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Exclusive: Behind The Scenes of Metanet's N+

The latest issue of Game Developer has a creator-written postmortem of Metanet's N+ for Xbox Live Arcade, and Gamasutra has exclusive excerpts, revealing how the team dealt with planning issues, focused on a clean and simple design, and ran

September 29, 2008

5 Min Read

Author: by Staff

The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine includes a creator-written postmortem on the making of Metanet's N+, the company's Xbox Live Arcade version of its original freeware PC platformer N. These extracts reveal how the studio of two developers (with some contracted help) faced development obstacles on a platform with tighter restrictions than those to which its members were accustomed, as well as how the nature of the remake allowed the team to focus on refinements and simplicity over unnecessary features. Metanet co-founders Mare Sheppard and Raigan Burns crafted the postmortem, which was introduced in Game Developer as follows: "N+ is the indie success story of the year thus far, with over 100,000 downloads on Xbox Live Arcade. Here, the developers chart their path from the original N to its high definition iteration, contending with TCR problems, networking issues, and cut features along the way." User-Created Content And Level Sharing One of the chief stumbling blocks Metanet encountered over the course of development was the issue of user-created content, something the team very much wanted to include (and had developed the capability to do so) but for a variety of reasons was unable to ship. As the pair explains: "At first, discussion was limited to the technical, 'how' it could be done, rather than 'if' it could be done. Microsoft supported the idea but expressed a very reasonable need to limit users from creating offensive content such as hate speech, representations of male genitalia, offensive language, and so on. The problem was that severe limitations would cripple the user's ability to create interesting content, negating the editor's reason for being. For instance, limiting levels to only 8x8 tiles would be effective in preventing the tiles from spelling profane language, but would also limit the scope of level creation to an unacceptably restricted degree. We eventually settled on a number of passable solutions, and development of this feature began. But then, the great Forza debacle happened. Because of limitations of the leaderboard system, Microsoft was unable to delete the specific offensive content uploaded by a user of Forza, which could also not be flagged by other users, and was resolvable only by the deletion of the entire user account. Near the end of N+ development, we were told to disable the content-sharing features for launch, with the suggestion that they could be re-enabled when and if the leaderboard back-end was altered to allow effective user-created-content control. We complied, regretting the backlash that would surely occur, but were optimistic for the future when we could re-enable. Unfortunately, this last-minute change caused a certification failure, and a lengthy launch delay for N+, but we worked to get through the new issues. We pushed to keep developing content creation and sharing in because we knew it would benefit everyone: the game would be more popular because players would appreciate the creative possibilities, and it would add a lot of value to N+ as available levels would become essentially infinite. Perhaps, though, we should have just cut it when Microsoft initially started expressing reservations. It was a lot of work for everyone, and since there was a chance that it would be cut, it's possible this was a case of poor risk management on our part. As it stands, this feature is not likely to be allowed any time soon, if ever." Cert Hell The Metanet team ran into some problems during the Xbox 360 certification process -- a process that ended up taking much longer than expected, and introduced a glitch that remained in the shipping game: "After failing Certification the first time, we were stuck in a burnout-inducing pre-submission loop, a never-ending trickle of bugs that would go on and on until we finally resubmitted in December. There wasn't much we could do except buckle down and grind out the bugs; it was a morale-destroying end to what had been an otherwise pretty smooth year. This string of required bug fixes unfortunately introduced a "save bug," which was the result of a last-minute Technical Content Requirement (TCR) workaround. Because the frequency of saving/writing to leaderboards can't exceed a stipulated frequency as per XBLA TCRs, we were forced to disable post-level saving, and instead save data only when the user returns to the main menu. This saving "bug" can cause loss of progress when users fail to return to the main menu before quitting their game or turning off the console-and losing progress in N+ can be particularly devastating given the difficulty of the game's later levels!" Early Feedback But plenty of things went smoothly as well, including getting feedback from the fans: "We saw huge value in using feedback from N players to improve the design of N+ -- very few know the game better! We hold the N community in very high regard because their enthusiasm towards providing honest criticism of N and passion for the game in general is unparalleled. We considered several fan suggestions when planning N+ prior to development. Showing N+ at PAX 2007 was an opportunity for us to get the game into the hands of gamers, listen to their feedback, and make some important changes. One of the things we learned was that the progression of level difficulty, even though it had been refined and simplified several times, was still too hard for the average player. This led to our revising and playing through the levels several more times, to the benefit of gamers everywhere." Additional Info The full postmortem, including a great deal more insight into N+'s development, with "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" reasoning, is now available in the September 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine. The issue also includes an analysis on the state of outsourcing, a technical article on Nintendo DS ragdoll physics, and an entertaining feature on fun by Masaya Matsuura (PaRappa the Rapper) -- plus tool reviews, special career sections, and columns from Power of Two's Noel Llopis, Bungie's Steve Theodore, Lucasarts' Jesse Harlin, and Maxis' Soren Johnson. Yearly print and digital subscriptions to Game Developer are now available, and all digital subscriptions now include web-browsable and downloadable PDF versions of the magazine back to May 2004, as well as the digital version of the Game Career Guide special issue. In addition, the September issue of Game Developer is available in paid single-issue digital form (viewable in a web browser, and with an associated downloadable PDF).

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