The #1 downloadable PS Vita game for October just got better!
Retro City Rampage launched last month and the reception’s been amazing. It was the #1 downloadable PS Vita game for October and holds a 9.5+ customer score based on well over 1,000 ratings over the three platforms.
Still, with the high praise there was room for improvement. Striving to make the best possible game, I have spent the past month making it even better based on the feedback from you, the players.
The updates are now available on all current platforms: PC (Worldwide), PS3 and PS Vita (North America). The still to be released platforms (XBLA, WiiWare and EU PS3/Vita) will include all of these updates day one. There is no release date yet for the remaining SKUs, but all versions are complete and either well into certification or starting shortly.
As the remaining SKUs were not yet out the door at the time of launch, I made the decision to take this as an opportunity to ensure that at minimum, those still waiting for the game would get a better experience from the get-go.
The update includes faster cars, tips screens, shop icons on the map, additional tutorials, checkpoints, level balancing and more. Some missions have even been completely overhauled for the better.
The Changes: What and Why?
A core pillar of RCR throughout development was to go beyond just driving and shooting missions. One of my approaches to this was to design missions which required the player to stop and strategize. If they went in guns a-blazin’, they’d be killed and need to try again. Unfortunately, I didn’t deliver this messaging clearly enough and some people went in expecting a standard GTA-style experience throughout. I also didn’t emphasize the importance of stomping on enemies, nor jumping to dodge and avoid rockets, gunfire and vehicles running you down. Jumping, stomping and throwing are as important as any other weapon in the game, but players who went in with just fists and guns and came out feeling frustrated.
To address the strategic missions, I have added additional tutorials, re-balanced some of the gameplay and tips screens are now displayed after repeated failures. The strategic gameplay required on certain missions is not something that I’m going to change, but those who need more guidance should now have a much easier time with them. They can think of it as pulling out an old Nintendo Power! Players can also watch replays on the Leaderboards of the top players for additional tips.
Players who have mastered the game will likely notice little difference, but those who have gotten stuck will find the ride much smoother.
While the average mission in RCR contained 2-3 checkpoints (which is more than most open-world games), those that did not stood out and gave some the perception that they were sparse. This was intentional, to increase the challenge and the consequence of actions. However, in cases where the player would fail and be required to replay one or two minutes of gameplay became frustration to some, and was amplified for those who went in with only a run-n-gun frame of mind as they’d hit a brick wall each time. More checkpoints have been added to ensure a more enjoyable experience for these players.
Car Tailing. Yes. I call this out for being a boring task then make the players do it. However, in RCR the player needed to not just follow the car, but also find coffee kiosks without losing them for a frantic juggling act. This was an unpopular mission to some, but the car tailing was a red herring. It’s unpopular because failing towards the end meant replaying another two minutes of gameplay. To remedy this I added a checkpoint in the middle, tweaked some mission variables and most importantly added the Coffee Jitter Power which flips the game to run at 2X speed for 30 seconds, cutting the length of the mission in half yet again. Sadly, this power was actually on the todo list throughout the project but cut due to time constraints before submission.
Platforming. Yup. The mandatory Sweat Bomber levels were a frustration to many. These have now been completely overhauled. I’ve gone so far as to even add a rhythm game style tutorial bar showing which buttons to press and when after repeated failures on the first level. However, the real cause of the frustration was an oversight of mine involving jump distance. In order to make it over wide gaps, the player needed to run and jump. However, many players tried to jump from a standing position and saw the levels as impossible. This has also been addressed, and accelerating is no longer required before making long jumps. Oh, and these levels are also completely skippable now after three failures at the cost of unlockables. By completing all three levels, you’ll unlock an additional Arcade Challenge and a Free Roaming Mode playable character.
Side Quests. Fun fact! Several of the optional side missions were the very first missions developed for the game, before the final story was written. They didn’t quite fit once the game became more ambitious with more in depth missions. However, rather than cut them I decided to leave them in as optional ones. While I hoped that everyone would enjoy the overall package and see these as extras, the sad state is that some critics tug on any loose string that they find and these more mundane missions were held up high to the spotlight, some even using them to “sum up” the game. To address this, I’ve reworked them and added more depth to bring them closer to the level of the rest. Be warned though, they’re now much harder and require more skill to beat, as is the case for many of the optional missions. The purpose of most optional missions is to give the advanced players more challenge (which funny enough was cause for criticism by some, but that’s why they’re optional!).
Remember: It’s Two Games in One
Knowing well that many players just want to blow things up non-stop without any story whatsoever, I built half of RCR to cater directly to this audience. Next to the Story Mode there are also nearly 50 Arcade Challenges and a Free Roaming Mode. Players who just want to jump into the game and go crazy are covered. There’s something for everyone in this game so enjoy what speaks to you.
Throughout development I had a lot of people playtest the game and opened my ears like a sponge for all of the feedback that I could get. I’d rush to address it and a better game was the result. I credited this as being a key reason for the game’s awards and hot reception leading up to its launch. However, in the final couple of months before submission, the task list was overflowing. Being a one man show, I had to juggle everything from the programming, design and bug fixing to the business, production, trailer, store assets, marketing, emails, PR and most of all, certification and platform requirements. I didn’t want to let everything else on my plate prevent the game from being as complete as I wanted it to be and the story flow felt like it still had holes. Not to worry, because I knew just the missions to fill in the gaps and got everything done in the nick of time. However, having created the game and having years of practice, I underestimated my own skill playing it. Late in the project I was able to speed run it so easily that I became worried that it felt way too easy, so I made these new missions significantly more difficult. That wouldn’t have been an issue had there been time to run playtests on these missions, but there wasn’t any. I was so over worked, sleeping so little, and physically ill from the years of seven day work weeks that in the end I sometimes had to reverse-call in sick asking my testers to work from home as I couldn’t make it into the office.
The strong lesson to be learned here is that playtesting is critical for everything that goes into the game, especially at the end. You, and your testers are all masters of the game in the end and it’s difficult to judge difficulty without fresh eyes. Sounds like common sense, yes? But it’s really tough to balance things and sort out tasks when the mountain is so high it’s out of sight. That being said, the final boss is hard; deal with it. It’s the final boss!
What makes this even more interesting is that throughout most of RCR’s development, people would always ask me what my favourite missions were. I honestly couldn’t answer that question because I liked them all. However, in the end I could answer that question very easily. My favourite missions were all of those last ones that I squeezed in. They were challenging and therefore fun. The engine, tools, art and audio were all done, so I could just take ideas straight out of my head and make them a reality. There were no bottlenecks in the way and the creativity could flow. So with that being said, one of my favourite missions was one of the least popular among players. You as the player were given dynamite and told to blow up 20 vehicles. To me, this was the pinnacle of my vision. Why? Because it sounded so simple, but you really, really had to think hard to strategize a plan or you’d be slaughtered. I nailed it. Too bad many players weren’t on the same page. For every reason that I enjoyed the mission, those who were playing it under a run-n-gun mindset faced nothing but frustration.
The perfect strategy has you stopping incoming traffic then timing how long you spend between dropping the dynamite and jumping out of the way, as well as figuring out which direction you need to jump to relative to where you placed the dynamite. Focusing on smaller vehicles that can be blown up with a single stick reduces the number of times you need to dodge explosions, and jumping is also critical in avoiding police trying to run you down. The mission actually popped into my head after having so much fun playing the dynamite Arcade Challenge and realizing the depth of strategy required. The problem with making a game with everything including a kitchen sink is that some players either don’t expect or don’t like certain directions that you can go in. I guess it’s just like those old NES games that switched between platforming levels and racing. I hated those racing levels at the time and just wanted more platforming.
As mentioned up top, the game’s received a month of additional tweaks and polish. More than I could list (without boring you!). If you’re playing on Steam, the good news is that you’ve already (automatically) got the latest version. For PS3 and PS Vita, click “YES” when prompted to update. For other PC versions, go back to your download page, log in and download the latest version.