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Postmortem: Housemarque's Outland
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Postmortem: Housemarque's Outland

April 27, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

5. Co-Op Implementation

The original design was for a single player adventure platformer. As we happened to mention the possibility for co-op in a design document, Ubisoft called us on that. Adding co-op was not a simple task as it required us not only to take it into account when designing single player levels, but also to create specific coop-only challenge rooms. As our polarity-changing is the biggest single gameplay feature, figuring out how it works in co-op was big part of the challenge. These tasks by themselves were relatively safe to create, but increased our overall workload and caused shifts in the schedule.

For basic networking technology, we were able to acquire Quazal through Ubisoft. This definitely helped with the networking functionality but didn't remove the need for rewriting gameplay code to accommodate for online. As with the game engine itself, we ended up rewriting the network handling of gameplay objects and enemies; our final implementation ended up being a deterministic system.

As the co-op levels are relative carbon copies of their single player versions, with minor tweaks here and there, the challenge rooms provided a unique aspect to the co-op, while the quickly tacked-on arcade mode turned out to be an experiment that would have benefitted from another two months of development.

6. Gameplay Balancing

Balancing a game that comes together close to the end of the project is hard, and results can be difficult to verify. We did hold multiple sessions with people outside the studio coming over to try the game out. But as these sessions were relatively short, we mostly got feedback on the first chapter and boss. This ultimately meant that we were working on guesswork and hunches when it came to the rest of the game. Some of our levels and chapters are clearly too hard in comparison to the rest of the game; it is also fair to say that the game is on the hard side overall.

Also, having multiple level designers working on their own chapters meant those chapters ended up having their own level of difficulty, something we should have tested more and adjusted for where needed. The second chapter, Underworld, is nearly the hardest one of them all, while the chapter after it, City, is clearly easy by comparison -- a direct result of two different level designers handling the chapters.

Boss fights are another aspect of gameplay that could have used better balancing. While the first boss, the Golem, worked out really well, others we didn't test enough. The second, third, and fourth bosses could have all used a checkpoint halfway through the fight. The final one unnecessarily repeated an arduous 20 second climb each time you died. All of the boss fights should also have restored player health to full at the beginning of the level.


"Project Kingdom" started on the premise of recreating very old platforming classics in a new form, but midway through development, the project transfigured into a more action-driven merger of two genres. The name changed to Outland and the character that used to be able to shoot and slide down slopes became a melee warrior who switched between light and dark polarities.

We were first clearly restricted by technology, then by vision, followed by lack of project management experience, and finally by time. Even taking all of that into account, and the fact that we had to push back our deadlines a few times, we were able to create a new kind of a platforming game that hopefully speaks to a wide audience.

There are a lot of areas we would like to improve or redo, but even with its faults, there is hope Outland will be remembered as a modern day classic by gamers. Although we had a pretty rough ride at times, we are really proud of what we have accomplished, as Outland is our first 2D platformer. Given that we learned a lot during the development process, our hope is to revisit the platformer genre in the future and create another great game you can fall in love with!

Data Box

Developer: Housemarque
: Ubisoft
: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation 3 PlayStation Network
Date: April/June, 2011
Length of development:
22 months
Team Size at the Beginning of the project
: 5
Number of People hired
: 5
Total Team Size at the End of the project
: 12

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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