Dawn of the Monsters, the first traditional kaiju-themed beat ‘em up of this console generation, has just launched on consoles and PC. It’s a titanic occasion as players can finally become giant monsters and robots and stomp through cities in 2-player local co-op. We spoke with Alex Rushdy, CEO at 13AM Games and Creative Director of Dawn of the Monsters, about the game’s kaiju cred, working with talented kaiju artists, cooperative beat ‘em up mechanics, and more!
Co-Optimus: Thanks for taking the time to sit down for this definitely in-person interview. First, could you tell us a little about your experience in game development and some of your favorite games?
Alex Rushdy: I’m happy to chat! I’m Alex Rushdy, CEO at 13AM Games and creative director on Dawn of the Monsters.
I started developing games back in 2014 when I co-founded 13AM Games with several classmates [during] college. We intended to finish our game, Runbow, and then use it as a resume to get “real” jobs, but once we finished Runbow, we made enough to keep going, and here we are today!
I’m trained in visual art and design, but most of my work is design, business development, and direction, with occasional concept art roles.
Co-Optimus: 13AM Games and WayForward worked together to bring Dawn of the Monsters to life. Can you tell us how the partnership came about and what it entailed as the game proceeded through development?
Alex: Well, way back in 2016, we worked with WayForward to add Shantae to Runbow… In 2018, we started working with WayForward as a support studio, helping out on another title. Once we wrapped work on that game, WayForward had a few projects they wanted us to move onto, but once they saw our prototype for Dawn of the Monsters, they almost immediately agreed to publish it.
It’s been great working with their team. Our studios have a lot in common, and over the course of development, they would support us, give feedback, and handle marketing and publishing duties for the title.
Co-Optimus: Dawn of the Monsters is a kaiju-themed beat ’em up that bears a passing resemblance to the Neo Geo classic, King of the Monsters. Did any past games like that one provide inspiration on this title?
Alex: I loved King of the Monsters as a kid, and I was super excited for KOTM 2 because it was supposed to play more like a beat ’em up than the original. However, when I [finally] played it, I found out that those “beat ’em up sections” were painfully short, and the majority of the game was just one-on-one fights. So, really, we never got a proper kaiju beat-’em-up, and we felt that was a huge missed opportunity. It just seemed like such a natural combo to us!
We played a lot of classic beat ’em ups and even more modern action games like Bayonetta and God of War when designing Dawn, so a little bit of DNA from all of those games is apparent in what we’ve made.
Co-Optimus: The list of kaiju-related artists and creators who contributed to DOTM in various ways is really impressive. What was the process of recruiting those creators like, and did you secure anyone unexpected?
Alex: Thanks! It was something I was personally very excited to do. Honestly, for most of them, I either knew them personally from conventions, or just cold-emailed and hoped for the best. I got to meet Yuji Kaida [(Godzilla/kaiju artist)] and Ninsai Kato [(kaiju artist)] in Japan thanks to a connection I had to their agent, and to be honest, working with Yuji Kaida and Shinji Nishikawa [(Godzilla and SSSS.Gridman kaiju designer)] was something I never thought I’d get to do. I’ve been a fan of their work since I was a kid!
Co-Optimus: Of the artwork commissioned for the game, do you have a favorite piece?
Alex: That’s really hard to choose! There are so many incredible pieces, and some that we haven’t even had a chance to show off yet (we’ve got a killer piece from Zander Cannon that’s really unique). But if I absolutely had to pick, I think that Yuji Kaida’s epic poster [(pictured above)] would take the cake. It really captures the incredible style and tone that Kaida is known for and has such beautiful dramatic lighting. It looks so great on the Limited Run Games collector’s edition where it’s stylized as an old VHS cover!
In a similar vein, I also have to shout out Matt Frank’s incredible “kaiju anatomy” posters he did for that same CE. He did one for Tempest and one for Megadon in the style of Shoji Ohtomo’s classic illustrations. They’re incredibly cool and packed with so much detail and style!
Co-Optimus: On a similar note, which of Dawn of the Monsters’ giant creatures or machines is your personal favorite?
Alex: It’s hard to choose one… They’re all like my children! Like a lot of people, I’ve definitely taken a shine Megadon, and I’ve certainly got a lot of love for Ganira, Aegis, and Tempest as well. But since those characters would be the obvious choices, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite enemy designs: King Molokor [(pictured below)]! He’s an incredibly imposing creature that seems like a traditional kaiju at first, but the more you look at him, the more his features become bizarre and creepy. From his shark-like snout and his two sets of pectorals, to his “mouth inside a mouth” and his thumbless clawed appendages, he is imposing and unsettling at once! And [he makes for] a very memorable encounter in the game!
Co-Optimus: Sound design is another element that makes some of the best kaiju films and shows memorable. Who composed the music for DOTM, and did you have any specific goals for the soundtrack?
Alex: The music was all composed by the talented Dan Rodrigues! He also worked on Runbow and Double Cross. With Dawn of the Monsters, we wanted the music to help drive the action, so we opted for a dynamic soundtrack that increases and decreases in intensity to match the action. The intensity of the music is an indicator of how much danger you are in, and helps players prepare themselves between intense combat sections.
Music is an absolutely massive part of giant monster movies, but it’s usually quite slow and orchestral to match the pace of the action on screen. Our game runs a little more frenetically, so we wanted music that could match the intensity of what you see on screen while evoking some of the touchstones of classic kaiju soundtracks. This involved using big drum samples, heavy brass, choir vocals, and more, twisted into some gnarly gritty electronic stuff that keeps the pace driving high. It’s like Mick Gordon meets Akira Ifukube!
Co-Optimus: After an exciting introduction, Dawn of the Monsters drops players straight into the game (as pictured above) without stopping at a traditional title screen. Why skip the title screen?
Alex: The game opens with a sense of urgency, and we wanted that conveyed directly to the player. You’re immediately thrust into the thick of the action, just like if you sat down to watch a good, old-fashioned monster movie. You get some back story, the opening credits, and then buildings start getting smashed! I like how a “cold open” like this puts as little as humanly possible between the player and the world of the game, and I wanted players to be invested in the world and characters we’ve created as quickly as possible.
Co-Optimus: The beat ‘em up genre holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. What is the gameplay like in this one?
Alex: It’s a genre that’s definitely near and dear to me, too! This one takes a lot of influence not just from classics like Streets of Rage and Final Fight, but also from more modern beat ‘em ups like Bayonetta, God of War, and Dynasty Warriors. This modern influence can really be felt through the ability to dodge, block, and parry, through all the attack and super canceling you can do, and of course, through the ability to juggle opponents into oblivion if you master each creature’s combos! I’ve also got a fighting game background, so we even included a Training Grounds where you can test out your character’s abilities and practice combos.
Just like in a Platinum Games title, you are ranked on your combat prowess in each mission. [A higher rank] means better loot… at the end of a mission. That loot comes in the form of DNA Augments — special items you can equip on your titans to “modify their DNA” and give them new abilities, increased stats, and more. You can equip three to each character, and the better you perform in battle, the more powerful Augments you will find. These greatly shake up the beat ’em up combat over the course of the game and across each of the four characters!
Co-Optimus: I love destructible environments in the Earth Defense Force series and wieldable weapons in games like Double Dragon and Final Fight. Can you tell us about how these elements work in your game?
Alex: One of the key elements of a great kaiju experience is destruction, so we knew that environmental combat had to be a defining feature for Dawn of the Monsters. This means that pretty much “if you can touch it, you can smash it,” and we’ve got a dynamic destruction system running throughout the whole game. If you launch an enemy into a building, it will shatter and crumble and deal damage to the enemy thrown through it!
On top of that, there are many buildings you can yank out of the ground yourself to smash over enemy heads for massive damage and an instant stun. You can also pick up power towers to stun enemies with an electric shock, water towers to drench and slow enemies, gas canisters to set them aflame, and much, much more.
[As for weapons, players] can even pick up tanks and missile launchers off the ground and use them as guns! Another fun note is that Megadon has the ability to rip Nephilim’s heads off and then pick up and use those heads as weapons! Every weapon has limited uses, but they deal a lot of damage to make up for that.
Co-Optimus: Naturally, games like Dawn of the Monsters shine when played cooperatively. Does the game have any co-op specific mechanics? What happens if one player gets downed or runs out of lives?
Alex: It does! For starters, the game scales up a bit for co-op to keep the challenge fun. If your friend dies, you can revive them for 1 Rage [(a type of energy used for special moves, etc.)]. It adds a nice, hectic energy to fights and especially boss fights! If you both wipe, your rank at the end of the mission gets knocked down by one, so keep each other alive and keep your combo up!
Co-Optimus: How long should a single playthrough of the game last, and how many missions does it offer?
Alex: A single playthrough of the game should last around 8-10 hours, with more time needed to get all the S-ranks and unlock everything. The game offers over 35 missions!
Co-Optimus: Do you have any plans for DLC content or updates after launch?
Alex: No plans right now, but we’d love to!
Co-Optimus: Finally, is there anything else you can share about Dawn of the Monsters?
Alex: I’m really excited about the Limited Run Games physical editions, especially the Collector’s Edition. They’ve done a fantastic job with it. The CE even comes with a download code, so you don’t have to wait to play the game! Other than that, I’m just super excited for people to play [Dawn of the Monsters]. Please check out our website, Twitter, and Discord, and share your thoughts with us!