Never Give Up is being developed by Massive Monster, and published by Armor Games. These articles are written with the developer's cooperation.
There's a good chance that if you know Armor Games, you know the folks behind indie developer dynamos Massive Monster. Jay Armstrong, Jimp, and Julian Wilton have been serving up finely crafted Flash games for years, with titles like Give Up 2, Sushi Cat-a-Pult, Super Adventure Pals, and more dazzling literally millions of players. Who doesn't love a dubiously solid blue kitty with a palate for fine fish? We don't know, because we've never met them. Probably people who only wear turtlenecks and aggressively blog about the traffic lights in town. That doesn't sound like you.
With their upcoming premium title, the unapologetically brutal platformer Never Give Up, Jay, Jimp, and Tasselfoot, take their first steps away from not only free online games, but also Flash. I rang up Jay and Jimp to talk about what it's been like working with Unity and moving their development onto it, as well as what fans of the satisfyingly sadistic series can expect as the newest installment marches towards completion.
Making the move to Unity seemed like the logical step to Massive Monster. It's stable across multiple systems, everyone is starting to use it, and perhaps most importantly for some aspiring indie developers, it's got console support. Moving Never Give Up from Flash to Unity sounds like the sort of thing that would involve reworking everything from the ground up, but luckily for our team, that's not the plan here. Instead, they're working with an interface that lets their code run in Unity... handy, that, if you aren't the sort of person who enjoys sleepless nights, endless reprogramming, and the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.
One thing that's become abundantly clear to the team is how much more powerful Unity is than Flash. It's easy to get caught up in all the aesthetic things you can do and get distracted from actual work. Sure, you could work on tweaking that wall-slide, but gosh, look at how perfectly wobbly and realistic that water is! Other aspects are more practical, but no less welcome. Videos play easily, for example, with no codec issues to allow for sharper, shinier cutscenes. The asset store lets you focus on the creative side of things by buying helpful add-ons... controller support anyone? These are just a few of the reasons why Massive Monster has decided to work with Unity moving forward as a developer. Plus, now they get to sound like they're part of an unsettling hive mind, which is always a plus. Join us. Join us in Unity, and be at peace.
As for Never Give Up itself, Jay and Jimp estimate it's about "75 to 80 percent there". The skeletons of the levels are all just about completed, which means it's getting close to time for Jimp to do what he does next and bring them to life with art and design. (Does that smiling shrubbery go with that bloodied spike pit? I can never tell.) Most of the game's music is ready yet needs to be added, as do the animated cutscenes. The level editor is done and waiting for players all around to world to lovingly craft challenges to inflict upon their friends. One thing the team mentioned is wanting to get more lines written up and shipped out to their voice talent, Egoraptor... after all, isn't being verbally berated while you're blown up over and over half the fun? We like to think so.
Of course, just because the game is tipping closer to completed than not doesn't mean they've been able to kick back with tea and biscuits. When it comes to making the sort of game filled with levels players love to hate, a certain amount of your schadenfreude has to be productive. Hitting that sweet spot of difficulty that the series has been known for, where the levels strain your very limits without actually being unfair or impossible, takes a lot of trial and error. They need to be intuitive rather than obstinate. Sometimes that means scrapping stages entirely, as Jay notes has happened before.
Others, it's about breaking your mechanics down to see where you're going wrong. The team talked about panic before showing Never Give Up at PAX as they realized their testers were failing over and over at things they thought should have been easy. Luckily, in this case, a closer look at the game's "wall slide" ability showed they didn't need to throw anything in the bin just yet. By tweaking the duration of that ability by just a tiny bit, the impassable challenge suddenly became doable... sure, you had to hone your skills and timing to pull it off, but it was no longer impossible. Never Give Up, after all, is a game where its punishing nature is all part of the appeal. You might wonder if Massive Monster ever gets tired of seeing people die over and over again ever gets old. The answer, they assure me, is a very smug and gleeful, "No."
Never Give Up's stages are iterative... each time you play, it adds a new element, until that initially straightforward run to the exit means backflipping over saw-blades, diving between converging lasers, and darting across disappearing blocks before the missiles get you. By adding these dangers one by one, players learn as they go, adding in new steps to an increasingly deadly dance. If you were to just throw a player right into a "final" version of a level, the developers point out, it'd be all but impossible at first go. What's that old saying about how you can boil a frog alive by slowly turning up the heat? It's like that, only instead of a frog, it's someone hurling their controller through the wall, only to begrudgingly snatch it back and try again two minutes later.
It's interesting to note, Jay points out, how different Never Give Up is from their other upcoming project, The Adventure Pals. While they're both platformers, they couldn't be more different in tone and gameplay. The Adventure Pals is a zany romp about a young boy out to save his father with the help of his pet rock and magic giraffe, and Massive Monster fondly reminisces about watching parents and their kids excitedly play the demo together.
As for Never Give Up... ? Well, it's, uh... it's got an effect on people, the team admits. The pressure of the time limit and mounting level difficulty had friends and family who weren't even gamers shrieking at each other and jumping up and down as they tested it. Other people wave the controllers around wildly, trying to make ridiculous jumps or dodge incoming projectiles. "When the game is unforgiving, you become unforgiving. Never Give Up turns nice folk into angry, bloodthirsty people," Jay remarks, and frankly, that's the way we like it.
As Massive Monster prepares to head out to Eurogamer's EGX, it's clear they're not letting the pressure up on themselves. There are lines to be written, code to be tweaked, boss fights to be polished, and little blue men to be reduced to a fine, red mist by the bucketful. Coming up next month, we'll see how the levels are shaping up, get a recap of the aftermath of EGX, and talk more about making Never Give Up run in Unity.
Never Give Up is being developed by Massive Monster. Check out the official Steam Greenlight page, the Massive Monster official website, and follow the team on Facebook and Twitter. To learn more about Armor Games and the titles we publish, or just to play a ton of great free online games, visit ArmorGames.com.