Supernauts by Grand Cru
Published: November 4. 2014
Grand Cru’s Supernauts uses Everyplay to bring user-generated content sharing to the next level
Finnish developer Grand Cru’s Supernauts, now available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, combines a town-building simulation with the kind of world-building, sandbox gameplay that made Minecraft such a huge hit. And so far it’s been a smashing success: Since the launch of the game, its player base has collectively uploaded and shared more than 50,000 gameplay videos on Everyplay, Unity’s mobile gameplay capture and sharing service.
In its early days, Grand Cru’s QA and delivery lead Markus Kiukkonen says the team took a great deal of inspiration from games centered around user-generated content—that were, crucially, also enjoyable to play. Little Big Planet was a very strong influence on the early direction of the project, and another reference point was certainly Minecraft. “We love it because it shows just how incredibly far players can push the limits of creativity in an open sandbox game, and we wanted to tap into the same source of emergent world creation,” says Kiukkonen. Later, after the team pivoted to make Supernauts a mobile-first title, it drew a lot of inspiration from Supercell’s Hay Day, particularly in terms of how to make interfaces touch native. Thematically, the game draws plenty of inspiration from the likes of Futurama and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Recently, the team has generally hovered around 20 people, including customer support, marketing and operations; as one might expect, the team has been beefed up significantly over the course of the project. Unity has managed to scale alongside the team’s size. “We’ve enjoyed developing on and learning about Unity,” says Kiukkonen. “You can tell you’re on to something really great when even our marketing team has working versions of Supernauts running on their computers. Unity has proven to be an excellent choice that allows everyone from graphic designers to localization specialists to easily iterate and polish, without having to constantly run everything past the developers. That saves us a lot of time and nerves.”
“The game’s initial prototype came together really fast,” Kiukkonen continues. “Even though many of the initial ideas in Supernauts were very complex, we were able to move pretty quickly because all of our developers were based on the shared, usable platform that Unity provides.” He says that coosing Unity was a no-brainer for the Grad Cru team, as it gave them the scope to rapidly prototype new ideas and concepts. “It also allowed us to keep the target platform open early on, so that we wouldn’t have to commit to Android or iOS specifically—something highly valuable in a constantly evolving industry.”
Over time, Mecanim also proved to be a central component in the game’s development. “Mecanim pretty much set our programmers free from all character animation implementation,” says Kiukkonen. “Our animator was able to implement much of the animation logic independently, and because of that we will definitely keep using it in future projects.” In addition, the team created a host of straightforward, customized editor tools to help optimize their title. One was a simple tool that would detect leaking GameObjects: “Our scene hierarchy got very complicated, so spotting those manually would’ve been next to impossible,” says Kiukkonen. To save time, one of the team’s 3D artist used Strumpy Shader Editor to prototype some special materials, such as water, before their coders would rewrite their own version based on its ideas. Kiukkonen says this helped the team make the game look exactly the way its artists wanted it to.
Indeed, settling on and defining a toolset proved to be an essential part of getting Supernauts done properly. “One of the main things we learned is that it’s very important to find the right tools for the job as early as possible,” says Kiukkonen. “It’s really worth spending the time to realize your specific needs, and then decide which tool to use—or even if it would be worth implementing your own.” He recalls making a poor choice for UI middleware early on, which created a lot of frustration and cost a fair amount of development time that could have been used elsewhere.
“You also have to be extremely focused on the goals of the milestone, and the whole project,” Kiukkonen says. “We often found the most efficiency by creating as simple an implementation as possible at first, and only start to optimize later—or to expand if it turns out that the initial implementation wasn’t enough.” He points to the game’s path-finding algorithm: getting to the final implementation took three major iterations, but each step was essential in sorting out all the requirements and limitations properly. “It would have been a waste of time to try to create as advanced an algorithm as possible on the first try, only then to realize that it was optimized for all the wrong things and end up having to dump most of the code,” he says.
This level of focus has helped Supernauts development in a number of ways, including the extent to which the team has been able to optimize the experience for players on devices with low memory. “This is a real challenge for a game with such a heavy focus on user-generated content, and we’re amazed by how much we’ve been able to push the limits,” says Kiukkonen.
Ultimately, it’s the community’s creations themselves that have been the most rewarding for Grand Cru. “We’re super proud of how our users have been able to take the tools we’ve given them, and built the most incredibly creative things,” says Kiukkonen. “They’re really pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible with limited space and a limited number of blocks—and all of this only a month after launch!”
When building Supernauts, the team at Grand Cru realized it needed to facilitate the kind of sharing that a game with such an emphasis on user-generated content begs for. “We were searching for a tool that would help us spread the word about our game, and we also wanted [it to be] as easy as possible for players to share their creations,” says QA and delivery lead Markus Kiukkonen. “Everyplay was pretty much perfect solution for this.”
Indeed, building crews are using Everyplay videos as an important tool for spreading the word about their creations, and some players have even gone so far as to hack one of their own Everyplay videos, allowing them to edit it on a home PC, adding different scenes and laying down some background music. “It ended up being one of the coolest videos we’ve ever seen on Everyplay,” says Kiukkonen.
Meta World Piece
“It’s always a great moment when you see players building something in your game that you didn’t think was even possible,” says Grand Cru’s QA and delivery lead Markus Kiukkonen. In Supernauts, one of those moments was when users figured out that they could exploit a bug to create flying objects inside other players’ worlds, with clever usage of movable gift boxes and block donation. “We loved it so much we chose not to fix the bug!”