With the upcoming party brawler soon launching on Xbox Game Pass, we go behind the scenes of Rubber Bandits with gameplay and level designers Bo Strandby and Noel Toivio, into the world of game level design at Flashbulb Games.
How Did You Decide on the Concept of Rubber Bandits?
“Rubber Bandits began as a ragdoll controller similar to QWOP”, says Strandby. “Players had to independently move their arms and legs to pass each level.”
“We developed in different stages, from rampaging Godzilla-style through a tiny city being shot at by tanks, to a physics-based brawler where characters smashed environments and fought with proper weapons.”
“It was originally going to be a knight-themed brawler called Just A Flesh Wound, like Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’movie”, adds Toivio.
“That’s true,” laughs Strandby, “Then Lasse (Middelbo Outzen, Lead Artist at Flashbulb Games) came into the office really excited one day and announced, ‘We’re going to call it Rubber Bandits, and it’s about cops and robbers.’ He came up with the idea of collecting loot, and we built it up from there.”
How Did You Start Designing the Levels in Rubber Bandits?
“We had five levels to start with,” Strandby begins. “We had a dodgeball level, a hurdles level, and one where players had to rush gold bars from a tank to a truck.”
“The level is supposed to be a canvas for the gameplay,” says Toivio. “While we had some level design ideas already, we wanted the themes to come second to the gameplay.
“The team decided it would be more fun if you could interact with environmental elements in the game, like cars. So, we created the ‘Streets’ city level with high-speed obstacles to avoid.”
“We had to be careful with Rubber Bandits, though,” Toivio continues, “as many popular games have these big shifting levels, like factories, that didn’t work with the theme of bandits.”
“I mean, who’s trying to rob a factory?” laughs Strandby.
“Exactly!” agrees Toivio. “If it didn’t correlate strongly with the theme, we just didn’t use it. Instead, we adapted this into an airport level, which uses conveyor belts, luggage, and jet engines as obstacles instead.”
What Level Design Aspects Changed Most During Development?
“Previously, we used a countdown for remaining players when one player escaped the level,” explains Strandby. “Then, Mikkel (Thorsted, Creative Director at Flashbulb Games) had the idea of re-introducing players as cops to take down other bandits.”
“Noel was skeptical,” Strandby continues, “but then it helped to enforce the cops-and-robbers theme. Sometimes you imagine it differently in prototype, and then it makes more sense when you play it.”
“The cops aspect also plays into the players’ instinct to protect their own win, and take down their friends,” explains Toivio. “People really want to win, and they don’t realize just how much.”
What were the Biggest Obstacles When Creating the Rubber Bandits Levels?
“We struggled with telling people that they’re still playing, even if they think they’ve finished,” says Toivio, regarding players’ changeover from bandit to cop. “We tried to keep attention with UI, text elements, countdowns, and other ways to hold attention to the character.”
“We learned to create a fun level design that doesn’t ‘take over’. If your character swings a weapon, you don’t want too many tight spaces. Otherwise, the weapon collides with the environment, rather than the opponent. Frustrating!”
“And we didn’t want to fatigue players,” Toivio continues. “There’s a few ‘breath of fresh air’ levels to the gameplay per theme. The breaking floor level in the Museum is ambitious and needs lots of new stuff, but also keeps players on their toes.”
What were Some of Your Favorite Levels that Didn’t Make the Full Game?
“We got rid of the hurdles,” says Strandby. “That was one of the hardest levels to kill for me.”
“It’s difficult to know when to stop as a developer,” agrees Toivio. “Hurdles were there before the Rubber Bandits idea even came about. But it didn’t fit the theme.”
“Some levels are cut-out remnants of the old hurdles level,” Strandby continues, “so at least it lives on.”
What was Your Favorite Level to Design?
“The trucks level,” says Strandby. “Movement is an illusion – only the trees are moving properly, so you’re constrained to throwing stuff at other players, or catching what they throw.” “I liked the Bouncy Castle level,” laughs Toivio, “but all 25 of them were fun to make.
“My favourite is the Bank hatch level. You flip a switch to flip the bridge over and make players fall. It uses interesting interactive mechanics that feel unique to Rubber Bandits.
“Plus one super secret spicy level at the end of Arcade mode…”
—Rubber Bandits launches on December 2nd 2021 for Xbox consoles and Xbox Game Pass.