Just like BrambleLash, Blockpocalypse speaks to a certain part of me, a dark part, one that gibbers madly into my ear about how I should forcefully introduce my teammates to something hazardous. I played it at PAX Aus 2015 and was instantly enamored with how easy it is to ruthlessly and senselessly destroy your teammates, with sabotaging the entire effort being icing on the cake. Developers Dime Studios brought the game back this year, and I spent a few minutes chatting with Nial Bruce about what’s changed, what’s planned, and how his co-developer Dan is apparently just as treachorous as I am. At least for now.
So, you guys were here at PAX Aus last year, what’s changed in the past twelve months for Blockpocalypse
We’ve added a whole heap of characters, we’ve added an emote system, we’ve released onto Early Access for about ten dollars US, we’ve added a way of swapping between different apocalypses. So, right now we’ve got a second apocalypse, a Halloween apocalypse, which is pretty much just a re-skin. We’ve also got online play, but it’s currently in beta.
When you say that the online is currently in beta, is that for play testing or technical problems?
We’re experiencing issues with just general connectivity, we wanted to try and avoid having people manually port forward on their routers, we wanted them to have a nice, smooth experience. So, we started using a library that should do that automatically, but it doesn’t always work. The networking solution we’re using doesn’t do any NAT punchthrough, so, we’re actually going to look at updating that in the next couple of weeks and try to get a NAT server going, so we don’t have to fiddle around with all this other stuff. With any luck, that’ll make online a bit easier to get into.
What engine have you guys been using to build this game?
We’ve been using Unity, and for the online networking we’ve been using a plugin called Forge. It’s coming along pretty well.
Aside from the Halloween skin, you said you were planning on having other apocalypses – what other scenarios are you considering?
The next one we want to do is the zombie apocalypse; so, it won’t be lava rising from the ground, but a horde of zombies chasing after you. During certain sections you’ll have to move through, zombies will start breaking out of the walls to chase after you. For that we want to add different blocks, like a barbed wire block that you can jump over, then the zombies run into it and they move slower. We talked about having stuff like a marshmellow block, where you can light it on fire and throw it at zombies to burn them, so there’s a whole bunch of different ideas there. Then we wanted to add an alien infestation one, where you’re on a space station, so there can be sections with zero gravity, or jetpacks – still having the same kind of survival feel, just different scenarios. Then for each apocalypse, we want a new map for the different modes. So, for the space station, elimination could be zero gravity elimination, blockball could be like lowered gravity, and stuff like that.
So how long until you think the project will be finished?
It started at global game jam early last year, so we’re close to two years on it now. It was a bit on and off at the start, but we’ve been full time on it for the past six months. Whenever it’s finished? Kind of hard to say. We wanted to use Steam Early Access as a way of determining what content that we want, then we’re planning on moving it from there to being on Playstation and Xbox, as well. Console was kind of always the end-game, we kind of realised that party games on Steam aren’t as big as they used to be, we sort of missed the boat on that. So far it’s been a good way to get through the early access process, get some good feedback, finalise the content, and be able to go to console with a solid product.
Do you think party games and local co-op are coming back into vogue?
Well, yeah, I mean, looking around where we are at PAX, we’re kind of in the party game section, there’s heaps of party games around here. I think there’s definitely been a resurgance.
Betrayal is definitely big part of the game, being able to throw your teammates off the sides and so on, have you seen that as the more prevalent way to play over cooperating?
It’s normally like a group of friends, and then there’s this one friend that wants to screw it up for everyone else. We’re still seeing a lot of that sort of thing, where someone realises that after you’ve built this long sort of platform, you can just take out the first block and everyone dies? That’s the moment they realise, “Oh, I’m just going to kill everyone, because I can.”
Out of you and your co-developer Dan, which of you is better at the game?
Probably me, because I’m the programmer and I spend a lot more time playing it. I sit there, I write the game mechanic, then I play through it. I had both the artists playing a game of blockball against me, you know, two versus one, and I still wiped the floor with them. So, yeeahhh…
Does that make Dan the “one friend,” who just wants to kill everyone?
Yeah. Yeah, his focus in terms of the gameplay stuff has always been about killing other players. Elimination mode was his idea, the mechanics in terms of messing with other people – they’re all ideas that have come from him, because that’s what he likes. He just likes trolling.
It’s a pretty simply art style, which I guess came about from its game jam origins, was there ever an idea to change that along the way?
Not really, after game jam, we were like, “Oh, we’ll just have two different sprites, one for holding a block, and one for normal.” Then we had a little animation for running and jumping, but then we decided, “eeeeehhh, let’s not change it.” At the start though, it was just a cheap way of doing it, but after seeing how it looked, and seeing how the game played with it, we were all pretty settled on the idea as an aesthetic. It’s got a certain charm to it in its cheapness, and it just means we can add so many characters – for each apocalypse we can add so many characters, it doesn’t take the artists long at all.
How long would you say it does take to create each mode, and what goes into coming up with new concepts?
Coming up with a concept is kind of interesting, we try to figure out what the game is missing. One of the things we figured that the game was missing was decent single player, so the survival mode is there and it’s an okay single player mode, but it’s not the best. So, one of the things we’re working on at the moment is a new mode called “Rescue,” in a building that just keeps going up vertically, and there are little cats and puppies that you have to pick up and throw out the window into a rescue helicopter. So, you kind of work your way up the building, still like survival mode, but you’ve actually got to rescue these little animals. And if you miss your throw, they end up burning in the lava.
Jesus, that’s horrific.
It is horrific, but it’s also kind of funny, like, just the player guilt from it. And that mode we actually wrote on the fly, so it only took me about a day to write while on a plane coming back from the states. So, writing the mode isn’t too difficult, after that it’s sort of just fleshing out what other stuff we want to be part of it. Like, in Survival mode we’re still adding different sections, we recently added lavaballs that pop out of them, or sections that just have pools of lava sitting in them, so the lava doesn’t actually have to be rising to still be a hazard. So, yeah, generally we can get a mode up in a couple of days, or a week, and after that it’s just refining it until we have what we like, and the ideas come from whatever we think the game is lacking.
As the coder for the project, what’s been the most challenging aspect for you?
Definitely online. Just online play has been the hardest part. If we’d stuck to local multiplayer, we’d have waaay more content in, but online has taken up a lot of time. It’s not just the networking code, it’s also setting up the Steam lobbies, and having that whole process where you can invite your friend, having them just drop into the game, that’s definitely been the hardest.
Just on that, what’s the process like for setting up the capabilities of online play? Do you utlilise Steam servers, do you have your own setup somehow, or are you using something else?
So, we’re using peer-to-peer networking, which has also made it kind of a bit harder, so we haven’t had to setup any servers because any of the players can be the host. But we might need to setup a server soon for a NAT punchthrough server. In terms of the lobbies, and the Steam groups and that, that’s all hosted by Steam. So, you can get a plugin for Unity that’s like a C# (C-sharp) rapid for the Steam library, and you can just plug straight into Steam’s matchmaking service. Originally we did have matchmaking in the game, but we kind of figured that, on launch, there might not be that many players, and you’d get paired with players from around the globe, so we just went with private lobbies. But yeah, Steam provides all that.
So, is there anything in particular that isn’t in the game yet that you want to be implemented before it fully releases?
Definitely the zombie apocalypse, the alien infestation apocalypse, the rescue mode, and then we’ve also got a mode that was kind of inspired by Tricky Towers. So, we have two teams just building up while the lava rises, or the threat rises, and you just keep building up. Then you get rocket blocks along the way that you can just lob at one another to try and destroy each other’s tower, kind of like a two versus two building competition. That’s on the list of two modes that we want to put in, but that one’s looking like it will be more likely.
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