In an interview with DualShockers, Wrestledunk Sports developer Matt Trobbiani spoke to how his game will stand out in the crowded indie space.
Matt Trobbiani, the developer behind 2015’s excellent Hacknet, recently revealed to the world the new game he’s working on: Wrestledunk Sports. After this, no one can say that Trobbiani is afraid to take risks. Wrestledunk Sports is nothing like the immersive, narrative-heavy hacking simulator he put out four years ago. Instead, it’s an action-packed multiplayer sports party game. So why make such a massive shift in both genre and likely audience? And how can Wrestledunk stand out in an increasingly crowded multiplayer indie space? Trobbiani spoke to that and much more in an interview with DualShockers.
When it launched, Hacknet was an unquestioned indie success story. The game received high praise and won numerous awards around the industry. A few years later, Trobbiani would incorporate Extensions, which allow players to create their own custom storylines. Seeing what the community was creating was “really exciting” for the game’s creator. However, it also revealed how he felt “unsatisfied at the mechanical interactions” in his game, and knew he’d “really struggle to do better than if (he made) something in the same style.”
Trobbiani wanted to create something that would help him grow as a designer. He’d seen success in making a story-driven game within an immersive hacking sim. Now it was time to make gameplay king. Making his new game feel “good to play” was what he “wanted to study, focus on, and master.”
“As for the games that inspired the sports,” Trobbiani said, “they mostly came from Game Jams, rather than conventions. Volleyball is probably the most notable. It’s very directly inspired by Volley Blockers by Martymon. They developed the game at a game jam in Adelaide (my home city), and I thought (still think!) it was so great. I really wanted to explore the game further and make a few changes to it, and it ended up in the pack!”
Volleyball, as it stands today, has grown a lot, but when they started development, Trobbiani’s goal was “to re-create Volley Blockers in our engine with new controls and a new scoring system”. This, of course, meant the two developers were in contact during the process. After all, Trobbiani wanted to make sure Martymon was okay with him using Volley Blockers as something of a foundation for the eventual Volleyball game.
Martymon wasn’t the only dev Trobbiani worked with to build out the foundations of Wrestledunk. He and Matt LeKrupa previously made a game called Glove Slap years ago that was based on the first-ever trailer for Nidhogg. That game “got a lot wrong” about how Nidhogg would play. That said, Trobbiani “missed some of the snappy weirdness of Glove Slap” and wanted to include it in Wrestledunk.
Of the other modes, Smashball is a modern take on Sanrio World Smash Ball. However, to get the feel just right, Trobbiani took “some cues from Lethal League, with their extremely exaggerated slowmo on hit”. Wrestling, though, is truly original to the package. While experimenting for a fourth game, he “wanted to do more with the dive in volleyball”. The simplicity of the jump and dive game was something Trobbiani “instantly fell in love with” and thus, Wrestling was born.
While it’s interesting to note where Trobbiani took his inspiration from, it’s important to remember that Wrestledunk stands out on its own. The whole idea in packaging the four games together is to keep the entire product feeling like a well-oiled machine. Trobbbiani had this to say about many multiplayer indie games: “I think (many of) those games are too small to succeed – and those that do add enough content and extras to justify a big commercial release generally do so at the cost of losing the purity and clarity in the design of the game at the heart of the whole thing. I don’t want to call anyone out, so I won’t name any particular projects, and I want to be clear that this is just a theory and a feeling, but I do feel like there are loads and loads of games released in the multiplayer space that really struggle at a commercial release, partly because of this.”
So, Trobbiani and his team have four solid games and a package that will, hopefully, make the game much more attractive than if the games were released on their own. However, with multiplayer party games like Gang Beasts and Heave Ho releasing all the time, how can a game like Wrestledunk stand out and build an audience of dedicated players? Especially when the audience Hacknet cultivated might not come along to play a game like Wrestledunk?
Obviously, there isn’t a perfect answer, or at least not one that anyone in the indie scene has been able to completely lockdown. That said, Trobbiani has a few ideas. As mentioned above, one of the biggest positives in the game’s favor is that you’re getting four games in one. We’ve seen games like the Jackbox Party Packs use this formula very well. Sure, Fibbage might’ve become a hit on its own, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would drop $10 on a game like Push the Button. It’s not that those smaller games are bad. Instead, it’s just much more fun to have four or five games you can hop between when you’re hanging out with a group of friends.
Because each game is relatively small, its development can be more focused as mentioned above. This has allowed Trobbiani to get to a place where each game is “very clean and clear”, which means each game should be “unusually easy to jump into”. In short, all four games are approachable but have that added depth that hardcore players are looking for.
In fact, making each game pop at first glance seems to be a focus for Trobbiani. Each mode can be learned in a two-button tutorial and they are all connected by a lobby. This makes jumping from game to game a piece of cake. The details surrounding the meat of the game are “geared toward building hype”. You’ll see backgrounds catch on fire and things get more intense as the game nears its end. Everything in the package serves to make the game stand out both in your living room and on stream.
The music and art were also “very carefully designed to make the game very approachable”. The word “pleasant” came up a few times in our interview and it seems apt. Trobbiani is working with a few artists to nail down the exact sound design he’s looking for. Chri Larkin (Hollow Knight) is doing some of SFX and music, while 2Mello (Memories of Tokyo-to) did the announcement trailer track, along with several other in-game tracks.
Overall, the most important thing to nail might just be the online experience. Trobbiani has placed a big emphasis on Wrestledunk’s netcode. All the sports (plus the lobby and game over screens) share a connection. This makes each “seamless” session feel like you’re playing on a local connection. Not only does this set the game up well for streaming, but it also should make playing with your friends a breeze.
“Standing out in this space is hard,” Trobbiani said, “a lot of what I’m trying to do is to just get details that I think matter right. I don’t think anyone knows the secret recipe for indie success fully, and everything I’ve spoken about above might not make a difference at all. I think the best I can do is to try and think about the problem from as many angles as possible, and just try and make a very good game.”
There a few relatively vague plans for post-launch. They want solid private lobbies and have set the netcode up to be cross-platform if Wrestledunk moves beyond Switch. There are also a few ideas of different sports that might make for fun additions. However, the focus now is on delivering the best day one experience they can. Everything on the back end will depend a lot on “what the community wants”. There are post-launch ideas, but the team wants to keep them indefinite until they see how players react.
Obviously, there is no secret code a developer can put in to turn their game into a massive hit. However, it’s clear that Trobbiani and his team have done quite a bit of thinking about how to create an indie multiplayer game that has every chance to succeed. Wrestledunk is going to be a very interesting project to follow moving forward. Not only does it look like a really fun game, but seeing the dev that made Hacknet make such a huge genre jump is an incredibly intriguing prospect.
Wrestledunk Sports is coming soon to a Nintendo Switch near you.