The following article is based around an email interview conducted by our team with Naked Sky’s CTO Joshua Glazer. Naked Sky is also known for their previous XBLA title RoboBlitz, which was released back in November 2006z.
Microbot is a twin stick shooter that lets the player battle malicious viruses and diseases as a microscopic nanotech robot injected into someone’s bloodstream. As players travel travel through veins, bones, lungs and other organs, they can collected data fragments that allows them to customize their microbot with powerful weapons, defensive systems, movement parts, and special abilities. What got yours truly’s blood pumping about this title, is the planned cooperative drop-in/drop-out mode.
Gameplay is key
Although the game features HD 3d graphics, the first impression we got from Microbots is that it looks like the developers have put a large focus on creating some addictive arcade gameplay for this title. With a fondness for everything that revolves around Robots, the Naked Sky team drew their inspiration for the title from some previous popular twin stick shorts.
"We drew inspiration from all over- the great twin stick shooters of the distant past like RoboTron and SmashTV, the great twin stick shooters of the recent past like PixelJunk: Shooter and Geometry Wars, the great procedural dungeon crawl games like Diablo, the great player customization games like Spore, and of course, the inside of your guts for the environments. We tried to pull the best we could from everywhere and add in a little unique twist all our own."
With the success of RoboBlitz, Naked Sky was kicking around ideas for a new title. Combining their love for robots and shooters got them close, but that wasn’t what got them started on Microbot.
"We were actually kicking an idea like this around since back before RoboBlitz. We loved shooters and the idea of flying a tiny ship around inside a human body had been done before, but we felt there were a lot of cool places we could take it that it hadn't been yet. However, other things kept popping up so it got put on the back burner for several years. Then one day EA approached us with their own idea about doing a game based on flying a tiny ship around inside a human body and then all the pieces fell into place. It was cosmically perfect.
But where did that fixation for robots actually come from? We couldn't help but ask Glazer for an explanation.
In the future, the whole world will be run by robots, so we're just doing our part to get people as comfortable with robots as possible."
Glorious Microbot co-op
The aforementioned drop-in/drop-out co-op mode might just become one of this title’s biggest selling points, allowing two players to battle viruses side-by-side with what Naked Sky promises to be very design for a high level of accessibility.
"Co-op in MicroBot is totally drop in, drop out, super friendly. Our idea was that you'll be sitting on your couch playing MicroBot and the graphics and gameplay will be so compelling that some super exciting and interesting person might be walking by your place and looking through your window and be so overcome with desire to play the game that they'll knock on your door and introduce themselves to you and beg to play, and whereas normally you'd have to say "well, you have to wait until my game is over" but now you can say, "well that's awesome, come on in and sit down and pick up a controller and you can join me!" and then have a lot of fun playing."
But that’s not all. Good and compelling co-op games are hard to come by these days, let alone ones that actually have the right kind of mechanics in place to keep co-op as pleasant for both players as possible. Naked Sky made sure they did so with a couple of their own tweaks.
For instance, all Atoms (which are the currency used to upgrade your ship) are given to both players in the game, so that there's no reason to fight over them. We decided not to share the Health pickups though, because it's still occasionally fun to have those "Hey, you took my pizza" moments, but the punishment for not getting health is not very severe- when you die, you have a respawn delay of about 10 seconds, so as long as the other player survives 10 more seconds, you can just respawn right there without losing any progress. It's very friendly. However, we did tweak the difficulty as well to make sure that the game is hard enough to compensate.
The three pillars of Microbot greatness
With shooters taking up a rather big portion of the XBLA game catalog, even Naked Sky is facing the challenge of distinguishing themselves from a large group of competitors. Co-op might not prove to be enough, but according to Glazer, they have three aces up their sleaves to guarantee something special for the player.
First, it has a really intense fluid simulation. The fluid isn't just for graphical effect though- you'll feel it pushing you around as it spurts and spews all over the place. You're not defenseless though – you can fight back against, by pushing it out of the way with your guns, or you can use it to your advantage by coasting along and aiming your guns to take out baddies during the ride – "playing" the fluid, as we call it.
Second, there's a huge amount of customization in the game- there are over 20 different parts you can put on your MicroBot, and each has 3 levels of upgrade. And even though your bot starts out with only 3 places to put those parts, you can bet it doesn't stay that way for long. From different propulsion parts that give you different movement abilities, to atom attractors that suck in atoms, to security drones, to lasers, to heat seeking missiles – there are a ridiculous number of ways to configure your bot, and with co-op, it gets even better. One of our favorite things to do around the office is make a ball and chain combo, where one player puts all carbon rotors and a harpoon on his bot and the other players decks himself out with lancets, and then the first player tows the other player around, smashing him into everything and wreaking general havoc. There are just a ton of different ways to play depending what suits your style.
Third, MicroBot has procedurally generated levels. We built a system that allowed our designers to craft levels around key story rooms, and then set parameters describing how the content between those key story rooms is filled in. That means that the game is going to be different every time you play, but it is still going to always feel like a complete, solid game, with a continuous through-line. In addition it allowed us to build the Challenge mode, which is unlocked after beating sections of Story mode. That's the mode on which our leaderboards are based, and it keeps generating more content as long as you can stay alive – it starts easy, but it gets pretty hard though, so I'll be interested to see how far people get into Challenge mode.
Do not try this at home kids!
The game’s story featured a company called MicroHexon Research that has invented a transformative medical technology: autonomous nanotech machines that are no larger than a blood cell. These are then injected into the body, where they target and eliminate diseases at the cellular level. With the nanomachines becoming corrupt, it’s up to the player to destroy the malicious machine. Even though this subject matter is inspired by some contemporary scientific research, the team wants to assure everyone that it does not resemble anything real.
Heh, there was a running joke around the office during development that any doctor who learned biology from playing our game would be a very scary doctor to see. MicroBot is for entertainment only, and although all our art, environments, and NPCs are inspired by actual medical science, we do not recommend performing actual surgery using knowledge learned in MicroBot as a guide.
A few previews of the game have already mentioned the existence of some basic puzzle elements in the game. Though not a lot of information has been released on the subject yet, we we’re curious to know how much of the game it would eventually entail.
We wanted the puzzles to be more of an optional part of the game, so that when you're replaying your way through the game, you don't have to stop to solve puzzles you've already solved in previous playthroughs. With that said, there are several puzzles hidden throughout the levels that, when solved, reward you with a certain collectible. We can't say much more at this point, but if you hate puzzles, you can just ignore them, and if you love puzzles, you can try to find them all, unravel their secrets, and reap their rewards.
Developed by Naked Sky Entertainment, Microbot is scheduled to launch on XBLA in Winter 2011.