Over 30 years ago, Gremlin Graphics introduced the world to Zool, a colourful platformer released on the Amiga remembered for its quirky characters and smooth, fast-moving gameplay.
Now, the Ninja of the Nth Dimension lives on through Zool Redimensioned – a reimagining of the cult classic developed by the Sumo Digital Academy, which recently launched for the first time on PlayStation 4 following its PC release back in 2021.
The cohorts have benefited hugely from working on the development of a releasable game, one of whom has been Simran Chopra – who joined the Academy this year. Here, she discusses her involvement on the project.
“I was part of the Diversity Internship Training Programme last year and the 2022 cohort were working on the game’s code base,” said Simran, “Because I lived locally, they asked me and another member of the internship if we would like to do some QA testing for it.
“I basically played Zool continuously for three weeks straight and got very, very well acquainted with it!”
Despite the PC release launching two years ago, Simran and the previous cohort were fortunate to help craft an exciting new multiplayer feature as part of Zool Redimensioned’s arrival on console.
“Last year’s cohort saw the very start of the party mode builds,” said Simran. “They had us playing and messing around with it to see what levels worked and what didn’t. They were still very much in a space of deciding how they wanted the levels to look, so we had quite a lot of levels to playtest to see which ones worked better and got to be part of the creative process suggesting improvements.
“Because we were also going through all the PS4 specifications as well, it meant we had to play the game repeatedly whilst checking for bugs. We found lots of bugs, which is a good thing to do, so we spent some trying to recreate them – which is easier said than done.
“I specifically remember one bug where me and my colleague spent an entire day playing the same level over and over again. The level takes about a minute and a half to complete, and we played it for almost seven hours straight trying to recreate one bug, which we managed four or five times.
“We couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing it or why it was happening, so it made it difficult to figure out how to fix it.”
Zool’s cult classic status and the success of Zool Redimensioned’s Steam PC launch have certainly put the Sumo Digital Academy in the spotlight over the past couple of years, but the cohorts have taken it in their stride and have enjoyed the experience and learnings of working on a project like this.
We asked Simran how important it has been for herself and the Academy to be able to work on a game like Zool Redimensioned.
“I think for me personally having been asked to be part of the QA testing side of it, I feel a part of the history of the Academy,” said Simran. “It’s something that each cohort has worked on so far, we've even got Bradley Tully [2022-23 cohort] here who's still working on parts of the Zool code base within the Academy with us.
“Seeing the project being passed on from cohort to cohort and everybody getting to experience it is great.
“The Academy is still very new to Sumo; we know we're only in the third year and we're the first cohort year where it formally started as an apprenticeship officially recognised by the UK Government. There are still a lot of challenges and lots of exciting projects that we've got to work on thus far, but it's great that this game has that something collectively that has brought us all together – even if it's just some of our cohort getting the chance to do some playtesting.”
With Zool Redimensioned now available to play on PS4, we asked Simran what’s next for the cohorts regarding further updates for this project.
“Bradley has been working on some analytics for the game with the University of Sheffield,” said Simran. “This looks at whether certain features help people within the game, including the health bar. The analytics will look at whether having a user receiving low health alerts will affect their decisions and gameplay.
“It’s only a small game and made of a small code base so it can only go so far before we’ve got to focus on other projects to make. This year we’re going to be working on a project that half of last year’s cohorts started, but I'm sure there could be opportunities for us (or later cohorts) to revisit Zool and learn from its development - he's a pretty big deal around here!”
Looking ahead, whether it’s more Indie titles or potential AAA games, Simran is confident in her own abilities for future projects following the experience she’s gained working on Zool Redimensioned.
“The six-week internship within the Academy and getting to QA test gave me an insight into how the programmers worked day-in-day-out,” said Simran. “Looking at what they get up to, how they assessed finding a bug, and what they do with it.
“It's also funny hearing terms that the cohorts were throwing around like ‘memory leak’ and I had no idea what that meant – I didn’t how to fix it or how to even begin thinking about it. But now, within the Academy, I'm actually starting to learn what these terms mean, and recognizing terms I'd heard them say before.
“We were given access to the Zool code base and had the chance to look through it, and it's great to be able to revisit it and understand that much more of it as time goes on.”
If you dream of pursuing a development role in the games industry, check out the Sumo Digital Academy website for more information.