Inside Boomerang X - Flying Through the Air in Style
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:13pm 03/05/21 | Comments
Boomerang X from indie studio Dang! and Devolver Digital sees you fly through the air in fast-paced arenas armed with a mystical boomerang. We sit down with the studio after going hands-on.
Wielding a mystical boomerang, the early moments of Boomerang X - a new and stylish first-person arena combat experience from New York-based indie studio Dang! - is an exercise in warming up those tried-and-true FPS muscles. Jump around to propel, strafe, dodge, dash, and watch as a well-placed “shot” from your boomerang rids its vibrant organic world of yet another insect-like creature. Dark figures that feature an aesthetic reminiscent of No-Face from Spirited Away.
As the journey begins you wake-up on a strange island, and from there each maneuver or ability, from jumping to dashing or teleporting to your boomerang, is introduced in a way that feels measured and intuitive. Combat arenas grow in complexity, as do the pattern-based foes you come across, with the overall speed ramping-up considerably alongside the various traversal mechanics and challenges you’ll face. Combat happens in waves, and with everything built around movement, getting hit or taking damage resets progress.
“From the very start of development Boomerang X has been all about crazy fast movement while flying through the air,” Ben Caulkins of Dang! explains. “Your only weapon is your trusty boomerang, but the trick is that after you’ve thrown it you can press a button and zip to it in the air, slingshotting yourself through space. It wasn’t so much about wanting to make a fast arena-shooter with a twist as it was landing on this really novel movement mechanic and deciding to build an action game around it.”
“From the very start of development Boomerang X has been all about crazy fast movement while flying through the air.”
It’s this tool, the boomerang, that served as the genesis for the project, where the small team at Dang! was originally planning to ship the game with five varying arenas -- all building off of and playing into this movement and sense of speed. A singular concept expanded into a robust and challenging slice of action. Where the challenge, of not getting hit or taking damage, works hand-in-hand with the game’s boomerang as the “be-all” mechanic.
“One level would have lava waterfalls, another would have guys shooting lasers at you that you’d have to weave between, and over time you’d face a gradually escalating series of tests of how fluidly you can move around through the air,” Ben says. “While that stuff is in the final game, we realized in the original version that it was just too much too fast.”
Boomerang X starting off simply and gradually introducing new elements was a decision the team came to fairly early on, though this blew out the original one year of planned development to two. “What this allowed us to do was to infuse the game with progression,” Ben continues. “So rather than giving you all the tools at the start and saying ‘please be good at flying right away’, we ease you into it. Training the player to become a flying ninja badass.”
In playing through the first few combat arenas what stands out is the subtlety that comes from the precise and speedy movement in Boomerang X’s first-person space. Where jumping is faster than running, and picking a spot somewhere mid-air can lead to slowing down time to survey, move, and plan on the next course of, well, action.
Going back even further, the simple concept that forms the basis of Boomerang X was first experimented with as a part of a game jam all about dual-purpose design. With the result here being a game where your weapon becomes your primary movement tool. “Since starting development on the full version, the goal has always been to maximize the potential for dynamic aerial combat, to make you feel like a jet fighter with arms.”
Bringing it all together is the game’s look -- which is painterly without looking flat, and simple without looking minimal. A lot of the inspiration came from a very specific source, and experimenting with the concept and how to best convey the action. That said there's an otherworldly and dreamlike quality found throughout Boomerang X which gives the action a distinct feel on par with its boomerang-as-the-main-mechanic setup.
"Rather than giving you all the tools at the start and saying ‘please be good at flying right away’, we ease you into it. Training the player to become a flying ninja badass.”
“When we were all working on game projects together in college, the art would always drift towards a more cartoony and imaginative direction,” Ben tells me of the close-nit Dang! “On this project we still wanted it to look imaginative and wacky, but we also wanted to stay away from cel-shaded and minimal, clean textures. A lot of great games wear that very well (Donut County, Ooblets, Untitled Goose Game), but I think it would’ve been too neat and tidy for us.”
“Boomerang X felt like it needed to look a little messy and off-kilter to match the chaos of combat, though while still maintaining a level of simplicity for everything to read easily,” Ben explains. “To create that messy look, Sam Suite (our programmer) built a custom shader that renders out shadows and these splatter-paint blobs to give everything an organic and painterly look.”
“For shapes and colors, we took a lot of inspiration from Samurai Jack, verging on totally ripping it off. This may or may not have been at my insistence, I also may or may not have modeled some assets while looking at background art from that show.”
This side of Boomerang X, much like the entire game, was born from discussion and experimentation within Dang! -- a small studio essentially made up of friends. Friends that that know each other well. And on that note the game’s development proved as organic as the world depicted.
“There’s never really been a ‘Master Design Document’,” Ben tells me. “From top to bottom, everything in the game was decided upon through (sometimes tense) conversation. Everything was talked through, and it wasn’t even until later on that we actually started writing anything down. We’d just spitball an idea and then execute it, and I guess that’s one of the advantages of being a small team. Everyone can have an idea of where they want the game to go and then they can just say it.”
Boomerang X is on track for release this year for PC and Nintendo Switch, with a playable demo available now via Steam.