“Frobisher says… stir my soups,” decrees the faintly menacing Frobisher in Honeyslug’s Vita mini-game compilation. An innocuous request on paper, comedian Kevin Eldon’s precocious vocal performance gives the dialogue a distinctive edge – as well as providing a dash of GLaDOS-style ‘encouragement’ – setting up a curious relationship between the player and titular puppet-master.
We sat down with Honeyslug co-founder Ricky Haggett and illustrator Richard Hogg to discuss being an indie developer in the launch line-up for Sony's new hardware, why the major platformer holders still haven’t got the browsing experience right and the delicate art of abusing players.
How have you found working with Vita? Richard Hogg When we knew we were going to be doing it and we knew what the time scale was, I think we were bracing ourselves for a rough ride – for eight months of crunch! And it wasn’t really. Ricky Haggett It’s mostly been really good. I’d say the Vita is definitely the easiest console to develop for that we’ve ever worked with. It’s way easier than DS and PSP. What we managed to achieve in a small amount of time is partly testament to how much they’ve sorted out all the tech and the API. It’s not a weird architecture like PS2, and it’s just quite easy to plug it in and set it up. And you don’t get loads of hardware problems, nothing problematic ever happened to us through development. Dev support would get back to us within 24 hours if we ever had a problem. There were definitely things that will be better in a year’s time – the TRC process is still getting resolved and localisation of a game into lots of languages is always going to be a pain, so there were things that weren’t as smooth as they could be – but in general I’d say considering how long we’ve been working on it and how much game there is, it’s been smooth.
Does being an indie studio change the way Sony deals with you? RHa I don’t feel like they deal with us as an indie developer, like we get any special treatment. I feel like they’ve got us to make a thing, and if you watch YouTube videos of people unboxing their Vita pre-orders, Frobisher’s logo is there on the back with the other things. And you go to Gamescom, in that giant dark warehouse full of terrible rock music, and above the Sony stand on this massive screen there’s our trailer with two saucepans of soup being stirred. I don’t get the sense that they’re treating Frobisher like, “Oh, and here’s the indie thing…”
Has the definition of what makes an indie studio changed? RHo It’s really interesting, isn’t it? If you look at someone like thatgamecompany, I don’t know how many people work there, but you’ve got a fairly big structured company with a three game deal with Sony. I don’t even know whether you can technically call them indie. RHa They’re independently owned – it depends what you’re saying you're indpendent of. RHo At one end of the scale you’ve got a studio that, if they weren’t making arty games and part of indie culture, then you’d have trouble justifying the label. And yet they are a massive part of the scene – I’m certainly not saying they’re not indie. At the other end of the scale you’ve got individuals just literally going, “Oh, I’ll make a game”. In terms of the extent to which they’re a business, the extent to which they’re organised and the exposure their games get, there’s a massive difference. But in terms of those people’s ability to communicate with each other and feel like they’re part of the same community, there’s no distance.
How do you feel about Microsoft's gradual burying of the XBIG channel? RHa I think XBIG is absolutely a ghettoisation of indie content. There’s some people at Microsoft that think [Indie Games is] good, and then a whole load of people who basically hate it and want it to go away. I think it’s also true to say that there isn’t a single console platform holder who offers a satisfactory experience for browsing and buying games. I think they’re all different degrees of being crap. It boggles my mind that they haven’t just gone and hired some people from Amazon, who understand how to make websites where people buy things and handle reader reviews properly. Most of the Xbox Indie stuff is terrible, and then some of it’s amazing and there’s no way of really finding it easily. RHo There needs to be more curation, because people compare it to the App Store and there is a certain amount of curation there. Just something to throw people a lifeline in that sea of crap. Just over a year ago, Edge wrote an article about the good stuff that’s in there. And I didn’t even realise that Arkedo had been making Xbox Indie Games, and I straight away went and got those games. But it was impossible to know that they were in there, really. RHa And it’s hard enough to find them when you do know they’re in there.