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Interview with Rabidlab

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

Rabidlab appeared for the first time at the IGF with their brand new online game Dodge That Anvil!, capturing finalist status for both the Best Web Browser Game and Innovation In Audio categories. Today I will be talking with Jake, sole developer at Rabidlab.

Heya Jake, first – what is your full name and your role within Rabidlab?

Jake: My name's Jake Grandchamp. I am the CEO, Chief Creative Officer, 2D/3D artist, programmer, sound/music designer, writer, and coffeemaker at Rabidlab.

Nathaniel: Coffeemaker seems to be a common answer ;)

Jake: I lied about that one. I only drink tea.

How's it feel to get to the IGF finals?

Jake: Amazing. I honestly did not expect to advance to the finals. I go to E3 since it's in town, but I've never even been to GDC, so it's all very exciting.

How long has Rabidlab been actively developing games?

Jake: I have been working on DTA since mid-2003, on a part-time basis. I'd estimate the full development time at 12 months to this point. I have now transitioned to full-time development and I intend to keep it that way.

What is behind the name Rabidlab?

Jake: The domain was available when I needed one in a hurry. :) I think it is a good fit because I like to draw to animals more than I like to draw people, and thus many of Rabidlab's games will likely feature funny animals. I also like that the word rabid connotes fervent passion, which is of course very important in game development.

What's the basic idea behind Dodge That Anvil?

Jake: Dodge That Anvil! arose from an experiment with the Havok physics engine in Director. I had a demo of a little guy running around, and I wanted to continually add objects to the scene to stress-test the engine. To make sure each new object would be visible, I created them above the little guy's head - every two seconds. Instant game!

Once I had that going, I needed a reason for the player to stop running to increase the danger. So, I decided they would need to pull things out of the ground. The rabbit-carrot-anvil thing evolved naturally from that.

You take on the role of the Harvester, a fearless young rabbit charged with collecting food for his warren in the face of the mysterious Anvil Storm. You pick vegetables and collect them where they land, while trying to avoid getting flattened. Complications and subtleties ensue from there.

What development tools were used in order to make Dodge That Anvil?

Jake: Director/Shockwave was the main tool used in creating DTA. It is a very full-featured authoring tool that includes a scriptable 3D engine with Havok physics. In the interest of keeping development simple, no complex models were created for the game - pretty much everything is either a sprite-on-a-plane, box, sphere, or tweaked variation thereof. The anvil itself was an exception, but even that was easy enough to model on a napkin. :)

Why did you decide to use Director/Shockwave?

Jake: I have been using Dir/SW professionally for about 8 years at this point - mostly creating advergames for companies like Nickelodeon and Universal, but also for CD-ROM work. So, I am very comfortable with it. As for this project, I felt that Director offered some very compelling features for casual game development. The rapid prototyping, cross-platform support, and widely-deployed web plugin are all major pluses.

What were some of the major design issues? How were they solved?

Jake: Mouse control comes to mind. I really wanted to open up the game to players who might otherwise be intimidated by it on principle. That meant offering mouse support, and I spent a lot of time getting my 3D, physics-using, action-platforming game to work well with, essentially: two buttons and an analog control that won't center itself. I went through several iterations, some using a visible cursor, others requiring complex movements of the mouse, but eventually I settled on the simplest scheme. Push the mouse to move in that direction, left-click to stop (and pick crops), right-click to use items.

Related to the issue of mouse control and accessibility was the addition of auto-jump. I don't know of many games that both include an auto-jump AND make it optional, but that's what I did in hopes of appealing to gamepad gamers and mouse gamers alike. That choice led to a lot of issues with regard to making the game equally fair to both manual and auto-jumping players. Nearly every new gameplay element had to factor in both control scenarios. An interesting challenge.

Nathaniel: The auto-jump was an interesting feature, I really acquired a taste for it.

Jake: Yeah, it's nice to play "lazy" sometimes. :)

What is your most favorite part of the game?

Jake: My favorite part of the game is whatever went in last. :) I'm still polishing it up for final release, so it's hard to say. At the moment, I'm enjoying the "bull anvils." These are anvils that fall like normal ones, but then get up, sprout horns, and chase you around the map. It's fun, because you can lead them into explosions to take them out, or jump over a rock that they will then crash into. All of the obstacles in the game are also tools that can help you open up new paths and discover secret stuff.

Have you looked beyond Dodge That Anvil yet? What is next?

Jake: I have a working prototype of my next project, but what kind of game dev'er would I be if I disclosed the details? It involves dragons. I am planning to double my development team size to tackle it.

Sounds good! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Jake: An online demo of DTA will be available at rabidlab.com very soon. Check it out!

Interview conducted by Nathaniel "gnatinator" Sabanski

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