The University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) program has spurred a wellspring of industry talent, propelling its pupils onto the teams of ChAIR Entertainment, Microsoft Studios’ Games, and Maxis Salt Lake. While many join existing development teams, a number of students establish their own studios, in an effort to realize their ambitions. Today, we speak Team Tripleslash, a squad of dedicated developers who are on the verge of launching an innovative platformer entitled Magnetic By Nature.
Tech-Gaming: Team Tripleslash was born in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. Can you tell us about the events which led to the studio’s formation?
Team Tripleslash: The team’s founding members met while taking the EAE undergraduate capstone class. Developing and releasing a game on a commercial platform was one of the class requirements. From the first the team worked exceptionally well together, and it so happened that many of us are pretty ambitious individuals so doing well in class was not enough.
About half way through the year we self-funded a trip to GDC 2013 where the University of Utah was kind enough to allow us to show our unfinished game at their booth. The game had such a strong positive reception that we decided to stick together after graduation and see where we a more fully featured version could take us.
T-G: The origin of studio names are often interesting. Where did the moniker “Team Tripleslash” come from?
T T: A lot of our discussion of game design thus far has centered around movement, whether literal physical movement or metaphorical emotional movement. We like to think that the three slashes are emblematic of that. The name was originally suggested by the commenting syntax used in C#, the language in which Magnetic By Nature is written. So, you can take it either as an artsy gesture or a nerdy joke. Both are typical of us!
T T: Right now there are nine core members; two of our original founders have moved on while we have been joined by one new member. We currently have one musician, three coders, and five artists, all of whom also play a number of additional roles from business development to level design to QA.
T-G: If I’m not mistaken, Team Tripleslash’s first commercial product was Magnetic By Nature: Awakening, released last year on the Xbox Live Indie Games service. How was the game’s attraction and repulsion mechanic conceived?
T T: That’s right, Awakening was our first title. The mechanics had a dual origin. Our lead designer was inspired in part by a novel series about characters with paranormal abilities and in part by refrigerator magnets. The two sort of meshed together.
Initially magnetism was one of several mechanics we wanted to use. Player feedback has always been a major priority for us, though, and play-testing immediately showed that people were much more excited by the magnet-propulsion than by anything else. So we cut everything else. Killing off good ideas was painful but in retrospect it was the right choice.
T-G: How long did the game take to develop?
T T: Awakening took about eight months from prototype to XBLIG launch, all told. It’s taken an additional eleven months to get from our Kickstarter to where we are now with Magnetic.
T-G: What was the critical and commercial reaction?
T T: Mostly very positive. We had about a 14% conversion rate on XBLIG, which is excellent for that channel. I think the consensus of the critical response was ‘Very good for a student game’. Of course, some people liked it more than others. Awakening has its flaws, such as a jagged difficulty curve and lag in the latter levels. But the target audience, platforming enthusiasts, largely enjoyed it.
T-G: With Magnetic By Nature for the OUYA, you had the opportunity to revisit mechanics and redesign stages. What are some of the major changes?
T T: So, as Awakening was going out the door we launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new version. We wanted to go from ‘Very good for a student game’ to ‘Very good’. And to explore the mechanic without the time limit of a school year. When our Kickstarter was successful we scrapped our existing codebase and audiovisual assets — everything except the core mechanic and the lessons we’d learned went out the window.
The physics, controls, camera, and level design are all greatly improved from the original, not to mention graphics and sound. One thing players notice right away is that the spaces in which you move are not nearly so cramped. Out of Magnetic By Nature’s 120+ levels, only one is a repeat from Awakening, included as an homage to our roots.
We prioritized a smooth difficulty curve and balanced level design. This means there’s more to do in each level and players are always gaining new skills to be used later on.
Finally, we eliminated elements that reviewers universally disliked, such as the “death lasers” from Awakening’s later stages.
T-G: Two of the most striking elements are the game’s Art Deco aesthetic and its electronica-drenched soundtrack? What prompted the decision for this unlikely pairing?
T T: There was a great deal of iteration in both departments. Awakening suffered a bit from not knowing whether it was a serious or a jokey game. For Magnetic, we clarified this by presenting a relentlessly cheerful protagonist enmeshed in a hushed, subdued world. We wanted environmental visuals and soundscapes that evoke monumental emptiness, to contrast with (for example) light-hearted idle animations that refuse to give in to isolation.
Art Deco was a starting place for the visuals, but we didn’t want that to be it. Skull Girls and Bioshock had already done Deco too well. Instead, we wanted a Deco-influenced look that was distinctly our own. “Machine Age” was one way we put it. So while we heavily borrowed shapes from 1920’s architecture and statuary, and while we borrowed names from 1920’s songs and movies, we also sought out other sources of inspiration, including other indie titles with styles we admired like Guacamelee and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.
For the soundtrack, our trajectory was a bit more roundabout. Our visual artists, composer, and audio engineer spent a lot of time together exploring different possibilities. We experimented with everything from chiptune to piano, but once we tried the mellow electronic sound in-game we knew this was what we’d been looking for all along.
T-G: What’s is the game’s output resolution and framerate? Is third-party controller support coded in?
T T: Magnetic By Nature has been built with 720p in mind though other resolutions are possible. As of now, we are only supporting OUYA and Xbox 360 controllers, but that could change.
T-G: OUYA titles like Bombsquad and TowerFall have reminded us how enjoyable local multiplayer sessions can be. Considering Magnetic by Nature’s mechanics, can we expect to see any comparative elements in the game, such as repulsion-powered basketball or soccer?
T T: We’ve talked about this a lot, actually! We have several fun ideas but nothing of this sort will be available at launch. We just don’t have the resources at the moment.
T-G: The process of Kickstarting a project is often referred to as “grueling” and “exasperating”. What words would you use to describe your crowdsourcing campaign efforts?
T T: “Exhausting” and “intense” both come to mind! It was a real trial-by-fire for us, the first of many, and it both wore us out and brought us together. We were newbs, so we did a lot of things wrong. We’d probably manage it much better a second time should we decide to fund a future game that way. The PR/outreach crew did not sleep much that month!
T-G: When can we expect to see Magnetic by Nature on OUYA? Are you adapting the title to other platforms?
T T: We don’t have an exact release date for OUYA just yet, but we are expecting to get it to you in the very near future. We were green lit for Steam just last week so we’ll be there, too, sometime after OUYA. As for future platforms, we have our sights set on some but we need to focus first on making the existing version shine.
T-G: Thank you for your time. We wish Team Tripleslash the best of luck.
T T: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure!