw in November announcing the upcoming release date at the time.
Chris has ensured that the title has enough bonuses and features to keep players lost in the world of Battle Princess Madelyn. For example, the game is riddled with nods to movies, such as the intro being a nod to The Princess Bride (1987) and, as already mentioned, a reference to The Black Cauldron. There are bonus levels, levels that can be replayed, upgradeable weapons, secret areas, and the option to play in the story mode or arcade mode.
All in all, Battle Princess Madelyn is finally ready for launch and will arrive for consoles and PC later this week; it’ll then be arriving to Wii U and PS Vita sometime in early 2019. Physical editions are being provided by Limited Run Games, aside from the game being digital at launch.
Years of working on the title will finally see it delivered to the hands of those eagerly awaiting to play it. When I originally delved into the journey of the title, I expected to see the usual dev talk stating that they’ve worked hard and tirelessly. However, I didn’t expect to divulge into the more personal details that we might forget occur around a project’s life, and especially of those that make them. The losses, the gains, the worries, the fear, the excitement.
I end this piece with the trailer for Battle Princess Madelyn, which is due to launch on December 6, 2018 for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
As an aside, I wanted to thank Chris Obritsch from Causal Bit Games for taking the time out of his busy schedule to tell me of his personal journey. I also want to thank Dan Muir from PR Hound/Hound Picked Games for also taking the time to give an insight into the progress of getting Battle Princess Madelyn out for everyone.