The Behemoth on BattleBlock Theater’s public development and player-generated content

Originally announced as Game #3 in 2009, BattleBlock Theater was finally released on April 3. We talked to Dan Paladin, art director on BattleBlock and co-founder of The Behemoth, about the lengthy development process, what he would have changed, and why we can’t play with four players in the campaign modes.

It took four years to put out BattleBlock Theater from the initial announcement. What caused the long development time?
That’s just how long a quality game takes to make. Even as far back as the first Mario Brothers, games have taken years. As time goes on and technology allows even more content to be jammed in there, adding the extra bonus challenge of delivering similarly as fast.

The difference many people might be feeling here is that we tend to announce our titles as soon as we have the first prototype we’ve stuck with. So, everyone hears about our games for the majority of their development time. Whereas most other developers tend to wait towards the tail-end of development to market.

We do this so we can get as much feedback as possible from our fans and newcomers at shows. With this overall feedback we tailor our games to resonate with as many people as possible. It seems to be working out for the best, even though both fans and myself go crazy waiting for the thing to be out there.

BattleBlock Theater took a little longer than our usual time because there was a lot of figuring out to do and there’s a massive boatload of content. 320 characters, 450+ levels, two sets of campaign (solo and co-op), eight Arena modes, two difficulty settings, 13 weapons, an arsenal of melee moves, balancing, AI, over one hour of narration, secret levels, nine cinematics, Trial mode videos/artwork/levels, etc. There’s just a lot of content there in a new & curious wrapper that in the end just does not feel like any other game.

Is there anything you wished you could have changed about it before release? Different modes? Tweaks to the gameplay?
I would have liked a spectator slot for matches, and to have some of the AI look a little different.

I also wanted more of the chapters to have more unique artwork in the regular levels. Chapter 8 is a good example.

Why only allow two players in the campaign modes? Did more than that get too hectic?
The design just didn’t work with us on this. With 4 people there was simply no challenge that could present itself consistently or clearly.

Everyone is more than welcome to try this out! If you were to make a Story level in our editor, you can have 4 players total. You can see for yourself why it wouldn’t pan out.

In our tests players continually preferred 2 player mode by over 99%. It’s simply more personal, calculated, clear, challenging and hilarious.

How important is player-generated content to your game design philosophy?
I’d imagine it is as important as the community decides!

If the players wish they can have endless, awesome content. Even further they can decide which kinds of modes get played the most democratically by what sort of stuff gets hosted or made. On the other hand, players can just abandon it. The choice is theirs!

It is pretty important if players want to continue experiencing new user Featured playlists in either Furbottom’s Features or Arena Feature. Every time there is a new feature, there is another limited time special prisoner to unlock!

So far it’s been a pretty big hit.

With all that player-generated stuff, do you have plans to release any more of your own content? What’s the curation process like?
Furbottom’s Features area allows us two avenues for free content. We’re already taking advantage of that! Each new Furbottom’s Featured playlist unlocks a new Special Prisoner to play as when completed, all while the player is getting a new playlist to enjoy. Sometimes the features can be from ourselves, sometimes they can be from the community.

My hope is to not require anything we’d have to charge for since I don’t ever tend to pick that stuff up as a player. Also the added bonus of 100% of the players being able to access it!

What co-op lessons did you take from Castle Crashers into BattleBlock Theater?
People love to turn on each other every once in awhile whether they are fighting for a princess or pushing their friend into a spike pit.