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Road To The IGF: RoboBlitz's Naked Sky Talk Physical Action

Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview is with Tian Mu, Sam Thibault and Josh Glazer of Naked Sky, developers of
December 08, 2006
Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview is with Tian Mu, Sam Thibault and Josh Glazer of Naked Sky, developers of RoboBlitz. The title launched on PC in early November, and on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade on the 6th of December, after just under a year of development. RoboBlitz, which is described by the team as “a humorous, physics-based action game full of inventive gizmos, weapons, and environments”, uses the Unreal Engine 3, as well as procedural texturing techniques to keep the file size below Live Arcade’s 50MB limit. The games casts players as Blitz, a robot “who must activate an aging Space Cannon in order to save his world from a band of maladjusted space pirates” over “19 levels of puzzle-solving and high-intensity action”. We spoke to Glazer, Thibault and Mu – the company’s CEO – about the game, its entry into the IGF, and their passion for physics-based gameplay. What is your background in the games industry and how was Naked Sky formed? Mu: I started in the games industry at age 15, working as a game designer at 7th Level. Our CTO, Joshua Glazer, and I have been childhood friends and he wrote his first shareware game when he was 12. Josh and I teamed up on various projects at different game companies throughout our high school years. Josh met our other co-founder, Sam Thibault, at MIT, where they came up with a brilliant game concept in their senior year. That game was the reason we formed Naked Sky. It is still under wraps. When was Naked Sky formed, and what previous titles have you released? Mu: Naked Sky was formed in 2002. RoboBlitz is our first commercial title. What inspired RoboBlitz, and why did you decide to make it? Mu: RoboBlitz evolved from a tech demo we did for Intel to showcase their dual core processor early last year. When the game was demoed at the 2005 GDC, lots of people came up to us and asked when it was coming out. That was when we decided to make it into a fully-fledged game. Of course, the art, design, and most of the code have changed completely since. What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations? Thibault: Our big expectation was that using physics to completely drive a 3D action game would work in a commercial title – something significantly beyond our original tech demo, and I feel we did meet that expectation. There are just so many fun things you can do in RoboBlitz with the characters and weapons that the physics system enables. This system will only get better as the technology continues to develop, and RoboBlitz is a step along the path towards the possibilities that exist in fully physics-driven gaming. What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is? Glazer: The most interesting thing about our game is definitely that all characters are completely controlled by physics – there isn't any hand animation. That means they can interact with the world just like they would in real life. For instance, when Blitz bumps his arm into an object, not only does the object move, but Blitz's arm gets moved with an equal and opposite force. With this consistent set of physical rules governing every moving object in the game, we're able to come up with a number of physical puzzles that can be solved in many ways. It really allows players to be creative in how they use their weapons and tools to beat the game. Why did you decide to use Unreal Engine 3 for the game rather than one of the indie engines? Mu: As I mentioned earlier, we formed Naked Sky to do a different, still unannounced game. The engine we used at the time for that game was UE2. Since we already had a good relationship with Epic Games and we liked their technology, we decided to use UE3 for the Intel demo, which led to today’s RoboBlitz. What effect has your use of procedural texturing had on the game's marketability? Mu: We wouldn’t have fit RoboBlitz in under 50MB, which is Live Arcade’s requirement, if it weren’t for procedural texturing and procedural animation. How long did development take? Mu: 11 months. What was the development process like? Glazer: It was extremely difficult. There were a lot of problems to solve and we really had to stretch our brains to come up with acceptable solutions to them all. There were times in the project where we were practically working around the clock trying to make our deadlines. However, it was always a lot of fun – we got to try out a bunch of things we hadn't seen in games before. It was also great just playing with the latest versions of UE3, so I'd say that overall it was definitely more fun than hard. But dang, it was still really hard! What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry? Thibault: Independent development is a place for innovation and exploration, and I think the opportunities for indies are growing, despite all the doom-and-gloom commentary about huge development costs. The tools are getting cheaper and more accessible, and the avenues for digital distribution are growing. I think the big hurdle continues to be getting the word out about indie games, and getting more gamers to try what is available. There are a lot of marketing dollars going towards titles from big publishers and that makes it difficult for indies to compete. The more avenues for independent games to get noticed, the better. Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Mu/Glazer/Thibault: We checked out a few, but not as many as we would have liked since we haven’t had much time to play games lately. Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why? Mu/Glazer/Thibault: Armadillo Run is a lot of fun. Maybe we are just biased towards physics games! Which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why? Glazer: As of late, my favorite game has been Psychonauts – I love the thought that went into the story and design of that game, and how they weren't afraid to take some crazy chances. Mu: I'm really impressed by Rainbow Six: Vegas because of its superior A.I. and innovative multiplayer features. It's making us very antsy to get the free multiplayer update out for everyone who's bought RoboBlitz on the PC or the Xbox 360. Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF? Mu/Glazer/Thibault: Thank you to all the fans, and good luck to all the contestants! It's a real challenge being an indie game developer, but our payback is that we get to make whatever games we want – so to everyone out there making indie games, keep dreaming and keep developing.

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