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At SIGGRAPH 2015 we had an interview with Mark Parrish, 1/2 of Supertype games, about Arena Gods. A throwback to the games of old with extreme local multiplayer action and simple controls, it is one of the most exciting indie games to be coming out this year. He talks to us about why they used Unity, what a true local multiplayer title is, and the struggles with funding and development.
I’m Mark Parrish, I’m the Game Designer and Programmer behind Arena Gods, and my partner Rodrigo Costa does all the art and animation. Together, we co-founded our company Supertype and we’re based in Beijing, China.
I flew halfway around the world to come to SIGGRAPH. We had to buy the ticket last minute so it was really expensive. We’ve been working in mobile games for years doing free-to-play online shooters and we just go tired of it. We quit our jobs and decided to make the type of game that our 12-year-old selves would be proud of.
Arena Gods is a vicious, 1-4 player local multiplayer arena game where weapons are scarce, anything can be thrown, and one hit kills. There is super quick action that has fast javelin throwing and thrusting of weapons. A big thing in this game is that one hit kills. The layout of each arena change with every round and you’ll find mysterious chests around the arena with randomized weapons such as a sword, spear, and javelin. It runs on Windows and Mac.
We started Arena Gods in the last week of April so we’re still early in development. It’s only been about three-and-a-half months. We have our pre-alpha and we’re hoping to submit to Steam Greenlight by the end of September, and if we can get past their Greenlight fast enough, we’ll hopefully have it on early access by the end of fall.
A True Local Multiplayer Game
What I wanted to capture was the dynamic of being with other people in a room. There’s a lot of local multiplayer games out there now. I call them the third generation of the resurgence. There’s a lot of really good ones but there’s others that are technically a local multiplayer game but they don’t’ actually design the game on the dynamics of a good local multiplayer situation.
The idea is that things are happening outside of the game. You’re sitting next to your friends, you’re all patting each other on the back, trash talking, cheering, screaming, and all kinds of noises are being made. I believe a good local multiplayer game triggers these things.
When I was a kid, Bomberman and Double Dragon was my game. I loved all those local multiplayer games. Recently, there’s been a resurgence in the indie scene for games like Nidhogg, TowerFall, and Samurai Gunn and that really inspired us.
We went back to the drawing board and we kept looking at Quake. My favorite was on Deathmatch 1, there was this huge monument and people would strafe behind it for cover and if you timed the rocket launcher correctly, right when they come out on the other side, you could intercept them and it was the greatest feeling. That inspired us to think of a mechanic where you’re constantly only throwing one thing and you have to retrieve it. I’ve tried to make a gladiator game for years and so it just fit – javelins.
Local Multiplayer VS. Online Multiplayer
A huge topic of debate for us is online multiplayer, because the true experience is local multiplayer. The two issues I’m worried about for online multiplayer is: can we technically do it well, and if we can, will the experience change dramatically?
It’s one thing playing with your friends next to you, and it’s a whole other thing when you’re opponents are faceless, especially if you can’t talk to them. Sometimes you play an online multiplayer game and nobody is using voice communication and that takes away from the whole experience. I don’t want to lose the socializing aspect of the game.
Unity and Other Tools for Development
We made our first prototype in GameMaker, built it in six days and playtested it. It was at this point we knew this was it. We then spent the next two weeks porting to it to Unity. Unity is fantastic. I’ve been a huge GameMaker fan for years, I think it’s fantastic as a prototyping tool. We got this game up and running literally in 2 or 3 days, add a few more days for bug fixing and polishing up, and we playtested it the sunday of that week.
GameMaker can be just as fast as Unity but ultimately Unity wins out for us because the editor is so much more powerful. It’s great for debugging and I love that as I’m playing the game I can adjust variables and edit the code. We’ve got animation rigs and we’re using Unity’s animator system, but we locked the camera to an orthographic perspective. This art style is not 100% complete but it’s very much intentional and we’re about 90% to where we want it to be.
When Rodrigo is doing his more high-end work he’s a huge fan of ZBrush. He’s more of a 3ds Max guy than a Maya so we use 3ds Max for our modeling. For our animation rig and our animations we get from Mixamo. We still have to customize all our animations for our personal needs because of our unique perspective and they didn’t happen to have all of those gladiatorial attacks. However, they do have a lot of raw things you can turn into really great stuff. I highly recommend Mixamo.
It’s a full 3D game and our objective was to have strong silhouettes, solid colors, and high readability. Even in all out melee, you should be able to tell where you are, where your enemies are, and if there’s a projectile in the air – where it’s located.
Funding and History
We started off self-funded. Later, a friend of mine who was a GM at one of the Beijing offices for one of the big free-to-play studios quit and wanted to start his own studio. They were supposed to get a ton of investments and he wanted to hire a new team so we agreed to do it, and we stayed in Beijing for it.
We all signed contracts and we were going to start employment and everything was going well, but then a month in, they lost their funding. So everything fell apart. But we sat there and realized we had an entire development team and I met with a good friend of mine named Ken Wong and he gave us a check for the first month to get us started.
We made about 3 games and we pretty much tossed all of them. Things were looking grim around March because we had to spend our own money and we thought we would have to shut it down. That’s when Rodrigo and I decided to go smaller and we created one final prototype and it turned out to be Arena Gods and it worked out.
Basically, we’re funded by money we got from myself, my good friend Ken Wong, and family.
In our “In Development Build” we have coming out for Early Access soon, we have a whole array of weapons that hasn’t been seen yet. In the original GameMaker build there was only the javelin and the gladius. In the new build that’s going to be coming out when we submit to Steam Greenlight, we’re going to separate the javelin into the spear and the javelin as two separate weapons.
We’re hoping to squeeze in a trident, net, and a ball and chain. These kind of more physics based weapons are experimental right now though. The scimitar and shield is definitely going to be there. That’s the full gladiator arsenal and right now we’re working balancing it.
Also, we’re working on an advanced combat system. Currently, there’s a lot of things to do to protect against ranged combat. If someone throws something at me, I can throw something back, both weapons ricochet out of the air, and I’m fine. It’s that or I can catch the weapon they threw at me or deflect the thrown weapon with my weapon in hand.
However, for melee combat it’s pretty much whoever hits who first so we’re trying to make it more robust. We want to put in the ability to block and parry, but it’s been a real head scratcher though. We’ve been working on it for a month and we’ve scrapped a lot of models.
The thing is, it really needs to be simple (control wise). It can always use an extra layer of depth though. If you end up having a one on one sword battle, we want it to look kind of like a mini Street Fighter match. Our policy is one joystick, four buttons, and that’s it. It’s really hard to do though [laughs].
Our overall strategy in general as a unit, is minimalism and being real. We don’t pretend to be hotshots because we’re not. Even when we worked in the game industry, we weren’t working for a company like Blizzard. So we think the only thing that’s going to lead us to success is people genuinely liking the game.