The OlliOlli devs are working on a cover-based shooter that started life as a dungeon-crawler inspired by Angry Birds. What?
“I should be able to slide. We should have shotguns. There should be exploding cats.”
It’s no surprise that Not A Hero – the new game from OlliOlli developer Roll7 – didn’t initially begin life as a cover-based shooter with cocaine power-ups and a Vanquish-esque sliding mechanic.
“Not A Hero started off as a different game called Jeffrey Archer, which was about an archer named Jeffrey,” says Roll7’s creative director John Ribbins. “And it was supposed to be a randomly-generated side-on dungeon crawler with Angry Birds physics on a bow and arrow.”
“At one point we just added a machine gun and went, ‘it’s way better with guns’. And I’d always wanted to do a cover based thing in 2D…”
It’s no surprise because Ribbins is open about how the game started as something else entirely, turned into an experimental prototype shared between friends, before evolving into a serious project with a lot of the madness balanced out.
“We were just sending out builds. People were coming back saying ‘I should be able to slide. We should have shotguns. There should be exploding cats’. Because it wasn’t a thing at this point. We were just playing around,” he reveals.
“That was really fun but it became a bit of a challenge once we decided to make it into a game. It was massively unbalanced. There was originally a guy with a mini-gun who never ran out of ammo. In all the videos that people posted on YouTube when they played the original alpha – they played through each character and he was the fourth out of eight – once they reached the mini-gun guy they never changed after that. There were so many bullet holes the game would crash.”
Not A Hero is a 2D shooter where players snap into cover and back out again to take quick shots at approaching goons. The noise of reloading attracts nearby enemies, but when moving the player can make use of a sliding move that floors opponents giving a split second chance for an up-close kill. Gameplay is as hectic as it sounds, but it soon settles into a groove once you understand how to use the basics. It’s like a side-on Hotline Miami in intensity.
“It was just a brain spooge of all these ideas that we put out at the end of 2012,” adds Ribbins. “We put it up on my site instead of the Roll7 one because it was broken and odd at that point and it had about 24 downloads. So we thought ‘nobody wants this’.”
But after passing it around a few other indie developers and amongst friends, it started to build a significant fanbase.
“We got about 4000 downloads and it crashed our server. It was really good to see what people were finding fun that we didn’t realise was going to be fun. And then it’s kind of been on hold because we’ve been doing OlliOlli for the whole of 2013.”
OlliOlli didn’t begin as a Vita game, remember, as it was originally planned for iOS. “We started that and showed it to Shahid Ahmad [Sony’s indie evangelist] and he was like ‘bring this to Vita’. We thought ‘brilliant, physical controls! We can forget iOS altogether’.” This is how quickly Roll7 moves when it sees an opportunity.
Roll7’s attitude seems to be to have fun building a game, throw in a wishlist of stuff, and then worry about balancing it out with boring but necessary limitations later. “Rules help contain the fun,” says Ribbins, mocking his own cliche.
“With OlliOlli it’s the trick-land mechanic. Launch, land, launch, land. Not A Hero has a slide cover system. Slide, shoot, slide, shoot.”
Playing the game in public with the creator hanging over your shoulder is a daunting experience. I’m sure I can hear Ribbins biting his tongue when I walk straight into a bloodbath. “Reload,” he advises. “I’m going to put a big ‘reload’ prompt on the screen here,” he says, and I see he’s not joking. It will take him less than 30 minutes to code the addition, he reckons.
It only takes a few minutes of play to realise Not A Hero is built using a similar approach as Roll7’s OlliOlli – it makes use of a simple mechanic that’s easily mastered and tweaked throughout the whole game.
“It’s like having a toy,” offers Ribbins. “With OlliOlli it’s the trick-land mechanic. Launch, land, launch, land.
“Not A Hero has a slide cover system and everything is built around that. Slide, shoot, slide, shoot. I like games where you’ve got something super-simple and that one thing is very easy. And rather than building lots of features on top you just make the player use that one thing in lots of interesting and different ways.”
So while the mechanics remain familiar, Roll7 will add new characters and features to make it worth the replay. Playing as the campaign manager for Bunnylord, you unlock more characters from different districts in the game, including Cletus who sacrifices a slower slide for a brutal shotgun and Mr Shush, the silent assassin. Expect others to be better suited to beating levels in different ways – a speed run as opposed to a high score, for example.
Ribbins hopes to drop a few surprises in there too, including the possible return of the mini-gun character who completely unbalanced the game.
“I’m considering having him but if you shoot for too long the gun explodes and kills him. Just so people who have already played it will get excited and then die unexpectedly,” he laughs.
Not A Hero is due for release in late summer and then “hopefully other formats” later in the year.