Friends forever: The story of Sportsfriends
May 5, 2014 Page 3 of 3
"It was totally crazy!" laughs Wilson. "Okay, not totally crazy, but it happened because we had good, personal relationships with people like Nick Suttner and Brian Silva [manager of developer relations at SCEA], and they were progressive and really liked the games enough that they wanted to help make it happen. Adam Boyes was really instrumental too."
"But it was weird," admits Wilson. "The contracts were weird, and we were sort of in uncharted territory. Our project has been crazy in every aspect. As if console development isn't tricky enough, in so many ways this project does stuff that's not traditional. We've had to fight through a lot of weird bureaucratic snags. But luckily Nick and those guys have helped guide us through it."
"PlayStation has published some weird ones over the years," adds Foddy, "but in terms of structural weirdness, this is probably right up there. In a big multinational corporation, it's a battle to get weird things out there. It takes hard work from them to make it happen, and that's something that they've done, thankfully."
"And they finally have a proper use for the PS Move controllers," I say. The pair laugh.
"Yes! Although it seems like they've kinda still given up on it a little bit," says Wilson.
"Thankfully, Joust is now playable without one," notes Foddy. "I think for them it was mostly about putting Move support into existing games. But we're big believers in designing things starting with the controls -- that's one of the liberties you have when you're an indie developer."
The Kickstarter itself was a bit of a nail-biter. While the pledges started coming in thick and fast to begin with, it all sort of died down pretty quickly, and suddenly the funding goal seemed like quite a way to go. With days left, there was a final boost and Sportsfriends was clear -- but only just.
"I think we could have done a bit better job with the videos," says Wilson, "but I think it's just a really weird project that's hard to convey. It was one of these cases where the core games were proven and designed, and we had toured them aggressively. So it was this kind of underground thing, where the games had a very passionate fanbase."
"Keep in mind that this is quite different to a lot of other Kickstarters, where the games have not been made yet," he continues. "People had already played and liked these games, but especially a game like Joust and Hokra too -- I mean, if you're just looking at Hokra, it looks like a bunch of dumb squares. They're the kind of games that you have to be there for. So we had this really passionate group, but conveying that was more difficult. They are very much word of mouth games, and I think what happened is that our fans amazingly stepped up when it was looking grim and increased pledges, and put the word out for us."
Fortunately, the Sportsfriends developers had budgeted the Kickstarter perfectly, such that only just hitting their target didn't make for a tricky situation, as we've seen with many other crowdfunding campaigns.
"When we were originally planning this, we thought we'd only need to ask for half that amount," the dev says. "But luckily we really did our due diligence, and having all four of us discussing this really helped. In talking and planning forever, we kept realizing 'Okay, well, actually we need to budget for this and that.'"
"I basically rewrote the game. I felt like I had this opportunity, and you don't get that when you're writing Flash games."
What's happened since the Kickstarter, then? As it turns out, development and porting -- far longer than any of them were expecting. The menu design for connecting the games together turned out to be difficult, while porting the games was also not so simple, especially given that all four games were written in different engines.
Super Pole Riders in particular took a fair amount of time, as Foddy decided to completely rebuild the game from the ground up. "I basically rewrote the game," he says. "I felt like I had this opportunity, and you don't get that when you're writing Flash games."
"I just kinda wanted to reinvent the whole thing," Foddy adds. "New art, new levels... but I think most importantly, the ability to point the pole anywhere that you want -- so you can stand up on the end of it, or use it to push the ball, or jump around on it, or hold the other person down. There are all these actions you couldn't do in the original. So that was the kind of reason for that. I had a vision for it which, just for technical reasons, I couldn't pull off the first time around."
And Noan Sasso wanted to take BaraBariBall even further too, going deeper into the analysis of the fighting mechanics, much in the same way that, say, the Street Fighter or Smash Bros. teams would.
"For me and Noah, a lot of the year was spent touring as well," adds Wilson. "Constantly at events, knowing that these games are very word-of-mouthy, really trying to sow the seeds. It's been non-stop traveling and exhibitions. Managing this big motley team, and everything from contracts to negotiating with Sony, to going through cert..."
"And we also made the decision to add a platform as well, which was significant," interjects Foddy.
"Yeah, PlayStation 4 was not in the cards," agrees Wilson. "The PS4 was announced after our Kickstarter, and halfway through 2013, we realized we'd have to do PS4. It just wouldn't make sense without it. That's exactly why it's good that we asked for what we did on Kickstarter, because it turns out we really needed every penny."
Given that Sportsfriends is a rather unconventional project, I asked the devs what they feel they've learned from bringing together multiple games into one big collection, and what any other devs considering a similar move should take note of.
"I think one of the things we're proudest about with the project, is that it's this very unorthodox development setup," answers Wilson. "I wasn't their boss. I guess legally I was, but really we were all equals. It was the four of us doing this together as a collective, not as a traditional publisher relationship."
"That could have gone so, so wrong," he laughs, "and I think we underestimated how intense it would be. But the four of us got along really well, and for the most part it was incredibly positive. It was fun, the four of us talking all the time, and hanging out all the time. It was motivating to see what the others were doing and you'd get feedback from each other."
"It's the Speakerboxxx/Love Below of indie games."
Adds Foddy, "I think creatively, one thing you don't get in most group development projects is an area of your game where you're completely responsible for the quality and the development. Normally, one of the things that goes wrong in a lot of studios is that there's a person who has to do a certain range of jobs, but everybody has a stake in how good the quality is, and people wind up saying 'That's not good enough,' or redoing somebody's work, and they wind up not feeling like they have a creative ownership over the project."
"I think that's a new thing in game development," he notes. "I don't think it's so new. Like, if you think about music for example, you could think about the double album from Outkast. It's a little like that -- it's the Speakerboxxx/Love Below of indie games."
What happens now then? Well, the Windows, Mac and Linux versions of the game are still being finished up, but otherwise the hardest part is over. Corbetta will be joining Long Island University as faculty, while Foddy is faculty at NYU, and plans to work on some smaller projects soon.
And Wilson himself is planning to switch over to a new game soon. His studio Die Gute Fabrik is currently working on Mutazione, a gorgeous single-player adventure game -- "So basically as far removed from Joust as you can get" -- and he's producing, designing and programming on it.
"But we all live in New York, so we all see each other a lot, and in the future, I would love to do something with them, or some combination of them," he says of his sportsfriends. "I think the installation stuff was really great and I'm happy I spent a bunch of years doing it -- in fact I wrote most of my PhD about this kind of physical and multiplayer games."
"But I'm older now," he adds, "and I'm not quite in such a social environment since I've moved away from Copenhagen. I kind of want to try my hand at something a little different, but I hope I keep making weird installations on the side for fun. But yeah, it'll be nice to have a change of pace and try my hand at something else."
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