Outbuddies DX – Developer Interview

Outbuddies DX – Developer Interview

Outbuddies is a new take on the metroidvania genre. You explore the underwater city, meaning there are underwater parts but unlike a lot of other games these are really fun. You have a sidekick in the form of Buddy and you must rescue the Wozan miners while defeating a range of enemies along the way.

The developer himself said it takes inspiration from the classics like Metroid, Castlevania Mega man etc it’s clear from first glance that this is a game to be reckoned with. Following the communities acceptance of metroidvania games like Axiom Verge and Hollow Knight those developers inspired Julian to dedicate more time and personal resources into this project to make it something really special. Despite having tinkered with game engines since he was 12 this is Julian’s first finished release.

First off I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

Would you like to introduce yourself to the readers and what experience you had when you started developing Outbuddies?

When I started making Outbuddies in 2013, I honestly had no idea what I would get myself into. I’m a psychiatrist in my daytime profession and mainly worked on the game at night. Since 2017 I’m also a father which for sure made things a lot more complicated. Especially the transition from a prototype to a commercial project has been an enormous strain, financially, mentally, and even physically. Now, 7000 work hours later, I have mixed feelings about this venture. It‘s truly amazing though that Outbuddies will be on all major consoles and will even see a release in Japan in the next weeks.

What differences are there in the release I played (Outbuddies DX) and the original Outbuddies game?

The game’s original version was released on PC/ Steam in October 2019. It was a good game back then but controls felt too complex and over-engineered, graphics were inconsistent in quality and the game’s world design suffered from some ugly soft locks. Albeit not being perfect, a group of very dedicated speedrunners hooked to the game and helped me to improve gameplay and world design in every aspect. I also continued working on the game’s graphics and sprites a lot in the next months and brought assets from additional pixel artists in. To sum it up, 16 major updates were released until now. So what we have not is the definitive edition of the game or, as we call it, “deluxe” version.

When I first booted the game up I could see the inspiration from the Metroid series but it also reminded me of Blaster Master on the NES, was this another inspiration for the game?

Actually not, I never played Blaster Master, but that comparison comes up a lot!  Especially the different zoom factors used seem to remind players of that game.

It’s definitely a game you should try if you get the chance. Were there any complications you ran into during development, and were there any compromises you had to make when it came to them?

Outbuddies’ development was for sure complicated. When I started I really did not have the skills to build a complex and huge game like that at all. I had only done prototypes before and finished one small block breaker to break the curse of not finishing anything before I started Outbuddies. The game’s core engine as well as artstyle went to hundreds of iterations that cost a lot of time. One could argue, the first three years of development I was just learning how to do things. In 2016 I had even come close to abandoning the project, because I had run into severe performance issues and could not find a way out for many weeks. I pushed through though and had a functional alpha build in 2017, that’s where I started the Kickstarter and, how I call it, commercialization of the project. That’s where the real trouble started. I suddenly needed to make something I could actually sell, there were backers waiting for the game, I had signed a publishing deal and needed to make deadlines. My work hours got from ok to crazy. After the game’s initial release on PC in 2019, the work even amplified again. The game had many issues that needed to be fixed. The community communication involved took many hours but was well worth it in the end. My players helped be shape Outbuddies to the great game it is today. Another thing is releasing on consoles – that’s for sure a totally different beast compared to PC. I suddenly had other programmers to work with and so much money involved; I really felt the pressure.

The bosses are one of my favorite aesthetics in the game, how did you come up with the designs for them along with the specific move sets for each?

I’m a huge fighting game enthusiast, with series like Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Calibur being my all-time favorites. The experience I had gathered in this genre helped me a lot to design each fight as an epic duel. Each boss has a theme and very specific evade – attack pattern that needs to be understood to overcome it. As Outbuddies does not allow the player to tank a lot of hits, it was very important to me that every boss could be done perfectly with zero hits. The creatures designs are influenced by Lovecraft’s horror stories as well as ancient Mayan mythology.

The buddy system is a great mechanic in the game, bringing in a fresh set of movesets and the option for Co-op play. Was Co-op always a factor you took into consideration when developing the game?

No, not at all. The CoOp mode came to my mind after I had added more and more functions and features to the Buddy unit. But overall it was one of the biggest mistakes I made. Playtesting it revealed that it was just not fun enough for the second player. I had to add CoOp specific offensive options for Buddy then as well as a sandboxy block-bulding mechanic. CoOp is fun now, but it’s local CoOp only and very rarely used. From an investment to outcome perspective it really was not worth it.

Underwater sections in games are notoriously considered bad, what made you want to include them in your game, and what did you do to try and make it more fun for the player?

Haha, great question. I deeply hate underwater sections myself, but somehow they seem to have a magical appeal to game designers! I had the idea to work with oxygen tanks in the game but today I’m very happy that I skipped oxygen limits in total. Also, the underwater sections are rather there to emphasize the setting and get some spooky deep sea vibes in, they are not really challenging at all. You’ll have to face one underwater boss though.

You said you’re open for feedback on the game, are there any issues players faced that you didn’t anticipate? I’ve seen some speedruns using the weapon as a way to boost to areas they normally wouldn’t be able to.

The game is very open to sequence breaking, much more open than I anticipated at first. This was one of the coolest experiences I had with the player community. I was very lucky that a bunch of very dedicated core gamers helped me to find every exploit and make the game’s word design robust enough to embrace crazy sequence breaks without getting soft-locked or creating severe bugs. I left many glitches in the game on purpose, as they add to the fun speedrunners experience with it. A thing that struck me really badly is the perceived complexity of the early game though. While most players were ok with the tutorials, a significant number of players still drop out early or feel frustrated or even trolled by the game not explaining things to them. I’ve iterated tutorials multiple times now and another update was just released on PC and will arrive for Xbox and Switch soon to work with a more hands-on approach to explain the drone mechanics and other object interactions.

What have you learned most from developing the game?

I’ll never ever make something that huge again on my own. My next game will be a much shorter and much simpler thing for sure. I really don’t want to hook another 7 years of my life to making just one thing all the time. I also learned that QA and playtesting sessions need to start early. Get your core concepts damn right before building on something sub-par. Also define your player persona early, and get in touch early to see if those players actually resonate with your gameplay. Early access is a great thing for this, I wished I had done it. Also be very aware of feature creep, every new mechanic implemented can cause dozens of new bugs and has to be balanced with all the environments, all the enemies and all the other gear in the game.

Technically, I found one should care for performance optimization early, because you might end-up with something your game engine will never be able to handle in the end. Keep in mind the Nintendo Switch has a very weak CPU. Build your stuff on an office laptop and not on a high-end gaming machine to see how your code performs. I’m very proud Outbuddies runs stable 60FPS on the Nintendo Switch, one should never underestimate the CPU load induced by handling a 2D platformer. Collision detection and AI handling can be a lot more complex than in 3D environments.

A question I’ve never asked but it’s something I’m very interested in knowing, how long did development for the game take?

Difficult to say how many hours in total, I think at least 7000 hours by now, probably even more. That’s really too much next to a daytime job and being a husband and father.

And finally a question I always like to ask, what advice do you have for someone who is just starting their game development journey?

It’s a difficult thing for me to answer right now, because a part of myself is deeply frustrated by this industry. Unlike any other business I can think of, creative efforts may never be rewarded, no matter how hard you try, and they are very unlikely to be rewarded financially in today’s state of the industry. The indie boom is long over and indie gaming has been industrialized, meaning today’s successful indie games are typically not made by the average dude in his spare time anymore. They are made by small to mid-sized teams of highly skilled industry professionals with productions budgets ranging from 300k to a couple of million dollars. The quality benchmark you need to reach to even remotely sell anything is extremely high. If you go for it, go for it with very low expectations, go for it because you want to create, not because you want to get known and for sure don’t go for it to make money. And never quit your job for this, don’t stop hanging out with your friends, take breaks and care for your loved ones. Those things are crucial to stay sane, and they’re easily forgotten when the pressure rises and you’re running out of time and money.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. Outbuddies DX is available on Steam (https://store.steampowered.com/app/1083310/OUTBUDDIES_DX/), Xbox One (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/outbuddies-dx/9nnshf5ww3dd?activetab=pivot:overviewtab) and Nintendo Switch (https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/outbuddies-dx-switch/) right now!


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