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“Now’s the perfect time to see more PC gamers playing games normally only enjoyed by console gamers,” says KarBOOM creator

Jose Cardoso September 20, 2013 - 7:01 pm

Jibb Smart details the challenges he encountered in bringing multiplayer-driven KarBOOM to where it is now, as well as his belief in a growing niche his game aims to address.

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Harnessing the same-screen social dynamics of games like Super Smash Bros. and the compactness of Micro Machines, Jibb Smart has been working to create KarBOOM, an up-to-eight-person party game where diminutive vehicles are given destructive overheating properties used to overtake opponents in a mix of tight playing fields. With demos already available and receiving periodic updates in the way of new gameplay modes, the game is on track to release this October.

It may not show it, but the game’s launch will close a three-year-long period of development – ongoing, with challenges. The biggest? “Painting myself into a corner,” Smart says.

Speaking to BeefJack over email, Smart told me that in the intial stages, there were shortcuts made that turned problematic as future versions were added atop the basic template.

“In the very first alpha release of KarBOOM,” he starts, “there was only one level. It was completely flat, there were no obstacles and kars [as they are called in the game] could not be tipped over. Collision was a simple distance check between vehicles, treating them as circles on a plane.”

For the time, this met its purposes, but disaster struck as tweaks were made to the system. “As I added in more and more levels, bottomless pits, ramps and obstacles, my physics algorithms became a mess of ‘if x do this, if y do that, if z…’, and it was quite awful. I got to the point where I re-wrote all the physics and collisions to use a more generic system.”

This paved the way for his next big hurdle – Max and Linux support. Originally relying on Windows-only engine Gamestudio, Smart felt it would be “too big a task to switch engines.” Until he got the idea, from redoing the then-messy physics, to write his own engine. “I figured, ‘Why not write a cross-platform renderer to go with it?’”

It took nine months to accommodate all the changes he wanted to make, but by this time, though it was functional, frustration set in over the toils of making a custom engine. He then received an answer to his prayers.

“Unity announced Linux support and I was like, ‘That’s it. I want to make games, not game engines.’”

This meant dispensing with a lot of the involving work it took to get to this point, but Smart kept things in proper perspective. “Nine months of making an engine down the drain and finishing a game quickly is better than, say, 12 or more months of making a game engine and taking even longer after that to finish the same game,” he reasoned. “So I gave Unity a go, loved it, and haven’t looked back since.”

On what provoked the game’s creation, Smart made reference to his own gaming tastes and the social dynamics of established multiplayer-centric franchises – the core ingredients of which he hopes to likewise concentrate in his own game. “The most fun I have gaming is with people next to me, shouting at the same screen,” Smart shared, adding that KarBOOM’s own tension was most inspired by Super Smash Bros., “with a dash of Mario Kart thrown in.”

Elaborating on the precise qualities he hopes to emulate, he explained: “They’re random enough that newbies can enjoy tastes of victory (though purists can take the randomness out in Smash Bros. by disabling powerups), they’re easy to pick up, and yet there’s so much room for skill development.” He continued: “The pure competitiveness of Smash Bros which we see taken to pro levels at tournaments and on YouTube, the sense of urgency created by Mario Kart’s acknowledging of the “final lap” with video and audio cues – these are things I want to work into the final version of KarBOOM.”

The Smash Bros. influences don’t end there, as Jibb also shared with me that KarBOOM’s larger player capacity was prompted by his own experiences with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. ”Sitting with too many friends to all play Smash Bros at once and looking at unused Wii-motes (since we all use GameCube controllers where we can) and wondering, ‘Why can’t we just add one or two more players?’ – this was a huge factor for the 8-player limit in KarBOOM.”

Some may feel such an open invitation is squandered, however, as the game currently remains local-only. When asked about the possibility of online incorporation, he responded by saying: “The short answer is ‘I’ve tried it before, so definitely not unless I have a lot of free time to tackle it again post-release.’”

Providing me with the long version also, he went on to explain that the nature of KarBOOM presents complications that would escape online-enabled turn-based games, where there exist “very few challenges to overcome to compensate for lag”; or shooters, which Smart observes have “well-established techniques and algorithms for overcoming lag” in place.

“KarBOOM is very different,” he continued, “in that all player-player interaction is based on a physics simulation, which is very difficult to synchronise over a network. Add to that the fact that players can boost away from each other or towards each other at a moment’s notice and that ever-present lag, even under ideal circumstances, can really get in the way.”

Listing off for me a series of game-foiling outcomes, Smart sees that reality as being a “nightmare.” That, though, hasn’t stopped him from exploring alternatives.

“I tried simulating everything on the server and letting players deal with laggy input, and that was not well-received. I’ve tried giving players more direct control over their own kars while other kars are presented with “smoothed out” motion, and it’s almost impossible to actually knock someone out. Both solutions poorly represent the game as it’s meant to be played – responsive, fast-paced, precise and yet chaotic.”

It’d be nice to have, but Smart’s okay with the implication. “The lack of online multiplayer places even more emphasis on the ‘local multiplayer’ aspect that drives the game, but also makes it even more important that KarBOOM finds players in that niche market, or players willing to explore that kind of multiplayer they may not be used to on a personal computer.”

It’s a niche that he’s certain exists, in company with the install base of PS3 and 360 users who possess computer-supported controllers that would still make bot-less games of KarBOOM accessible. “Pair with that the fact that more and more computers and TVs are relatively easy to connect to each other, and Steam’s Big Picture mode, and now’s the perfect time to see more and more PC gamers playing the kinds of games normally only enjoyed by console gamers.”

KarBOOM’s doubly heated encounters certainly carry promise to that end.

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