Xbox Enthusiast is currently in the midst of a series of interviews where we speak to various developers about their experiences in creating games for the Xbox One. As a part of these segments we call “Developer Spotlights” we gain insight into how developers learn the hardware, adjust to the community, and bring their own unique style to our platform. The first installment featured the creator of Quest of Dungeons while the second installment saw the producer of Warframe take center stage.
This time around, we are highlighting Indie developer Brushfire Games, whose new game Polychromatic was just released on Xbox Live today. We were fortunate to be able to talk to Nick Gravelyn, one of the Co-founders of Brushfire Games and creator of Polychromatic.
Andrew Gonzalez: Thank you for taking the time to speak with Xbox Enthusiast. Congratulations on the launch of Polychromatic. Can you give a description of the game for those who may not know what Polychromatic is?
Nick Gravelyn: “Thanks for reaching out. Polychromatic is a physics-based arcade shooter with a pop of color. It’s our take on the classic design of two stick shooters, specifically in the score-chasing arcade category. Back on Xbox 360 we were always competing for the top spot on our Geometry Wars leaderboard, so when we were trying to figure out what to make, we decided to make a new game that we can use to foster some classic arcade competition.”
AG: I’m a fan of the Geometry Wars games too. Upon first jumping into Polychromatic, the influence is very noticeable and welcome. How did you and the development team come up with an idea that looked like an homage to Geometry Wars while feeling like a unique experience?
Gravelyn: “We started early on with the introduction of physics into the game. Rather than having enemies that overlap and a player that has no momentum, we chose to bring physics and collisions into the core gameplay. All the enemies and the player carry momentum, which changes the way the player moves around. And with enemies colliding with one another, the game is able to keep things interesting and unique by virtue of the collision response.”
“Ultimately it means that you can’t just memorize some simple spawn and movement patterns; you really have to pay attention to everything if you want to do well.”
AG: That mechanic stood out to me while playing the game. No run-through of Polychromatic felt the same. This adds to the longevity of the title. Just when I thought I figured out a strategy, the game sent a curveball my way. While I got the hang of Polychromatic after a few play sessions, this gameplay mechanic can make the learning curve quite steep at times. How important was difficulty a factor when developing the game?
Gravelyn: “At first we actually wanted to make the game appeal to a broad base by having either multiple difficulty levels or adaptive difficulty. However we never were quite happy with it. Turns out these games just work best when they’re challenging. Once we started focusing in on the gamers who want a challenging arcade experience, it really started coming together.”
“We wanted the game to feel difficult, but we wanted it to feel fair at the same time. We made some challenging enemies and leveraged the physics to create real difficulty. We wanted to avoid the typical arcade shooter “difficulty” of just throwing more and more enemies at the player until they can’t last. Thankfully so far the feedback we’ve gotten from players is that we’ve nailed it.”
AG: You mentioned earlier that Polychromatic was developed with Score-chasing in mind. The main “Endless Mode” as well as the “Timed Mode” and “One-Life Mode” all feature their own sets of challenges. Each time I finished a round of the game, I would notice the leaderboard next to my score. Though there is no multiplayer in the game, score challenges have a multiplayer type feel to it. I wanted to make it to the top of the leaderboards, but there is already some tough competition playing the game. Do you think a lot of players crave this type of competitive gameplay?
Gravelyn: “We definitely think so! It’s what drove us all those years ago with Geometry Wars. We actually spent a lot of time on the end-game leaderboard to get it to feel just right, with a balance between showing you scores you’ve beat and scores ahead of you, as well as trying to prefer showing the scores from your friends as much as possible. We really wanted to foster a competitive community of people who want to fight over those top spots, whether on the global leaderboard or just among friends.”
“It’s also part of why we did three modes. We wanted to let everyone find a mode they liked. Timed is great if you’re just starting out or trying to fill a little bit of time because you get infinite lives and an upper bound on time. Endless is the mode to pick if you want to try setting the ultimate high scores. And One Life gives people a way to really show their skills in the hardest mode we have. Each mode gets its own leaderboards so you can try to master one or more modes as you want.”
AG: Brushfire Games is part of the ID@Xbox program. The program seems to be a positive experience for developers. How has the program helped Brushfire Games with the process of releasing Polychromatic?
Gravelyn: “ID@Xbox got us developer kits super early, before we had even released our last game, Shipwreck. Having developer kits early on meant we had a lot of time to learn the tools and work on games we knew would work well on the console.”
“The team at ID is also very helpful in navigating the certification process which is when Microsoft reviews all games to ensure they meet certain technical and policy requirements. It can be complicated, so having the ID team help with that is certainly useful to a small team like ours.”
AG: That’s good to hear. Speaking of Shipwreck, that was your take on a Zelda styled game. When development started on Polychromatic, did development feel natural or was there difficulty since both games are completely different in every aspect?
Gravelyn: “We actually went through a number of prototypes between the two games, so we didn’t go straight from Shipwreck to Polychromatic. Nonetheless we never really had issues with the transition from the adventure genre to something new. We actually have lots of ideas in lots of genres and are excited to continue to try new things. Since it’s just the two of us, we really have flexibility in how and why we pick our projects which enables us to not get boxed into any one type of game.”
AG: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. This is a two part question. What is your favorite game? Also, if Brushfire Games could tackle a different genre from the two games you have developed, what genre would you be interested in experimenting with?
Gravelyn: “Favorite games are super hard to pin down. Right now I’m playing a ton of Rocket League which I think is one of the best games of the year. If I look back on the games I’ve played I’d probably pick Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as a contender for my favorite game of all time. Probably why I liked making Shipwreck and want to make another adventure game at some point.”
“We’ve got so many ideas in various genres. We’ve talked about doing an RPG, some kind of management sim, a roguelike/roguelite, and many more. We even prototyped a miniature golf game in between Shipwreck and Polychromatic. We also have some ideas to do a 3rd person action/adventure game with neat camera system, kind of revamping the old Resident Evil fixed cameras. There are just so many ideas, it’s hard to pick one until we start prototyping.”
“Thanks for reaching out. It was great talking with you!”
The crew at Brushfire Games clearly has a love for the genre and score chasing styled games. Polychromatic is out now for the Xbox One and it is a pretty addicting game. You can read the Xbox Enthusiast official review of Polychromatic here. Stay tuned to Xbox Enthusiast for more Xbox related content. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.