Art of Games

OlliOlli World Lead Producer Reveals the Game’s Cartoonish Origins

OlliOlli World Lead Producer Reveals the Game's Cartoonish Origins
Written by Noah Roy

The third entry in the OlliOlli series of skateboarding games, OlliOlli World, is an absolute blast. The video game is a cartoonish skateboarding adventure that gives players a controlled challenge. OlliOlli takes place in a colorful and magical world, giving players the chance to become the future of skating. It’s a departure from previous entries in the series and a great example of a game that’s easy to pick up but hard to master. The game’s creative team, Roll7, successfully designed a game for audiences that’s as entertaining to watch as it is to play.

Roll7 Lead Producer Dan Croucher sat down with CBR for an exclusive interview to discuss OlliOlli World‘s design and how the team crafted a challenging game without making it frustrating for players.

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CBR: There are some games that take years to acquire their fan base, but OlliOlli World has had an immediate positive reception. What does that mean to you as a game creator?

Dan Croucher: Yeah, well, it’s everything really. We make the game for the players first, that’s our main thing. While you’re making it, you can tell that you’re making a good thing. You feel like it’s a good thing. And then more and more people play it, and as it gets finished, people just say, “Oh, I can’t put it down.” But you don’t really know until it goes out in the world, and then you can start to get reviews, and then suddenly you start to get players, steam reviews, and all sorts of stuff. It confirmed all we thought was true, but it’s amazing to see. It’s really nice to see people being happy and playing, having fun, picking it up, and enjoying themselves, which is what we were trying to do.

OlliOlli World is a video game that you will play the same level 30 times in a row because you’ve got to get it, but it’s not frustrating. It feels like every time you make a mistake, it’s because you didn’t do it like you should have, as opposed to other side-scroller games, which can be just frustrating in their difficulty curve. How did you toe that line between challenging without becoming frustrating?

Well, I guess that’s the top of the design tree for us. I don’t know if you played previous OlliOlli games, but they’re in the same vein. We had some concerns that there were things in there that just made it too hard, and were a little bit too frustrating for players. One of the huge things on this game is being welcomed — that applies to the world and the characters but also its mechanics and how the game plays. I don’t know how to describe exactly what thing it is that makes that possible, but the game mechanic’s always fair. It’s super tight on timing and things like that.

There’s no teasing. We don’t kill people without a reason. It always feels like it’s your fault if you slammed in on the early world because you would try to do something you couldn’t do, or you just hadn’t tweaked the timing. But the playing ground is going to be fair in all respects. It’s always your skill that you’re up against, which is really important. That’s one of the major things for us. There are a lot of games where it’s painful repetition, but you don’t stop trying, because you know it’s possible and you want to do it. That makes the moment when you do do it even better.

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This is such a departure from the previous games in terms of design and art style, where did this transition start? And how did that process play out for you all?

It’s definitely an evolution, and there are loads of factors in there. We wanted it to be in 3D for this game, and the world to be in 3D, and that drives it into a certain direction — in terms of modeling things, rather than pixel art. That’s one route. But then we have a concept artist called Herman, his art is at the heart of a lot of this game in terms of not just using his concept art to inspire the ideas of the game. He drew things. We modeled them. Some of his stuff is so directly in the game world. His style really influences it. So it’s a lot of gloopiness, and the weird characters and off-the-wall characters going in weird directions. A lot of that stems directly from him, and we translated it into the game.

But then, a lot of it’s driven by the gameplay as well, because if you look at some of the concepts for the game, there’s quite a lot going on there. There are loads of characters. There are loads of weird edges and stuff. But if you put all that directly in the game, you wouldn’t really be able to play properly because it’d be too visually distracting. With the lines, and with the style that it’s at, you can’t do too much detail otherwise your eyes start to bleed when you’re going that fast through a level. There’s a lot of points where we did actually take back detail, or pull stuff back, or put the colors closer to each other in the background, and then further away in the foreground, so the path is popping out, and so you can read the screen easily.

Readability is a really big thing for us. Towards the end of development, when the levels were coming to the finish point, we’d still do readability passes to make sure [you could still follow yourself easily]. Especially in some of the harder levels with multiple paths and stuff, you can still tell what’s going on. So, a lot of it is different by the gameplay, but then also the unique aesthetic that evolved throughout development.

It really works well with the game world as a whole too. I do think it lends this feeling of, “Oh, wow, no, there’s a whole world around your character,” and you’re just speeding right through it.

Yeah, and a lot of that came in towards the end of development. If you play a lot, you’ll see incidental little scenes — like NPCs sitting around a campfire. A lot of that stuff came from the art team having a bit of time towards the end to imbue the stories we’ve been telling each other about the levels in the actual levels. Sometimes it’s like, “What’s going on in this level, is it like a desert?” The level design is the most important thing, but the characters are people. What’s their story? Where do they live? What do they do in between you playing? A lot of that is just the team messing around and coming up with stories about the characters in the game, and it’s really cool.

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The story of OlliOlli World

I love the cartoonish nature of the designs in the game. Every time my character got flung across the world because I messed up, I giggle because it’s so over the top. It’s cartoonish enough that the mistakes add a layer of comedy. Was that something in all your minds while designing the game? Or was that just a happy accident?

We didn’t want it to be brutal, or painful, or bloody, or anything like that. It just didn’t really fit with what we were doing. In the past, we might have made a game that was a bit more like that, but yeah, not anymore. That was one aspect, but then the ragdolling when you die, actually came about by a program of trying to do it because we thought it might be funny. And not just funny, but there was a lot more to it, actually. Originally you could roll about it, aftertouch, and stuff like that when you slammed into the ground, but we had to take it out because it’s just too much. You could get to bad places in the level that would break everything. It was rolling across the finish line. And so, it didn’t survive, unfortunately, but it was still really good as it is.

[So the ragdolling] was accidental, and then everyone loved it, and then you’d have to make it work technically, make sure it’s good enough to ship. I’m glad you dug it. It’s just so funny that with a couple of stairs, you fly off the board, and your board goes another way. It’s amazing. Yeah, it’s all programmers just doing little lovely stuff that was just really worth it. A lot of that stuff comes from being open during development, and asking, “What if we did this? Wouldn’t it be funny? Okay, let’s just try it then and see, and then if it hangs around long enough, and it’s stable enough, then we’ll keep it in the game.”

The last two years have been a time where adventure, going outside, and getting to explore have been somewhat hindered by everything happening around us. But I would then imagine having something like OlliOlli World would almost be therapeutic. What was that like to have a creative outlet during this period? Did that give any additional energy to the production of the game?

Yeah, I’m sure it did, actually. We’re a remote studio at Roll7, and were fully remote even before the pandemic. So it was fairly straightforward technically for us to just carry on making the game when everyone went into lockdown. But before that point, we were meeting up in real life, every couple of weeks, but that stopped. And then, also we ramped up the studio during that period in 2020, so we hired a lot of people. There are people on the team that I’ve never met in real life, that I’ve worked with for like two years on this game. We had to build this real tight team, and I think having that shared place that we were all working on, this shared thing that we were making together, it was really, really good for people.

Obviously, I think everyone’s having quite a hard time in a lot of ways, just dealing with life. I was homeschooling kids with my wife at home, and so were a lot of other people at the same time, so we had to deal with that. And then, a lot of other people were stuck inside and couldn’t do stuff that they wanted to do. Having that outlet, that they’re all making it together, I definitely think people pulled their love into it. I think more than in a normal situation, maybe. It’s hard to tell isn’t it, what actual effect that had, but I’m sure OlliOlli World is a happy place where you can just hang out, and it looks nice, do some skating, and everyone’s nice to each other. I think it was maybe a reaction against the world at the time or more than it would’ve been otherwise, perhaps.

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Noah Roy

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