When you love and adore something to the brink of mastery, there comes the point where you yearn to absorb all of its background lore. You reach a point where you want to know all of the development hiccups and hear the creators crack a few jokes about various hardships they endured to deliver the extra level of polish that feeds your borderline addiction. You want to gobble up all the Easter eggs left behind, too.
I’ve hit that point in Rocket League, and I’d love to share my discoveries. Psyonix gained early traction and encountered a myriad of interviews, but they often brushed off deep lore questions with jokes and cryptic statements.
Rocket League is a game with a solitary intent: Psyonix designed the game to be fun.
In Dave Hagewood’s own words, “It’s a game. I don’t care about realism. I want to make awesome stuff happen.”
Dave Hagewood is the founder and CEO of Psyonix. He’s also the man that the iconic floating DFH stadium was named after.
His philosophy is fine. Rocket League’s aesthetic is affable through and through: sprinkle in some chaos for added immersion. Keep things futuristic to eliminate design limitations. We don’t need wacky overused post-apocalyptic plot tropes like machine takeovers. We don’t need the overzealous dystopian government hierarchies that flood publications and Anime.
Car soccer is car soccer.
But the story of Rocket League’s success is an inspirational whirlwind. Glancing back at Psyonix’s humble beginnings is nothing short of a modern-day Cinderella story, minus the fairytale cliches like pixie dust and gumdrop moats.
There’s no shame in wanting to pick the dev’s brains a bit. Stuff like, “Who comes up with an idea like flying car soccer?” and “What made Rocket League so successful?”
So, here are some fascinating facts about Rocket League’s development. We’ll do a little map-breaking and investigate scenery that we’re often too preoccupied to enjoy. I’ve even highlighted a shard of lore that slipped through the cracks and an insanely weird quirk about Psyonix’s CEO… The type of stuff any RL aficionado appreciates. Enjoy!
Some traces of the idea linger throughout the original four maps. The background of Beckwith park reveals a half rendered Mannfield. Urban Central matches the cityscape that lights the evening skies of Beckwith Park and the airborne masterpiece: DFH Stadium.
Let me put this into perspective. One of the development heads, Corey Davis, dropped a hilarious comment during his presentation at GDC 2016:
“Metacritic rated Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars the 92nd best PS3 game of 2008. I know what you’re thinking. Of course, you would make a sequel to the 92nd best PS3 game of 2008…”
Fun fact: Corey Davis is a confirmed fan of Akira. He mentioned drawing inspiration from the retro-futuristic cyberpunk and vaporwave vibes seen in the old-school anime!
For a decade, Psyonix kept busy refining everyone else’s online multiplayer game modes on UE3.
They spent their lunch breaks passionately obsessed with their personal creation. To Psyonix, the decision to polish their little gem of a game seemed clear.
Of course, spending ten years developing an awkward car-soccer game felt impossible to explain to outsiders. It took a toll on the team. In the back of everyone’s mind a looming suspicion ravaged their spirit. They wondered if SARPBC didn’t sell because something felt lacking.
Psyonix fiddled with the idea of creating racing modes and various sports scattered throughout a large hub world, something along the lines of a sporty Burnout Paradise. Players would have to drive to key locations on a map to fire up a desired event.
That sounds miserable.
Thankfully, rocketeers can fire up a match with a couple of button clicks. Still, that explains why the early maps of Rocket League have such massive backgrounds.
Having said that, I’m sure console players wouldn’t mind breaking through barriers to train up by flying through a few rings or something… hint hint.
Psyonix, please! Give us some native workshop maps!
Surprise filled the eyes of many upon hearing some indie studio spit out an overnight smash hit. The truth is: Psyonix boasted a rich history in development using Unreal Engine 3.
Dave Hagewood planted his roots in the modding community for Unreal Tournament. One day Epic Games caught a glimpse of a vehicle mod he created and contracted him for creating Onslaught mode in UT 2004.
Dave Hagewood and his fellow developers learned to tamper with physics using mutators, leading to some excellent custom game modes in Rocket League. They learned to create precise flying controls, leading to pristine car control that made musty flicks and air dribbles easy to replicate.
Epic Games presented Hagewood with a well-lit office, a few helping hands, and a comfortable chair. More importantly, he fell into a small handful of people who laid early eyes upon Unreal Engine 3.
After their involvement with Unreal Tournament, Psyonix quickly gained traction as UE3 physics wizards, and AAA studios began outsourcing work to the ragtag crew. Here are some of their most notable projects:
It’s like a gorgeous poem without all the flowery language if you think about it. Every day these boys punched their cards from 9-5, getting those bills paid, but they never lost sight of their dream project.
It turns out that putting a bunch of modders in a room together translates to pure action and no planning. Everyone contributed ideas until it led to car soccer.
Dave Hagewood stated in an interview that the glue tying him together with the Beckwith brothers was a love for snowboarding games like SSX tricky. His grand scheme? To replicate a game where cars could jump and inject some Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater elements to utilize the development team’s strengths in vehicle physics. His inspiration? An old arcade game called Bump’N’Jump.
Dave Hagewood was hellbent on the idea of jumping cars. Go ahead and fire up that onslaught mode on UT. You’ll see what I mean.
Over time the SARBPC prototype evolved into a vehicular combat game littered with tornados and grappling hooks. It was called Crash Course, and it was glorious. There were UFO power-ups and giant tractor-style push bar power-ups. The goal was to knock the opponents off of a round platform. Here’s their pitch video:
One day Adam Beckwith approached everyone with an idea he got from playing a “Deathball” mod in UT 2004, and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars sprouted into existence.
One of the thousands of scrapped ideas for SARPBC was a platforming map that Ben Beckwith created. The team added boost reservoirs to help players clear gaps while challenging them with resource management.
Then something unexpected occurred in testing. Vehicles could launch off of the ground and fly around like airplanes. Instead of labeling the new ability as a bug, Psyonix embraced its passion for chaos and blind, unadulterated fun. Flying cars became an overnight mainstay.
After all, it added to the appeal of cars that could twirl out fancy tricks.
Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars became a cult classic for legends like Kronovi, JZR, and Gibbs. Although, these early content creators were playing primarily on a single map called Urban.
The development team at Psyonix took note of this and made a bold move to standardize their maps in Rocket League. Since they wanted to stay true to their loyal fanbase, they chose to design each map based on the ever-popular Urban map on SARPBC.
I’m sure mini-Kronovi and friends were pleased to see Urban Central make an appearance in the long-awaited sequel… Until they saw how alarming the original frame rate was!
Luckily, Psyonix patched Urban Central for better performance.
The Beckwith brothers went rogue. They abandoned their posts at Epic Games to join a development team with some random they met while working on UT’s Onslaught mode.
Beckwith Park draws inspiration from the real-world 60-acres park in Redmond, Washington. It gets its name because these two men deserve a medal for their effort in Rocket League’s production.
The Beckwith boys are humble about having a map played by millions of gamers named after them.
Ben Beckwith does tell a cute story about how his dad lights up any time an RLCS announcer mentions the park named after him, though.
Here’s some good ol’ fashioned Rocket League lore:
Dave says the ball is leathery with a solid core. He wants it to retain some open-ended futuristic ambiguity. I don’t blame him. I did a little freelancing for a long-running comic book a while back, and tracking lore is a total headache for a team of creators.
But he couldn’t dodge this question, so now we can grab a handful of physicists and send them straight to Hagewood’s twitter account if we’re ever feeling upset about the contents of a Rocket Pass.
I’m kidding. Don’t do that.
Instead, imagine cracking open a baseball a few dozen centuries from now and keep that vision locked away in your head-canon.
Psyonix couldn’t dance around lore forever, boys!
The Season 5 map Starbase Arc (Aftermath) released with some additional PR that confirms an alien invasion and scars from an intergalactic battle that occurred. That blinding black hole filling the skies was a planet in previous Starbase iterations! Although, I’m sure the abundant space debris was already a dead giveaway.
The Season 5 release trailer even suggests that RL cars were originally full-blown spacecrafts with wings. They geared up for landing by installing wheels. (Real talk, this trailer was way sweeter to watch than a promotional video has any right to be.)
To all my veterans out there, cars with wings is a callback to when the original Starbase Arc released. That’s the same update that Shawn Stone drew up the Vulcan. To all my free-to-play homies, here’s another promo trailer to pull you back in the loop:
(Holy Halo inspiration, Batman!)
Here’s the neat little development insight that nobody’s talking about:
Hovering around amidst the space debris is a robotic arm that was once part of the final boss in an older Psyonix title.
The game was called ARC Squadron. It’s a mobile game.
If you’ve been reading from start to finish, you probably aren’t surprised to hear it’s another sci-fi vehicle-based game that runs on Unreal Engine 3.
Anyway, not only does this evidence suggest that both games take place in the same universe, it also stands as a metaphor that our beloved developers left for us:
Rocket League has many years of development ahead. Car soccer has withstood the test of time and Psyonix has no plans to abandon her most cherished project. They’re so committed to that statement that they literally blasted their older projects to bits.
Remember, these boys became who they are by modding game engines. Dave Hagewood tells a story of watching video footage of a tank hitting the precipice of an unreachable tower in Onslaught mode. His eyes nearly tear up in the interview. He’s proud to see us tinker with and exploit his engines.
This is great news to Bakkesmod enthusiasts. Tell all your doomsday-prepping teammates that the mods are here to stay. If you need more proof, Corey Davis mentions his appreciation for Bakkesmod in a video interview with SunlessKhan.
Most developers would issue an emergency patch after watching a player score a shot with multiple flip resets. The boys at Psyonix respect it. They view skilled players as skilled players – not cheaters or exploit hunters.
This mindset is the reason we’re still playing over half a decade after release.
It isn’t just a generic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blasting out of your tailpipe when using the HRT Beat Boost, either.
That loud guitar riff blazing from the Accelerato boost was the old theme song for SARPBC. The little blowfish who appears on the center of each bill on the Money boost? That little guy was the mascot from the Crash Course prototype.
Here’s something you can really sink your teeth into.
Have you ever wondered why the Locomotive topper in Rocket League is carting around a loaf of bread? Would you like to hear a story of Dave Hagewood forcibly scarfing down bread on a live stream after picking up 10,000 concurrent downloads for his hot new game?
Yeah. That happened. At least Dave didn’t promise to get a tattoo for getting X likes on a Tweet. That sticks for a lifetime.
Whether you’re crawling the Rocket League vehicle data files and notice every car named after a type of bread, equipping your “Dave’s Bread” topper, or happen across two bread-slice pillars while taking a stroll through Salty Shores, I can promise you one thing:
None of those were Dave’s idea!
Dave Hagewood abhors bread, which makes me wonder if he’s even human. Yeah, I said it. Why stop there?
Time to hit up social with your crackpot theories of Dave Hagewood’s true reptilian identity! In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind a follow or two, either. Links are down below.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I know this isn’t the type of stuff that will help push a Platinum into higher ranks. Still, for anyone with creative drive or passion, the development stories behind Rocket League shine a dazzling beacon of inspiration. Much love, and I’d like to give a huge shoutout to NoClip for the awesome interviews!
Also, if you find yourself wondering how you just spent so much time learning about random RL facts, I think you’ll get a kick out of Sledge’s video jam-packed with more random Rocket League facts. He covers things like how there’s 54 different bots, categorized by theme. He’ll tell you that the Delorean and Batmobile are the only two cars with their own demo explosion. Give it a look!