Indie Interviews: Wreckout (Gamescom)

One of the nominees during the UK preliminary round of the EuroPlay contest last week, Wreckout is an upcoming future sports/arcade title from Huey Games. It also just won the Track & Build award for best soundtrack, so we were excited to chat to director Rob Hewson about the game.

Wreckout is a blend of various gameplay styles. How did you come up with it?

The development of Wreckout grew from the desire to build a game around a novel, physics-based mechanic. For the first prototype, which featured a top-down view of a car in a desert, lead programmer Jonathan Port started by focusing purely on the handling of the vehicle, making it nimble and agile like old-school Micro Machines cars. He also implemented a grapple chain which could latch on to enemy bots and engage in a tug-of-war mechanic. While the grappling felt satisfyingly tactile right away, the tug-of-war aspect worked against the nimble handling of the vehicle. We discussed it and thought that grappling onto a light-weight dynamic object like a ball, which could then be flung around, might feel more exciting. It worked, but the open desert environment meant there was a slow turn around between slinging the ball and driving off to collect it again. The ball instinctively made us think of sports, so we decided to run with that theme by moving the action into a Speedball style arena with a goal at either end, adding two-player support in the process. Again this felt like a leap forward but using goalposts was disruptive to the tempo since the game had to reset each time a player scored. We wanted a more tennis-like tempo so we took inspiration from Breakout and implemented the bricks. This was the eureka moment when everything suddenly clicked and we knew we’d found the magic. Everything since has really been about refining this core concept.

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What sets the game apart from similar games in the genre?

The central “car-catapult” mechanic gives the gameplay a sense of physicality which is uniquely satisfying. Players find their own rhythm and technique to swing and sweep the ball around, drawing in their opponent like a kitten mesmerised by a ball of string, before spotting an opening and launching the ball like an Olympic hammer-thrower towards its target. The brick-based scoring system also creates a natural balance to the game since the player who is winning has fewer remaining bricks to aim for. This puts the game in that magical sweet-spot where the most skilful player usually wins but matches are always super-close and swing back and forth on a razor’s edge.

How did the visual style come about?

Initially we just had “programmer art” and focused on the gameplay. Later we added a little bit more art into the game and began to experiment with styles, but it is still far from the final look we are after. We’ve been really disciplined about focusing on fine-tuning the gameplay above all else but now we’re ready to push the visuals to a whole new level, so watch this space.

Who’s working on Wreckout?

Jonathan Port, of Hyper Sentinel fame, is the programmer and co-designer alongside myself. We have a fantastic working method where we discuss ideas and bounce them back and forth together – it’s a collaboration where every exchange pushes the game forward to ever higher standards. We’ve used some great contractors to sprinkle a bit of art, audio and animation into the game but there’s plenty more to come. We will be moving into a full-steam production mode soon where other team members will come onboard.

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What has the development process been like?

The biggest challenge is maintaining and enhancing the core fun-factor of the game while adding new features and ironing out rough edges. You have to constantly analyse how the game feels and get it into other people’s hands to keep it in the sweet spot. There are a thousand little things, little touches which you have to get right. Initially we had a grapple chain, which can go slack, but we changed it for an energy beam which is always in tension to make the gameplay feel more snappy and responsive. Initially we were relying solely on physics and momentum to fling the ball forward, then we added extra forces into the mechanism to make it feel punchy and intuitive. At one point you could keep hold onto the ball and smash bricks up repeatedly, so we added a rule where the energy beam weakens and eventually snaps to bring the balance back into the sweet spot. We swapped an early nitro feature for a tackle lunge, then fine-tuned all the different variables for the tackle to get the feeling just right. For example, we didn’t want players to use the tackle lunge too often, so there is a small trade off in terms of car handling and momentum during a tackle if you miss your opponent. It’s like balancing a stack of plates on your nose. Every time you add a new one you have to make tiny adjustments to keep everything perfectly just right.

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Did the global pandemic affect your development of Wreckout?

We’ve always been a remote studio, which helps. The pandemic did have impacts on some areas of the business but Wreckout was largely unaffected. We’re perhaps 75% of the way into development – we’ve got the magic sauce and now it’s mostly about adding content, features and increasing production value.

What do you hope people will take away from the experience?

The Holy Grail is for players to feel like Wreckout is intuitive yet deep, familiar yet fresh – one of those ideas which seems so obvious in hindsight that you wonder why nobody has done it before, or why you didn’t come up with it yourself. All the best ideas have that “why didn’t I think of this?” feel to them. That’s the dream, but we’ll settle for people just having a bloody good time playing it.

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