Backfire Postmortem


    Backfire is a first person shooter where you shoot in the opposite direction that you're facing. So instead of shooting whatever is in front of you, you shoot what's behind you. It was made in 1 week for a class project, but the team continued working on it, on and off, afterwards. It went on to be shown at the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX) as part of the Hand Eye Society games showcase. 

Backfire in its current form

    Because you shoot backwards, you can't see what you're shooting at most of the time, so we had to make several design considerations to make it so that players felt like they weren't just shooting blindly at whatever was behind them. The first thing we wanted to do was add mirrors. If you have to look behind you without being able to turn around, a mirror is the most logical choice. After looking into our options for mirrors, we quickly found out that we were going to have some issues with performance, as each mirror was essentially another camera rendering the scene from another angle, and doing all the rendering for your game 20 times is a surefire way to kill your frame rate.

    One of the clever tricks I came up with to help with this, was to use a single mirror plane for multiple mirrors. Each reflective surface adds more stress, so by stretching out a single mirror to be larger, and then only showing specific parts of that mirror, we can use a single mirror to represent multiple mirrors.

Diagram of how our mirror trick would work. Players see two mirrors, but we only use one.

    While this would have worked to help with the frame rate there were still some issues with it. The first issue is that this only helps cut down on mirrors that are along the same wall, which was good for large walls that had lots of mirrors on them, but didn't help with smaller walls that only had one mirror. Another issue is that this doesn't help with situations where you have mirrors on both sides of the same wall. Mirrors are single-sided, so if we wanted to have a mirror on both sides of a wall, we would still have to use another mirror. In addition to all of this, having the mirrors behind the walls left the mirrors visibly sunken into the walls, and even by clipping the mirror plane forwards into the wall, it would still leave a notable difference in depth between the mirror and the wall. 

    Because we realized this issued with our mirrors early on in development, we didn't end up using this work-around, and simply designed our levels with a mirror limit in mind. Having all these mirrors was helpful, but we realized that if you were looking in a mirror, your player would naturally take up a majority of the mirror, which wouldn't be very helpful if you wanted to see what was behind you. 

    To solve this issue, we decided that our characters would have holes in them to allow players to see through themselves. Originally we were using a torus as our player model and joked about our characters being doughnuts for a bit, before eventually settling on making them cannons. The googly eyes and bow tie came later when we found that the cannons didn't have enough personality for our liking. 

    The last thing we did to help players aim behind them, was add a quick spin. By pressing the right bumper, players will do a quick 360 spin. The idea was that players would use this to see what was behind them, if they ever found themselves without immediate access to a mirror. In practice players didn't really use it that way. If they used it at all, it was to try to shoot people while spinning for an added layer of showoffmanship. Some people complained about the spin not being a 180, but we had intentionally avoided this because we didn't want players to line up someone in front of them, spin, and then shoot them. At that point, it would just be a first person shooter with another button you have to press before you can shoot someone. 

While looking in a mirror your player model also doubles as a cross hair. 

    The class project this was originally made for was an exercise in rapid prototyping. We made 4 prototypes each in a week and would choose one to continue working on. Oddly enough, even though everyone on the team liked Backfire, we didn't move forwards with it for the class. I believe the logic behind it was that Backfire was already pretty well developed, and while we could continue to develop it further and make it even better, it would be more beneficial to continue working on one of our other games and bring it up to the level that Backfire was at. 

    We did however continue to work on Backfire for a bit afterwards. We had polished it up and submitted it to a couple of small contests here and there, but nothing came of it. As school went on, and we became busy with other things, Backfire moved to the back of our minds, but it was always one of our favourites. 

    A few years later, I was showing off Toast Boast at the Hand Eye Society Ball, and after the event I was asked if I would be interested in bringing Toast Boast to the EGLX afterparty with the potential to show something off at the EGLX show floor as well.

Mr.Destructoid playing Backfire at EGLX

    This was around the time that I was showing off Appeeling Personality here and there, but I figured that at a crowded convention, a single player dating sim wouldn't do as well as something multiplayer. Backfire was perfect for the venue, but it needed some work. The original game that we made was only 2 players, and while we had intended to make it 4 players, we had never gotten around to it. I was skeptical at first about whether or not we would be able to get 4 players working, considering that we didn't have much time till the convention and were also working with a less than optimal code base, but we managed to do it.

    One problem we had that I didn't expect was with controllers. For the expo, I had borrowed some Xbox One controllers from a friend, as I didn't have 4 controllers myself. However, the night before the expo I found that the controllers weren't working. Normally, when you plug an Xbox controller into a Windows computer, Windows will automatically detect it and install the necessary drivers to make it work, but for some reason my computer failed to install the drivers for Xbox One controllers. It turns out that this is because my laptop was running Windows 7. I guess Microsoft is quietly dropping support for Windows 7, because what I ended up having to do was install the driver manually. That's not all though, Microsoft no longer offers the driver online, so I had to go digging to find someone else who was hosting the driver. 

    Other than polishing up the game and adding 4 player support, we also wanted to do something to spruce up our table space, and we had considered 3D printing our cannons and sticking googly eyes on them.

On the upside it only cost about 30 cents.

    Except the 3D printing didn't really work out. I clearly have no idea how units of measurement work because the cannon came out way smaller than I expected it to. Not only that but our tiny cannon took two hours to print. As we learned that day 3D printing takes time. I later went out and bought a cannon prop for a fish tank (which ended up breaking at the expo).

    Our table was a patchwork of efforts, but we pulled it off. Another road bump I ran into was at the expo where I realized that the monitor I had brought to display the game on was wayyyyy too small. I ended up putting it on top of the container I had brought everything in to try and raise it up to eye level and used my coat as a makeshift table cloth.

Backfire would usually have a small crowd going.

    Other than an incident where my laptop overheated, the expo went pretty well. One thing I noticed is that we got a lot of younger players, and this is probably due to how the game looks. With its bright colors and googly-eyed cannons, it definitely looks like something out of Sesame Street. I found that we actually had a harder time getting older players to try the game, and would have to sell them on the concept of a first person shooter where you shoot backwards. In that respect there's a bit of a disconnect between our genre and our visuals.

    Once people did try it, though, they would almost always love it. We even had a few people coming back to play it with their friends. Several people also asked if it was coming out on Steam and consoles, to which I would respond "sometime in the future". If we were to release the game, it would definitely need more work. We would probably have to rework things with the visuals to make them seem less childish, so that people wouldn't just brush it off as a kid’s game, or, at the very least, figure out a better way to convey our central mechanic to people at a glance. Screencheat (which we got a lot of comparisons to) tells you everything you need to know in its name. Backfire on the other hand needs a bit more of an explanation. 

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