Conducted By Adam Ames
A group of students from DigiPen Institute of Technology recently released a fantastic survival racing game entitled, Nitronic Rush. Jordan Hemenway and Kyle Holdwick agreed to take us on a trip through the development process of creating Nitronic Rush in this e-mail interview. Here is a sample:
Where did the idea for Nitronic Rush come from?
JH: The initial ideas for Nitronic Rush came from the original team of four programmers and a designer, who came together because they shared inspirations from games like Carmaggedon, Trackmania, Hydro Thunder, and Rush 2049. The actual design for game came from developing the tech and prototyping it early on in development, which led to experiments such as jumping, flying, and boosting. After showing these mechanics to playtesters their reaction was surprisingly positive. This really encouraged the team to continue on that path, and about a year later it led to the game we have currently.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Nitronic Rush.
JH: My name is Jordan Hemenway and I’m the audio director, sound designer, and lead composer on Team Nitronic. I also handle most of the PR for the team including running the Facebook, Twitter, and website.
KH: My name is Kyle Holdwick and I’m the Producer and one of the developers on Team Nitronic. I mostly worked on team management, programming game logic, and building challenge levels.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
JH: I started programming for the Commodore 64 when I was really young (probably around 6-7 years old), and I actually started developing games in QBASIC shortly after. I’ve been hooked on PC games and games development ever since.
KH: I have been playing games and following the industry my entire life. I always knew that one day I would be developing them as well. I decided to attend DigiPen Institute of Technology to learn how to program and design games after high school. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and it has been a fun ride ever since. I hope to continue developing games for a very long time!
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Nitronic Rush?
JH: Nitronic Rush was actually developed as a student (Junior year) game project at DigiPen Institute of Technology. What that means in terms of learning from successes and failures is that the entire development cycle was really a lesson for everyone. For many it was the first time working on a 3D game, for others it was working with advanced physics, new sound design techniques, and developing a good working relationship between 11 team members.
KH: During the development of Nitronic Rush, we did many things that I think were successes that we can learn from. Some of which include prototyping our design early in blender. This worked out great since it didn’t take too long and it proved to us that this game design would be fun. After we were happy with the initial idea we mostly let the programming development drive the rest of the design. Some things that we thought were coding bugs like spinning the car arbitrarily actually turned into features after our playtesters said they loved it.
We took playtesting seriously during the entire development cycle and playtested at least once a week. It continually drove us to fix our bugs and implement new features for our playtesters. We were also a fun driven team and instead of having large deep and over-scoped plans, we let our spontaneous inspirations and passions drive us at all moments. This made the development cycle fun and flexible and I really think it is impossible to create fun when you are restricted and not having fun yourself! We also had a few failures that I think we can learn from. One is that we brought artists onto the team a ways into the development of the game and it took a little while for the team to adjust. We also didn’t have a strong coding standard so there was some confusion among team members when looking at others’ code but this luckily didn’t come up too much. In the end, I would say that developing Nitronic Rush was an incredible learning experience for everyone on the team.
In its current form, how close is Nitronic Rush to your initial vision?
KH: I would say that Nitronic Rush in its current form is surprisingly very similar to the initial abstract vision. We had a design meeting in the very beginning where we all discussed different games that we loved growing up and almost everyone included Rush 2049 on their list. We specifically loved the Gauntlet level so we knew that we wanted to make an entire game along that vein. We also loved the idea of putting wings on the car and giving it the ability to jump and boost. We had another meeting very early on with one of our instructors and he threw out the idea of the Tron visuals, and we thought it was a great idea. We continued to have many creative brainstorming meetings and playtest throughout the development. We were always adding to the initial vision but we knew early on that we wanted to make a crazy car game!
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Nitronic Rush and if you faced a similar challenge.
KH: We definitely faced a similar challenge during the development of Nitronic Rush. We always wanted to make the game hard but not unfair. We overcame that challenge by continually experimenting and playtesting our ideas with a bunch of new people every week. If playtesters felt it was unfair or too hard we would change it and improve it. We also included the Hardcore and Challenge modes so we could make very challenging levels and not feel bad if our players couldn’t beat them easily.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Nitronic Rush would run on the various PC system configurations?
KH: Fortunately for us we developed Nitronic Rush on many different types of PCs with a broad range of hardware specs. During the development we had a couple of moments where our graphics didn’t work properly on NVIDIA cards but we always figured it out pretty quickly. After we released the game we found that some people had an issue with our graphics not rendering properly if they had their anti-aliasing forced on in their graphics card settings. We figured out that issue within a few days after launch and we haven’t run into any other issues since.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Nitronic Rush.
JH: I wasn’t directly involved in the art style development, but I know the Tron-like visual style was in many team members’ heads from the very beginning. It became reality through a joint effort between the Andrew and Jason Nollan, (who aside from programming graphics and physics also created a large amount of the art assets) and our concept/modeling/texturing artists Eddie Peters, Laura Borgen, Ariel Gitomer, and Nathan Aldrich. Working together they continually developed the look and feel throughout the entire development.
The level design was almost entirely the work of Andy Kibler, who has been iterating and improving the levels since the very beginning. He originally used Blender as his level editing tool, and eventually moved to an in-engine level editor created by Chris Barrett and Andrew Nollan about halfway through development. Even though he’s been creating these levels for so long, he still impresses me with the quality of his work. All of the Story Mode and Hardcore Mode levels were created by Andy, as well as the Jump for Joy challenge level. The rest of the Challenge Mode levels were created by Andrew, Jason, and Kyle in the month or so before shipping.
The music on the other hand is something that I was directly involved in. M.J. Quigley worked originally to create a couple of music tracks for the game in his spare time. Eventually I joined the team and took over most of the sound design from Kyle (who originally was creating all of the sounds). M.J. and I then worked together to create adaptive music for the game, where I would write the main songs for the campaign and he would create layers that play on top of the song when the player would boost, jump, fly, or overheat. After we finished developing the campaign music, M.J. also did some really amazing remixes that ended up being used in the Hardcore and Challenge levels.
How do you juggle being students, who are not only responsible for development, but providing support for Nitronic Rush as well?
JH: Being students has been interesting since we have to deal with 15+ credits of classes on top of the 5 or so credits of our game class. DigiPen is a pretty brutal school in terms of workload, so managing the PR, bug reports, and community after shipping the game has been pretty interesting when balancing it with the rest of our classes. I’ll definitely say that it’s all worth it in the end since our community is so passionate and we love watching people enjoy our game.
What has been the reaction from friends and family since the release of Nitronic Rush?
KH: Our friends and families have been a tremendous support to us during our education and the development of this game. I can’t say enough thanks to them for being there for us, none of this would be possible without them!
Are there plans to create a game development studio based on the feedback of Nitronic Rush?
JH: There aren’t official plans for Team Nitronic to create a studio, but I would definitely be looking out for this team in the future. While some of the artists and musicians on the team are already working on new game projects at DigiPen, there is a good possibility for a few of the developers to be working on new projects down the road.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Nitronic Rush from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
KH: It is incredibly important to us to get feedback about Nitronic Rush from our players. We love hearing what they have to say and it really helps us figure out how we could improve the game going into the future. I think player reaction is one of the most important things to look at when designing and building a game. Our community has been fantastic so far and we are continually inspired by them.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Nitronic Rush professionally?
JH: It’s honestly an honor to have someone at a professional review agency give their unfiltered opinion on the game. People at DigiPen who have given us feedback on the game have always been extremely valuable, but after 17 months of development many have seen as long as we have. Getting a fresh perspective is always refreshing.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
JH: I think that’s really interesting and something I find welcome since so many game distributors seem to have fallen into a specific retail groove. It also to a degree matches the spirit in which many indie games were made. While it may not be the perfect solution to selling games in the future, I love that people are experimenting and even having a fair bit of success with it.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
JH: While this is a massive topic, my personal opinion (and not necessarily Team Nitronic’s) is that we have a long ways to go in terms of understanding digital distribution. While there are some interesting methods for selling games and dealing with piracy currently, I’m most interested in the way companies like Mojang, Valve, and the Humble Indie Bundle are handling game distribution. For them it’s more about the service rather than the product that a user is paying for. I hope that more developers look at these examples and perhaps pursue quality services for distribution and game updates rather than over the top DRM.
Bill S.978 was introduced to the United States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites. How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Nitronic Rush?
JH: Since Nitronic Rush is free, one of the absolute best ways we’ve been able to market the game is through word of mouth and sharing on social media. If people aren’t able to record and share videos of the game a large part of that sharing is pretty much destroyed for us. Long story short, we hope that people are able to share the game as much as possible and don’t feel threatened or restricted by their favorite websites.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
KH: I think the idea of DLC is awesome and we are really interested in pursuing DLC for Nitronic Rush going into the future. Just the fact that you can release a game and then keep working on it and release more content is absolutely amazing to me. I think the current implementation of DLC in the PC gaming industry has its upsides and downsides. I personally think that the best implementation is when developers release a game at a certain price point and then all the updates and DLC after that are free. I love that I bought Minecraft during Beta at like $15 and they have never charged me since even after many updates.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders. How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Nitronic Rush?
KH: I think that the online modding community is a beautiful thing. We are really impressed by the creativity modders have and just the fact that they spend the time to mod. There are already a number of people trying different things with Nitronic Rush. We specifically didn’t encrypt any of our data files so that the modding community could get their hands on them. It is a true honor to us when modders are modding our game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
KH: The best advice I can give is to be inspired, resourceful, and passionate about what you are trying to do. If you are then it is simple, just make a game from start to finish and support that game. For some, that might mean going to a school like DigiPen Institute of Technology to learn how to make games. For others, it may mean downloading a program like Unity or Unreal to start experimenting. When you finish a game for yourself try to get it out there. You will learn everything it takes to break into the business, I guarantee it. -End
We would like to thank Jordan and Kyle for providing us with such a detailed and wonderfully informative answers. Thanks also go to the rest of the team and wish them the best in their future developmental endeavors. You can download Nitronic Rush for free via the official site.
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