Robotology: the story thus far, part deux

01 Jun / by: M&R / 18 comments /

One caveat on the following: it all seems to be written in the past tense, but this shouldn’t be mistaken as an indication that things have changed in the present! Past tense just seems more suitable for telling a tale that’s over a year old. Once again, apologies for not starting this blogging process sooner!

The initial plan for this game was to make something simple in order for us to get up to speed in a new development environment, namely C++/openGL.

The assumption was that we would be able to leverage our experience with physics/collision/platformers — not spending much time learning/developing the required technology — so as to allow us more time to learn the new tools.

The high-level direction for the game was “Umihara Kawase + parkour”, in a world where the environment was not just static platforms, but moving, mechanized, segmented “robots”.

In N the player can’t really interact with anything, and the “physics” is pretty one-way — you feel the world, but it doesn’t feel you. We wanted to make things bi-directional, and in doing so open up all sorts of possibilities for player action — moving things around, shoving, tripping, etc.

We tried to define more concrete features we wanted to support:

1) Soft Collision: instead of a rigid circle as in N, we wanted the player to feel much more forgiving and “soft” when interacting with things — basically, we wanted users to feel like the thing they were controlling actually had knees.

2) Rope: we wanted a simulated rope which supported all of the behaviours found in Umihara — you can wrap it around things, you can attach it to things and pull them, you can swing on it, etc.

3) Full-Blown Simulator: in order for interaction to be two-way between the player and the rest of the world, both the player and the rest of the world have to be simulated. This requires some sort of physics model governing the movement of all objects in the world.

When we started planning things, we estimated that these features would take a month or so in total. This may seem a bit optimistic, but at the time it didn’t seem like much work because a lot of it had already been done: we already had a working rope-simulation working in N’s tilebased engine, and we figured that the physically-simulated enemies the player would be shoving, crushing, and throwing could be modeled simply by extending the bounceblock model in N, to create sort-of-springy, mobile assemblies of chunky shapes.. robots.

At least, that was the plan.

After a month or so of prototyping various simulation ideas, it became apparent that we were going to have to rethink our approach — we wanted a certain feeling/fidelity from the world which just wasn’t happening with our simple physics models. All of our mockups seemed much too “N with a grappling hook and some moving bounceblock piles”, perhaps because that’s exactly what they were — we were using N’s tile-based simulator for prototyping!

Here’s a look at one such very early prototype — just download and unzip it, instructions are onscreen. Swinging around is sort of fun, you can sometimes get a good “run up the wall and across some of the ceiling” sort of thing happening, but in general this left us feeling quite “meh” — it was obvious that the concept had potential, but we weren’t going to create the sort of feeling we wanted by simply recycling existing technology.

This lead us to start from scratch, building an entirely new and different “robot simulator”..

**EDIT: the prototype is over a year old, and is meant to demonstrate some of the things mentioned in the post, rather than provide an accurate picture of where the game is headed! **

comments ( 18 )

  • It’s good that you prototyped within your means, and the fact that you were “meh” about it makes an important point: the results of a prototype can give you false negatives,but not false positives. A prototype isn’t guaranteed to prove a mechanic, but if it does, you’re definately on to a winner.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you (or antone else) definately shouldn’t feel at all down about the first prototype not quite working out. Doesn’t prove that the game can’t work. I just get the impression that a lot of people use prototyping with this assumption – that if you can’t get it right first time, then that’s proof that it’ll never work. It’s clearly the wrong perspective to have.

    Incedentally, I love how the grapple point falls after it reaches its peak, and actually lets you smoothly clamber *over* surfaces which it falls over – it’s like the worms ninja rope, but done properly! I would even suggest maybe trying to give the grapple hook gravity all the time, so that it’s thrown in an arc? Or atleast soften the modality of it (where currently it’s “gravity off->gravity on, you could increase gravity over time – perhaps not even linearly). I dunno. just some silly thoughts that you’ve probably already considered.

  • Even if that prototype is a bit ‘meh’, it shows how much effort you guys are putting in to the new engine. Major props for that.

    ~ Dave ‘Borealis’ Simpson

  • Guys, if you were worried about your writing style you can stop, this is all a fantastic read.

  • I’ve been playing around with this thing for some time, and I can say that I mostly like the rope that way. The only thing I do not like about this is the way you fire the rope. You actually have to move (or at least steer) in the direction you want to fire the rope, and that’s rather annoying. (Mouse functionality?)Also, if you’re going release a second prototype (I don’t really know why you should, but I’d appreciate it), please change the control scheme, as the Z key is on some keyboards where the Y key would be on american keyboards, and makes games very difficult to play. I suggest to use X and C, as those are the same on all keyboards.

  • @Aubrey — actually, gravity on the grapple is constant, it’s just that the throw velocity cancels it out; try throwing it straight left/right to see what i mean. Also, i’d never thought about the false-negatives/-positives aspect, you’re right about that.

    @sucker — we’re still in the process of trying different control schemes; the problem you’re mentioning exists in most contra-type games, and is present in Umihara. While it _is_ annoying, the other options are even more annoying/complex (keys+mouse is something we want to avoid as it’s much less common for people to be proficient in, as opposed to keys+2 buttons). But certainly the way it is in that demo isn’t optimal. Oh, and z/x was used simply because it’s quite common in freeware games; we wanted to tweak a few things in the demo to make it nicer, but we can’t find the source file!!


  • and, thanks maximo — we’re going to try to keep the posts shorter in general, but there’s so much backlog of robotology stuff that we didn’t want to have to do it in 895235 seperate posts..


  • The demo looks very promising. It’s good to get something playable on our hands instead of just plain screenshots. The entry’s also well written and comprehensive. Well done.

  • awesome! finally some content for robotology! I really like the whole rope mechanic, but i think it would work so much better with a more ‘swingable’ rope, ie one that bends and coils and such.

    as for the controls, I really don’t like the way it is now. While you mentioned you prefered to use keyboard input, the mouse is just so much more… analogue, and it feels so much nicer. Plus, using arrows+mouse is similar to FPS, so I don’t think there’s any problem with familiarity. If not, i think the rope mechanic is so important that there should be a seperate set of movement keys for it: for example arrows for movement, WASD for rope.

    I also think that if you’re trying to make robotology more ‘tactile’ and include interaction with the terrain, it would work much better as a non-tilebased system.

    But, great to see something finally! I’ll be watching this blog for sure.

  • FPS control definitely _not_ anywhere near as standard an aptitude amongst gamers as good old “dpad+buttons”; all of our friends could play Mario, but only a few would be comfortable with WASD+mouse.. personally i think we’d probably try dual-analog control before looking at the mouse.

  • Interesting concept. I have to say, when I read “parkour” I almost jumped out of my seat with enthusiasm.

    Trying out the demo, two things concerned me.
    First, it’s really fun clambering around with the rope, but it’s fairly random (and hard to control) which way you’ll end up going, and thus seems hard to make it a method of gameplay. One idea I had is to have Robotron-style controls, with one set of directional keys for movement and another set for aiming the grapple (as mattk210 suggested above). Perhaps even with grapple aiming direction being relative to the direction component of your instantaneous velocity. (Dual-analog would be pretty sweet, too, I’d imagine, for those that have the hardware, but might involve adjusting the control responsiveness diferrently.)
    Second concern, and forgive me for ribbing you guys about this again, is the QWERTY-centric controls. You got this right in N, but wrong in Ned. This is a problem with many freeware games. I know this was a quick demo, and you said you lost the source. I can forgive that. I just hope Robotology will be configurable (or at least layout-agnostic). Many languages that don’t use roman characters use keyboards which aren’t QWERTY-derived. Others (like me) use the Dvorak keyboard layout.

    Sorry to spend most of the post complaining, I hope it was constructive. Other than that, keep up the good work, I hope to see more posts here in the future.

    P.S., You have some neato links in the sidebar. I spent all night playing Bridge Building Game.

  • **EDIT: the prototype is over a year old, and is meant to demonstrate some of the things mentioned in the post, rather than provide an accurate picture of where the game is headed! **


    Yeah, you get a lot of people jumping on WIPs and prototypes as if it’s the final game, despite endless disclaimers and warnings that it’s not. Don’t worry. Happens to everyone.

  • Worms Armageddon ( has a ninja rope that does the same thing. The physics for the rope itself aren’t that good but the way the worm reacts to the controls (same as grap demo) is quite realistic (apart from the fact that the rope is stiff).

  • Oh yes, I remember the Ninja Rope from WA. I also remember the fun I had from swinging from the border across the ceiling. Great Prototype!

  • Just like Maximo said; you can stop stressing about your writing style, it’s great for both informative writing and dramatic story telling.

    Although sometimes finding out the technology you have created or chosen to build your work upon is not powerful enough to bring your dream to life, it’s always refreshing and brings out the best in your code to start again. You’ll even have a better mental plan of how you will code it, thus avoiding tripping over yourself and improving your code’s efficiency.

    That early prototype looks very promising though, even being built upon more “primitive” physics simulations (which in my honest opinion, may even make it a little more impressive.)

    Keep up the great work, and take your time. There’s no use in rushing art, perfection is what I assume you’re aiming for and I’m certain that you won’t stop until you’ve hit it. Just remember we’ll still be waiting for you when you get back. We’ve been waiting so many years, whats a bit longer going to hurt?

  • Precisely as Nimphious said – Your loyal fans will stay loyal, and those that jump ship will either a) come back and enjoy the game when you finish or b) enjoy themselves on those “casual” games that you detailed today. And those aren’t the types of customers you want, mm?


  • […] are two posts explaining ‘the story thus far’, in which it’s explained that: “The […]

  • Just out of curiosity (and forgive me if you’ve mentioned it elsewhere) have you played “The Outfoxies” (a 1994 arcade game by Namco)?

    The only way I can think to describe it is power stone in 2d. There’s some amazing ideas at work – stages that move/rotate, self destruct, flood, etc. as you fight in them – even one that’s a plane you can actually pilot.

    Some of the art directions a bit questionable but it gets the job done – it’s aesthetic is actually kind of reminiscent of Elevator Action II (by Taito, also for the arcade) or Ninja Five-O (by Konami for the gba).

    The only way to play the first two is probably via MAME, you might be able to track down a used Ninja Five-O if you’re lucky.

    Also if you haven’t played it before, Ninja Five-O’s grappling system handles a bit better then Umihara Kawase or it’s sequel (at least in my opinion), or even Bionic Commando, although it doesn’t seem to involve physics to the same extent.

  • try ninjah (spelled like that- WITH an ‘h’) it has a cool rope.

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