PAX AUS Indie Showcase - TopplePOP Interview
The PAX AUS 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 such as Unpacking, Hollow Knight, The Gardens Between, Hacknet, Wayward Strand and many more. The 2022 Indie Showcase was bursting at the seams, with 2021 winners invited back for the in-person experience they missed out on. Furthermore, the inclusion of Tabletop gaming means there is an even larger variety of experiences on offer on the show floor. Even if you missed attending PAX AUS 2022, you can still check out many of the titles showcased online.
Player2 writer Adam Rorke chats to Dan Graf from ArkimA games about TopplePOP Bungee Blockbusters, their upcoming physics puzzle action title that secured a spot in the 2022 PAX AUS Indie Showcase.
Adam Rorke: Hi Dan! We played this one back in 2019 and had quite a bit of fun on the showroom floor. Can you let us know how the game has changed since then?
Dan Graf: There’s the new Story Campaign and PvE modes, but by far the biggest change is Online Multiplayer. Story Mode paints a backstory for the world and characters of TopplePOP alongside a series of tutorials, starting with the basics all the way to pro-blockbuster techniques.
Battle Mode puts these skills to the test as you face-off against a series of wild, weird AI opponents. Both Story and Battle modes support 2 player co-op, so you can learn blockbusting and practice battling alongside a friend! Online Multiplayer was our most-requested feature, even before the pandemic which cemented the necessity for it. Online play added more than a year to our development timeline, but tackling this challenge meant we could continue developing and playtesting the multiplayer aspects while working from home.
There’s also lots more bendy animal acrobats, and lots more customizable outfits. Our discord community voted on which ones to make first, and my daughter insisted that I make a bunny rabbit and a princess dress with matching tiara.
And of course lots of polish, balance and refinements.
AR: Every game developer seems to have a funny story for their inspiration and we can only imagine what it might be here, could you enlighten us with how this concept came to be?
DG: Over a decade ago at one of our first IGDA Sydney gatherings I met Impbox who was experimenting with colour-matching physics blocks and a monkey on a rope. My first reaction was “it’s like QWOP” – a deliberately difficult-to-control ragdoll-physics game. The monkey swung and flopped around haphazardly dropping my block anywhere but where I intended! Frustrated, I handed the controller back, then did a double-take. The same monkey was now performing precision aerial ballet as Impbox played; an expert at their own game.
Fast forward to 2018 – we had a chance to collaborate and revisited the idea. By this time, a physics-driven eSport called Rocket League had become a worldwide hit. It’s easy to drive Rocket League cars on the ground, but world-championship league games are decided by subtle mastery of finely-tuned mid-air control. I saw that if we built the gameplay just right, driving monkeys on bungee cords could be approachable for beginners but harbour enough depth to support a world-class eSport. Something like classic Japanese puzzle-battle games of the 1990s, but with championships decided by mid-air ragdoll-ballet! Thus began TopplePOP!
AR: When playing this at PAX 2019, we found that the choice of multiplayer modes was varied and kept things fresh. Was there ever an idea for modes or features that were left on the cutting room floor due to them not working out or late of time?
DG: Too many! The electro-magnetic power nodes, harpoon blocks, the pirate ship battle and the infamous “cooking” mode to name just a few. Many prototypes were primordially awesome but difficult to refine and balance, or only fun with specific player-counts. There are some promising ideas we planned or prototyped and might revisit by popular demand.
AR: How has the reception been when showing this game off to the public? And has there been any feedback that you took back, implemented and made the game even better?
DG: TopplePOP is designed for accessibility, depth and versatility, so nothing is more validating / morale-boosting than seeing the variety of people who stick with the game. We’ve had grandparents and young kids learn the basics together in co-op Story Mode. We’ve had groups of hardcore gamers loop back time and again for “one more” 2v2 team battle. We are Aussies inspired by 90’s Japanese puzzle games so it’s kind of a childhood dream to win an award at Bitsummit festival in Japan! In terms of feedback: a campaign mode, PvE and Online play were the most requested features so these have been our focus. Good tutorials are difficult to make and public testing continues to help us refine those.
AR: It’s hard to tell from the short time we’ve had with it, but does a game like this have a skill ceiling so we can play with our friends and utterly obliterate them? (… asking for a friend).
DG: Ha-ha, if by this you mean ‘My friend is OP, can we compete on a level playing field?‘ – absolutely! TopplePOP aims to be simple enough that anyone can pick up and play, but deep enough it takes a lifetime to master. If you’re a pro-blockbusting champion and your friend is just starting out, you can add “chilli peppers” to your character during game setup. Each chilli pepper will ‘spice up’ your difficulty relative to your opponent – that ought to balance things out!
AR: We know game development can be a journey of glitches and bugs, but what was the weirdest bug you ever came across with this one?
DG: Firstly, working with physics simulations will occasionally ‘explode’; objects defy gravity, spin out of control or launch into space until you find the right balance of physical forces, or handle all the edge cases. Secondly, developing online multiplayer netcode is fraught with baffling multiverse-style “spot the difference” puzzles. So, multiply those two – we’ve seen some stuff, and it’s taken a long time to make the game behave.
The weirdest bug? Probably the time the AI “commandeered” our human player’s character and made them redundant. We were playing online and it took us a while to notice. The realization was a bit creepy.
AR: On behalf of the Player2 crew, I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions! I look forward to seeing this game again at PAX AUS 2022!
DG: Much love!! Thank you for recognizing our passion and joining us on the journey to share TopplePOP with the world!
A demo of TopplePOP is available on Steam right now, while Player2 readers can also check out Paul’s TopplePOP episode of P2 Plays