The colorful races of 13AM Games’s local multiplayer racing game Runbowwere a big hit at GDC this year. The game allows for up to nine players to compete at once making it the Wii U’s biggest couch multiplayer game (in terms of player support) so far.
Speaking to creative director Alex Rushdy, Siliconera finds out why 13AM Games strived to make a game with the title of “biggest couch multiplayer” game on the Wii U. He also talks about making the game compatible for color-blind players, and how Runbow’s design compares with the rubber-band multiplayer of the Mario Kart series.
To get us started, could you detail where the idea to have a color-based competitive racing game came from?
Alex Rushdy, creative director: It actually started with the Toronto Global Game Jam last year. The theme was “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” The first iteration of the game was built from this theme. The team knew they wanted to make a multiplayer game and they knew they wanted something with a color-changing mechanic. The two came together into Runbow – a very different Runbow from the game you see now.
The game was a success with the other people jamming and we received a lot of positive feedback so we stuck with it and kept iterating on the concept!
Your boast is that Runbow is the “biggest couch-multiplayer experience” on Wii U. Why aim for that?
We love multiplayer games, and we always have since we were kids. One of the things that we love to do as a company is get together and play games as a group. We find that it’s best when we are on a couch with a TV yelling at each other, trying to swat controllers out of each others hands. . . It’s the kind of fun that makes us all feel like kids again.
But most multiplayer games are either two or four player, so when you have more than four friends together, someone has to sit out and just watch. Why can’t they play, too? Why can’t everyone join in on the fun? Why should anyone have to sit out? With Runbow, we wanted to use all the Wii U controllers available to achieve this. There’s nine of us in the company, and we managed to fit nine players into Runbow, so when we QA we actually use every member of our team.
While the Wii is renown for being played by groups, the Wii U isn’t as much – would you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
Well, in my experience there are three kings of local multiplayer: Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and Mario Party. Whenever I go to a party and there is a game machine out, it’s Nintendo, and at some point in the night, one of those three games comes out. I think the Wii U is still a really strong platform for multiplayer games. Part of the reason is because the Wii before it was also strong for multiplayer. When I bought my Wii U, I already had four Wii remotes, four nunchucks, and three classic controllers. I could already play a full game of Nintendo Land without having to go out and buy four shiny new Wii U controllers for 60 bucks a pop. I think that the cost of controllers can be a real barrier for entry.
Also on the eShop there are a lot of cool developers playing with the gamepad and different ways to do multiplayer. Games like Spin The Bottle: Bumpie’s Party, which doesn’t even use the TV(!) and Sportsball where a fifth player can use the gamepad to give a live commentary on the match. These kinds of games are taking advantage of the GamePad in unique ways and we want to be part of this community of developers doing cool things with local multiplayer.
Have you had any issues with trying to ensure that all different Wii U-compatible controller types, and any combination of those, work in multiplayer matches?
Surprisingly it has been pretty smooth going. Nintendo has been very helpful in this regard. The only real challenges have been in designing the UI in a way that makes sense to the end user. On the GamePad and Classic Controller you press “a” to accept and “b” to go back whereas on the Wii Remote you press “2” to accept and “1” to go back- but it also has its own “a” and “b” buttons! When we first showed off the game at IndieCade there was some definite confusion there, but it has been getting better and better with each show and each piece of feedback we get.
What about working with color-blindness? Did you have to do much to cater to players that may be affected by it?
This is actually something that we think is really important. We’ve been designing our entire game to be colour-blind-friendly. We spent a lot of time picking our palettes, designing our characters, and implementing a costume system so it is easier to differentiate your character from everyone else.
We’ve received some feedback from colour-blind players, and so far the game has tested very well. We still want to have more colourblind players with various types of colourblindess to play the game so we can improve further and make sure everyone can enjoy the game. We have some tools that we run our art through to check how it reads for different kinds of colour-blindness.
Mario Kart uses rubber-banding to keep each round competitive for all player skills. Have you done anything similar to this for Runbow?
We have! But not in quite the same way that Mario Kart does it. First off, we’ve designed our levels and our camera system in such a way that players who lag behind still have a shot and the player in front has to take some risks to move forward. Our colour mechanic also helps in this regard as it opens up multiple paths for players, etc.
Secondly, we have an item system similar to Mario Kart, but the items themselves are quite different. They can help you, they can hinder you, or they can just add to the chaos. The game knows who is in first place and who is in last so if the first player grabs an item it will likely hinder them, and if the last player grabs an item it will likely give them a leg up. It’s just risky enough to tempt players into always grabbing them!
Third, we have a combat system that allows players to knock each other around (and off platforms). It works as a risk reward system; A charge attack can get you ahead and knock a player behind you, but it has a cool down so it can be risky to pull off. The butt pound is a great way to keep players behind you, but it leaves you vulnerable to attack if it is dodged, and so on…
As an aside: We also have a mode called “Arena” that is based entirely on survival in battle arenas that uses the combat to great effect.
Could you explain what the ColourMaster mode is all about?
ColourMaster mode is our GamePad-specific mode and one of our most popular modes at GDC and PAX! It’s an asymmetrical mode where the the GamePad player (The ColourMaster) is against everyone playing on the TV. In it, all the players on the TV are working as a team to score points by reaching the end goal while the person on the GamePad uses a variety of tools to try to kill all the runners.
The GamePad player can drop bombs and lightning bolts, throw splotches of paint on the environment to delete platforms, reverse the runners controls, and change the direction of the color swiping among other things! It was a real hit when we showed it off at GDC.
How does the The Bowhemoth mode change over the course of its 30+ minute running time? Or is it more about enduring a steady, continuous challenge?
It’s a fully mapped out level (almost like a continuous series of levels) with a proper intensity graph. So it does ebb and flow in terms of difficulty with the hardest stuff occurring at the end. It just starts off really challenging and keeps moving up from there. There are areas where you can take a breather, and there are even checkpoints and infinite continues, but it must be completed in one shot, kind of like an old school arcade game.
How have you worked with Nintendo while developing Runbow?
Nintendo has been incredibly supportive of us since day one. They’ve been marketing our game with us, getting us in front of press, bringing us to events, and helping us on the ground floor when we need technical help. It’s clear to us that they have a lot of faith in the game.