RaceToTheBottom Races to the Top with Space Knights

November

05, 2013

by Sorcus


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SpaceKnightsMakingOfNoText

Space Knights marks the single biggest gaming experiment we’ve ever attempted on ROBLOX. Now that the experiment is over, we want to tell you about it. Space Knights was developed internally, right here at ROBLOX HQ, by three members of the Games Team and me. We worked in total secrecy – outside of this team, no one else at ROBLOX knew about the project, and it was important that we kept it that way.

The goal behind our undertaking was simple: as game developers, we are always trying to put ourselves in your shoes, and experience ROBLOX the way you experience it. We had meetings where we discussed how we could better understand the tribulations of a  ROBLOX developer. We decided that making a game as an unknown user, and only utilizing the tools we make available to our builders, would be the best way to do this.

Thus, the idea for Space Knights – really, the idea of creating a game from scratch with a new, unknown username – was born. My involvement was to oversee the construction of this game – I was very much like the executive producer. We set goals, and it was my job to ensure that the development team reached each of these goals. Our first goal? Make a game that gets at least 20 simultaneous users.  The second goal? Get to the front page, using only the tools ROBLOX Developers have at their disposal. Our third and final goal was to create a game that becomes so popular that our very own Communications team reaches out to us for an interview (which ended up happening – we’ll get to that later).

SpaceKnightFaces

This was an attempt to make a popular game without the advantages of having admin credentials or abilities. We wanted to walk in your shoes, and this was the only way to do it correctly. So there’s nothing in Space Knights that couldn’t be created by anyone. That being said, we strove to leverage many effective ROBLOX game design techniques: Game Passes, weapon upgrades, armor suits, and abilities are all things that keep players engaged and make them likely to revisit. We wanted to see the game appear not just on the “Popular” row of the Games page, but achieve greatness in the Top Rated and Top Earning rows as well. And every single facet of the game – whether we’re talking character design, scripting, rendering – was done using the tools we offer our builders.

This put us in an interesting place that we had never put ourselves before: we found ourselves asking, “OK, so now what?” We started by importing some of the code we used to make ROBLOX Battle. Stickmasterluke created basic tools (the bow and arrow and the sword) and we started pursuing our original idea of making Space Knights a five-on-five melee battle game. Once we had the tools, terrain, and characters built, we started advertising.

Nobody played. What’s more, is that the few people who did play, didn’t play for long. It wasn’t good enough. It made us think a lot about the type of game our community wants to play. That Monday during our meeting I proposed the idea of switching the gameplay dynamic from PVP (player versus player) to PVE (player versus enemies). Stravant got straight into creating enemy bots with relatively basic artificial intelligence–each bot was programmed to move towards a goal, and each chooses a random direction to get to that goal. This shift in gameplay dynamic worked, which helped us achieve our first goal of getting 20 simultaneous players. Fascinating.

But still it wasn’t enough (you read our goals, right?). We’re very transparent with one another here at ROBLOX. As the Games Team lead, I have to be brutal and honest with members of my team. We had another meeting where I had to say clearly and upfront, “this game isn’t good enough.” There are no bad ideas in my eyes, just bad presentation. Making a successful game relies on how you present that game to your audience. Seeing how we were doing this in our spare time, I came up with five goals that we’d need to reach in order for me to confidently say this experiment was finished. Something that occurred to me while taking charge of the development of Space Knights was that it’s easy for a team of builders to want to build a tech demo, more than an actual game. I called for a change in thinking amongst the team. “This isn’t to impress anyone, this is to make a game that keeps players playing.”

 

SpaceKnightsSpawn

Not to say that it didn’t turn out looking pretty phenomenal

This shift in mentality pumped new life into our team. Stickmasterluke modified the characters to look cleaner and move smoothly. We cleaned up the look of the bots. Added waves of gradually stronger and larger enemies. Created a boss. We really caught our stride when we stopped trying to push technological boundaries and focused on gameplay and aesthetics. Space Knights became a polished experience, and we achieved all of the goals we set out to accomplish. Now, was the moment of truth. With our final stipend of tickets, we ran our last ad.

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Front page, almost immediately. We kept the entire development of Space Knights very close to the chest–we wanted to see how ROBLOX staff would react to this new game appearing on the top of the Games page seemingly out of nowhere. Immediately, e-mails started circulating throughout the company (which is a testament to how vigilantly our staff watches ROBLOX, even on the weekend). Eventually, our dummy e-mail account received an e-mail from our Communications Team, asking if we’d be interested in doing a story. Mission Complete.

We learned a ton of invaluable information, from team dynamics to the importance of goals and the resolve it takes to not give up on them, by running this experiment. Many of the developers in our community feel that working in a team slows progress – on the contrary, this game is proof that a small team of developers coming together is a good thing. Collaboration is key in making something that is larger than any one individual can achieve on his or her own. We tapped three members of our Games Team to work together to create Space Knights – they were an elite team, and I was responsible for keeping them in a constant collaborative bubble. I also got a taste of the experience of the ROBLOX developer – the stinging frustration of not being able to get people to play the game, and the soaring feeling of success. We hope this motivates you to not just work on creating a triple-A ROBLOX title, but to work together with other developers and builders to create something special. Set goals, both long-term and short-term, and accomplish each one, then systematically move to the next one. You can make the next Front Page game. And we’re waiting for you to do it.

We’re going to continue this article in the coming weeks, where we’ll share all of the key findings we made during the development of Space Knights – lessons you can use to make your own creations even better. Stay tuned.