Jump Tanks is a twitchy multiplayer action-RPG hinged around battles between tank pilots in mega cities. It has been compared to Sega’s Virtual-On series before now, but it’s clear that there are a number of differences and original ideas that make it an individual game.
Siliconera caught up with found and creative director of MBS Games, Casey Holtz, to find out what, exactly these differences between Jump Tanks and Virtual-On are, and to ask him if the comparison is fair.
Holtz also talks about his love of Battle Angel Alita, the work of Masamune Shirow, and how Jump Tanks is rooted in a passion for sleek mechanical design. And that’s all before he goes into explaining the deep customization offerings of the game and how the environments of the 5v5 matches change dynamically as you play.
MBS Games is currently taking pre-alpha sign-ups on theJump Tanks website. So head over there if you’re interested in getting hands-on with the game.
Jump Tanks has been compared to the Virtual-On series, but is that a fair comparison? What are the similarities and differences between the two games?
Casey Holtz, found and creative director: It is flattering to have the game compared to a game series as well loved as Virtual-On. I am by no means a master of Virtual-On but here is an overview from what I recall of the gameplay.
The games both take some concepts and mechanics from shmups and try to bring them into a third person shooter. There are fun shot patterns and weapon types. We do not have special melee attacks however some weapons are beam blades etc… You can also do a crush attack and we are working on ram attack you will be able to do with your shield.
Jump Tanks weapon aiming is a bit more like an FPS than Virtual-On, which is focused on auto-targeting. Some weapons in our game can lock-on and assist while others require you to lead the target with the reticule, or to line up a cross-hair on the ground to lob mortars and grenades.
Visually the games share a similar aesthetic. Both games have a bright color palette designed to be fun and inviting. Virtual-On focuses more on the wide selection of specific characters, similar to fighting games. Jump Tanks is more about building the ideal Tank for your play style out of a select parts, somewhat similar to Armored Core but with more twitch and arcade style controls.
You can dash in both games however in Jump Tanks you have a lot of control over how far you dash by holding or tapping the button. In Virtual-On you can jump and jump cancel, in our game your jump is analog, similar to Mario 64, you can control the height by how long you press or tap the button. You can also jump or double jump any time you are in the air allowing you a lot of freedom in your navigation and dodging. We also plan to add the ability for some tank legs to let you hover.
Jump Crushing is also a fun addition to the jump system. Once you reach a set jump height you can do a crush attack down onto your enemies that you can air steer a bit. We hope to add AOE (area of effect) damage to some of the crush attacks depending on your tank legs. Such as a shockwave or ripple of fire.
What other games and media have you taken from or be inspired by when creating Jump Tanks?
The game is a love letter to so many artists and games I love. The mechanical design is really inspired by Izumo Jyuki, Masamune Shirow, Gundam, Armored Core, Virtual-On and Border Break. I love clean, sleek looking mechanical design, with vents and plates of metal instead of the overly gritty and detailed look. It was important that the tanks have a strong silhouette and not have too many details that would get lost at a distance.
The Pilots were all created by the super talented Rejean Dubois. He is an American-born artist living in Japan that I found through DeviantArt. His style was already a natural fit. We aimed for an anime/manga style with clean line work and more realistic proportions. I wanted the color to be a bit more detailed than an animation cell, so you will see really nice pattern work and gradation.
Rejean and I are both HUGE fans of Yukito Kishiro, famous for Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm) so he was a big inspiration. Japanese street fashion was also helpful when we discussed the look and Rej’s experience with fashion design drawing really makes the characters unique. Another artist that needs mention is the French comic artist Bengal. Rej and I both really love his vibrant color choices.
The environments were inspired by Capcom, Namco, Sega and Konami games as well as the film Tekkonikinkrete. We wanted the game to be bright, arcadey, and fun to just spend some time in without feeling oppressive or gloomy.
Gameplay-wise, I love games from Treasure. They have really great controls and deep mechanics that are always so much fun to master. The shield on the front of the tank to block shots is kind of a nod to them as well as the Jump Crush attack. The Seko No Rondo series (WarTech in the US) from G.Rev is a top down one vs. one shmup. I really love the thrill of bullet-dodging in shmups, so creating a 5v5 shmup hybrid with verticality is something I thought could be really fun!
One of the big focuses of Jump Tanks is the customization. How many different parts are there and what kinds of abilities and play styles do they allow tanks to be configured for?
We are planning about 180 parts divided into six categories, Chassis’, Shields, Guns, Legs, Attachments and finally Pilots. You can build as many tanks as you have parts for and get to choose three of your tanks to use in battle. When you are killed you can switch to one of the other tanks you created.
Each part has stats specific to its type although most offer some defense. There are 5 damage types, so players can choose to build a tank that has average protection against a couple or very strong in one or two but has greater weaknesses. Parts also have weight, so if you want to have a quick tank you will need to keep your total weight in mind.
The Chassis is your main source of Armor, DEF and Energy. Legs control your boost/dash speed, amount of jumps or hover ability, Crush Attack damage and DEF, we also plan to add stability. Stability will help keep you from getting knocked back by enemy attacks and minimize kick back from firing powerful weapons.
Shields have Ram Attack damage, Def, and Speed. When you fire your weapon, your shield flips up and out of the way of your gun, exposing you to attack. Speed controls how quickly the shield can lower back into the defensive position after firing.
Guns have damage per type, charge attack, range, energy usage, and aim style. Aiming styles include Aim Assisted, where the gun will help target. Free Aim, where the player has complete control over where you are shooting. Melee is for laser blades and short range weapons and rely more on tank position. Launched aims via a reticule that appears on the ground that the player can move closer or further out. Projectiles such as mortars and grenades are lobbed towards the aiming reticule, making it perfect for players that want to sneak behind buildings and rain death on opponents.
Attachments are the more special case tank parts. They can provide additional Armor, Energy or Defense or apply special abilities. They can also be passive or active, meaning you have to trigger or aim them in battle. Active attachments can be force fields, tractor beams, floating gun pods, launch pads, mines etc… Depending on the attachment, it may have a cool down, set number of uses and stacking limit.
Pilots give your tank its HP stat as well as providing a three abilities, Passive, Ally and Rival. I will go into those in bit more detail later. We are designing the parts to allow players a wide variety of play styles, snipers, short ranged bruisers, powerful “glass cannons”, and support roles. You could build a tank around using shield ram attacks and jump crushes or all around a specific damage type or defense type.
It’s mentioned that, during battles, the environments can change dramatically. How does this affect match dynamism and the flow of play over time?
We have a system in the game that randomizes set elements of the arenas before each match starts. For example we have a level that is sometimes flooded so you have to jump across the rooftops of submerged buildings. Other times the water level will be lower, revealing docks and other areas to hide or utilize in battle.
We also randomize the presence and positions of spawn points, health pickups, barricades, exploding hazards, giant construction cranes, barges, draw bridges and other objects. Once we add enemies to the game, they will work with this system as well, and provide added danger and excitement to matches.
One of my favorite maps we are testing now is a series of large hexagonal rooms connected by giant garage doors. The doors are randomly opened or closed creating a unique layout of rooms each time. The inside of each room has tons of elements such as ramps, pillars, balconies and pits that are randomized. The whole level can change in really fun ways. This system should help keep the matches feeling fresh for a long time.
You’ve also noted that Jump Tanks is a team game. What systems are in place that allow players to work together pre-match and in the heat of battle?
We enjoy team play and feel that the comradelier and cooperation can feel really satisfying. The main area we have been focusing on is our game mode, which is called “Hunter”. Each team has a player that is a Hunter. Hunters get more points per kill and can start adding up a bounty for additional kills. This encourages teams to help their Hunter stay alive and get kills. An added incentive is that your Hunter is worth a ton more points to kill once they have racked up a bounty, making it extra important to keep them alive.
Outside of Hunter, each tank can equip one gun that does one damage type. Sticking together is helpful when going facing off against an opponent is strong against the damage type you are using.
We are also discussing many Attachments that will grant the player abilities they can use to help one another with, such as force fields they can deploy around a teammate, turrets they can drop, an EMP to scrabble the enemy team’s radar or healing beams etc…
We currently have some basic voice integrated through Mumble, however, we are also looking at doing a quick command system that would allow you to send messages to your team without typing or talking. For an example, tap the d-pad up to message for “help me!” and all of your team mates would be alerted.
Pre-match is an area where we would like to do some fun features to allow players to cooperate on a deeper level. One idea that was proposed was to allow teammates to view each others tanks and discuss builds that would compliment each other or create an overall strategy. Each player on the team could take a role and focus on a set damage or defense type or play style.
Could you explain how the Ally and Rival system in Jump Tanks works, and what this adds to competitive matches?
Each match you get randomly paired with a teammate that is your Ally and an opponent that is your Rival. Your Ally has a big blue ring around them when you see them, and you will gain a special ability if you stay within their radius. The ability is based on the Pilot they are currently using. It is a subtle way to encourage players to help each other and stick together.
The Rival on the other hand has an ability specifically against you, so when they get near you, you will hear a warning and see their pilot pop-up on your HUD. You can take them on by yourself however since they have a buff against you, it might be best to go find a team mate to help take them down.
I am excited to see what pilots players choose for their own three tanks as well as how advanced teams will choose pilots that compliment each others abilities well to form a super team.
Is there a solo campaign that’s separate from multiplayer matches? If there is, what differentiates it from the multiplayer?
We would like to have a “Time Attack” mode where you can fight against waves of enemies in the multiplayer maps and set high scores on an online leaderboard. You could also use the mode as a way to test out new tank setups etc… This mode can also utilize bot tanks, controlled by AI.
Right now a mode like this is a lower priority than the core features but something we think people would like. Let us know in the comments section what you think or would want.
You say that your goal is to focus your development efforts on player feedback. What have to changed according to feedback so far? And where do you draw the line between player requests and your design decisions?
One of the cool things about being indie is getting to talk about the game whenever and however we want as well as getting players involved and listening to feedback before the game ships. So far, the play sessions have been really fun. We have been playing with fans and other developers friends of ours from some well-known studios, and talking on Skype and Mumble while playing.
So far we have added Voice Over to explain some of the rules and in-game action more. We also put in a menu where the player can select which tank they want to use next after they die in a match. We have also changed the way we display the team scores and position of things in the HUD.
We got a great suggestion last week on how we can incorporate enemies into the matches. Essentially, there will be enemy turrets that fight against both teams. If the Red team kills one, they capture it, so it will respawn and only fight against the Blue team. If a team can capture and hold all of the turrets on the map they will earn a big chunk of points.
Currently, you’re taking pre-alpha sign-ups for Jump Tanks. What does this grant players access to if they’re accepted?
You will get a Steam Key for Jump Tanks on PC (we are close to testing the Mac build). Right now, all of the tank parts currently in the game are unlocked and available to use. You will get to see and use new tank parts see as they improve and get more fully featured.
You can play the game with us during the pre-alpha and talk with us directly during the play sessions or let us know what you think on our message board and survey. The key is good for the pre-alpha version of the game only, however, we would like to do something nice down the road for the players who sign up now as a “thank you” for helping out.
What are the chances that Jump Tanks will come to other platforms? Are there any platforms that you think would suit it particularly?
We are getting pretty close to testing the Mac build which is exciting. Linux and Steam Boxes would be great to support however we have not gone too far down that path yet.
If the game does well, we would love to bring it to PS4 and Xbox One. We already support the PS4 and Xbox 360 controllers for the game. Most of us on the team have a background in console game development so it would love to make it happen if we have the chance!