Chatting With the Genre-Busting Designer of #IDARB

One of the most innovative, off-the-wall, and addictive titles to be released in years, #IDARB is a multiplayer game that got its start on Twitter, through the mind of designer Mike Mika. While the game is genre-busting to the max, a description might include platforming, casual fighting games, European handball, and Team Fortress 2, all rolled into one.

is free this month on Xbox One, to any and all Xbox Live Gold members, via the Games with Gold program. Not only is this a great game in its own right, it’s a great way to meet other gamers, make friends with them, and add to your growing collection of party games, all at the same time. The game design approach drew from interactions with its audience, and as a result, this is a game about interpersonal relationships as much as it is about reflexes and quick thinking.

But then,
#IDARB is a game about a lot of things; its pop culture references are even more numerous than its gameplay hooks and control-scheme shenanigans. We sat down with Mika for a brief Q&A, to get at the core of what #IDARB is really about – and to learn a few things about his rather unique design approach.

Xbox Wire: If you had to pick one genre for #IDARB, what would it be?

Mike Mika:
It still hurts my head when I try to figure it out. It was crowd-designed for the most part, [based on] suggestions from the Internet. It’s a sports game, I think… maybe. And you do jump around on platforms, so it’s kind of a platformer. You can make characters, songs, and logos, so it’s a creative suite. It also allows thousands of people to participate in your game through their favorite social media. So it’s a social game… and you unlock real-world recipes, so it’s also a recipe book. All said, it’s a crowd-designed sports platformer creative suite, fueled by social media and party food. When you say it like that, it sounds awful. If I could pick any genre, to make it easy, I’d say Nuclear Power Plant Simulator.

Xbox Wire: How does the large number of local multiplayer participants actually work, in practice? The game plays at a very fast pace, so will players need to communicate a lot, or is it be more of a “putting the team on my back” individualistic thing?

Mike Mika:
The best way to play it is like a real sport. Right now, a lot of people – especially traditional gamers – act like my son’s soccer team, and just rush the ball all the time. That doesn’t work; it produces chaos, just like in real life. Larger teams should decide what roles each individual should play, and stick with it. Some of the best games I’ve played have been six- or eight-player games, where people know how to play on a team like a real sport.

Xbox Wire: How do you ensure a game like this is properly balanced? Do you do a lot of playtesting, or do you rely on the community to provide feedback?

Mike Mika:
It’s a bit of both. We play the game a lot. One of the guiding principles is that if there is anything that’s going to affect a player or a team, it has to do it equally to both teams, or the whole system collapses. Hashbombs cannot be beneficial to only one team or person. Everyone playing should have a fair shake at a game and not be handicapped in any way. We also have a strong and vibrant community of players already! These are people who have invested a heck of a lot of time in the game, and they have been providing a lot of suggestions to help make #IDARB more balanced and fair. All of these suggestions are being addressed for future title updates. I think we’ll be looking at a much stronger game as time goes by, thanks to all of the people who have been playing and providing feedback.

Xbox Wire: How did the idea to generate QR codes for custom characters come about?

Mike Mika:
We love the Kinect hardware, and were excited to play with it. When we started to develop #IDARB on the Xbox One, we simply looked at every feature and asked ourselves what we could do with it. At that point, we had not really created any characters for the game, so I plugged in a rudimentary character creator. The characters were small – mainly so that it would be easy to create many quickly. At some point, someone joked about the data being so small, you could fit it in a QR code; two days later, we were zapping in QR codes of characters. Later, we would add logo and song support to the QR code system.

Xbox Wire: What’s the craziest – or most detailed – group of player-created characters you’ve seen so far?

Mike Mika:
Someone on Twitter who goes by the name @SECTION_23 declared that he would make 100 sprites over the course of a few days. Look up #goingfor100sprites – I was following him for days. He’s really good, and created a diverse set of characters. I was very impressed.

Xbox Wire: If there was one thing that very few people know about #IDARB that you’d want them to know right now, what would that one thing be?

Mike Mika:
When I created the arena effects, like the glowing arrows and the score effects, I was watching “Jurassic Park” and happened to look up near the beginning, and noticed that there was a cardboard cat sitting on a shelf behind Sam Neill and Laura Dern in their trailer. I thought, at the time, “How odd!” I’ll never forget that moment. Ever. Also, if you pull down and slam onto someone’s head in the game, you reverse their controls temporarily. A lot of people don’t know that.