Paste talks to Hokra designer Ramiro Corbetta about the Kickstarter campaign for the local multiplayer videogame compilation Sportsfriends.
Hokra was one of my favorite games at E3 this past June. It turned me and three strangers into immediate but temporary friends as we tussled for dominance in what’s essentially a digital version of Keep Away. I was impressed by both its simplicity and by how it recreated that feeling of playing old NES or 2600 sports games with my friends, before the internet and adulthood walled us all off in our own living rooms.
Sportsfriends, a potentially upcoming compilation of games for the PlayStation 3, PC, Mac and Linux, is entirely devoted to local multiplayer. It will include Hokra and three other games, including Douglas Wilson’s festival hit Johann Sebastian Joust, Noah Sasso’s Barabariball and Bennett Foddy’s Super Pole Riders. In addition to help from Sony’s Pub Fund, the four designers have turned to Kickstarter to fund the finished product. With the Kickstarter campaign’s December 10 completion date approaching, I asked Hokra designer Ramiro Corbetta about the genesis of Sportsfriends, the importance of local multiplayer, and why they need a Kickstarter campaign to finish the project despite their relationship with Sony.
Paste: Why do local multiplayer games appeal to you?
Ramiro Corbetta: From a social standpoint I feel like we’ve pulled away from the idea of local multiplayer games, either because online multiplayer games are around, and single-player is becoming a bigger thing at the same time, or maybe because I’m getting older. I’m not in high school or college any more—I’m lucky enough if a good friend lives in the same building as me, I don’t have people over all the time anymore. I miss that. Maybe I’m wrong but I believe that’s happening overall in games where people aren’t coming together as much. They’re playing on the internet. There’s a social aspect to games that’s being lost there. There’s nothing wrong with online play, I do it a lot and I love it, but there’s a different level of human interaction that can happen once you’re in a room with someone.
For me Hokra is very much a selfish interest. I wasn’t saying “I’m going to make a game that’s going to change how people play games”. It was more along the lines of “I’m going to make a game that I really care about playing”, and when I really think about what I really care about, it’s these memories I have of growing up and playing games with my brother or my friends. Probably my most exciting game memories were with other people in the same space that I was.
Also I was hanging out at Babycastles a lot and being in a space like that where people are coming together to play games allowed me to make a minimalist spots game like Hokra. I had play testers around all the time. It’s hard to work by yourself on a four-player multiplayer game. When I made changes to the game it was nice to have a place I was going to regularly where I could just bring my computer and bring my controllers and there’d be people who’d want to play.
And then I got commissioned by NYU to make a game for their No Quarter exhibition, which is where they commission a few people each year to just make games and you own the games but the one rule is the first time you show the game publically it has to be at the No Quarter exhibition. that gave me extra incentive to work towards this . I thought “there’s going to be a lot of people in this same space. how can I make a game that’s really fun to play and also fun to watch?” I had started very early work on Hokra before the commission but I ended up using that commission time to really make the game that I wanted to make.
Paste: So Hokra is a four-player game. What if you can’t find three friends to play? Would you consider adding computer-controlled opponents?
Corbetta: I’m not going to say I’ll never make any artificial intelligence for Hokra. I’ll tell you I don’t want to. What I want you and me to do is to call our friends over and try to actually make something out of this. I understand that I’m kind of cornering myself here by doing this, but I’m hoping that when Hokra is out you’ll say “okay, I guess I’ll call my friends over and hang out and have some beers and actually make a night out of it” instead of what we do now, and what I do most of the time. I play a lot of FIFA alone at home against the computer. Maybe I’m making the wrong choice economically but I want to create these deeper, more interesting experiences, and honestly Hokra isn’t going to be nearly as good if you don’t have other players with you. I’m trying to make the best possible game. Maybe I’ll do something where you can do some things with single-player, but that will never be what Hokra is supposed to be.
Paste: How did you and the other three designers come up with the idea for Sportsfriends?
Corbetta: Doug [Wilson, designer of Johann Sebastian Joust] and I had been talking a lot. Doug had played Hokra a bunch and really liked it, and I had played a lot of Joust, and we had been talking about how to get these kinds of games out into people’s hands. Initially Hokra more than Joust, and early on we weren’t even talking about Joust as being part of this. We wondered if Hokra was a large enough product by itself to get attention. We wondered how we could get people motivated to get together and play these local multiplayer games, and how we could put something together that people buy not because they like one game but more because they like that style of play. That’s the idea behind Sportsfriends. Doug and I approached some friends and started talking to other people who were making local multiplayer games in the indie community, games that we really liked and cared about, and ended up talking to Bennett Foddy, who made QWOP and this game Pole Riders that we really liked. We talked to him about expanding it and making it into a bigger game, almost like a sequel to Pole Riders, and that’s what Super Pole Riders is. And Bari Bari Ball is this kind of mix of Smash Bros. with volleyball by Noah Sasso, who’s a friend of mine from New York. I had played it a bunch, and we passed it around and Doug and Bennett were big fans of it too. It all made sense. We didn’t get together and decide to each make a game, we were all working on these games separately but they all had a connection. And we were definitely influenced by each other’s work as we were making our games.
Paste: How is Sony helping you out?
Corbetta: We’re part of Sony’s Pub Fund program. They’re being super supportive in terms of [promotion]. Their twitter is writing about us all the time, and we’ve written posts for the PlayStation blog. If you opened the PlayStation’s web browser a week or two ago there was an ad for our Kickstarter in there. We’re definitely being supported by Sony in a bunch of ways. They’ve been super awesome, but we’re making these games if we make our Kickstarter goal. They’re supportive to the point where we can make a game with the Kickstarter.
Paste: So if you don’t make your goal will that be the end of Sportsfriends?
Corbetta: We haven’t…the one thing I didn’t know about a Kickstarter campaign is how much work goes into a Kickstarter campaign. Even with four of us. It’s so much work that we haven’t even had time to think about that possibility. If it doesn’t work out, then we’ll regroup and figure it out. I’m staying optimistic. From the numbers I’ve seen, 75% of Kickstarter campaigns that hit 40% of their goal make it all the way, and we’re over 50% now. I’m hoping that we get the big final push when people realize that they really want these games.
I don’t know what happens if we don’t make it. We’re doing this to get money to port all these games to the PS3. All these games are made in completely different engines. We need to pay someone, probably two people, to completely reprogram these games so they can be released on PS3, PC, Mac and Linux, and basically make them all work together, which means a graphic designer to do the menu work, and music for the menus. We’re trying to put it into one cohesive package. Without the Kickstarter money we can’t do that. We’re not a company. It’s not like we’re making a bunch of games and this is just one of the ones we’re working on. We’ve come together as a group just to make this one thing. We don’t have a bank account to go back to.
We’ll soon be hitting 2000 people who care enough about our product to give us money a year before it’s done. It’s amazing. It feels so special that we’re getting so much support. On the one hand, I’m like, oh man, we’re not at our goal yet. On the other hand I can’t believe that 2000 people have given us over $70000 just out of either being super nice or actually caring about what we’re doing. From an ego standpoint, it’s really cool. It’s interesting to learn how much work marketing and PR is, though. I’ve always been a designer, a developer, and never had to worry about anything else. But it’s amazing how much more work you have to do beyond making a game to make a game successful.
Paste: If you weren’t a designer on Sportsfriends, but just a person interested in one or more of these four games, which Kickstarter incentive would you be most interested in?
Corbetta: [Laughing] Definitely the $10,000 one. I’d probably actually give $20,000. $10,000 isn’t enough money for how much value this package gives you.
No, if I was just a guy who really wanted to play these games, I’m not a big collector, I’m not too into physical things personally, so I’d go for the $60 award, which gives you the game when it comes out, the alphas of Joust, Hokra and Barabariball very soon, with Joust and Hokra just about a week or two after the Kickstarter is over, and then it includes three more games, one that I’m working on, a special version of QWOP and this game Miracle Adventure that Noah made. And like all the other categories you get a copy of Tennes from JW [Jan Willem Nijman], the guy who made Super Crate Box. I’d go for the pile of games level.
For more information on Superfriends, visit its Kickstarter campaign.