X360F interviews RoboBlitz's Tian Mu
We were recently given the opportunity to interview Tian Mu of Naked Sky, developers of the Live Arcade game, RoboBlitz. Chances are you're going to be hearing a lot about this game when it releases on Xbox Live Arcade. RoboBlitz is powered by Unreal Engine 3 (you know, the engine that Gears of War runs on), making it one of the most visually impressive games ever to hit the Arcade. Even more impressive is the fact that RoboBlitz looks fantastic and manages to stay under the 50 MB limit set by Microsoft for Arcade titles. Another standout feature of the game is its use of physics. Everything in the game is based on physics, from environmental objects to character animations. In gameplay terms, this means that almost anything is possible (check out a video demonstration here). Each puzzle can be attacked in different ways, giving users plenty of options and no scripted sequences. Read on to learn more about the world of RoboBlitz.
First of all, introduce yourself. What is your position at Naked Sky? What are your responsibilities?
My name is Tian Mu and I'm the CEO and Co-founder of Naked Sky Entertainment. My responsibilities include running the company, supervising our projects, and picking up after my employees.
What can you tell us about the team behind RoboBlitz? How big is the team? What kind of outside help have you had?
We have an amazing team, which I'm really proud of! There are only 14 of us right now, but my guys (and gals) can deliver. We outsource anything in which we don't have expertise -- our procedural textures were done by our French partner, Allegorithmic; our localization was done by SDL, a company based in England; our testing was done by Seattle based VMC. Our composer, Daniel Sadowski, was also from Seattle. Our sound effects were created by Earbash, the same team that did the sounds for Call of Duty 2. We also teamed up with an up-and-coming hip-hop artist, The Street Deacon Malakai, to do our theme song. We've been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with these top talents and companies.
For those unfamiliar with RoboBlitz, give us a quick rundown of the game.
Robots: check! Fast-paced action: check! Puzzle-solving: check! Fun weapons: check! Goofy characters: check! Humor: check! Non-linear gameplay: check! Lots of Physics: check! Unreal Engine 3: check!
Many people are amazed at the amount of content you've squeezed into the 50 MB limit of XBLA games. We know you use procedurally generated content, can you explain how it works? How much content would you say is there before it's compressed?
"Procedural Content" means that instead of packaging up the content itself, we package up instructions on how to create the content. For instance, I could give you a jpg of the Mona Lisa, and that might be 500 KB, or I could say "draw yourself a picture of the Mona Lisa" and those instructions would be only a few bytes (one byte per letter in my instructions). This way, I've managed to get you to see a picture of the Mona Lisa by sending you very little data. Now the real trick is making sure that you know how to draw well so that you can carry out my instructions correctly, and doing that is the essence of writing good procedural content generators. It's hard to answer how much content we'd have if we didn't use anything procedural, because all of our animations are procedural, allowing for an infinite number of character positions.
What compelled Naked Sky to make RoboBlitz completely based on physics? Has this made the development process more or less difficult than using standard animation?
Using real physics throughout the game has tons of positive effects on gameplay. It gives the player lots of freedom and really makes exploring and experimenting in the game world a great experience. There were quite a bit of development challenges that we wouldn't have encountered in a game with standard animation. Player control took a lot longer to polish than controls with animations since we needed to spend a lot of time tweaking the parameters for the simulated motors and servos inside our main character Blitz. It was definitely worth the effort – Physics is Phun!
RoboBlitz obviously has a good sense of humor. Was this intentional from the beginning or something that emerged as you started playing around with the physics?
Well, we started playing around with robots and the physics simulation even before we started official development on RoboBlitz, and we were always cracking up when simple actions had hilarious outcomes. It was pretty natural to develop RoboBlitz along those lines, and I think players are going to find themselves laughing a lot at what is possible in the RoboBlitz world.
Who came up with the firework launcher? What inspired it?
The firecracker launcher came out of a group brainstorming session, so it was a collective effort.
Any plans for downloadable content like themes, gamer pics, or expansions like multiplayer?
There are definitely plans for downloadable content. Right now, our main focus is multiplayer.
What do you think of Xbox Live Arcade as a platform? Will Naked Sky create any more titles for it?
I think Xbox Live Arcade is a great distribution platform for indie developers such as ourselves. We don't need to worry about shelf space, which is very limited and competitive in the retail space. We plan on making more titles for the platform.
Finally, what are you going to do now that RoboBlitz is finished? Any time to relax, or is it right back to work?
We were planning for a lunar vacation, but we've already got a few other projects lined up, so back to work. I'm not worried though, the moon will be there.
Xbox 360 Fanboy would like to thank Tian for taking the time to talk with us. We're really looking forward to RoboBlitz and can't wait to get our hands on it. You may have noticed the last question mentioned that the game is finished. It is done -- in fact, it's available for PC right now -- which means we'll be seeing it on Arcade in a matter of weeks. In celebration, we have a little something special for RoboBlitz fans in the form of a contest. Stay tuned for more details.