Following on from Part 1 of our interview with Reboot is, wait for it….Part 2! In this instalment we’ll be focusing on Reboot’s soon-to-be-released gravity shooter Gravitic Mines (you can grab a demo of the game at the link!). In addition to our chat with programmer Lawrence Staveley, we also pick the mind of artist Ander Lex who has created some detailed and varied styles of artwork for the upcoming title. Check out their thoughts, watch some videos, and marvel at the list of features that will be included in the final release. Looking of the feature-set of the game, the care and attention-to-detail lavished on all aspects of the game, and the various value-added features, could we be looking at a commercial quality homebrew for the big cat that still keeps going? Read on to find out…
Gravitic Mines is your next release; on the surface it appears a more cerebral shooter and and bigger title than some of your previous releases. What games influenced you during the development process, what did you draw from existing gameplay elements, and what new and unique things have you included?
LS: Hmm – obvious influences are Lunar Lander and Thrust, but one game in this genre stands out to me, Oids (created by FTL Games in 1987 for the Atari ST). When this game was released I played it for weeks on end. After finishing Rebooteroids, a thought was always with me that maybe, just maybe, I could make a game similar. As time went on it got put aside for other things, but the idea kept coming back to the surface. [This resulted in a demo called Thrusty Thing]
Back in February 2019 I started playing with a simple lander type game. The idea was the make a mini game like Lunar Lander. After a few days playing with the prototype it was obvious that the ‘fun factor’ was high with this, and there was a lot of enjoyment going into the actual game design and coding as well. Enter Ander Lex. He took my crude demo and added artwork – real artwork. It just looked amazing, and we knew we had to make a slightly larger game with this. Well, that got out of hand! I think the completed project is quite likely the largest non-CD based game ever released for the Jaguar, containing over 43 Megabytes (350 Megabits+) of data in a svelte 6MB cartridge.
We have kept the core gameplay mechanics from these games with tight, responsive controls, and we targeted 60 FPS so that it would be very smooth and natural to play. Our game is split over two full campaigns, with sixteen missions (and four boss encounters!) in each campaign, along with eight training missions which can be played at any time. New missions unlock as previous ones are completed. We have a compelling story line written by Andrew Rosa to tie it all together and create a sense of world building, and hopefully players will ‘care’ about what they are trying to achieve. Our AI has a distinct personality!
Multiple mission types are present, from ‘rescue missions’ to ‘recon’ and (my personal favourite) ‘explosive demolition’ bomb-drops. We also implemented a scripting engine so each level contains sequences designed to challenge the player and provide more entertainment. Alongside all of this, we also have on-line integration. Each cartridge can hold up to three Pilot Profiles which can track a players progress and unlock achievements via a QR code which will update against the reboot-games website.
We plan to use this to run a few competitions, and we can also add new achievements or awards after the game is released based on the tracked statistics. We’re very excited about the possibilities for this!
AL: The main influences were games like Oids and Thrust, as well as some modern takes on the genre like Gravity Crash or Pixel Junk Shooter. I played the latter ones on modern consoles, so they always were a reference for me. The first prototype was meant to be a Lunar Lander remake but soon we decided to go for a more ambitious game. We took the basic gameplay from those games, but added some new flavours and ideas in the process. For controls, we added side-thrusters and an auto levelling mechanic for easy landing. We went a bit crazy on messing with gravity: the addition of water pools is a notable one: It changes the ships gravity while being underwater and we added pads on the ceiling for the player to land upside down!
Some levels have ‘gravity quakes’, that will dynamically shift the gravity to north, west or east. We have bosses that are the centre of gravity. We added scripts to make the levels feel more dynamic. We have simple switch puzzles that block/open passages, but also switches that are moving targets.
Jaguar classics like Battlemorph or Alien vs Predator sparked the idea to add a new mission type called ‘bomb run’, where you have to place a bomb to a specific pad and then escape the timer. And there is more…. ;-)
Despite having over 40 missions, the goal was to make them all feel unique and special by introducing a flow of new mechanics and challenges, and avoiding routine and repetition.
The player experience was really in the center of the design process. Last but not least Lawrence came up with a kick-ass online achievements system that will add to the replay value immensely. Based on in-game performance, the player can unlock over 100 achievements. I think this is another stand out feat.
The art style evokes that of Flashback and has an ‘oil painting’ like quality . Can Ander tell us a little about his computer artwork history and influences, and what he was going for with this game?
AL: My history with video game arts started with me doing four backdrops for Lawrence for the remake of his game Full Circle Rocketeer. Lawrence was not only very supportive, he also encouraged me to do the new sprites as well. Later I learned how to animate sprites, and finally I ended up doing the remastered graphics for two other games as well. This all happened during 2018 – early 2019.
The work on GM started in February 2019. Out of nowhere Lawrence came up with a cool prototype and asked me to do a nice art layer for the landscape. Some hours later we had the first level running. My experience with art before games was mostly doing ‘classic’ oil paintings, water colour, and charcoal drawings. One of my favourite genres are landscapes.
The style you see in the graphics is my genuine style of painting. I also had trained myself to paint in the style of impressionism, which helps me a lot with low colour pixel art for sprites.
My inspiration for Gravitic Mines’ art design was not really Flashback, but a variety of games and artwork that were on my mind during the process. I am amazed by the concept art pieces of various popular video games, as well as the concepts by Ralph McQuarrie for the classic Star Wars Trilogy. The painting style I adapted for the games means you work with lush color and dynamic strokes of brushes, not with single pixels.
Gravitic Mines image gallery
For Gravitic Mines’ art style, Rayman Origins and, Child of Light were notable influences for me, as well as the Jaguar version of Rayman. I also had concept art of the Uncharted games in my head as well other games known for their lush artwork. A lot of indie titles are known for their bold artistic styles, so everything is possible! The Jaguar has a lot of potential and I think we realised some of it.
The game’s graphics are not tiled based, so the level layers work like a huge canvas to paint anything on it you could imagine. To make it fit into RAM, we went for 8-bit colour with the level layers, and 16 bit high color for backgrounds and sprites. It’s quite something unique for a Jaguar game. I am happy we could fit everything into an 6MB cartridge.
2019 saw the beginning of another important project for me: I teamed up with coder/author LordKraken to deliver an entry for the SillyVenture Lynx competition, called Odynexus, which was awarded with 3rd place. We later released a demo in 2020. I worked on both games in parallel, among some additional artwork for Jaguar and Lynx games, notably Kings of Edom.
For Odynexus I adapted my style to 16 color pixelart, still painting freely on a digital canvas. Because for pure incident, Odynexus graphics are also not tiled based, but streaming a bitmap to scroll an epic landscape.
The game has quite a few songs of various styles. Is there anything you can tell us about the tracks?
LS: The game features 40 minutes of music, spanning 13 tracks. All the tracks in the game were composed by Roald Strauss, who runs an indie music site (https://indiegamemusic.com/) specifically designed to provide music tracks for indie and homebrew game developers. While these tracks were not specifically designed for Gravitic Mines, they are all licensed for “platform exclusivity”. This means that while other devs can use them in their productions, they cannot be used in another Jaguar title. Roald has also provided music for some of Reboot’s other games: Biopede, DragonKeep and Brawn and Brains as well as music for some of Sporadic’s games as well.
Is there anything else you can fill us in about the game?
LS: The game is best played with a pro controller, and it also supports supports rotary controllers (although this is not recommended). Gravitic Mines will hopefully be available for (pre?) order in November from AtariAge.
What’s next for you, Ander, and Reboot?
LS: Ander and myself worked very closely together on Gravitic Mines. Prior to this we worked together expanding previous Reboot games, Rocketeer and Kobayashi Maru, for the reBOOTed collection. We aren’t quite done yet, and hopefully we’ll have some more things to show in the future.
Many thanks to Lawrence and Ander for all of this information and detail! It’s awe-inspiring to see attention to detail, care, and obvious love for retro gaming when titles such as this are developed for the sheer joy of it. As things approach ‘normal’ again over the coming months, we hope to showcase more homebrew retro-styled titles, both here on retrospekt.com.au both here and at upcoming conventions and gaming/music events. Keep an eye out for us!