Super Monkey Ball released in 2001 alongside the Nintendo GameCube and has since created its own niche audience that raves for the gameplay of the two original games to return. For those unfamiliar with SMB, the objective is to roll a ball with a monkey inside around an obstacle course to reach the finish line. A deceptively simple concept sure, however, this game focuses on the age-old philosophy of many video games: easy to pick up, hard to master.
Brandon Johnson, the lead designer of the upcoming indie game Rolled Out!, is creating a game that focuses on delivering gameplay that will feel like home to fans of the franchise. In the past, Brandon has created 2 major ROM hacks for SMB which led him to create his own game. To get a better idea of how Rolled Out! is achieving every 2000’s kid’s dream (myself included!), I reached out to Brandon to have a casual Q&A about the game.
What made you decide to create a game based around Super Monkey Ball instead of working on more ROM hacks?
Brandon Johnson: There’s a certain degree of freedom in having your own engine that you can modify at will. With ROM hacks, unless you’re willing to put in a tremendous amount of effort in reverse engineering, you’re stuck with the feature set the game offers you. I thought if I made my own game, I would get to add whatever I wanted, and no longer be stuck by the limitations of the GameCube. That freedom has already manifested itself in some of the new stages that we’ve shown, most noticeably with the gravity floors which adjust the direction of gravity when the player touches them. The fact that we’ve been afforded the opportunity to make a living off of this game is the incredibly delicious icing on the cake!
Nostalgia aside, what new feature, or features, are you most excited for players to experience in Rolled Out!?
It’s hard to say for sure because there’s a lot of stuff I’m excited about… but I think it’d have to be a tie between online multiplayer and the social features that come with that, and the custom level system.
In regards to the first one: I think people heavily undervalue well-made social integration. I think it’s incredibly important for an online game to maintain its community and by extension its replayability. As an example from another game, Osu! is one of the most popular rhythm games, and I think it’s in part thanks to how well integrated the community is into the game. Even if you’re playing solo, if logged in, you will see leaderboards with usernames, and your own global rank compared to everybody else. As well, there are links to the forums for beatmap sets. Beyond that, they have the in-game IRC, spectating, multiplayer lobbies, and all of this is connected with their website. Even creating a beatmap set that gets ranked is a large community involved effort with other players giving advice and critique, and anybody who touches the game has a chance to get their stuff ranked. Consequently, these people develop connections with each other and are incentivized to become involved with the community. The game becomes meaningful to them beyond just the base gameplay. Obviously, this isn’t the only reason that the game does as well as it does, but I believe it’s very important. I’d really like to develop a similar sense of community for ‘Rolled Out!’ and our online multiplayer is a great first step in that direction, I think!
In regards to the custom level system: it’s hard to put into words why I feel this is awesome because to me it’s an intuitive feeling, but I’ll try my best!
Essentially, I think SMB and by extension Rolled Out! are games about creativity. Not just for the player, considering the myriad of different ways one could complete a stage, but especially for the level designer. There are a lot of marble games with pretty strict limitations on what you can put into a stage: the geometry has to consist of convex hulls, you can’t use more than 32768 triangles, your stage can’t be bigger than 5 megabytes, moving parts can only move in 1 direction on a set timer, you can only use our preset list of materials, etc… I want to pull back those limitations and let designers go crazy! We already have everything in place to allow designers to use whatever geometry they want, animated to move and rotate however they want, as fast or as slow as they want, and to use textures and materials of their own design. I’m confident we can create an in-game level editor that is intuitive to learn and still quite powerful, as we have tons of eager playtesters who we can receive feedback from.
The game will launch with 310 stages across 5 difficulties. That’s an insane amount! How have you balanced that workload, and how long has your team been working on those stages?
310 sounds like a lot, but I promise you some of the more skilled players are going to burn through them in a day. You have to keep in mind that your average stage length is 30-90 seconds, and with practice, most can be beaten in under 15. A single stage is a short and sweet affair, unlike other marble games that tend to run the clock for a lot longer. Similarly, the usual design process for a single stage is, initially, pretty short; the hardest part of making a new stage is often just thinking of the design. There are exceptions, of course, and beyond the initial design, a stage can receive a lot more attention over time thanks to feedback and critique from playtesters.
For the last two years I’ve been the sole level designer for Rolled Out!. Every stage you see in-game was built by me, and almost all of them (except for Indiegogo backer designs) are my concepts, too. We have approximately 130 stages in their final or near-final state in-game already, and plenty more that I’ve built but have not been able to playtest or push to the beta due to the features required not being implemented yet.
You mentioned that your team is currently hard at work making the custom level system as powerful and intuitive as possible. How is the level editor more user-friendly than the tools used by the Super Monkey Ball modding community?
Right now, our in-game level editor is still being conceptualized. We’d like to try and design something we’re happy with before we start writing code since this is important for us to get right. In the meantime though, we have a fairly simple plugin for Blender 3D that we’re using to export stages for the game!
All you have to do is model + animate your stage, assign materials, and put your game objects down… then hit export, and put your stuff in the game’s stage folder! It’s somewhat technical if you aren’t familiar with 3D modeling, but part of why we’re building an in-game level editor is to make that sort of thing easier. I can definitely talk about a few of the features we’re dead set on:
– There will be lots of prefabs and the capacity to create geometric primitives like blocks/ramps/spheres, for people who will never touch 3D software.
– Tons of pre-made materials and textures you will be able to assign to any surface
– Capacity to import your own geometry and textures from your computer, with some limitations to make it easier to moderate.
I’ve noticed that coins are a part of the gameplay. Do coins do anything other than increasing your score? Can they be used towards unlockables?
At this point in time, the only purpose of collectibles are to increase your score and for 1ups, but I’m really interested in experimenting with how else we could allow them to affect gameplay. For instance, it could be fun to accumulate the total of all collectibles a player grabs as a currency they can use in other parts of the game, such as betting on multiplayer matches, or for purchasing cosmetics in an in-game item shop.
How does your team view the recently revealed and soon to be released Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD?
The way I see it is pretty simple: it’s cool, and you should buy it if you want to support Super Monkey Ball, but it definitely does not fill the same niche that I’m hoping to with Rolled Out!.
Is the game still set to release before the end of 2019, or should we expect a release date in 2020?
It’s almost certainly going to be in 2020, unless a ton of very talented people show up at our doorstep today, willing to work 2 months nonstop for peanuts!
Thanks to Brandon Johnson for answering all of our questions and giving us an inside look at ‘Rolled Out!’. ‘Rolled Out!’ is currently slated to release on Steam in 2020, however, if you’d like to keep up with the game’s development, check out the developer blog: https://blog.rolledoutgame.com/
(Editor’s note: The images featured in this article are courtesy of the ‘Rolled Out!’ team.)