The PlayStation Vita stands one the great beacons for indie developers, playing host to some of unique and creative titles available on the market. Whether games are ports of existing properties or naively designed, Sony’s handheld seems to attract some of the most talented independent developers in the world. In fact, fostering strong and long-lasting relationships with creators has been the main focus for the PlayStation brand for some time now, and it continues to be moving forward.
One of the many ways that that PlayStation has been able to amass such a great stable of content is through its ever-growing PS Mobile platform, which stretches across multiple devices; including Sony’s very own PlayStation Vita. As the suite has evolved they have extended themselves to the development community by allowing creators various freedoms, such as the ability to publish titles to the platform without being subject to a Publisher License Fee. By removing these obstacles they’ve been able to facilitate new relationships, many of which are beginning to bear fruit.
UK based studio XMPT Games are a great example of how this collaborative philosophy can benefit both Sony, as well as the developers themselves. The small team has already released the popular titles Monster Hotel and Penguin Party on the mobile service, and recently revealed that their “next” title, Project Revenant, would follow suit. However, today in a surprising move the studio has just announced on their official blog that they are working on their fourth title on PS Mobile, Frisbee Combat League.
I caught up with Luke Staddon of XMPT Games to not only find out more exclusive information about their newly unveiled game, but also to find out what makes PS Mobile such a great fit for the four-man studio.
Brian Sharon: You’ve just announced Frisbee Combat League. Could you share a bit about the premise for the game?
Luke Staddon: Frisbee Combat League is an arena-based arcade game where you battle other players in a series of competitions. Players use the sticks on the Vita to throw frisbees at other characters; beat the other team to a high score to win the match. Frisbees bounce off pretty much everything they hit so once a few have been let loose, the game gets frantic! We’re hoping to have a number of game modes in FCL. There are team matches, a wave based mode where you fight off clones and bosses, as well as a couple of crazier ideas we’ve had. All of this will be available as a series of single player modes, but we’re also going to have a few multiplayer options too.
Conceptually, Frisbee Combat League is quite original. Where did the idea for the game stem from?
LS: One of our programmers, Richard, wanted to a work on a small project that he could call his own, so over Christmas he began prototyping ideas and came up with what is now the basis of Frisbee Combat League. He had recently played Super Crate Box and wanted to capture the arcade feel of that. The goal was to have a game that was really fun to play; something that you could pick up in minutes. The other aim was to ensure that lose didn’t feel like it had large consequences. Instead, we wanted a player to be able to get back in to the action as quickly as possible. We think that Frisbee Combat League meets those goals.
When we first start game jamming, we often used the ‘Random name game generator’ (http://videogamena.me/) to choose our theme. One of our favourite titles was ‘Tactical Frisbee Espionag’, so when Richard began thinking about concepts to base this arena game around, Frisbees immediately sprang to mind! Once he’d settled on Frisbees as a gameplay mechanic, it didn’t take long for a battle arena concept to come together.
In addition to Super Crate Box, Dive Kick inspired us to create something that was really easy to get the hang of. We liked the idea of having each set of characters bring their own unique set of skills to the table, rather than piling mechanics on to the core game.
When it came to designing the artwork style, we drew from early gameboy colour games, such as Pokemon, to get reference for the type of sprites that we wanted to use for the characters. Street Fighter and similar fighting games were also an influence for each of the characters portraits and other non-pixel artwork.
You mentioned earlier that Frisbee Combat League will include some multiplayer options, could you offer a bit of insight as to what type of gameplay players can expect?
LS: We think that Frisbee Combat League is the sort of game that lends itself well to a multiplayer experience. We’re currently planning to support two types of multiplayer.
The first multiplayer mode is a nod to the days before connectivity between console systems were commonplace. Players get one half of the Vita each. The analogue stick moves their character, and the shoulder button barrages their opponent with frisbees.
The second multiplayer mode is a networked deathmatch, where teams take each other with frisbees (or dodges if you don’t have any left). It’s a timed deathmatch. Players try to score as many points as possible by hitting [opponents] in arena combat. The finer details of how this mode works aren’t finalised just yet, but we expect it to operate similarly to the local multiplayer mode. However, we want to try it out and see what’s fun, before we commit to anything.
We are also looking at adding co-operative versions of each mode. Players will work together to overcome hordes of AI enemies. This will be similar to the main single player campaign, but tuned for two players instead.
In an industry that not long ago adopted a “bigger is better” attitude, lately it seems that “less is more”. What is it about these “pure” gaming experiences, like Super Crate Box, that still cuts to the core of gamers in the 2014?
LS: There are a number of reasons. The rise of mobile platforms has played a major role. It has meant that, in order to stand out on the marketplace and encourage word of mouth, many games need to be simple enough to pick up quickly. A game that’s easy to pick up and play makes for an experience that is easy to share with others.
You also see it in the types of developers around at the moment. Many people have turned from playing games to making them and they are keen to replicate some of the experiences they had in their youth. This has lead to a revival of these old arcade experiences. The ease of access to development tools and sheer simplicity of mechanics also helps. Developers like us can quickly prototype a concept and show it to others. Taking Frisbee Combat League as an example, Richard was able to mock up a prototype in a few hours, refine it and then show it to the rest of us running on a Vita very quickly. It’s very powerful to have such a short turn-around time from concept to playable build.
More generally, as gamers we think it’s nice to take a break from AAA games every once in while. Whilst these blockbuster games are fantastic. It’s great to take a step back and purchase something that you can play in an evening or with a few friends. It’s certainly friendly on your wallet too!
“Although Frisbee Combat League is on PlayStation Mobile, we have decided to unapologetically aim it at Vita users, rather than those on Android”.
As a studio you’ve been staunch supporters of the PlayStation Mobile platform. Will this game fall under the same banner?
LS: Yes. Sony made it very easy for us to develop for the platform, and to promote our games once they were out there. Our formation as a company also happened to coincide with the launch of PlayStation Mobile.
Although Frisbee Combat League is on PlayStation Mobile, we have decided to unapologetically aim it at Vita users, rather than those on Android. We designed our previous two titles with a touchscreen in mind, which meant that they sat well on either platform. However, we felt that Frisbee Combat League was built around the sort of classic arcade gameplay that gamepad controls were designed for. As such, we didn’t want to water down this experience by trying to spread ourselves too thinly. That being said, we’re not ruling out porting it other platforms, like PC.
Recently you revealed that you were working on Project Revenant. Being a small team, which project are you planning to focus on at this time?
LS: As we mentioned earlier, Frisbee Combat League was a project that Richard created over Christmas while the rest of us were opening our presents! We all loved the prototype so much, that we decided to focus on it fully, in order to get it out as soon as possible.
Balancing our time on different projects is an interesting challenge. We always have more ideas than we’re ever able to work on at one time, so helping each other focus on our main project is key. This is likely an issue for lot of indies, so the best piece of advice we could give for new studios is to focus on seeing a project through to the end. Going through the entire process really helps you understand which bits are important and which bits aren’t. We try to focus on, at most, two projects at a time. Frisbee Combat League is quite far along, so it’s just Richard working on that at the moment. The rest of us are hard at work on Project Revenant.
The “Experiments” program at XMPT seems to be quite integral to your creative process. How does the collaborative exercise benefit you as developers?
LS: All four of us got involved in the studio because we love making games. We all really enjoy participating in game jams, and find them very useful. This, combined with our excess of ideas and shortage of time, led to the Experiements moniker. Every now and again, we like to take a break from our main project and do something a little bit different. This usually involves us setting aside two solid days, during which we aim to design and implement a concept from start to finish.
Sometimes we participate in jams publicly, sometimes we just organise them internally for ourselves. Either way, we find that it’s a great way to try out more off-the-wall concepts, to see if they are fun. When the two days are over, we may turn the project in to a full game, we may release it for free as is, or we may just keep it an internal prototype.
As it happens, Monster Hotel came from our first self-organised game jam. We put out a request on our Facebook page for game jam topics, put them all in a hat, and picked one out. The topic we ended up with was ‘Harmony’. Prior to pulling that topic out, we hadn’t even discussed anything that remotely resembled Monster Hotel. The core game was completed by four of us in two solid days of work. We then spent about four weeks testing, adding a few bits of polish, and refining the gameplay.
Currently you are hoping to attend Rezzed later this spring. What do you feel these indie-focused events lend to studios like yourselves?
LS: We definitely think it’s valuable to go to events like Rezzed, as an exhibitor or attendee. These events shine a spotlight on the indie community and help attract a large number of interested members of the public, which is great when you’re an indie exhibitor and are looking to get your game in front of as many people as possible. Late last year we showed off Monster Hotel at Explay 13 in Bath; it was our first time exhibiting anywhere. It was great to speak to fans, and find out what they thought of the game. We gained some valuable feedback. As an attendee, an event like this offers a great way to speak directly to other developers. We went to Rezzed 2013 and spoke to some cool, like-minded developers and got an insight into how they work. It’s also good to just play some games that we may have overlooked!
Whether it be through native or PlayStation Mobile development, it’s clear that PlayStation Vita has become a haven for independent creators. What makes the console such a great fit for indie developers like yourselves?
LS: Sony have a great attitude towards indie developers. For us, there was a very clear path of progression from PlayStation Mobile to other Sony platforms, so we thought it would be a great place to prove ourselves. That being said, I don’t think we’ll ever stop developing for Vita.
Sony have been taking large strides towards making their platforms more accessible to developers. We owe a lot to guys like Steven Barber, Shahid Kamal Ahmad and Ben Andac.
The other bonus that PlayStation Mobile provided over other platforms was its scale. We are developers and artists at heart, rather than businessmen. As such, we thought that our games may have gotten lost on a platform like Android or iOS. PlayStation Mobile provides a great starting point, as it’s very rare for a game on it to just get lost in the crowd.
When will people be able to get an early look at Frisbee Combat League?
LS: Now that we’ve announced the game officially, we’ll be looking to post in-game footage and more in-depth details on our blog over the next few weeks. If anyone would like to make requests as to what they would like us to post, then feel free to drop us a Facebook message or tweet us @xmptgames.
Check out more exclusive screenshots of Frisbee Combat League below: