Time To Take The Election To The Ring And Your Phone

2020.2.10 Interviews by COCOS

It’s 2020. In the USA, this can only mean one thing, it’s election season. People this year have been looking forward to this election with anticipation, and for many in the news and Washington D.C., as the most significant vote in recent years. With so many arguing about who’s running and who should win, tempers are flying. With that in mind, the developers at Exceptionull Games have built a game to let out all your frustration and score a knockout against Donald Trump and his competitors.

Election Day Knockout is a boxing game that allows you to play in an alternate universe where the presidency is only won through fisticuffs and special attacks — getting through the field of boxers that range from Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Pence, and the infamous Donald J. Trump.  Duck and weave and jab your way into the presidency using your iPhone or Android mobile device.

The game is set to be released on February 14th and uses Cocos2d-x for their game engine. We were able to get a quick interview with the developers and learn more about the process they faced making a mobile game and the fun they had using the Cocos engine.

Cocos: How did you come up with the idea for Election Year Knockout?

Jason Stock (founder) The 2016 election in America was so divisive, I was sure there was a lot of demand on both sides of the aisle to take some anger out on their representatives. I was initially happy to deliver on that desire, but over time it turned into a comical boxing game.

Ben Ritter (artist) Absolutely. After all, no one truly wishes violence on his political rivals. Even so, the idea of a political fighting game was too good to pass up. Comedy was always going to be the natural vehicle for this concept, and boxing was a perfect fit for the story.

Alex Linné (artist) If you can’t have a sense of humor about politics, you’re stuck being angry or depressed all the time.

BR: It wasn’t long before we remembered how much we loved the puzzle box gameplay of the old Punch-Out!! games and realized, “Wow, this could actually work on a phone.” We built a very quick test app in Cocos2d-x to verify that the gameplay was fun, and Election Year Knockout was born. We sat down and began writing ideas for the characters and the world they would inhabit.

Tyelor Klein (programmer) Personally, I loved coming up with ideas for characters and how they could behave in the game, then going on to make the characters come to life through code.

Cocos: What were the difficulties in building a game like this?

BR: A fighting game has to run at 60fps, with no exceptions. The desire to create high-quality animation with such a limited team size pushed us toward a 2D workflow, and we needed an extremely performant engine to ensure we could keep it beautiful at that high frame rate on phones from as far back as 2014. The combination of Cocos2d-x and Spine by Esoteric Software gave us access to tremendous power on limited hardware, and the results speak for themselves.

TK: It was a fun challenge to design characters for the game, making the fights simultaneously memorable and challenging, but also fair. We had to mold ideas into concrete designs that are fun to pick apart and master. It was a problem we learned how to solve as we went, and it really pushed my design and coding skills to a new level.

JS: One thing we didn’t expect was the difficulty we would face in finding a publisher and marketing the game. While everyone who played the game loved it, publishers, forums, and social media networks were shy to take on the project due to its political nature. Twitter prevented us from advertising the game, for example. Ultimately, we are releasing Election Year Knockout as an independent game studio and relying on the game’s already stellar public reception to help us spread the word.

Blocking attacks against Birdie Sanders

Cocos: Why did you choose Cocos2d-x? How did it help you make the game a reality?

JS: Cocos2d-x is free, and we’ve developed with it before. Working in C++ is the right way to go for mobile devices, as it’s fast and powerful to let us make the games we genuinely want to make.

TK: I feel that using Cocos2d-x made me a stronger programmer overall. It put me out of my comfort zone and made me learn a new language. I was able to make Election Year Knockout run very smoothly even on older Android devices by combining some ideas I learned in college and applying them to the designs and paradigms of my coding in C++.

Cocos: What was the process you took when building the game?

TK: We used logical systems and fast, clean operations wherever possible. We organized the C++ code to help with assembly optimization when compiled. We also made it, so nothing is running when it doesn’t have to. By utilizing data class singletons we were able to make an “ask-on-demand” game loop. The only code that updates is for animation, music, and the usual screen touch listeners. This allows us to achieve high framerates, graphics quality, and low battery usage even on the older devices in our collection.

AL: On the art side, we designed and created our characters in Photoshop. We then exported each character as individual symbols that could be animated in Spine. Cocos2d-x layers these animations to create the game scene and listens for event cues from the animations to drive the AI. This is great because it gives the artists some control in how the game behaves as well, especially for artistic touches like slow motion or when we’ve had to balance attack timings. We can do a lot of that through the animation files themselves.

Landing a haymaker on Cap’n Crenshaw

Cocos: Do you have any advice for other developers from what you’ve learned making Election Year Knockout?

JS: This was our first game where we attempted to court a publisher.  Unfortunately, we weren’t successful, but we learned a lot about the business side of mobile games, especially the key KPIs publishers are looking for and how to measure them. This will shape our development process going forward.

BR: As soon as you’ve built your vertical slice, start talking to publishers. Whenever they ask you to do something, be sure to learn why they want it. There is always a simple and profound business lesson to be learned from it. One publisher might greatly value retention, while another seeks marketability. Your own needs might be a combination of those things.

TK: Finally, don’t be afraid to try new things and weird ideas. If your game isn’t an immediate success, keep working on it! Use analytics to discover where people stop playing your game and fix it. For us, our biggest change was to hook our players early about what makes our game great. Try to get your players into the action as fast as possible, and they will be more likely to play and enjoy your game.

Build your own boxer to win the White House

Cocos: What can people expect from your game?

BR; We made a game that’s fun and funny to play, even if you’re perhaps not familiar with the politicians that inspire the characters. The game is also appropriately challenging, just like it should be. Most importantly, we took great care to ensure that the controls were PERFECT. In doing so, I believe we’ve created a control interface that hasn’t been seen on phones before. It really is the full experience you could only have with a gamepad in the past.

TK: I hope people discover that our game is a nostalgic and hilarious Punch-Out!!-inspired gaming experience to learn and master.

Cocos: Last question, who do you think should win the presidency?

JS: Are we deciding this in the ring? Then I’ll run.

Get a chance to download the game for your phone from their website https://www.exceptionullgames.com/knockout/.