Bacon and doughnuts with Uber Entertainment: A Monday Night Combat interview
By James Evangelho, June 9, 2010.
You can learn a lot about a game developer by asking them questions completely unrelated to their product. For example, we know that Uber Entertainment, the Kirkland WA based team behindMonday Night Combat, has an obsession with bacon-topped doughnuts. They also love the A-Team.
We wanted to know more about the humorous, genre-busting 'Team Sport Shooter' Monday Night Combat, and more about the delicious bacon they often allude to, so we sat down with Art Director Chandana "Eka" Ekanayake for an enlightening chat.
Examiner: What was the first video game you remember playing?
Eka: I moved to the States from Sri Lanka in 1985 when I was 8 and the first game I remember playing was Missile Command on my 2600. After that, Asteroids, Combat, Frogger, PitFall and pretty much everything I could get my hands on for the 2600 and on my friend's 5200. When the NES came out, I was hooked on Metroid and beat that game several times JUST to get the different endings.
Examiner: You guys mention borrowing mechanics from other games - was there a certain title that inspired the creation of MNC?
Eka: MNC at its core is a shooter so we've looked at other great shooters like Modern Warfare, Halo, and Battlefield and what we and other players like about those. Most of the team is made up of ex Gas Powered Games employees that worked on games like Supreme Commander and Demigod and our thinking was to bring a strategic element to a shooter. It comes down to personal taste as well and so we're crafting MNC in a way that's easily accessible to other shooter players but we've put our own unique spin on it. I think a better description is a shooter-mashup. There's action, leveling up, upgrading, persistent stats, hand to hand grapples, finish moves, armies of AI controlled robots, strategy, unique classes, and its all on a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game. MNC is a very deep game for a typical XBLA game but easy to pick up and play due to its shooter like controls.
Examiner: Eka, we did some research and discovered you have an addiction to bacon and doughnuts, but have you ever tried a a doughnut TOPPED with fresh bacon bits?
Eka: You bet I have. Get a load of the Smokey Bacon Maple Bar at Frost Doughnuts. Mmm, yummy bacon. We get these on occasion at Uber but it's way too good to have it all the time.
Examiner: Ok, let's play hardball: Bacon or Doughnuts?
Eka: That's an easy one, bacon for sure cause it goes with everything, anytime, anywhere. Just remember to keep your bacon hot.
Examiner: If the team at Uber Entertainment had to pick a theme song, what would it be?
Eka: It would have to be the A-Team theme. It was an inspiration for us when we were trying to figure out the musical direction for the game. It's got the right mix of action, adventure, and a dose of retro campyness.
Examiner: If you were pitted against a fellow developer at Uber, which of MNC's 6 classes would you choose to get the job done?
Eka: There are certain classes that match up well against others so it would depend on the opposing team makeup. Because Crossfire mode isn't about how many kills you can get and more about destroying the other team's Money Ball, one on one battles tend to play out differently then your standard shooter. There are always AI controlled robots around, eleven other players and hazards in the arenas that could turn the battle easily. I tend to play different classes depending on the arena and team makeup. Most recently I've been having a great time playing Tank. He's a slow heavy class with a very powerful short range Jet Engine gun and a secondary long range Laser Railgun. Tank also has a ton of hitpoints and at level 3( characters can upgrade themselves during combat via a skill upgrade menu), he has more health then any other class. His three active skills include a grenade that can be upgraded to a Product Bomb to stun robots, turrets and distract players, deploy ability that transforms him into a stationary turret, and a jet charge skill that can knock opponents down and do severe damage. Every class has a unique set of active skills that are mapped to the X, Y, and B face buttons on an XBox controller. Left Trigger spins the Tank around in a fiery death blossom which is great way to check for stealthy Assassins nearby.
Examiner: You point out that MNC is fairly complex for an XBLA game. We keep seeing the quality bar for Xbox Live Arcade rising ever-higher. Do you think we'll see full fledged digital releases like yours compete toe to toe with retail releases in this console generation?
Eka: It's an interesting question and something we're already dealing with for MNC. MNC is an easy game to jump into and play with familiar shooter conventions and controls. The complexity I refer to is more about the amount of depth the game has like six custom classes, custom character upgrades and abilities, building turrets, the AI control robots, hazards in the arenas, players spawning custom robots, which happens all during a live match. There are many strategic elements and options for players to choose from that caters to their play style. We feel like we're pushing the bar for what people perceive as a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game we're bringing a lot of value and alternatives for our fans that may not want to spend $60 on a full retail title.
One of the biggest issues we had first day of PAX Boston was convincing them that MNC was an XBox Live Arcade game and not a full retail title. PAX was a complete blast, our booth was mobbed all three days. We're big believers in the future of digital distribution with services like Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and Steam. Digital distribution allows developers like us control of our content, marketing, and direct fan interaction. We've gotten great feedback on our forums, Facebook, Twitter feeds, events like PAX, and playtests with friends and family that's helped shape the direction of our game. It's a good time to be a self-sufficient independent developer.
Examiner: Ok, let's talk solo experience. We know there are a few hermits out there who don't play online. How much time can they expect to sink into the single player mode?
Eka: Monday Night Combat has two major game modes, Blitz and Crossfire. In Blitz, you can pick one of the six classes, select one of many challenges, and defend your Money Ball against armies of various robots. As you blow up bots, the money earned can be used to level up your character as well as build different turret types around your base to defend against the robots. Blitz can be played solo, split screen at home or over Xbox Live, and four player co-op over Xbox Live. After each match of Blitz or Crossfire, the money you earn goes into a Lifetime Earnings which is persistent across both modes.
Examiner: On your Developer Blog you guys recently defined MNC as a "Team Sport Shooter." Out of any combination of video game genres out there, what currently non-existent combination would you create?
Eka: MNC in an evolution of various experiences of the people that make up Uber and the various talents they bring. We made a game that we wanted to play. It's evolved since the almost two years we've been developing it and play-testing it daily. It's really amazing how much a game can get better during development if the developers play it constantly. We purposefully focused on the gameplay first, keeping the art and polish as "whitebox" and as rudimentary as possible to allow us to try out different gameplay ideas. Whiteboxing is a great way to filter out ideas that sound good on paper but doesn't really jive with the direction of the game when implemented and played.
We're still debating about what to call MNC as a genre. It's ultimately at its core an accessible class based shooter with strategic elements mixed in. If in the future we were inspired to do more genre mash-ups, we would take a similar approach to MNC and have a core base and mix in other elements that could complement that base. At the end of the day, it comes down to a good execution and what we personally find interesting to work on and play. Even now when we do our daily playtests, there's not a single person at Uber that doesn't want to play MNC. It's still so much fun for us to play and we hope our fans will love it too.