PSLS Presents – Phil Larsen, Halfbrick

February 25, 2010Written by Sebastian Moss

Ever since Sony brought PlayStation Minis to the PlayStation Network, indie developer Halfbrick firmly positioned themselves as a foremost developer of the small PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable titles, releasing hit games like Blast-off and Echoes. To talk about their latest foray into the Mini market, a top down Zombie shooter called Age of Zombies, PlayStation LifeStyle interviewed Phil Larsen, the marketing and community manager at Halfbrick, to learn more about the title, as well the developer and the future of the studio.

PlayStation LifeStyle: Who are you, and what is your position at Halfbrick?

PL: I’m Phil Larsen, the marketing and community manager at Halfbrick. I also provide feedback on gameplay and creative decisions that are made on all of Halfbrick’s games. Just recently I worked with a small team to design the setting, story and gameplay of Age of Zombies for PSP and PS3 minis.

PSLS: Can you outline the plot of the Age of Zombies game?

PL: A man named Barry Steakfries busts into the evil laboratory of Professor Brains. Upon arrival he finds out that Brains is sending zombies through time to destroy mankind. Steakfries isn’t having any of this, and decides to travel through the time portals to stop the onslaught. Along the way he will shoot many, many zombies. Also, there’s a Zombie T-Rex.

It should be obvious from the names alone that Age of Zombies is in no way a serious game! It’s all tongue-in-cheek, silly humor and completely random events. Barry Steakfries is a cool dude who has a vast array of sometimes, witty, sometimes awful one-liners.

PSLS: The game features Zombies over various ages, how many, and which, time periods will be available?

PL: There will be five time periods, with each one having three stages. I’ll leave a couple as a surprise to the players, but favorites like Japan and Ancient Egypt will be there. At the end of each world, you’ll also be facing off against a huge boss with new attacks and a non-friendly disposition.

In addition to the main adventure, we have also includes Survival mode, which pits you against an onslaught of zombies where the aim is to survive as long as humanly possible. You can save your high scores on the local leaderboards across all five Survival maps.

PSLS: Age of Zombies seems to share similarities with the retro games Smash TV and Robotron: 2084, would you say this is a fair comparison?

PL: We took inspiration from Smash TV specifically, as that is a popular shooter with simple controls that is instantly playable. We wanted to make sure shooting felt great, and that is definitely one of the game’s strengths. Simply running around with the analogue stick and shooting with the buttons feels natural and never awkward, and the camera system follows the player intuitively. Once the core gameplay mechanics were nailed down, it was easy to start polishing and adding extra features.

PSLS: Halfbrick is one of the most prolific PS3/PSP Minis developers, how successful has the platform proved?

PL: We’ve had success particularly with Blast Off, which was extremely well-received by the media and gamers. It was a case of taking a simple concept we’ve had for a while and fine-tuning it to make it as playable as it could be. From there, we recognised the value of releasing it at a low price and basically presenting a pretty solid, identifiable package. It’s what we plan to do with all our minis – the message needs to be clear and we’re making sure the games have exactly the content and modes we say they do. We make minis and market them as such, so anyone looking to spend a few dollars on some small, fun games should hopefully have their expectations met with something from Halfbrick.

PSLS: Why do you believe that the majority of other developers haven’t matched this output of Mini titles?

PL: Maybe it’s a chicken/egg type scenario. There wasn’t a huge range of games to start off with, so people weren’t immediately attracted to the store. That may have put off developers to avoid minis, but we believe there is a significant market there. The numbers of PSPs and PS3s out there is massive! It’s just a case of getting the right product in front of the right people, and in our specific case, we think we have several products that are well-suited for minis. Blast Off did well and both Rocket Racing and Age of Zombies take the level of polish and playability up a notch. We like to explore a market and all its angles before coming to a conclusion, which other devs may not have had the time or right games to do so. Thus far minis has been working, and hopefully it continues to do so!

PSLS: Minis recently became playable on the PS3, has this changed your development strategy?

PL: Not really. For something like Rocket Racing, it simply solidified our goal to make the game look awesome. The reason for this is that minis are up-scaled for the PS3, and when we saw Rocket Racing for the first time we were blown away. A mini that looks so crisp on the PSP also doesn’t look out of place on a 50″ screen, and that’s a great result. A mini is a mini and despite the fact that they are fully playable on two consoles, we shouldn’t end up changing our strategy as far as development tactics go.

PSLS: Has the addition of the PS3 userbase caused a significant change in your Minis titles sales?

PL: It definitely has, and the reality is that it’s good news for both us and gamers. The PS3 versions look great for minis even on big screens (ours is a 50″ with no problems), and they are the same price regardless of which platform you play them on. You can download it on the PS3 or PSP and choose to play it on either console. We’ve had good sales on the PS3 and word of mouth that minis are actually pretty cool on either console is starting to spread.

PSLS: Would you consider making a fully fledged PlayStation Network title, like Raskulls for the 360?

PL: Of course, we simply want to make sure it’s the right project. Sony is good at helping developers and checking out new ideas, so when we come develop a concept that has room for expansion and bigger scope – and can be safely slotted in with a longer development time and budget – we will happily walk that road.

PSLS: At DICE 2010, developers such as Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games, reiterated the difficulty of independent developers in the modern gaming landscape, what is Halfbrick’s take on this situation?

PL: Over the last 12 months we’ve learnt so much about independent development and the countless number of factors that can make or break a studio. There’s no question about it – making games and making them profitably today is difficult. The number of customers is staggering but the number of products and options is even more so. I think one of the main concepts to always remember is that you simply can’t coast along, relying on traditions or forgetting to learn how today’s market operates and the new technology/platforms which arise. You need to take all the information in, hopefully identify where to position yourself in the right place at the right time, and have an amazing creative development team!

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Phil Larsen and Halfbrick for taking the time to hold the interview. Age of Zombies will available on the US and European PlayStation Store from Thursday 25th February.