Slam Bolt Scrappers Interview – PSN 2011 Preview

January 27, 2011 Written by Sebastian Moss

We’re a bit jealous of Eitan Glinert, mainly because he can have a cool job title like “Fire Chief”, but also because his studio’s game, Slam Bolt Scrappers, looks absolutely smashing. Trying to describe the game is easier said than done, with the title not only transcending genres, but turning them on their head. Sporting four player local co-op, the game challenges players to build their towers while destroying the enemy’s, with a host of powerups – one which is exclusively revealed below – and interactive environments making the game truly crazy. Published by Sony Online Entertainment, the PSN exclusive game is only a few weeks away.

To learn about the one handed “beverage mode”, exclusive character and powerup reveals and the evolutionary development of the game, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted with Eitan Glinert, Fire Chief at Fire Hose Games.

Hi Eitan, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your work at Fire Hose Games?

Hi everyone at PlayStation LifeStyle! My name is Eitan Glinert. I am the Fire Chief at Fire Hose Games. We are a new indie start up out in Boston, Massachusetts in America, and we are making the new PSN exclusive Slam Bolt Scrappers, which is going to be coming to consoles near you in just a few weeks now.

Before we begin, can you describe Slam Bolt Scrappers?

So Slam Bolt Scrappers is kind of this really crazy mash up of a lot of different genres of games. Its got bits and pieces of Smash Brothers, and Castle Crashers, and World of Goo, and everything mixed together. It’s a four player multiplayer game, it’s one to four players, so everything in the game is playable by one, two, three, or four players. It’s basically this game where you’re going and you’re fighting against other people while you’re simultaneously building these large towers which grow and fight with you. It’s very, very crazy. We’ve got some video on the Fire House Games website that you can see of the game, and we’re going to be putting up some new trailers soon. It’s very hard to do it justice. Basically you get these block shapes, which are kind of similar to the shapes that you get in Tetris, although we have other shapes beyond that, and these blocks are colored. You take these blocks and you build them to make big squares of the same color, and then these squares then grow weaponry which then fight with you against your enemies. At the same time you’re fighting people while flying around with these jet packs in this very fantastic cartoonish world, where it’s kind of like a little bit of science fiction, and it’s weird, everything is a little bit sideways. And so you’re going and fighting people at this time and basically whoever can kick over the other person’s tower so to speak, wins.

As you said, Slam Bolt’s a crazy mash up of a bunch of different genres and ideas – do you worry that its uniqueness might confuse people?

I don’t think so. I think that people want something new. There’s only so much Mario someone can play before they decide they want to do something different. In fact, if you want to go with Mario, the reason that Mario works so well is because Mario constantly reinvents itself. Its the same game except everything is totally changed on its head. And so, innovation I think is what people really like, and so, is one of the really strong points with PSN. People love games that are on PSN that are weird, like you know, Flower is a great example, because it’s really different and its something that’s interesting and new. And that’s what we’re bringing to the table because that’s really, really enjoyable. And on top of that it’s not just a new game but a new game with a huge co-op campaign and a huge multiplayer competitive element, so it’s something that you can play again and again and again with your friends on the PlayStation 3.

So are you planning to have a demo then?

Oh yeah.

Day one demo?

Don’t hold me to it, because there could be a problem with format submissions, but probably yeah. There should be, right? I’m a strong believer in demos. This is a quality product, and we stand by it. If you play our demo and you don’t like it, then don’t give us a cent, we don’t deserve it. This is a damn good game. If you like it then go buy it. So yes, demos are really, really important, and barring some problem with format QA, the demo will be there.

What would you say if someone recreated your entire game in LittleBigPlanet 2, how would you feel?

I’d be really impressed. [Laughs] I know that LittleBigPlanet 2 has some very powerful level editor stuff. If somebody actually went and recreated our game in LBP2 I would have to buy the guy a beer. I would be really, really impressed with that. And flattered. They would only go and spend the time and effort to do that if they liked our game so I would be really psyched if they did that. Any of your listeners or readers out there – that’s a challenge for you. Go. Go and do that. Do what Sebastian just suggested, go and make our game in LBP2.

The game seems to focus a lot on hats, can you delve into the reasoning behind this?

If you’re going to bother playing a game that’s all about fighting, why bother if you can’t look good doing so? So, I like games that get really silly. It seems to be a little bit in vogue now a days, I’ve noticed that a lot of games are doing this. We first got the idea from a small indie title called Dinorun, which was made by Pixeljam on the PC. It’s this crazy weird game that you can play where you play as a little dinosaur trying to escape extinction. An asteroid hits and you have to outrun this giant wave of ash from the asteroid. The game’s very silly and if you buy the game, it’s a pre-order game, but if you buy it then you get all these hats and we thought it was really amusing, so we decided to do something similar in our game. And so as you go through the game you get to collect these different hats that are just kind of this funny, silly thing. So there are lots of trophies in our game, every single trophy has a hat associated with it. We have other challenges in the game beyond the trophies and all of them have hats associated with them. So it’s kind of this fun collectible thing. So when you do something that gets you a trophy, you’re not just getting trophy points but you’re also getting something in game that you could use. We like that.

I see you have a variety of environments to play in, such as on the beach, in the city, and in the snow capped mountains. Will weather or other environmental affects factor into the gameplay?

That very much effects the levels. The best comparison point is Smash Brothers there, where the level that you play in effects the level itself. So for instance, one of our levels that we have, hmm, I guess it’s a bit of a spoiler but that’s okay we showed enough at PAX, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a level called Volcano City, and you play inside of a volcano, and the way that it works, when you build these weapons out of blocks, you build them on a platform that’s your platform, and when your platform is destroyed you lose the game. So in this game your platform is suspended by chains above pits of lava. It’s like scales, as one platform goes down the other one goes up, so you have to build evenly on your two platforms while you fight your enemy. If one platform gets too heavy it dips in the lava and then the lava goes and damages your tower and could destroy the stuff on it. So that’s one example of a level where the environment effects it. Actually many of these levels, just about all of them, you end up revisiting. Things change in the level, and you have to figure out what’s new and how that’s going to effect the gameplay. So, there’s a lot of depth.

Why did you decide to have Sony Online Entertainment as your publisher, restricting you to one platform?

That’s a really good question actually. I don’t know how much you or your users know about indie development, but it’s really hard to come up with something very new, and risky, and outgoing, and get it right, and do it well. Basically you have to be willing to put everything on the line. And you have to be willing to experiment in ways that people aren’t willing to experiment with. That’s the fun of being an indie, right? When we have this game, we wanted to find someone we could work with that would respect our status as an indie studio and really not just let us do what we need to do but give us the support to do what we need to do. Sony Online Entertainment was just the ideal partner for this. They totally got out of our way when it came to design. They said “you guys go do whatever crazy stuff you want, we’re right behind you”. Then when we needed help with something, for instance, we’re bringing the game to Europe, and we’re like, “Okay, how are we going to get this game translated into all these different languages?”. They said “Hey, we can help with that, we’ll take care of that part and you just focus on making the game.” So, Sony Online Entertainment has just been hugely helpful with that. They basically allowed us to stay indie, more or less, even though you know, we’re working with a publisher, we get to stay indie by doing what we want to do creatively and get the support that we need to get this game out.

In terms of only going to one platform, I don’t really think it’s a problem. There are a couple of platforms you can go to with games nowadays. Between XBLA, PSN, WiiWare, Steam, those choices, I think PSN is really the best place for this game. PlayStation Network customers really get the idea of new and exciting games. If you go and look at the other channels, they definitely do have games that are new and different, but PSN really pushes the boundaries in my opinion. The games that you see on there are just totally new, and different, and interesting and so, we just thought that would be a good place for us because our game is unique. And we thought that would be a very good channel for it. On top of that, I don’t know, we think the PS3 is an absolutely terrific system, we want our game on there, so we thought that would be a great home for it.

But you still have ownership of the IP?

Oh of course. So that’s part of the reason that we think working with Sony Online Entertainment and PlayStation is the way to do it. Because they’re so good about working with us on that. We own the IP. We want to keep it with PS3, right, that’s where this game belongs.

The game started off being about architecture and has gone through various iterations, will parts of the old iterations be used in future titles?

This is actually the fifth iteration of the game, and iterations one through four were wildly different. So the very first version of the game, it was supposed to be a game about architecture where you were building buildings, and it was going to teach you certain key components of architecture. So we actually had this version where we were going to teach that triangles are really strong when you’re building stuff, and that squares are not very strong and they tend to fall over, and we probably wisely rejected that early on, being a little bit too esoteric and bizarre. We ended up making different versions of the game. The second version of the game was probably actually closest to what we have, which was this weird mix of building and fighting. We had one version of the game where you were building with these tangram shapes, and there were these ice monsters you had to fight through. And then the fourth iteration of the game was -we only had one level at the time – but there was a dam that was holding back a giant reservoir of water that was going to collapse and  flood a village, and you had to patch up the dam in order to keep the water from spilling out. So you can see that the game changed a lot. What’s really nice about being a small indie studio is that you can basically take a look at what you got and think, “hmm is this really the best thing?”, and if not, put the breaks on, iterate again and get it right. The upshot of that is the game takes much longer to make. Those four iterations I talked about were basically maybe ten to eleven months of work, that didn’t make it into the final game. So we spent almost a year working on these early versions that aren’t in the final game, but I think the final game is so much better as a result of that. I don’t think we would have come up with anything nearly as good if we hadn’t spent that time, but if we were a really big studio with these deadlines and share holders to meet demands of and we had to stick to the schedule, we’d probably just put out whatever shovelware we had. So in the end the evolutionary process was extremely helpful and I think that the game is great because of it.

Will you revisit those ideas and maybe use them for future titles, do you think, or ?

A lot of that stuff you kind of put it on the back burner, and already I’ll tell you that there’s stuff in Slam Bolt Scrappers that got taken out of that. So for instance, Slam Bolt Scrappers has power ups. One of the power ups in Slam Bolt Scrappers is the comet power up, which basically turns you into a living comet that can dash around the screen at high speeds and knock out anything in your path, and that was a power up that was made in the fourth iteration, the dam level I told you about. That’s where the comet power up was born. So we just ripped that whole-sale out of that and put that in our game because we thought that was really cool. So, you’re basically picking the carcasses of your old games to make the new game as awesome as you can make it. So, we’ll revisit those old ideas I’m sure, some of them we may not revisit at all. The tangram stuff in particular I thought was pretty neat, and that’s something that I’d like to maybe think about at some point in the future, but, who knows?

And speaking of power ups, which one is your favorite, you think, in the game?

Oh, geez. Oh, there’s a really good power up, I don’t know if we’ve talked about it yet. I don’t think we’ve revealed this yet, but you’re being good about interviewing me. There is a thief power up, that is extremely awesome.

Can you detail that at all?

[Laughs] I will leave it up to the user’s imagination to guess what a thief power up may let you do. We’ll be revealing more on it soon, but, you know the name, you can probably guess more or less what it does. It’s very fun. It’s a game changer, you get it, and all of a sudden you have a new strategy.

You steal their tower block?

Yup, [laughs] so that’s a fun one.

Oh that sounds really good, that would really annoy me – in a good way – if I had a brilliant tower and some one takes it.

Oh, well so you’ll have to see it in game. We’ll be revealing more about it in the days leading up to the release, but that’s probably my favorite one. If you ask different people here, they’ll tell you different things. There are a lot of good power ups in the game.

You recently ran a competition of sorts, where gamers helped you name two of your characters – what names did you decide on?

Are they up yet on the website? If they’re not up on the website, I think I will give you an exclusive on that, cause I think we’re going to post it soon, and like I said you’re being good about interviewing me. Yeah, so it’s not up yet, so I will let you break this news. We did in fact name the two characters, and the first character, the angel, is going to be named Zephyr, and the masked character is going to be named Joule.

PlayStation LifeStyle exclusive, right there.

Exactly, you just got that information before anyone else. So those are the two names for those characters and we’re going to be revealing the other four names as well.

Were you happy with what people voted on?

Oh yes. Actually Joule I’m especially happy with cause that was the one that I was really pushing for. Zephyr was my second choice for the angel, so I really like that one too. These are names that we all talked about in the office and we liked all of them before we started, so we weren’t really worried about getting one we didn’t like. What was much riskier was two of the characters we let people name by bidding on them for Child’s Play. We actually had two auctions go for Child’s Play where we tried to raise money for that charity and people basically had to bid to name our characters. We raised almost $2000 with that, which was really great. That was a lot scarier because people would just get to choose names and we didn’t really have control over that. The two names we got were brilliant, so we’re happy with that too.

Are you planning an online mode?

At this point it’s probably not going to happen. The short of it is that the way we look at it is this game is best played as couch play. You want to play this game when you’re in the same room as other people. That’s when this game gets really fun. Online play is well and good, especially for games like a first person shooter where you need the entire screen to yourself and you can’t share the screen with anyone else. But this game is like Castle Crashers, and Mario Kart, like Smash Brothers or something, where you have four people on the screen at the same time and that’s when the game gets tons and tons of fun, when you’re all there, sitting in the same room yelling at each other. When you can’t really see each other or talk to people the game’s not really as fun, and so we decided ya know, screw it, lets just have them play in the same room, that’s what will be really enjoyable.

Why do you think local co-op is such a rarity in games?

Because it’s hard to do right. Right? I mean, you want everyone in the game to be powerful, be able to make real decisions, and that’s very hard to do with local co-op, especially four way co-op, unless you’re doing a brawler. So we always loved that stuff, so we have a campaign, which is a one to four player co-op mode, and again Castle Crashers is a really good comparison for that, you just play through as many level as you go through and you’re all playing together against the computer. You play against some giant, epic bosses that are a ton of fun. You play against all these different baddies in these different environments. Then we also have the battle mode which is more competitive where it’s still one to four players, and you can play against each other, your friends, or you can play against AIs, you can put computer players in there to either play with you or against you, and that’s much more similar to you know, a Smash Brothers type thing where you just go and you’re fighting with your friends, you’re fighting against people in short little rounds that are a lot of fun.

Was that a day one thing, you definitely from the start wanted co-op, or through development you thought this could do well with co-op, or how did that go about?

So, remember the game was highly evolutionary, right? So we had a co-op game in iteration two. And so, we always suspected that we wanted co-op stuff, we always knew we wanted that. We didn’t know exactly how it was going to work. Iterations two and three were both two player co-op, iteration four was four player co-op. Then this game that we made iteration five started off as two player competitive, and then we thought a little bit more, we managed to get co-op in there as well, and beefed everything up to four player. We knew very early on that was something we wanted to do, the design was always there for it. It was not something that we ended up tacking on.

Will you consider other things like Move support?

Unfortunately, no, there won’t be Move support for this game. Something amusing is the Move Nav controller, you could actually play the game with that if you like. The game has a one handed mode called “Beverage Mode”.

[Laughs]

I know, it’s very wittily named. It’s recommended for people who like to multitask. You play it with your regular DualShock 3 controller, and you can play either with your left hand or right hand, whatever. If you’re really nuts you can dual wield controllers, it gets absolutely insane, its very hard to do. So if you have a Nav controller, you can do it that way too.

So kind of have Move support then, in a way.

I mean we’re kind of bullshitting there. Yes, if you really want to and you’re crazy, why not? But no not actually Move support like you’re thinking.

Do you think if you’d had more development time and more funds would you have considered it?

No, not for this game. Move is awesome and we want to make a Move game a lot, but the Move works really well with certain games, and a four player fighting game does not make sense with Move unless you want to take people’s eyes out with the glowing ball.

So then is your next title going to be a Move game?

Ya know, actually, we’ve been talking a lot about our next title. It’s too early to say any thing for sure, but I will say that we have three ideas that we’ve been kicking around and one of them is in fact Move related.

And that, you’re aiming for PlayStation Network again, with Sony Online again, or too early?

Yea, it’s that early that I don’t know. Ask me again in six months and I’ll have a better answer for you, but it’s a ways out.

When will Slam Bolt Scrappers release?

We’re going to be releasing very soon. We’re going to have an announcement I believe on Friday, that should give you some more information about that, it will not be a long way.

So one month, two months?

Not too long. In the realm of weeks.

Is the game gold now, in QA?

No, we’re really close to gold.

Do you have a price range yet?

We don’t know yet. That’s something we’re working out right now.

High end or low end price?

I think that this is a high quality game, so I’m hoping that we’re going to charge roughly around $50,000 a copy. I think if we sell one we’re set, right? I don’t want to comment on price, because quite honestly, I don’t know yet. That’s the sort of thing people start talking about it, they get an idea their head, and we don’t know yet.

So you say $50,000 and you’re set, how much did the game cost to develop?

$50,000, you want to buy a copy? I don’t know, it cost a decent amount to make. If you really like it tip us well.

They should add that as a feature, to let you tip on PlayStation Network.

A tip feature? Well, I think that they do, right? Tipping nowadays isn’t going and giving more money to the developer, it’s telling your friends. If you like the game, if you think it’s exciting, don’t just keep it to yourself, tell people. We are a super small indie studio that almost nobody has ever heard of, making this game that’s new IP, with really interesting new mechanics, and we are desperately trying to get the word out. If this game looks interesting to you, if you play it and you like it, if you like the idea, if you like our website, if you like what we’re saying, tell other people, cause we need to get that word of mouth going, get that buzz going.

And will you be supporting it with future DLC, patches, make more hats or something?

Ooo, good lord, hats.

You can never have too many hats.

Just imagine, like, opening a closet and getting like a rain of hats falling down on you. It’s potentially in the cards, we don’t know yet.

Will hats be your future trade mark in all your games, you think?

[Laughs] See this is where it gets tricky with an interview here, cause I say something here and then I’m held to it for all future games. Hats are certainly a commitment for Slam Bolt Scrappers. We will see for other titles. If it makes sense we’ll do it, if it doesn’t, we won’t.

You have to have at least one hat in every game.

I think hats make you look classy, right. You want to be able to put something on your head that makes a statement about yourself. Maybe we’ll put monocles in too then.

What’s your favorite hat in real life then?

In real life or the game? No, I’m going to tell you my favorite hat in the game. So my favorite hat in the game, well, unsurprisingly is the fire chief hat, right? [Laughs]

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Eitan Glinert for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer the interview questions and Alec Shobin for setting the interview up.