Designing Slam Bolt Scrappers: Iteration 3 (of 5)

In case you missed ’em, here are Part 1 and Part 2. This is Part 3!

After making the robot prototype we felt it was time to work on what we hoped would become the actual game. We decided to switch to flash so that we could release on PC if necessary (i.e. if we couldn’t get a deal to release on the PS3/360/Wii), and we started from scratch with all new assets so that we owned everything.

We also knew what changes we wanted to make as well. We wanted more complex building that felt more involved than simply placing pipes, and we wanted it to have a puzzle-y feel. Fighting and building were too disjoint so a goal became tying the two together better. We also wanted to make the goal more clear (just build a building!) and we were certain that 4 way multiplayer was key. After around 3 months of jamming here’s what we came up with!

Once again you’ll notice some huge changes. A conveyor belt was added with shaped tangram blocks providing the building materials as opposed to just piles of stuff (you can see how this was the precursor for building with blocks that made it into the final SBS version). The tangram blocks could be stacked in any way, and the whole tower had a “squishiness” where things would expand, crunch, and sway a little in the wind. World of Goo was a big inspiration for that.

We tried to tie the fighting in more with the building by making it so that every thing you built with could be used to fight – blocks could be thrown, wires could zap, and we even had an early power up called “anti-freeze” that would kill all the ice monsters (it’s kind of an early analog to our bomb). Even then the fighting and building were pretty separate, and the strategy often broke down into “you build, I’ll fight”.

The game itself was much more polished than the earlier versions, as we spent lots of time getting it to the point where we could pitch it to publishers and to the major console developers. The characters in the game were supposed to be kind of “punk” superheros, and we based their fashion in part off of a crazy fashion book called Fruits. While we got rid of the pipes we decided to keep the electricity as we felt there were interesting opportunities, but even those wires didn’t survive past this iteration.

The goal of the game was to fill a large blueprint in the background, at which point a giant boss would come and fight you. The brick counter on the left side of the screen showed you how you were doing with progress. We ultimately didn’t like this design much, as it felt very contrived and would frequently lead to wars of attrition for new users who would keep playing forever and not quite winning or losing. Also the game got tiring when you played for a long time on the same area and not much changed.

Some features in this prototype wound up getting removed for the fourth iteration and put back in for the final version, like health bars underneath players (here they are just under the enemies) and building with complete block shapes. Other features of Slam Bolt Scrappers were solutions to deficiencies in this prototype, like relatively fixed cameras to avoid the feeling of nasuea people sometimes got from the quick in/out zooming.

We finished this prototype in February 2009, and started pitching it to everyone we could… and it was brutal. More or less everyone said no, and we were heartbroken. For a while we though we would take the game to WiiWare as Nintendo was willing to let us put it on the Wii but with no financial support we didn’t know how we could make it happen. Luckily Harmonix came along and asked us to help out for with a new game they wanted to make that would eventually turn into Dance Central.

Seeing as how we were stuck with a mediocre prototype and no prospects for finishing it we decided to take a break and spent the next 6 months prototyping Dance Central with Harmonix, putting our game on hold in the meantime. When we finished with that we went back to our game and decided we needed to make one more version to address the problems with this iteration, and I’ll tell the story of that tomorrow in part 4.