Talking 'Jetpack Fighter' With Hi-Rez Studios Colman Bryant

Appealing to the hardcore gamer in a mobile market may not be as easy as you think.

Hi-Rez Studios

Mobile gaming has become one of the video game industry’s leading forerunners in the past few years. But with plenty of clones and similar models releasing — it’s high time someone tried to make a difference with their gameplay design — and Jetpack Fighter may be just the game.

As a veteran of Hi-Rez Studios, Colman Bryant has been around since the studio’s first project, Global Agenda; where he worked as a level designer and learned all of the basics for core game design. Eventually Bryant became lead on Global Agenda and would go on to create the prototype for SMITE, which Hi-Rez Studios is mainly known for today. After working on a variety of projects and developing new ideas for the company, Bryant moved on to his latest project: Jetpack Fighter.

We had a chance to sit down with Bryant, a Hi-Rez Studios veteran to talk about about the origins of their latest game, how it fits into the mobile market and how it’s working to change the way hardcore gamers approach the mobile platform.

How did you transition from working on Global Agenda, Tribes: Ascend, and SMITE into the project that would become Jetpack Fighter?

I’ve always been a prototype guy here, so a starter for new projects and things. I’ve been pretty good with the tools, taking different design elements and refining them, squeezing them into something similar but different. So after we started SMITE I went back to Global Agenda to finish out the expansion packs and stuff. Following that there was a little downtime where I spent some time on Tribes to go back and do a little level design to help finish out the game.

Hi-Rez Studios

Once we did the final patch for Global Agenda, [Hi-Rez co-founder] Erez [Goren] came to us and asked for some ideas on new games. We had a small team at Global Agenda — and the team all had some different ideas to review. One of the guys wrote up a doc for a potential shooter-ish game based on some Global Agenda stuff that we liked. But me being the prototype guy and knowing Erez well, I knew he would respond to something visual — an elevator pitch, essentially. So I stayed at the office late that night and made a little side-scroller out of Global Agenda with some hacks, developer cheats and tweaks. The next day I booted up what would become the prototype for Jetpack Fighter — and I started with our small team and Erez in the room checking it out. But he asked me to hold on one second and a couple minutes later I turned around to see the whole company standing behind me. Granted, we weren’t very big then — maybe 50 or so.

Everybody was liking the idea of Global Agenda from the different perspective and so we started working on it. Erez was excited about the project and wanted to call it Jetpack Fighter immediately, which fit the explosive, anime-like quality of the game. So we worked on the prototype for it for a couple months, but it wasn’t originally going to be a mobile game — that wasn’t on our map yet.

And at what point on the timeline are we?

Probably about summer of 2013? Or somewhere in there. We worked on it a little bit and it was fun but different from the modern Jetpack Fighter — geared more towards PC and consoles. But as Tribes started ramping up, we had to put Jetpack Fighter on the shelf to finish off Tribes and finish up development on SMITE. Basically once we launched SMITE, we had a moment to reassess things. Mobile was coming up again and it’s something that we were very interested in as a company. We have a lot of futurists here at Hi-Rez, people looking ahead at trends in technology and where the world is going to be in 10-30 years.

That’s essentially our motto here at Inverse.

I think that all of the executives are big Ray Kurzweil fans. We’re all crossing our fingers for the singularity. So it’s pretty undeniable that mobile is the future — I think there will be PC games and console games for a while still, but you can’t say mobile isn’t going to be a big part of it. At this time, we were just reaching PC and console players but like, with mobile you can be in the pocket of every single person in the world — and that potential is unmatched.

Is mobile something your company is specifically targeting?

Exactly — and most people in the company feel that mobile is going to be the biggest thing. It already is from a pure market standpoint, but I feel that it’s still trying to find its identity. I mean, nothing against them, but most of the mobile games are clones. There is innovation, but only a few games do that among a bunch of copycats.

We’re a hardcore action game studio — and Jetpack Fighter was the one that stuck for us. Part of that was because we found a control scheme that worked really well, but it also fit with our company focus of fast-paced action, competition, and PvP elements. It’s more of a “game” game than what you see on mobile, and we wanted something that was going to appeal to hardcore gamers like myself. I mean, I didn’t play much in the mobile market until we started working hard on Jetpack Fighter myself. We saw there was an opportunity to fill a niche that hadn’t been filled yet around a fun action game that doesn’t feel like a clone of a console game on mobile.

Hi-Rez Studios 

Jetpack feels great when you’re playing it, quick and concise. Now, Jetpack Fighter does have a story involved, too — what’s the basic concept behind it?

Basically, it’s a futuristic world where robots are part of society and essentially there’s a good scientist who’s responsible for the utopian state of the world. There’s no real worries. But there’s this other scientist who’s an evil clone of the good scientist from one of his projects on immortality. So he’s the one corrupting the robots in our game, and when one of the main characters gets kidnapped by the evil doctor — you’re sent out to save them. In the future we’ll be developing the story more, but that’s where it’s at in its current state.

Going into 2016, what are some of the key aspects you plan on working on for Jetpack Fighter?

So one of the next big things we’re working on now is more language support. Right now we’re only launched on iOS and only in English-speaking markets. It’s a ramp up to make sure everything is working and everyone is getting a good experience. Past our language support we’re looking on an Android version of the game so that all of the Hi-Rez player base can dive into the game. Of course we’ll continue to release new characters, rewards and other things for the game as well.

Jetpack Fighter is available in the iTunes Store now.

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