Cheeks of Steel is a 3D platform experience, taking the genre back its roots, and giving today’s generation of games a warm reminder of what a platform title’s all about. Set within the walls of no ordinary hamster cage, take control of Tick and Harry; the most delinquent duo ever created in their first ever adventure, packed full of foul mouthed language and other obscenities. After the disappearance of your love, explore the town of Capture, a place built with experimentation in mind, and uncover the dark secret behind the ‘themed cages’. By finding and collecting Power ups, turn your body into the ultimate weapon, making immovable objects and impossible puzzles a thing of the past. With the world in your Cheeks, unlock the mysterious Hamster Tubes and unfold the key to your destiny.

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Cheeks of Steel is a Unreal Tournament 3 total conversion from Underdog games. It will be coming out in June of this year, lets just hope we can wait that long.

Posted by havepie on Mar 19th, 2009
Interview

Havepie here with the team of the new Unreal Tournament 3 mod Cheeks of Steel. Their game will be arriving very soon, so lets here what they have to say about it.
Cheeks of Steel is a University Project created by Underdog Games, 5 Computer and Video Games Design 
Underdog Games is comprised of: 
. Jamie Eden - Team Leader, Producer and Programmer 
. Sam Penn - Lead Level Designer 
. Steven Sadler - Level Designer 
. Simon White - Artist and Sound Engineer 
. Ross Wilding - Lead Designer 
 
Q:WHAT IS THE BASIC PLOT FOR CHEEKS OF STEAL AND WHAT KIND OF GAME IS IT? 
 
Ross Wilding: The basic plot revolves around Harry the Hamster and his flea sidekick, Tick. Thrown together after the disappearance of Harry’s love, the duo begin investigating her whereabouts in the town of Capture; a man made hamster city within the confines of a laboratory steel cage. Then as the game opens up to the player, it turns out that an evil scientist known as Dr. Seek, is the one responsible for {the taking of} both Harry’s love and any other hamsters that have gone missing. It is then {that they begin} their job to collect hamster tubes throughout each of the themed cages, and find a way to escape Capture so that they may confront Seek and rescue their fellow captives.
Jamie Eden: In terms of what kind of game Cheeks of Steel is, the best way to describe it is a 3D adventure with comic humour and platform gameplay elements. Whereas newer games, regardless of genre, have gone and added new elements to certain styles of games to make them ‘hybrid games’ like Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts. We wanted to focus on simply platform gameplay with a great narrative element. 
 
Q: HOW DID YOU FIRST THINK OF THE IDEA FOR CHEEKS OF STEEL? 
 
Sam Penn: In the last year of our course it has always been required to make a total conversion mod on the engine of our choice. Teams in prior years (and current years) always tend to favour some sort of shooting, sci-fi or ultra realistic mech game. As a team, we wanted to do something different to stand out from the crowd. It helped {that} we all shared the same passion for platform games, mainly during the 64 bit era with Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. The actual idea for the game emerged when we all decided we wanted to make a game which was not only highly entertaining to play, but just as enjoyable to make.
Jamie: Originally, our first idea was to do a psychological horror game but we chose to focus on a game that, as Sam said, was as much fun to make as it is to play. In terms of leading a team, just the fact {that} we’re creating a game where we are constantly laughing around the workplace and regularly leaving films and cartoons playing in the background, like Family Guy and South Park.
Ross: We then looked at what makes a successful platformer, and found that besides simplicity, all popular platform games contained an iconic avatar. From there, it was merely a case of looking at various creatures and characters that the player could potentially grow to love and creating a story around them. Once we had the idea for a hamster character, the rest of the concept just fell into place. 
 
Q: HOW LARGE IS YOUR TEAM AND WHAT KIND OF PRIOR EXPERIENCE DO THEY HAVE IN THE 
MODDING COMMUNITY? 
 
Ross: Our team is made up of five developers; a Producer/Programmer, a Lead Designer, an Artist/Sound Technician, and two level designers. We formed in the summer of last year. Each of us completed a 3 year course in Computer & Video Games at Salford University, and began modding about 18 months ago. Cheeks of Steel is our second mod after a demo we were required to build at the start of last year. This is our first mod using Unreal Tournament 3.
Sam: The roles don’t limit the team into a particular position on the mod as we have all already started crossing over to help those with a heavier workload.
Jamie: For previous modding experience, the entire team knew their way around Unreal Tournament 2004 as we’d all used it to create playable levels for another module. As well as that, this time last year all of us were working in large teams of 11 with UT2004 to create a unique mod, so we all had an understanding of how things work, but we’re still relatively new to the mod community as a whole. 
  
Q: UNREAL TOURNAMENT 3 HAS NEVER SEEN A MOD LIKE THIS BEFORE. WHAT IS IT THAT 
SETS YOUR MOD APART FROM OTHER MODS? 
 
Simon White: The gameplay is classic platforming without guns, putting the emphasis on fun instead of violence which most other mods don't really attempt to do.
Ross: I think it’s a combination of both the gameplay and aesthetical differences. If you look at the majority of mods on ModDB and other sites that teams are creating, they tend to be heavily focussed on first or third person shooters, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between them. Being a platform game alone, I think, sets us apart, but there’s so much more to Cheeks of Steel than just that. Not only have we opted for an original IP (intellectual property), but we’ve essentially created an entirely new game which barely resembles the engine it runs on.
Steven Sadler: Being the only Platformer presently available for Unreal Tournament 3 is a wonderful 
achievement that already sets its self out among the pack. We aim to bring in a new and existing audience of mod players and show them that working with games isn’t limiting and innovative and that creations can happen. 
  

 

Q: WHEN PEOPLE FIRST SEE THIS MOD, A FEW THINGS MIGHT POP INTO THEIR HEADS LIKE 
HOW IT REMINDS THEM OF CONKER'S BAD FUR DAY OR AMERICAN MCGEE'S GRIM. DID YOU 
GET ANY INSPIRATION TO MAKE YOUR MOD FROM THOSE GAMES OR ANY OTHERS? 
 
Steven: Conkers Bad Fur Day is a big inspiration to us in the making of this mod but that’s not to say we want it looking and feeling exactly like the game.
Jamie: I remember one of the first games we researched was Conkers because a few of our team members were playing it before hand and quoting the jokes a lot, and regardless of what people played – sports games, driving sims, Counter Strike, everyone seemed to love the humour of it. It’s also key to look at abstract versions of the genre you’re working on. Some people might not associate them with the platform genre, but games like Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia are all examples of “real world platformers”. This is something we tried to use in designing the levels; trying to avoid floating platforms by giving them some sort of narrative purpose like a stone pillar or suspended from a crane.
Ross: I think that when you’re creating a mod, it’s important to look at your competitors and those that are similar to find out what works, what people enjoy, and what could have been improved upon. That way, you’re taking the genre from its current state, and evolving it into something new and hopefully better. So what people will find when they play Cheeks of Steel, is that whilst it may have certain elements that are familiar in some other platform games, it has taken those elements and applied them to something new and we are hoping people will prefer it and enjoy playing it as much as we have making it. 

 

 
Q: DESCRIBE THE GAME PLAY AND THE JUMPING MECHANICS OF THE GAME. 
 
Jamie: The game focuses around two major aspects – exploring and jumping, as with most platform games. We have tried to retain the look and feel of a typical platformer within the game, adding our own twist on certain things. The exploration then leads onto collection; the currency of a platform game.
Sam: Collection game-play is centred on collecting hamster tubes which are earned by completing objectives in the levels. The hamster tubes are used to gradually progress by bridging gaps between the HUB level (Capture) and the actual levels, steadily unlocking new areas for the player.
 Ross: Cheeks of Steel possesses a strong emphasis on jumping, which means catering gameplay so that movement and platform progression were as fluid as possible. Throughout the game, there will be three main types of jump; your standard jump, the double jump, and a glide feature which allows you to get that extra bit of distance if a ledge is just out of reach. Additionally, the Helium Power Up which we have incorporated into the game forces Harry to inflate with air, causing him to float up to three times higher than a double jump could take him. Other useful mechanics include using the Power Ups as part of level progression, taking control of Tick as a secondary character to reach hidden areas, and a number of puzzles for players to figure out. 
 
Q: THE GAME LOOKS VERY GOOD, HOWEVER IT FEELS DISTANT FROM THE PC COMMUNITY 
SINCE PLATFORMERS ARE MORE OFTEN KNOWN FOR BEING ON CONSOLES RATHER THAN PC 
GAMES. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL STAND UP TO THE ARMY OF FPS MODS AND WHY DO 
YOU THINK PEOPLE WILL LIKE IT?
 
Ross: When we began developing Cheeks of Steel, we actually thought about this. Typically, for a platform game it is very hard to break into the PC community, and I think this is largely due to unresponsive controls. This problem can be helped by using a controller. However, I also believe that with recent platform releases such as Mirrors Edge and Prince of Persia, there is potentially a revival of Platform games coming to the PC community, with more and more players becoming fed up with playing the same games over and over. Additionally, Cheeks of Steel will be free for download by June of this year, allowing even skeptical members of the community to try it out at the cost of installing it. I think once they have a play of it, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. There’s much more to Cheeks of Steel than just jumping from one platform to another. If the gameplay doesn’t drag you in then I’m sure the humour will.
Sam: The mod favours players using an Xbox 360 pad as many interactions display the corresponding buttons on a pad rather than the keyboard. This isn’t necessary though, as the keyboard will function just as well. We think the mod will hold up very well, as first person shooters are becoming dry and featureless resulting in people craving for something different. We think this will play to our favour as we fit the criteria. People will enjoy it because it’s a fun game to play, and it doesn’t require the player to think hard while providing them a challenge with which they are rewarded greatly for completing.
Jamie: It’s true that PCs aren’t primarily suited for platformers, but I think that’s the point. We want to stand out and make our own game and experience rather than another first / third person shooter lost in a crowd. I have nothing against shooters, they’re the primary game most of the developers here play in their free time, but I wouldn’t want to work on one at the moment – I’m enjoying the fun we have making this game.
 
Q: WILL THEIR BE ANY TYPE OF COMBAT IN THE GAME, IF SO WHAT TYPES? 
 
Ross: Yes, there will be combat in Cheeks of Steel. However, from the very start we opted to keep combat fairly limited, as we wanted the game to emphasise more on the structure of platforms and puzzles within the levels. Enemies that are in the game will follow along a set path, and are in-place as more of an obstacle than anything else. To engage combat with them, the player has the choice of using a series of melee attacks, which are available from the very start of the game. Alternatively, they may also use four of the six in-game power ups, which may be fired from a distance to cause heavy damage. Bosses cannot be defeated by ordinary attacks like standard enemies. Instead, the player must complete objectives, such as hitting a switch at the right time to trigger a rock slide; crushing the boss and causing him harm.
Sam: Eating a chill pepper will cause Harry to spit fireballs, eating the raw bean will cause him to puke and eating a battery will cause him to shoot electricity; damaging enemies as well as playing into the puzzle element to disrupt electrical mechanicisms.
Jamie: The design brief objective was to look at how we can multi-task the creation of gameplay features. So rather than create 10 or 12 different weapons or items to teach the player how to use, we wanted to have a core set of features that we can design large amounts of gameplay around and subsequently creating levels in the game where people will instinctively know how to deal with puzzles once they are taught how these features work. 
 

 
Even the enemy's look top notch.
 

 

Q: THE MAPPING ON THIS GAME ALONE IS A VERY IMPRESSIVE FEATURE, ANYTHING YOU 
WANT TO SAY ABOUT YOUR MAPPING TEAM AND WHAT YOUR BASIC IDEA FOR THE MAPPING 
ON THIS GAME? 
 
Jamie: We always knew the mapping would be the key feature on the project. As team leader, I have nothing but praise for our level designers. One of the keys to our success is that we all sat down as a team to design the levels together – 5 people’s input is better than 1. We then came up with a list of possible themes and humour references on post-it notes then came up with a map drawn roughly on a board. The level designers then took these rough maps and drew up clean maps with lots of gameplay features and walkthroughs.
Simon: The level design team has worked very hard following a strict process of design to make sure the levels are up to quality, to the point of making a 300 plus page document listing every detail in the design of the level, including research and references.
Sam: Levels underwent a massive amount of research before they were attempted. Even before ideas were for the levels were debated, one of the level designers built a test level in Unreal 3 to properly judge the capabilities of the engine and what mechanics could and couldn’t be achieved for this genre of mod. One of the key aspects the level designers focused on was level progression. It grew apparent that a large portion of the humour needed to be applied to the way the player progressed through the level. We also had a process in play that helped us out. When a level was blocked out and was capable of being successfully completed, underwent testing by individuals outside the team. This aided the level designers greatly, allowing them to alter mecahanics and progression techniques that people outside the team disliked.  
 

 
Mapping is another thing to go crazy over.
 

 

Q: WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH THE UT3 ENGINE? WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO WITH THIS 
ENGINE? HAVE YOU TRIED USING ANYTHING PRIOR? 
 
Sam: Working on the UT3 engine has been good overall. Certain aspects of the engine such as Kismet and Cascade allow the level designers to create mechanics without depending on the programmers and artists too much. However due to the engine being fairly new, tutorials and help were very limiting, meaning getting certain mechanics and aspects of the mod to function was a case of trial and error. We decided to go with UT3 as everyone in the team had prior experience using UT2004 and we already knew that a majority of features we wanted for the mod could be successfully executed using the engine.
Jamie: I had to take over coding in Unreal and while that was troublesome at first, I’ve had lots of advice from the original programmer so I have to say thanks to him. The major factor that made our choice of using it easy was coming off the back of a project using UT2004 and researching UT3 for an essay for another module. We really liked what we saw.
Ross: Surprisingly, the Unreal 3 engine seems to be furtively designed for platform development. Thanks to the potential of Unreal Kismet and Matinee, creating moving platforms and triggers became more of a secret weapon than an obstacle, which was of huge benefit to us as the mapping is all about the interactive environment in Cheeks of Steel.  
 
Q: AFTER CHOOSING TO WORK WITH THE UT3 ENGINE DID YOU DISCOVER ANY 
DILEMAS IN MAKING YOUR MOD AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM? 
 
Ross: On the whole I would say that working with the Unreal 3 engine has been an insightful adventure that has allowed everyone to hone their personalised skills, whilst aiding us to learn a lot about the general development of video games. We chose to use UT3 because of its versatility and power. It wasn’t until we began using it however that we realised its true potential, in particular with the Unreal Kismet and Matinee packages as  stated earlier. These allowed us to create not only  highly interactive environments, but a number of the core mechanics and features in the game as well.
Jamie: Aside from losing a full time programmer, it was key to make the scale of the project manageable. We spoke a lot about things in the beginning that were just unfeasible with what time we had to attempt them until we had the core of the game complete. As project manager I developed a modular approach, working on main parts of the design and then “bolting” onto them with additions so at all times we had something playable. Then I would come back a week later with a bit extra tacked on.

Simon: There’s been many problems but we just worked through them as best we can. Developing on a new tech can be tricky as there are problems you can never foresee that may crop up from time to time. We just have to make a way around it and get on with development. 

 
Q: AS WITH MANY 3RD PARTY MODS, THIS ONE IS CURRENTLY LARGELY UNHEARD OF. WHAT 
DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR STAND OUT? 
 
Sam: Simply put, it’s different, and it goes back to the roots of why people play video and computer games; because they want to be entertained.
Ross: I think that the first thing that draws anyone into a game that they haven’t heard of before is the aesthetics. With Cheeks of Steel, we decided very early on to go for a ‘vivid reality’ style, which combines a level of realism with a cartoon effect. Therefore, when placed amongst the waves of realistic shooters, even if it’s just a screenshot, it instantly appears different and captures attention, hopefully drawing interest to try out the game.
Jamie: It doesn’t help us much that Half Life 2 mods are so popular, with the massive fan base. Against such a large amount of mods, Unreal 3 only takes a small amount of the pie and we’re only just getting it to a stage where we can demo it to a mass audience. As far as standing out is concerned we’re not using UT3 in a non-post apocalyptic, sci-fi shooter with aliens and guns. 
 
Q: SO FAR, CHEEKS OF STEEL SEEMS TO BE A VERY PROMISING GAME. ARE THERE GOING TO 
BE ANY MAJOR CHANGES WITH YOUR MOD OR DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU HAVE DONE AS 
MUCH AS YOU CAN? 
 
Jamie: We’re at a stage now where we want to finalise the game we’ve got in the time frame we were given. We’ll then look at adding to the foundations at a later date. We’ve spoke about including some parts from the original concept document, alongside newer ideas we’ve thought of through the development cycle but didn’t want to add into this build. Just because Cheeks of Steel is a single player adventure doesn’t mean it ends when the credits roll!
Ross: As of this moment in time, we’re just about to enter Beta stage, so I think that almost everything we have planned is either in there already, or will be within the next few weeks. When you work on a project for so long, there are always new ideas and potential feature creeps that could be implemented, but I feel it’s important to know when to draw the line. If you overload a game with too many ideas, its easy to lose sight of what you’re trying to create. 
 
Q: IS THERE ANY MESSAGE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEND OUT TO YOUNGER AUDIENCES ABOUT 
MODDING AND WHAT THEY CAN DO TO START IN THE GAME INDUSTRY? 
 
Ross: Be enthusiastic about what you do and be prepared to push yourself. Both the gaming industry and modding can be extremely difficult to get into, not to mention time consuming, so it’s important to love what you do. There are few things more rewarding than seeing your finished product being played after putting in all that effort, but getting there means working through crunch times and not giving up when it gets tough. Don’t worry too much about trying to master a single piece of technology as software comes and goes. If you have the passion to pursue making games and don’t give up when faced with a difficult challenge, then the rest will follow. This will also reflect in your work, which will only help when applying for jobs within the industry. 
Steven: The members of Underdog Games have gone through an Education Course over 3 years in order to work their way in to the games industry learning many industry fields. But it only takes one person to learn an industry field overall. If you don’t go through Education then be very prepared and make sure your ready for anything. Have a good work rate and be able to adapt procedures. This can be done by learning your skill and getting involved in a modification of a game. If you go through Education and your course doesn’t have modules to do with modding then it would be highly advised that you get in to a mod. Also going through Education gives you a trade in computer and video games which means should you want to go and work in another country, then you will have a much better chance.
Sam: Modding is a very good way to get noticed in the gaming industry and a good way to start. Many people desire to get into the gaming industry because they like to play games. Although this helps, above all they need the passion and dedication to actually make them. More and more universities are opening courses designed for people who want to work in the industry. In my opinion this is one of the best ways to start.
Simon: Put simply, get making stuff and just keep making stuff. The more you make the higher your skill level gets. Something like adding a new technique to every model you make, or getting out of your comfort zone can help you a massive amount towards getting the job you crave.
Jamie: Regarding getting started in the games industry, this University course has helped me massively. I thought I knew about games before I came here and to be fair, I played a lot of them, but nothing compared to what some people knew who took the course. As well as that, you increase your overall knowledge of how games work the way they do, why they work that way and what games work well. It is a pretty rigid structure however so this is where modding comes in. I remember for one assignment I was given a specific genre to create a game about and it wasn’t what I hoped for... so I got on with that and at the same time began working on a side project to keep me motivated. Modding helps a lot, as if you’ve got a good working team, you can chip in here and there in your spare time and work on something completely of your own making – rather than your design leaders specification. In short, if you’re passionate about making games, make them... in my spare time now I’m writing reviews and articles for my blog as well as working on about 3 or 4 side games. 
 
UNDERDOG GAMES WOULD LIKE TO THANK HAVEPIE FOR INVITING US TO PARTAKE IN 
THIS INTERVIEW AND WE WISH ALL THOSE FOLLOWERS OF CHEEKS OF STEEL MASSIVE 
ENJOYMENT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET YOUR HANDS ON IT... 

I wish the best for Underdog Games and their future. We can expect Cheeks of Steel to make a release sometime in June of this year.

 

Post comment Comments
AlCool
AlCool Mar 20 2009, 5:16am says:

So much information 8|

Will it be as epic as it sounds is the question I wanted to hear :D

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Platforms
Windows, PS3, X360
Developer
Underdog Games
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Official Page
Underdoggames.co.uk
Release Date
Released Jun 26, 2009
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Underdog Games
Underdog Games Developer & Publisher with 4 members