Interview with David Amata and Bill Munk, Developers Behind Maneater
The biggest problem with most single-player action games is that they are single-player experiences. While there is nothing wrong with being the lone wolf, there is plenty to be said about playing as part of a team. This is exactly what the creators of Maneater, David Amata and Bill Munk, had in mind when they set out to make an action RPG that relied on teamwork. In this interview, they discuss the lessons they learned in the development process, and how they overcame some of the obstacles they ran into getting the game off the ground.
Maneater is a recently released third-person view action adventure game developed by David Amata and Bill Munk. It is set in the deep, dark confines of an abandoned tank that you must navigate in search of the “Mother Board” that will rescue you from your digital prison. There are obstacles all around you, so you must be careful and use your wits to avoid being crushed or burned to death.
The movie Maneater came out exactly a year ago, and I really liked it. It’s an absolutely insane play about a shark determined to kill every living thing, complete with dad jokes and commentary from Archer’s Chris Parnell. It’s something that seems to have been made specifically for my eccentric tastes. I had to speak with the creators of this game to find out a little more about the development process, and also who coined the term ShaRkPG. I had the chance to interview Bill Munk, the game’s director, as well as David Amata, the product manager responsible for the Switch version released today.
I can think of no better way to start this interview than to get straight to the point. How did the team come up with the idea of making an open-world game with a shark? What was the thought process behind the creation of Maneater?
DAVID AMATA: Maneater’s origin story is just as interesting as the game itself. The original concept was conceived by Alex Quick and his team. When they showed it to us, we knew it was special, so we started working together to make something of that idea. I was honored and happy that they trusted us and turned it into tripwire.
Maneater definitely reminded me of Jaws Unleashed, which, while not a great game, was so different from everything else from that era that I only have fond memories of it. Was this game the inspiration for Maneater?
BILL MUNK: Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the movie Jaws Unleashed that inspired the project when we started it, but we played it to see what worked and what didn’t.
Chris Parnell’s story was one of the highlights of a match full of moments. Was the game intended from the start to be humorous and self-deprecating (something Jaws Unleashed lacked and certainly needed), and if so, was the idea of including a Discovery Channel-like story accepted in the early stages of the game’s development?
BM: Actually, that’s not what the game was originally about. When we played the first versions, we had nothing driving the story in a way that felt right. After much brainstorming, I came up with the idea of taking the Natural Geographic route. That direction felt special, and it evolved into the introspective humor found in the game. I’ve always been a big fan of comedy, and the extreme and silly nature of this experience sums it up.
How interesting it was to work with Sayri…. I mean, Chris Parnell?
BM: He’s a real pro! Once we signed him up for the project, he was willing to accept any text we suggested, no matter how absurd or ridiculous. I have to give Mark Marasky credit for signing the great Parnell for this project. I never thought he would do this, but our audio director has a knack for finding top talent. I wasn’t able to attend either recording session, but from what Mark told me, he was great to work with and they had a lot of fun working with him, and I think it really shows in the final product.
Maneater’s environment is not always endless amounts of water and nothing else for you. How did the level designers deal with the limitations of the Maneater setting? Especially since there is so much to do when the map is largely underwater, with more limited resources at your disposal and a smaller field of view?
BM: Making a game in such an environment certainly had its limitations, but many of those limitations required some really creative problem solving, which led to some of the most interesting aspects of the game. The most difficult task was to draw the line between credible realism and true absurdity. For example, instead of giving the shark a laser beam or a machine gun, we made it more plausible to give it a distance attack. In terms of the camera, it was very important to us that the players felt like they were getting stronger and moving up the food chain as the game progressed.
At the end of the development cycle, we spent a lot of time tinkering with the camera to reduce the field of view to visually translate the growth of the shark from juvenile to predator. Let’s just say that at some point in Maneater, realistic science no longer matters, and the titular shark begins to mutate into a nightmarish creature that destroys everything and everyone in its path.
Was the idea of turning the shark into a crazy mutant discussed from the beginning or was a more scientific approach initially taken?
DA : First, the team started out pretty realistically with science and evolution. For example, we chose the bull shark as our player shark because it can survive in both fresh and saltwater. As we delved deeper into the design and iterations of gameplay, our evolutionary intentions became what they are today. We started by defining the play styles we’d like to see in a shark player, and then the drawing and design teams came up with concepts and ideas to represent them visually.
Maneater should have been more scientifically accurate to begin with. I’m glad they changed their minds. How did the porting of Maneater to the Switch go? Given that the base game is ridiculously well optimized and runs well on low-powered computers, did the transition go smoothly?
DA : The requirements and bottlenecks of each platform are different, so optimizations for one platform do not necessarily apply to others. For Nintendo Switch, we knew Maneater would look great on the platform as a portable experience with our clunky mission structure, but to make it work and look great on the platform, we had to restructure our systems and assets from the start. From an asset perspective, given the limitations of the platform, the Artist team manually created each of the model’s level-of-detail options, as we felt that the automated LODs methods did not provide sufficient accuracy to meet our standards. For the environment details, we had to selectively reduce the environment and render distance to keep the original intent of the area and still stay within the budget we had for system memory and GPU.
The continuous level system on the world map has been redesigned to break up parts of the world into smaller chunks, while still making world navigation as fluid as its larger console brethren. We also decided early on in the project that we wanted to use a higher base screen resolution for the Switch than some of the other games on the system, as we felt that the higher brightness matched the raw materials better and kept the action clear on the screen, especially in environments where battles may be in motion. Because of this priority, a great deal of work has gone into rendering to ensure that all of our post-production systems operate with absolutely minimal overhead.
To maintain stability on the CPU side with fewer cores on the Switch, we also had to rework many systems, including AI navigation, wildlife, and the boat spawning system. When we finally began to redesign and rebuild these core systems, we had to do extensive testing and bug fixes to ensure that all effects of our changes were taken into account and that the expected functionality of the core game was maintained. We were aware of these issues and made sure to give the port the time it needed to become as good as it could be, last year after Maneater’s initial launch, and we’re very proud of the result and the team’s efforts.
In the new Switch version, you can now fish and kill people on the go. Maneater has already been ported to the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X, but are you planning a sequel that uses the power of these consoles to create even more ridiculous sets and environments?
BM: I don’t have anything to announce yet, but I can tell you that Tripwire loves what we’ve created, and I feel like we’re only on the surface of what I wanted to accomplish with the game. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to work on or be a part of a sequel one day!
And finally : Who is the genius who invented the term ShaRkPG? I guess I have to compliment this guy on the best dad joke I’ve read in a long time.
BM: HA! I didn’t come up with it, John Gibson came up with the idea for this pun !!!! strong father. His puns on his father are no match for those of the office. Maneater on Nintendo Switch is out today, so jump in and see what it’s all about!