[Eric Peterson, president and CEO of Vicious Cycle, recounts the ups and downs of making the PSN and XBLA parody video game Blood Bath and Beyond, and explains important lessons learned in the development of the studio's first downloadable game.]
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (2009, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) was an experiment in video game humor that had never really been tried before. Even though the game itself didn't turn out to be exactly what we wanted it to be, we were encouraged by the fact that many people "got" what we were trying to do with the story and Matt Hazard, a self-aware video game character who is the star of dozens of (made-up) games dating back to the earliest days of the video game industry.
We wanted to give Matt another chance to win gamers' hearts, so with Blood Bath and Beyond (BBB) we took him back to his side-scrolling roots and made a simpler, more action-oriented game that upped the ante on gameplay while retaining (and enhancing) the tongue-in-cheek approach that was the most creative and unique element in the previous game.
The critical response is definitely better this time around. But, even though we made great strides toward making Matt Hazard a household name (at least in gaming circles), the development of BBB had its ups and downs... just like every other game ever made.
1. Not Letting a Good Feature Slip Away
One of our early design ideas was to include the ability to take cover and then shoot into the background. We implemented a few test cases and started refining this mechanic, and tried numerous control schemes to make it feel fluid.
After a few months of trying out different ideas the concept just wasn't meshing well with the fast-paced action. Getting in and out of cover and avoiding so many enemies was frustrating and too sluggish.
What happened next probably happens to a lot of developers: you have to make a decision to continue to try and fix the issue or dump it altogether. Because we couldn't get this to fit into the game properly, we abandoned the concept and forged on with other important priorities.
Months later, when the game was feeling balanced, we revisited the original idea of cover and firing into the background. However, instead of trying to force the first idea we had back into the game, we decided to go with something more responsive and Contra-esque.
We simplified the idea and decided to use one button to allow you to shoot into the background. By implementing the mechanic this way, we were allowing the player to keep moving and avoid incoming fire while also attacking foes in the background.
By never losing sight of something we originally wanted to have in the game, we were able to add an extra dimension to our sidescrolling shooter to set it apart from the competition.
2. Bells and Whistles within the Tech
Since our goal was to create a fast-paced action game that was reminiscent of an old 2D coin-muncher, our technology needed to accomplish what it had never done in any of our previous games, run locked at 60 frames a second.
We needed it to behave like a sprite-based product and provide enough on-screen enemies and projectiles to be comparable to the games we were inspired by -- Metal Slug and Contra. If the game couldn't run at a high framerate then it just wouldn't cut it. The game would look sluggish and just not match up to its 2D predecessors.
Games like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Shadow Complex have recently raised the visual bar for downloadable games, which added yet another layer of difficulty to the equation. BBB needed cutting-edge graphics, lighting and post-processing effects in order to make the proper impact.
At the end of the day, BBB achieved its technological goals, we shipped with the framerate we desired, we avoided screen tearing, we had some of our best lighting to date, and we supported anti-aliasing.