oprainfall@GDC 2020 INTERVIEW: Stadia Indie Wave Break (Part 1)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

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Wave Break | Logo

Funktronic Labs is a game development company best known for their VR titles such as Fujii and Cosmic Trip. Their latest game, Wave Break, is a step away from the VR platform and into the world of pulling off waveboard tricks while shooting at enemies in a neon-soaked eighties atmosphere. Originally scheduled to appear at the INDIE Megabooth at GDC 2020, I caught up with Funktronic Labs over Skype after this year’s conference got postponed.

During Part 1 of our interview, we talk about the inspiration behind Wave Break, how the trick/shooting system works, and about the different gameplay modes. In Part 2, we talk about what it is like developing the first Stadia-exclusive indie title, appearing at the INDIE Megabooth, the synthwave soundtrack, and more.

You can find out more about Wave Break by checking out the official website, chatting on Discord, subscribing to their Twitch and YouTube channels, liking them on Facebook and Instagram, and tweeting at them on Twitter.

You can also Wishlist Wave Break on Steam now.

Wave Break is scheduled to be released in Summer 2020.


This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, [and] could you please introduce yourselves?

Kalin Houston: I am Kalin, co-founder of Funktronic Labs.

Yoonsang Yu: I am Yoonsang Yu, Marking Director for Funktronic Labs. Thank you for having us.

OR: What is Wave Break?

KH: Wave Break is an arcade-action-skating game. It is sort of a throwback to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. You do lots of tricks, you shoot guns- its in a Miami Vice crime-feel cops-and-robbers-style world. It’s very eighties themed, and it has some great synthwave music.

I guess the core of the game is about arcade-style tricks, combos, special tricks, and a strong focus on multiplayer. Just being able to mess about with your friends.


“Basically, we just love the [Tony Hawk] series. That’s really what underpins it all. We just love those games, and the thing is that the new ones came out and we didn’t quite feel the [same] satisfaction we did with the older titles.”


OR: You mentioned that this is a Miami Vice-themed game that comes with boats, tricks, [and] guns. There’s also a story mode. What came first: the gameplay, the aesthetics, or the story? How did one influence the others?

KH: Gameplay definitely came first. We had a very basic cube world with basic hard pipes, and we just- we spent a lot of time working on the core tricking system, because we wanted to have that authentic arcade feel. Kind of put the modern touches on it, but keep the heart of it intact. So I think we kind of knew what we wanted in terms of the gameplay quite early on, and then we kind of developed the world and the story through a lot of ideas. We ended up in this eighties Miami Vice-themed universe.

OR: Wave Break originally started as a miniature boat VR racing title being developed by a studio known for developing VR titles such as Fujii and Cosmic Trip. Why did you shift away from producing a VR game into producing a PC and Stadia-exclusive title?

KH: When we were first prototyping it, we were playtesting in the VR headsets and we were kind of imagining it as a miniature-boat racing game. Like a physical water simulation. We added controller support, and had some lock-out pieces for tricking on. And it just ended up being so much fun- it just felt like a better fit for our regular PC/console-style game. And it just didn’t make sense to have it in VR. It just felt like its natural place was everywhere else.

If we made it as it is now in VR, there wouldn’t be anything special about the VR experience. And I think when we build a VR experience, like Fujii for example, there’s lots of touching and physical interaction. There’s not really any of that in Wave Break. So it wouldn’t make sense. It wouldn’t be an experience you could only have in VR. So we just stick with regular PC/console.

OR: Was it hard to shift from VR development, with those unique inherent challenges, to a non-VR title?

KH: I think we’ve done quite a few non-VR titles over the years, so it’s less technically difficult. But we’re trying to push the graphics technology in water simulation quite hard. So it’s a different set of technical challenges. So I wouldn’t say it was more or less difficult, just a different set of challenges.

OR: You mentioned that there is a Tony Hawk inspiration behind Wave Break. Why choose Tony Hawk, specifically?

KH: Basically, we just love the series. That’s really what underpins it all. We just love those games, and the thing is that the new ones came out and we didn’t quite feel the [same] satisfaction we did with the older titles. For skating games in particular, it’s a diversion into two main styles: the EA Skate style and the Tony Hawk style. The Tony Hawk style is more arcade, the EA Skate style is more analog and more realistic. We enjoy both of them, but I would say we have more fans of the crazy combos and massive air arcade-feel of the Tony Hawk series. And so that’s the direction we chose.

OR: Speaking of that arcade-feel, I noticed in the trailer that the score keeps going up almost exponentially as you keep performing tricks and shooting enemies. How does scoring work exactly in Wave Break?

KH: So as long as you’re continuing a combo, there’s no upper limit on the score. So you can jump and do a kickflip or a grab to start adding to your points, and each new trick you do increases the point’s multiplier. And that’s a linear multiplier. So if you keep doing tricks, continuing that with rail grinds or manuals, then there’s not really an upper limit. It gets more and more difficult to balance on the rails or balance on the manuals to keep the combo going, but you can just keep going.


“…[O]ne of the reasons we added the shooting mechanic was to add some sense of balance into [the multiplayer] as well.”


OR: How do you design the maps to ensure that there is plenty of space to do useful combos tricks without just ‘locking’ players into doing one or two certain tricks that fit in really well with a particular ramp or pipe?

KH: There are a lot of subtleties in the combo system. If you do the same trick over and over, the points reward starts to go down. So keep mixing up your tricks with a different variety is one of the ways to optimize your combo to get a higher score. Some of the tricks take different amounts of time for the animation to complete. So some of them you need to plan your route around. You want to get a jump off a higher ramp to complete one of the more complicated special tricks, for which maybe the animation takes a long time so you can’t just do it off of the ground very easily. And when you don’t have a huge ramp to jump off of, you just do a basic kick flip. Just keep stacking the combo up. On top of that, there’s gaps which are special zones. If you do a jump over a certain area or off of a certain halfpipe in a certain way, it counts as an additional trick. And that’s a lot of points.

In terms of level design, it’s really open ended and everyone’s playstyle makes it turn out differently. But there’s lots of ways for you to find good routes that get lots of good gaps, that gets you lots of good air, that gets you hold grabs and special kickflips, and just maintain your combo effectively.

So it’s much more like a playground-skatepark feel in terms of open-endedness on how you approach tricks.

OR: Wave Break isn’t just about skating tricks, it is also about shooting. How does the shooting mechanic fit into the overall game, and how do you make sure that people can still shoot and skate without making it feel like it is just two genres Frankensteined together?

KH: We added a lot of stuff to just try it out, and guns was one of those things. And we just enjoyed playing with it, so we kept it in. We wanted to find a way to tie into the score system and give it another avenue that runs parallel to the regular tricking system to get more points and execute more high skill combos. So while you’re doing any of the combos, you can use your gun. If you shoot explosive objects, it counts as a trick on top of your existing trick combo. While you’re grinding, you can shoot something and it gives you an extra trick on top of that.

On top of that, it ties into a lot of multiplayer modes. If you kill one of the other characters, it adds an entire separate multiplier to your combo. So if you can maintain a combo, shoot things, kill another player, and keep tricking all at the same time- that takes you up to crazy, crazy high score combos.

YY: Just to add to that as well, one of the reasons we added the shooting mechanic was to add some sense of balance into it as well. Like, you’re going to find that the veteran Tony Hawk players are going to be able to just jump into the game and trick and combo the entire time. Whereas, some people who are just playing for the first time are still trying to get familiarized with the controls but usually the shooting mechanic is very simple to where it’s easy enough for the new users to utilize to maybe stop one of the more veteran players from achieving a higher score.

So let’s say you’re playing online with your friends as opponents and you see someone doing some crazy tricks or going on their crazy combo lines. You might be able to stop them from being able to rack up all these scores, and we included this element to add one layer of balance to the game.

KH: Just to add more about the multiplayer specifically, we found during playtest [that] people approach the combat aspect in a lot of different ways. Like, some use it to antagonize people and stop the high skilled players or team up against people as well as just using it for high scores. And for going through your combo, it gives you another layer of things to execute skillfully.

Taking lines that other people can’t easily chase you or it takes you out of line of sight of other players- it just ties into being [able to] very dynamically change an approach to a combo. In Tony Hawk, I think you find the best line you can and do it in a loop very easily. But when it’s multiplayer with other people, and they have guns as well, you’re not really going to sit in the same combo line over and over. You’ve got to think very dynamically because of the danger of the situation is always changing constantly and the best choices are very, very rapidly changing while you play.

OR: Is there any sort of aim assist for players?

KH: I guess we have a lot of layers of control tweaks to make it feel ‘comfy’. I wouldn’t say it is auto aim. It’s somewhere in between- there’s a little bit of aim assist, we’re not expecting sniping- high precision, long range, sniping. You’re trying to drive around and trick as well. It’s somewhere in-between. It’s an arcade-y feel, but it requires skill

YY: For example, if you build up your special meter and do a couple of other tricks to build it up, when you go into an aim-down-sights mode, what will happen is similar to what you would see in a Max Payne game: you see a slowed down ‘bullet time’. So like, while you’re aiming down your sights, everything starts to move slower. So like, because you have all that fast action, you added another layer to shoot your opponents even during the fast-paced action.

KH: Lots of tiny little subtle features. Like, with the guns, they have a little bit of knock back. So if you point the gun in the right direction and shoot, you can ‘nudge’ yourself around in the air. So there’s another thing on the stack of letting you control yourself as skillfully as possible.

Wave Break | Gameplay

There are different modes in Wave Break, ranging from the single-player story mode to various multiplayer modes. (Images courtesy of Funktronic Labs).

Wave Break | Multiplayer

OR: We’ve mentioned that there is a bit of a single player mode. What does that consist of?

KH: It’s a pretty classic campaign. It basically is a tour of all of the levels and a bunch of objectives. There are a lot of collectibles- some easy, some are hard to reach. There will be a lot of objectives to do certain tricks off of certain areas of the map as well as high score [objectives].

And there’s also going to be custom story missions, which will be more of the Miami Vice-themed cops-and-robbers kind of mini-action scenes that will be a mixture of shooting, tricking, and chasing.

So yeah- you’ll take a tour of all the levels, there’s a lot of objectives in each one, and that gives you money and rewards that you can spend on character upgrades, different boat unlocks and boat swag, decals, and stuff like that.

OR: What multiplayer modes will you be including in the game?

KH: I think for launch, we will probably have regular time attack- which is a two or three minute fixed time where you just try to get the best combo that you can and mess up other people trying to do that [too]. We’re going to have a deathmatch mode, which is much more focused on the guns and the points give you money to buy guns in that stage. We have team versus team turn war mode, which is a kind of like a control point capture, in which you capture a zone with points from your combo and then that will spawn defensive towers that your crew guards. It’s kind of like a map zone control team battle.

YY: It’s our nice, little spin off of that graffiti mode that [you] used to be able to experience in the earlier Tony Hawk games.

OR: Any chance HORSE will be included?

KH: I cannot confirm or deny any particular game modes. We’ve got a lot of game mode ideas, and some classic ones that we definitely want to include, but we don’t have a hard timeline on the exact roadmap of what we’re doing.

OR: Stepping back to the game development side. Fujii’s release date was June 27, 2019, and you were showing Wave Break off at E3 2019 as well. So I’m guessing these games were developed somewhat simultaneously. How was it working on both of these games at once?

KH: I guess we had roughly two teams in the office. People move back and forth, depending on the phase of a project. So the early Wave Break was two people and then three people for awhile. Fujii was on a pretty hairy development, so they had a much larger team. And then as Fujii was wrapping up, there was less people needed on that, so more people jumped onto Wave Break and focused on that.

It’s a fluid two-team so we keep things running in parallel, and maybe one or two people are off prototyping some new game idea while we’re in full production of another game.

Wave Break | Equipment

Wave Break | Equipment

You can customize your characters and boats in Wave Break. (Images courtesy of Funktronic Labs).

OR: I have one question about Fujii that is totally off-topic, and then we will get back to Wave Break. In Fujii, you went with a link teleportation mechanic instead of a locomotion solution for movement. Why did you choose go with link teleportation? Did you ever try to develop locomotion for the game?

KH: I guess we wanted to make sure that that was the basic locomotion mechanic, because you just don’t get motion sickness. It’s important for us- we don’t want people to have a bad experience with our games. We wanted to make sure that ‘okay, this is default in a very strong way.’ So no one is going to just boot it up and have a bad time and get sick- [that] isn’t fun in VR. But the people have demanded it very strongly. So we have been rolling out smooth locomotion options for people across platforms. We’re not sure exactly the release date of it is- but I think we’ve added it to PC and maybe Quest?



And that wraps up Part 1 of our Wave Break interview!

What do you think of this Tony Hawk-inspired game? Are you excited to try out Wave Break when it is released this summer?

Let us know in the comments below!

About Quentin H.

I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it. Do you want to do an interview? You can reach me at interviews@oprainfall.com