2006 IGF Student Showcase Q&A: Ballistic Team (Ballistic)

Continuing our profiles of the 2006 IGF Student Showcase winners, the interviewee for this feature is the team of Scott Brodie, Brandon Furtwangler, and Brian Hasselbeck from Michigan State University, makers of 3D-action puzzler Ballistic.


In the run-up to the 2006 Independent Games Festival, which is held at Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose from March 20-24, 2006, Gamasutra is showcasing a number of the IGF finalists in different categories. As part of a series of Gamasutra Education-exclusive articles, we profile the 2006 IGF Student Showcase winners by interviewing them about their award-winning titles, which will be playable at the IGF Pavilion at GDC this March.

The interviewee for this feature is the team of Scott Brodie, Brandon Furtwangler, and Brian Hasselbeck from Michigan State University, who earned a spot as a Student Showcase winner with their 3D-action puzzler Ballistic, described as follows in the students' entry form:

"Ballistic is a 3D-action puzzle game. Viewed from a side perspective, the game asks players to solve physics-based challenges within a given time limit. Sporting tons of flash and making use of the Novadex physics SDK, Ballistic is non-stop fun that is easy and intuitive to get into."

A gameplay screenshot of Ballistic

GS: What's the concept behind your IGF Student Showcase winning game, and give us an outline of the team that's behind it?

Ballistic is a physics-based puzzle/action game that asks players to navigate ball objects towards a goal by indirectly influencing their path with simple rotations of the 3D level environments. The goal of the project was to create a quick and easy to pick-up play experience that was still deep enough to hold gamers' attention.

The core team that entered the game into the showcase was Scott Brodie, Brandon Furtwangler, and Brian Hasselbeck. Scott led the game design, along with creating the game's artwork and music. Brandon led the programming of the primary systems (graphics, physics, and user interface). Brian led the programming of sound and particle effects, along with designing and implementing the game's level editor.

GS: Tell us a little bit about the school and school program which were behind
the game's genesis? Was this part of a course or final project? What kind of
degree program did it count towards?

We are all students at Michigan State University, as well as members of the on campus game development student organization called Spartasoft. Ballistic was originally developed as a tool to teach other students in the group about the basics of what goes into making games, but quickly developed into a full game production after it was clear that the concept could be fun and unique. While the project wasn't developed within any course, the game related courses and faculty (including those associated with the newly developed Game Design and Development Specialization) have been extremely influential in making the game the success that it became for us.

GS: How long did development on the game take and what tools did you use to
create it?

We used a variety of tools to create assets for the game, including 3D Studio Max 7 and Photoshop.  The game itself was written in C++ using OpenGL for graphics, and was developed in Visual Studio 2003 & 2005. On top of these development tools, we also created a pretty robust level editor, written in C#, that takes care of placing game objects, adjusting their properties, and scripting events.  Finally, we used a 3rd party physics SDK (Novadex, now PhysX) created by Ageia to handle the physics simulation.

GS: What was the all-time best and all-time worst moment that you encountered
during the game's creation?

For us the most gratifying thing to come out of the game's development, besides wining the showcase, was finding out that all of the planning that went into making the game's design simple yet deep turned out to be a pretty enjoyable experience. There was a lot of competition within the development team to see who could get the best time on the finished level, which boded well for how the judges and public would receive the game.

While anything negative that may have happened during development only served to prepare us for future development cycles, we agree that having to cut some of the alternate gameplay modes we had planned to implement would count as our “worst” moment. In the end, I think it was clearly the right decision, but we really hoped to give a little more content to the judges. That content is planned to be added down the road, however!

GS: Do you (yet) have any success stories or positive experience based on showing the student game to people in the game industry (praise, actually getting a job in the biz, etc)?

There has been an amazing amount of positive feedback about the game from both players and developers, with a healthy dose of suggestions that are going to be invaluable as improvements are made in the future. The game website has also seen a tremendous amount of traffic since it was first acknowledged as a winner.

A few team members have had job interviews since the game was “finished”, and the IGF exposure has obviously been a huge help in demonstrating that the team understands what it takes to finish a game project. We're really excited for what lies ahead, and are happy the game has been received so well thus far!

GS: What are the most important things that student games should be showing off, in terms of both getting high marks in your courses and impressing potential employers?

The quick answer is to do everything possible to innovate, but also while making sure to keep simplicity of design in mind. Having one or two really polished levels that show off the talents of the developers is what student projects are all about. We've seen one too many student attempts at MMORPGs or other big genres, and they inevitably end up failing because of the tremendous amount of organization and content required. We think college is a great time (possibly the only time) that you can really have a chance to experiment with games as a medium, and students should do their best to take advantage of it!

The Ballistic UI

GS: Have you tried any of the other Student Showcase finalists? If so, which ones did you especially appreciate, and why?

Rumble-Box really struck us as a well thought out project, especially because of the emergent way in which you have to achieve the end goals of the game. We also really admire the chance the Cloud game team took. It is a great example of what student games have to offer in terms of concept explorations.

GS: Name one thing that people probably don't know about your game.

Our game is completely mod-friendly, and the level editor we used in development is included with the game. Players can create brand new geometry, or re-script the gameplay of the included level files. This can be a lot of fun, as some pretty insane demonstrations of the physics engine can be created easily.

GS: Have you any other messages for your fellow Student Showcase winners?

Congratulations on making it this far, and we'll see you at GDC!



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