The Moral Struggle of ‘Roly Boi Playground’

RDC 2020 had just ended, with our game jam entry completed in the allotted time. We weren’t close to winning, but the experience taught me a lot. I realized how important programming was to me, and saw all of the things that were possible, laid out before me.

Some days after our 24 hour straight jam session, I began messing around with a new custom character controller. You could say I’m obsessed with custom characters; anything to get away from those humanoids. As usual, my character attempted to replicate typical humanoid behavior, but far more simplified and easy to modify. I often use a sphere as the base for these controllers, because of the desirability of the physical behavior.

I accidentally made a hilarious discovery when I ran my controller against a wall. To my surprise, the character started spinning rapidly. It really got me good. I knew at that moment that I had to make a game where you rolled around all over the place.

The eureka moment.

I didn’t exactly know my direction, so I decided to create a simple rolling mechanic for the controller I was already working on. I tweeted the result, and got a sizable lot of attention from it. I guess it caught everyone else off guard as well…

With this reaction, I knew I was onto something. The charm of seeing a seemingly normal Roblox character suddenly morph into a ball and take off was too great, and I realized I had to seize this opportunity. So I began what is now known as, ‘Roly Boi’.

Work on the idea progressed fairly quickly. I took a few hours out of the next couple days to create a more fleshed out experience. I had drawn a lot of ideas from memorable marble games, such as ‘Super Blocky Ball’ and ‘Marble Run!!’. Cannons, boost pads, ramps, the works. It was also a no brainer to be able to play as yourself.

The demo was in a playable state, so I decided to release another video on twitter. This time, the response was astronomical. Quickly the post began amassing likes, first by the tens, then by the hundreds, even being quoted by the official Roblox company account. It soon became the most popular tweet I have ever sent out, at a grand total of 1200 likes on the day this article was released. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I had something big.

I knew I had to come up with something quick while everyone was interested, but what? I couldn’t take too much inspiration from existing marble games. I didn’t want to. But what other options did I have in a game completely about rolling around? I desperately wanted to avoid making another silly Roblox fad that would die out the very next week. I began thinking.

Soon enough, in the replies came an answer. A tweet from a programmer I’d known a bit by the name of Fluffmiceter.

Momentum? What makes Spiderman games and skate games addictingly fun? Momentum. Of course, it’s what needed to be done.

He linked a gameplay demo of a sonic fangame known as ‘Sonic Utopia’, a Sonic fan’s wet dream. A vast open world filled with various ramps, twisting tracks, insane jumps. After watching just a few videos, I was completely fascinated. The game looked incredibly fun, and so I decided I would try to replicate it to the best of my capability.

Linked video from Fluffmiceter

I began work immediately. This was something that couldn’t wait. Nothing like it had ever been seen on Roblox before that point; it was going to be a hit for sure. Within three days I had created something that loosely resembled Sonic Utopia. It was rough, and still very far from what Roly Boi is today. I tweeted the progress, which gained a fair bit of attention. The reaction fell far shorter than the two previous hits.

Just a day later, after non-stop work I posted another video of further progress. You can much more clearly see the resemblance between then and today. Once again, the response from twitter was much more subdued than I had expected. I started to worry about the outcome.

For sixteen days I toiled, tweaking and adding and beating the game with a sledge hammer until it looked as close to Sonic Utopia as I could possibly get. In this time, I had received some help from math genius EgoMoose, who modified a roller coaster generator he had made in order to create beautiful curvy tracks for the project.

After all the work was done, I decided to name the game ‘Roly Boi Playground’. It no longer resembled the original Roly Boi, the one so welcomed by everyone on twitter; by Roblox. It was only fitting that it become an extension of the original concept. I had high hopes for the game, so I had people pay in order to play it. I had a great feeling deep down inside, that when I posted that the new game was available to play, everyone would go absolutely nuts.

And so I did.

The response was not at all what I had expected. The attention I got at official release was worse than previous glimpses of the barebone systems. After all I had done, the risk I had taken seemed like the wrong decision. Though social media response was fairly quiet, I still received some players. I am deeply grateful for all those who spent their precious Robux just to get a taste of this new, exciting looking world.

For a paid access game, the initial outcome was quite well. The ratings were up, and people were coming and going very frequently. It’s not worth mentioning peak player count or the total number of plays though. After a while, it felt like the gimmick I set out to avoid in the first place.

Despite my mixed feelings, I continued to improve and update the game, adding data saving, a new user interface, and making lots of little ‘feel’ tweaks. I became happier with the game, solving all of the small issues that irked me. But as I grew happier, less and less players showed up to roll. More players started to complain about the game being paid access. Was it all too unorthodox? Was it too far outside of the realm of Roblox for people to understand?

I started to question all of my decisions. Paid access? Was it too disconnected? Should I have ever diverged onto this road of Sonic Utopia?

Moral ambiguity set in, as to whether or not replicating the Sonic fan game was the right decision. I had practically copied every single thing they had done to a T. Where was my input? My creative design? It was all just a technical replica. Although the Utopia demo seemed like it had died off a while ago, I felt there was no way I could continue to work on something that was completely detached from my own thought.

As time progressed, my negative feelings for the game grew even stronger. I couldn’t possibly allow myself to ever earn money from Roly Boi Playground. After I had copied it so faithfully, after those who had helped me out of their own free will. It isn’t my game; it isn’t my choice.

I won’t take it down, because there are some who still enjoy it. But I also cannot remove paid access, for those who have already purchased it. I cannot work on it further, as it is not in my nature to do so.

Roly Boi Playground will forever remain a technical shell, and perhaps die off like the demo it mirrored. It may disappoint some, those who’ve asked me many times to finish the game. But I simply cannot do it.

This is, of course, not the end of my journey. Far from it. I’ve already created a game called ‘Pit of Hell’, a fun new take on the common tower obstacle course games, with my good friend Kullaske. I’m also working on a personal game, this time with no outside inspiration. A completely new take on Roblox obstacle courses, perfectly simplified and addicting. I think you will enjoy it, and what’s to come, more than Roly Boi. I know I will.

Thank you for reading,

1Joeb.

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