When Kick and Fennick released as a free game on PS+, I’m sure that not many people had this game on their radar as a “must-play” title. However, after spending several hours (OK, days actually) of playing this charming game, I’ve discovered just how surprising it is. The debut title from the two-man team at Jaywalkers Interactive is so well polished that it’s hard to believe it was done by such a small studio.
Recently I was able to catch up with the two responsible for the game, Laurens Bruins and Vincent Bonefaas, and ask them a few questions about their studio, their game, and what the future holds for Jaywalkers Interactive.
Jaywalkers Interactive is a small team featuring just two people. What is your background in games and how did you two decide to form this studio?
Laurens: We both started out as artists almost 10 years ago, in a small company called Coded Illusions. Most of us were still in school and very green, we had the opportunity to work on a big console game. It was a dream come true, and we learned a lot, not only on making games, but also about our biggest passions in gaming, which for Vincent is animation and for me is game design. When the plug was pulled on the big project we were working on and we were facing bankruptcy, we developed some very cool prototypes on which I was one of the game designers while Vincent moved to a lead animator position. Vincent and I became good friends because our ideas about why we love games were well aligned, and we both love animation. Unfortunately, while we had a lot of hope we were on the right path and a lot of faith in the concepts, it all came too late. We’d been burning money on the big game and when the economy crashed, our private investors couldn’t keep the company afloat any longer.
We moved to Playlogic who were well on their way with their game Fairytale Fights and about a year away from releasing it on PS3 and X360. A great company with lots of great people, but a déjà vu in many ways, as it was a fairly inexperienced team trying to tackle a big project again. Vincent was lead animator, while I moved from level designer to lead level designer. Many long nights were had, but we managed to release the game. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, the game was met with less than stellar reviews. Shortly after, Vincent’s life turned upside down due to some personal issues, so that motivated him to go for broke and be an independent developer.
I didn’t dare to take that step yet and stayed at Playlogic where we developed quite a cool DLC for Fairytale Fights, while working with Vincent in the evenings to come up with ideas he could develop during the day. The DLC was turning out pretty well, but sales of the main game disappointed so it got canned (when we were pretty much done with it). Again, just like at Coded, we started developing some very cool, small concepts for XBL and PSN for which I was one of the game designers again. Unfortunately though, it was too late again and Playlogic filed for bankruptcy.
That burned me out quite a bit. It’s awesome to work in games, but it’s hard work with many long hours, and when you aren’t really reaping the rewards, it’s a tough job! It was frustrating to say the least. After that, I had a small venture at yet another game company where I had the opportunity to design a series of fighting
games after we finished the current project but… once we finished that, the fighting games were put on hold. Some cool small concepts were developed… yet again… but as you might expect by now, it was too late.
The opportunities in the Netherlands kind of ran out, so I had to choose whether to leave friends and family behind and find my luck abroad, or join Vincent on this adventure. The latter happened and now we’re here!
Where did the idea for Kick and Fennick come from? Can you provide a little insight into the history of its development?
The idea for Kick & Fennick started by thinking back to our childhood adventures, running around with pinecone grenades and big sticks acting as superguns. In our imagination, the guns were so big we could launch ourselves in the air with the massive recoil. That sparked an idea about a little boy with a very big gun using it to jump around with. We also wanted to make a game that would work well on touch screens, so through lots of prototyping and trying out various ideas, we eventually came up with Kick & Fennick.
What made you decide to make the game exclusively for the PlayStation Vita? Are you Vita fans?
Kick & Fennick didn’t start out as a Vita game (and it won’t be a Vita exclusive forever) but when we first showed the game at Gamescom a few years ago, we got some great reactions from the people we showed it to and were invited to join Indigo, a small Indie gameshow in the Netherlands hosted by the Dutch Games Garden. This is where we met the guys from Greenhill who thought it would be a perfect fit for Vita and that’s how the ball started rolling. The whole process took quite a bit longer than we expected, but we’re very happy and quite proud seeing our game on PSN and launching worldwide. The Vita is awesome, we both have one and it’s crazy seeing our game up in the store!
What kind of games do the two of you enjoy to play?
Vincent: I used to say the old Fallout games (1 and 2) and Monkey Island (1,2,3) are the best games I have ever played, but I think The Last of Us has taken the crown for me. I really love post-apocalyptic settings and story driven games. Gameplay wise I’m most fond of character action games with RPG elements. The Last of Us just nails all of those things perfectly. I’m also a big fan of Dark Souls and EA UFC, although its kind of embarrassing how bad I lose to Laurens in the latter.
Laurens: I enjoy any type of game as long as it’s well made. There are so many great games. Anything from Naughty Dog is an instabuy, they’re the kings of game development as far as I’m concerned. Their quality and attention to detail is just astonishing. Same goes for Rockstar, Red Dead Redemption is almost perfect in my book. I don’t think I’ve ever been so engrossed in a world as in RDR. Mostly though, I’m a fan of game mechanics and the feeling they give when it’s executed well. I absolutely love the animation of Shadow of the Colossus and I can never get enough of beating things up in games like God of War with all its epic set-pieces and smooth combat that make me feel like a badass. I’m absolutely addicted to FIFA. If I could
only play one game for the rest of my life that would be it, it’s endless fun. I love racing in rFactor. Portal, especially the first one, was incredible. Civilization is fantastic. I could go on and on! I just love games.
How has the launch been going for you? Are you relieved it’s out there, or nervous with finding out what people think of your game?
It’s been an insane roller-coaster of emotions. We’re excited and terrified at the same time. It’s awesome.
Have you been surprised with the reaction the game is getting?
Very much so! We didn’t really know what to expect anymore, because we’ve lost all perspective on the game, but the reactions from players are so great to see. It’s exhilarating and such a relief after working on it for a long time. We definitely never thought we would get this amount of enthusiasm.
The game was released as a free game in Sony’s PlayStation Plus program. Was the decision to go this route a difficult one?
It was a very tough call to go with PS+. We are compensated by Sony, but if it’s more or less than what we would have earned without it, no one knows.
However, there are more upsides to the PS+ deal than just the direct financial stuff. Going with PS+ gives us a ton of exposure. We’re just two guys, and we don’t have the means or the money to advertise our game a lot. Now it’s in the spotlight, we can do promotions, new deals, our studio is put on the map, you name it. Sure, we are cannibalizing our sales in the short term by giving it away for free, but on the other hand, all this ‘free’ exposure is worth a lot of money too! We’ll give away a lot of downloads with Plus but all the exposure might give us more sales over time than we would have had if we didn’t go with Plus and be buried by much bigger releases with lots of marketing dollars.
It was the toughest call we had to make, but we’re in this for the long run. We plan on making a lot more games. Kick & Fennick should be only the beginning, so it’s kind of our calling card as well. We want to get ourselves out there and make sure a lot of people know who we are and that we make fun, polished games on little to no budget that are worth the money. Maybe the next time you hear about a game by Jaywalkers Interactive, it will capture your attention a bit quicker or just buy it straight up because you trust our games will be fun. Or maybe some rich guy will come along and give us a fat stack of cash so we can make a bigger and better game. Press will also be more inclined to write about us, because they know who we are already. Maybe when someone asks about cool game to download in a few months, people will tell them to get Kick & Fennick!
For such a small time developer like us, step one is to get your name out there. It’s a highly competitive industry with new games coming out all the time, so you have to do something to stand out! But was it the smartest thing to do? I have no idea…
Whatever happens, a lot of people will play our game, and that’s a cool thing in and of itself!
You said that you want Kick and Fennick to be your studio’s “calling card.” What do you want people to know about your studio? What does the game say about the two of you?
We’ve been working in big teams for a while before Jaywalkers and the toughest thing about that was seeing all the overhead and inefficiencies that come with that. We always wanted to do things differently – hence Jaywalkers – and thought we could do a lot with very little. Of course, Kick & Fennick has nowhere near the scope of these games. We’re two guys and there’s only so many things we can do, but we still wanted to make a ‘real’ game with a little bit of a story, a beginning and an end, 3D graphics, a fair amount of levels and good animations. We would like people to think Kick & Fennick is a tight and polished game that is worth the money. If we’re successful is for others to decide, but that’s what we’ve set out to do, and will
continue to try and do in the future.
Jaywalkers Interactive is a two man team, but Abstraction Games also played a part in this game’s development. What was their level of participation, and how was the experience of working with them?
Abstraction Games is fully responsible for porting the game to the Vita. We’ve known the guys at Abstraction Games for a long time. We’ve worked with Erik Bastianen and Ralph Egas – the founders of Abstraction Games – at Playlogic and they’re great guys, so they were a perfect fit for us. Besides that, they are well known at Sony for the consistent top quality they put out, and Sony also wanted us to go with them
for the Vita port.
Working with Abstraction has been great. They really went above and beyond in making the game the best it can be on Vita, and we’ve spent many a night crunching together doing just that. The whole team was great, but Mike van Mourik and Erik Bastianen deserve a special mention for their amazing badassery.
Abstraction Games is credited with the “adaptation” of the game. From what was it adapted?
We originally created Kick & Fennick in Unity. Abstraction Games created a unique system that converts our code and assets to work in Sony’s PhyreEngine. This process allowed us to keep polishing and help out on our end, while they got everything running on Vita.
Netherlands seems to be the hot-spot recently for new game developers. We’ve seen an abundance of high quality games coming from Dutch studios in recent years. Any idea as to why this sudden surge in talent from such a small nation?
Everyone is willing to help each other out and there are many initiatives, such as the Dutch Game Garden, to help foster these relationships and help new indie studios grow. We aren’t that involved with the DGG as they are more focused on education and getting students a head start, but during our time in console development we made many friends and connections that are always open to give advise. One of our long
time friends and a few of our old colleagues work at the famous Guerilla Games. We’re also good friends with the guys over at Sparpweed who made the lovely Ibb & Obb, Palladin Studios who greeted us with open arms when we asked for their thoughts and advise on releasing Kick & Fennick and our old colleagues at Vertigo Games who are developing World of Diving for the Oculus Rift. I think because we’re such a small country, everyone in games knows each other in some way and reaching out or meeting up is easy, which creates a very positive and welcoming atmosphere.
It has taken you guys three years to create this game, and now that it’s done, what is next for you? Will we have to wait another three years to see your next project?
We certainly don’t hope so! We’ve learned a lot during this project, and we’ll be able to create something new a lot faster and better than before. Also, I don’t think we would survive another 3 year project anytime soon! As for what’s next, apart from Kick & Fennick, first up is an update to our Oculus Rift project: Blue
Marble. We made that about a year and a half ago when we needed a little break from Kick & Fennick and has since been downloaded more than 80,000 times, but it doesn’t support the latest developer kit yet and we’re still getting a lot of requests for that, so we really want to do that. After Blue Marble we have a couple of ideas ready to go!
And for my last question, let’s make it a fantastical one. If you had unlimited resources and could make any type of game imaginable, what would your dream game be?
I think most of all we both love big, highly cinematic and extremely polished games such as Uncharted, The Last of Us and God of War, so it would probably be a big, epic, cinematic character action game in which you can kick some ass and be awesome!
Laurens and Vincent, I’d like to thank you so much for your time, and wish you both the best of luck on the launch of Kick and Fennick.
Kick and Fennick is currently available in Europe and North America with Japan and Asia to follow soon. It is free for PS+ subscribers in February or $7.99/£6.49/€7.99/AU$11.99 for non-subscribers.