hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

GDC Austin 09: Twisted Pixel's 'Splosion Man Postmortem

10:13 AM on 09.17.2009 // Ashley Davis

We all know that Twisted Pixel's 'Splosion Man is a great game. But do you know how it was made, what went into it, or what mistakes were made during its development? I didn't either, until I attended Mike Henry and Sean Riley's postmortem on the game at GDC Austin. There, they dished out the story behind it all, with lots of 'splosions and meat throughout.

Hit the jump for a summary of Mike and Sean's thoughts on 'Splosion Man's journey from an unpolished project to one of the most critically acclaimed games on XBLA today.

Mike and Sean's opening slide bore the words, "Making an XBLA game in six months.. what were you thinking?" Looking up at it, the guys laughed and responded, "Just don't try to make a game in six months. But if you have to.." So began the postmortem for Splosion Man, Twisted Pixel's latest and best selling game.

First, "Things That Went Right" were highlighted. The most important thing was not clinging to dying mechanics. Doing so is a good way to waste a lot of time with something that will never work. As they got deeper into the development process, a lot of old, unworkable ideas were scrapped in order to make their work more efficient. Another area where they did well was with the tools they used to create the game. These programs did a lot of the grunt work and allowed them to focus on what they had and polish it.

In the prototyping stage of development, the main philosophy that Twisted Pixel had was "ugly and quick". In their words, "Have a good game before a pretty game." Not only did this help them work out the kinks in the mechanics quicker, but it was also a good way to inspire creativity. They loved to see how the designers worked with what little they were given. Some pretty ugly pictures of the old version of the game were shown. 'Splosion Man was in his familiar shape, but all one color, the levels were  barren, and the game's robot enemies were just grayed scientist models with extra shapes drawn on.

Focus was another thing that they feel they did right making 'Splosion Man. "Think only about what's most important about the game," they told the audience. In their case, the most important thing was polish. Mike and Sean both admitted that having that as their focal point was kind of silly when working on a six month model, but they felt that not having enough polish was the "biggest trap to cause the game to fail".
 
This meant making a lot of cuts on ideas. Originally, they wanted to have 75 levels for each mode, special power meters, power ups, and several other things that would make the gameplay more than just normal 'sploding. But the further they got into development, the more they started to take away from the game. They shaved down these extra components so that they could work more with the core mechanics.

They used priority lists to help them figure out what was important enough to keep in the game and what was not. Beta testing was also a huge help. The guys think back to one of the latest additions made to 'Splosion Man, the Way of the Coward option. They saw that a lot of players were dying a lot during testing, and knew that it was important to find a way around it without compromising the game's preexisting design. As many of us who have played it know, the game can get very hard, but it's not because it's designed badly.

While playing a video of a very early version of the game up on the big screen, they mentioned that they did a really good job with making this first demo. They were able to fit an example of every single part of the game into it, from simple 'sploding puzzles to moving platforms and barrels that propel 'Splosion Man across the map. It wasn't very pretty looking, but it was a great display of every type of gameplay present in the final build. They were especially proud that they could fit everything into a single demo, because "if you can't, your game has too much going on".

Then they finally got to talking about "Things That Went Wrong". Unsurprisingly, the devs said that developing 'Splosion Man was mostly remarkably smooth. But among the bad was the pressure of time. According to Mike and Sean, the folks at Twisted worked 90 hour weeks, and way too hard to get the game out in the allotted six months. "It was partially our fault, because we were so passionate about the game. But even with passion, people can still be burned out." To make these hours more manageable, they formed core hours for workdays so that people could make their own schedule. Each person was required to work during core hours, but anything beyond that was left entirely up to them. They were even given the option to work at home those extra hours so they could still spend time with their families.

They also had some problems with networking. They had to retrofit 'Splosion Man into Live online play, and if they had not gotten an expert to help them out, they may not have been able to make the online multiplayer work. Not focusing on that at the beginning was definitely a strike against them, and something they will know better than to do next time around.

On a similar note, next came "Things We Wish We Had Known". They had some regrets with the way they programmed some objects and how they handled testing. They believe that things would have worked out better if they had started testing the game earlier. Too many improvements went in post alpha and post beta, including the aforementioned Way of the Coward and the countdown timer for co-op mode. There are also a lot of things they feel "went in broken and stayed broken".

Going back to the cuts they had to made, they lamented the fact that they did not know how painful it would be to take things they would have really liked to be in out. Better death animations, better boss functionality, and  better tutorials would have been in the game if time were not a factor. But they felt like they would have been unable to polish the game with so muh extra stuff in it, so again, they stripped it down to what really mattered. It seems their biggest regret is making themselves so pressed for time, but they seem to have learned their lesson.

To wrap things up, the guys took a few questions from the audience. The first person asked why the six month schedule was chosen in the first place. Surprisingly, they answered that they wanted the game to be ready for XBLA's Summer of Arcade. Statistically, it's the time of year when Microsoft puts the most effort behind marketing Live games. It's also set during a great time of the year to release a game; it's before the Christmas rush, and in a dead zone where not a lot of other new games are coming out at the same time. Twisted Pixel wanted to get 'Splosion Man in so that it could reach more people.

The next question was asked by an audience member who was curious about the cuts made to the game. He asked, "Was there ever a point where you thought about abandoning multiplayer to focus on the main game?" The guys responded that even though they did think about it every now and then, they stuck with it because they wanted to try and establish themselves as multiplayer game makers. They admit that there was a lot more to them at first, but again, a lot got cut out so that they could focus on the cooperation mechanics. "We scoped it down, but wouldn't cut it out completely."

An audience member was curious about how long it took for Twisted Pixel to develop the tools used to make 'Splosion Man. They explained that they had the basic layout generation tools already made from The Maw. The only two tools they had to create for 'Splosion Man helped with Live gameplay functionality and 2D level generation (as The Maw was 3D).

And with that, the 'Splosion Man postmortem came to an end. Having a bit of insight as to how the game grew from such simplistic ideas and builds made for an incredibly interesting talk. It was also refreshing to see the team come to terms with all of the mistakes and things they wished they could have done for the game, but overall, it's very apparent that they are still very proud of the final product. With good reason! 'Splosion Man was such a great game to only be Twisted Pixel's second, and to only have six months of work behind it. They are sure to use the lessons learned to continue to grow as a company.



Ashley Davis,
 Follow Blog + disclosure

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.



 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our moderators, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.

 Quickposts
Status updates from C-bloggers

ScreamAid avatarScreamAid
Gee whilikers, guys. I might just explain where I've been and what I've been up to while I've been gone. That'd be a good topic for a c-blog getting me whipped back into shape, right? I'ma try to write more, so expect more of me in the future!
bloma avatarbloma
Just bought Fez for xbox 360. Playing it on my 58 inch plasma. What a beautiful game.
OrochiLeona avatarOrochiLeona
So there's a chance more MKX characters are being revealed today. Now, I'm not saying you *should* cross your fingers and say a prayer for me to get my waifu Sindel just, y'know, it would be monstrous of you to make me cry with your lack of love & support
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
Just so you know, I've been a Huge subscriber for a few years but I thought I had until the end of September to cancel it. So I've opened an inquiry for the refund, which is on tinypass' end of things by the way.
techsupport avatartechsupport
I once posted that Total Recall was the best movie ever made. I would like to make note that Starship Troopers is a close second. Carry on.
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
I put too many peppers in my sausage and potatoes. My asshole is on fire. I want to cry when I wipe. But it was good.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
One glorious Japanese twitter user made a custom LBX of one of my favorite Kamen Riders: [img]http://i.imgur.com/yp1oraHm.jpg[/img] It's like getting peanut butter in chocolate but with small robots and spandex banana men!
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
I feel terrible for not reading most of you beautiful people's blogs. Let's just say my passion is writing, not reading :s
techsupport avatartechsupport
People can debate GOTY all they want, but the real question is: D-Horse or Roach?
Mr Knives avatarMr Knives
I'm dragging myself away from my PS4 long enough to say that MGS V is pretty darn awesome so far.
Myles Cox avatarMyles Cox
Down with that PAX Pox. Auhhhghghghhhh
Shinta avatarShinta
MGSV: Sneaking into a heavily guarded Russian military base in Afghanistan at night, slashing throats while listening to this. [youtube]https://youtu.be/-hWZqllm3mQ[/youtube] Comes off like a perfectly planned scene in a Scorsese movie or something.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
Tortilla chips: The only food I know and love to betray me by deciding to flip to a bad angle and stab me in the gums.
IDrawOnTape avatarIDrawOnTape
I'm ok with Namco shutting down Soul Calibur: Lost Souls, as long as they keep Ace Combat:Infinity running. Love that game and just hit 3 million credits.
ScreamAid avatarScreamAid
Holy fuck I feel new again. I've been on hiatus for a while and haven't been up to writing. I might just jump back into things after I relearn things here. Does anyone even remember me? Like damn it's been a while.
Jed Whitaker avatarJed Whitaker
In MGS5: The Phantom Pain, Solid Snake dies from lung cancer from all those years of smoking. #FakeSpoilers
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
[youtube]http://youtu.be/FDSHslyrxkM[/youtube] If you don't know the truth, you don't know the score. The end is coming near. MAJOR SPOILERS!
Paul S avatarPaul S
Wow, it's really easy to get people upset over video games.
wutangclam avatarwutangclam
I hope MGS V is living up to everyone's expectations. I can't get enough.
Barry Kelly avatarBarry Kelly
I dislike the idea of intentionally reinforcing the notions that either race or gender are character traits, and those that don't match your own are completely unrelatable.
more quickposts


Contest!


Seriously

Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme


Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo



Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -