Ion Assault Interview

Article

posted 9/29/2009 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
When I previewed Ion Assault a few weeks back I was immediately pulled in by the games twist on the top down shooter genre.  Here's the interview from the folks at Coreplay that goes into a little more depth about the game.

Can you introduce yourself, talk about your role on the project? How did you get into game development and what's one thing that you love about the industry?
My name is Dominik Mieth and I worked on Ion Assault as a game and level designer. I got into the industry writing reviews for online magazines while I was attending college, but my first job in development was as an assistant producer, which I gave up to join Coreplay as a game designer.

The nice thing about game development is that I work on games all day and I also only work with people who share my same passion for the industry.


What was the inspiration behind Ion Assault? How would you compare the game to something like Geometry Wars and Super Stardust?
Our main reference for Ion Assault was the original “Asteroids” which was more about taking control of your ship rather than about shooting and destroying tons of objects.

With “Geometry Wars”, all of us here at the studio have played it and we truly enjoyed it, but we had some issues with the way the game increases pressure on the player. When a player starts up “Geometry Wars” they usually only last maybe a minute before they are overwhelmed by a massive wave of enemies, and not long after, they need to restart the game and go through the same phase again. Players can eventually progress over time but they have to earn every second of survival the hard way.

We wanted to deliver a game that adjusts to the skill of the player. Meaning if the player has limited experience with the game Ion Assault will actually adjust to their experience level. And for the more experienced players they can blast their way through the stages a little quicker while also raking up the points.

Apart from that, Ion Assault plays very differently than any other shooter on the market due to the particle physics system.

Ion Assault has some fantastic particle effects, was that something you started out with or something that happened in the development of the game? Were there any happy accidents in the development process?
The particle physics system was part of the idea right from the beginning. In fact we had a tech demo running that gave us the initial idea for this game mechanic.

Other games usually use particles for visual effects where players shoot a target and see an explosion, that's it! Ion Assault also has those types of effects but the ion particles that are used to destroy enemies are also part of a physical simulation run on the GPU.

After players collect ions and shoot them off the GPU keeps track of their position and speed. The faster they fly and the higher concentration the more damage they will inflict on the particular target!

Ion Assault is the first and only game I can think of that truly uses the next generation hardware for a game mechanic that couldn’t have been done on a previous console generation. That's why we call it a true next-gen experience.

What kinds of things will players be blowing up in the game? How did you come up with the designs for the bosses in the game?
There are asteroids, and of course several enemies which come in a large variety. Some try and steal particles, a few have the ability to shoot weapons while others try to charge you. Players will need to figure out how each particular enemy attacks in order to determine the most efficient way to beat them.

The game also features four different sectors all of which feature a different set of asteroids, enemies and of course a huge boss that needs to be defeated in order to unlock the next sector. We first came up with a distinct theme for each sector, so in the first sector players will encounter high tech aliens that use plasma beams as weapons while in the third sector they’ll encounter strange organic creatures that have adjusted to life in space. From that we came up with additional ideas on how these creatures would attack. For example in the third setting there are hatchers which lay eggs and hatch small swarmers.

The bosses are also designed to match the theme of each setting, so again in the third setting we wanted to have something organic and we came up with the idea of the boss being buried in a huge icy asteroid when players first encounter him. Initially players will only be able to see a hint of the creature hidden in the ice but once they start shooting off the ice it will reveal much more.


Are there different types of particles in the game or are they all the same? Is there a set amount of particles per level or are they created/destroy as you play through the game?
The ion particles are all the same but players will be able to use them in a variety of ways. For example, if a player gathers a high concentration of particles their ship becomes the center of a huge ball of destruction. We also have power-ups that give players new possibilities in which they can use the particles.

There are over 16,000 particles in each level and the distribution changes once a player uses them. For example, once shot some portions of the level are void of any particles so players will need to keep moving and absorb them again. It adds a tactical element to the game, especially when playing in co-op mode.


How did you come up with the concept of having the particles serve as a weapon and as a shield? Can you talk about how the controls for that work?
Our Technical Director, who designed Coreplay's engine had a couple of tech demos we looked at and among them was a very basic version of the particle physics system we have in the game now, so we just had to come up with the technical design of how to use it.

Basically the particles can be affected by a source of gravity which is the player's ship, and once the particles collide with other objects their speed and concentration is taken into account when calculating the damage. As for the controls, players will need to hold the Left Trigger to start attracting particles and once released the particles are focused into one shot.


What was the hardest point of developing the game? Can you talk about the process for getting the game on Xbox Live Arcade?
The hardest part for us was to find a partner interested in publishing Xbox LIVE Arcade games. We are the first game on XBLA created by a German developer so I guess that shows that it took Germany some time to catch up and get interested in this distribution channel.

Later in development, the network coding was very challenging because the game is very fast and includes many NPCs units as well as many player bullets.


Can you talk about the multiplayer modes in the game? Is it strictly head to head or is there some co-op in the game?
The game can be played in co-op with a friend allowing players to share the particles in the level and if players work well together they can shoot the particles back and forth becoming much more efficient than playing alone.

We also wanted the game to have an online versus mode which allows for up to four players. Inspired by games like the classic Warlords by Atari, each player controls a ship and a base. The base continually constructs squadrons that can be sent out to attack competing players’ bases, though squadrons are easy targets so players will most likely need to escort them until they reach their destination!


Is there any chance we'll see this on the PS3 in the future? Any thoughts on potential DLC for the game?
Currently we don’t have any plans in either direction.


Any tips or tricks for players when they finally get the chance to play the game?
Tons! In the beginning they should start by trying to collect as many particles as possible and get a feel for the relation between the amount of particles collected and the damage they can inflict. Look at the small HUD display on the ship that shows the number of currently attached particles.

Then can also experiment with the particles without shooting them. For example they can try using them as a shield. Also try to use the level boarder to bounce off particles in order to destroy several targets at once.

Then there is more advanced stuff related to scoring, but they’ll need to put some time into the game in order to get a hold on the mechanics. Scoring is probably something players won't worry about until they have finished the game once.

Did we miss anything important about the gamers that folks should know about the game?
The scoring mechanic offers enough depth to really get into the game and make it interesting for people hunting high scores.

To explain it roughly - players don’t score points by destroying enemies, but rather by collecting the score orbs that destroyed asteroids and enemies leave behind. With every score orb players will collect a timer and when they collect another orb while the timer is still running the timer is reset and the current score increases.

If players collect several score orbs in a row they can raise a multiplier for the current score. So if they get a 2x multiplier after collecting 10 orbs, the score for the 10 orbs collected is doubled.

The current tally isn’t added to the total score until the timer expires, so if players want to maximize their score they will need to finish a stage with as few score uploads as possible in addition to maximizing the multiplier on every upload.

If they want a perfect score they will need a flawless performance through each stage.

We'd like to thank Dominikfor taking the time to answer our questions as well as to Brandon for helping to coordinate the interview.  Ion Assault is now available on Xbox Live Arcade.