Developer interview: Orbital Bullet (Gamescom)

During Gamescom, we got a closer look at Orbital Bullet from developer SmokeStab, and we liked what we saw so much that we got in touch with Yves Masullo from the development team to find out more. The game itself is already available in Early Access on Steam, where it’s being published by Assemble Entertainment, and you can find out more below.

Who’s working on Orbital Bullet?

The team around Orbital Bullet currently consists of a total of 5 people, broken down into 2 Programmers, an Art Director and a team of 2 for music and sound effects.

At the start of the project the team consisted only of the two developers Yves Masullo and Robin Maechtel, as we were both studying Game Development together and that’s where we met for the first time. While studying we did some side projects and Game Jams together, and that’s also how the first prototype of Orbital Bullet came to life. We realized that we have quite a good synergy so we founded the company SmokeStab and after getting our degree we worked there full time.

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After we received funding we expanded the team with Richard Schmidbauer as our Art Director, who worked on various games at Cipsoft and other indie games like Aeon of Sands and Lethal Running before.

For audio design we teamed up with Niilo Takaleinen who worked at E-Studio at that time, with long time experience and a track record of games like Noita, Tormentor X Punisher and Broforce. For the music he works together with Juha Korpelainen, whose music really fit the style we wanted and which supports the fast pacing of the game in a great way.

Despite Orbital Bullet’s novel 360 degree gameplay, it feels rooted in classics from a variety of genres. What are some of the games that inspired you?

We were both fans of Nuclear Throne’s fast paced nature as well as the tight combat in Dead Cells. Those games had great moment to moment action and the way they feel encourages the player to keep going fast. We also wanted to create a game that hooks the player with snappy controls and tight combat with gunplay that makes it fun and stands out by itself.

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In terms of visual appearance we stuck to three design choices: pixel art, modern lighting techniques and neon colors. We also looked at other „360°“ games like Resogun where we could learn a lot about how to build the world with lighting, foreground and background.

You went the Early Access route with Orbital Bullet – what have been some of the most useful insights you’ve gotten from the community?

We got a lot of feedback saying that a large diversity in possible build paths, supporting multiple play styles, is a highly requested feature. The procedural skill tree which allows you to make individual builds every run received a lot of positive feedback and has great potential to be expanded. On top of that we also wanted to make the player adjust his individual needs through the class system. Making more individualization possible in the future (by expanding the current classes) is a goal we will try to achieve in upcoming updates.

Another feature that was often asked for was an Endless Mode. It fits the theme of our tower-like structure very well and the ideas and possibilities this could offer were so interesting and fun that we’re currently working on an alternative Endless play mode.

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Orbital Bullet’s 360 degree gameplay and visual style would have also worked as a novel run and gun type of game, albeit perhaps with different level designs – what made you go with rogue-lite elements and procedurally generated levels?

With our focus on gunplay to keep the player engaged we thought about a way to get the most out of it and we felt like the core loop of rogue-lites fits it the best. The fantasy of starting with very little and becoming a wrecking machine during a run was really compelling. Every run the player can redefine his playstyle with the weapons he chooses and the way he builds his skill tree to slowly create his best fitting tactics to beat the game. Paired up with the exploration and the surprising elements a procedurally generated level provides, it creates new experiences and challenges every run to enjoy.

The music for the game is a great fit with the on-screen action – how did the overall sound of the game come about and will you expand on it in future content?

The music of the game evolved a lot during the development. At the start a single playthrough was very short compared to now so the music was a very intense and bass heavy. It did serve the feel of the game but with runs getting longer it was too intense. We really liked the driving force the music had on the player but we had to stretch it a bit and give some relaxing moments in order to not exhaust the player.

The longer versions gave us space to let the different biomes influence the music, but on the other hand it was challenging to keep the fast paced “going forward and killing things” spirit going. It took some back and forth in the team to find the perfect middle ground but when Juha joined the team and nailed down the first track together with Niilo it just made it click.

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For future updates we will always plan for new tracks and improvements for the music and sound since it became such a driving force of the game.

Instead of self-publishing, you’re working together with Assemble. From the perspective of a small developer like SmokeStab, what does a cooperation like that look like?

As a rather small studio working on its debut title we needed help in multiple areas. Marketing, Early Access release and management, localization, external testing and other logistic problems that come along with a game release. So having a more experienced partner definitely helped us to avoid many common mistakes. Assemble Entertainment already supported us in early stages of development and we came a long way from the prototype to the current version of Orbital Bullet. We still have all the creative freedom to create our vision of the game and can fully focus on that, while they handle all the other things.

The Harvest Season update for the game was recently released – what do you personally consider to be the biggest gamechanger(s) in that update?

The Harvest Season update is quite big and contains a lot of new content like a new planet, new enemies and boss, new weapons, upgrades and soundtrack. But what stands out for me personally is our Dimensional Rift rework. The Dimensional Rifts are portals you can discover during your runs where you have to pay a fee (life or a key) to enter a certain challenge. We completely reworked their challenges and rewards system as well as the randomization, which makes a huge difference. The challenges itself are more dynamic, and depending on how good you perform inside a rift the rewards will be better or worse. This really added a whole new strategic element on how to approach rifts in general and how to be best prepare by thinking about your loadout and when is the best time to enter them.

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