Friends forever: The story of Sportsfriends
May 5, 2014 Page 2 of 3
Sticking with the sporty theme meant that more months dragged on, and no fourth game was showing its face. Then, as the summer was drawing to a close, final Joust publisher negotiations fell through, and Wilson said, "Screw it, we're gonna throw in Joust" -- thus, the package was complete.
"It's a pretty weird choice, to be honest," muses the dev. "This has been a big messaging problem for us. Joust is this physical installation game, but the other games are couch games. So then some people think that all the games are motion-control games, which isn't true. Then the people who want BaraBariBall and Pole Riders probably think Joust is this weird, dumb kids' game."
"But I think we decided early on that that tension would be productive -- at least, that was the hope," he adds. "The presence of Joust points to this more radical future beyond the screen, and really tries to appeal to a larger crowd of people who maybe didn't grow up with video games. But then it also tries to get traditional video gamers into this motion control stuff, while using Joust as a sugar-coating."
This is part of why Sportsfriends remains as a local multiplayer only game, rather than featuring online or AI features. The team wants to invoke a sort of spectator, performative reception for the collection of games, and having Joust in there in particular signals, "No, this is a physical, in-person experience."
Of course, internet forums and comments sections are already filling up with people complaining about the lack of online play. "And we know we're going to face that," notes Foddy. "But for me, the whole point of the project is to recreate the feeling that we had at those events, which was super significant for us, and for other people as well."
"I love games like Samurai Gunn and Towerfall, but we thought the sword/gunplay genre was already established, and it'd be cool to do this game that was a little bit more abstract."
"What we're trying to do is open people's eyes to something that is new. Video game fans have found what they love and enjoy, and I think they feel threatened by people who are trying to change what video games are, and what they mean. There's a certain kind of defensiveness, which is sort of understandable at one level.
"But what we're hoping is that the games themselves will be convincing enough, that after a struggle, friction, a kind of argument with those people, we'll win them around with the way that you feel -- the joy that you can have when you're playing these sorts of games."
"That's the hope," he adds. "Of course it won't work for everybody, but we just hope that for some people, the experience itself will be a compelling argument."
The team is wary of appearing defensive on this stance, giving players the impression that online could have been implemented, but the developers just didn't because it would be additional work. The fact is that most of the games wouldn't even work as online experiences.
"We've been talking about doing a video of us playing Joust online, standing in different rooms, dancing around by ourselves," laughs Foddy. "I hope that point will be obvious to people, but maybe it won't be. We'll see."
Let's get back to the Sportsfriends story. At the end of 2012, the team ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for the game, which essentially turned the idea into reality. I asked both Foddy and Wilson how the Kickstarter came about.
"You'll have to ask Doug, because honestly, I don't even remember," laughs Foddy.
"I don't actually remember either," Wilson adds. "I don't remember one big moment where it was like, 'Ah, Kickstarter!' I think Kickstarter was just so in the water by 2012."
In fact, it turns out that one of the biggest factors in taking Sportsfriends to Kickstarter came from an unlikely source -- Sony.
"It turned out that making console games is crazy difficult and expensive!"
"The Sony people, especially Nick Suttner [account support manager at SCEA], really have their ears to the ground," says Wilson. "Nick was a big fan of the games, and he was kinda separately encouraging me to do something with Joust. He had been, through that whole period, talking to me, and now he was also getting interested in Hokra."
So when the concept for Sportsfriends began gathering speed, and then the Joust publisher dealings fell through, Wilson realized -- hang on a minute, what if we do this with Sony?
"Nick was excited, so we got talking about that," Wilson continues. "But it turned out that making console games is crazy difficult and expensive! We're just this rag-tag team of artist-developers, not a proper company, but we were convinced that despite the fact that console development is difficult and expensive, it was the right fit."
The living room was the right space for Sportsfriends, and Joust already utilized PlayStation Move controllers, so Sony seemed like the perfect company to pick up Sportsfriends. But just like all the other publishers that Wilson had been dealing with, there was no way that Sony was going to foot the bill for such an outlandish concept.
"We knew we had to fund it, and we knew none of us had the time or skill to program it," he recalls. "Bennett actually ended up doing much of the programming, but we really needed to have a full-time programmer, doing a proper port development job. So we knew we needed money, and we didn't really have any money... I guess that's where Kickstarter was a natural fit."
But Sony still wanted to be a part of the project, and as such, came up with a part-solution. Sportsfriends became the first ever (and, right now, last) Kickstarter to be fully endorsed by Sony, with posts on both the company's PlayStation blog and Twitter feeds.
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