The secret history of Brawl Stars

The surprising story behind the latest game from the maker of Clash Of Clans.

Games like Brawl Stars don’t just arrive fully-formed, you know. It has taken four years of constant evolution to get to this point; indeed, it was once a fantasy game, then it became a sci-fi laserfest, then most recently a gunslinging western.

Today, it retains plenty of that wild west feel, but its chaotic shootouts are more cheerful and cartoony than any of its previous incarnations.

(Indeed, there’s an unexpected twist to Brawl Stars’ gameworld that is yet to be revealed, says the team behind the game – and there are clues to the game’s real setting everywhere, if you look hard enough.)

Jon Franzas was there right at the game’s very beginnings. He recalls that despite four years of refinement and thematic changes, Brawl Stars’ playstyle has remained remarkably intact.

Jon Franzas started working on what became Brawl Stars back in 2014.

“I think the very first version was like a deathmatch, battle royale-type game,” Franzas tells us. “We quickly realised that playing with friends was so strong that we shifted it towards a three-versus-three game.”

Brawl Stars’ earliest prototype was actually a fantasy-style game – purely because developer Supercell’s artists knew the style well and could make placeholder visuals quickly.

But even with its rough-and-ready look, Franzas and that early team felt the game had potential. A more solid setting was needed. Briefly, the team discussed placing it in the same universe as Clash of Clans and Clash Royale – but ultimately landed on creating an entirely new gameworld.

The Brawl Stars team has been iterating on the gameplay and characters for over four years.

“Supercell hadn’t done space yet,” says current Brawl Stars team lead Frank Keienburg. “We wanted it to be about different game modes and different places, so we had these different planets you could travel between.”

It was codenamed Laser, and the team started to feel out the possibilities of creating a sci-fi universe. But, as Franzas puts it, “It was really hard to find a cool new angle on space.”

These sci-fi style character sketches are from back when Brawl Stars was codenamed Laser.

Enter game artist and team newcomer Paul Chambers. “Time was ticking on, and the game was a big risk because it had been a year in development and the theme hadn’t come together,” says Chambers, who proposed they turned the game into a western. “Once you’ve got all the tropes of the west, it ended up being quite easy.”

Indeed, Chambers tells us he sketched out ten new wild west-style characters over a single weekend, many of whom are in the game today.

While Crow retained his name from these early sketches, Cactus, Trickshot, Barkeep and Shotgun later became Spike, Colt, Barley and Shelly.

“[The Western setting] was much more concrete,” explains Franzas. “The skills of the brawlers made more sense and it was easier to understand compared to space, where the weapons and monsters were a bit more abstract.”

The team briefly codenamed it Gun Town, but as they became more confident that it could make it through to global launch, thoughts turned to the game’s future.

“In a western setting there’s only so much you can do,” says Keienburg. “We wanted to have lots of diversity, and looking ahead five years, we asked ourselves: what we can add to the western style that is not already used in some way?”

Once more, the game had to evolve; the Brawl Stars of today has taken that wild west theme into a new, unexpected place.

Until that’s all fully revealed, there are fresh characters, game modes and events being added every few weeks. And Keienburg says his team wants to help players create arenas themselves, as well as share in-game moments on social media.

It’s apt that a game centred upon survival-of-the-fittest shootouts is in a state of constant evolution; Brawl Stars really feels alive. It’s not just because of its thrilling, unpredictable firefights – but because there’s always something new to see and do. And there will continue to be for weeks, months and years to come.

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