He Built This City: An Interview with alexnewtron

February

01, 2018

by OldBaronMondo


Gamers

On January 30, 2018, Roblox developer alexnewtron amazed us when his magnum opus, MeepCity, became the first Roblox game ever to reach one billion visits. If we were to compare that to the number of views for top YouTube videos, MeepCity would rank in the top 100!

It’s easy to forget that he began his career as a Roblox enthusiast, building games through trial and error. But behind alexnewtron’s success is a long history of persistence, experimentation, and technical accomplishment. Read on to learn about how he brought his first project to fruition, his biggest challenges in creating MeepCity, and his time in the Roblox Accelerator program.

While you’re best known for MeepCity, you’ve released popular games before. What were some of your favorite projects? Which was the biggest learning opportunity?

When I joined Roblox over ten years ago, I was introduced to so many fun games on the front page. I ended up playing every single one of them! It was inspiring to see what people were making, so I made it my goal to create my own game and get it on the front page as well.

I started by learning how to build and code in Lua on Roblox Studio by finding free models that had scripts I could modify. One of the models I found was a space gun. I saw where in the code it created the bullet, so I tried making it bigger and it looked like a dodgeball! Later, I created a map with two sides and scripted a round system where players would be teleported to the game and given dodgeballs. That’s how I started to create my first dodgeball game.

Dodgeball’s slick, modern design from 2015.

Once I laid the groundwork for it, Dodgeball started getting popular pretty quickly. My scripting knowledge back then was limited, so the game hadn’t yet shaped up to what it would ultimately become. But over time, I was able to fix the bugs and add a shop where players could buy all kinds of different dodgeballs. It took on a life of its own from there. It was a learning experience, and it ultimately helped shape my future projects. Of course, I didn’t do it alone. I had many friends who helped me and we all learned together. We still talk to this day. Fast forward to 2015, I completely recreated the experience from scratch with a lot of fun polish!

Believe it or not, this is what MeepCity used to look like.

There are hundreds of ways to enjoy MeepCity, from racing, to working at a business, to picking out and adopting your very own Meep. How did the scope of the project evolve as you began development?

During my internship at Roblox as an Accelerator in the fall of 2015, I learned that it’s important to know what your players want. Back when I started working on MeepCity, I wanted it to be an RPG with many different quests and areas to explore. It started to dawn on me, however, that people were actually having more fun socializing in a simple pizza area I created. Before long, there were suddenly hundreds of people playing in a game where all you could do was set pizza down on a counter and eat it together! It was settled. In January 2016, I decided to focus on the game’s social aspects in the spirit of Roblox’s new slogan—“Powering Imagination”—which is what MeepCity is all about today.

MeepCity’s famous Playground as of 2018.

As a developer, part of your job is to anticipate and design around how you expect players to enjoy your game. Are there any ways your players have surprised you?

I still play MeepCity, even today, because I think being one of the players is important to understand why they play your game. I play on different accounts a lot; it helps me get a good understanding of a first-time user experience and I get to interact with everyone. We have a small team, but together, we design ideas and content based on how people play MeepCity. For example, we saw how much players loved to roleplay in the pizza shack in MeepCity. So, we decided to add an ice cream parlor and the community loved it.

As I was developing MeepCity, I always kept the game open. I wanted players to find it and play it without advertising the game. And even with how little content the game had in the beginning, it started to gain more and more players every day. Even though there wasn’t a lot to do in the game yet, it started getting really popular—and it wasn’t even close to being done.

I soon added a “queue” to join the game, where players had to wait in a waiting room before they could play MeepCity. I only allowed 200 players in the game at once, but it was amazing to see how popular it was becoming. I was surprised to see the waiting room itself had 1,000 players in it one day, just waiting to play MeepCity. After six months of development, I removed the waiting room and the game quickly reached the front page!

In a previous interview, you stated that MeepCity Racing uses external servers for matchmaking. Has experimenting with external servers provided any inspiration for further developments to MeepCity– or for brand-new projects?

When Roblox added HttpService, it opened up a lot of possibilities for using external servers to do processing and cross-server communication. My first experimentation with matchmaking was with an old game I made in 2014 called Robot Blox. The game featured robot vs. robot combat and matched players together based on what map and game mode they chose, no matter what Roblox server they were on.

I wasn’t very experienced with external servers, so when the game started getting popular, my external servers kept crashing and failing. It was difficult to create a system to scale for thousands of concurrent players.

Although Robot Blox is closed today, it was a big learning opportunity for me. With MeepCity Racing in 2017, I recreated this matchmaking system with all that I had learned between then and now, while planning to make it scale for 100,000 players. Most of my time spent developing this racing game went into the matchmaking system, optimizing every line of code that I could.

Robot-versus-robot combat in alexnewtron’s early project Robot Blox.

Any projects or updates you’d like readers to know about?

MeepCity continues to be my main priority. The game isn’t finished yet. Because it’s such a living and breathing modular game, I want to add as much as I can. Our small team is slowly growing, and I don’t want to spoil anything yet… but I expect you guys will see a lot of big changes to the game later this year!


We can’t wait! Congratulations on this amazing achievement, alexnewtron! To keep up with all the latest MeepCity news, you can follow @Alexnewtron on Twitter.