Crossfire: We Catch Fire with SmoothBlockModel and Ozzypig
Creativity and sharing are two qualities that fuel ROBLOX, and it’s in that spirit we created Crossfire, a series where we chat with ROBLOX game developers about their game design choices. For this outing, we interviewed SmoothBlockModel and Ozzypig, creators of Catching Fire: The Hunger Games Sequel and The Hunger Games by Ozzypig, respectively. Fueled by the release of the new movie last week, both of these games are absolutely booming in popularity. We thought we’d chat with the both of them about level design, monetizing and maintaining popular ROBLOX titles, and a whole lot more!
ROBLOX: Thanks for agreeing to interview guys! I usually do this with John, but I’m afraid he’s sick and losing his voice.
SmoothBlockModel: No problem. May the odds be ever in your favor.
ROBLOX: Haaa, you made a Hunger Games joke.
SmoothBlockModel: Yep, I’m good at this.
Ozzypig: I must become more proficient in the use of Hunger puns.
ROBLOX: Stop playing Punger Games.
Ozzypig: I guess you could say that John was Catching Flu-er.
SmoothBlockModel: The odds just weren’t in John’s favor. But I mean, they never are, really. Blame John, right?
ROBLOX: All right, let’s get to it. Procedural level generation is the name of the game here. You’re both randomly generating levels, correct? What’s your method?
Ozzypig: My game generates chunks in a grid. Each chunk is random–height, trees, rocks and bushes–and different from the next, and also has the chance of being a pond or a cave. The chunks on the edge of the map are always tall walls, while the chunks in the middle are generally flat.
SmoothBlockModel: The arena in Catching Fire is a much more distinct shape, though I also use a formula to generate terrain in chunks, in large circles. Each chunk or row gets higher than the last. Then I select random spots to add mountains, hills and lakes, and use raycasting to randomly spawn trees, bushes and rocks.
ROBLOX: Both games feature a number of deadly disasters, as well. What is your system for scripting and testing each one? What is the deadliest disaster in each of your games?
SmoothBlockModel: Unlike Ozzy’s title, Catching Fire’s disasters are very uniform. The arena runs on a clock, and each segment of that clock holds a different disaster. The disasters are randomly selected each and every round, and put in different orders. The deadliest disaster in my game is either the Poisonous Fog or Lava Floods, though I’m working on a new disaster that has something to do with Crazy Baboons that will top them both.
Ozzypig: The disasters in my game are actually scripts that run when a game maker steps on a certain button during a round. Each button corresponds to a certain disaster–each one is designed to be overpowering and force players to make game-altering decisions. The deadliest disaster in my game has to be the wolf mutations–the mutts are fast and overpowered beasts that murder anyone in their path. They also sport the hats of previously fallen tributes, as a nod to the book.
ROBLOX: What would you guys say is the best strategy to winning your game?
SmoothBlockModel: It really depends on what kind of player you are. If you’re trying to get the most kills in your career, your best bet is to get to the Cornucopia and wipe out as many people as you can before they scatter. The more realistic way to play is to grab a weapon and book it to the Arena for food.
Ozzypig: I’d say be aware of your options, and think carefully about which option to choose depending on the time. You have to know when to retreat and get something to eat, or else you won’t have the health you need when it matters most. At the same time, don’t be afraid to get aggressive, particularly if you see an easy kill. If the host of the game triggers a disaster, you should know immediately what to do and where to go.
ROBLOX: There are long waits between rounds in both of your games and players don’t always have long attention spans. How do you give new players incentive to wait around between rounds?
Ozzypig: I was really concerned with this during the early development of my game, so I had to percolate a lot of ideas. I thought, “what do Capitol members in the book and movie do while the games happen?” Then betting and sponsoring was born. It was important to me that if a player loses, they can still participate and even gain rewards for doing so. I also implemented a training room just above the lobby so players can become more familiar with the arena.
SmoothBlockModel: This part of Catching Fire is its biggest weakness. Rounds can go on for a long time and people waiting get bored. All you can really do is spectate other tributes and choose to sponsor them. I’m working on making a training center with hologram NPCs so people waiting can level up their weapons.
ROBLOX: How important is player feedback? Did you make any substantial changes to your game based on feedback?
Ozzypig: I’m often bombarded with brilliant ideas from players who have seen the movie or read the book, though there’s no way I could ever implement all the ideas I hear, despite how good some of them are. The biggest suggestion-turned-feature was the betting feature. I knew people wanted it, but one particular suggestion helped me come up with a way to implement the system.
SmoothBlockModel: Every update I make is based entirely on feedback. I have a forum post where players can leave ideas and I look over that post all the time. If I notice a particular idea keeps popping up, I implement it. Some ideas I get are a bit too in-depth–setting up camps, a sleeping system, etc. are great and all, but this is a game, not the actual book.
ROBLOX: Catching Fire just hit theaters less than a week ago–how far in advance did you guys begin prepping your levels for the release of the movie?
Ozzypig: I honestly didn’t make any changes due to the movie being released, but a ROBLOX platform update broke a bunch of key aspects of my game. So I went in and fixed those, added a few new features including a new Game Pass, then the movie came out and my game exploded in popularity. My game is based on the first movie, so you don’t see a whole lot of aspects of Catching Fire in it, except for the trident weapon I added.
SmoothBlockModel: My game is entirely based around Catching Fire, so prepping it for the release of the movie was really important. I remember they started releasing some trailers about a month ago, and I began studying scenes in the trailer to get a better idea of how my game would look. The spinning Cornucopia and many of the disasters were ideas I gained by watching trailers of the movie.
ROBLOX: You guys comfortable talking about money? How much ROBUX have you guys made off of these games? What do you sell, and how do you decide what to sell?
Ozzypig: According to my calculations, my game has made 8.25 million ROBUX in its lifetime. This doesn’t include tickets from visits or Game Pass purchases. Because my game is so old, I have to take into account t-shirt sales, as Game Passes weren’t even out when my game was released.
SmoothBlockModel: My game is brand new, so the numbers are different. I’ve made 300,000 ROBUX in the last three days, and about a one million ROBUX total. I have five different Game Passes in Catching Fire, each of which gives you a specific boost. Each Game Pass ranges between 100-500 ROBUX. A lot of people have asked why they’re so expensive, and the answer is simple: I want to limit the amount of players who can have them. I don’t want a large majority of people who play my game to have these advantages. More expensive Game Passes means fewer purchasers, and I’m OK with that. I am planning on adding some cheaper Game Passes in the future, however.
Ozzypig: I recently released a new Game Pass that earns you double the XP while you’re playing, and I was blown away by the response. That Game Pass alone has already earned me 150,000 ROBUX.
ROBLOX: I know you guys are both using the Developer Exchange program. What’s the money going toward?
SmoothBlockModel: To be completely honest it was becoming more and more difficult to find the time to make ROBLOX games, because I’ve been increasingly busy. When DevEx came out it really motivated me to spend more time making games. I cashed out for the first time a month ago, and used the money to get some new clothes, a Season Pass to Six Flags, and to pay for some AP tests at school.
Ozzypig: Take as many AP tests as you can. I took one and it got me nine college credit hours, which means three humanities classes I don’t need to take.
SmoothBlockModel: I’m in five AP courses right now. I didn’t know life could be this stressful. And people wonder why I hardly have time to make updates.
Ozzypig: I think I answered this question in a previous article, but I’m spending the money I make on improv comedy classes and odds-and-ends college stuff.
ROBLOX: Both of your games save data between play sessions, correct? What exactly are you saving? Do you think allowing people to save their progress helps to build an audience?
Ozzypig: My game saves an experience value that helps your stats in-game. It also tracks the number of games you’ve actually won, which you can see above every players’ head when you’re in the lobby. Data persistence between game play instances creates replay value, which is paramount to maintaining a good ROBLOX game. I’ve been told that players have visited my game every day for months just to get their XP and Rank values up.
SmoothBlockModel: I save most players stats, like levels of weapons and abilities, total wins, kills–things that people work very hard to get. When I was making the game I thought a lot about whether I wanted player stats to restart after every single game. I finally decided that it would be in my best interest to let people save things. This allows players to play, leave, and return to continue upping their rank. Like Ozzy, I’ve been amazed by some of the commitment I’ve seen from players.
ROBLOX: For the Katniss fans out there: how hard is it to win your game without actually killing anyone?
Ozzypig: Nearly impossible. You would have to hope and pray that the game makers activate the wolf mutts at just the right time so they take out the insanely powerful career tributes before they find you. If you want to survive without killing, I suggest finding shelter in a cave.
SmoothBlockModel: It’s not as rare as you’d think in my version of the game. I even have a badge to award players who win the game without killing. I’ve given out 11,000 so far. I’d have more, but the constant random disasters wipe out so many people.
ROBLOX: I noticed that both of your games have custom chat systems, which is a relatively uncommon feature in ROBLOX games. Why program one?
Ozzypig: Lots of reasons. The biggest one is the element of surprise. I want people to be fully involved when they’re playing my game. So allocating who can say what and where is really important. When you’re a tribute, your chat abilities are different than when you’re, say, in the lobby. This stops spectators from saying, “he’s hiding in the bush to your left!” or something that gives it away.
SmoothBlockModel: Developing my own chat system allows me to broadcast messages the way I want them seen. It also allows spectators to chat freely without showing up in the game. I can also change the color of chats to signify messages written after death, or as a tribute. Plus, you’ve got to admit, it looks a lot nicer!
ROBLOX: Are your levels the result of collaboration with other people, or are they entirely your own creations?
Ozzypig: The Hunger Games is entirely my own creation, though it was based off of several earlier versions created by Twala (SBM’s old username) and stickmasterluke. I liked the type of game so much that I decided to create my own original interpretation of the genre.
SmoothBlockModel: As Ozzy mentioned, my game was a follow up to a Hunger Games title I developed as Twala. I had a lot of help along the way. When I didn’t know how to do something, I’d ask a friend who was more proficient what they would do in my situation. Asking others for their input is extremely important. There doesn’t have to be one vision for a game, there can be multiple.
ROBLOX: Guys, thanks so much for doing this. Before I go, is there anything you’d like to add?
SmoothBlockModel: Both of our games give you different experiences that are simultaneously almost the same. If you have a game idea that’s already been done, put your own spin on it! Who knows what could happen? Maybe people will like yours more than the original.
Ozzypig: I would like to make a public announcement for the sake of my inbox: I am not planning on making a Catching Fire game. It’s time I publicly dispelled the rumors.
ROBLOX: Thanks guys! Have a great holiday!