Sportfriends is developed by a foursome of ingenuity rarely seen in the videogame world. Developers Noah Sasso, Ben Foddy, Doug Wilson and Ramiro Cobretta have created the Kickstarter package know as “Sportsfriends” Think of it like Wii U meet’s Werner Herzog.

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Andy
Borkowski
(AB): Kickstarter as a funding platform always breeds innovation, and today we are lucky; we get a foursome of innovation with Sportsfriends: a compendium of four incredibly varied and accomplished games, all available in one package. Now, this Kickstarter project has a lot of moving parts. Who are we talking to today, and how are each of you individually related to this phenomenal upcoming game?

Ramiro Corbetta (RC): So, I’m Ramiro Corbetta, I made a game called Hokra; that’s one of the four games that’s part of Sportsfriends.

Noah Sasso (NS): And I’m Noah Sasso, developer of Barabariball, another of the four games. And not present we have Ben Foddy and Doug Wilson, who are working on Super Pole Riders and Johann Sebastian Joust, respectively.

AB: Now, with this Kickstarter package, you are looking at four games for one – what exactly is Sportsfriends?

RC: So, Sportsfriends is a compilation of games. There are four games –  they’re completely different games; we each developed them separately, but we’re bringing them together as one game. So it’s not going to be like a bundle; it’s not like you get four separate files and you install them separately. It’s going to feel more like… we keep calling it the indie version of Wii Sports. It’s like you get into a menu and there are four different games in there, but they’re all tied together as one package. They’re one single game.

NS: Yeah, the thing that makes Sportsfriends […] make sense as a package, is that, well, other than being completely different and playing differently, they’re all kind of unified in that they’re all fictitious sports. Video games that are more about competition and playing with other people in the same place, rather than, I don’t know, that solitary single-player experience or telling a story or something.

AB: So there is a method to the madness![…] These are games that do have that common theme of “This is our amazing indie, innovative way of what a Wii Sports thing is,” kind of like that?

RC& NS: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

RC: I feel like people get a little confused because we say “Indie-like Wii Sports” and they think it’s all going to be motion controller games, and actually Johann Sebastian Joust is a motion-controller game but the other ones are all just normal, standard controller games.

NS: It’s more along the lines of them being local multiplayer games, and games that you come together with your friends and play them. It’s almost old-school […] this feeling of, you know, four friends sitting on a couch together and playing together or against each other and talking trash and all that.

AB: Harkening back to the era of split screen gaming, sort of thing.

RC:  That’s something that a lot of people have commented on, actually, is how that’s something that people don’t do much anymore; like Halo 4 is kind of a counter example but that’s one of the few games that you can bring home and play in the same room with your friends, because it features splitscreen, but things have moved away from that, and now everything’s over the internet and it’s a feature a lot of people don’t bother with anymore.

AB: I think it is unfortunate, because I believe that a lot of ways that people were even introduced to gaming, that they’re now a big part of (even if they’re in the industry) is going to a friend’s house as, you know, a pubescent adolescent or something like that, and playing these multiplayer splitscreen sort of games. Now, how did all of these likeminded developers, like yourself, really get together and choose Kickstarter to release these products? What made it appealing, the idea of using Kickstarter, and really, how did you all find each other, sort of thing?

RC: Well, so for finding each other, first of all, we’re all friends, just through the indie community. Noah and I know each other from just the New York indie scene. I met Doug through Babycastles; I don’t know if you know Babycastles, it’s this like indie arcade gallery space in New York. It’s kind of like this really crazy space that shows video games and it’s kind of part of the New York art scene. I actually first heard of Bennet through Babycastles, but Bennet was friends with Doug from the European indie scene and we all came together around this. I mean, Doug and I were friends and I really liked Joust and he really liked Hokra and we were talking for a long time about how to release – especially Hokra, how Hokra could possibly be released, because it’s a fairly small game and by itself it’s a harder sell. But we’re like, you know, there’s got to be a way for these […] local multiplayer, small minimalist games to have a space, and so Doug and I started talking to our friends and we talked to basically our friends who were making games that were similar to the kinds of games that we cared about – and really good ones. I mean, […] we weren’t looking for any local multiplayer games; we were looking for the really outstanding ones and we ended up hooking up with Bennet and Noah because we liked their games so much.

NS: Yeah, I guess another angle of this is the No Quarter Exhibition, which both Ramiro and I were part of. This is something that the NYU Games Center organises every year and it’s kind of a big party where they commission several games from a couple of different developers and kind of unveil them at this one night where they […] put them up in this big room and have a big party and kind of the theme of the event is kind of the same idea of like, bringing gaming to like public spaces.  And for the first year, there was actually this game Nidhogg, which some of your listeners might have heard of, was kind of premiered there, and that kind of made a big splash and had a tour around the world afterwards and won a bunch of awards. And then the year after that, Hokra, Ramiro’s game, which is kind of like a… almost like a hockey [game], not quite a variant, but a kind of soccer/hockey […] inspired team-based competitive game was released and you know, was a huge hit, […with] a lot of screaming and yelling at the competition. And then the year after that, the game that I’m working on, Barabariball, was commissioned, which is kind of like a 1v1 or 2v2 almost like a volleyball with martial arts and kind of, like, flying in the air.  And so all these games were designed to be played in public and ended up drawing huge crowds and inspiring a lot of trash talking wherever they were displayed, so it kind of made sense to put them together and just make them something that people could bring home and set up [at] these kind of events. It’s also something that people have been asking for a long time. I mean, Nidhogg is not part of our package, but it’s the game that has been – people have been clamoring on the internet for it ever since it’s been premiered at No Quarter so there is a hunger for these kinds of games. But I think just the matter of, like Ramiro said, figuring out exactly how to get them to people in a way that makes sense, because they don’t really fit this paradigm of a $60 game you buy, or even a $20 game that you buy on Steam individually at least.

RC: And Doug’s game, Joust, it’s becoming a complaint kind of thing on the internet where it’s like “Where is Joust? We want to play Joust! We keep hearing about Joust and we can’t play it.” So, we felt like this was a good way of getting the games out. […] To different degrees, people are asking for it – and Joust more than any of the other ones – but, with all our games, we’ve […] shown them at these events and people [were] saying, “Okay, when can I play it?” and we keep saying, “Soon, soon, soon,” so this was our way of finally getting it out there.

AB: Now, you talked about a lot there. But specific to Kickstarter, I know you said you were able to find common ground and you were able to get together in these common sort of work places at the events. Specific to Kickstarter though, why was that sort of avenue something that you believed could be an effective way to distribute beyond the fact that a lot of the games, like you said, were kind of in that nebulous area of they’re not big enough to be considered $20 games, but by themselves they might not have that appeal. Why Kickstarter as a development, something that involved so much of consumer input sort of thing?

RC: So for us, Kickstarter, it’s almost a necessity for a project like this. We’re not a company; we’re four individual developers and we’re doing this through Doug Wilson’s company, Die Gute Fabrik, but it’s not like we have a budget and we have other projects that we’re working on, making money. This is The Project, for this group of people. This is the only project we’re making; we’re not starting a company to make this, and as such, to get these games all to work on the same framework, we need to hire one or two – probably two – programmers to basically reprogram all the games. They’re all programmed in completely different languages, completely different ways and it’s kind of beyond us to – we all program our own stuff, but its beyond us to be able to get all these into a package that’s going to work. I mean this game’s coming out for PlayStation 3, PC, Mac and Linux and we need to get this game in a way that works for all of those [consoles]. So, for us, it’s not the kind of game that you’re going to get a publisher to sign up for. It’s a niche thing. It’s a very specific space and, we just needed the upfront money to be able to pay someone to actually do that work. That’s where Kickstarter comes in, and Kickstarter allows us to find out how interested people are in this.

NS: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of like in a sense it’s a gamble. I mean, we’re doing well so far, and people definitely have shown their interest, but, you know, it’s a way for people to prove that the interest really is there, and to participate, I guess, in the creation of the game.

AB: This project is a little bit different than a lot of other Kickstarter projects. You already have an establishment of what these games are, you already know how they play, who they’re for, and essentially how they work. Considering that, what is the creative role that backers will have knowing that these games are already made, as opposed to other projects where they’re much more involved with their opinions on different methodology? Where does Sportsfriends factor into that equation?

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NS: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. In our case […], like you said, these games all exist and we’ve had them played by thousands of people already. So I think we’re kind of at a bit of an advantage here in that we’re not just trying to sell, like, dreams based on some mock-ups or like a video or something, or fake screenshots. In our case, I think backers have a really good way to participate in that with our $60 tier, sorry, our $30 tier, we give away the alphas of the game, which is all four games as they currently exist. And since they’re kind of competitive multiplayer games we kind of have a great need for player testing and a great need for player feedback, so as soon as these go out then I think this will be a great thing to help make the game even better. You know, we want people to play the alphas with their friends and have their own parties and give us feedback on how balanced the games are or if they find any bugs or if they’re broken or if there are things that aren’t intuitive. I actually am really looking forward to getting this game into the hands of more people just so that we continue to make them even better. I guess I’m looking at it as if, like, I always compare this stuff to Street Fighter, because the game I’m working on is kind of close to a fighting game. But I think the alphas – we can kind of think of [them]as Street Fighter 2. We’re hoping that the version that people get on PSN will be like Street Fighter 2 Turbo, with some balance issues ironed out and everything, with a little bit more polish.

AB: Now with these games individually, we’ve talked about what the package is, Kickstarter in general. Now let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of the games. Now I know we don’t have every individual who’s working on their specific game – hopefully you guys can fill us in. Why don’t we start off with each of your games that you worked on and just give us a little profile of the first one. Noah, why don’t you get us started? What is your game and yeah, how is it related in the Sportsfriends package?

NS: Sure. The game I’m working on is called Barabariball, and it’s kind of a sports game crossed with a fighting game. Players basically duel over control of this ball and they need to dunk it in the goals that are on either side of the screen, and each time a player scores a goal they get a point. But you can also fall into the goal yourself, get knocked in by the other player, and then you’ll lose a point. It’s pretty simple, but hopefully there are a lot of layers and pretty competitive. And players have a great deal of control over their characters, and there’s a number of characters and levels to choose from and kind of the core of the game is this idea that players have a number of jumps, and they have a huge amount of control in the air, and when they spend all of their jumps they can touch the ground for them to fully regenerate.

AB: And visually it has, I would say, a very unique sort of style. Can you speak to that a little bit? Because I’m watching videos of it right now and […] it’s not like something you’ve really seen before, I think.

NS: Yeah, a lot of people compare it to a 2600 game which I think is, I like that […] it’s not entirely accurate; it’s very smooth, a lot of, like, bright colours, but, some really nice animation too.

AB: Yeah, it’s a really phonetic motion that’s captured really well and something that’s not at all like a 2600 game.

NS: Yeah, there’s a lot of technology that definitely wouldn’t be possible until this generation, or previous generations of consoles. There’s a lot of counter-motion. There’s a lot of really fluid physics, but overall the look is kind of stark, with a lot of abstract shapes and giant swaths of colour.  And the audio actually kind of contributes to that too. All the sound effects in the game are recorded by a friend of mine who plays tabla, which is an Indian percussion instrument (if people aren’t familiar), plays a lot of sitar music, really intense, frenetic, like, total percussion hits, so, it’s really kind of distinctive sounding, and something that I’m really happy with.

AB: Who would you say this game is for? This particular [game], Barabariball: who is this game for, and how do people play it, that you’ve seen, at least?

NS: I think it’s for anybody who likes games that are simple to play but have a lot of depth and a lot of possibilities that come up when you play head-to-head with someone who’s relatively skilled. The thing that makes me the happiest is watching people who are good at the gameplay, and they kind of do a lot of incredible manoeuvres, like, watching an episode of Dragonball Z or something, with each of them flying and kind of getting behind each other and spiking each other under the water and then recovering and it can get really intense. It borrows a lot from fighting games, so there’s a lot of ideas from Smash Bros. in there, but at its core, it’s a sport and you’re not trying to K.O. the other player, so, you’re kind of coming at it from a different contact, which changes a lot of the way it plays. And how you play, it basically comes down to you, just kind of, trying to have control of the ball. You need to get the ball where you want it to be, you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable, so the other player will retaliate. When you watch people play, it looks close to something like volleyball or soccer – not as, kind of, directly comparative [sic], although there’s certain elements of that [in the game].

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AB: Alright, excellent. Now on to Ramiro’s game, Hokra.  Watching videos of it right now. What is Hokra, and who’s the game for, really?

RC: So, like, I keep describing Hokra as a minimalist sports game. […] I like sports games a lot, and I play a lot.  Especially for the last four years, I’ve been playing a lot of FIFA. I mean, I grew up playing soccer video games a lot, and I also just play real life sports and I’m really into them. It was actually just a little exercise in programming at first. I was just like, you know, I’ll do a top-down, some top-down passing physics, where it was just like a single screen with just one character passing at the walls, and the game kind of grew out of that. And as it grew, what I kept aiming for was […] to find that feeling I really enjoy in sports games and bring it to everyone. Because I feel like a lot of people, both people who are not hardcore gamers, but even people who are really into games are very likely to just skip on sports games. I feel like the kind of crowd that plays FIFA, or whatever the latest hockey game or basketball game or football game is, it’s a sports crowd; it’s a different crowd from the gamer crowd and I think there’s some really interesting parts of sports games that are for everyone, but everyone kind of gets lost in this, you know. Either you have this fantasy of being a soccer player or being the manager of Barcelona or whatever, or if you don’t, you’re not going to play FIFA. And also, then the other side of it, from, the non-hardcore gamers’ perspective is that FIFA is a game that uses every single button on the controller and then two or three of those buttons are just modifiers that if you hold them down they make all the buttons do something else. So, literally in FIFA, there’s, like, there’s easily thirty moves in FIFA and learning a game like that is just super daunting, and unless you’re really, really into that style of game you’re not going to get into it. So I was trying to make a sports game for everyone. It has very minimalist graphics. It’s really not about the graphics, and part of that is the fact that I’m not a graphics designer, […] but I did the graphics myself because I wanted to do something that’s very minimal, and in a way, it’s this idea that if you’re not a graphics designer, the main thing to go for is not to mess it up, don’t try and overdo it.

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AB: Absolutely. Now, for the other two games that the developers aren’t here for […].  Who wants to take hold and describe each one?

RC: Johann Sebastian Joust is a game made by Doug Wilson, who, he’s an American developer who was living in Denmark until about a month ago and now he’s back in New York. It feels like what Doug did, he figured out motion controls in a way that nobody ever has. Everyone was trying to use motion controls, it almost feels that when you play Joust, you figure out everyone else was doing it wrong. The thing with Joust is that it’s a very simple game. It uses the PlayStation Move controller, […and] seven players can play – you can play with two players but it really gets more interesting the more players you have, the more interesting it gets. He even has a crazy hacked-up version that supports 18 players, but, talking about the regular game, you have up to seven players. They each have a PlayStation Move controller in their hands, and the Move controller lights up, and then each player – all the players – can move as fast as the music is going.  So if the music is going slowly, you can only move slowly; if the music is going fast, you can move faster. And then, the deal is, you’re trying to make other people move too fast, so basically, if someone’s Move controller shakes faster than what is allowed by the speed of the music [at that time], then they’re out. So it almost creates this, almost like, martial arts battle, where people are moving up to each other and you’re trying to shake the other person’s controller hand (normally with your free hand) while holding your controller away from them so they can’t shake your controller, and then somebody will just sneak up to you because you’re not playing attention and just hit your controller and you’re out. So that happens a lot. But it’s a very, very simple game, and it’s so good at drawing people in, and I’ve played it a bunch of times in public spaces and parks. Something like that, you know, especially when it’s getting dark and there’s all these Move controllers and they’re all lit up and people just congregate and it just creates a circle around it. It almost has a bit of like – I don’t know if you know the Brazilian fighting style Capoeira where there’s this circle around the people playing it, it kind of does that; it’s almost like there’s a fight happening in the street and everyone wants to watch it. But then people slowly join in and get lost in the game.

AB: Sounds absolutely amazing and innovative. And finally, we cannot forget Super Pole Riders. Who wants to tell us a little bit about that, because it also looks like a pretty fun experience?

NS: Super Pole Riders is Bennet Foddy’s contribution to Sportsfriends, and it’s basically, I mean, it’s a fictitious sport, but you’ve got two players faced off against each other and they need to use these ginormous pole-vaulting poles to push the ball into the other player’s goal. So, it’s funny, the game he’s probably most well-known for is QWOP, which is a ridiculous running simulation where the player tries to make an Olympian run, just run, to the end of the track, but you have control over the thighs and the legs of the player –sorry, of the character – and so it’s preposterously difficult to make him run. You fall on your face the first dozen times you try and then gradually you can take one step forward and another step forward. And Pole Riders is kind of similar in the sense that it’s extremely, there’s a steep learning curve and a lot of the fun comes from the unpredictability and the way you kind of fight with the system as much as you fight towards the goal. You know, like QWOP, it’s extremely well-crafted. QWOP has a pretty sophisticated physics simulation under it, and the way you control it is so, like, it’s really frustrating, but it’s really compelling too, because you can tell that everything you’re doing is causing an effect in a really complicated system that makes sense – but you’re not sure how and you’re not quite sure just exactly how much pressure you need to apply. Pole Riders is like that. It’s beautiful too; the way the poles animate are really kind of gorgeous, and the backgrounds are kind of his own kind of style. It’s not really pixel art – it kind of almost looks like a quilt. And the sound is beautiful – how I mentioned Barabariball uses a lot of tabla sounds to create its soundscape, I think it’s a viola, or maybe a cello….

RC: It’s a cello.

NS: Yeah, it’s kind of beautiful; there’s a lot of scraping of the strings. And it’s a really interesting game that fits really well with the other three. Pole Riders already exists. Pole Riders plays all over the world at our own tournament, the Sportsfriends Tournament. But Super Pole Riders is going to be a kind of enhanced version, like a, hopefully, continue to balance out features based on what we’ve learnt from testing so far, it should be really interesting.

AB: Well, thank you both, for taking the time to talk, I really do appreciate it. It does seem like this is the sort of the product that people – you’ve really got to grab, if you want to bring your friends together, something to do on any sort of weekend night, and you don’t really have that sort of product right now. You don’t really have that sort of game in the market right now, that is adaptable for perhaps an older age group, someone who’s a little bit older that enjoyed games similar to this in the past and want a new challenge and still want to play with their friends. I wish you all the best within Sportsfriends, really looking forward to it.

Both: Thanks for having us.

AB: Absolutely, I’m Andy Borkowski, VideoGame Sophistry. Remember to check out the Kickstarter page for Sportsfriends. It’s available; there’s going to be links all over this video. Every description that you see, it’s going to be easy to find.  Make sure you contribute! When is the final day that people can contribute to get their hands on this game?

RC: Well, the last day is Monday, December 10th, so please help us out before then.

AB: There you go. Well, thank you both very much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Make sure you check this out; I’m Andy Borkowski, VideoGame Sophistry.