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IG@FG: Alex MacDiarmid on Rebound, Inspirations & Being Nominated For A BAFTA

We speak to Alex MacDiarmid of Hexterion about their upcoming sci-fi dodge ball game Rebound and how being nominated for a BAFTA effected its development.

Back in 2016, a group of students from the Glasgow Caledonian University entered the Dare To Be Digital competition. Here they competed against 14 other teams of students from the world’s best university games courses. Their entry – Rebound, a multiplayer sci-fi inspired dodge ball game with ‘mutators’ which alter the game’s state of play – was selected to be shown at Dare ProtoPlay then went on to win the contest. Soon after, the small team of students formed a studio, Hexterion, to take Rebound from Univeristy project to fully fledged game release. With more development time under their belt, Hexterion submitted Rebound for BAFTA consideration and were nominated for the “Ones To Watch” game award in 2017. Since then, the Glasgow based team have expanded, added online multiplayer to the PC version of Rebound (while retaining the local multiplayer feel that earned it its reputation in the first place) and are now closing in on a release date, scheduled to smash on to Xbox One and PC in 2019.

Alex MacDiarmid, the Systems Programmer on Rebound, took the time to answer some of my burning questions about the game, their story and how being nominated for a BAFTA affected the development of the game. You can read it all here;

Finger Guns: How did the Hexterion team come together?

Alex MacDiarmid: We all met at our old university “Glasgow Caledonian University” as part of the applied games department. During our 3rd year we decided to group up and create a game for the 2016 “Dare to be Digital” competition. After being one of three winners and tonnes of people saying how much they loved Rebound we decided to keep working on it and release it fully on PC and console as a really good portfolio piece to help us get work after we graduate. 2 years after graduating most of us are still working on it either full time or part time.

FG: What inspired you to create Rebound?

AM: During the global game jam 2016 there was a small arcade set up by a group called “We Throw Switches” who had a lot of local multiplayer games with them. We spent a lot of time there just having fun playing a bunch of games. So a few months later we were thinking of game concepts that we could make fairly quickly (8 weeks) and make enjoyable for people of all ages to play quickly. We thought back to that arcade and a lot of the local multiplayer games are really simple concepts but have really fun core gameplay. This was also around the release of Rocket League so we thought of picking another sports game – dodgeball – and then to give it some more RNG and unpredictability we developed a system that we call “mutators”. It basically allows silly things to happen like super fast throws and balls that explode.

FG: Rebound is currently slated to release on PC and Xbox One in 2019. How important do you think developing for consoles is for the modern day indie developer?

AM: Very important. As a small team with our first game, we cannot depend on Steam for great visibility and thanks to engines like Unreal we can very easily port the game to console, so there isn’t a great excuse to not put your game on console – unless, obviously you are making a really really specific game that has to use a keyboard and mouse. Talking to lots of other smaller developers it seems like they all agree that console is the best choice for us. Also just the style of game works really well for console if its playing on a TV with friends playing it together on the same sofa or if its on a Switch where you can quickly set it up and play it on a train.

“Whenever a game like Overcooked or Laser League comes out and gets lots of positive feedback, it’s great because we know we are on the right path.”

FG: If Rebound is a success on PC and Xbox One, could we expect to see it arrive on other consoles too?

AM: Yes because this was meant to be a really good portfolio project we want to try and get it on as many platforms as possible just so we can say “look at this project we released on multiple platforms and stores”. So because of that we are trying to get the game on as many places as we can. Since we are a small team doing what we can when we can, we are focusing on developing for one console at a time. However we cannot confirm any other platforms at this time other than PC. On PC we are using Steam’s multiplayer setup so online can only really be there at the moment. If we get really big and are feeling adventurous we might try dedicated servers or see how Epic’s cross platform service works out, when it comes out, but there isn’t anything we want to promise or fully commit too at this time.

FG: Local multiplayer games have been going through a real resurgence over the past few years after a lengthy lull. How does it feel to be part of the new wave of local multiplayer games leading the charge?

AM: It feels really good but also kinda scary. Whenever a game like Overcooked or Laser League comes out and gets lots of positive feedback, it’s great because we know we are on the right path. It’s fun, great to watch, people get competitive, and really invested in it. This is backed up every time we go to an event we see this happen when people get really into it and want to come back and play more of it. It’s just a great feeling to know we are onto something. However it’s also kinda scary because as every game like us comes out the trend of local sports games gets closer to falling off and we could go from “great multiplayer game” to “laser league rip off” overnight.

FG: Was online multiplayer ever part of your plans for Rebound or has it always been locally focused?

AM: Everything we do is primarily focused on local because I believe that is where most people are going to spend their time. The online was just a side project we wanted to see if we could do, and again as a portfolio piece it would be good to have some online experience. As it turns out we could do it and it definitely helped us improve the game. When we made the game for Dare to be Digital, it was the first big project I made in Unreal, the other programmer had used it once before for a university project, so we were still really new to it so we just stuck in whatever worked. That ended up being a huge setback that we needed to fix later. So, when I started looking up network implementation, I soon found out how to do things correctly and then we started to rework the game to make it just better. However I’m still terrified that we have missed something that works fine now but once we put it out there in a live environment it just doesn’t. So I’m really trying to focus more on the local aspect. My biggest fear is Rebound becoming the butt of every poor networking joke like so many other games that might have a few bugs at launch that will remain nameless because karma might get us.

FG: Rebound is a futuristic version of Dodge ball with “mutators” that alter aspects of the match. What kind of mutations can we expect to encounter in Rebound?

AM: At last count we have around 19 and a few more concepts we can add post release if they work. We try to get them to be simple concepts like “multiball” where when the player throws the ball it turns into 3. Crazy like “nitro ball” where every time the ball hits a wall it speeds up. Or silly like “Role Reversal” where we swap the ball object with a player and swap the player with a ball. That one doesn’t really do much to the actual game it’s just funny to see people’s reaction to it. I don’t want to say too much and give it all away because I think part of the fun is discovering what each one does when you play them the first time.

“We didn’t win but people still loved to play Rebound, so 2-3 years later we are still working on it and taking it around, showing it off in as many places as we can”

FG: Back in 2016 you won the “Dare to be Digital” competition and were nominated for a “BAFTA Ones To Watch” in 2017. Have being awarded these honours affected the development path of Rebound? Did they open doors for you that were previously shut or, alternatively, did they add pressure to the development?

AM: I think it definitely changed our plan for the future of Rebound. Before we won “Dare to be Digital” we were talking about small changes we could do and release it while we were still at University. This was before we actually showed the game to the public so we knew it was fun from playing it with friends while making it. But then during our first outing to Resonate, a local games event in Glasgow, and Protoplay, the games event in Dundee to mark the end of Dare to be Digital, people really loved it and then we somehow won Dare. After that we had to make a lot of improvement and try and impress BAFTA. So we scaled up and gave this our everything. Added online games, added AI, made a lot of art changes and cleaned up the UI. So, yeah I’d say there was a lot of added pressure especially when most of us were in our final year of Uni and doing honours projects. Unfortunately we didn’t win but people still loved to play Rebound, so 2-3 years later we are still working on it and taking it around, showing it off in as many places as we can, Rezzed, Norwich Games Fest, etc, meeting so many fantastic developers and people in the industry we probably wouldn’t have otherwise met if we didn’t win and get nominated.

Hexterion at the BAFTA Game Awards

FG: Is there a narrative surrounding the game play and tournaments of Rebound?

AM: Nothing official but for a long time we had the idea the player where holographic projections onto the arena in this dark dystopian world controlled by this character called “the overseer” who forced people to play this combat dodgeball game for the public’s amusement. This was more for world building to help us keep some consistency and theme when the artists created something. Most of this was removed when we cleaned up the art, however there are still a few references. Like the commentator is referred to as “the overseer” and in some concept art you can unlock through achievements.

FG: Finally, Rebound has an astounding art style. How did that come together?

AM: We started off with a Japanese origami style however that wasn’t feasible at the time. I’ve been told I’m the programmer not an artist. So, we moved to something more sci-fi as our style developed. This also helped us do more with less, since assets were less time-consuming to create. So we moved to a low poly Tron inspired art style so we could have bright colours and make it easier for players to see themselves in the game. Also, Sci-fi is cool.

Rebound is scheduled to release on the Xbox One and on PC via Steam in 2019. You can keep up to date on the progress of the game by following the team on Twitter or Facebook

IG@FG (or ‘Indie Games @ Finger Guns’) is a new irregular feature exploring the world of indie games. To keep up to date, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook

Sean Davies

Ungrateful little yuppie larvae. 30-something father to 5. Once ate 32 slices of pizza at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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