We wanted to get more information about T-Rex Rumble, available only on DSiWare™, so we went straight to the source.
Interplay.com: Before we start talking T-Rex, how about introducing yourself including your role for Legendary Wars: T-Rex Rumble.
Eric: I’m Eric Caen, programmer & producer of videogames since 1983. I’m the producer on T-Rex Rumble. My first task was to persuade Rob to join the project four years ago.
Rob: I am Rob Stevens, programmer & game designer, also since 1983. On Legendary Wars: T-Rex Rumble, I did 100% of the tools, the game design, the engine, the code and I supervised the art, sound effects & music.
Interplay.com: That’s impressive. You don’t see that many multi-role developers any more.
Interplay.com: So Eric, what was left for you to do?
Eric: Stop him from trying to etch the chips or make the game packaging.
Interplay.com: And hand-delivering each copy?
Eric: Exactly. Rob is that dedicated to this project.
Interplay.com: Who did the graphics?
Rob: MZone did the final set. The first version was a little bit too cartoony.
Eric: T-Rex is an RTS game and we didn’t want to give the players the wrong impression.
First version of the character art -- rejected for being too cartoony.
Interplay.com: The music and sound effects are excellent.
Eric: We wanted a composer who would really feel the gameplay and generate audio tracks & sound effects that would perfectly match the visuals. We were lucky to get Jean-Marie Philibert. He might not be known over in the States yet, but we think he will be.
Interplay.com: It’s not just good music. It also seems a bit cleaner. Better than other DSI games. Is that my imagination or is there something behind that?
Eric: We took a bit of a risk and used streaming technology - CRI Vibe for DS. It takes more memory, but greatly improves the quality. Rob writes tight code so we were able to use streaming and still make a strong game.
Interplay.com: What was the most difficult thing during the development?
Rob: There are a few issues with bringing real RTS gameplay to the DSI. The limited processing power, the small amount of RAM and low resolution screens. We also wanted to take maximum advantage of the DSi dual screens and the touch screen. These finally offer a truly viable alternative to a mouse for console based, RTS style gaming.
Eric: DS & DSi are great consoles, but most of the games use the fact they’re handheld as an excuse to stay very basic. They underutilize the display and go with a simple AI. For T-Rex Rumble, Rob had to deal with 3D & 2D real time graphics. Make a sophisticated AI for the cavemen and their enemies. He also had to create an intuitive user interface for an RTS when most RTS’s are played with a mouse and not a stylus. Not easy tasks.
Rob: The user interface design was a challenge. What works best for players? What’s easiest and most intuitive? How do they select one, two, or ten cavemen? I especially wanted to minimize the number of inputs required to issue orders to multiple groups of men. It also had to work equally well for right and left-handed players.
Eric: We tried several ideas before we were satisfied. It’s an RTS, so players need to be able to control many characters with very little effort. And T-Rex Rumble is not a “tower defense” kind of a game. It has some sophisticated missions.
Rob: With a PC, you have a mouse that can be combined with multiple buttons or keys. It’s easy to draw a rectangle around units you want to select before picking a task from a list on the screen. But on DS/DSi we had to create a system that worked purely with a stylus or even a finger, without filling the screen with icons.
Interplay.com: So walk us through how you handled all those issues.
Eric: The solution which works very well is a combination of direct touch, lassos, and handles.
Interplay.com: I think you’re going to have to explain those.
Rob: Glad to. I knew from the start that I wanted to be able to move the point of view just by grabbing and dragging the background in any direction. It’s very precise and intuitive. Players can also move the background with the +Control Pad or by touching the edges of the touch screen.
Eric: Rob also added a super-fast way to scroll, too. You hold the L or R Buttons to bring the map to the bottom screen then either tap a location or drag to change position. It’s a fast way to move a long distance. It’s a great feature.
Rob: Thank you.
Interplay.com: So that’s Direct Touch – and other ways to move about the screen. You mentioned “Lasso”?
Rob: It’s a way to quickly select groups of any size. The player holds the stylus on the screen for a second and a pen appears. You then just draw a lasso around any number of cavemen to form a group.
Interplay.com: And this leads to Handles?
Eric: Yes. In a PC RTS, you tend to pick the action you want your workers to perform and then click the where you want them to do it. To make something more user-friendly for the DS, Rob created the Handle.
Rob: It’s name is pretty self explanatory. Each caveman has a handle, basically a target on the ground, which is used to control him. Move the target and the caveman follows it. Handles are also what’s called “context sensitive”, they automatically determine the order you’re issuing depending upon where you put them. This means you issue an order and its location in a single gesture, so it’s very fast. It needs to be, things can get pretty hectic.
Eric: If you slide one handle onto another handle, they combine, thus combining their cavemen. So you can easily form large groups of men. It’s very simple.
Rob: Not on the programming side. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Eric: If he goes into details, your head will start spinning.
Interplay.com: Hard to program, but simple to use?
Interplay.com: Works for me. So you slide a handle and off the little guys go. Right to the target.
Rob: Umm, no. Not that simple, sorry.
Eric: The characters don’t fly.
Rob: In T-Rex Rumble, the characters have to run or walk, which means they have to recognize the 3D landscape.
Eric: If the characters go straight from a point A to a point B, it won’t look realistic. It doesn’t take into account the problems the landscape is causing. Cliffs, trees, water… Areas the characters can’t cross or move through.
Rob: They have to use “natural” ways to move around obstacles. And even each other. In some situations over 40 characters can be in the same area. Nobody goes through anybody else. They’re not ghosts.
Eric: We could have done caveman ghosts. It would have been easier. But then food gathering wouldn’t have made much sense.
Interplay.com: I see why you mentioned AI earlier. That’s a lot of decisions.
Eric: It would have looked wrong without it.
Interplay.com: What about the story?
Eric: The story is important to motivate the players and to inform them about the new features level after level.
Interplay.com: Ah, the Village Chief. I love that guy.
Eric: He shows up from time to time on the upper screen.
Rob: He’s both interactive briefer and newsman.
Eric: Players may not always like him. He brings the bad news sometimes.
Rob: On the other hand, the Inventor will always be popular. He explains how to use the different types of cavemen. Or how to gather objects that will lead to their creation.
Interplay.com: How many different cavemen are there?
Rob: Four worker/soldier classes.
Eric: Plus the Shaman.
Interplay.com: He sounds fun. Do you start with all of them?
Eric: No, they appear progressively mission after mission.
Final version of the character art
Rob: They have all specific features. The player has to decide how to take advantage of those for each mission.
Eric: Each with their pros & cons. The Village Chief and Inventor both give clues on how to best use your workers and prepare your tribe for missions
Rob: But no details here. The players get to discover that as they go.
Interplay.com: Sounds like fun. What about the goals? I know food gathering is a big one.
Rob: True, but not the only one. Sometimes there are things more important than food. Even for cavemen.
Eric: But finding food – and keeping it – is important.
Rob: You need to visit some pretty dangerous regions. Some are infested by small dinosaurs.
Eric: And some not so small.
Interplay.com: Dinosaurs and humans? So this is a historically accurate game, right?
Rob: Absolutely. Well, if you’re using old Hollywood movies as opposed to questionable sources like, oh, school or scientists.
Eric: Yeah, who listens to them?
Rob: If it bothers you, think of it as an alternate universe.
Eric: We have faith in our players. We think they’ll welcome the challenge of a T-Rex over a more realistic brown bear. No offense to bears. I don’t want to get letters.
Rob: But the main reason is simple. Dinosaurs are fun.
Interplay.com: I’m sure the players will agree. Thanks guys!