In October of last year I attended The Microsoft Indie Gaming Showcase held at Sydney CBD’s Microsoft Store. There were quite a number of alpha demos and fully-fledged concepts available to test out; one of those being Tyrannosaurus Mechs. Whilst still in its early development stages, It was fun and quirky, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying what was on offer.
I got to speak with the head of T-Mechs‘ development team Fabian about how the game came to be.
Part 2 of the interview is here.
Brenden: Let’s start off with your name and what you do.
Fabian: My name is Fabian Figueroa. I am the… I always hate giving myself these three titles even though it’s what I do. It just sounds so pretentious.
I was the designer behind Tyrannosaurus Mechs. I also directed it and I produced it, so essentially… um…
Brenden: Writer, producer and directer.
Fabian: Yeah, you see what I mean? It sounds pretentious.
I guess management was the big thing as not only did I come up with the idea; I had to run the show. I had to make sure everybody was sticking to the vision; Making sure the game was playing the way it’s supposed to play ’cause I’m not going to sit here and pitch a brawler to you and you make a chess game.
I guess the biggest thing is that I had to keep the wheels from falling off the cart.
Brenden: Have you worked on any other games before, or is this your first?
Fabian: Nothing outside of school ’cause I’ve been studying game design for a bit now.
This is back when I wasn’t really sure where I was going with my life: I left corporate call centre stuff ’cause I was doing it for maybe five, six years and I got to this point where it was really kind of soul crushing.
I got so bored with it and because all of the work I was doing was very contract-based it felt like every time I started, I started from scratch.
Brenden: And you’re just like “What do I do, where do I go from here?”
Fabian: Yeah. How am I supposed to improve?
Everyone is brought up with that whole glamorous idea of “Ooh, I work for a bank” or “Ooh, I work for the government”.
Brenden: With corporate contact centres, there’s no progression whatsoever.
Fabian: Unless you get into the clique, the culture, and that’s what shit me. I didn’t want to play their game.
So anyway, I was in a bit of a transitional period. I was like “Do I want to do this?”
I started working part-time at NRMA before I realised that “I want to study games. This is something I’ve loved since I was six”. I got my first console when I was six and I haven’t stopped.
I’ve always imagined things. I’ve always had a bit of a bent toward the pop-cultury sci-fi, fantasy… you know, all the circles that people run in.
I ended up studying at JMC, but to get back to your original question: As far as how many games I’ve developed? The first one I did was in my game dev lab class. It was a turn-based scratch-programming shooter, so if you think of like Mega Man Battle Network but with a vertical-scroller-shooting slant to it and it’s in a virtual cyberpunk kind of deal, that was the first one. We were taking turns producing but by the end of it I’d firmly taken hold of the reigns as that’s what I was best at.
Then Tyrannosaurus Mechs which is the one you saw today. I saw you had a lot of fun.
Brenden: I had a lot of fun with it. Even for an alpha it felt very cohesive for what I played.
Fabian: Originally going back to the dev lab class that I mentioned, we had to pitch…
One of the big things you do is pitch ten ideas, find the best ones and focus on it. One of the little ones that I wrote down was just a side-scroller platformer with a T. rex with mechanical arms.
So the original idea was I thought “Hey, he’ll have mechanical arms, it’ll have 2D pixel art” ’cause I have a mad passion for pixel art.
I thought “Can I do it as a side-scrolling beat ’em up? Yeah but how would I work the traversal? Aw, you know, let’s do it as a simple Bionic Commando clone.”
But the one thing that people will never tell you – and I can say this because I’ve done it – programming a platformer sucks.
You think it’s the easiest thing to do. It’s annoying because you have to program the jump, the trajectories. There’s all this bullshit, like exactly how far you can jump, when does gravity start to take effect, how do the physics affect it?
It is a pain in the ass. The simplest thing I found as far as programming goes, making a first-person shooter is pretty easy. As long as you get the ray-casting you’re set. Even then you can make a projectile base and you never even have to bother with ray-casting.
So yeah; My original idea for Mechs came from that. I shelved it, scrapped it, put it on the side ’cause for the time I thought “I’ve got six weeks to get a prototype, to get it designed”. Then six weeks in and I was told I had to combine the idea I was working with with the ideas of two other people”. I realised if I’d chosen Mechs, it would’ve been scrapped.
The other thing is that no one in my class was a pixel artist.
That project got done, and then later on when it came to the major assessment the teacher wanted us everyone bring two ideas to the table during its first week. I thought “Oh, cool. Well, I’ve got one idea” which was Magic Missile.
For one class I had to design a level. For another class for rapid prototyping I had to create functionality, so I combined the two assessments into one.
I go over a weekend I put in forty-three hours. I counted and I was working fifteen to sixteen hours each day from Friday through to Sunday (which is when it was due).
After I created the level and functionality, I pitched Magic Missile. It was such a good pitch because I built a level and functionality, I had a full-working prototype to say “This is what we’d be doing.” The other one was T-Mechs. I thought “They’re probably not going to choose it.”
My original idea was a 2D pixel game and I sat there thinking “Out of the nine or ten of us in class no one knows how to pixel art. There is no way in hell for six months straight, I’m pixeling it, animating it… Noooo.” I thought that would be an impossible work load. So I decided to dumb it down. I had to cut down the scope and went for 3D. I thought to maybe put it in the same vein as a Ratchet & Clank, or a Jak & Daxter platformer.
As we were working on the project we realised the combos felt good and the platforming didn’t feel good.
When you played, I bet you didn’t even know there was a double jump.
Brenden: I found the double jump pretty early, but the thing is it was more fun playing it just as a brawler rather than a platformer ’cause the platforming was just a little bit…”
Fabian: That all comes down to the level design; not that the level design was bad, but that was something that was really kept to the end ’cause we were tinkering a lot with time crunch, animations, rigging, modelling. It was nuts. It crept up big time; faster than we thought, to the point where the biggest mistake was audio. I’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s a large chunk of the game that I think feels so much better when you get that nice whack.
Brenden: That real big hit and the satisfaction that you get.
Fabian: We all realised T-Mechs felt better as a brawler about a quarter into the project. “How about we dumb down a lot of the platforming sections?” We still keep the swinging traversal mechanics.
Brenden: That was very Ratchet & Clank. I loved that.
Fabian: Literally, I showed the picture to the guys and I said “Remember the swing points? Think like that” and then our programmer’s like “I’ve played that. I know exactly how that works”, but you see how it feels better as a brawler, yeah?
Fabian: That’s when we kind of went “This feels better because as a T. rex he’s big, he’s thrashy, he’s like a bull in a china shop, he just lashes out and punches shit.” That’s where it felt good. That’s where the game started to come together.
Brenden: ‘Cause you’re an unstoppable T. rex with mechanical arms and you’re just like BANG BANG and that’s the fun you get out of it.
Fabian: Imagine a T. rex with the brain it has being rather thrashy, being rather stompy and then give him a bulldozer and he’ll just break shit.
Brenden: Well obviously with a T. rex, they’ve got such small arms and then you give them bigger arms and then you’re like “Okay, now I know what to do with these.”
Fabian: Exactly. So we found that because the brawler bit was better we chose to focus on that and shelve some of the platforming.
Our first public test was at Supanova. We had no textures, the map was nowhere near done.
The first thing we found was that everyone who played it said “Wow it feels really good to punch. Wow I really love the movement”. As soon as we got that feed back we realised that the feel was there. The design may not have been there. The audio may not have been there, the visuals may not have been there, but the feel was there.
Brenden: When I was playing it, it just felt so satisfying. The combat feels satisfying, the movement feels satisfying.
Fabian: And because of the feel… everyone knows games like chess, pool, things like that. They feel good.
There are ideas I have for T-Mechs where my inspiration came from The Wonderful 101 ’cause I’m a mad fan of Platinum Games.
Fabian: The one I haven’t played yet everyone says “Dude, you have to” about is Nier: Automata.
Brenden: It’s solid. It’s absolutely solid.
Fabian: I heard it’s not so much more about the action but more about the story, the whole existential…
There’s a lot of deep philosophical stuff and I’d love to get into that, but I guess right now I’m in a place where…
Brenden: You’d rather think about the mechanics than the story.
Fabian: Yeah. I’ve always been a really big proponent for narrative in games.
I grew up reading a lot of books. I used to love sci-fi and fantasy. When I got into gaming I found that it was such a great medium for narrative. When I started getting into the game development side, I started to notice the little nuance of development and go “Wow, that mechanic is really clever to represent this”, or T”hat piece of environmental storytelling that I probably never would have noticed is very obvious to me now.”
Platinum is a massive influence on me. I loved them even when they were Clover. One of the most underrated games from when they were Clover: God Hand.
It is borderline impenetrable when you start, but then you get into it and you start to develop your combos and you start to see how off the wall the game is, you really appreciate it for what it is.
Brenden: It’s on my list to play, but I know I’ve got it.
Fabian: Another one that I loved at the time was Viewtiful Joe. Both of them, great inspirations, led into the Platinum years, led to my inspiration for T-Mechs.
The combat feels great and because that was the feedback that we were getting, I said “Okay, we’re pouring all of our attention into this because this needs to be refined. This can be great.”
Brenden: It was one of the funnest things I’ve played in quite a while, actually.
Fabian: As bare bones as it is, right?
Fabian: You look at that and you go “You couldn’t release that as a AAA, or even as an indie release right now.” There’s too many broken bits. Through my eyes, I look at it and go “Level design is terrible, some of the aesthetic stuff needs to be fixed, textures need to be fixed, models need to be remodeled.” I look at all this and see that it’s broken. But the basic formula is there.