10 Questions for Creative Director Mike Mika
by Shin Hieftje on Apr 22, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Platform Xbox One
Publisher Other Ocean
Developer Other Ocean Interactive
Rating Everyone

#IDARB, an acronym of It Draws A Red Box, is a 2D multiplayer sports game. But it didn’t use to be. It used to be “a horrible, artless adventure game.” Before that it was only a red box in front of a grey background, accompanied by a tweet. #IDARB is one of the first games (if not the very first) that has been primarily developed by crowdsourcing ideas through Twitter and other avenues. The creators at Other Ocean have taken what was a side project and made it into a full-fledged game – one that continues to evolve.  

I asked the creative director at Other Ocean, Mike Mika, ten questions, all with the basic premise of ‘What’s up with #IDARB?’ His answers were fascinating and informative.

How did #IDARB get started and what is it at this point?

#IDARB started out as a small side project. I wanted to make a game based on suggestions from my friends. Kind of like I used to do when I was a kid. No end goal, no timeline. The very first screen I was able to render randomly displayed a Red Box in the center of a gray background. I usually prototype with boxes, but the difference this time was that I posted my progress to Twitter and asked anyone who was following to throw some ideas at me. I didn’t have a master plan for it. The ideas I started to get were fun so I started to implement them. I tried every idea that came my way. It was fun to try and make all the disparate ideas work together.

What are the gameplay mechanics in #IDARB?

It started out as a platformer, much like Super Mario Bros., with a scrolling level. Some suggestions asked for multiplayer, so then I needed to make a camera that would support N amount of players. At that point, you were hopping around trying to shoot each other in a simple death match game, but it really wasn’t that fun. One person thought that the colored boxes looked like soda cans, and another person said we should try to make them fizz. That gave birth to a rocket mechanic where you shake the right stick to build up pressure and pull the trigger to launch into a frenzied rocket.

A friend suggested we add a ball, and I think that was the biggest turning point. We then added teams and it just started to get really fun. So fun that we started playing it a lot in the office. So as of today, it’s a team-based ball game where each team tries to get the ball into their goal. To do that, they pulse the ball away from their opponents and try to shoot it from as far away as possible (to score more points). It’s a weird mash-up, it feels, of Smash Brothers and NBA Jam. I still haven’t been able to describe it very well.

I know it started as merely a tweet, but when was the point when you guys got serious about taking these twitter ideas and making #It Draws A Red Box into a real game?

Once we started to really play it, we still didn’t think we had something that was destined for release. We still felt it was a fun little side project. When we started to invite people to play it when they were visiting and seeing their response to the game, we started to realize we had something a bit more interesting. Then Microsoft came knocking and asked if we’d be interested in putting it on the Xbox One. Excited by that, we ported it over pretty quickly and pushed it to 8 players. It all just kind of worked. 

The week leading up to GDC was when we really saw the potential, because it was running great on Xbox One, we were using the Kinect to import characters and people were making characters for the show. It was kind of a magical moment where you suddenly realize, quite after the fact, that you were having more fun than you should at this point. Microsoft also reacted really positively, and gave us some incredible support at the show. 

We weren’t planning on showing it – we didn’t have a booth or anything. They quickly set us up with a great location at the show, then featured us at the Loft event. Then the Humble Bundle guys called up and invited us to their event. We felt like the belle of the ball. It really sunk in when the show opened and we started to get crowds. I mean, like, 4-5 people deep and people coming back day after day. We met some incredible people who didn’t even know us but loved the game, and helped us demo the game by letting us go take bathroom breaks and stuff. I was floored at the total support we got from everyone who stopped by. It was incredible.

What did some earlier versions of #IDARB look like?

It looked like a horrible, artless, adventure game. Like this:

Tell me about this QR code character generating system. How does it work and how did the idea come about?

I don’t even remember where it came from, to be honest. It was literally the week before GDC, and it came up like every other idea, “Wouldn’t it be cool fi we could load characters in from a QR code with Kinect, then we could wear shirts that had versions of ourselves on them when we demo.” So we added it to the character creator – you can watch the code change as you draw. We miraculously got it working after some nail biting moments, and then it just worked really well. 

The Friday before the show we realized we needed a web site, etc. So we spent the whole day registering the sites, building the sites, and we even built a web app to create characters. By the time the show opened, you’d have thought we were this well-oiled machine, but this whole thing has been a series of fortunate events.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve gotten serious, great feedback about improving the game from other developers. Can you mention any examples of good feedback that you liked a lot or have implemented?

The ball – Brandon Sheffield gave us that idea. I promised him a beer and I haven’t delivered on that yet. When we added the ball, the entire game suddenly just worked. Before that, it didn’t make much sense. 

So, at GDC the game had become a two dimensional, eight player sports game that everyone seemed to be enjoying a lot. What changes have been made since then? Are you thinking of sticking to the idea of the game being a sports game, or are you still open to the game completely changing into something different based on twitter input?

One of the most common suggestions at this point is to NOT change it. I kid you not. I am inclined to listen to that with the desire by many to get it out quickly. We’re going after a lot of ideas that make sense right now. Some of the more esoteric things are starting to go into a new level. At this point, I think we will stick with this sports structure. Since GDC, a lot of time has been spent on logistical things. 

However, the last two days I’ve started to hit the list of ideas. We’ve added penalty spikes, so players in the penalty box can try to spike active players and if they hit them, they swap positions. A bomber-man like mechanic. We’ve added Victory floods, where your tears fill up the screen with water when you lose. We’ve added a whole new level that’s larger horizontally, and it has some warp gates and jump pads and air boosts. I’ve started adding a charge pass mechanic, which if all goes well, helps prevent interceptions. I also started an “on fire” type mode, but haven’t thought through what that really implies. I’ve also started working out the tournament structures, etc, which were a big request. 

Also, we’re working on our on-line support. That’s a big request. After all that, I want to isolate all the feedback that is the big ticket weirdness – the things that do say stuff like “Turn it into an RPG”. I want pick maybe one or two and give that a go, just to see what happens. But now that we’re properly using source control, I can always revert when we totally blow it up.

Speaking of that, when do you plan to stop iterating on the game and release it? Is it indefinite as of now?

Our dream is to get it out there in some sort of early access build so we can iterate with live players. I’m not sure how easy that will be on Xbox One, but much easier on PC. I’d like to see this game come out before the fall, before the big rush. So we’re trying our best to go as fast as we can without sacrificing the quality of the experience. Until now, we’ve been working on this as a side project here and there since January. Now it’s real!

What platforms are you planning on releasing it on? 

Xbox One and PC for now.

What aspects of the game get you the most excited/are you most excited about? Is there anything else you’d like to say about the game?

I just love to play it. We just finished an epic game in the back room before this. My nerves are still twitching. I can’t say I’ve felt that way about many other games I’ve worked on.  Also, I really enjoy the amount of effort people have been putting into creating characters. I print up a lot of the QR codes people have sent us on the website, and we play as those characters here. I think people are going to love the trading and customizing of characters, and the broadcasting features, the Twitter integration, and all the dumb ideas we’re throwing in. I hope people think it’s as fun a party game and we do.


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