Exclusive Interview: Rocket League Project Lead Thomas Silloway

At a time when new Call Of Duty and Assassin’s Creed games come out annually, it seems downright odd that it took the good people at Psyonix seven years to make a sequel to 2008’s Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. And even odder that it wouldn’t be called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars II: Electric Boogaloo (and, of course, feature only electric cars), but that it would be called Rocket League instead. But in talking to Psyonix’s Thomas Silloway, the project lead on Rocket League — which should be out late spring or early summer —  it’s clear they’ve spent the time wisely.

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For those unfamiliar with the original game, what is Rocket League and how do you play it?

Imagine playing soccer while wearing a jetpack and making headers from forty feet in the air. That’s what it feels like to play Rocket League.

If we’re being more specific, Rocket League is a physics-based sports game that basically re-imagines soccer with rocket-powered cars. You control every aspect of the car’s physics, including full air control, and basically just smash yourself into the ball in order to score goals and defend yourself. We also have a little hockey-like gameplay as well, as the ball bounces off walls just like a puck would in that sport.

What other games do you think it’s similar to, and what makes Rocket League different? Because it reminds me of Ballblazer, but that game may be older than you are.

As far as gameplay is concerned, there aren’t many other games that Rocket League compares to…aside from racing or car combat titles. But those genres aren’t necessarily that close either.

I would, however, compare Rocket League’s fun factor to something like Mario Kart. Our split-screen support works both online and offline, which we think makes the game as much fun to play sitting on the couch next to your friend as it is playing over a network.

Rocket League is also different from most other car games because of your car’s abilities like jumping, air control — flipping, rolling, and spinning — and of course, rocket boosting. If you use your rocket booster in combination with jumping, you can actually fly through the air to score some pretty incredible aerial goals.

When you were creating the original game, and you were deciding how the vehicles would work, what kind of controls and handling did you go with, and why did you decide that was the way to go? Because it doesn’t make sense if they control like something out of a Gran Turismo-ish racing sim, but there’s a lot of room between arcade racing games and action games with cars.

We decided to go with tighter, more arcade-like controls with extremely responsive, quick maneuvers and turns. We wanted the cars to be simple to steer but, at the same time, make it feel like you could do more than just drive. That was our main goal.

Are you changing them for Rocket League?

No, we kept the physics and controls very similar to the original game. Though we did make a few tweaks here and there to help enhance the player’s control over the car, and to also allow for a little more emergent physics behaviors.

One of my favorite things about our new physics is when you’re driving next to someone at roughly the same speed, and you slam into each other, your cars grind against each other in a believable way, essentially letting you block someone in a way you couldn’t before.

What about the way the sport itself is played? Did you model that after real soccer, with the real soccer rules, or did you simplify that as well?

We originally came up with this idea when we were experimenting with a car game that had really fun physics interaction. One of our level designers threw a ball into the level and that was the “wow” moment. The moment we realized how fun it was to just to hit the ball and try to get it to go where you wanted it to go was magic. From there, we added a couple of goals and scoring rules and we had a game.

We also realized pretty early on that we didn’t want to overcomplicate things with items like penalties, offside calls, or other soccer rules that slowed down the pace. Because the rules are so simple, we leave it up to players to figure out how they want to play. So while some people like to have their teammates play such positions as goalie and striker, others like to have rotating responsibilities, or even just like to sit around mid-field in attempt to cherry pick the ball as it flies towards their opponent’s goal.

In terms of it being a sequel to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, when you started working on Rocket League, what were the things you guys wanted to improve, add, or change, and why did you feel they needed to be improved, added, or changed?

We wanted to keep the feel of Rocket League extremely similar to the original because we knew it was already fun. At the same time, we definitely wanted to change supporting features like customization, single-player options, matchmaking, parties, and the obvious need for updated graphics.

The major contributing factor to these changes came from our community. Incorporating more customization was our number one request, so we completely revamped our system to give players hundreds of different options.

It’s also worth mentioning how much we, and our community, really wanted a more robust single-player experience. So, in Rocket League’s Season Mode, you’ll be able to play a full season of games against different A.I. teams with unique tactics and behaviors.

Oh, and enhancing online multiplayer was a big request too, especially when playing friends and getting into good matches while online. We’ve created our own custom matchmaking solution that takes into account player skill, parties, and such player preferences as region and playlists to make this happen.

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Is there a reason — besides common sense, of course — that you didn’t call this sequel Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars II: Electric Boogaloo?

We really liked the original name of the game, but we found that a lot of people had a hard time remembering it and they were just calling it “Super-something-something game” or “Car Soccer.” People were basically making up shorter names for it out of necessity, but that limited who you could talk to about it; thus, we decided to go with the shorter, easier-to-remember Rocket League.

By the time Rocket League comes out, it will have been seven years since Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. What took so long?

We’ve been working on a bunch of different ideas for how to follow up with the original game, but in the five-to-six years since Battle-Cars came out, we built the game in our spare time. We’ve been developing and experimenting with a lot of different projects such as Arc Squadron on mobile, Bulletstorm’s multiplayer mode, and our newest game, Nosgoth.

All of those projects were very time consuming, but they also taught us many lessons about making games. With all this experience, we’re putting our best foot forward with Rocket League.

As I understand it, multiplayer matches of Rocket League can be played 2-on-2 all the way up to 4-on-4, and that includes split-screen. Will the game support all kinds of combinations, like can four people playing split-screen together take on four other people playing alone or maybe two are alone and two others are sharing a couch somewhere?

Yep! You can even play 1v1 as well, which is a fun way to measure your individual skill. Any combination of split-screen players can play online with other groups of split-screen players as singles or as parties. We’ve had tons of fun playing four-player split-screen both online and in our office.

So how many different arenas will there be when the game ships, and how many different kinds of vehicles?

We haven’t announced the exact number yet, but there will be plenty of both.

Along with multiplayer, you mentioned that Rocket League has a single player mode. How does this work?

We haven’t gone in-depth with all of the details on Season mode yet, but you can expect an announcement about it soon as well.

Okay. But why did you feel a single-player mode was necessary? Because it seems like this is a game best played with other people…and I say that as someone who doesn’t play well with others.

In any game, people can sometimes get intimidated with the prospect of playing online because they don’t want to get destroyed by more experienced players. While we can help this somewhat by having a beginner playlist and things of that sort, we also recognize that players want to be able to practice offline. Playing a full season against bots will not only be fun, but should also improve your skills at the game.

Oh, by the way, are you aware there’s a Rocket Racing League [which you can read about here]?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_Racing_League

We saw that. It’s different than what we’re doing in our game, luckily, so hopefully the world has room for the both of us.

Rocket League is currently slated for just the PlayStation 4. Are there plans to bring it to other systems as well, PlayStation or otherwise?

We’re considering all options at this point, but we’ve chosen the PlayStation 4 as our launch platform because we want to be loyal the fans that enjoyed our original game on PS3. Loyalty is very important to us.

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Finally, if someone is a fan of Rocket League and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, which of your other games would you suggest they check out and why?

Well Nosgoth on PC and Arc Squadron on iOS and Android were also made by the team here at Psyonix, and we’ve put our heart and soul into them. Arc Squadron in particular makes me very proud personally because it was the first mobile game to really nail the controls for a space shooter in the vein of Star Fox.

I would also recommend TowerFall Ascension. We’ve had a ton of fun playing it in the office, and the four-player local competitive mode is hilarious.

 

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