Download This: Fire Hose Games
‘Download This’ is an irregular series of interviews, primarily focused on the games, the people, the business, and the overall challenges of being an independent console developer in the downloadable space.
Can you tell us a little bit about Fire Hose and your role at the studio?
We’re a new indie studio started by MIT alums looking to bring innovative games to gamers. Our first game, Slam Bolt Scrappers, just came out on March 15th as a downloadable title in the PSN Store. Awesome! I’m the Fire Chief, president, and resident unicorn slayer responsible for safety of everyone at Fire Hose. I also do some game design.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is a fairly zany game to witness. In your own words, could you boil the game down for our readers?
Slam Bolt Scrappers is a crazy mash-up of building and brawling. Your goal is to build a big tower while knocking over your opponent’s tower. To do this you punch baddies to get colored blocks, then stack the blocks into squares of the same color in your tower. Colored squares turn into weapons that automatically attack the enemy tower and fight with you. Destroy the opponent’s tower to win – simple, right? We’ve got a co-op campaign and multiplayer battle mode that both work for 1-4 players, there are a bunch of different weapon types, boss battles, and crazy level mechanics that all add up to a different experience every time you play the game. The game mixes several differing genres into one.
What was the basic idea that lead to such an eclectic mash-up?
Good question! Basically the game evolved a ton over five iterations. The initial goal was to create a game about building, and we quickly realized that building was more fun when you were busting heads at the same time. This originally manifested as a superhero building a tower while fighting T-Rex (from Dinosaur Comics), who would run through and destroy anything you built. From there it only got crazier, with us trying out all sorts of different ideas. You can read about them here! While gameplay changed a lot from iteration to iteration the building and brawling aspect was in there pretty early.
With elements of brawling, puzzle games and maybe even a tiny sliver of tower defense, there’s a lot to do at any given moment. Can you talk about balancing the various mechanics with one another?
My god, balancing was a Herculean task. We had to work on the behaviors of weapons, baddies, bosses, and AI, as well as making sure the actual fighting felt good. These were all things that we continually adjusted throughout development. The tough part was getting everything to scale properly depending on how many players were in the game and what difficulty setting you were playing on. We played through every level on every difficulty with every possible number of players. By comparing how difficult players felt a level was to both the same level with a different number of players and the levels before and after it, we got a good sense of how difficult a level should be and made adjustments accordingly.
You wouldn’t immediately think it would lend itself to boss battles, but they were some of the most enjoyable parts of the campaign for me, personally. How did you decide to include these fights and what was the challenge of getting Slam Bolt‘s gameplay to work against a singular opponent, rather than an enemy’s grid?
Bosses were something we planned from the very beginning, expecting them to be as crucial an element as they are in any game. Boss fights give players a big sense of progression and accomplishment – you know you’ve made it to the end of a stretch when you come to a boss fight, and beating the boss nails that point home. And it wasn’t as hard as you might expect to incorporate them into the basic mechanics of Slam Bolt Scrappers. By having the bosses’ attacks share basic elements with the weapons in the game, they behaved very similarly to how a regular tower would do battle and easily fit into the gameplay. Balancing was a bit of a challenge, as to be expected, and it required a lot of fine tuning, but I think we got it right in the end.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is chock full of all kinds of crazy creatures and characters, including construction workers, robots, ninja, etc. What was the inspiration behind the diverse and colorful design of the game?
The game was envisioned as Dr. Suess meets high tech. We knew we wanted a colorful game, and boy did we get it. We’re sick of games that stick to earth tones and browns, and thought that a colorful, exciting game would look terrific. We also wanted to set up a world that we could explore more in the future (perhaps in a sequel).
By now many of us have heard of the game’s ‘beverage mode’. Whose – brilliant – idea was this and what drink would you suggest pairing with the game?
What can I say, we know our audience! This one time, I was at this party playing Smash Bros. and really wanted to drink at the same time…
In all seriousness we had an ulterior motive with this, and wanted to see if we could make a highly accessible game that could be played by players with one hand. So we did! As for drink recommendations, Four Loko duct taped to your hand works pretty well.
Not long before PAX Prime last year, the game was picked up by Sony Online Entertainment. What has it been like working with SOE and how has that relationship affected development?
Working with SOE has been a fantastic experience. They gave us plenty of space when designing the game, giving us complete control over every aspect of development. It seems like they’re really passionate about experimenting with innovative indie games and we were excited to play a part in that.
With the game recently released, exclusively on the PlayStation Network, and several reviews in, what’s been the team’s overall reaction to the reception of Slam Bolt Scrappers?
It’s been interesting, to say the least. For most of the team, this was the first game we’d ever released into the wild and been reviewed on. The closest thing I can compare it to is having the entire world publicly discuss how pretty or ugly your newborn baby is. That said, the team’s feelings have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a lot of fun reading about what other people think of the game and it’s a cool opportunity to open up a dialogue to discuss what we did right and what we could have worked on more.
Any parting words for our readers about the game?
GO PLAY SLAM BOLT SCRAPPERS! We had a lot of fun making the game and hope you have 10x as much fun playing it.
I’d first like to thank Alec Shobin for making this interview possible, and of course, to Eitan Glinert, for taking a moment to answer our questions. Slam Bolt Scrappers is available now, exclusively on the PlayStation Network.