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Rumbleverse, the new game from Iron Galaxy, is a unique take on the battle royale. You and 39 other players launch out of a cannon into Grapital City. Once you hit the ground, instead of searching for guns, you search for power ups and melee weapons. You must defeat any players you encounter in your journey to become the champion of the rumble. You see, Rumbleverse is a melee brawler royale.
I had the chance to talk, via Zoom, with Rumbleverse’s lead designer Adam Heart about fighting games, netcode, and more. The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.
GamesBeat: How did you folks come up with the idea for a melee battle royale?
Adam Heart: Melee combat is in our DNA. <Laugh> We did [Street Fighter III] Third Strike Online back in the day. We did Divekick. It’s just something we’re very close to. I feel like we’ve always been on the forefront of really high quality net play as well for these games. And it’s important to us. We’re very passionate about it. I’m very picky about it myself. Many years of, ”Hey, what if we did more than two players and try to make the netcode good. How can we do that?” And those types of conversations were always kicking around. Then, as the story goes, at a bar one night, co-CEO Chelsea Blasko says to co-CEO Adam Boyes, “let’s do a wrestling battle royale.” They thought that was funny enough to bring to some of the engineers and designers to pitch around. And we thought it was funny too. But we also thought probably not possible. <Laugh> Yeah. And then they pitched it and we got funding for it. We were off to the races. So, we had to figure it out.
GamesBeat: I was noticing it’s 40 players. How did you guys come to that number?
Heart: We wanted to pick a number that was going to have a nice game flow. Feel a little bit more intimate. We weren’t exactly sure what that number was going to be from the offset, but as we prototyped the game, we found that there were a lot of advantages to having this group of 40. It just felt right. The pace of the match, the amount of encounters you had, the amount of people in the city, your ability to recognize a player who you have had encounters with later in the match. Those things all just kind of fell into place once we started to work more towards this 40 number.
GamesBeat: What size is the map?
Heart: I’m not sure how to define that exactly. <Laugh> It’s quite large. It’s a huge city. It’s named Grapital City. It’s built in the tradition of all these people in the society wanting to be the champion of the rumble. So the infrastructure of this place kind of supports all of this tomfoolery. What’ll happen is, even though you have this really large map, when you launch into the map from the cannon on the battle barge, the ring will pick a subsection of the map. So, instead of having one favorite spot that you always go to or one route that you always run the game has a heavy emphasis on improvisation. And one of the ways we get that for you is, hey, you’re going to start in a different neighborhood every time.
The starting circle encompasses maybe three or four of the 16 or 20 neighborhoods that are on the map. And you’ll have to choose, “Hey, which, which hot spots do I want to drop at in this ring and what kind of routes do I want to run this time?” It really keeps you on your toes. It’s quite a big space, and it’ll take lots and lots of matches for you to really get the hang of knowing the city. But for launch, we did add a new mode called playground mode that will let you drop in with no game mode running. So you won’t have to worry about battle royale or anything like that. And you can fully explore the city at your own pace and really get to know it, which is awesome.
GamesBeat: What technical hurdles did you folks have to overcome? A lot of net synchronization issues, I’m sure. That’s the nightmare for a battle royale, right?
Heart: Yeah. It’s an extra nightmare for melee games as well. We’re very lucky to have the engineers we have who really know and understand these problems. But we had been working on rollback games, which are peer-to-peer, and they sync in a very different way than something client-server. We had to build client server to hit the player counts we wanted. So we’re tackling an entirely new set of problems. There are some lessons we can learn from rollback that we can bring here, but we can’t do what we’ve done in the past to get this to work. So that was the first blessing. The second blessing is we were able to attack the networking first and not the gameplay.
I think sure. If we had built the game of our dreams and then said, “Hey, engineers make it work online.” <Laugh> That would’ve been rough, but we built online first and we had our design team tailor the way that the game works to what the netcode could handle. The internet is a reality. There’s nothing you can do to speed up data going from you to the server and back. There’s just nothing you can do about that. It’s distance and time. So what good netcode is about is not getting rid of delay, but hiding it. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of weird little tricks we’ve done to try and hide the delay as best we can. I’m sure there will be an awesome GDC talk about it someday from here.
But you know, the short version of it for everybody is when you play this game, you’re going to notice your character moves immediately. Your attacks come out immediately. There’s no delay on your inputs. And all the tricks beyond that are just to make sure that you can maintain that really fine control that you expect from our games. And we can keep all the networking stuff in sync with all the other players who are also experiencing no delay and keeping that all synced up so that when you choke slam somebody off a building it’s happening on their screen and you’re both experiencing the same dramatic moment.
GamesBeat: You folks are big wrestling fans, I assume.
Heart: Yeah. There’s a good portion of the team who are either current or former wrestling fans. The game is kind of farther reaching than that, but if you think about what wrestling is anyway, it’s kind of the kitchen sink. It’s got wizards and evil dentists and all kinds of stuff. That’s how we always envisioned this as well. There’s wrestling, but there’s everything else too. I was a huge wrestling fan back in the WCW/NWO days. I fell out after then, and I’ve only kind of been mildly interested since. But it still lives inside me. The passion for the showmanship and soap opera of it. I love all that stuff.
GamesBeat: Rumbleverse is free-to-play. How are you folks monetizing?
Heart: We’re completely devoid of any pay to win. So, it’s all going to be customizations, accessories, and things of that nature. At launch, which is August 11, we’re going to have a couple of packs you can buy. There’s a starter pack and a founder pack. The founder pack, for instance, has a lot of great stuff — it has five different variations of a karate outfit. It has 2000 Brawla Bills, our in-game currency, that you can use to buy things in our store and unlock the battle pass. Those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value there. And then the battle pass itself will launch one week later on August 18th. That’ll be your usual kind of progression track filled with all kinds of unlockable items.
The really cool thing I want to highlight about our customizations is that this game is extremely mix and match. We want you to be able to represent either yourself or whatever persona you feel like representing. So we have six very diverse body types there. Every single accessory in the game works on every body type. There’s no restrictions. You can put a skirt on anyone. You can put a mustache on anyone you want. You may go into the store and buy a head-to-toe look, and it’s got a mask and it’s got glasses and it’s got gloves and a shirt. Those are pieces though. You can wear them together if you want. Or you can say, “I love the glasses. I love these gloves. I’m going to stick those on my own custom outfit and mix and match it with all the other pieces that I’ve unlocked.” And that allows you to really represent whatever you want to represent. If you want to, you know, make your own fantasy wrestler, or dress up as a character from another game, or just dress up as yourself, you can do all those things. It’s really cool.
GamesBeat: How did you folks work out player health and time to kill (TTK)?
Heart: That took years. It’s really tough. It’s not a shooter, right? So the way that players behave matters a lot more. It’s not just “Oh, is that guy going to duck behind a tree or not?” There’s a lot of layers to, “Hey, is this player personality someone who blocks really often? Do they dodge cancel a lot? Do they jump a lot?” It’s a lot of little observations. You need a little time to get to know your opponent and have that observation. So you can’t really have a time to kill that’s super, super short. But if you don’t have those moments of high drama where somebody just gets obliterated, that kind of undercuts the tension of the game as well.
Finding ways to make sure that the game paces nicely was really the most important thing. A lot of systems come together to do that. First of all, you launch into the game with a basic move set. It’s a perfectly capable move set. You could win a game with it. It’s not very strong. So, an early game encounter is going to last quite a bit longer because neither of you have potent stuff. And as the game grinds on, you are going to find stats that you can buff your character up with. So you get more damage or more health or more stamina and mix and match those, however you want. You’re going to find special moves. You can equip those to do a lot more damage or have a lot more utility. So maybe you can make a combo longer, get a wall splat easier, or just having a much easier time flinging somebody off of a building to get that massive damage that you get from being in those scenarios.
There’s a very nice kind of progression to it. The early game — not so lethal. Mid game — getting a little scarier. Late game — lethal. It gives you that time you need to both buff your character up and build them out, but also get to know these opponents. You can have multiple encounters with the same opponent and kind of build a story or a rapport between the two of you. You and I might fight early on, and you throw me off a building. Because you’re dressed so uniquely, which everyone is because of mix and match, I remember what you look like. <Laugh> I will be looking for you during the rest of the match. You really do build those relationships with other players in a unique way.
GamesBeat: One thing I like is that when your character is outside of a circle, instead of taking damage, they get a ring-out countdown.
Heart: Yeah. It’s also a really interesting mechanic because it’s such a hidden information game. Like I don’t know how much health you have, but the moment you step out of the ring, I can see the count above your head. Well, okay. He’s got three seconds left. I’m going to go and try and keep him out of the ring and get him disqualified. You reveal a lot when other players are nearby, if you step out of the ring, which is a pretty neat twist.
GamesBeat: What kind of items do you folks have in the game?
Heart: I think there’s a couple dozen items that you can use. There’s a whole bunch of weapons with different qualities. A lot of the weapons are environmental as well. They won’t come out of a loot crate. You’ll need to run around the city and actually find them. Those are things like stop signs. You can just rip those out of the ground and smash people with mailboxes. There are the big blue express mailboxes, but there’s also residential mailboxes that you can pick up and use like a mallet.
So, not only does the fight with your opponent matter, but the locations you choose to fight in actually matter a lot. you know, what kind of elevations are there? What kind of environmental weapons are nearby that you can use before them? Learning the city is a huge benefit as you get better at the game. The better you know the city, the better you’re able to handle every situation.
GamesBeat: Does the game have character progression?
Heart: The basic progression in the game is what we call the leagues system. You’ll gain fame by impressing your fans, which is our form of experience points. And you’ll gain fame by just playing the game. If you survive a long time, get KOs, and win a match, lots of fame will come your way, and that will progress you through the leagues system. And as you progress through the leagues system, you’re occasionally going to get fan mail from your fans. If you open your fan mail, occasionally they will give you a present. So, it’ll be like, “Hey, I’m your biggest fan! Here’s a t-shirt!” Then that shirt gets added to your locker room. This is a completely free progression track for everybody. Then, starting August the 18th, there’s also the battle pass progression track that has a free version as well. So, if you don’t want to buy into the battle pass, you can continue to progress down that and you’ll unlock some free rewards. But if you upgrade to the premium version of it, you’ll get a reward every single step of the way on the battle pass.
GamesBeat: Other than solo battles and the playground, you have a group mode as well, right?
Heart: Yeah, definitely bring a friend and try out the duos mode. It is a wildly unique experience to play with somebody, but really watch your distance together because there’s no guns. I can’t really protect you if we’re not close enough together. But if we’re too close together, then we are getting one player’s worth of loot and we have to share it. And we’re not powering up enough. So, finding that kind of tension between how much are you and I willing to split up so that we can power up versus how close do we need to stay together to make sure we don’t get ambushed is really interesting.
GamesBeat: When teamed up, can you hurt your partner?
Heart: You can knock your teammates over, but you can’t hurt them. So you can’t just 2v1 somebody, mash all the buttons, and make sure they can’t move. You do have to be aware of your teammate’s position or you’ll knock them over. But you won’t be able to hurt them.
GamesBeat: So you have to be aware of your positioning.
Heart: Exactly. If you are getting attacked on a roof and I come to rescue you, I might hit you off the roof on accident. You won’t take damage from that, and I did save you from the attack, but now I’m on the roof alone against two people. I haven’t really helped the situation that much at all. A lot of those things add interest to the team mode and I can’t wait to see people get their hands on it.
GamesBeat: On the other hand, does that mean there are coordinated attacks?
Heart: Instead of doing pre-canned stuff that you would see a thousand times and get bored of, we went for a very free form system. A lot of the moves in the game launch an opponent in a way that you can’t combo from, but a teammate could. There are endless possibilities for dynamic looking and interesting team combinations in the game. And they’ll never be the same twice because it’s using what we found while we’re trying to put something together.
So, I’ve played the game for a thousand hours. Every time I play a duo match, I see some new, absolutely ridiculous team combo. It never gets old. Finding all the cool things you can juggle somebody with or even just seeing a moment where you and I both throw a trash can at the same guy from opposite directions at the same time. <Laugh> He just gets smushed between two trash cans. That stuff looks amazing and feels great.
GamesBeat: Any map locations you’re excited for players to see?
Heart: The city is really interesting. We have a downtown area with all the skyscrapers. There are puns around every corner in this place. You should explore it. If you like dad jokes, we got ’em! We got all of them. But there are other types of neighborhoods. There’s a suburb area that’s a little tamer; the houses are smaller. It’s a little harder to hide there. You can’t really get a huge elevation advantage. Maybe some moves are more or less effective depending on that type of thing. But there are other things to consider in the suburbs. Up in the hills, in the Northeast, there’s a whole sewer system under there that you can explore. It’s filled with all kinds of ways to hide, dip out of the way and sneak up on people that you wouldn’t expect at first glance. So definitely explore the map and see what kinds of things you can find. There’s interesting stuff around every corner.
GamesBeat: You’re launching soon, August 11, is there anything you’d like to say to potential players?
Heart: It’s free-to-play, so I would urge people to give it a download, bring a friend, and give it a shot. If you’re the type of player who wants a little tutorial action — drop into playground mode and check out those lessons. You can read them at your own pace. You don’t have to do them all at once. And if you’re the type of person who likes to throw down immediately — the game is very easy to learn. It’s a very simple game. Most people, without a tutorial, have gotten the hang of it within just a couple of matches. The matchmaking is really fast, so you won’t be waiting too long. And then once you have the hang of the game, if you want some more advanced lessons, you can go to the playground and read some of those things to see if you missed anything.
I’ve never played a 3D platform or online game where sometimes people are chasing you or sometimes you’re chasing people. The whole cat and mouse of it, both ends of that, are really interesting and fun. The mouse aspect is scary and fun while the cat aspect is strategic and fun. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in any other game.