Arsène Bomber is Piepacker Studios’ very first original game. The team has opened up about its development and for the first time, we’ll share with you all the anecdotes no one else knows about.
From the conceptualization of the gameplay to the selection and refining of the art style, here’s how Arsène Bomber came to life!
As is often the case in modern retro endeavors, it all started with fond childhood memories. The first devs to join the team, Jean-André and Juno, had always dreamt of coding their own Bomberman-like game. When Piepacker looked for its first inspiration, they both jumped on the occasion and got to work. This was even before there was any kind of organized studio within Piepacker. This was their fan project more than anything else. Pretty soon, the amount of work needed called for more brains to join in the adventure. 2D artists and game developers were recruited and a game producer, Pierre, took over managing the project.
In the beginning, the team looked for inspiration around the world: they decided to draw maps inspired by regional holidays and celebrations, and design characters who would look at home there. So there they were trying to represent as many corners of the globe as possible, a hopeless mission to all who know how many corners a sphere has…
They eventually settled on 8 world-renowned parties:
The team ran pretty far with those concepts; as you can see, they drew maps, characters and even started working on the blocks… But something felt slightly off. This was the studio’s first game and somehow “celebration from around the world” didn’t seem like a strong enough concept to the newly formed team.
Final concept art and gameplays 🎨
They put their heads together and thought about what united them. Their passion for old-school video games would provide a strong foundation for the gameplays, that was not the issue. What theme would they choose to tell the world about who they were? By that time, most of the team was originally from France. So why not take inspiration from a good French story? One that people around the world were already familiar with but with a universe that could be declined and explored anew in pixel form?
That’s when Lupin joined the party! The famous gentleman thief has been featured in many stories and has his own international adaptations. He’s a thief, so he’s definitely not above bombing a few things. He has had adventures all over the world and, let’s be honest, in the early 20th century, people had a lot of style!
Slowly, the team started gathering inspirational content for their maps. Can you guess which actual photo originated which Arsène map?
Here’s the evolution of Arsène Bomber ‘s maps from concept to in-game look:
The maps were constructed one after the other, and sometimes a map would inspire another: for instance, the PieCafé was a late addition to the set inspired by the Place Massena’s easter egg. “There’s an easter egg in every single map,” commented Ismael, the team’s lead 2D artist. “I really wanted players to be able to look back on their in-game experience and remember the details as much as the general impression.”
Even within the Arsène Lupin universe, there were times when they had to backtrack. One of the original setting ideas was in a train at the Parisian Gare du Nord.
But integrating the trains into the tiny map was just too complicated. The rails stayed in a different way, you can spot the old tramway crossing the Place Massena from time to time.
All the maps had to be filled with special materials that fit with the atmosphere and the style of the décor:
Lupin came with his own set of characters, all inspired from the books! (Except for that one secret character… Have you found Rosie yet? 🔍)
But Arsène’s story didn’t only inspire the design. It was important to the team to develop their own original game modes. “The main driver was to create a rich multiplayer experience,” Jérémie, lead dev on the project, said. Arsène the gentleman thief is the primary inspiration for the Treasure Hunt and the Disguise Party modes. Other modes came from yet other childhood memories: “When I conceptualized the “Hot Potato” mode, I thought about the fast-paced game I’d play with my friends at recess,” Jérémie continued. Furthermore, the first prototype of mask interaction has been developed for this mode. You can try it out for the first time during Gamescom and watch the loser’s mask explode as their character does!
Each game mode is the result of a deep reflection on what would be the most fun! Of course they hit dead ends along the way, like when they developed their first coop mode.
The devs themselves couldn’t manage the complexity of this one while playing, it was either too easy or too hard. Because of the lack of balance, it was completely dropped. The final coop mode came much later when the team was getting ready to participate in the Gamers Without Borders event. It’s much simpler than the first one and manages to bring together team play (you must kill as many enemies as you can) and individual performance (gotta get them kills to snatch that crown!). It was also the occasion to draw another map and create a completely new character, Abbas, member of a Berber tribe, based on Arsène’s travels in Mauritania.
Each map comes with its own special gameplay through in-game events randomly triggered in Battle and Treasure Hunt mode. It’s really worth changing maps often to diversify your experience!
Testing, testing, testing… oh sorry, I meant playing, playing, playing! 🎮
The team was hard pressed to deliver the best multiplayer gaming experience, and that meant testing the maps and game modes extensively. Among the many technical challenges they encountered were the calibration of movements, fundamentally different from Bomberman ‘s because the characters have free movements in every mode: you can move diagonally, but the computer-controlled characters don’t (remember that in Disguise Party mode).
Another difficulty arose when the team designed their random bonuses. The idea of a mega bomb was rapidly dropped because it was too powerful, even on the lowest setting. The teleportation had to be calibrated to prevent “cornering” players where they couldn’t use a bomb without dying. In ghost mode, it was quickly decided that the player would be responsible for where they ended up.
Details after details, the team polished the game by playing it extensively. They even had to code a way to launch the game with only one player in the room so devs could work independently! Once they couldn’t stop playing after working hours and Alexis, another dev, established himself as the absolute master of the Hot Potato mode, they decided the game was ready to be enjoyed by others! “It was a lot of fun!” Alexis added.
As mentioned, Arsène Bomber ‘s development didn’t end when the game was released. Gamers Without Borders marked the development of an awesome twitch integrated mode in which viewers can help or hinder the players, thanks to a very out-of-place Piepie UFO. And now, as Gamescom is upon the studio, they developed a completely original map showing Arsène and co at a German village fair.
Once again, the result shines through its details. When asked why he was working in Pixel art in 2021, Ismael answered: “There’s a charm in pixel art that I can’t find in other art styles. I think it’s an approachable style to begin with when making video games but also a style that can be improved and polished a lot after years of practice. It feels familiar and nostalgic, but graphics evolve to look more modern as time goes. Games like Stardew Valley or Cadence of Hyrule tell me that pixel art is constantly evolving and adapting to new times, so I don’t think it will end anytime soon.”
What’s next for the Studio? ☀️
The entire project was a team effort. It was the first time they worked together and they were really happy with the team’s dynamic and the end result. “We’ve collaborated with Adams Spragg — creator of Hidden in Plain Sight — for the Disguise Party mode,” Pierre mentioned. “It was great to be able to rely on the expertise of creators to develop our own original game. In the end, Arsène Bomber is very different from the original Bomberman because, on top of creating our own pixel universe, we worked hard to add original new multiplayer experiences.” Arsène Bomber is bound to keep evolving, as it was designed to be a flexible game on which a lot of ideas could be applied.
For most of the people involved, it was also their first time developing a video game with coworkers and they are eager to renew the experience on their next game 🤫
Originally published at http://piepacker.blog on August 27, 2021.