It's been an interesting couple of months here at Laser Dog HQ. We knew this time was coming, looming over us like an ever-growing shadow shadow. It's a pressure most business owners feel at some point.
If you watched my talk last month, you'll know that after our latest game was released, we spent six months working on two different games. Neither of these games met our expectations, despite reworking control methods, changing graphic styles, trying different music, etc.
It might not sound like a big deal to say "we produced a couple of games, but they didn't really work out so we moved on to another idea". The truth is though, we threw away 6 months of work because it wasn't quite good enough. Not only is it quite painful to see all that effort, the late nights, the stress and worry just "disappear" into game development limbo, it's also a massive waste of money.
A suitable analogy would be someone who produces a physical product to throw away the entirety of half a year’s produce and then try to continue the business.
So, the looming shadow I mentioned earlier? That's us needing to paint over the Laser Dog logo on our office wall and move out. It's us packing up and finding different jobs.
Why am I writing about this? Mostly because I want to have a little rant, but also because it explains why we took a massive risk to take a break from working on our latest game to add a substantial update to an older game.
The change of plan
We're full steam ahead working on Ava Airborne and realise that the game is going to take a few more months to deliver. There's no way around it. If we finished it quickly, it wouldn't be nearly as good as we'd like it to be.
Pretty much all of our games have been released right at the point were our money has ran out. We maybe had one or two months' worth left when we pressed "submit". It's always been that way, and to be honest, that's pretty great encouragement to get a game finished.
We factored this in for Ava, but as I said, it's taking longer. We need to find a few more months from somewhere. We need a new short project that we can work on, that we'd actually want to play ourselves and hopefully people will buy into, giving us that extra time we need.
Starting a brand new game is out of the question - it’s just far too big of a project! We could, however, add value for players to one of our existing games. It'd have to be something we'd be proud of though, not a quick change just for the sake of it. Something we want to make and want to play.
Working on older games just isn't as fun as working on new games. We were reluctant to work on PKTBALL initially, as it's already out there and we love it! What more could we add to it?
I spent a long time trying to get an online multiplayer system working in the past, but the game was just far too fast to keep up. So that was out of the question.
Then we had an idea for a new way of playing PKTBALL! One that really excited us, and more importantly, we wanted to play it!
This new way of playing would be like making a new game, just contained within an older game!
"Think Tekken/Street fighter crossed with PKTBALL"
The initial prototype for PKTBALL was a lot faster than the released version. It was also a lot more difficult. We tweaked the game over and over again to make it feel casual at the start, and ramp up to become more challenging.
If we made a new mode, we could make it how we'd like to play it. Really challenging from the start. The way the first prototype played when we were sitting in that coffee shop in Leeds all that time ago.
Protour mode is more intense version of PKTBALL, with 6 rounds of battling until you reach the top of the ladder and take the trophy.
It was important to us that this new game mode would feel different to the normal mode. A player should be able to recognise a big shift in theme as soon as this mode opens.
I first started working on the soundtrack for the new mode. I recently came across an awesome VHS plugin that I was dying to use. I had a lot of fun writing this track!
PKTBALL features a lot of 80s sounding synths and drums, so I went with similar instrumentation, but made it feel a lot more serious and dark.
Once the music was written, we soon realised that PKTBALL's sound effects were far too light and happy sounding. We replaced most sound effects with new ones, exclusive to PROTOUR mode.
Replacing the ball bouncing sound had an immediate effect on the feel of the game. The ball would normally sound rubbery and bouncy, in protour mode it’s metal on metal, clunky and loud.
As Simon voiced the game announcer in the original PKTBALL mode, I was more than happy to lend my voice to protour mode! I actually lost my voice by the end of it, but it was a lot of fun! Pitch shifted down 8 semitones and with a layer of distortion, the announcer sounds quite menacing.
With the music and sound in place, Si began working on the new look.
The original mode in PKTBALL is an endless high score chaser. You score points every time you manage to return the ball.
Protour mode starts with a player each end of the pitch. Each player wears a helmet that electrocutes them if they concede a goal. A player has 5 "lives", once you've been electrocuted 5 times, you're out (dead!).
We stripped out the walls from the edge of the pitch so there's a lot more room to play. This works great with the increased speed!
With this increased play area, we upped the capabilities of the AI opponents. They are smarter and faster!
Even though we've given the player more space to play in, we wanted the environment to feel like you're boxed in. To do this, we added some pseudo 3D walls and some ceiling lights that reflect on the court. This helps show the room's scale.
We finished it!
Not only did we manage to finish Protour mode in record time, we absolutely love it. It adds a whole new way to play a game we love. Protour mode more really challenges us too!
Protour mode is available right now on iOS, with an Android build coming later.
We're both really proud of the end result. We really hope people are able to play it to the end. We put a lot of effort into the last boss and we're worried no one will see it!!