Catching up with Daniel SND, the mind behind the madness of Rocket Fist.
Rocket Fist is a multiplayer arena game with armless robots in chaotic battles with rocket fists. It is currently being developed by Daniel Snd, a brazilian game developer currently pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Media. We’ve seen Rocket Fist build a strong following on /r/Unity3d over the past year and we recently got a chance to catch up with Daniel to get some insight on how Rocket Fist came to be.
Can you tell us a little about yourself Daniel, and how you came up with the idea of Rocket Fist?
Hi there, I’m Daniel Nascimento (A.K.A. Daniel SND), an indie game developer based in Vancouver Canada. I have a background in 3D Art & Animation and picked up programming as a hobby a couple of years ago trying to make my own games using Unity. Nowadays I work a lot more with programming than actually doing art.
After making several game jam games and smaller projects over the years, I wanted to make something more complete with a longer development cycle. I was pursuing a master's degree in Digital Media and in one of the projects we were working on we were tasked with coming up with games for the PS Vita that made good use of it’s physical interface. I was working on a lot of small prototypes in the vita and had the idea of making a 1 vs 1 game in which each player held one side of the device. It didn’t really fit the project’s premise but I wanted to try it out anyway since I haven’t seen a game doing anything like that on the PS Vita.
And that was the first ever version of Rocket Fist. It was just some spheres in an environment made of cubes throwing little cube missiles at one another, and even at that stage it was already pretty damn fun. Each player only had one button and one analog stick to play with, it was simple and addicting. I started playtesting with my classmates and it was a success, everyone I introduced this to would play for a long time and would have a hard time giving it back.
I then decided to try it with more people, I added controller support and made a PC-version with a bigger level and 4 players. I had only spent about 5 hours working in the game and me and my friends ended up playing that version for way longer than that. At that point I was sure that was THE ONE, the project I should pursue to be a long-term commercial project.
The design of the little robots you’ve created are pretty unique. How has this particular design evolved over the course of the development process?
For a long time early in development the game still didn't have art, or a concept around it, I thought of several things like Killer Cupcakes throwing forks around and other crazy ideas... Eventually a friend playing the artless spheres/cubes version said: "Oh, I really like those little robots throwing their arms at each other, it's so cool!" And I was like: "Oh yeah! That's totally what they are! Little robots throwing arms at each other! That's what I was thinking about all along!".
Since the spherical look was already working so well on my artless prototype I figured I could use the exact same proportions for my little robot character. So when I got home I made a quick sketch of how a little spherical robot could work. Lately I’ve been quite fond of simple lowpoly cartoony art, I’m very comfortable with it and I find it appealing and easier to make, so I decided to go with that art style for the game. In little to no time I had my little Robot Character running around in Maya LT:
The design of the robot stayed the same for a long time, only recently I modified it a little bit to make it easier to see the details from the farther away top-view the game is played int:
Other than that, the only thing I’m adding to the robot character are costumes, I’ve been making a new one of those every now and then :)
When playing your alpha demo myself, I found the multiplayer mode a load of fun. What game modes do you currently have planned for launch?
That is great to hear! :D There will be several variations of the multiplayer mode, the one you’ve played is the “Last Robot Standing” one, in which the last player with remaining lives is declared the winner. I haven’t locked down all of the other multiplayer modes that will be added yet, but I’ve been working lately in a new singleplayer campaign mode :)
The Singleplayer mode will play a little like a rogue-lite of sorts. The player will be fighting his way down levels of a robot factory divided by 4 or 5 sectors. In each sector the player will have to pass through 4 to 5 different levels picked randomly from a pool, fighting a boss level afterwards. If the player dies at some point he must start a new run on that sector, losing the powerups found on the way and having to face a new randomly selected set of levels. After beating the sector’s boss the player unlocks a new sector and can restart from that sector instead of having to replay the previous sectors again.
We’ve noticed you’ve developed a pretty active following on Reddit over the past year of your development. How does it make you feel to witness people reacting so passionately to a game you’ve created?
It’s awesome to see people’s interest in the game and their positive feedback. A couple of times even outside of reddit, in other game developer’s streams people ask “Hey, aren’t you that Rocket Fist guy?” The /r/Unity3d community is great and makes me feel very welcome to share my experiences and see cool stuff people are doing.
It always makes me happy to see people getting in touch and ask about the game. Lately I’ve started to stream Rocket Fist’s development on Twitch.tv/DanielSnd twice a week (Mondays and wednesdays 3pm to 5pm PST), and it surprised me how many people show up to talk about the game and see the crazy stuff I’m up to. It inspires and motivates me to keep on working on the game.
The mechanics in Rocket Fist allow for some pretty awesome ricochet wall kills. How did you go about designing the levels for the game?
For the longest time I avoided making new levels and was just working on polishing the mechanics of the game, mostly because it was a long process to place all the level blocks, test and iterate over it. Then eventually I got to a point in the game that it was really in need of some level variation, then I decided to work on a tool to make my life easier when making levels.
I already had in mind that I would be working with tiles and had made the art assets for levels modular from the get-go, so I looked over on the Asset Store and picked Rotorz Tile Editor to use as a tile system. They had a simple runtime level editor example on their Asset Store demo so I knew I could use it to do what I wanted.
I’ve built a fully functional level editor on top of Rotorz’s example, with a nice UI complete with lighting and camera preferences selection. I’m planning to release this level editor with the game and allow players to make their own levels, helping add further replayability to the game. The levels get saved as XML files and are usually around 100kb in size (mostly because of the screenshot that gets saved with it.).
From an actual layout perspective, I like to make levels with lots of diagonals in it, and think about the straight shots these diagonals can produce. Those 45 degree walls are fairly easy for players to predict the rocket’s behavior when hitting it straight on. I also think about having hiding spots that won’t allow a clear shot into player’s spawn points, so there is some running around and hiding and players don’t spawn instantly dying. That gets a little hard to do when designing levels with the looping-doors though:
Where do you draw your inspirations from? Are there any particular games that inspired you?
Initially I was thinking a lot of Towerfall, playing around with the limited amount of ammo players can have. Other inspirations are Bomberman, Mario Kart 64 Balloon Battles (Fighting with turtle shells :D) and in a way, even dodgeball and air hockey.
We know creating a game as an indie developer can be a huge challenge. What are some important lessons you’ve learned from the development of Rocket Fist?
It’s definitely a challenge! I found that keeping myself organized really helps to keep my mind in the game. I track my hours using Toggl, which helps me see where I’m spending the most time on the project and when I’m slacking off. I set myself bi-weekly milestones that I keep track of in a google docs. And I keep a physical kanban board with post-its by my bed so I always know which tasks I am supposed to be tackling next, organized in by priority and time estimate. I also jolt down every idea I have or bug I see on a little notebook I always carry with me everywhere, every once in a while I go over the notebook and transform my notes into tasks (Post its! :D). It’s very satisfying to physically move a post-it into the done column after completing a task.
Another thing that really helps me is taking the game to events for playtesting. I gain great insight from seeing players interact with the game for the first time, and I’m fortunate enough to have several events near me that I can take the game to playtest in. Here in Vancouver we have a monthly indie game developers meetup called “Full Indie”, and I have been taking the game there almost every single month since it’s inception and every time I leave with several new pages on my notebook from the great feedback I receive from the other devs. Having access to those avenues of playtesting is one of the reasons I have decided against going for Early Access with Rocket Fist.
I also found that it really helped for me to share my progress online, I have been writing about Rocket Fist’s development since it’s early days on my devlog and it’s awesome to be able to go back to it and see how the game evolved in each post. I definitely recommend keeping a diary of development somewhere.
Lastly, I’m not working entirely alone. I have a great Sound Designer/Music Composer working with me, Thiago Adamo :) (Despite being known as Daniel SND, sound is one thing I cannot do, hahaha). I also have several game developer friends that I always bounce ideas off with. The more I work on Rocket Fist the more my “thank you list” keeps on growing, and I’m really grateful for it! Surround yourself with great people and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback!
Where are you right now in the development process? When should we expect Rocket Fist to be released?
Most of the systems and features are already implemented, what is really missing now is adding more content into the game, which is what I am doing now. Making new enemies for the singleplayer, bosses and several new level blocks for the level editor. I haven’t announced it officially, but I have in my mind a release date at the end of april that I’m working towards.