Radarkanoid: A Development Journey

by 4/19/2016
Okay. Let's talk about Radarkanoid!



Bam! No intro! Getting right into it! Buckle in, because you're in for a long one! So, believe it or not, we're almost done with Radarkanoid. Up until recently, there was one big bug. Yup, just the one. Since Radarkanoid was intended to be a small, free game for you all to enjoy (and a bit of a passion project of mine personally, though I'll get into that in a bit), we figured that spending a couple weeks trying to fix said bug was just too long. This was especially true since it was being done to not only get Kristy into the swing of things (she is still a student after all) in a similar manner to what we did with Dante and FlyGuy (though that's a story for another time), but she had also just taken over on Collapsus and reach a fairly large bug in that as well. A break was needed. Of course, having a side project become as stressful as a main project just won't do. So, she took a break from Radarkanoid and jumped back into Collapsus. Well, since her schedule got a bit more hectic these past few days, she decided to pick Radarknoid back up rather than putting in half measures on Collapsus. This seemed to do the trick and it should be fully done here very soon!

Anyway, I wanted to take this time to get into the history and inspiration behind Radarkanoid. Oh yes, even Radarkanoid has "history" and "inspiration" like everything else around here. Remember me talking about "the Phonebook" here on the blog or in interviews? Well, if not, here's the skinny: throughout the 11 years Wraith has been operating, we've not worked on all that many games (mostly due to the fact that we became a full-time business only last year). Well, that's not entirely true I guess. See, in the first two or three years we worked on a metric boat-load of smaller prototypes (Collapsus and FlyGuy prototypes among them), that we released online for free, but they don't count because A) they were never meant to be "real" games B) they sucked and C) hey, we were still just high school students then (not that high schoolers can't make amazing games... we just couldn't).

Anyway.

 In this time, as lead designer, I've come up with countless ideas, big and small, and put them into a "book" (really just a text document) that the team lovingly refers to as "The Phonebook", due to how thick it would be if published (well, slight exaggeration... probably). So there are a lot (and I mean a lot) of games that I want to see done at some point. This isn't even including all of the projects that other team members want to do! We have enough projects to last us a lifetime... and growing!

As you can probably guess, Radarkanoid is one of these projects. No one ever said they had to be "big" games on the list, did they? In fact, on several occasions it has been suggested that we have some sort of imprint (for lack of a better word) within Wraith just to handle smaller, cheaper (or downright free) games. In 2007 we thought about calling it "Wraith Arcade" and in 2012 "Wraith Minis". Heck, we even announced Minis in 2012 as an actual thing that we never did anything with (oddly enough, including a revived FlyGuy that we actually released, and the concept for Radarkanoid and Cave Worm, all the way back then). That idea seems doomed, to be honest. The imprint, not the smaller games. Just putting a label on them kind of deprioritizes them or something. So why not just make them and not need to label it? Sounds good to us!

Knowing that Radarkanoid is an old idea finally taking form isn't unusual knowing us, so lets get into the nitty gritty of "why Radarkanoid?" As in: "what's so special about this particular game that made it a 'must do' at some point"? Well, to be honest, it was kind of the perfect storm of ideas for me. As you may know, the name is a portmanteau of "radial" and "Arkanoid". Radial because the paddle goes around in a circle and Arkanoid, Taito's popular 1986 spiritual successor to Atari's 1976 staple, Breakout. It's a "block breaker" game in a circle. Pretty self-explanatory, no? Well, it's not even that simple.

Arkanoid

The "radial" part also has its inspiration. That would be Andrzej Kapolka's classic, Radial Pong. What? You haven't heard of Radial Pong? Well, you must have not been frequenting the popular old school website Albino Blacksheep in 2002, then! Yup, I was inspired directly by an old web game that most people probably don't even remember. Yeah, I know I'm weird. It's a pretty cool little game, though. It's Pong (obviously), but in a circle (*gasp*). Yeah, I know, I know. But yeah, it was a pretty neat idea. Since Breakout started out as a way to capitalize on Pong, but in a single player format, it seemed only right to take Radial Pong and do the same. That's pretty much it for the gameplay, but why dos it look like a piece of old machinery, you may ask? Well, that's the next part of the story!

Radial Pong

Pong has an interesting history. Most people who are even casually interested in games know that it was the first big video game success. Many of you also know that Atari (and later Chuck E. Cheese's) founder, Nolan Bushnell created the game in 1972 after being inspired by playing 1962's Spacewar at college. He went on to clone Spacewar, with 1971's Computer Space but it had limited success. Pong would be its follow-up!

Well, Pong actually predates all that with Ralph Baer's 1968 "Brown Box" prototype home video game console, which would later become the Magnavox Odyssey in 1975. Bushnell had seen one of its prototypes at a trade show and based Pong on one of its games. Needless to say, a lawsuit followed. Oddly enough, Baer's biggest success would be with the 1978 handheld game, Simon, which was a copy of Bushnell's Touch Me arcade game. So I guess it was a fair trade-off (maybe). 

So, why am I telling you all this? Pretty much just because I find it interesting. Well, actually, it was more for context's sake. See, Ralph Baer's "table tennis" game inside of the Brown Box was inspired by another, much older video game: 1958's Tennis for Two! 

Tennis for Two

All this, for Tennis for Two. It's certainly a weird game. It was made by physicist William Higinbotham using an oscilloscope. A freakin' oscilloscope. For those who don't know, an oscilloscope is a voltage tester kind of like a more complicated multimeter (also called a "DMM"). I'm simplifying, but yeah. Think about that a physicist makes a video game in 1958... 14 years before Pong. Freaking PONG!!! That was 58 years ago! That's hardcore! Sorry about that, I get excitable sometimes. Well, as you can see, it has a very distinct look to it. That's because of how it displays images. It's not really like pixels or polygons today. Seeing it in motion is really cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2E9iSQfGdg

As you can see, the look of not only Tennis for Two, but the hardware it's played on had a huge influence on how Radarkanoid looks. In addition to that, another inspiration was actual radar equipment.With the fact that an oscilloscope already looks a bit like a radar screen and that it is named "Radar"kanoid, I looked at a lot of radar images for reference, as well.

"Okay, okay", I can hear you say. That's the end of it, right? Well, no, sorry to say. There are a couple other places of inspiration on this one. As you can probably tell, Radarkanoid's gameplay graphics don't really line up with Arkanoid, Radial Pong, or Tennis for Two. Well that's because they're more closely inspired by the vector graphics for some old arcade games, and more specifically, 1982's home console oddity, the Vectrex!

Vectrex

The Vectrex is, in my opinion, one seriously strange and awesome piece of gaming hardware (of course, I think the same about the Virtual Boy, of which I own one, so I may just be strange myself).
It was a home console with a built-in vector monitor. Vector graphics are different from what you may be used to because they're generally only one color and are very crisp, glowing, geometric shapes. Oscilloscopes are actually vector monitors, but unfortunately Tennis for Two didn't look anything like (or anywhere near as good as, in my opinion) the good ol' Vectrex!

So that's it? Nope. But we are getting very close. I would be remiss if I didn't mention another piece of inspiration, the Fallout series' trusty Pip-Boy! More accurately, even though I did take some inspiration from the Pip-Boy directly (obviously) most of where they got their inspiration from is where I drew my inspiration from directly as well, rather than me just looking at a Pip-Boy and doing that. No, this was more indirect. Last year, leading up to Fallout 4's release the ShoddyCast had a contest to Fallout-ify their logo. This was my submission (I do still occasionally do freelance graphic design, after all):

Jay's ShoddyCast logo submission

Sadly, I didn't win... but I did have a blast making it! When it came time to work on Radarkanoid, instead of going with a pixelart aesthetic like I had originally planned on doing years ago, I actually thought about the historic context of my influences and used the same texturing techniques I did for this logo. I am a huge gaming history nerd, after all ("Nah, we never would have guessed"). Here's what it looks like now... we're pretty sure this is how it will look on final release here soon (or at least, very, very close):



What do you think? It was a real journey; quite a fun one, too! It really goes to show you what goes into even a really simple project! Heck, don't get me started on the pop art influences in Collapsus! Anyway, I've rambled for quite some time now and development does still need to get done. Later days!