This story is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #115. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
This series of articles is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Epic’s Unreal Engine 4. Every month, we profile the recipient of an Unreal Dev Grant. While Epic puts us in touch with our subjects, they have no input or approval in the final story.
A lot of times, simple gets accused of being not enough in videogames. There are so many tools available, why not use them to create ever more complex systems and endless aesthetic embellishments. Just one more skill tree, a leveling system and a dog, why not? And a way to pet the dog. Sometimes, though, simple and straightforward is all you need.
That’s exactly the case with Hyper Jam, a neon-soaked arena brawler. There are four characters, identical in all but appearance. The idea is to be the last person standing, by guile or by violence, using a combination of randomly spawning weapons and a dynamic perk system.
Combat takes place over five rounds, with special perks selected after each match, the first pick of the draft going to the player with the least points. The perks add all the randomness and strategy you need for lightning fast combat that is both accessible to newcomers and deep enough for experienced players. No need for skill trees or levels.
We spoke to Roman Maksymyschyn of Bit Dragon Games about the development of this most elegant way to beat up your friends.
First off, can you tell me a bit about the team and your history working in games?
The prototype of Hyper Jam was developed as our final year project while studying game development at university, and after a great showing at PAX Australia we felt it would be worth taking it to the next level!
We worked at other studios for about a year while developing the game in our spare time, but after attending GDC in 2017 we were so inspired that we decided to leave our jobs and start working on Hyper Jam full time.
What initially attracted you to the arena brawler genre?
All members of the development team have a long history of both playing and making local multiplayer games, and we all enjoy some friendly competition, so it made sense to make the kind of game we would want to play ourselves.
I think one of the most appealing things about Hyper Jam is how straightforward and fine-tuned it is, which in turn makes it super easy for anyone to pick up and start murdering their friends. Can you talk a bit about your design philosophy for Hyper Jam?
Thanks! Throughout the entire process of making Hyper Jam we have striven to build simple mechanics that result in complex gameplay. We’ve found this allows new players to pick up the game and enjoy it immediately, whilst still leaving room for players to improve and discover new strategies to take out the opponents.
Were there any surprises that came out of designing the perk system?
The perk drafting mechanic is one of the main things that sets Hyper Jam apart from other arena brawers, and was the core concept the entire game was founded on, before we had even decided on whether it would be a 2D or a 3D game.
We were pleasantly surprised at how well this idea worked in practice, not only making each match unique by providing players with different sets of skills by the end, but also by the strategies that emerge as a result and inherent balancing the ‘last place first pick’ system introduces.
Aesthetic is a key part of Hyper Jam’s appeal. How did you approach it? What were your key inspirations? Do you have a favorite of the four characters?
Hyper Jam’s aesthetic is the result of the team’s combined interest in retro-future films such as Kung Fury and extremely clean visual styles from games like Overwatch. Our goal was to bring the best of both worlds together, and we are quite happy with the result!
My personal favorite character would have to be Vance – due to his less serious persona and range of hilarious taunts to mock opponents with in-game.
Following up on that, that soundtrack is pretty key (and killer). How did you put it together? What was it like working with bands rather than a composer?
We would often listen to synthwave music in the office while making our initial prototypes, and this eventually became the primary theme of the game. Now and then a track would come on that was such a good fit that we started reaching out to the artists to see if they would be interested in licensing it for our game!
We have never worked with a composer so it is hard to compare, but overall it has been a pretty good experience working directly with the bands, and it’s really cool to be able to feature the music we would listen to during development in the shipped game.
Any plans for Hyper Jam in the future? How has the reception been since launch?
The reception has been very positive and we are all very happy to see so many people around the world enjoying Hyper Jam so much. As for long term plans we are still playing it by ear, but have been releasing updates periodically since launch with a variety of improvements.
Why did you choose Unreal Engine 4? Are there any unexpected benefits or challenges to it?
We have been using Unreal Engine 4 since it’s release in 2014, and have never really looked back since. We have found a variety of benefits to using UE4, such as great in-built networking support, the ability to dive in to debug and fix issues due to it being open source, and getting all the fixes and features implemented by Epic as they ship their own games with the engine.
The main challenge we faced was probably initially learning how to use UE4 since there is so much to take in, but this upfront effort was definitely worth it since we were able to spend less time rebuilding standard, boilerplate stuff and instead invest that time into the parts of the game that make it unique.
Did the Dev Grant allow you to do anything you otherwise would not have been able to?
The dev grant was hugely helpful for us, and allowed us to do a variety of things such as add more content, license more artists, amplify our launch marketing and more!
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Purchase Hyper Jam for Steam, PS4 and Xbox One on the official site.