Even small studios typically don’t release more than one game in a calendar year. But Roll7 does just that and more when it was released OlliOlli world in February and its first expansion in June and is about to be released Rollerdrome and the second untitled OlliOlli world Expansion (planned for autumn). It’s a lot by any measure and was one of the few topics that ComingSoon Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri covered when he spoke to David Jenkins, Head of QA, and Lead Producer Drew Jones. Jenkins and Jones also spoke about the studio’s love for games designed to induce a state of flow. Rollerdromethe aesthetic of the 1970s and beyond.
Michael Leri: Roll7 published an interesting developer diary about the game and it included a look at the game in its very early stages. Now, of course, things look very different. How did the team commit to the cel-shaded, sable-like 1970s art style and tone?
Drew Jones: There is a logical sequence to how it all came together. The original prototype of the game was always roller skates with guns, and we knew that after prototyping and making sure people enjoyed it, we would make a game out of it. Being a blood sport, many of the references just popped in. It’s just a plethora of fantastic inspirations from the 1970’s where blood sports were all the rage. New things like roller skates came out and we had movies like rollerball and The running man [Editor’s note: The Running Man book released in 1982 and the film came out in 1987]. Part of the reason the references are in the 1970s is because the 70s was such an important link between the game’s genre.
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There are two main reasons why the game has this art style. First, we didn’t want it to be photorealistic. And we knew it couldn’t be too crowded. There’s too much happening, especially when it gets thick and fast and we need things that stand out and stand out. When there is too much detail, much of the game’s readability is sacrificed. We didn’t want it to be complicated. But we also wanted it to be beautiful. And after going through many references, we chose this matte color because it is simple but also because it is eye-catching. We already had some really good rendering technologies from OlliOlli world and we were just trying to take that in a different direction where it was less cartoony but still comic booky.
Rollerdrome is a real system-heavy game reminiscent of OlliOlli World. Both games have a similarly deep base of skill-based combos and a high skill cap. Given these fundamental similarities, how does doing something like OlliOlli help in creating Rollerdrome?
Jones: I find Rollerdrome draws on the DNA of Roll7. It has the extreme sport angle that previous Roll7 games like laser league it was kind of an arena based blood sport. no hero was a fast-paced moment-to-moment shooting game. Not by any inventions, but we just got – and I’ll say the word “synergy” – a synergy of all these elements. Many of these elements are present in some form, but none of them stand out. It’s a nice balance.
What ties all of these games together and what is at the very heart of what we are trying to do at Roll7 is Flow. We want to make a game where players just get into that state where one action leads beautifully to the next. And the player is engaged but not stressed or overwhelmed. That’s the kind of balance we want to create. Once you really get into the game mechanics, you just slide through the level and pay close attention because it’s easy to fail, but when you get into that groove and look at the clock, it’s been about an hour.
David Jenkins: The fun challenge of doing these in parallel and being in QA where we switch between the two was doing what we were doing OlliOlli world in terms of level layouts. The way one thing transitions into the next and you hit all those beats is relatively easy in a 2D space compared to a 3D space. Because in a 2D space, we know how fast you’re likely to be driving and in which direction you’re going. In a 3D space you can go in any direction at any speed and that made assembling the levels more difficult but also more rewarding when we managed to do it.
And then, to combine with the additional mechanics, it’s not just about where the ramps, quarterpipes and grindrails are, it’s about where the ramps are relative to the sniper or rocketman. And it’s been fun to replicate and contribute as part of our broader role in quality assurance that goes beyond just testing. It’s the real QA bit that I think sometimes gets lost when we’re actually assuring it’s a quality product rather than just saying it works.
The video mentioned above did a good job of explaining how the levels are designed to encourage this type of flow state that brings players back into the action. Can you talk about how you found that flow state and how important it was to nail it?
Jones: For me, every action should lead to the next. in the Rollerdrome, you do a trick that replenishes your ammo, and when you come back down you’re presented with a bunch of options. You can turn left and face a ramp. You can advance where an enemy might be. Or you can turn the other way and do a grind or something. The options are always there and players never have to think too consciously or too hard about the next action. The next action is just always there and because it’s constantly moving, it’s almost like a fait accompli. Like you have to make your decision about what to do next because you’re moving toward it.
One of the eureka moments is when you reach that loop where you perform tricks to reload your ammo and kill enemies to refill your health. This is the repeatable core loop in gameplay. Once we had that, it really started behaving the way I just described. The skating and shooting just complement each other and you really can’t do one without the other and both really pull you along to take the next action. With a little refinement, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s not on autopilot, rather your brain is active and doing the work, but it’s not a conscious thing. For me it’s relaxing in a really perverse way when you really get into the zone because you’re shooting cannons and rockets.
Jenkins: They really have reached this autonomous state. I used to teach kickboxing and learning goes through the cognitive phase, then the associative phase and then the autonomic phase. And in the autonomous phase you start to reach this real state of flow. You don’t consciously say, “Oh, there’s an enemy over there. I think I’ll switch to the shotgun.” Your brain doesn’t overthink these things. You just feel and everything takes shape. And then you can start planning ahead and then you start to really get down to business.
I like how the shooting and trick mechanics are tied together through the scoring system, and while the scoring system isn’t essential to the game, it should almost feel like it. Just like you as a player want to get a high score, even if it doesn’t make a difference.
Roll7 releases two games and two expansions this year. How did it all come about so closely? And how does Roll7 deal with it without overwhelming its team members too much?
Jones: When Roll7 got wind of the idea, it was an idea they wanted to take seriously. I think they loved the idea so much that they thought it should be a Roll7 game. It just makes too much sense to do it. OlliOlli world was in the early stages of development at this point, so we weren’t too far behind.
It’s not exclusive either, but we’ve tried to keep two separate development teams. Making a video game is hard and it takes a lot of mental energy and you really have to commit to it, so we basically ran two different development teams for a lot of roles and departments. Certain people on the development side have worked on both projects, but we definitely didn’t want to spread people out too thinly, because when people get a bit drained, they don’t usually deliver the best results. The main department that worked on both games is QA.
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Jenkins: And we’ve tried to make sure we’re doing it in a smart and conscious way. It wasn’t just that everyone was doing everything at the same time. We had some people who were dedicated to the project for a long time and then we brought other people over and swapped people out to keep them fresh and keep them from burning out and doing the same thing over and over again. But we also did it to keep track of the projects. We did a lot of playtesting internally with the other team. We’ve been testing a lot with Private Division internally, which has been fantastic. We got a lot of people to get their hands on this game to make sure it is what we think it is and is exactly what we wanted it to be.
We’ve made some very conscious efforts within quality assurance to tell certain people, ‘Don’t touch it. Don’t go near it. leave it alone I know it looks great, but leave it alone for a minute and we’ll get to you. You’ll get your chance.” And we gave them a questionnaire and recorded their footage of their first playthroughs so we could have their brand new, pristine experience, but also from a QA perspective because we have a unique perspective on games. We tend to be the ones who play games the most, not just our own games but in general, and we tend to be the ones who just enjoy games the most, have an eye for detail and are pretty good at it, to give feedback. That’s why we do what we do; we are suitable for that.
QA did a lot of crossover, but in terms of how we do it without feeling overwhelmed, the producers did a hell of a job of structuring things, planning everything, and figuring out the results and all these fun things that most people don’t see or care about the wider gaming audience. And what you don’t see in the dev diaries is how much effort goes into making sure the game is actually done when it’s supposed to be done, and a lot of effort goes into making sure it was and that it was we never got to a point where we didn’t have enough people or time.
I feel like we always had exactly what we needed at any point in time and that is very much due to the production team and Private Division for giving us the freedom to do this and stay true to who we are as a studio. It was a really good mix and balance of everything and it all came together and I can’t wait for people to play it and tell us how great it is.