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25 June 2013

Rezzed: The Making of The Agent


"… The 80's!" announced the organiser and the game jam began.


The 80's. Great. OK. Nine hours to make a game about the 80's. What's the first thing that comes to mind? The blossoming career of Keith Chegwin. That's not going to cut it. Chris Tarrant? No! What else?... Arcade machines. OK, there's something we can explore. We need one more thing? Big hair?... Too obvious. Shoulderpads? Ditto. Thatcherism?... close but dull... The Cold War? Yes. Let's begin...

Arcade Machines and the Cold War

With those two things in mind we (by which I mean ourselves and the inimitable Clockwork Cuckoo) set about figuring out the aesthetics and mechanics of the game. It became apparent that it'd be an interesting experiement to imagine the game as if it were a real artefact of the 80s. A machine from a parallel gaming history. Someone else's memories of childhood. Perhaps something that ran on esoteric Russian technology, similar to systems we are more familiar with such as the Vectrex or the old Atari vector arcade games.


Very early on we set upon the idea of a two player game of cat and mouse, in which one player tries to catch the other with a point being scored for either a successful capture or evasion. This tied in nicely to our theme as we could interpret these two roles as being an Agent and his Target.


Initial discussions were focussed on the idea of placing walls in the playfield to create dynamics between the players, but we soon discarded this notion in favour of a number of power-ups. This would achieve similar goals in terms of emphasising certain areas of the playing area and also meant that gameplay would remain fast and frantic without the stalemates that could occur if two players ended-up on opposite sides of a wall.

Early development
An development screenshot showing players, power-ups and controller analog stick debug.


As previously mentioned, the other half of our team were the rather excellent Clockwork Cuckoo. In order to play to their considerable strengths, we knew we'd be able to put plenty of juice into the look of the game. So although we wanted a very simple aesthetic of geometric outlines, we were sure we could get a lot of flair into the animations to make the game feel vibrant and authentic. This included glow, rgb shift, scanlines and an overlay to give the screen a reflection like the curved glass of an arcade CRT. Ideally these effects would be done with shaders rather than baked into the spritesheets, but with so little time (we're working in C++) this wasn't an option. One effect that is in code is that the sprites are additive, so overlapping shapes create lots of additional glow.

Trail bug
A bug where player trail effects were not being discarded and reused. Additive blending to the max!


We made the decision to use cyrillic text in order to lend the game an extra sense of authenticity and intrigue. We apologise to any Russians for whom the translation might reveal its awfulness - we only had online translation tools to go with!


An inspiration for the music and to some extent, the whole notion of the game, was soviet aerobics videos. Bare with me on this. Many of these old videos have music tracks which are very soviet interpretations of western forms of music. Whether it's electronic, disco, funk, even rock and roll. Similarly, we wanted our arcade game to have this sense of the familiar transposed.


Whilst we wanted to make something that people would enjoy, the music also needed an authortarian essence to it, which the incessant snares, military to some extent, would lend it. Once written, the music was heavily treated with various effects to degrade it into sounding like a badly mastered vinyl record. A good trick if you've not got long on a mix and are having to work exclusively from headphones!


One aspect of the game we haven't mentioned yet was the intention to try to lean the game in favour of the Agent (the chasing player), whilst not making the game unfair. This would give a sense of the game being slightly tainted by propaganda. The sound design and text feedback (if you can read it) helps convey this.



People are sometimes surprised by how much we manage to get done in jams and we're often told we've made something very polished and complete. Whilst I'd rather people used the term 'fun', I figured I'd try and share a little bit of insight into some of the thinking that goes into our work.


So, here are a few simple tips for trying to get the most out of your jams (or prototypes) in a short space of time:

  • Be prepared for abject failure
  • Experiment
  • Keep the scope tiny
  • Do things in the right order i.e. implementation heavy things first
  • Cut losses early, try to spot what isn't working and fix it, even if it means stripping it from the game.
  • Get all the content to your programmer well before the end of the jam
  • Ignore everything I've said, just do what makes you happy.
Shout Outs

We'd like to thank all of the crew and organisers at Rezzed, Eurogamer and RPS. Creative Assembly for hosting the jam and looking after all of us jammers. All of the other other teams, it was a pleasure to work alongside you - definitely go and check out their games. The judges - Keith Stuart, Ed Stern and Chris Avellone. Lastly, everyone at Rezzed, who all seemed super-responsive and kind to all of the games on show.

Stop Talking, I Want to Play

OK. That's probably sensible. Grab a controller (or two) ! Here you go:

It should be noted that this version of the game has a few fixes and elements that we didn't have time to implement during the jam, though there are no new assets:

  • Keyboard support (not as fun)
  • Flipped controls power-up
  • Growth & shrink power-ups
  • Explosion, spawn and miscellaneous particles
  • Capture and coward text overlays and end-game draw text

You might want to check out some of our other jam games, which are downloadable and playable. Alien Laser Bunnies in particular, though I suspect some of you already have... ;)


- Nick

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