December 20th, 2008
In mid-2007 TAGAP: The Apocalyptic Game About Penguins had just been finished and we practically were just waiting for our trademark registrations to go through before launching the penguin apocalypse. During this period we started to outline what TAGAP 2 would be. We started of in a simple way, by outlining what we really liked in TAGAP and wanted to carry over to the sequel, what we didn't like and wanted to improve and ultimately, what new stuff we wanted to bring to the table.
The following is a compilation of our original notes, only re-written in more comprehensible and thorough way.
Things we really liked and wanted to preserve
Weapon balance of TAGAP always was something I was very proud of. While the weapons themselves weren't that original, they all served a purpose with practically no overlapping in terms of functionality. This assured that even if the action might have lacked variety during longer sessions, great arsenal prevented it from ever getting boring. All-in-all, weapon balance was definitely something I wanted to carry over to TAGAP 2, which meant a lot of care would have to go to designing new guns and vehicles.
Progressive reward system was also pretty much perfect. Rewarding combos with health was much more involving than having health regenerating after idling for a while, kill-count based weapon power-ups added slight tactical element to mix and extra lives rewarded for score kept gameplay flowing. Sure, you could easily stock up power-ups by shooting constantly spawning enemies, but that was totally up to the player; You could play it slow and safe, or keep thing moving on in faster pace. With some new power-ups we had in mind, this was something we wanted to preserve.
Things we didn't like or wanted to improve
Physics were TAGAP's worst part, no doubt of that. It's partially due to my background as an artist rather than math-based programmer – when I got things somewhat working I didn't want to mess around with it too much in fear of breaking things. For TAGAP 2 I knew I had to rewrite the darn thing, applying more realism and support for object-based animation system (more on that later). Retrospectively I have to say that it has paid off in spades; Always when I return to TAGAP 1 after creating content for TAGAP 2 I'm amazed how much better things seem in TAGAP 2. It's still no Havok or PhysX, but still pretty darn convincing.
More variety never hurts and since penguins all look alike, we went back to drawing board trying to figure out how to spice things up. In the end we went with the idea of having level-specific zombie penguins. For instance in the shipyard level shown in the previously released screenshots, some zombie penguins will be carrying fishing rods and some others waddle around with oars. In other words it means every level will have two to three special variations, so there's always something new to see around the corner.
Humor focus of original TAGAP was heavily on gaming and pop-culture inside jokes, all subtle and in the background. In practice it meant even though TAGAP filled with gags and jokes, most people missed majority of them. We'll still have this Duke Nukem esque inside joke thing going on, but to extend the quirkiness of zombie penguin apocalypse, each level shall have small scripted event or two with, well, zombie penguins goofing around. You know, just for fun of it. :)
And the main mantra of TAGAP 2; Screw the limitations. In TAGAP 1 we created a framework of arbitrary limitations keeping the game A) small in size, B) super-slick in terms of memory usage and C) easy to use and edit via smart automation. This worked swell for the original game, but it also gave an impression that the TAGAP Engine was less capable than it actually was. So, for TAGAP 2 we tore down the limitations and deautomated animation scripting. As the result, TAGAP 2 will be bigger in size and eats slightly more memory, but oh boy, it's also a stunner.
New things we wanted to add
Co-op was the very first thing on the list. Not only was it the most requested feature for the original TAGAP, it also was our high priority since the near perfect co-op experience that was Gears of War campaign. Since most non-triple-A co-op titles have issues with game balancing between single player and multiplayer, we opted to go down the Doom 3 route of creating the single player campaign first and then later re-tooling a separate co-op alternative out of it.
Thanks to having co-op featuring both Pablo and Pedro, we wanted to make Pedro part of the single player as well. Since I ain't actually on the level of Epic Games or Monolith as an AI programmer, we chose purposely simple route of Pedro providing air support, while the role of actual in-game buddies was handed to robot drone flunkies.
Since we knew from day one the physics engine was going to be re-written, we obviously wanted to have more vehicle sections with greater variety. Instead of just flying devices and mounted turrets, we definitely wanted to see Pablo taking of land, air and sea.
That's it for this edition of Making of TAGAP 2. Next time we take a look at how the TAGAP 2 scenario – the plot and characters – came to be.
Until next time,
Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin