The Indie Showcase is a chance to see some of the best new and upcoming titles from the ANZ development scene with past winners including celebrated games including Hollow Knight, The Gardens Between, Hacknet, Objects in Space, Infliction and many more. This year will be no different and Player2 encourages anyone visiting PAX AUS to make their way to the PAX Rising area and check out the following title as well as the many other excellent indies on display.
PAX AUS Indie Showcase 2019 – Wrestledunk Sports
As the (now revealed) secret sixth winner of the PAX AUS 2019 Indie Showcase line-up, Wrestledunk Sports is a title Player 2 simply had to cover before heading to the event ourselves. With the clock ticking, Paul James dove in to save the day by speaking to Matt Trobbiani, the developer of Wrestledunk Sports, to get a bit of insight into the process of following up his successful debut (and 2015 Indie Showcase winner) Hacknet.
Paul James: So we must begin with a massive congratulations on Wrestledunk Sports‘ addition to the PAX Indie Showcase for 2019. You’re familiar to this part of the show floor with your past work Hacknet. What does it mean to you to receive such an honour? Let alone a second time?
Matt Trobbiani: Thank you! It’s such a huge honour to be back in the showcase.
I find that during development, my opinion of the game that I’m working on goes up and down quite a lot – in pretty extreme ways. Sometimes I’ll think that the project is the best thing in the world, and others it’ll feel like it’s so bad it’s not worth finishing at all. I’ve learned a bit not to trust my own feelings on how good I think the project actually is, but it’s still a roller coaster feeling it all, and I still lose myself to it a lot. As a project gets closer and closer to launch, I feel like the time between the ups and downs of this get closer together – days and hours even as it comes up to a launch or announce.
When I submitted the game for the Showcase, I was on a big of a high point with it – feeling really good about how it was coming together, but soon after I hit a big low, and started to feel really disappointed. I was still around about there, making trickling progress on it when I got the call about the showcase. It was totally overwhelming – I had to go outside and just sit down against a wall for a bit, I was so relieved. I’d been feeling a lot of pressure about making something to follow up Hacknet, and I was feeling pretty bad about where I’d ended up, and hearing that someone else had liked it, and had put it in the same showcase that Hacknet made it to… It meant so much to me. It was a reminder at just the right time, that I really needed, on why I decided to make this in the first place, and how far I’d already come.
PJ: Wrestledunk Sports is a sneaky final addition to the Indie Showcase line-up for the year, likely surprising a great many. How did all of this come about?
MT: Since Wrestledunk is such a big departure from the sort of game that Hacknet is, I was a bit worried about how the community would respond to it – the Hacknet community has been so great to me, and I didn’t want to announce something that might be disappointing for them to see without being really ready to show it properly and talk about why I decided to do this.
Wrestledunk was unannounced when the first showcase reveal went out, and since I wanted to be pretty careful about the announce, I asked to be kept secret until I went public with the game. The PAX team were really great about accommodating that!
PJ: Let’s address one of the elephants in the room. Wrestledunk Sports isn’t remotely close in visual style, gameplay and theme as Hacknet. How was such an idea conceived?
MT: A big part of it was making a really active, deliberate effort to make something that would grow me as a developer or FORCE me to grow to cover the weaknesses that I felt I had. I was also super burnt out on narrative style games, and everything Hacknet in general. I wanted to be doing game-jam style games, but I felt I needed to work on something commercial too – so I settled on this formula – a bit of both!
PJ: I assume you might’ve been working through several different concepts. When did you know, and what was the trigger for you, that what would ultimately become Wrestledunk Sports was the idea to pursue?
MT: Oh yeah, a lot of other projects that never turned into anything were in the interim. I won’t talk about those, because at least one of them is eventually going to be something really cool, but they were for a later time. It was really hard to settle on one game to work on – to be honest, I kind of eased into that decision by accident.
I came up with the concept for it and prototyped it out mostly as a tech project for fun, and by the time volleyball was working, I’d already fallen in love with it enough to not want to stop.
PJ: Developing a host of several different sports, each supporting local and online multiplayer is no mean feat? Could you discuss what that process of developing such a game is like and how that differs to your approach to Hacknet?
MT: This one had a lot more planning go into it before I got down into proper production code. Unit tests right from the start and everything! I’d heard a lot about NetCode that it’s not so bad as long as you plan for it properly right from the start, so I wanted to do that properly. Turns out that it DOES make it much easier, but if you’re doing something as custom as this, it’s still a lot of trouble.
Development started with the NetCode engine and foundation – basically the determinism layer that has all of the custom int-only physics the game runs on. I wrote a lot of tests for that to get it stable, then prototyped the first game (fencing) on top of it.
For Hacknet, I’d usually come up with a mission idea, then write the code needed for the parts of it that were unique to make it run and to make the mission itself interesting. For a game like this with no real missions or levels, with all of the gameplay exposed right from the start, it was more about trying lots and lots of different control schemes, move sets, interactions, and values for each sport on one very basic level until it felt right. This process is still going on now!
PJ: Can you identify any games that may have served as some form of influence for what you’re developing with Wrestledunk Sports?
MT: Oh yeah!
Fencing: Nidhogg, obviously, but more specifically, the first trailer of it that ever came out. A friend and I wanted to play it so much, we created our own little version of what we imagined it’d play like in a game jam the next week. We got a lot wrong, but I liked a lot of the errors we added! The game is on Itch.io now called Glove Slap. Be nice, we made it in 48 hours. As broken as that game was, I still loved playing it, and wanted to explore it further, so – Fencing!
Volleyball: This was hugely inspired by a game jam game named Volley Blockers by Martymon. He gave me permission to explore the game further, and I tried to push the fundamentals that he started to the limit!
Smashball: First inspired by an old Japanese game named Sanrio World Smash Ball that I used to love. I wanted it to be a bit more modern and faster-paced, so I took some cues from Lethal League to get it there.
Wrestling: This is a pack original – I wanted to explore the volleyball diving motion further, as it feels to fun, and prototyped wrestling out! I did take some inspiration from DiveKick when I was tuning it – I really wanted it to feel like 50% plays, 50% mind games like that game does.
PJ: I love the fact that you’re creating an arcadey take on sports such Volleyball, Wrestling and Fencing. Are there other ideas for sport adaptations that you’ve got stewing that you’d consider adding in at some stage, or that are even in some form of development?
MT: I have a bunch of ideas for a top-down perspective set of games in the tank if Wrestledunk ever makes it to an expansion of sequel!
PJ: You’re developing the game for the Switch. Firstly, as a major Switch fan I say thank you for another seemingly excellent title on the platform! I must ask though, are you looking to bring the game to other platforms upon release or in the future?
MT: I hope so! The game has its natural home on the Switch I feel, and I want to do a lot with HD rumble to make it feel extra juicy. That being said, it’d be possible to port it anywhere with enough time, and if the platforms allow, the NetCode is in theory totally cross platform. I just don’t want to confirm anything until I know for sure. Very probably though, yeah!
PJ: Matt, thanks so much for sharing with me and the readers all this wonderful information about the game. I’m sure many are now eager to get their hands on it and take the game for a spin. Where will they need to head to in order to try Wrestledunk Sports out?
MT: Thank you too! Wrestledunk Sports will be in the PAX Aus 2019 Indie Showcase if you want to play it on the show floor! We also have a sneaky second setup of it at the South Australia Government booth if the showcase one is full! I’m not sure what conventions I’ll be bringing it to next, but it’ll hopefully be most of the major ones. The launch date is still TBD!
Born and bred on the Super Nintendo era, Paul relishes any opportunity to sink his teeth into an RPG, action or platformer. Despite being an owner of all major platforms, Paul does have a particular love of the Playstation family of consoles – take only a few minutes to skim through his Twitter and you’ll see him ranting about the next big thing on PS4. We swear he’s sane.