With the core game of Chime much praised and much loved there were countless directions we could head off in to create new experiences. Like all puzzle games, modes are a great way to freshen the experience and come at things from a new perspective and with Chime we wanted to do exactly that. Your original or classic mode is safe: you can’t upset anyone by adding game modes and fiddling with the formula there, you can only create something new (and hopefully better). There had been plenty of ideas floating around during development and the time had come to put some of those into action. We discussed modes where you could receive power ups, ones where you had to unpick a near full grid along with countless other ideas, but there was one step change that we could not ignore; multiplayer.
An interesting opportunity emerged at the end of the original Chime. Martin De Ronde, director of One Big Game, had a relationship with the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands where he would help them to work on real projects using existing code bases. This would allow the students to work on a mature code base rather than starting from scratch and Chime was felt to be perfect for this. The students would use the XBLA Chime code base to prototype various multiplayer modes and at the end of it Zoë Mode would be able to use the prototypes to further any future versions. The project seemed perfectly in line with Chime’s charitable and experimental lineage and so we agreed. Worst case, we would have helped students of our industry in getting some valuable experience and best case, we would have a host of multiplayer modes to use in the next version of Chime. Win.
So after handing over the entire code base and all the content, we forgot about it for a while and got on with some other projects. But just three months later we got a delightful surprise; Chime: Multiplayer turned up on our door step. This consisted of five modes with 34 variations and had been put together by seven students now named Stolen Couch Games. It was impressive work and we had a great amount of fun playing through everything they had created. Those very different core modes were titled Versus, Hills, Bombs, Co-op and Survival. It was fascinating to see what someone else had done with our work and where they had taken it. For the most part it was great stuff, showing plenty of creativity and a good grasp on the design. It also proved to us that Chime had enormous potential to mutate and grow from its rock solid base; we clearly had fertile ground to work with.
It was heartening to see Stolen Couch take Chime: Multiplayer to a few shows in Europe and for it to get a warm reception. It was great for those guys, who did a job they should be proud of, and great for us, too, as was our game out there. After this happened we started to get a steady flow of emails asking when we intended to release it, but at that time we were yet to announce Super Deluxe, so we stayed quiet and just acknowledged how lovely multiplayer would be.
There was, after all, quite a bit of work to take that prototype and turn it into a releasable product. First off, these prototypes were based on the XBLA version and so had been written in XNA and not C++ like Chime Super Deluxe; complete rewrites were required. We approached it by reviewing all the prototypes and then used them as a very high jumping off point to tackle the design. We chose three modes to work on; Co-op, Versus and Survival. Sadly the latter had to be dropped due to time constraints but one day it may be seen again. It was an enjoyable part of making Chime Super Deluxe, taking Stolen Couch's best ideas and working closely with programmer Adam Meredith to swiftly put together our version of the multiplayer modes. We had a great starting point, although rules had to be changed, feedback put in-line with the current version and the game needed a general tweaking. Post implementation our designer Marc Tourle had the unenviable task of balancing the modes, taking into consideration various factors directly linked to the number of players selected.
The biggest problem was that the balancing playthrough sessions often descended into pitched versus battles. Developers not wanting to be outdone at their own game stopped thinking about it as work and got lost in the competition. One particularly fraught senior management meeting near the end of development was totally turned round after one four-player versus game, frowns turned to smiles and raised voices turned to laughter. These moments showed us we had something cool that people loved but you still never know if the public or press will like it as much as you do. On doing the first press events – and finding those demos descending into the same joyful battles against journalists – I was pretty certain we were on safe ground.
The reaction to the multiplayer games has been beyond our expectations; sure there were gripes about it not being online, but the modes have been loved unanimously. By answering a major fan demand Chime stepped up another level as a game. It seems solving spatial block based puzzles while remixing awesome music from incredible musicians is great, but solving spatial block based puzzles while remixing awesome music from incredible musicians and destroying your friends is even better.
See all the columns in this series on our Chime Super Deluxe topic page.