Coming Into View: Plain Sight Release Chat

By Kieron Gillen on April 5th, 2010 at 7:00 pm.

I love this image.

We haven’t spoke about Plain Sight since its Open Beta early last year. Beatnik game retreated, got back to work and are finally ready to release. As in, as we speak. To celebrate the event we thought it time to talk to Beatnik’s Robin Lacey about the long road to Plain Sight’s release…

RPS: It’s been a year since we last talked about Plain Sight, with the Beta. It’s been a year since then. What happened?

Robin Lacey: Firstly, I think it’s worth pointing out that the ‘beta’ was really a ‘pre-alpha’… I think we were a bit liberal on the use of the word ‘beta’ there.

After the “beta” of Plain Sight we pretty much went back to the drawing-board. We loved the style and feel of the game and the death based gameplay mechanic, however we realised that a great deal needed to be re-written. It was fun, but it wasn’t as fun as it could be.

One of the biggest issues we had was the fighting mechanic. I don’t know if you remember, but in the beta all you had to do was click the mouse and the robot would attack the nearest person; basically zero skill involved. This, tied in with the horrific networking issues, made the game feel very random and unfair. We hated this so we decided to scrap it.

RPS: You scrapped it and replaced it with… what?

Robin Lacey: As enjoyable movement is a big part of Plain Sight, we decided the attack mechanics should revolve around evasion and chasing enemies down with a ‘locking on’ system. It took a while, but we eventually realised that many of the core mechanics in Plain Sight are similar to those found in flight sims.

RPS: Interesting. Care to talk more about the locking in, chasing and evasion? What’s going through people’s heads as they’re playing?

Robin Lacey: So, the mechanics are pretty simple. When a player is running around the level, they’ll see blue crosshairs appear on whichever opponent they are looking at. When the player clicks and holds the left mouse button they’ll lock on and start building up charge. Once they have enough charge to reach their target the crosshair goes red, they let go, they dash attack forward, hopefully score a hit and steal their opponents energy. The opponent on the other hand can get a lock-on warning indicator and a shield to block attacks, they can also bum stomp (mario style) or dash to get away.

All this is pretty easy on a flat surface, however when a player has 6 axes of freedom and a bunch of other stuff going on, it’s quite a skill!

RPS: Was there a specific moment where you realised… no, this isn’t right with the Alpha?

Robin Lacey: I think when our servers burst into flames and people started using the word “unplayable” that we realised we’d slightly oversold what we were offering. It doesn’t bother us too much to be honest, we got awesome feedback and – all things considering – the internet was pretty kind to us. I guess you get what you pay for sometimes! It was a baptism of fire, but it was essential. It proved to us the concept was sound, it just needed a lot more work that we initially thought.

If the stars offend your HARDCORE PC GAMERNESS imagine they're gibs. SOLAR GIBS.

RPS: What else has happened in the last year?

Robin Lacey: On the tech side, a couple of the biggest things to tackle were the camera (which proved to be incredibly difficult because of fast movement and crazy gravity) and the networking (to make it ‘fair’ we emulated Counter Strike’s smoothing/prediction system and have bundled dedicated servers with the game). Oh yeah, we also applied liberal visual and gameplay polish.

The beta also only showed off the basic deathmach mode. Since then we’ve added 4 more: ‘Capture the flag’ and ‘Team Deathmatch’ are both pretty self-explanatory, ‘Lighten Up’ is time/ territory based and then there’s ‘Ninja! Ninja! Botzilla!’ which is a one versus many scenario.

To keep momentum within the rounds we’ve added robot upgrades and power-ups. Players earn experience points during the game which can be spent on upgrades which last for the round, including super shields, vacuum bombs, triple jumps and other such fun things. Power-ups drop from the sky and give you short term bonuses, such as a flame-sword and stealthy mini-ninja mode.

Anything we thought would be fun and enjoyable, we threw in. After all, it’s a game about suicidal robots, there’s little point in being sensible.

Finally, we added long term gameplay goals such as achievements, stats and global leaderboards. … and we kept the price at $9.99.

In other Beatnik news, we’ve also been working like crazy on the Channel 4 project, Ada. As games go, this is pretty much the opposite to Plain Sight. It’s a single player, beautifully lush adventure puzzler based around real science. This should be out Q4 this year.

RPS: I tend to think when thinking of game designs, many players don’t actually think about stuff like network connectivity. They notice it when it goes wrong, but few times else. What’s the big lessons you’ve learned?

Robin Lacey: As for networking, yes, it’s only something you think long and hard about when it goes wrong. There’s nothing worse than playing a game, losing and feeling like you’ve been cheated. So the tricky part is getting clients to predict what the server thinks is happening with reasonable accuracy.

Just like the camera really. You only notice a camera it when it spoils the gameplay. The best camera systems are the ones you never noticed. We spent a long time getting the camera right, which ends up being a thankless task because noone ever comments on it – it just works now. Also, players really don’t like getting motion sick – surprisingly – which Plain Sight could easily do when the camera wasn’t right.

RPS: Plain Sight’s aesthetics really are very strong and distinctive. Care to talk about their origins? What were their influences?

Robin Lacey: When we first started Beatnik Games we didn’t really have an experienced art team. They were great, but were fresh out of Uni, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to come up with concept stuff. Because we were massively stretched we literally threw everything we didn’t have time for in the bin. This included textures, high poly work and.. well, most things. We wanted to make something that was colourful and striking – like a pinball machine. This gave birth to one of the core concepts in Plain Sight: The better you do, the more of a target you become. The trails and other prettiness were a natural progression from that initial concept. It’s strange, I dont think we’d have gone for (or had such faith in) such a striking minimalistic programmer art style if it hadn’t been for Introversion …

RPS: Care to talk more about Ada? Perhaps based around Byron’s daughter and princess of parallelograms Ada Lovelace?

Robin Lacey: The C4 game isn’t directly about Ada Lovelace, but it’s certainly inspired by. Afraid we’re having to keep a great deal of info under wraps, which is a shame as we’re incredibly excited about it…

Orbs are the best of spheres.

RPS: Okay – here’s a harder one. Did you think it a risk to do a MP only game? Even very large games can fail to seed enough of a community to sustain… and if there’s no community playing, the game is worthless. That sort of thought has got to keep you up screaming late at night, yeah?

Robin Lacey: Ha. Yeah, that’s certainly one of my many night terrors. It is pretty scary starting a multiplayer game. Frankly, we had no idea how hard it’d be when we first started. During development it began to dawn on us what a monumental task we’d undertaken. This all came to ugly crescendo as the shit hit the fan during the open beta – it was a real wake up call.

Making a multiplayer game is hard, no doubt. You have to first cater to the instant gratification of the player. With competitive multiplayer games, people expect to be entertained and be having “fun” within seconds of joining a game. They also expect to have something work towards during the round and they also expect to have long term goals to keep them coming back for me. It seems obvious, but in reality it’s an awful lot for an indie developer to do, but I think we’ve succeeded.

We initially spent all our time making the core fighting and moving mechanics fun but soon realized that wasn’t enough. To keep the momentum in the rounds we developed the upgrades and power-ups system and, to keep people coming back, we added the achievements and leader boards.

I agree, to survive multiplayer games have to have an active community. You never know how the internet is going to react, so sometimes it just feels like fate. As a developer, the best you can do is work on the game until you’re truly happy with it, price it so it’s great value and finally give your players more later on.

For us, $9.99 was always the price (even when we were going only ship with one game mode and a third of the features) and I think it’s a good level for people to easily pick up the game and keep the community and servers buzzing.

As for additional content; the way we see it version 1.0 is great starting point to build on. We have tons of stuff we’re waiting to add and, after we’ve got over the horror of the launch, we’ll be working on a Plain Sight map importer. This is something we’re really excited about. There’s some pretty neat stuff that didn’t make it into v1.0 that should keep the creative internet hive-mind amused for a while….

The enormous cheese is mine. Mine, I say.

RPS: What about managing communities? What sort of lessons do you use to keep people nice.

Robin Lacey: We’ve never really had much of an issue with people not playing nice. If someone has a legitimate reason to be upset then you should listen to them and get it sorted out – that’s just good business practice. When we do get a troll in the forums we simply pimp out their profile with pictures of unicorns. It provides us with a cheap laugh and, amazingly, it seems to bring out the best in the troll. Trolls obviously love unicorns.

Damn, now I’ve told everyone our strategy, we’re going to have to come up with something new..

RPS: RPS also loves unicorns. Also, because it’s the perpetual question du jour – piracy. What’s your stance?

Robin Lacey: Amazingly, that’s the one thing I don’t lose sleep over. You simply can’t stop it. When people try, they usually end up harming the consumers. I grew up with piracy. Pretty much all my games on my Amiga 500 had warez group intros. I was young and couldn’t afford £35 for a game. I didn’t for a moment think it was wrong. Perhaps a bit naughty, but nothing sinister. Turning around 15 years later and calling some teenager on the internet a criminal is pretty hypocritical of me.

I think piracy is a market issue, not a moral one. The Internet is a behemoth of a free market; regardless of how hard you try to fight to control it, it’ll eventually price your product. If you don’t adapt to what people are willing to pay, they’ll just torrent it. We essentially deal in selling replicated data. Trying to make one copy “original” and therefore more valuable than another isn’t going to work in the long run.

With Plain Sight, I think the combination of digital distribution, accessible price point and a legitimate multiplayer experience should hopefully keep our piracy levels pretty low. Fingers crossed.

RPS: And finally, the future for Beatnik?

Robin Lacey: Aside from the C4 thing, we’ve got a couple of ideas/prototypes that we’d like to push a bit further. Next years Plain Sight for PSN is going to be accompanied by a super cheap upgrade for PC users. The game is being re-done on a new engine (XNA has been an utter pain in the arse to deal with) … there might even be a mac port – exciting times!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Plain Sight is available from pretty much every digital download service you can imagine right now, for ten dollars. Go here and take your pick.

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30 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Hmm, looks like it could be fun. The trailer caught my eyes and ears anyway! If there’s one thing that’ll tempt me to online multiplayer it’s something madcap like suicidal robots!

  2. LewieP says:

    On pricing, because that is clearly the most important things about games ever.

    It costs: £7.99/€9.99/$9.99

    But, you can get a 4 pack, which has a group discount. So if you organise yourselves to buy in a group of four, it costs:

    £6/€7.50/$7.50 each

    If you hate other people, and just want a single copy, it looks like it is cheaper on GamerGate too, at least in the UK:

    http://www.gamersgate.co.uk/DD-PLSI/plain-sight – £6.95.

    This is a really fun game, playing a four player LAN game at Eurogamer Expo 2008 AND 2009 was good times.

    • Wulf says:

      I’m not quite sold on the idea yet, because I’m quite burnt out on competitive multiplayer at the moment, so I’d like to see a demo before I commit, buuut…

      We could organise something like this. If four people are committed to buying, one trustworthy RPS member could be marked as the recipient, we each fork over our £6 and get our keys in return. I think there are quite a few people around here who could handle the responsibility of this, so that’s an interesting idea.

    • Luggage says:

      I will continue to refuse buying indie games made by people who fail to realize the Dollar equals Euro days are long over. I am not paying a solid 30-40% more for a title just because I was born in the wrong country.

      *rant off*

    • Luggage says:

      You, sir, just blew my mind.

      I heard of all kinds of workarounds like gifting etc. Didn’t know you could choose the currency you pay in.

  3. Radiant says:

    Nice; can’t wait to play this.
    What was the beta play like?

  4. Smeghammer says:

    A demo would be nice.

    • John Peat says:

      They’ve said there will be one but they wanted to ship the game first so give them a wee while…

  5. fuggles says:

    Fairly lengthy video of the game in action :

    http://www.giantbomb.com/quick-look-ex-plain-sight/17-2186/

    Looks super dull to me though as it looks hugely repetitive.

    • IdleHands says:

      Thanks for the link of the video, it’s nice to see a bit of action of the game. To be fair I think most footage of a multiplayer only game looks repetitive, also this seems to fall into that simple but fun niche of game design. Part way through the video he does admit it’s not very exciting because he’s just playing the bots and human players make it more fun and interesting.

    • Droniac says:

      He’s right too. After playing some practice with bots and watching that video it’s an okay game, but when you go online it’s just crazy. Everyone is jumping around one another, people block moves and repel attacks… it’s chaos and it’s good. And sometimes you get lucky and you detonate in the midst of half a dozen guys fighting each other and get 110 points in one go ;)

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    Installing! Looking forward to seeing this.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Kierkegaard says:

    Looks interesting, the price seems reasonably priced as well. Am wondering about what might be repetetive gameplay though…

  8. Premium User Badge

    Lim-Dul says:

    I’ve been following Plain Sight ever since the first alpha-beta or whatever and I actually found it entertaining even in its “unplayable” state. =)
    The only problem back then were low player counts. I haven’t had a look at the most recent version before launch but bought the game on sight when I received the release announcement.
    Whatever amount of fun you’ll be getting out of Plain Sight, it is worth $10 to me.

  9. Theoban says:

    What’s an ‘achivement’?

  10. mod the world says:

    Was about to write a rant about how 1$ != 1€, but then i check again and it’s now 8,99€ on Steam. So no more excuse for me not to get it.

  11. the_dancing_spy says:

    Apart from the games I really need to get round to buying some time soon. (L4D2) I think I might get this. I don’t know, it looks fun and I want it to have many players. If that makes sense.

  12. Robin says:

    spelling bug fixed! thanks for the heads up! :D

    Robin

    Beatnik Games

    • TeeJay says:

      Good luck with this btw!

      (I’m just about to go buy it on Steam now)

  13. ArtyFishal says:

    Really great game! Bought it last night and played several rounds. Videos and screen shots do not do the game justice – it needs a demo. In video the game seems somewhat anemic and lethargic. Once you play it, however, you realize how fast and intense a game it really is. It feels very well designed and tested: You get the feeling that the speed and mechanics have been tweaked to the perfect balance between speed, manageability and staying on the safe side of motion sickness. For such a fast game, it is surprisingly strategic. The risk-reward mechanic is unique, brilliant and compelling. The upgrade system is also well thought out and RPG like- I look forward to inventing, discovering and testing different builds. Highly recommended. I look forward to playing and mastering it for years to come.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Arty: Yeah, I had a quick shot at lunch and like it a lot. How much I liked it depended a lot on the map – the long stringy ones are tricky to get your head around, and I suspect were in map rotation with too few players, but the small ones work really well. I’ll play some more, certainly.

      EDIT: And the 6th sense upgrade! Splendid stuff.

      KG

    • Premium User Badge

      Lim-Dul says:

      Yeah, 6th sense is always what I get first – even one level of it makes a huuuuuge difference – that and one level of shields – between not knowing when being targeted and not being able to defend yourself up to immediately being able to do so – 200% improvement. ^^

      I also share the opinion about maps. Large open maps with lots of “gravitational centers” are quite difficult to navigate and sometimes I found myself hopping and dashing hopelessly into the air trying to get into the gravitational pull of another structure. I wonder if this will change with experience although I’ve been playing the beta on and off since its initial release.

      Ah, initially everything seems like one big clustercoitus but once you get the hang of it there’s quite a fair bit of subtlety involved. When you see multiple locks onto yourself you can lure people into explosions for massive points, block for a quick retaliation or just leg it to get into a better position (it’s much easier to avoid attacks while being in the air with your enemy on the ground).

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Just had another go now, and that experience is sort of magnifying, in terms of the multiple gravity wells. Played 3 levels, then hit one of the really big ones with all the gravity wells, tried it for 2 minutes then gave up.

      Which may be just as well, as I have comics to write.

      KG

  14. theSAiNT says:

    I’m an FPS player who doesn’t usually have problems with speed (play quite a lot of Quake Live) but I did find the buggy driving parts of HL2 very nauseating (I think because of the disconnect between the direction of travel and mouse look). Watching the giant bomb demo brought back some of that sensation.

    Other than that, it looks like something I might buy. What are people’s experiences with motion sickness when playing it?

  15. TeeJay says:

    I’ve just had a quick blast against bots which was fun, but all the servers listed are *completely* full at the moment so I haven’t done any multiplayer yet.

    • Lilliput King says:

      You can change server page with the little arrow at the bottom of the server list.

      Gratifying that there are so many full servers though, because it’s a whole bunch of fun. The one thing that irritates is the strangeness of the gravity wells behaviour. Would be best if there was a command you could use to dash to where you are looking (and which doesn’t take the gravity into account) rather than just to people. That’d help getting around, I think.

  16. Pod says:

    BUMSTOMP