Called 'Uproar', the original prototype was developed in GameMaker: Studio. It was a trial to see how the feel of Hotline Miami's combat adapted to a local multiplayer arena.
It didn't turn out to be much fun. I felt the problem was the shooting. While there was no reloading, even the smallest gun could still fire 7 shots before running out. With one hit kills, the result was players strafing around and firing frantically at each other, unleashing waves of bullets. When you did manage to hit someone it wasn't very satisfying. It didn't really convey a sense of achievement, skill, or power.
"It's dangerous to go alone! Take this."
Rodrigo and I had been working together for half a year. We had both quit our jobs the year before to pursue independence, but after several months and a handful of prototypes our pockets were light and our hands were empty. Morale was pretty low. Playing Uproar made it worse for me. I was unsatisfied and disappointed with it. I wanted to shelve it, but Rodrigo liked it. He got excited at the idea of a local multiplayer game. I think he may have been more in love with the idea than the game, but his excitement got to me. So I decided to give it another shot.
The 'Bullseye' Effect (also known as "BOOM! Headshot!")
I kept thinking about Quake III Arena. The machine gun was always the least satisfying weapon to use, but the rocket launcher was extremely satisfying, especially when you landed direct hits. I loved intercepting people who strafe-jumped around the giant statues in Q3DM1 with rockets to the face. The combination of reflexes, timing, limited opportunity, and prediction required to pull off such a shot, coupled with the crystal clear feedback of success from your target exploding into a shower of giblets, like some horrific piñata, wasn't just satisfying, it was memorable.
I'm a devout believer in the MDA framework. Every design choice I make is intended to achieve or enhance a feeling. I knew I had to limit the rate at which players could fire bullets, but it had to make good sense. Why does it work this way? Is it exciting? Is it meaningful?
TowerFall became a pivotal influence. I admired how:
- You're limited to 3 arrows, but you can pick up used arrows off the ground.
- The controls emulate the tension and release of firing an arrow in real life, but still allow you to shoot intuitively as a gamer. On button press, X allows you to aim your arrow and on button release it fires. You can tap X to quick fire or hold X to aim and fire when ready.
- Arrows have slight homing which allows players to think more rather than struggle with the controls.
Archery is cool. It could definitely work, but (A) it probably works better from a side perspective with gravity and (B) TowerFall already did it. I kept thinking about javelins. I've always been a huge fan of gladiators and I've always wanted to make a video game about gladiators. I've even built a couple of prototypes in the past. The dynamic of having to retrieve or acquire a new javelin every time you threw it was exciting. The theme was also very well suited for the excessive blood that I'd hope to have. So I stripped the game of all guns, added the javelin, added the sword, added the ability to catch and deflect projectiles, and added slight projectile homing.
I walked over to Rodrigo's place, we booted up the game, and played. There we were, round after round, gleefully harpooning each other like sadistic idiots. We looked ridiculous, but we were having fun. We wanted to win. We wanted to show off. It was the kind of experience that left you wanting more.
But I had to be sure it wasn't just us who felt this way.
We held a playtest at my favorite coffee house, invited a bunch of friends, and bought everyone a cup. Most of the playtesters were gamers, but we also got a couple of non-gamers for good measure. In total we had a dozen people play the game.
The non-gamers struggled. The game speed was too fast for them. They had to constantly ask about the controls.
The gamers, on the other hand, hollered, trash-talked, laughed, and mashed buttons like their lives depended on it. Rematches were demanded and arms were raised. The sword was overpowered, room looping was buggy so sometimes players never came back (my bad), and executing was too fast (it was instantaneous on button press because I never made an animation).
I knew. Rodrigo knew. This was it. This game needed to be made and we were going to make it.
The sword was pretty overpowered in the prototype.
The ability to catch projectiles has been in from the start.