Monday, July 10

Interview with Daniel Nascimento on Rocket Fist

Working as an inspired lone developer, Daniel Nascimento has had a tough road among even other indies, tackling the challenges of learning the ropes and developing concepts on his own. As you can tell from my Preview this has hardly been a problem, and hopefully his first project to get to the Switch will be a successful one. I was fortunate enough to borrow some of his time as he's working through the final stages of the Switch certification process to get some insight into his background, the challenges he has faced, and practical reasons things players take for granted can be quite complex, among other things.

How did you get started on your indie developer journey, and what's the most important thing you've learned to this point about game development?

DN: I studied 3D Art & Animation at the Vancouver Film School and upon graduating had a hard time finding a job. I was playing a lot of an indie game called Dungeon Defenders that let players create mods for it. I started modding the game and ended up getting a freelance gig to animate a trailer for them. That kind of opened my eyes that I could actually use my knowledge to work with games. I started learn how to program and started trying to make my own games using Unity. Nowadays I work a lot more with programming than actually doing art. I'd say the most important thing is to playtest a lot, see what players actually think of the game first hand, and what confuses them. All of my games evolved a lot by watching how other people interact with them.

For example, the dash-stun of Rocket Fist was created because a friend of mine, when playtesting, used to wait for you to throw your fist, then sit on it keeping control of all the fists in the level, giving you no choice but to wait to die. It was so satisfying to see him doing that only to be dash-stunned and killed with his own fist on the next playtest. ;)

In my preview I am very clearly coming away with a classic Bomberman vibe on several levels, sadly moreso than for the current version on Switch. Where did the idea for Rocket Fist come from and what inspiration have you drawn from other games that have helped you define and refine the game since you started work on it?

DN: After making several game jam games and smaller projects over the years, I wanted to make something more complete with a longer development cycle. I was pursuing a master's degree in Digital Media and in one of the projects we were working on we were tasked with coming up with games for the PS Vita that made good use of it’s physical interface. I was working on a lot of small prototypes for the Vita and had the idea of making a 1 vs 1 game in which each player held one side of the device. It didn’t really fit the project’s premise but I wanted to try it out anyway since I haven’t seen a game doing anything like that on the PS Vita.

The original PS Vita version

And that was the first-ever version of Rocket Fist. It was just some spheres in an environment made of cubes throwing little cube missiles at one another, and even at that stage it was already pretty damn fun. Each player only had one button and one analog stick to play with, it was simple and addicting. I started playtesting with my classmates and it was a success, everyone I introduced this to would play for a long time and would have a hard time giving it back. I then decided to try it with more people, I added controller support, and made a PC-version with a bigger level and 4 players.

The original 4-Player Version
I had only spent about 5 hours working on the game and me and my friends ended up playing that version for much longer than that. At that point I was sure that was THE ONE, the project I should pursue to be a long-term commercial project. I definitely drew inspiration from Towerfall with its limited number of retrievable arrows, in Rocket Fist's case limited to only 1 at a time. Also a little inspiration from air hockey in the way you plan your bounces around the screen to hit your objective. And of course there are a lot of Bomberman inspirations in there, from the powerups to the revenge ghost/cart outside of the screen once a player dies.

While obviously Rocket Fist's primary strength would be multiplayer chaos I was pleasantly surprised by the fun I've had playing the single-player Adventure mode. Boss battles are always a plus and some of these guys take some real effort to defeat. Since there's obviously so much additional content you needed to add to support Adventure mode what was your inspiration to include it when some games will opt to go multiplayer-only?

DN: I was watching a talk by Auston Montville from Sportsball (Wii U game) and one of the warnings he gave at that talk to other games focused on local multiplayer was to not release without a single-player mode. From that day on I started working on creating a single-player mode for Rocket Fist. I tried a few different variations, and ended up landing on the current version which keeps the same gameplay of the local multiplayer version with the single camera arenas.

Uncle Knuckle Awaits!
At least in the PC version of the game I couldn't miss the Level Editor. Any chance of this making it to the Switch as well just for local use? I'd ask about sharing but would imagine setting up and trying to curate that outside of a dedicated infrastructure like Steam's Workshop would be a nightmare.

DN: The lack of Steam Workshop to assist with the sharing was the reason we decided to not port the Level Editor to the Switch. We figured a level editor in which you can't share your creations with others wouldn't be of much use. Also, it would be a lot of more potential bugs to complicate our release.

If you see some great levels come through on the PC side of things, or even if you find inspiration of your own, is there any chance the Switch version of the game could see a "best of" level pack patch or DLC potentially?

DN: I haven't looked into the process to release DLCs or updates, but that's definitely a possibility :) Maybe even some extra sectors, bosses and enemies if there is enough interest.

Another feature, very clearly still marked as beta, in the PC version is Versus Online. Since some other indie multiplayer titles have either launched already or are in progress with no support for online play I'd wager implementing that isn't nearly as simple as we gamers tend to want to make it when we just note "it would have been nice to have online multiplayer". Are there any thoughts you can share on the challenge that presents to try to implement?

DN: It definitely isn't simple. In reality each player is playing a whole different game, and the games are talking with each other trying to make it look as similar to each other as possible. In a first-person shooter, for instance, it's fairly ok to be wrong in these cases. You have a very limited field of view and if your game tells you that you got shot, sure you must have gotten shot right? In a game like Rocket Fist you're seeing the whole screen the whole time, and if in your screen you shot me, but on my screen the fist you shot actually didn't hit me because I moved before it did, your game will still tell my game that I got shot. In this case, who is right? One of those 2 players will think the game cheated them.

The more latency between players the worse this will be. Then, to complicate things even more, players pick up fists. It's entirely possible that 2 players think they have the same fist if they were close enough to it and there is enough latency to make things confusing. I ended up never managing to make a satisfactory version of Rocket Fist for online multiplayer on the PC :/ it's still beta to this day, it works well enough with 2 players with low latency, but with more players and some latency it's terrible.

What are your thoughts on the state of the industry where indie devs are concerned on the Steam platform and the challenge of getting seen in that sea of content? What have you tried to do to get the word out about your game and is there anything you wish you could see happen that would help?

DN: It is pretty worrying. I hope that good games will still be able to stand out on their own but I don't know if they will. I feel the App Store is already a huge gamble on being noticed in the sea of games being released every day and Steam seems to be going in that direction. I haven't had any experience releasing on consoles so far, I'll see soon with Rocket Fist if the console market will be a good way to avoid the potential Steam apocalypse. If that's the case I'll be focusing more on consoles in the future. The only things I did was sending press releases and posting on social media. I don't know what else I can do or what would help :(

Any thoughts on the process of getting picked up to release your game on the Switch or your interactions with Nintendo to this point as a "Nindie"?

DN: Nintendo is awesome, they have been incredibly helpful :) It feels great to be able to see a game I created on a Nintendo platform since I've been playing games on Nintendo systems my whole life.

Once you've got Rocket Fist out there (hopefully to great success) what's next on your radar? Anything you can reveal about what you have in mind moving forward?

DN: My most successful game thus far has been "What the Box?" an online multiplayer shooter in which all the players are boxes in an environment full of boxes. I'm currently working on porting it to the Xbox, but I'd like to bring it to the Switch as well if it's possible (Haven't looked much into the requirements for online multiplayer games on the Switch yet, so don't know how hard or easy it would be yet.). On the PC side of things I'll be working on a full version of a game jam game I made earlier this year called Bug Brawl, an Online Multiplayer arena battle between ladybugs.

I want to again thank Daniel for taking the time to share his thoughts on some of these interesting topics. Rocket Fist should be releasing in the coming weeks and will be another entrant in what promises to be a crowded and highly competitive space for local multiplayer games on the Switch!