Death Boulder Bones project lead talks the games roots, Kickstarter and Ouya
The endless runner space has seen a plethora of new games emerge from the success of titles such as Temple Run, Death Boulder Bones is the latest project to enter the market. I recently spoke to the Project Lead, Eli Delventhal about the game, his Kickstarter prospects and where he believes technology can take gaming in the future.
Velocity Gamer: For those who haven’t seen the game, how would you describe Death Boulder Bones?
Eli Delventhal: Death Boulder Bones is a runner where you control the environment rather than the character. This means creating walls, jumps, and more to protect the character from traps, pits, and the inevitability of death. The character, Dr. Indianapolis Bones, is his own entity; he generally decides to go forwards no matter what’s waiting in that direction. You must encourage him to go other ways if you want him to pick up all the money strewn throughout the level, and more importantly to keep him from dying. The game also has a time reversal mechanic, both to make the difficulty a bit lighter and to add interesting puzzle elements. The result is a blend of action and puzzle-solving.
VG: You are asking for $28,000 on your Kickstarter campaign, however you claim that the game is already in alpha, what exactly will the Kickstarter money be spent on?
ED: The Kickstarter money will be used chiefly to pay team members to work on Death Boulder Bones full time. Currently, we work on the game on top of full-time jobs, marriages, and other responsibilities. This means that development can be quite slow and stressful. If we raise the money on Kickstarter, that means some or all of us can quit our day jobs. The result is that we will be able to release DBB this summer. If not, we’re really not sure when it will be released.
In addition, we will be spending the money on software licenses, a small office for the team, web hosting, and other boring expenses.
VG: What was your main inspiration for Death Boulder Bones?
ED: Death Boulder Bones was originally Death Boulder Jones, and was a 48-hour game prototype for Ludum Dare. The theme for the competition was “escape.” I had already been experimenting with different steering pathfinding algorithms, and I noticed that it was fun to modify the level geometry while the character was in the middle of running. The auto-running aspect evolved from originally writing this code for enemies, who are obviously not player-controlled. They ran around on their own, punching their enemies, dying, and the works. When the scene was reduced to just one enemy that the camera was focused on, it became very fun to move walls around just to get him to go where we wanted him to go. That informed the 48-hour game prototype, which had a character running from a boulder, avoiding lava pits, crushing walls, and other adventurer tropes.
Interestingly enough, we were originally working on an entirely different game called Lab Rinth, which is what I was trying out the steering algorithm for. This was 3 years ago. At a certain point, we decided the scope of Lab Rinth was just too large for a few part-time developers. We all decided that the 48-hour prototype of Death Boulder Jones was a lot of fun and could be brought to market on a part-time basis much more feasibly. So we switched over to that, and rebranded it Death Boulder Bones.
VG: Death Boulder Bones puts you in charge the environment instead of the main character, how did you come up with that idea and what kind of interactions can you make with the gameworld?
ED: As I mentioned previously, the control scheme was more or less an accident. The pathfinding in Lab Rinth involved A*, and as a result having too many enemies in too big of an area was costly, plus they turned out to be a bit too smart. I wanted to see what would happen if they only knew of their immediate surroundings and sort of bumbled around, only going after the player if he was nearby. The result of that experimentation and combining it with a 48-hour game competition created the control scheme we still use in Death Boulder Bones.
Your main points of interaction are walls, jumps, and time reversal. Walls are drawn by simply clicking and dragging around the screen. If a wall sprouts in front of Bones, he will choose a new path, so in this way you can steer him around. You can also put walls in front of fireball shooters and crushing walls and the like to stop them from hitting Bones. Jumps are created by doing a quick click (or a tap), and they allow you to sometimes clear obstacles entirely, or get over chasms, or give Bones a minor speed boost. Time reversal allows you to correct Bones’s mistakes, or can be used to solve various puzzles, similar to Braid. There are a lot of other less used mechanics to add variety, like being able to create a slow motion area, stasis fields, or make time reversal affect only certain objects.
VG: You’re choosing to release Death Boulder Bones on both PC and mobile platforms, what was behind this decision and will there be any differences between the two versions?
ED: If you look at my professional career path, you’ll see that I’ve worked for years now on mobile games. Games like We Rule, Godfinger, and Valet Hustle are a few titles I’ve been a part of. In doing this, I’ve been struck by how much wonderful potential there is in touch screen control, but how so very many games just throw on virtual d-pads (which are absolutely awful) and call it a day. As a result, I generally try to design games that could work very well in pretty much every environment. Our other game, Lab Rinth, is also controlled with either the mouse or touch screen, for example.
Fast-twitch button pressing is great and can be a lot of fun, but I believe that most modern games overcomplicate things. If you have great context-sensitivity in your game and just one or two different sorts of controls, I believe you can make a better game. At the very least, you can reach a wider audience, and that’s important to me too. If a game can pass The Wife Test™, then I think that means its controls are simple and solid.
There are definitely some minor differences between mobile and desktop versions. The biggest being that there are a few button presses for desktops – namely for time control – whereas on mobile everything is gesture-based. However, we provide the option to forgo buttons entirely on the desktop – you can use right click and drag in different directions to represent a mobile two-finger drag. Level design is also slightly different on mobile. The main reasons for this is that touching is less precise than a mouse cursor, and that on iPhone the viewing area is much smaller. Because of this, mobile levels are generally more spaced out and require less precision.
VG: Do you see Death Boulder Bones as a stand alone title or, if it’s a success, do you have plans to create a franchise based upon the game?
ED: It’s always possible to release sequels, but we’d rather create a cohesive universe instead. The name of our company, Grandendroit, is actually the name of the global super-power in Dr. Bones’s world. It’s a portmanteau of the French words “grand” and “endroit,” and literally means “big place.” Lab Rinth also takes place in the world of Grandendroit, and we’d love all of our games to. If we go back to Lab Rinth after Death Boulder Bones is released, then we will for sure make Dr. Bones a playable character. Who wouldn’t want to use a dopey adventurer with a spirit protector to fight off a mad scientist?
VG: Do you think that Death Boulder Bones would work well on a controller, utilizing a platform such as Ouya?
ED: We would love to release on Ouya, or Xbox, or anything else with a classic controller. We’ve definitely spent some time thinking about how the game could be adapted to accommodate that sort of control scheme. It would probably need to be a much different game, in the end, but we’d love to give it a stab if DBB is successful on other platforms. I can see segmenting the game more and making it less free-flowing could help, so that in a sort of Tetris-y fashion you are dropping things down from a limited set of choices. That way different objects can be mapped to specific buttons, and the player doesn’t have to worry about a virtual cursor or anything like that.
VG: Where do you think technology can take gaming in the future?
ED: I think as we get closer and closer to organic input methods, games will have the opportunity to get closer and closer to real life. While I think the Kinect is very lacking, it is a definite stepping stone towards future input methods. Games like Johann Sebastian Joust show what’s possible when you start getting away from the traditional controller and TV relationship. I love to play games on a controller, by the way, and I don’t see that ever going away. I just think that the number of possible ways to interact with a game will continue to increase, giving players many options for how they want to play.
In the end, the more natural and normal it feels to play a game, the better, however that is implemented.
VG: Finally, your Kickstarter campaign is currently a fair way off being funded with around two weeks to go, if you do not get the money via Kickstarter do you have any other methods of funding Death Boulder Bones?
ED: Indeed, Death Boulder Bones is not raking in backers at this point. In response to this, we’re soon putting up a new video and going to be releasing updates that more clearly define exactly what the game is. The game’s biggest draw is that it’s very fun to play and it’s not like any game ever has been. In its current iteration, the game admittedly looks a bit sterile and unpolished. I think that the more we can educate people about how the game works and the more we can drive them to our demo, the better off we’ll be.
If we don’t reach our goal, then we’ll continue to develop DBB part-time for as long as it takes. When it’s done, we’ll probably release it first on Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play store. These platforms are easy to release on and can give us important feedback and potentially revenue. After that, we will likely try to get on Steam Greenlight and other PC platforms. Our biggest hope is that DBB can bring in enough money to allow us to improve upon it full time and move onto our next game without having to stay at our day jobs.
All of us at Velocity Gamer would like to wish Grandendoit the best of luck with their Kickstarter project and thank them for answering our questions. You can find the Kickstarter promotional video below.