by Alex Swanson · 06/12/2008 (1:47 pm) · 13 comments
It has been a long time since I posted a blog here at the main GG site, so I though I'd share the responses to some questions that Deborah sent over regarding the rapid development of Rokkitball, our latest game on InstantAction.com.
Deborah Marshall: How did you balance the FPS shooter aspects of the game with the sports aspect of it?
Alex Swanson: This was actually a pretty difficult balance to find. When we started on the game it had a very strong FPS feel. There was not really any way to control the ball aside from scooting it away from yourself by shooting it. Ball control is pretty critical when it comes to having a sport-like strategy game, and after a while it became clear that just having rockets was not going to be sufficient.
Once the magno-beam was implemented, we spent a lot of time tweaking the balance between it and the effectiveness of the rockets to move the ball and disrupt other players. We wanted disruption and rocket ability to be important, but taken too far it made trying to control the ball up close impossible - you'd just get hammered by high speed, rapid-fire rockets. That was no fun, so we slowed the rockets down to a point where it is possible to avoid them if you are paying attention, and limited their rate of fire to a point where, even in a 4v4 game, it is possible to grab and move the ball.
This made the rocket strategy a lot more strategic - having good aim is certainly a major factor toward being good at the game, but know when and when not to use your rockets is equally important.
Not having the player die as a result of rocket impacts also helped the game develop a more "sports-like" feel. Rockets allow you to "check" a player and take momentarily reduce their ability to act by draining their energy, but it doesn't just clear them out and force them to restart in another location. This is much more like the way that a real-world sport plays, and I think adds a lot to the sports feel of the game.
Image: Rokkitball Athlete concept art by Lance Bass
DM: What was the development process like (SCRUM, etc.)? How big was the team? How long did it take to make?
AS: The development process was fairly free-form. The whole team was only 7 people, with most of them in the same room or just around the corner from one another. This made fairly tight communication possible.
We kept development fairly light on meetings and focused on clearing out lists of tasks. I think that in some ways we could have benefited from a more structured approach such as Scrum, but given the small scope of the project it may have been overkill to impose too many rules.
The game has existed in many forms over the years since its first introduction at IGC 2003 by Matt Fairfax and Tom Bampton, and last year with quite a number of experiments done by Plastic Games. Concepting and prototyping are an important part of any game development - and without all the previous editions focusing the game design I do not think that it could have been completed as quickly as it was.
We started working on the game internally only about four months before launch, and the first month was just Robert, the lead programmer, working part time developing the attractor-beam mechanic. Full production took three months for the initial release - a pretty quick turnaround for a game of any size, much less a 3d multiplayer game. Of course since then we have been doing ongoing development on the beta version - finishing up additional levels and adding other content. All of this makes it difficult to compare to a traditional development model.
Image: New Rokkitball Arena "Canyon"
DM: Why did you choose Torque? What other technologies did you consider?
AS: Well, given that all previous versions of the game were written on Torque, and we work with many of the most experienced Torque developers in the world, along with those who created the engine, Torque was the obvious solution.
We brought in several pieces of technology from our future engine R&D area, including an early version of polysoup collision that Andy Malone whipped into shape one weekend when we were still debating whether to use DIF files. That was the only major technological unknown that we introduced to the game. Using all of Torque's capabilities and stable core was a major factor in the quick development cycle.
Image: New Rokkitball Arena "S-Hook"
DM: What were the major challenges in developing the game?
AS: We were on a very short timeline, so we had to stay focused. This meant avoiding feature creep as much as possible, which can actually be quite difficult when you are building something cool. It is very tempting to throw in a ton of features without realizing the time implications of seeing them through to full polish.
We stuck to a pretty minimal spec for the game and pushed hudreds of ideas to the "for future consideration" pile just to keep it manageable. In a lot of ways this also turned into an advantage - we ended up with a fairly tightly focused play experience by just polishing the game elements that we started with.
DM: Was there anything specific challenge to make Rokkitball work with Instant Action's web plug-in?
AS: As one of the very early games to use the plugin, there were definitely some rough spots. Actually getting the game up and running in the test version of the plugin turned out to be quite easy, but full site integration was a major challenge. Working with the web team involved a lot of communication challenges - they are even busier than we are!
Image: New Rokkitball Arena "Cathedral"
DM: How is it different making a game meant to be played in a browser?
AS: Well in many ways there is not a lot of difference from what we did at GG before. There is a lot of focus on size off assets and speed of loading - we want players to get their action in as instant a manner as possible, but we also want to make a great looking game with high quality textures. It is an interesting balancing act trying to match the two, but it is something that we already had to learn to deal with because all our games have been downloadable in the past.
One really awesome thing is that the IA site team has built the lobby and game UI for us. This is usually a much more substantial part of game development than people realize, and not having to worry about it shaved even more time off the development process.
DM: What can we expect to see next with the live development of Rokkitball?
AS: There are a lot of bug fixes still to come, in addition to ongoing new content. I can't say too much about that yet.
Highlighting and rewarding player skill and letting people view their records is also quite important to us, but there is a lot of work yet to be done there! Team and individual stats are really the missing piece of the equation for Rokkitball - we feel it as much as the community no doubt does!
We also want to continue to tweak and streamline the gameplay to emphasize team strategy and skillful play... there's been a bit of contention on this issue in the community already, but I am confident that there are a lot of tweaks that will make the game even more fun and encourage a great level of team vs. team competition.
Image: The yellow team goes for a goal, cyan moves to defend.
For more stories like this, check out GarageGames' Developer Interview series.