Slam Bolt Scrappers Interview with Eitan Glinert
I asked Eitan Glinert, Fire Hose Games' very own Fire Chief, a series of brain melting questions. Fueled by Cheerios and Everclear, Eitan survived to tell us why FHG work with SOE, what he thinks about game demos, what he dislikes about motion control - and even reveals two additional character names for the first time!
CS: Can you talk a little bit about the Fire Hose Games beginnings? Give us an origin story!
EG: We were just a bunch of normal nerds until we were bitten by a radioactive spider, exposed to gamma radiation, and had our parents brutally murdered in front of us. It was a pretty crazy day! At that point we developed superpowers and started making video games in a misguided effort to fight crime. That was back in 2008, and we've been going ever since! Beforehand I was a graduate student at MIT doing research on how to make video games more accessible, and before that I was making an educational video game that taught immunology to high school students. Fun stuff!
CS: Advice for anyone thinking of opening their own studio?
EG: Oh man, where to start? Here's a few pointers: have at least one person on the team with 3+ years experience making games commercially, have one person on the team dedicated to finding money, make friends with lots of game developers smarter than you and lean on them heavily for advice, and don't be afraid to ask others for help. Oh, and you should make a game too. That would be helpful.
CS: For those that haven’t read my super awesome preview from PAX Prime, can you talk a little bit about Slam Bolt Scrappers' premise and gameplay?
EG: Sure! SBS is a unique multiplayer mash up of building and brawling.
Either watch the video below, or read this:
Basically you fly around and get colored blocks by beating up these charming little baddies. Once you've got a few colored blocks you can build with them in your tower, with your goal being to build big squares of the same color. Build big squares causes weapons to grow on your tower, with bigger squares leading to bigger weapons. The weapons then fight along side you, targeting baddies, other players, and of course the enemy's tower. The towers fight, and the last tower standing wins! The game is VERY fast paced and hectic, as you're trying to quickly fight other players and baddies while simultaneously build up these giant towers of destruction. Luckily we've added a bunch of power ups to help you along the way. If you like multiplayer party, fighting, or building games you are really going to love this!
CS: And what was it like coming up with Slam Bolt Scrappers as a game, which ideas ended up on the “reject” pile?
EG: It was nuts. The game that players will actually get is the 5th (!!!) version of the game; versions 1-4 didn't make the cut. We spent a full year prototyping before coming up with this final design. Here's a partial list of some of the features and ideas that got the ax on the path to release:
- Growing plants on your tower
- Building with bizarrely shaped tangram blocks
- Electrocuting baddies with live power lines and batting them away with steel I-beams
- Plugging up holes on a giant dam about to collapse
- And punching T-Rex from Dinosaur Comics, by Ryan North. Yes, that was actually in our game once upon a time.
Don't worry though - the version of the game you see now is WAAAAY better than the older versions. Once the game is out we'll probably put up some screenshots or video from the old versions and you'll understand why it evolved into what it currently is, and why we're really happy with the final result.
CS: Why SOE, and what has working with SOE been like?
EG: Because they're awesome and they let us be indie. We're a small studio of nutcase devs with what we like to think of as personality quirks (as opposed to disorders). We're making a really innovative game with some new, never before seen gameplay, and we needed creative freedom to bring SBS to life. Not only did SOE stay out of our way creatively, they actively supported us at every step of the way. When the game grew really big and we needed help testing, SOE was there for us. When we needed to translate the game into a bunch of languages for Europe SOE stepped up to the plate and took care of all of it for us. These are things we would have really struggled to do on our own. So in short it's been great working with SOE; they really let our indie creativity flourish while giving us the support we needed to get the game onto PSN quickly.
CS: What makes the game a good fit for PSN, and vice versa?
EG: PSN is going to be a great home for SBS because of how much the channel pushes the limits on a regular basis. If you've got something creatively weird then PSN is the place to be. PSN users are always willing to explore exciting new games that don't fit into any genre checkbox nicely (i.e. Flower, anything PixelJunk). Oh, and we're gonna stick out like a sore thumb on PSN :) A 1 to 4 player party/brawling/building game with full fledged co-op campaign and competitive battle modes? Fuhgeddaboutit.
CS: What I saw at PAX last Fall is only a small slice of the game, and I recall a (very resourceful) giant robot piling snow on the board, and a Volcano stage with lava damage - can you talk about the different levels and environments - and how they affect gameplay?
EG: Ha! Yup, they're still in there, and we've spruced up them and their levels a bunch. Each level has its own feel, and many affect game play. In Volcano City you build your tower on platforms that are scales suspended above lava; build too much on one side, and it'll dip down into the molten rock, taking tons of damage. To add a nice twist to the level we've added intermittent volcano explosions - I'm guessing you can imagine what that means. We've got a bunch of great new levels that we haven't shown off yet too, like Neon City which features a turbocharger which can temporarily boost all your weapons and make them fire twice as fast. We'll be showing off more of these levels leading up to launch!
Of course, levels aren't the only source of variety in the game. The game can play very differently depending on what weapon types you have available. So far we've shown off purple lasers, red missiles, and blue shields. In the video you can also see green drills which do continuous damage until punched, and orange ping pong paddles which bounce attacks back at the attacker's tower. And of course there are other weapons besides these too, including my favorite weapon in the game. No, we haven't revealed it yet! Check back in and we'll show you more soon.
CS: Let’s talk about hats - oodles of hats.
EG: So we pretty much think Dino Run is the best game ever and we totally want to mimic them. Seriously though, what's the point of brawling if you can't have look good while punching your buddy in the face? The game features a ton of unlockable hats, all of which are tied to in game challenges. Want that Jolly Roger pirate hat? You'd best get to work stealing blocks from your friend's tower. All of the trophies in the game are tied to hats as well, so if you get a trophy for doing something awesome then you also get a hat in game. It's a lot of fun! My favorite hat right now is the Fire Chief hat, but of course I have to say that.
CS: Can you talk about “Beverage Mode” and accessible gaming? (our N4G forum goers are familiar with AskACapper)
EG: Beverage mode is a way that you can play our game with only one hand, allowing you to multitask and... have a drink! Or eat a sandwich! Or, if you're sufficiently hardcore, dual wield controllers and play two characters at once. Even I have trouble with that. Our game also fully supports controller remapping, so you can change around the control scheme however you'd like and then save it for when you come back later.
Beverage mode is an offshoot from my graduate work at MIT where I did research on how to make video games with highly usable and accessible interfaces (what a mouthful!) If you ever have trouble getting to sleep you're welcome to pass out while trying to read my thesis on the subject ( http://www.firehosegames.co... ). In general I'm a strong proponent of making games as accessible as possible without breaking the gameplay, which is what Chuck (AskACapper) is all about. When we realized that we could dial down the number of buttons needed to play the game to one hand, we figured we had to make beverage mode.
CS: There seems to be a growing interest in co-op games (vs just online mutliplayer competitive titles), in what ways did that inform your game’s co-op mode?
EG: I love co-op games. I won't even play Rock Band without other people. They're just always more fun than playing by yourself, even if it means you lose more often or have more trouble getting through certain levels (New Super Mario Bros Wii, I'm looking at you). We always knew the game would have a 1-4 player co-op mode right from the start, and that affected a lot of our design decisions. Every level is designed to scale in difficulty with the number of players. All of the bosses have variable attack styles based on the number of players. Ideally we did the co-op part so well that you won't notice much a difference between playing on your own and playing with your friends.
CS: You’re not planning an online mode, which is a bold choice in these - often frightening - online multiplayer times, can you talk a little about that decision?
EG: I dunno, I don't think it's that bold of a choice. I've played Smash Bros a million times with people. You know how many times I've played Brawl online? Never. I know it's not going to win me many fans to say this, but I personally think that local multiplayer is ALWAYS more fun than online multiplayer. There's no lag, there's no inappropriate 13 year old cursing more than a sailor, and it's so much easier to laugh. Slam Bolt Scrappers isn't designed to be a hyper competitive game for people to play ranked matches against random strangers online. It's designed to be a really fun party game that you play with your friends while yelling at each other and the TV in the same room. That's how you have the most fun, and that's why we decided not to bother with online multiplayer.
CS: For those players without anyone to play co-op with, will you come to their house and play with them?
EG: I actually ship with the game. BE WARNED.
CS: What do you think of motion control?
EG: Ha! I think I have a chapter in my thesis written on this :) Motion controls make a lot of sense if it is appropriate for the game. Dance Central uses motion controls in a really neat and intuitive way, and the game is awesome as a result. Same thing for Bit.Trip Beat. Unfortunately a lot of games just dump it in for no reason or, even worse, try to use it as a substitute in a situation where a button press would do perfectly well (waggle controls, anyone?) In those cases I really dislike motion controls and wish developers wouldn't try to be cute.
CS: Does it have a place in your development?
EG: If it makes sense for one of our games absolutely. We've actually already worked on one motion controlled game and we might do it again if we have a good, appropriate idea. Between the Move, Kinect, NGP, and Wii I feel like we'll have plenty of opportunities.
CS: Power-ups are a big part of the game - and I recall from PAX you're partial to the dastardly Thief power-up - what are the rest of Fire Hose Games team’s favorite power-ups?
EG: The thief power up is heroic and awesome :) It does just what you'd think, letting you steal a weapon from the other team's tower. One guy here is really, really good with the comet power up, which lets you dash around the screen madly like a comet, destroying everything in your path. Another developer is partial to the monster, which in addition to turning you big and green makes you super powerful and lets you directly punch the other person's tower. So yeah, power ups play a HUGE role in our game.
CS: You recently had players help choose the names for two characters in the game, Zephyr, the angel, and Joule, the masked character. What about the other character names - like the two chosen by the Child’s Play auction winners?
EG: Oh man! GOOD MEMORY. We were gonna post them on our website soon, but you know what? If anyone has read this far in the interview they deserve the scoop. So here they are, the naming debut of two more characters: The girl is Pen Yen, and the demon is J.S. Bull. Both names have great stories behind them, we're really happy with the result.
CS: Will there be a demo?
EG: Demos are a developers way of saying "My game is quality, I stand by it. If you don't like my game, if you don't like my demo, don't give me your money." So what I'm saying is YES, our game will absolutely have a demo. And it'll rock your face off. We know that if people just play the game for a little bit they'll fall in love and want to pick up the full title.
CS: Provided infinite time and money, what sort of game would you want to make next?
EG: Great question. I want to go in some weird directions with my games in the future - I'd love to make a game that REALLY uses the Move + Eye or Kinect in a deep and meaningful way, something that hardcore gamers would like to play. That sort of thing is exactly what we know how to do, but alas when you're a small indie studio it's tough to line up those kinds of projects. Maybe soon we'll be able to do it!
CS: And finally, for anyone not paying attention in class, release date and price:
EG: The game is dropping in March, don't worry you won't have to wait long! Pricing we're not sure about yet, but it'll be reasonable.
Thanks for the interview! If you like what you've read, or if you just scrolled to the bottom because tl;dr, be sure to check out our website at www.firehosegames.com or follow us on the twitters and the facebooks as firehosegames.