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Exclusive Interview: Ground Shatter Games and Fights in Tight Spaces


There aren’t many games that let you headbutt a ninja out of an open door, before turning to roundhouse a fireman into a bathtub, but Fights in Tight Spaces is that game, and it lets you live out your action movie fantasies. Part deck-building card game, part turn-based battler, and part Jason Bourne, it’s a pile-up of genres and we’ve spent hours getting battered and bruised with it on Xbox Game Preview so far. Needless to say, when we were offered the opportunity to interview the founder of Ground Shatter Games and brawn behind Fights in Tight Spaces, we grabbed it with both hands and suplexed it. 

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Hi, please could you introduce yourself. What is your role at Ground Shatter Games and on the development of Fights in Tight Spaces?

I’m James Parker, I founded Ground Shatter just under seven years ago, and I’m the game director and lead designer on Fights in Tight Spaces.

So sell it to us, how would you describe Fights in Tight Spaces and why should Xbox players be interested in it?

Fights in Tight Spaces is a tactical, deck-building action-movie fight scene game. You are dropped into various close-quarters combat scenarios, and using a range of attacks, blocks, movements, and other abilities you need to dispatch your adversaries. As you move through the game you expand your deck – introducing more powerful moves and combinations to effects to defeat all the bad guys.

We’re hoping the game will appeal both to people who have an established history with deck-building titles, but also people who’ve never given them a try before and are interested in seeing what’s it’s all about and are attracted by the idea of smashing gangsters’ faces into things!

And it looks great on a big TV 🙂

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We spotted the Bithell tag at the start of the game. What involvement did Mike Bithell and Bithell Games have?

The game is being published by Mode7, but together we’ve known Mike and Alexander (Sliwinski) for a long time, so when the opportunity arose to get them involved, we jumped at the opportunity as they provided a huge amount of expertise, knowledge, and feedback that’s enabled us to take the game up a level in terms of quality.

We’ve found it to be a game that’s very easy to do “it’s X meets Y” with, like it’s John Wick meets Slay the Spire, or SUPERHOT meets Into the Breach, yet you’ve managed to create a game that feels original. Which influences did you pull on, and how did you manage to retain the game’s identity?

There are so many different influences, not just in games, but in films and TV. We pulled together a sort of “reading list” of martial arts films and action movies, and specific sequences that we wanted to invoke, and that gave us a good idea of the feeling we wanted to convey to the player.

A lot of the gameplay mechanics fell out of that process, so while there are many aspects of Slay the Spire and Into The Breach (and many others), there’s a whole bunch of things that we either left out because they didn’t fulfill that vision, or that are unique to our style and setting.

Certainly in what we’ve played so far, the emphasis is very much on one-on-one combat rather than crowd control, and manages to run a turn-based combat system that feels almost as fluid as a beat ‘em up. Were these both very conscious design decisions?

The enemies get a bit more numerous later in the game, and the idea is that like all good action sequences, it’s one good guy against a whole stack of enemy goons. We knew that we wanted the action to be fluid, but also offer the player options that they could never have in a real-time beat ‘em up, so the turn-based nature of the game gives us that opportunity to create interesting hand to hand choreography.

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Movement and Countering seems just as vital as throwing a good punch in Fights in Tight Spaces. Was that something you wanted to capture from the start, or did it evolve as you played and created?

Definitely, the element of jeopardy is important both for games and for action-heroes. There’s no real sense of success without threat, so the idea that as well as having all these cool offensive moves you can mix things up with positioning and blocking and countering was crucial to providing depth in the mechanics. Also it helps with the feeling that you’re always having to change up your approach to a fight and improvise around the situation and the cards that you’re dealt.

It also gives wider possibilities for the player. If they know that they can dispatch multiple enemies with a counter in exchange for a slight health hit, then it becomes a new viable strategy, and informs other card choices they’ll be making along the way. And dodging and movement is essential to making an interesting and dynamic fight, and afford the player to discover some of the more dramatic and entertaining parts of the game.

Some of the best moments in Fights in Tight Spaces are possibly the least believable, like getting opponents to shoot each other, and pushing enemies through doors to take them down. Were you often grappling with this line between realism and fun?

The game is very much grounded in action-movie realism, so you can survive a gunshot if you’ve got some painkillers to hand, and enemies are much more likely to punch their friends if you trick them into it. With all these things, we wanted stuff to happen that was a bit unexpected, but each time giving you new options on how to play the game.

The unit variety is impressive too. How have you managed to ensure that they feel so different?

In a lot of cases this was done with the help of some of our early Discord alpha and beta testers. We’d look out for tactics that became overpowered amongst the community and then we’d specifically add enemies that those tactics wouldn’t work as well against so the players would have to switch up their style again.

And how are you making sure that people keep wanting to come back for more fights?

Variety is definitely key, we’ve added a set of new starter decks that allow people to jump in with different play styles, and over the course of Game Preview we’ll be adding in even more ways to play.

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Fights in Tight Spaces certainly comes with a unique art style too. How has that evolved from the first ideas?

We played around with quite a lot of different ideas at the start (the first pitch video was much more “realistic”), but we started looking at Saul and Elaine Bass title sequences, and the vibes that they gave off, and that immediately informed the striking silhouetted look.

How has the game evolved from when you first started designing it and through the current Xbox Game Preview system? Are there likely to be many changes between now and full release?

It’s been one of the most interesting and organic design processes I have ever been involved with. There are so many different systems playing with and against each other, that small changes ripple through the whole game. But in and around those existing systems there’s loads of space for new and interesting mechanics to layer on top, so we’re only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. We’ve recently published an early roadmap of what people can expect over the next few months, and all those changes will be made to the Game Preview version as well.

Talking Game Preview, why have you decided to utilise that route?

Game Preview is great because it allows us to see how real people respond to the game, while still giving us the flexibility to make changes ahead of the main launch. That’s still really rare in the console space, so it’s a valuable insight to a set of players we might normally have access to.

In terms of gameplay, what tips would you give someone just picking up Fights in Tight Spaces?

Try all the different approaches, movement, positioning, attacks, counters, and defense all need to be mastered as you move through the game. Don’t expect tactics that work in one mission to be as successful on the next, you’ll need to change things up.

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When are you looking to release the full Fights in Tight Spaces experience? What formats will it arrive on? Would you consider Xbox Game Pass to be a viable route forward?

We’re currently anticipating a full release towards the end of the year. Everything else is under wraps right now!

And finally, who would win: Fights in Tight Spaces’ Agent 11 or Hitman’s Agent 47? 😉

I guess it depends. Agent 11 is a bit more straightforward with his approach, so in a head-to-head fight, 11 is definitely going to have the edge. If Agent 47 is hiding in a cupboard, or disguised as a clown, or something equally cowardly – it might be a bit trickier!

If you haven’t had a chance to play Fights in Tight Spaces, it’s available on Xbox Game Preview now for £16.74, and it’s even got a free trial if you want to sample it first. James Parker is right, Fights in Tight Spaces is best played on a big telly, as it’s optimised for Xbox Series X|S and looks slick as anything. Once it emerges from Game Preview you can be sure that we’ll be the first in line for a review.

Huge thanks go out to James and Ground Shatter for giving us further insight into the game.

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