Warcube, out early next year, has a name that sums the game up rather well. The player is a cube who fights. It's a bright, colorful game with a penchant for silliness; the demo I played at PAX began with rescuing a guy stuck in an outhose, who proceeded to have poop pellets keep falling out of his butt as he walked around. But the heart of the game is really its combat. Once an attack is made, everything slows down to allow the player to pull off crazy combos.
Developer Craig "Craigz" Zacok is one of the three founders of Haven Made, a company which operates more like a collective than a traditional studio, along with Rob Kopp and John Christensen. They ask questions and help each other as needed, but each is working on their own game.
Although Warcube is a physics-based action adventure game today, Craigz says that it has a messy lineage. After releasing his second mobile game,Bounce5, he took one of Kopp's ideas for a mobile take on Battle Chessand combined it with an idea he'd had for a game medieval cube warriors.
"It was really just a major pivot during a time when the Battlechess idea was kind of in limbo. Battlechess was turn based, and you kind of slid your guys at each other a la bumper pool, and in fact the 'slide attacking' element in Warcube is really the only thing that made the cut from it, totally Rob Kopp's idea there," says Craigz. "So I just did some alternate design frames for the game, and it ended up just clicking with a few other intrinsic ideas I'd had....the moment I turned them to cubes and added slow-mo, things just started to flow."
Warcube's silliness is something Craigz has learned to embrace over time after hearing it called silly by others. "Being the only person actively working on it, and working on it for like 16 hours a day, and the fact it's primarily a combat game, I started to lose sight of that," he says. "So really, I'm taking the silly tone because to pretend that it's anything more might come off as conceited. That being said, on more than one occasion I've had someone come up to me and say 'I totally forgot that I was playing as a cube, that was so intense!' Which makes me feel validated."
When approaching combat design, Craigz thinks about what makes combat fun to play, watch, and talk about. "I came to the conclusion (and this'll be subjective) that it's just a few things," he says. "Primarily people like to feel in control, like they have power. Second, they like to make these micro decisions on the fly during combat, and you have to pace the fight to give them enough time to execute those decisions. Then top it off with a with a bit of slow motion. All together this let's people craft these really beautiful and intricate combos on fly during combat, and since it doesn't all happen in 1one second during a cutscene, you get to appreciate it.
"The game is actually shaping up to be a bit of a pseudo sandbox, with some areas to capture, others to explore, with mini-quests and easter eggs, etc," Craigz continues. "But at it's core, the level design is still even about the combat. Whether it's a fight, or a puzzle, or platforming, it all revolves around the combat mechanics. There's also going to be a few alternate game modes, naturally starting with a survival/horde style mode."
Craigz's biggest challenge has been fighting "the misconception that Warcube is a 'simple' game, purely because of the graphics. Both in the mentality of designing what to do in the game, as well as showing it to people. But getting the bigger gameplay loop has taken a while," he says. "I realize now why any game that has combat at its core can get stuck in this weird 'inbetween' of having to be a big open world, a AAA action experience, or be a one trick pony sort of game with the main mode being something challenge based."
His favorite thing about developing the game has been creating GIFs and sharing them with others, especially in the Imgur community. "To put it simply, the Imgur community is perfectly reactive," Craigz explains. "The site caps you at 140 character responses... which means people are really succinct with feedback. So really quickly what they like, don't like, or just generally how they feel is so readily apparent.
"Warcube is also kind of lucky in that it shows off in short GIFS pretty well, so people only need to glance at it to gather what's going on," he says. "A big portion of Imgurians are gamers too, so it's been kind of a beautiful mix of people offering ideas and feedback.... I work from home by myself most days, so having the sort of community that values feedback as well as being entertaining is so refreshing."
Craigz has been making games for about three years. Before that, he worked in advertising and visual effects, a background which has had a pretty big impact on his philosophy behind game development. "I'm big on people being generalists who are able to see the big picture view of things, with the understanding of how to make, market, and ship a game, entirely by themselves," he says. "So we all really own the projects that we're working on. But if we need help, we know who to ask, and exactly what to ask. Which is crazy important. We're big on the whole 'all for one, and one for all' stuff.
"I just think it's so risky to have lots of people working on the same project and putting lot's of sustainable hope in it," says Craigz. "In my eyes, six people working on an indie game sounds risky and unsustainable. I'm not saying those projects don't ever succeed, I just think that games like that better be absolutely incredible to support a group like that."
He also says it's made him more comfortable with just getting things done, regardless of whether or not he knows how to do it. "In both vfx and advertising you wear a lot of hats, so whether you know how to do something or not, the project still has to ship," Craigz says. "You develop this sort of grit that comes with always being overwhelmed and not being 100% sure how to do something the "right" way.
"This can definitely be tricky in regards to game development, but it really makes you lean heavy on being creative with your alternate design plans," he says. "If you can't do [insert crazy-cool, but time intensive feature here], because of time/skills, what can you do that is equally or more fun instead, that requires less time?"