For those bashing EA..... Any old-schooler will tell ya, EA is not some great company. Yeah, they've released some great games, but the bottom line is they're the fabled 'corporate giant' out to make money and eliminate competitors. Been that way since the early 80's. Another victim of EA you might have heard of, the Wing Commander series (Privateer as well). If they can't rush out better games than you, they'll buy you out and kill your franchise.
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Oh man Cara Ellison? She always shows up in the best places!
At the SIGGRAPH 2015 indie game showcase, we came across a unique Rocket Jumping platformer called Tinertia. We spoke with Paul Ferguson, Game Programmer at Candescent Games, who worked on this Unity developed independent title and learned about the implementation of their double analog stick controls for the game, the influence of Quake III Arena, and why Unity was the preferred engine to build this game.
It’s a hardcore platformer with no jump button. Players use the right stick to shoot rockets in any direction and if they shoot the ground, the rocket explosion pops them up. It’s very much like Rocket Jumping in Quake III Arena or Team Fortress 2. You play as a robot called Weldon. He’s a lovable little derpy guy who is trying to make it off of a planet in which he crash-landed on.
The name Tinertia is kind of a pun. It’s ‘inertia’ but it’s also ‘tin’ and it was actually created by another designer who worked with us the first year of the product. It SEOs very well because it’s not a word, but that’s not the reason why we did it though [laughs].
Vilas Tewari and I first got together to start a project and we made a bunch of prototypes and we really loved physics. One of our favorite things to do back in the day in Halo was to throw a bunch of grenades underneath the warthog and see how high we could explode it. So it kind of came from a weird spot like that where we were trying a platformer out and just like landing on grenades that would pop you around, we thought, what if you could shoot out the grenades? It felt just like Rocket Jumping and then it sort of spiraled out into the game it is now.
We’ve been working on the game for about a year-and-a-half now. We’re using Unity and we started off with a very small prototype, put together a bunch of levels, and pitched it around to Sony and Xbox and others. It wasn’t quite working, so we went back to the drawing board and really hammered out on the mechanics, threw everything out and started on a brand new art style where we got these 3D contiguous levels that rotate around a giant center structure that you play on.
We kept going with it, put it out on Steam as Early Access, went back to Sony and Microsoft contacts and that’s when they gave us some dev kits. Now we’re about to launch it on Steam September 3, 2015 and we’ll get it out on consoles hopefully early 2016.
Reasons for Using Unity Technologies
We were very comfortable with Unity and C#, and the job that me and my partner worked on before was in Unity, and that was back in like Unity 1.0. The engine is very solid, very good, and we’re good with it. Being a small team it’s a lot about what we can do quickly and what we are good at. So instead of reinventing the wheel and trying to learn new tools, we just decided to jump onto Unity and do what we knew.
We use a lot of plugins for Unity actually. That’s one of the biggest powers that it has. You can get a lot of tools that were made by the community and pull them into your game. We use things like a Lens Flare, and ProBuilder which is an amazing tool that I think all developers on Unity should use to help you sculpt inside of Unity and just build out your level structure. So there’s a ton of smaller tools we use within Unity. In the bigger sense we use Maya and other standards, nothing too outlandish.
Obstacles of Development
Something that’s really difficult with the game is that it’s a brand new mechanic with the twin joystick platforming. Everybody is able to pick up a platformer and hit A to jump as high as they can, but in this game you have to kind of focus on shooting down and controlling the direction the rocket goes to guide your movement.
It’s really hard to judge how difficult we need the levels to be because a lot of people who are into difficult games and new mechanics, are not into easy games. If we made the levels too easy, these people would say that it’s a neat mechanic but there is no challenge causing them to lose interest. On the other hand, if we made it too hard we alienate the people that love challenging games but might not be too comfortable with the dual analog stick controls because they’re playing Super Meat Boy and not Call of Duty to get that thumb skill down.
One of the things we’ve done has been reaching out to Twitch and YouTubers. We just give them the game and ask them to record their gameplay and let us watch. That has been the best thing we’ve done and the most feedback we’ve ever gotten was just through those channels. That allowed us to make the correct tweaks to the game.
The past year of Early Access has just been us hammering out the difficulty curve to get it to a ramp where we’re now seeing everybody get through the first level and continuing to play, instead of putting the game down after the first 15 minutes.That’s the feedback we’ve been getting and where Early Access has been really helpful for us. Getting the physics, and making everything feel correct took us about a year to get right.
We wanted to build something that felt new but would use some older mechanics such as platforming, which would be a little difficult, kind of like a Super Meat Boy vibe. This new mechanic of Rocket Jumping doesn’t feel like something you’ve done. We’ve been holding X to run and A to jump for 30 years now so we wanted to make something that you felt like you were getting faster because you were physically getting better at controlling the character with this new mechanic.
As you get better, you go back to the previous levels and you go, “Pfft! This used to be a problem? I’m a boss now!” The game has got this really high skill ceiling a lot like Quake Rocket Jumping. One person is excited that they jumped up a wall, but then another person says “check this out!” and flies around the level three times and it’s like damn…
We’ve had some speedrunners get into it and really tear the game up to where I’m impressed at how fast they can go. I might not ever be that good, and I made the thing [laughs]. It’s cool to see people take it and devour the mechanic and do something cool with it. It’s actually a little humbling to see that I’ve logged in like 1500 hours of Tinertia on Steam, and then launch it only to not be number one on the leaderboard a week later [laughs].
I think what we all want to do as developers is give a game out to somebody and have them have an experience that you don’t have or you can’t have and have them take it to another level that you didn’t even think was possible. That’s the ultimate reward of the job I would say.
It makes for a really great streaming game because you feel connected when you’re watching somebody else, you get bad anxiety. I’ve seen so many people play the first world of our game and I’m still rooting for them to make the last jump and I cringe when they aren’t able to. It’s got something that draws in an audience. Everybody gets pretty creative with their swearing when they play Tinertia.