Metroidvanias are a popular subgenre of video game – and it’s pretty clear to see why. When done right, rewarding gameplay and a plethora of puzzles can lead to hours being lost in these. They take thought, planning, and a little wittiness.
Of the many games in this genre, Supraland sticks out as a solid member of the Metroidvania family. In Supraland, you play as a sentient red bathroom sign-shaped humanoid who is pushed out of the Red Kingdom by his father to negotiate with the Blue Kingdom. In theory, this is simple, as the Blue Kingdom is pretty much right across the street. However, all the twists, turns and speed bumps will steer you far away from your ultimate goal while simultaneously driving you closer.
For German-born game developer David Münnich, Supraland came directly after Supraball, a free-to-play sports game that is a self-described “first-person sports game.”
Supraball, having given over a million copies since it went into alpha, was a big success for Münnich. It was also hugely challenging, especially when it came to getting the multiplayer aspect right.
“[The] whole system needs to communicate via our master server with the database, with the match servers, with Steam [and] with the clients. There is so much sending data back and forth, so much that can go wrong, it’s really complex,” he said.
Ultimately, Supraball was the catalyst that lead him to begin working on Supraland.
“While working on a Supraball training course, I noticed how I always got carried away with building easter eggs, hiding secret areas and making little puzzles; So it became obvious that this is what I needed to work on next,” he said.
“I always wanted to make a first-person adventure game, without knowing what. So every time I played a similar game [like] Portal, Outcast, Paper Mario, Assassin’s Creed, Arkham Asylum, Metroid or Half-Life,” Münnich continued. “I wrote big lists of what’s good and what’s not good in those games. Things like ‘how you get rewarded,’ ‘how things can be frustrating’ and a lot more. That process shaped my design philosophy and I try to do all the good things from the games I love and avoid the bad things,”
Before the Supra series, Münnich worked on projects like the browser puzzle game Notpron as well as modding work for Unreal Tournament 2004, including the popular mod Deathball, which is cited as being a source of inspiration for Rocket League.
Münnich’s love of video games began in the mid-1980s with his brother’s Commodore 64. His love began to grow more with his Nintendo systems and his PC. It was something he always wanted to have around him in his life.
Over time it became even more inevitable that he would be trying to make his own video game at some point in his life. Scribbling custom Super Mario levels on scrap paper was a common pastime for Münnich as he prepared to become a level designer.
In 1998, his chance to work on a real system came to light with the release of Unreal Editor.
“I built so many levels there and, after about two years, I realized that ‘my stuff is about to get better than the original levels that came with the game,’” he said.
When it comes to his experience and how he learns, he looks to the internet for help; specifically Google searches and tutorials. His most recent educational endeavors include programming, which he is learning through Blueprints on Unreal Engine 4. According to Münnich, he is getting better at it each day. For the time being, though, Münnich has a modeler who makes a majority of the assets used in Supraball and Supraland, with the rest being assets he’s bought.
Supraball was the first sports game done by Münnich and his team.
“I always wanted to play a game that feels like playing [soccer] for real. … Standing on the pitch, positioning yourself, playing passes, et cetera. All those top-down view games are not delivering that feeling at all, so I had to do that kind of a game myself,” he said. “Playing Supraball on a high level, to me, is super satisfying.”
Once Supraball was out there, he began using many of the same assets to start building the world of Supraland, inadvertently creating a “Supraverse.” This was mainly due to budget constraints, so don’t expect any established story or lore within this little universe.
“There is no super deep Supra-Lore in place,” Münnich said. “Those games are about gameplay, about fun. Like Nintendo games, sort of. They have the most minimalistic story you can imagine, just enough to get you moving and playing.”
For Supraland, one of the most significant points Münnich made was to treat the player like the smart and sentient human being they are and to give them the freedom to explore, discover and reach new points on their own.
“Don’t take away control and don’t tell the player what exactly to do next. If you have mission markers and minimaps, you’re not playing the game anymore, you’re playing the minimap and just walking to the next marker. All the magic is gone,” he said of his philosophy.
When it comes to story aspects, Münnich makes it as digestible and straightforward as possible. He hones his focus on the gameplay aspect, aiming to create an itch for exploration.
“The more you show stuff that cannot be used or solved, the more the player is looking forward to finally being able to use those things later. If you don’t show them anything yet, it’s a linear game. But a Metroidvania is supposed to feel open and full of exploration.”
When it comes to works that inspire him, it is a bit of a mixed bag: Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door, Half-Life 2, Psychonauts, Factorio and Prey (2017) are just a few on his long list of games that inspire his work.
Particularly for Supraland, he takes a lot away from the Portal series and the Zelda series. He also explains that, like the various Mario titles, everything is there for a reason, with little to no clutter on the sidelines.
While Supraland has received a 97 percent positive review score on Steam and from curators, Münnich mentions that one of the hardest things about being an indie developer, despite his solid success, is “Money, of course.”
However, he also mentions that there are even more new games coming out every day, making exposure harder and harder to achieve.
“In 2014, when we first released an alpha of Supraball, it went viral immediately and we had over a million downloads quickly. Now there are even more free AAA games than anyone can play. So, even if you offer a free game, it’s hard to find players and, as a player, I don’t know which of those thousands of games are worth playing for me,” he said.
Despite this, Münnich hopes to push forward with Supraland and eventually move on to create yet another Supraland-like game. This time, he wants to steer it more in the direction of a co-op puzzle game.
For new and ambitious indie developers, Münnich offers the following advice; watch those “10 mistakes new developers make” videos.
“They are spot on,” he said. He also adds that you probably shouldn’t start your career by making an MMORPG.