Tower of Guns Interview: Roguelite Callback to Twitch Shooters

Creator Joe Mirabello and Grip Games’ Jakub Mikyska talk about the first person roguelite shooter.

Posted By | On 12th, May. 2015 Under Article, Interviews


Tower of Guns was a rather interesting transition for Joe Mirabello, its creator. After 38 Studios shut down and a massively multiplayer title based on Kingdoms of Amalur cancelled, Mirabello transitioned to a roguelite, first person shooter which focused on replay value and challenging players to quick runs. The game made a rather quiet debut on PC but recently made its way to Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 this year. Not bad for a shooter in a niche genre, especially one made by a single person, right?

GamingBolt had an opportunity to speak to Joe Mirabello and Grip Games’ Jakub Mikyska who worked on bringing Tower of Guns to current gen consoles and the PS3. Mirabello talked about the development of the game and the philosophy behind many of its elements while Mikyska discussed the difficulties and challenges (or lack thereof) in bringing Tower of Guns to consoles.

Tower of Guns

"When working on a larger team there's this shared investment in the project, this collaborative fuel. When working solo that's replaced with constant second-guessing of decisions. Doubt can sometimes be a healthy thing, since it means I'm always looking at the project critically, but it can oscillate into crippling inefficiency too."

Rashid K. Sayed: A RogueLite game mixed with FPS mechanics is a strange combination, what was the decision behind mixing these two elements?

Joe Mirabello: Quite honestly, my entire career prior to this point had been spent working on RPGs and MMOs, and I had always wanted to work on a First-Person-Shooter. I was raised on the classic FPS games like Quake, Doom, UT99, Deus Ex, etc. When I set out to develop Tower of Guns, I also was playing a lot of Binding of Isaac at the time, and became very interested in what a mashup of the two would feel like. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the RogueLite mechanics lent themselves to super small development teams very well, as iteration of the game play and core mechanics is a very straightforward path.

Rashid K. Sayed: Being the sole developer must have been tricky, what can you tell us about the single handed approach to development?

Joe Mirabello: To be fair, I was only *mostly* solo. I contracted my brother to do the music, had lots of friends and family help with testing, and in the months after the initial PC release I found partners, such at Grip Games, to help me bring the game to more platforms. As for being a “mostly solo developer”, well, besides the obvious stuff like properly scoping the project for one person, wearing a lot of hats, and the advantage of being able to make very agile development decisions, I was surprised to find how much motivation and morale became crucial resources.

When working on a larger team there’s this shared investment in the project, this collaborative fuel. When working solo that’s replaced with constant second-guessing of decisions. Doubt can sometimes be a healthy thing, since it means I’m always looking at the project critically, but it can oscillate into crippling inefficiency too. You have to keep things in perspective. In short, the real difficulty in creating something like this on your own is always maintaining momentum. My apologies if that’s too heavy an answer for you. 🙂

Rashid K. Sayed: The Tower of Guns itself seems to be placed in the middle of a city, what can you tell us about the game world?

Joe Mirabello: Well, the game’s story is randomly selected from a pool of stories: who you are, what you are doing, even what the tower is, can be one of many different things. So…the “world” in which the tower exists varies quite a bit. In one play session you’ll be a secret-agent canine and in the next you’ll play as a grandma looking for the local recycling center. It was a weird little experiment, but I had a lot of fun writing all the different stories.

I’m actually a sincere believer that if a creative person truly enjoys the experience of creation, or at least is emotionally invested in it on some level, then that translates into the final piece. The “world” of Tower of Guns is a strange, often purposefully-stupid, world..but it was a joy to create…and people seem to appreciate that. As for the actual artwork of that city outside the Tower–well, it needed to be flexible enough to support the wide variety of stories, and frankly I was getting tired of drawing all these rusty-metal textures and wanted to make something different!

Rashid K. Sayed: Given the current fascination with Roguelikes and RogueLites, do you think Tower of Guns has the power to last the ages?

Joe Mirabello: Wellllll…I think it’s very, very dangerous to approach a game’s development with the goal of “lasting the ages”. It focuses a bit too much on what others may like, on making a “magnum opus”, and on timeless mechanics (which is another way to say “safe” mechanics). I made Tower of Guns because I wanted to play a game like Tower of Guns, and I just had to hope others did too. It might not last the ages, but I’m grateful that it’s gotten the attention it has. The current roguelite genre(as in, the post-BoI, post-Spelunky era, not true Roguelikes) might only be a short lived burst in gaming history too, and I myself might find myself playing a different kind of game in five years, but for now I find these mechanics thoroughly fascinating.

Tower of Guns

"My definition of "twitch" gaming harkens back to the old school twitch FPS classics; Doom, UT99, Quake. This game invokes those wherever possible. It was an era where one misstep would lead to your players certain death, where there was little time to catch your breath, where you constantly were required to MOVE, where circle-stafing was king and you were constantly scanning the arena for pickups."

Rashid K. Sayed: The game has, for the most part, received high praise from a number of gamers and outlets. Gunplay is often criticized though. Is there perhaps plans to revisit the Tower of Guns and improve upon it?

Joe Mirabello: You’ve certainly done your homework! That was the major criticism of Tower of Guns. A quick defense: There’s a good argument to be made in my goal of making the game a very “pick up and play” experience. I didn’t want a player to ever have to “relearn” any extra buttons should they come back to the game months after not playing.. And I should mention that there is a tad more complexity to the gunplay than most reviewers saw; the gun mod system leads to some hilarious combinations, there are subtle, gun-based ways to affect mobility, there are some interesting gun-perk combinations, and quite a few secret, secondary guns.

Regardless, your point stands: most of those mechanics were faaaar too rare for people to see in their first few sessions with the game. While I question the notion that every FPS needs secondary fire or iron sights I wholeheartedly agree with the critics when they say that the core gunplay could be improved: better sounds, better animations, better handling, and, in general, a more advanced relationship between the player and their gun. However, some of those alterations would have involved changing the core experience of Tower of Guns from PC drastically though, and I think they’re better saved as lessons that I  apply to future projects.

Rashid K. Sayed: Have you got any plans for possibly bringing the Tower of Guns to other platfoms?

Joe Mirabello: I think that entirely depends on how well the game does on consoles, how technically powerful the other platform is (Tower of Guns hits the CPU pretty hard with all those bullets), and how busy I am in over the next year!

Rashid K. Sayed: The online store GOG call Tower of Guns a game for Twitch gamers, would you agree with that sentiment?

Joe Mirabello: I think so. My definition of “twitch” gaming harkens back to the old school twitch FPS classics; Doom, UT99, Quake. This game invokes those wherever possible. It was an era where one misstep would lead to your players certain death, where there was little time to catch your breath, where you constantly were required to MOVE, where circle-stafing was king and you were constantly scanning the arena for pickups.

I even injected some of the mobility-based quirks of that era like variants on bunny-hopping acceleration and rocket-jumping. I don’t think I quite hit the full 90mph of Doom, but even before you start collecting speed upgrades in Tower of Guns the players base mobility is quite faster than most modern FPS games. The game really is one big over-the-top love-letter to the twitch games I grew up on. While I had no desire to recreate those games explicitly, I did want to make a game that fans of those games would feel comfortable diving into, because that’s the kind of game I was looking to play.

Rashid K. Sayed: Would you go back and change anything about the game? Or are you happy with the final product you developed.

Joe Mirabello: Oh, I could change things about the game forever. That’s the danger of the roguelite genre (and traditional roguelikes too)—they’re flexible in their design in that they can almost always benefit from more “stuff” and further refinement of balance, mechanics, and content. For example, look at Nethack’s twenty-five year development time. You can quickly get into a pattern where a game is never “finished”, and while it’s comfortable to spend a career constantly refining a project, and it’s led to amazing results in the case of something like Nethack, for me personally I often have to start new projects in order to properly apply the largest of the lessons that I learn.

Tower of Guns

"We have already seen some cool examples of that in some Microsoft games. Any calculation that does not have to be made in real-time can be sent to server to allow more power for real-time processing. This is of course heavily case-by-case scenario and not every game offers an opportunity for something like that."

Rashid K. Sayed: As a developer what is your opinion on Microsoft’s parity clause in their ID@Xbox Policy?

Jakub Mikyska: Both Sony and Microsoft have their own policies and things you have to keep in order to be able to self-publish. Sony has certain parity policies as well. Both have certain content requirements, etc. I think that Microsoft’s requirements are not unreasonable and are quite understandable and what’s more, if you cannot keep them for any reason, you usually just need to ask and give a good reason and anything can be agreed on. We never really had any issue with Microsoft’s policies,

Rashid K. Sayed: Will the game run at 1080p and 60 frames per second on both the PS4 and Xbox One?

Jakub Mikyska: Yes, both versions run at 1080p/60fps.

Rashid K. Sayed: Did you faced any problems with the Xbox One’s eSRAM while developing the game?

Jakub Mikyska: Not really, no. Tower of Guns is more demanding in the CPU department.

Rashid K. Sayed: What are your thoughts on the PS4’s GPU and GDDR5 memory? Do you think they will become obsolete with time given the evolution of PC GPUs?

Jakub Mikyska: Our games aren’t really pushing the envelope of visuals enough for GDDR5 to make any difference. From what we hear from other developers, working on AAA projects, they really like GDDR5. The GPU is working quite fine. It is not the most advanced piece of GPU out there, but it does not have to be. When creating games for just one GPU, you can be much more effective.

And like any other technology, it will all become obsolete eventually. But that does not matter now. Consoles are about making the most with the hardware you currently have.

Rashid K. Sayed: What is your take on the differences between the GPU in PS4 and X1? Do you find them to be similar in performance?

Jakub Mikyska: Yes, they certainly are really similar. There weren’t any performance issues that would only appear on one platform, while the other one handled them better.

Both machines have some things they like and things they dislike and you have respect that and work around that, but in general, the performance of both is nearly identical.

Rashid K. Sayed: Microsoft has been talking about the Xbox One using the cloud to make it more powerful. What is your take on this? Do you think using the cloud a console with static hardware can become more powerful?

Jakub Mikyska: It can, in certain ways. We have already seen some cool examples of that in some Microsoft games. Any calculation that does not have to be made in real-time can be sent to server to allow more power for real-time processing. This is of course heavily case-by-case scenario and not every game offers an opportunity for something like that.

But cloud computing is coming, one way or another. Both Sony and Microsoft are testing the waters, so let’s see where this goes.

Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?

Joe Mirabello: Thanks for asking interesting questions. Anyway, I hope folks enjoy playing the game. It was fun to make.

 


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