Retooling Joe Danger for XBLA
Released in 2010, Hello Games' Joe Danger was a PSN exclusive and one of the first games to receive backing from Sony's Pub Fund, which matches development costs in exchange for exclusivity. However, last week the Guildford-based studio announced Joe Danger: Special Edition, a remake of the original with kinks ironed out and some 15 hours of extra content, for Xbox Live Arcade. How did that go down with Sony? And whatever happened to Microsoft's content policy, where it insists on content and release date parity for multiplatform releases? We caught up with managing director Sean Murray to find out how it happened, what the two platform holders are like to work with, and whether his previous description of XBLA as a "slaughterhouse" for small developers still stands.
When will Joe Danger Special Edition be released?
We’re aiming for a date around Christmas. We’re absolutely killing ourselves to get it on the store for people as they unwrap their new Xboxes. I think that would be awesome.
You said you weren't happy with aspects of the original – what were they, and what have you changed?
Joe Danger was well received, but really we finished it because we ran out of money. It killed us to let it out the door. I can’t describe what this feels like, to get a chance to go back, to refine an idea you’ve now watched hundreds of thousands of people play through. We knew it was difficult, but sometimes it could be plain frustrating. I absolutely hated that, it ate at me, and it’s been cathartic to fix it. We’ve removed levels that we hated, thrown out challenges that didn’t work and I guess had the confidence to add more of what we liked.
Hello Games managing director Sean Murray
There's extra content in the XBLA version too – what is it?
There’s basically a whole new game’s worth of content, which is crazy I know. Easily ten or 15 hours of playing time. It’s called the Laboratory, and it reminds me a bit of the old Challenge mode in Timesplitters, really short bursts of challenging gameplay. It’s where we experiment with ideas, and is like a peek behind the scenes of how the game gets developed.
Did you ever watch a developer play their own game? It’s always so fluid, so perfect in their hands. That’s been our aim with Special Edition: we wanted to make people experts. I think we explain the game better now, we’re giving a masterclass. For those people who do become experts we’ve added developer challenges called Pro Medals. We’re laying down the gauntlet, and I will bow to anyone who anyone who unlocks them all.
You once described XBLA as a "slaughterhouse" for smaller devs, saying the odds were stacked against indies making money on the service. What's changed?
The odds are still pretty tough. Over 100 XBLA titles came out last year – I think 12 came out this month. It’s not a huge number, but I think a lot of those titles fail to make an impact. I don’t think PSN or Steam or iOS is any better – most are worse – but the cost of entry is high on XBLA. In the early days a slot on XBLA was a golden ticket, but that hasn’t been true for a while. That isn’t Microsoft’s fault though: I actually blame the thirdparty publishers who still think download titles mean cheap or low quality. That cash-in stuff is hiding the quality titles.
My “slaughterhouse” comment was from part of a discussion where I was warning indies away from signing with those types of publishers. Like I say, a hundred titles came out last year, but most people struggle to name ten. I bet the ones you’d mention would come from small indie studios and most would be published by Microsoft. I think that says a lot.