Sian Yue from Ratloop Asia talks about their game, Rocketbirds Revolution
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the IGF Main Competition and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Sian: Hi, I’m Sian Yue from Ratloop Asia, and we made Rocketbirds Revolution.
Interviewer: What’s the game about?
Sian: It’s about this big chicken called Hardboiled. He’s the original cock of war. He goes in, and his mission is to kill Footscape, who is the leader of the penguins.
Interviewer: What inspired you to make this game?
Sian: I’ve been drawing these rocketbirds since I was really small, so all my life I’ve been drawing them.
Interviewer: Rocketbirds? What are rocketbirds?
Sian: Rocketbirds are actually the – oh, I don’t want to give away too much of the story.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, sure.
Sian: But rocketbirds are…
Interviewer: So, it was inspired partially through your life.
Sian: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And so, when you decided to do this, how did you put the team together? What did you do to get things going? What platform did you decide to do and stuff like that?
Sian: OK. Well, we chose to make a game using Flash. We’ve been making games before. We set up Ratloop in ’97, so we’ve been doing this for quite a while. This was a way for me to try and get everybody on board on a project. So, I just started running since I’ve been making this game. We thought Flash was such a really good distribution platform, that’s why. I’ve solved the problems, like getting noticed in the marketplace. You don’t have to install anything for Flash. The user can just simply go to the website and just start playing. If they like it, you know, they can buy it.
Interviewer: Now, to get everyone on board, did you start prototyping something? Did you have something to show, or did you pitch the idea first? How did that work?
Sian: I had some prototypes before I started production itself. We had about a half a year of pre-production in which case I just started running, started making it. And then, one of my Ratloop partners joined us, James Anderson. He said, “I want to do the sound engine for this” so we started working together. We worked together for the half year, and then we hired an artist to go and help out with the backgrounds because every screen is unique. It’s a game based on Flashback and Black Thorn and Hog World, all those games that don’t get made any more.
Interviewer: Yeah. I mean, I look at this and for a Flash game it’s extremely polished. It has kind of a Flash look, but it also has its own unique style. How did you go about doing that? How did you go about figuring out how to do that, given time constraints and everything else.
Sian: Getting to look right?
Interviewer: Yeah. Getting the look that you wanted because it’s a unique look.
Sian: Yeah. It took a long time. Out of the first three months, yeah.
Interviewer: Did you do story boarding at first? Did you start drawing out these mock-ups, or how did you figure out how to tweak it?
Sian: Yeah. We did a lot of story boarding, especially like for the music because there’s music videos, like the introduction sequence in there. And that music wasn’t specifically made for our game. I have a friend who has a MySpace band, and he let us use his music. So, the band is called New World Revolution, and they have an album out called Karmakaze. And we used a lot of his music throughout the game, test sequences as well as the action sequences. It meant that we’d have to film and we’d story board everything and then we’d put in all the extra voices.
Interviewer: Now, the general idea is that people may not necessarily care about test sequences. Do you feel that’s an important part of your game?
Sian: I assume that you skipped through it.
Sian: Yeah. Yeah. That’s one of those things. As long as it’s not an instant reaction, we’re fine with it. So, whenever test sequences do show up, we just put a little blinking icon saying “skip” but we don’t exactly tell the player exactly what to do, like press any key or hit a button or whatever.
Interviewer: I like how you say guess, guess a key, right?
Sian: Yeah, guess a key. Yeah.
Interviewer: That’s good. What were some of the other challenges you ran into while you were developing it? Were there any game play issues where when you did play testing, did you run into any other surprises that you had to incorporate that data to make it?
Sian: Yeah. It’s a puzzler. It’s a puzzle style game with action, and because it has puzzles in there, you don’t want the player to get aimlessly lost. So, there was a lot of play testing, getting all the hard parts, like a little bit more polished. And that’s part of the polish to make sure that they don’t get a really frustrated experience from playing.
Interviewer: Is this geared towards men or women or everyone? What’s the target audience?
Sian: It’s people like myself, like 30-somethings and 20s that used to play games 10 years ago, don’t really have time to get into new games, learn the new ones. They’ll see my game and think, “Oh, I can play that. I like playing those games.”
Interviewer: And then, the sense of humor. How did you develop that? I can tell that there’s a sense of humor here, so how did you test out the jokes and where did it come from?
Sian: I think that’s just me.
Sian: Whatever I feel like doing.
Interviewer: What suggestions do you have for other game developers who want to make their own game? I mean, after you finish this game, what are you going to be doing differently in your future games based on your learning here?
Sian: Give me a second here.
Interviewer: Yeah, definitely.
Sian: A lot of games focus on game play. This was a game that we wanted to make because it just stimulated my characters to get out there. I think that’s a very important part of making games, and it often gets lost especially in smaller projects. People just think, “Oh, as long as I have a cool game play mechanic, I can run with it” and the characters themselves are just an after thought of the story.
Interviewer: So, moving forward, you are focused more on character development and story development.
Sian: That’s it.
Interviewer: When you’re doing these story development and character development for games, is it the same way that you would do it for a movie do you think, or do you have to do anything different since it’s a game?
Sian: I’ve never been in the movie industry, so I wouldn’t really know. But I think it’s relatively similar.
Interviewer: What’s next in store for you guys? What games are you working on now?
Sian: We’re just trying to get this out on one of the consoles, maybe.
Interviewer: Why even push it on a console? I mean, like you said, Flash is a ubiquitous distribution.
Sian: Yeah, it is. It’s a good way to start. It’s definitely a good way to start. The thing is that people want to play games sitting down in their living room instead of behind the computer. You spend the whole day behind the computer now.
Interviewer: OK, cool. Where can people find out more information and play the game and check it out?
Sian: Just go to www.rocketbirds.com and you can play the free demo. If you like it, you can buy it. It’s $10.00.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.