Recently I saw a great letter sent from Pete Docter to a fan that really resonates with the experience of working on Supernauts at Grand Cru, in it he said:
It takes a lot of work (and rework, and rework and rework) to get it right. And even then quite often we’re not 100% pleased. As John Lasseter likes to say, our films don’t get finished, they just get released.
Like the folks at Pixar, we aim to create products that are extremely polished, that look and feel as if they are pushing the envelope of what’s possible on a mobile device.
Supernauts is probably the first mobile game that really makes full use of touchscreen to offer a genuinely rewarding Minecraft-like experience to players and includes a lot more depth and overall gameplay than they might first expect. Supernauts has also undergone what is probably one of the longest ever development cycles for any mobile title currently on the market as a result.
When they put the company together back in 2011, Grand Cru’s founders had already been working together on mobile games for several years. Since everybody’s preferences and strengths were already well known within that group, deciding on the theme was not so much of a stretch. Obviously we’re all fans of Minecraft at Grand Cru, but Little Big Planet was and is also a huge influence. We’ve tried to create similar themes of accessibility, fun and the community element of showing off your creations to others throughout the whole development process. Above all, we’ve stayed true to the founder’s original concept of wanting players to experience limitless creativity while playing.
There’s also a huge number of pop-culture influences in Supernauts, including but not limited to The Incredibles, Futurama, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and old Lucasarts adventure games. At one point we also toyed around with the idea of creating a fun horror/ monster theme, but that would have made it more difficult to add things like disco floors. In the end, the “comic sci-fi” concept just felt natural and we felt that we could also slip in a topical environmental element in there without being too serious about it, so the whole thing just came together nicely.
The original concept of Supernauts was a lot more MMO-like, but later we decided to concentrate on first building a fully-functional single player experience. We have been iterating and making gradual changes to that aspect of the game ever since. Only very recently did we reach the stage of being able to add some of the ultra-social features that were decided at the very beginning: multiplayer building contests.
With the complexity and depth of Supernauts comes a huge number of moving parts, all of which are developed from scratch, such as the way players’ worlds are built on your device and the way the whole universe is interconnected in the cloud – these things are very different from the technology behind Minecraft, for example, and have required extreme amounts of optimization to ensure an enjoyable and seamless experience for the player.
When you add in the enormous number of blocks, surfaces and objects that require individual textures and shaders, the work adds up. Getting everything working, looking and feeling exactly right takes even longer.
A good example of something that has been reworked a number of times, and is still often the subject of intense debate amongst the team, are the building and camera controls. So far there have been at least seven different versions of the building controls (possibly more) and we have finally created a building algorithm that has a slightly higher learning curve but is ultimately more accurate and allows for less misplaced blocks than before. It’s all about optimizing the experience for the player. If it’s not perfect, we’re not going to use it.
Creating the technology and huge number of tiny details behind Supernauts has been a long road with a huge number of challenges, and we’re not even finished yet!
In many ways the concept of not completely finishing a game but just releasing it feels like the most natural thing to do, both for Grand Cru and for Supernauts. We have a huge number of developments, tweaks, new features, new artwork and crazy ideas to keep our fellow Supernauts zappin’ away for years. We’ve given our players one of the most powerful and creative tools on mobile, and now it’s their turn to show us what they can do with it!