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Road To The IGF:  Spawns of Deflebub 's Tony Manninen

Road To The IGF: Spawns of Deflebub's Tony Manninen

January 26, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis

January 26, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis
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More: Console/PC, Indie

Continuing Gamasutra's 'Road to the IGF' feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today's interview tackles the modding side of the competition, as we talk with Tony Manninen of LudoCraft, developers of Unreal Tournament 2004 mod Spawns of Deflebub.

The mod - more correctly known as Spawns of Deflebub: Dr. Luderkraft's Breeding Maze for Baby Elder Gods - was developed by the team of seven in an astonishing three weeks. Manninen describes the choice to spent so little time on the title as a "challenge" which represents a test of the company's "skills in the most extreme situation".

Spawns of Deflebub is a "perverted spawn of dodgeball, pinball, billiards, breakout and Cthulhu satire" that pays "homage to the slightly surrealistic nature of many old arcade games". Much of this comes through in the visual aspects of the game; LudoCraft comment that the title's unique look is made up of "brightly colored and strongly outlined elements in sort of void-like, geometric pocket realities".

The title has recently been awarded Best Other Mod in the competition, which also gives it a chance of being crowned overall Best Mod at the Independent Games Festival Awards during GDC in March.

We spoke to Manninen about the game, its entry into the IGF, and its amazing development time.

What is your background in the games industry?

We have been researching and designing games for the past seven or so years. We have a strong affiliation with the University of Oulu in Finland, and we constantly aim at bridging the gap between the industry and the academic communities.

What fostered your interest in the mod scene?

Mod scene offers a totally unique possibility to focus on the content and gameplay aspects of the games. With the core technology already in place since the beginning, it leaves us more room for innovation in terms of game ideas, etc. Furthermore, modding is a great way to prove one's skills and capabilities. If done well, you can even use it as a prototyping method that offers almost instant results.

When was LudoCraft formed, and what brought you together?

LudoCraft started operationally in the beginning of 2000 when I started doing my PhD project. However, the brand LudoCraft was coined in 2003 for the purposes of public image. That was also the time when the team grew to the current size. Basically, I have been gathering a group of talented individuals who share the vision and passion, and then we've been working together in various projects as a research and design unit.

What inspired Spawns of Deflebub: Dr. Luderkraft's Breeding Maze for Baby Elder Gods, and why did you decide to make it?

The initial inspiration, as usual for our projects, was the challenge to make something different. We toyed around with various game concepts, prototyped heavily, and finally settled for Deflebub. The aim was to have a game that is easy to learn, great team game and also fast to construct. We planned to make the game because of the IGF, since these competitions offer us a great opportunity to test our skills.

The narrative background for the game comes from the intriguing and complicated mind of our scriptwriter Pekko Koskinen. He is the über-wizard of conceiving elements that are way out of this world.

What attracted you to make the mod for Unreal Tournament 2004?

Unreal Engine has been our engine of choice since the year 2000, so basically this was just a matter of fact for us. We have been working with other engines as well, but I would say, in our case, the best ratio of effectiveness can be achieved by Unreal. We just know the engine well, so it is pretty straightforward to do awesome tricks with it.

What were your expectations from your mod, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

To put it simply, our main expectation - as always - is to create a great team play experiences. If the game does not rock in terms of player cooperation and joint fun, we need to get back to the design board and start doing some serious prototyping. I would say the mod lives up to our expectations, especially if we take into account the extra challenges we set for us before the development.

What inspired the game's unique art direction?

The main requirement for the art direction was the low-cost aspect. Everything we designed needed to be relatively fast and affordable to develop. Eventually our artists came up with the idea of combining various interesting and evolving background shapes with the original retro arcade theme. The artistic side has been our strong point, but this was one of the rare projects that we could totally let fly. Since there were no restrictions, we were able to follow the visions easily.

How would you describe the gameplay of the title to someone who hadn't played it, and where did the idea to mix elements from so many games come from?

Basically, I would say the game is like dodge ball, but with two teams. Furthermore, in this came you do not get points for direct hit. Instead, you need to have one or more bounces, or rebounds, with your ball before it hits the player of an opposing team. The possibility to dynamically alter the game arena - by placing and destroying the wall sections - offers some unique tactical elements that need to be studied fast in order keep up with the fast pace of the game.

The innovation and creativity lie often within the interesting mixtures of various simple elements. We basically had the idea of building something as a principle component of the game. However, we struggled for a while before the dodge ball element came into the picture. Since those two were integrated together, the rest was just pure iteration, refinements and additional features. Very simple, very challenging and loads of fun.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your mod is?

I would say the unique gameplay is one of the strongest candidates. Playing the game gives you a great satisfaction in forms that are difficult to get from other games. The sheer speed of the game offers endless possibilities for honing your team's skills towards greater successes. Also, it was really great to see that both female and male players adopted the game very easily. This may not be for the "old'n'slow", but at least it caters for various player profiles.

How long did development take?

Ah, this is the best part. I strictly allocated exactly one man month for the whole development of Deflebub. Basically, this meant that nobody in the team was not allowed to exceed the 30 hour limit. The duration of the development was approximately two weeks, but we managed to complete the game within the tight budget.

In retrospect, I have to admit that developing a multiplayer, networked, team-oriented, 3D game for PC in that timeframe is quite an achievement.

What was the development process like?

We always follow highly iterative development processes. We usually start with internal brainstorm sessions where we come up with loads of different ideas. Then we pick the most potential ones and start prototyping. For example, in the case of Deflebub, the first physical prototype consisted of a couple of coke bottles, bottle cap, pile of post-it notes and dusty floor. Not the easiest thing to work with, but enough to keep us going.

We tend to make numerous prototypes that are constantly playtested by our team and by the outside testers. When the gameplay reaches the level we are happy with, we start fine-tuning the art assets. Feature creep is never a problem with this method, since everything is done in small increments. You always have a playable ready for testing if you want.

What do you think of the state of mod development, and how do you think mods fit into the industry?

I think the whole modding scene is one of the best things that has happened to the industry. While I still appreciate the effort of developing one's own engine, the modding path opens up great opportunities for those who want to concentrate on the gameplay and contents of the games.

At least for us, the modding of Unreal Engine has let us to focus on creating unique and totally non-mainstream game experiences. With the high-quality technological base it is really cost-effective to develop even the most complicated game concepts. Of course, the lack of source code access may introduce some interesting challenges, I still would say the modding approach lets you go totally wild in your designs.

What do you think of the state of independent development?

The business seems to be getting tougher year by year, so from that point-of-view the future may prove to be a challenging one for the indies. However, I believe the "taste" and requirements of the players will keep evolving while the player base increases. That might provide interesting possibilities in terms of niche markets, underground productions and even the totally new game concepts.

The biggest important thing is to follow your dreams and vision in whatever you do. If it means staying independent, then by all means stick with it. While the big ones can definitely bring some stability and support to the scene, the role of the independents is to move fast, stay creative and break the boundaries.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games or mods?

Unfortunately I personally have been so busy for the past month, so I haven't checked out the other mods. I've read the briefs - plus the Gamasutra interviews - but that's about it. I need to get some time off and try them out. Naturally, GDC is the perfect place to get more info on all of those fabulous IGF competition entries.

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

I am always impressed by the ones that really show some edge over the tried-and-true game concepts. While there's nothing wrong in following the secure path to success, it is great to see someone taking the risk. Furthermore, the mods with totally new art assets get my respect. Those projects demonstrate the dedication and talent of the team in the most concrete level.

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

I would say my biggest admiration, apart from our own games, goes to my fellow country-man Jetro Lauha and his hilarious Racing Pitch. The game just showcases a simple but challenging and unique approach to game design. Excellent idea, loads of fun and something totally different. Congratulations to Jetro!

As for the mainstream, I've played a heavy dose of Oblivion and Dungeon Siege II. Both of the games seem to possess a strangely compelling quality that just forces you to continue playing. However, Nintendo DS and Wii seem to steal my attention relatively often. I'm not sure whether it's the interesting game and control concepts, or whether these consoles just offer some quick fixes for the entertainment hunger.

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

Keep up the good work. It is definitely great being one of the contestants and I am truly honoured by the award Spawns of Deflebub has received.

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