PSLS Presents – Alexey Menshikov, Founder and CEO of Beatshapers

Located in the heart of the Ukraine, Beatshapers is in an unusual position for a game developer. In an industry where the majority of the talent is based in Western Europe or the West Coast of America, Beatshapers brings a fresh twist to their games with their unique location and ideas. Their newest title, Normaltanks, a PSP Mini game, just hit the European PSN Store, and is ready for consumption. Below is an interview with the Founder and CEO of Beatshapers, Alexey Menshikov. He offers a unique perspective on Ukrainian game development and a refreshing view on game design. Enjoy.

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

Hi there, I’m Alexey Menshikov, Founder and CEO of Beatshapers, Ukraine based games developer and publisher. I’ve been around for 12 years, started as sound designer but than decided it wasn’t motivating me. Recent titles I’ve worked on as a producer are: IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey (PSP), Rhythm of War (PSP, IGF Mobile 2009 Finalist), MelodyBloxx (PlayStation mini, IGF Mobile 2010 Honorable mention), BreakQuest (PlayStation Mini). Speaking about sound design, I started with Carnivores series back in 1998, worked on Vivisector: Beast Within, Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason (both won sound design awards), recently appeared in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 as the Russian voices recording producer.

PSLS: Can you describe your newest game, Normaltanks, for us?

Short version: NormalTanks is an old school intense-action top-down shooting game in a sci-fi tanks universe.

Long version: I was looking for a game to license to publish on PSN last autumn, and suddenly found an article with NormalTanks PC version review. It is created by Vasili Kostin, from Russia. He made all this game alone: game design, art, music and sound effects. I was so excited about the intense action of this game and thought that it is the perfect fit for the PSP audience (it was before PS3 emulator announced). So, we licensed it and started port – it took only 2.5 months from the beginning to end.

NormalTanks is a really old school, classic, top-down shooting game. Player controls the tank from the above view which can move to any direction. The game has 8 big levels to fight more than 30 dangerous enemies: tanks, heavy machines, helicopters, various biomechanical creatures. To progress the game, player should collect red star bonuses which pump player tanks abilities: enforce cannon and machine gun, armor and movement speed.

Every level ends with unique big boss to defeat and you have to choose your tactics carefully on every level: either you kill anyone and collect as much bonuses as possible but there is a risk of loose the life or you sneak near most enemies and collect only visible stars. There is no pause in the game – pause button return you to the main menu. We made this for reason: we just want make game as hardcore as possible, this is really challenging to finish the level non-stop. Another thing is when you get killed, you loose your bonuses – so the game is really hardcore.

PSLS: Was there anything that pushed you to release Normaltanks both as a PSP Mini title and as a PS3 game?

When the PS3 emulator started to work – sales increased 200%. Sad, but true – PS3 audience buying more games than for the PSP. But now we pushing both PSP and PS3. For one of our next titles, we want to make a PSP game for the PS3 audience, very challenging but interesting.

PSLS: As a smaller game developer, it must be hard getting the exposure larger development teams receive. Can you describe the current gaming environment for small developers?

It is hard indeed, but its possible – just need to work closely with proper people.

I used to work in a relatively big teams in the past (20+), and must say, smaller teams are much more flexible and easier to control in terms of production value, so if I can recommend anything: stay small. If that’s not possible, create small sub-teams inside the company that can work independently.

At GDC [2010], Justin Cooney of SCEA spoke about current US PSN status and he shown some interesting slides:  recent downloadable titles are about 4 people max for PSN and minis games – so this (small teams) is a strong trend.

PSLS: What is it like being based out of Ukraine? Does the Ukrainian government promote game development?

For me, currently, its doesn’t matter where to be located: we working with outsourcers a lot, some our team members in different cities and countries, and I’m very comfortable with it. We have an outstanding results. I doubt the Ukrainian government cares about gaming, they stuck with oil, gas and politics. =)

Some of our friends in Russian developers are now trying to unite under an association to work closely with government and I think its possible to lobby in Ukraine in the future, so we keep an eye on it.

PSLS: Finally, can you give us a tease for what’s next, on Beatshapers’ horizon?

Currently, we have 3 Minis games in production now, one Minis work for hire for our German client. At recent GDC I acquired more licenses for some PlayStation Minis. Also we still (slowly) are working on full scale PS3 PSN prototypes and we potentially have plans for NormalTanks on other platforms.

PSLS: Thanks for your time.

Your welcome and stay tuned!

PSLS would like to thank Alexey for his time. Normaltanks is available now to download, on the European PSN Store.