Paperbound Q&A with Developer Dan Holbert

Paperbound MushroomSea5Paperbound is a local-only multiplayer arena where up to four combatants (couch buddies or AI bots) compete in a one-hit-kill twitchy battle for supremacy. What sets Paperbound apart from other arena brawlers is the 360-degree gravity manipulation: any surface can become the floor, characters can arc through the environment or hover in place as they constantly change gravity.

Combat in Paperbound is easy to pick up as all characters use the same sword, ink bomb and scissors but takes considerable more time to master the intricacies and timing to secure victory. An interesting twist on the classic deathmatch scenario is that the winner must escape through a portal in the world after they the reach the kill counter, which is where most games stop.

Dan Holbert, who runs Dissident Logic, previously worked at Mad Doc Software and High Moon Studios, most notably as the Senior Engine Programer for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Holbert was willing to share his insight into the indie game development process and what makes Paperbound a great game for couch-competitive play.


Q: What is your design philosophy for creating games?

I create something that I want to play that doesn’t exist yet. I focus on mechanics first, then create small test environments to make sure everything is working and feeling great before I worry about art, sound, etc. I don’t know if this is a good path to success, but it’s the approach I took.


Paperbound Bibubble1Q: How does the design process of Paperbound compare to other games you’ve developed?

It was a lot more seat-of-your-pants cowboy style. It didn’t have producers or a whole lot of formal processes. It also involved a lot of playtesting all throughout development, even from the earliest prototypes. When you work on big games, a lot of things are decided up-front. For example, what levels will there be? What playable characters? With Paperbound, the level sets were decided as we went along. It was a lot more fluid.


Q: Do all the character have the same stats or are some slightly faster or have a longer reach than others?

I am a bit of a competition purist. I was weaned on games like Quake, so all the characters have the same stats and abilities. Just pick the one you like the look of. Mike came up with some really quirky designs for characters from all the books!


Q: How did you go about including Juan (from Guacamelee!), Captain Viridian (from VVVVV) and other indie characters within the roster of Paperbound?

It was about half and half people that I already knew (including a few from my hometown of San Diego) and reaching out to people online. I was able to get some assets from them, but then I had to adapt the game’s tech to integrate them into Paperbound. I’m glad to see that people appreciate them being there.


Paperbound Character SelectQ: Where did you come up with the idea that players had to enter a tear to win instead of just a deathmatch approach for the Classic Versus mode?

I had two goals that I was trying to achieve and ended up coming to this one idea that solved both problems. I wanted that tension that games like Nidhogg have; when you vie for territory, it really cranks that up. Secondly, I wanted to reward mastery of the gravity mechanics. It’s the most defining gameplay feature of Paperbound, so I wanted to make sure everything ties into that. Seeing the characters spawn into the world made me think that they could go right back out. It accomplishes both those goals and also adds some phases to a match to keep things interesting.


Q: Could you please describe how Capture the Quill differs from the other game modes?

Capture the Quill has the longest matches in the game…probably about 10-15 minutes on average…which might not sound like much, but in such a high-intensity game, you really get some mileage out of those minutes. It’s basically capture the flag where you have to have your flag (quill) at your home base in order to score. When combined with the gravity, brings some new flavor to this classic game mode. Going back to my quest to reward mastery of the gravity manipulation…playing Capture the Quill in the Pac-man-like Labyrinth level really allows you to excel in this area. A master can navigate the level 3-4x faster than a novice. It also adds that tension that I was talking about, as well. I remember after playing a few rounds, looking over at my friend and seeing the most massive arm pit stains I have ever encountered in my life!


Q: Which bot character is the most difficult to defeat?

It depends on your play style, the map, and the game mode. The two that stick out in my mind are actually opposites of each other. Juan is super aggressive, so he never grants you any reprieve. Monk is more elusive and will coyly keep away, waiting for that perfect moment to decapitate you with surprise scissors. He baits, and then he strikes!


Q: I’m a huge trophy fan…how did you decide what trophies to include?

Some were your basic challenges, like win a game in under a certain amount of time or with so many lives left. Others were based on some cool things that people really seemed to like…for example, endlessly bouncing scissors back and forth. I should mention that I put in some measures to keep trophy hunters honest. A number of trophies require playing four-player matches (either with bots or other humans), but you can’t simply just set the controllers down and rack up kills. Everyone has to be playing for real. You’ve got to earn those things!


Paperbound Sunglow1Q: What advice do you have for aspiring developers who want to break into the industry?

You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to show what you can do. There are countless others who want the same job. Don’t expect people are going to praising your brilliant ideas. Come humble. Come skilled. Decide what you want to do (environment art, AI programming, production, etc.) and excel at that. If you’re lucky, you can get your foot in the door in your desired area. Others work their way up through QA. But do go for a mid-to-large studio. You’ll learn a lot!


Q: What is the hardest part of getting a game published and into fan’s hands that you think programmers might overlook?

Marketing. And I don’t just mean advertisement or visibility, although those are definitely huge parts of it. You need to make sure your product fits the desires and expectations of the market. Plus there’s team management, but in the end content is king. Great mechanics don’t amount to much without the content. A lot of these lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way and am still learning.


Random Question: Which video game genre could use a revival or infusion of new ideas the most right now?

To be honest I don’t have an answer for that. There are lots of people trying cool ideas all the time. I was about to say first-person shooters, but then look at Titanfall and Evolve. There really tried some new stuff that you might not think would work. I do think it would be nice to see something completely new that can’t even be described using existing categories, but that’s easier said than done!


Paperbound is available for PlayStation 4 and PC.