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Jetpacks and Feedback: The S.W.A.P. Journey

Greetings all,
I’m Nico King, the Creative Director here at Chaos Theory, and for the past year I’ve had the pleasure to be the project lead on S.W.A.P – a game that began as a student project and is now late in the beta testing phase. It’s been a thrilling ride, and we’ve all aged far more than we should have, but I’m ecstatic to be able to show off a project that I’m truly proud of!

S.W.A.P (Subterfuge Weapons Assessment Program) is an Indirect First Person Shooter for PC and Mac that features competitive multiplayer with a strong focus on strategic thinking and cooperation between teammates. Players take control of robots without guns or any way to directly harm each other. No guns?! No direct harm?! How is that an FPS you silly dev?

In S.W.A.P the player’s only ‘weapon’ launches a projectile that allows them to exchange bodies with the opposing team. They don’t exchange teams or names – only their physical bodies, and when combined with a multitude of traps in the environment, this allows players to disorient and destroy enemies, as well as traverse the arena with greater swiftness.

You can see that sneaky word ‘indirect’ coming into play now. Players cannot directly harm each other, but they can, for example, knowingly jump into a trap while swapping with an opponent, dooming them to an oily grave while the clever robot jetpacks away. Oh yeah, there are jetpacks too. Each of the game’s 20+ punishing arenas are littered with traps and have a strong focus on verticality that rewards dextrous players.

14-07-15_swap_death
The online multiplayer supports up to 8 players in 2 teams, who star in a sporting-event inspired arena where they must compete to deliver virus fragments to the opponent’s base, eventually crashing their server (a modified capture-the-flag game type). It also includes a level editor, allowing players to develop their own arenas that are automatically sent to all players when they join a match, making it easy to play together using custom content.

Being a student project that was developed using educational software licenses, we do not have any plans to monetize S.W.A.P and are offering it FOR FREE, no strings attached. We’ve worked hard to make it the best experience possible, and we just want people to enjoy it.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT

S.W.A.P was conceived while undertaking AIE’s game development program, and actually began as a single player reverse horror game (you were the monster), where the player had to escape from a military facility using the swapping mechanic. The early development months saw lots of iteration on the core concept, and it was soon reimagined as a multiplayer experience that allowed for endless hours of replayability.

After rapidly developing the initial prototype within 6 weeks, AIE announced that the best student projects would feature at the 2013 EB Expo, after proving themselves at the smaller, more industry-focused iFest. Although it was a stretch to get S.W.A.P playable in in such a short time, we managed to produce a networked build that saw extensive playtesting at iFest and provided invaluable feedback – as well as the thrilling opportunity to be shown off at AIE’s stall.

Attending EB Expo was unforgettable and incredibly humbling – being showcased alongside the industry giants, AAA titles and the crème de le crème of Australian Indies was both exhilarating and daunting. For me, seeing S.W.A.P next to some of the polished masterpieces highlighted so many of the game’s flaws, and the feedback we were receiving reminded me how much there was still to be done – but it was feedback nonetheless! The game DID get plenty of praise from players who took the time to learn the mechanic, and we were laughing when players came back from the 3 hour Battlefield 4 line claiming that S.W.A.P was more fun.

swap_beta_release_ebexpo

I still remember a veteran FPS gamer frustrating himself, saying “I just can’t stop shooting people! I know it’s not the aim of them game, but it’s such a strong habit”. This really highlights the innovation that I see in S.W.A.P – applying a higher order of thinking to your shooting ability and having to really consider your opponents mindset – where they’ll be looking, and how they’ll react to being swapped with.

After 3 full days we had hundreds of emails, business cards, a few interviews lined up and a giant list of player-recommended improvements. We were all hyped up, talking about the 6 new game modes, different character classes, power ups, special abilities and sweet animations that we NEEDED to add. The trouble was, we only had 6 weeks before AIE’s deadline, bringing me to the realisation that S.W.A.P would need a lot more development time to live up to our standards. We hit most of our development targets in those 6 weeks and were rewarded with the “Most Impressive Advanced Diploma Game Project” title upon graduation, and this instilled more confidence in my belief that we should take the game further.

Unfortunately, most of the team were now looking for full-time employment, and this equated to just Greg Nott (Lead Programmer) and myself as the remaining members. The IP was assigned to Chaos Theory and new development goals created so that Greg and I would be prepared for the labour of our S.W.A.P baby – a younger and more primitive concept of the ideal vision, but completed to a high standard to demonstrate how engaging and fun the swap mechanic could be.

And so it was that Greg and I slaved over our keyboards, working into the wee hours of the morning, living off M&Ms and cheese toasties, for over 7 months, to get it to where it is today, and only now do I look at S.W.A.P and feel pride well up inside, as I see a game that stands up to my ridiculously high standards.

Does it live up to your expectations? Is it fun? Do you want to see it taken further? There’s only so much that the two of us can do, but with enough community support, we’d love to rebuild S.W.A.P from the ground up using UDK, launch a crowd-funding campaign and implement the long list of ‘features that could have been’. Tell us what you like, and what you don’t – this can’t happen without your support.

About James
I’m deeply passionate about the promoting and developing the social, educational, and creative potential of games. Through my work at Chaos Theory, I have only just started a journey to doing exactly that.
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