You may not know the name Jamie Fristrom, but there’s a good chance you know his work. Apart from being a long-time contributor to both Gamasutra and Game Devereloper, Jamie has been behind the development of such titles as Tony Hawk and Spider-Man. In fact, despite being an industry veteran, he is best known for his work on Activision‘s licensed Spider-Man games from the early 2000’s, and perhaps specifically for Spider-Man 2.
He is credited as the mastermind behind the dynamic web-swinging mechanic that turned 2004’s Spider-Man 2 into a critical and commercial success, and now, a decade since debuting the mechanic, Jamie is returning on his own to explore it’s potential with his upcoming title; Energy Hook. Though clearly influenced by his time with everyone’s favourite web-crawler, he’s blending the open-world swinging he pioneered with point-driven competition. This return to his roots has captured the imagination of not only fans, but developers as well; tantalizing the likes of the much-beloved Tim Schafer.
I spoke with Jamie briefly about his Energy Hook, and asked the developer about his reasoning behind re-exploring the mechanic.
It’s hard to believe it but there are actually some people who aren’t quite aware of your game. What’s your best “elevator pitch” for Energy Hook?
The internet’s a big place! Seth Godin once said, ‘Nobody ever bought anything on an elevator.’, so I usually lead with this: I was the one who originally prototyped the swinging gameplay in Spider-Man 2. Hopefully that gets somebody’s attention (if they’re not sick of hearing it, because I lead with it a lot) – and then I let them know I’ve gone indie and am working on a new game that’s all about swinging, wall-running and physical movement. And that’s Energy Hook.
What is it about the points-driven gameplay, perhaps most associated with extreme-sports games, that works so well with the traversal tools you’re implementing?
I think we like the acknowledgment that we’re cool. We do something badass in a game, and we want to turn to a friend and say, ‘Did you see what I just did?’ But often there are no friends around (or nobody’s subscribed to our twitch.tv channel) so it’s nice to have that impartial arbiter there, ‘Yes. I see you did there. You did a midair spin as you came off the web. That *was* cool. I’d give it 100 points.’ We can exhibit mastery at doing what the game does best.
You pioneered the award winning web-swinging that helped make 2004’s Spider-Man 2 a critical and commercial success. Now a decade since its release, what motivated you to approach the mechanic once again?
A few things came together. People were getting funded for revisiting nostalgic gameplay on Kickstarter; the tools–particularly Unity 3d–have gotten to the point where I can make a game as elaborate as the first Tony Hawk on a shoestring budget; and I can’t think of a 3D game that has ‘real’ swinging anymore–it’s been four years since Bionic Commando: Rearmed–so it seemed like somebody ought to make a game that does.
Sony recently entered into a partnership with Unity 3D, allowing developers to use the powerful tool to create fully-realized PlayStation Vita experiences. As a Unity Developer yourself, what does this mean to you?
That’s actually what makes the Vita version possible! Last year I was feeling out the possibility of using Unity on Sony platforms and their Vita support wasn’t ready. Now that they’ve stepped up and made it official, and I don’t have to pay for the license; I can afford to do this.
Since the game’s announcement you’ve received an out pour of support from fans, journalists and your peers in the industry. What does it mean to have the likes of Tim Schafer vocalize their excitement for Energy Hook?
It’s frickin’ great.
I’m kind of a dinosaur, and the conventional old-school wisdom was to stay in stealth mode as long as possible.
It’s well documented that you’ve been extremely transparent as to the evolution of Energy Hook as a product. Is this being candid with the community important to you as a developer?
It’s a new thing for me. I’m kind of a dinosaur, and the conventional old-school wisdom was to stay in stealth mode as long as possible. I’ve had to get over my fear that somebody will clone Energy Hook and do a better job than us. But yes, now that I’m doing it, I realize how foolish the old way was and how important it is to put myself out there and get people involved. Before, when I shipped a game, it was like throwing a dart blindfolded. Now I know what people think of the game and I can fix those problems, improving the game as much as possible before the budget runs out.
Though you initially had plans solely for other platforms, a partnership developed between yourself and Sony. Could you elaborate a bit about how that relationship began, and has since grown?
It started by working with Shahid [Ahmad, Senior Business Development Manager at SCEE] on Sixty Second Shooter Deluxe for PlayStation Mobile. That was the most painless developer/publisher relationship – I’m not sure we should even call it that – that I’ve ever experienced, so when he was casting about on Twitter for people to do exclusive Vita work I jumped at the chance.
In your post on the Official PlayStation Blog you made the bold statement that the PlayStation Vita is your favourite handheld. What makes Sony’s handheld favourable to you as a both a creator and a player?
As a creator, the twin sticks and back touch. The big problem with front touch is your damn finger is in the way. I wasn’t able to access that functionality with Sixty Second Shooter Deluxe; but I’m interested in experimenting to see if there’s something cool I can do with it with Energy Hook.
As a player, Super Crate Box. Name a better device to play Super Crate Box on. I dare you.
Your collaboration with PlayStation will continue into Energy Hook’s launch as you also announced that the game will launch first on PlayStation platforms. How did you come to the decision to debut the game on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita?
I don’t believe I have the resources to do simultaneous console development (Well, I could fake it, by finishing it on one platform and then waiting until the other one’s done before I launch..). So, given that, it just became a question of who did I most want to work with for that first console exclusive. Money was definitely a factor, but working with cool people on a cool handheld was important too.