Interview with Dark Presence creator Doc Mack

Dark Presence and its sequel Conquering Light are two upcoming titles from developer Galloping Ghost. Both are classic one on one 2D fighters being developed specifically for arcades, but perhaps more notable is the fact that they use digitized characters. At first glance this call up memories of jerky low res games of old such as Pit Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but closer inspection shows that while it may owe a lot to its pixilated grandparents, this is a far more evolved title. Promising to offer over 150,000 frames of animation and full HD graphics, the stills currently available look very different from anything we have seen in recent generations from a release of this scale. Only time will tell how they look in action so keep an eye on the Galloping Ghosts website for updates.

Intrigued as I was at the prospect of a return for the digitized fighter I got in touch with Galloping Ghost’s head Doc Mack who was kind enough to agree to an email interview for DoFuss.

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DoFuss (DF) – The big question is why a digitized arcade game now?
Galloping Ghost’s Doc Mack (GG) – We wanted to go with digitized characters for several reasons. First, it’s a style that was never really pushed past what was seen in the 90’s. Since all our characters are in high-definition and the quality is incredible, the game has a very unique look that separates us from most everything out there.
Many of the 3-D fighting games out there are great, but to me, they all seem to have the same look. It’s hard as a newcomer to the fighting genre to bring gamers new characters that they don’t know and expect them to play our game versus a franchise they have been playing for 15+ years. Giving gamers a unique experience in as many ways possible and a game that plays great and is fun will hopefully get them to try something new.
Making it an arcade game really was the best platform for us. Releasing a game for the arcades and doing it in a way that is hopefully beneficial to the arcade industry as a whole is a great motivator. It was really surprising to see all the new fighting games come out with so little effort to bring them here to the US, when there clearly was a demand.
Designing for the arcade offered us complete freedom from a hardware standpoint, and allowed us to explore and develop features on the cabinet itself.
Personally, from a creative aspect, it was an enjoyable challenge. Making it with live actors presented many other elements that don’t have to be dealt with when making a drawn or 3D modeled game.

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DF – As this project was conceived in 1994 how much has it changed since its conception?
GG – The shell of what I wanted the game to be is the same, but with the advancements in technology since that time, we’ve been able to come closer to what was originally envisioned. The characters, basic story, and even some of the core of the game play mechanics are the same, but it’s always been an evolving process. We had worked with the original concept of the game until about late 2004. It was playable and almost complete, but we scrapped it, as it looked so dated. Everything from the development aspect was completely restarted.
We completely changed how are finishing moves are handled. Originally, they just happened in the same view as the in-game fighting, but now we have much more elaborate finishing moves that have a cinematic feel to them.
We also changed the control scheme from the original. It was fun to play, but it was admittedly a bit awkward and took a while to get used to. The new layout is much better and easier to pull off moves.
A lot of the elements we were trying to put into the game way back in 1994 still have not been done in any 2-D fighting game to date. Separate left and right stances and move sets, multiple basic stances, backgrounds with changing seasons and weather, and the characters running at 30 frames per second were in the original game, and made it to the new version. The scope of the project back then was just too big for the time, but now we are able to do everything we wanted. Of course, in the process, we’ve added many new features along the way.

DF – Could you tell me a little about Support Your Local Arcade initiative and how Dark Presence and Conquering Light fit into it?
GG – With Support Your Local Arcades, we are trying to help bring attention back to arcades, help promote arcades everywhere, and improve the industry from several vantage points. We are talking with arcade operators, distributors and gamers, and using their feedback to that end. Right now, we are trying to extend many services to operators to help increase their business. Offering free web sites (hosting and design) as well as going to arcades and repairing and cleaning cabinets, and listing their locations on sites like, will hopefully drive business.
We are doing everything we possibly can with Dark Presence and Conquering Light from a developer’s stand point to benefit the arcade operators, which is something most developers don’t seem to do. Making game elements that are unique to the arcade that can’t be recreated on a home console, as well as giving operators a longer arcade-exclusive time period, are just a couple of ways we are trying to help strengthen the appeal of the arcade version.
Once development is complete we are planning an extensive tour and will be trying to demo the game at as many venues possible as we are hitting mass production.

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DF – Arcades in Japan are still doing relatively well as you know, however they do employ a number of different mechanisms the classic US machines do not do you intend to mimic these, or stick to a more traditional US arcade model?
GG – Currently, we are planning on designing a new secondary, single-player, sit-down cabinet. We have already been receiving e-mails from gamers in Japan who are anxious to see the Dark Presence in action and we want to provide a cabinet option and variation that will appeal to the Asian market. The goal is to be able to accommodate as many people as we can and give them options to find a cabinet that works best regionally. With the original cabinet, we have tried to put as many features on it and make them all component-based. We’ll look at doing the same with our second cabinet design as well.
We still have a few more features to announce on the original cabinet too, but once we are finished with the last updates on this cabinet, we will start construction on the second design.
Personally, I prefer the old-school, standup machines, and really like playing on our original cabinet. It’s really to the point where I couldn’t even think of another feature to add or how to improve on it, but we don’t want to ignore the evolution of the arcade cabinets. So, it will be good to have a choice of cabinet styles.

DF – Are there any limits to the number of units you can produce?
GG – No, we will be able to meet whatever demand arises. Because we are still in the development phase, mass production is not our main focus right now. However, our operation is easily scalable to ramp up production to meet all the future demands.

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DF – Tell me a little about the actors.
GG – All of our actors are really incredible, and it was great working with all of them. The filming process was incredibly long and demanding, and very physically challenging. Our actors all handled it really well. Since we were filming for nearly three years, the actors had to maintain their physical appearance for the sake of continuity. They couldn’t change hairstyles, or get too much sun in the summer time, as any change would be noticeable. It was really a lot to ask of them.
When we first started, we knew it would be difficult to get everyone to do the 250+ basic moves, and then all the finishing moves. Even in the test filmings, everyone was usually leaving covered in bruises from all the falls and reactions. Also, with the finishing moves being so violent, we were concerned with how everyone was going to react to those. The actors rarely complained about any of it, and were always quick to try even the most difficult moves we gave them. Looking back on it, some of the moves were just plain dangerous, and I’m thankful we made it out of the studio without any more serious injuries.
Some of the actors were very well trained martial artists, while others were trained and taught right in the studio. Story-wise, some of the fighters are not supposed to be technically-trained fighters, so we were able to just cast people that fit the parts, and then teach them the moves as we went. We cast people from several martial arts schools and the local gym, and then had online casting calls that received massive responses. Since we filmed Dark Presence and Conquering Light at the same time, all the actors got to know each other really well, due to the massive number of filming sessions.

DF – On your site you mention finishing moves, will these moves side towards the realistic (like Mortal Kombat) or cartoony (like Killer Instinct)?
GG – It’s difficult to compare our finishing moves with other games out there. We kept the moves realistic, and filmed them from several camera angles. We then edited them together for a very cinematic look. Each actor filmed with every other actor (when possible, as a few characters are played by the same person) so there are no generic animations like in most games. This allowed us to personalize them more from character to character too. This way, we could get more of the story element in the game, and show how the characters relate to one another.
I would say the finishing moves are more violent than gory, overall. We tried to keep the realism level high, and didn’t want to be punching heads off and stuff. Each character has three separate finishing moves (1, 2, and 3) that can be linked together (one to two and two to three). So once gamers figure out how to do them, they then have to figure out how they go together to make one really long end move.

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DF – In terms of the mechanics, what fighting game is Dark Presence most similar to?
GG – Again, this is hard to compare to other games out there. We have tried to incorporate a little more realism to the fighting system. For example, if you punch your opponent in the stomach, they will hunch forward, which will leave them open to an uppercut attack. The more a player understands and knows all of a character’s moves and how they can be linked together, the more effective they will be.
We filmed a lot of unique reactions to really expand how our combos can flow. Characters will roll from hook attacks accurately to the attack direction. Some attacks may cause heavier reactions on some characters too. We are also testing having different elements factor in to what reaction happens. This would prevent auto combos and make gamers react to what is happening instead of just throwing the same combo over and over.
Fighting is different from character to character since the weapons and fighting styles are so different. A combo that works on one character might not work as well on another. For example, if Wilson kicks Kyla, she may go sailing backwards and fall to the ground, whereas Titan may just stumble back, setting him up for another attack. We are really trying to adjust the attacks so the characters react accordingly.
Character movement is also different then most games. Most characters can’t jump over one another and will have to entangle their opponents to switch sides. That added a big element to the game play, as the move sets are different from side to side. Players will need to fight for position.
Control wise we have: LEFT ARM, RIGHT ARM, LEFT KICK, RIGHT KICK, BLOCK and SPECIAL. With so many basic moves, we may use common special movement sequences like: Down to Forward and a button for variations of regular attacks. We had to add the Special Move button just to give us enough controller functionality. Those already familiar with other fighting games should have little problem learning the controls quickly.

DF – Will there be humor in the game?
GG – There are not a lot of gag moments in Dark Presence. With the story having all the characters to the point where they are ready to kill each other, none of them are in a joking mood. The character Titan has a few moves when he is winning a fight, he mocks his opponent a bit and those are kind of funny, but they really fit well with his character.
There are elements that, to us working on it, seem pretty funny, but I guess it’s all kind of relative to what you find funny. While working on finishing moves, we are often laughing about how hard it looks like the characters are hitting each other.
It’s hard to balance once you start trying to bring humor into things. It’s a violent game and it didn’t make sense having the characters act “funny”. At the same time it’s a game to be played for fun and we didn’t want to come off as overly serious so we have tried to add a little levity to stuff like achievements but wanted to keep the game and story a little darker. We may even look at getting some of the outtake footage to gamers, as there were some pretty funny accidents and mishaps throughout the filming process.

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DF – How does the lack of projectile weaponry affect the game play?
GG – With so many other new game play elements and the way we are balancing the characters, projectiles won’t be missed. The character’s move sets and attributes like weapon reach, speed, and damage levels really make it a non-issue. Originally, we had considered adding them for awhile, but it just didn’t fit with the story, and might have detracted from the character visuals. We wanted to keep the fighting more realistic.

DF – Finally, while the game will be exclusive to arcades for a while, are there any plans for a home conversion?
GG – Yes, we do plan to bring it to the home consoles eventually. But we aren’t in a rush, as we want to give the arcade operators plenty of time to make their money on it. So many other developers don’t do that, and that’s really not good for the arcade industry as a whole.
One of our concerns with a home console release is that Dark Presence and Conquering Light are very large games from a data standpoint. Even with our compression system, it certainly could not fit on a single DVD, and even a Blu-ray disc would be cutting it close. Then there may be other limitations with the amount of RAM in the current home systems too. Once we have fully completed the development stage, we’ll look more closely at those problems, but for now, we just want to put all of our efforts and energy into making the arcade games the best they can be, without scaling things back just to make an easy conversion to the home consoles later.

In closing, I really appreciate you taking the time to find out more on our projects. It’s been a lot of fun and I’d be happy to answer any other questions you or your readers might have. Please feel free to contact me at Of course we will be updating the Galloping Ghost Productions website as development continues.