FRAG: Developing a Competitive Shooter for Mobile
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FRAG: Developing a Competitive Shooter for Mobile
12 April, 2019
Gameplay
Interview

The team of Oh BiBi talked about the development of FRAG, a mobile competitive shooter: challenges of the genre, character development, level design, and more.

80lv: Guys, could you tell us a bit about your company? Where are you based and what projects have you worked on? How did it start? How many people work in your studio?

Oh BiBi started in 2012. After 11 years spent in Gameloft, Stanislas Dewavrin felt a need for a change. He had had the opportunity to discover and learn from incredibly talented people, starting as a junior designer when he was 18 and ending his career at Gameloft as the VP Creation of a 6,000 creative people organization. But beyond glorious jobs titles, he was craving for something different that would truly be his own. After he left Gameloft, he taught himself to program and built a game at home in 9 months. The game became Motor World Car Factory and ended up grossing more than 10 million dollars in revenue.

One year after that, his former colleague Martial Valery who had taken over the creative direction at Gameloft and shipped Despicable Me Minion Rush (900 million players), joined the company as a co-founder to start its expansion. In 2014, Oh BiBi raised $4 million and focused on building a team that could take a few hits in the wings but would still shoot for the stars. Several projects were failed, some people were lost, but those who endured embraced the learning and eventually managed to release games with more and more impact. Having raised $21 million in June 2018 and with the release of FRAG, the company is now fully prepared to reach the top!

Oh BiBi offices are based in Paris, France, and 26 people are working on our 7 live games.

Oh BiBi’s motto is “All Players All Makers”. What this means is that everyone in our teams has a true passion for games and can have a big impact on the game development whatever its position, for us game making is a team affair and we want to empower our people to have the biggest impact. Our ambition is that this passion can also be extended to the community. We ship games every 6 months so that we factor community input as soon as possible. We want to help players feel that they’re shaping the games with us. What sets Oh BiBi apart from the competition is its creative DNA, its focus and ambition. When most mobile studios tend to overspecialize, we are ferociously forcing ourselves to be genre agnostic, absolutely unafraid to take on different game genres. In our short history we’ve developed simulation, RPG, shoot’em up, racing and now shooting games.

Thanks to our experience, we’ve developed a unique approach that helps us ship extremely ambitious mobile games with small and nimble teams in 6 months or so. All of this makes for a super rewarding and exciting development environment which helps us attract world-class talents who want to work on genre-defining titles!

About FRAG

80lv: Could you tell us a bit FRAG, the key concepts of it and your goals?

The game has to feel as natural as possible, mobile-born instead of a port from a PC or console version that would feel clumsy. Something very bold we did is to go for a 1v1 team based game instead of the classical 5v5. We did that because we felt that cooperation was too random and not accurate enough on mobile games to produce a normalized experience. Also, in 5v5 many players always complain that the team composition is not good, and in FRAG, you get to choose who are the 5 members of your team. 5v5 sometimes encourage toxicity as matchmaking could mix new players with experimented one, and the new players really feel like a burden to others. In FRAG, if you win or lose a game, that’s up to you. You can’t blame anyone, you just have to focus on your progress and deck building. Still, you don’t feel lonely because you’re part of a 50 members club, fighting for a common cause, the domination of the WORLD LEADERBOARD during the season.

Our end goal is to make FRAG the most successful game of Oh BiBi to date and reach for the top. We want to increase the player base as much as possible and entertain hundreds of millions in the most engaged game community. We don’t want to be the sole owner of the FRAG spirit, it will be carried on by whoever is motivated enough to be part of its destiny and direction. We’ve even included a cinematic tool in the game accessible to all the player for free so they can tell their own little stories with the characters and share it with others. Success is only achieved when everyone is benefiting from it.

Developing a Mobile Competitive Shooter

80lv: Making a competitive shooter for mobile could be quite a challenging task. What would you say are the biggest difficulties of this genre? What solutions did you find to overcome them?

The team had always loved First Person Shooters! Oh BiBi Founders even worked on quite a few mobile FPS over the years at Gameloft (notably NOVA & MODERN COMBAT). We felt that everyone in the team was ready and fit to take on this challenge. When we started the project a year ago, we were quite sure a shooter could be amongst the TOP 10 most successful games on mobile. It was before Fortnite, but at that time, every time we discussed this opportunity, people would challenge the idea by saying FPS controls would not work on mobiles because the experience was too intense. So we paid strong attention to this and figured out a set of rules and controls that would feel totally natural on mobile. We know that good design is not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing left to remove. So for every action in the game, we really thought: do people really need to crouch, jump or lean in a mobile FPS? Do they need 20 different maps? We quickly realized the answer was no which helped come up with the deepest yet minimalist approach to the subject. AutoShoot – 2 teams of 5 characters – One special ability per character –  When you die you transfer to another member of your team – One Map to rule them all!

Visuals

80lv: What were your thoughts behind the visual style of the product? It looks very catchy and a lot of very nice sticking visuals. Could you talk a bit about the main references and ideas that defined the visual style?

The style is very rooted in the Oh BiBi style. It’s popping, it’s colorful and very saturated. We took inspiration from our previous game SUP, but at the same time, we wanted the characters to look cool in low poly.

The design is chunky and displays some very sharp edges. Characters should be easy to recognize from a distance and memorable. We’re not shy of having something that looks “gamey”, something that would not necessarily belong to an animation movie but to a game. We’re big fans of the 90’s aesthetics, and if you were to turn any of our characters into pixel art, they would be still recognizable as we’re using big contrasted color blocks and avoid to overcrowd the surfaces with details. For us, a good character is a good concept in the heart of it, not an accumulation of small unrelated details.

Characters

80lv: You’ve got an amazing squad of characters in the game. What way did you approach their creation? How did you organize your pipeline? It’s very interesting since all of the characters are very low poly and yet your artists managed to fill them up with life and some peculiar features. Great stuff!

FRAG is a kind of sport from a not so distant future, maximum 20 years from now. Many of the characters have a background that justifies their presence in the FRAG championship, they could be former athletes who joined for the thrill, ex-gang members or military staff very good at shooting and squad tactics, etc. We have 4 types of characters: light/infantry, heavy, digital, and robotic. We produced an algorithm at the very beginning of the project that would produce a list of potential characters for a balanced meta and that will provide uniqueness and variety through the game evolution.

The artists were then free to come up with any ideas that would fit the definition of the characters defined by the algorithm. Characters are the stars of the game so we set ourselves the obligation to strictly have unique characters and never characters too close to one another.

Once the design is settled, our 3D artists start modeling the character in a 3D software such as 3ds Max or Blender. The model is then unwrapped, this stage basically consists of peeling the 3D surface onto a 2D plane so that a texture could be created to wrap around.

The model is then imported into 3D Coat (a dedicated texturing tool). It’s a back and forth process between the game engine, Unity,  and the software solution to tweak the final result.

After the texturing, the artists have at their disposal skeletons that fit different body types we have in FRAG.  Once the skeleton is in place (every bone joint is placed through the models), the artists assign a weight to the different 3D parts so that the animations look credible. A stress test is used to test out very exaggerated animations to make sure nothing deforms strangely.

Finally, the artists go back into Unity with that rigged model and assign a variety of components and scripts that will indicate that the model is a character and should act as such!

Level Design

80lv: How did you work on the level design? The space seems pretty straightforward, but we’d love to learn a bit about the way you’ve crafted and balanced it out. Did you face any challenges during this step?

The idea was to produce a map that would fit our rules and session time. The very first inspiration was to take the proportion of an already existing kind of sport: soccer. Then, as we wanted a map that would be perfectly balanced for both teams the obvious choice was to create a symmetric map, making the blue side and the red side the same. To reduce the potentiality of unfair design, we also use symmetry for the left and the right side. We tested the first version using only collision blocks and adjusted distance and choke point size for a better gameplay experience.

Distance determines the pace, cover and shooting angle give the exposition. So we played it a lot and tuned the positions accordingly. The first graphical concept was on an off-shore platform, but really quick we moved it to a city stadium.

Speed & Controls

80lv: What way did you work out the speed and controls in FRAG? It’s interesting to learn more about the way your designers test the controls and find the best way to approach the project.

Unlike in many other FPS, the speed of our characters is quite slow. People would easily spot that and potentially complain about it, but what they always miss is that it means the target they’re going to shoot is not going to move frenetically either, so the pace and action is going to be more readable.

In our opinion, a game with a fast pace is doomed from the start as an eSport. Overwatch streams are way too fast to follow, and you can take a look at Twitch viewers number to see what kind of pace is acceptable for the viewing audience.

Slow characters also give more weight to the strategic choices: if you order your team to do something, it’s not going to be instant and will provide an opportunity for the twist to happen. Plus it gives room to create abilities that would boost the speed. Ever since the very first prototype, we wanted to use auto-shoot, so all the gun behaviors we created fit with that design choice perfectly. Every character is unique regarding all his stats, weapon and special ability.

We have 5 types of roles: attack, defense, camp, center, and wild. So when people are building their deck, they should account for that and try to produce the most functional team according to their tactics and various skills.

Challenges

80lv: Overall, how much time did the project production take? What would you say were the biggest challenges during it and how did you overcome them?

Globally, one year with 6 months of making the game from scratch and entering playable beta (early access) and 6 months of tuning during the soft launch. But the production is not over and luckily, we’ll be able to work on it for the coming years. There are 80 characters already planned and only 40 are already completed. The biggest challenge as always is to operate as a team and to produce a game that will convince people to try it and stick with it. We have a pretty flat organization so everyone is free to come up with ideas. We also included the community a lot during the soft launch. They were great advisers and we felt super lucky to have them on our side during this creative process.

Oh BiBi Team, Developers of FRAG

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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