Smokin Barrels Interview

We were able to link up with Andrew Seeberger, Development Director at Bungarra Software to find out more about the Perth, Australia-based company and it’s extreme surfing game, currently codenamed Smokin’ Barrels. Andrew talks about the origin of the company and why they scrapped their development of a traditional surfing game to go with a more extreme version. Let’s catch the rest of the wave…Can you give us more background on Bungarra Software? When was the company formed and what other projects have members of your development teamed been involved with?

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Bungarra was started by my brother Rene’ (Managing Director) and myself as Development Director. We are located in Perth, Western Australia. We have been slowly building the company up from scratch since 1996. We started out in the garage (as most developers do) working with a range of people who had arcade coin-op experience through to people who had no experience in the games industry at all. It’s been an incredibly long haul to get to this point. It’s quite well documented as to how tough this business is; and in a personal sense it is by far the toughest thing we’ve ever undertaken in our lives. There are eleven of us right now. By the time we inish this game, there will be around twenty people working on this title directly -not including any outsourcing we do. The aim for the company is to grow to the point where we can develop three or four titles at once: this is purely as a matter of interesting subject matter for the developers working with us, and also as a means of spreading our risk profile.

What are some of other games that have been developed by Bungarra Software?

Smokin’ Barrels is the company’s first major title. It is a very big game in concept and scope, and it has taken over two years of hardcore R&D just to get to this point. Now that we have built up sufficient resources and experience working on next generation consoles, we plan to release a slew of individual titles in the next few years.

Can you briefly describe Bungarra’s surfing game, Smokin Barrels?

Smokin’ Barrels is an extreme ‘over the top’ version of what surfing is currently. We have taken the traditional sport into non traditional areas; the general premise being that a bunch of mildly insane characters compete on this television based tour, where the show actually tries to bludgeon the character (you) into submission as you try to win their money. Think two parts Japanese gameshow, one part survivor, and a tablespoon of extreme sports and you’re in the ballpark.Practically all of the surfing titles released to date (Championship Surfer, Transworld Surf and the upcoming Kelly Slater Pro Surfer) have been for the most part, realistic surfing games with some arcade modes thrown in for some variation. Does it surprise you that a full-scale extreme version of a surfing game such as Smokin Barrels hasn’t been developed yet?


The reason for this is that purely from a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense for companies to attempt to capitalize on surfing and the extreme sports market. So in this regard, the most immediate and obvious thing to do is to build a surfing simulation -preferably with a license attached. How do I know this? Because we started out doing exactly the same thing ourselves three years ago. Essentially the problem with surfing simulations is this: The user rides a wave from left of screen back again to the right of screen and that’s it. You perform a few tricks, you get a tube, and after fifteen minutes you put down the controller. You then go and make a sandwich, and come back to load up some other game that is actually fun. Doesn’t matter whose license is attached or how pretty the waves are, if a game is limited in its gameplay -it is limited. End of story. We learned very early on that if you are not a surfer with a vested interest in a simulation, the actual gameplay of a traditional surfing simulation is almost pointless.

Looking at this purely from a developmental challenge, it is understandable an engineer would be enthusiastic about a marketing decision to build a wave-based game on a next generation console. And if you were a talented engineer or artist, why wouldn’t you be excited? But somewhere along the line people have forgotten the most important ingredient of creating a wave based game in the first place – the gameplay. From a gamer’s perspectivewhen you pay your hard earned money to EB or whoever, you want something that is original, is fun, has depth, and has some replay value.

During our own evolution we’ve learned some pretty hard lessons. Once we built our initial simulation (and after a period of denial!), we slowly came to the realization that what we had on paper and what we saw on screen were two different thing’s. Just where was this so-called ‘fun’ we had tried to create exactly? From a personal perspective, it was extremely
disappointing at the time because we do have a vested interest in this particular title. We are actually surfers and hardcore gamers -we’ve been surfing and playing games for 20 years. We really did think that a simulation would be fun… but it wasn’t to be. So, it was back to the
drawing board. We had to forget the pretty waves and the environment mapping because the technically sound (but boring) simulation we had built, simply forced us to reassess. Reality certainly has a way of slapping you about! So we had to begin to look closely at the gameplay only -what would make what we had on screen really fun and exciting?#
The actual surfing in Smokin Barrels – is it arcade, sim, or something in between?

Somewhere in between -we started from a very hardcore simulation base, but the physics have been tweaked to reflect an arcade experience. In saying this, the surfing animation in Smokin’ Barrels is far, far superior to any simulation out there right now. Surfing in a video game is difficult to represent and so far it has been fairly difficult to just pick up and play a surf game. We are intent on addressing this. Keeping in mind the Miyamoto mantra of camera / control / graphics, we set about trying to emulate the thing’s that worked for games such as Tony Hawk and SSX -thing’s like cameras, and control etc but with reference back to Smokin’ Barrels. Once
we had the basis for a game in place, we took a look at world plausibility & premise, character and game-modes etc. The one thing we knew we shouldn’t do was to try and fit a square peg into a round hole; that is, to mindlessly use surfing as a means merely to create a Tony Hawk or SSX on
water. It is vital that the surfing still has to look and feel very much like surfing -not to be used merely as some cheap excuse to just flit around levels. We very much wanted depth, but in that drive to create it, we understood that what works in a snowboarding or skateboarding game
doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for surfing. For example, we found that a race mode for a surfing game just doesn’t work. Stupid idea. Smokin’ Barrels had to be trick oriented and have a pick up and play focus. Fun for non-surfers -for gamers. Gamers are our key audience.
Can we expect Smokin Barrels’ surfing action to be more forgiving than your typical surfing game, since the obstacles are so much more challenging?

Yes. Nothing more exasperating than a being penalized (repeatedly) for not pulling off a trick exactly every time. We want the action to be fast paced so the user will spend much more time tricking on waves and exploring the levels, as opposed to being punished for not landing an air exactly each time. But in saying that there has to balance. Thrasher is a good example
of good idea poorly executed leading to frustration -whereas TH got the balance right. As developers we need to strive to maintain an original vision for our own products, but at the same time we need to pay due respect to formulas that clearly work. Something either works or it
doesn’t. It’s either fun or it isn’t. We certainly look to other successful games as points of reference. Certain games have been successful, usually for a combination of reasons. The interesting side effect of successful formulas, is that from a user learning curve perspective, the more successful games have left mental imprints on huge numbers of people who are (typically) already used to playing particular types of games in a certain way.

Without giving away too many surprises, can you tell us some of the more extreme elements of Smokin Barrels?

Well, we want to create environments where individual levels have individual objectives. For example, we have an Asian styled level where we have created particular objectives that are in keeping with the environment. In this instance, certain barbaric game objectives or devices
will have a particular Asian flavor to it. Alternatively, Asia is made up of jungle areas, rice paddies, temples and the like, and so will not feature the huge waterfalls or rapids that other levels may feature. Manmade levels are another story altogether. Each level has it’s own unique

How about the selection of surfers and boards? Can we expect these choices to be as crazy as the surfing venues?

Definitely. The surfers are all a little mentally unhinged. And let’s face it, for the kind of world we are creating you’d have to be! Each character has they’re own back-story and motivation for wanting to do well. Their boards will suit the character’s personalities and will be pretty wild. Not sure how far we will be able to get with some of the board physics or animation just yet, but the boards will be a cool feature of the game.

The game is currently set for Playstation 2. Is there any chance for it to be released for other systems such as Xbox or Gamecube?

Hopefully, but it depends on the publisher and ultimately the gaming public really. We will be pushing for releases on those systems.

When is the planned release date set for Smoking Barrels?

No date as yet. Q1 03′ is the best we can do right now.

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Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.