AN INTERVIEW WITH EITAN GLINERT, FIRE CHIEF OF FIRE HOSE
How about a little background about the studio?
Fire Hose Games was formed in of Summer 2008. So we’re like two and a half years old right now. We’re pretty new. We’re almost at a point where we’re not calling ourselves start-up. As soon as this game comes out I think we’ll stop doing that and we’ll just say we’re a game studio, we’re established. Before that I was making games for a little while in other contexts, for instance I was over at MIT at the Gambit Video Game Lab. I was making games there for a while. One of the other guys here was actually at the MIT Video Game Lab at the same time, Sharat. We was working there, and that’s how we met and knew each other, so we have a pretty strong MIT connection. Before that I was working actually in Washington, DC for two years making video games down there. So all over the place.
And why did you decide to settle in Cambridge to found your studio?
That’s a pretty easy question. We’re the super MIT video game start-up. We’re called ‘fire hose’ because there’s a saying at MIT that learning at MIT is like drinking from a fire hose. I’m sure other people use that as well, but we really liked that and we thought it was cool, so we made it that out name. Myself and the first two other guys to join me at Fire Hose, Sharat and Ethan, were both MIT also. So we have super-strong ties to the community. I’ve been here since 2001, with the exception of the two year break to make Games in DC. We’re just going to be here forever, more or less. We’re all immigrants to Boston, thanks to MIT, but we all live here now and this is our home.
So why don’t we talk about your game, Slam Bolt Scrappers. Could you give me a description of the game, some kind of easy, condensed description for people to understand it?
I’m not sure there is an easy condensed description. The short of it is, that we are mashing up genres that, to my knowledge, haven’t been mashed up before. So you’ve got the fighting or brawler genre, where you go beat people up and you fight with friends and stuff like that. And that’s pretty well known. Then you’ve got the builder genre which is slightly less well known, but there are plenty of games in there. Like World of Goo was a great example of a game that just came out. So, to my knowledge, we’re the first game who really marries them in an interesting way and mashes them up. So we’re a mash-up of building and brawling. It’s multi-player game, so everything is 1-4 players. You can play it by yourself, you can play it with three other friends so there’s four of you sitting in front of the TV. Everything is multi-player, and you go through different levels and fight your friends or fight the computer while at the same building up this tower and also fights with you. It’s a little bit crazy. It’s kind of like tower defense or Puzzle Fighter meets Smash Bros. in some ways. It’s pretty neat.
That does sound pretty cool.
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
I understand this game will only be releasing on the Playstation 3. Why did you decide to make it exclusive to one system?
The short, glib answer is because the PS3 made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Basically, we were shopping this game around, and Sony Computer Entertainment America and Sony Online Entertainment, so two branches of Sony basically, came to us and they said “We love your game and we want it on the PS3.” I’m sure your readers have a pretty good feel for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The PS3, in my opinion, is really good for small-time indie game developers. If you have a weird idea for a game that is out there, that is trying some new stuff and breaking new ground, then the PS3 is the place for you. I think the users of the PS3 are really open to trying new types of gameplay and they’re very hungry for innovation. And working with Sony has just been a delight. They’re really fantastic people and they’ve been incredibly supportive of us. Normally when you work with a big company, a big publisher, you have to get very worried that they’re going to pollute your idea, that they’re going to come in and start telling you how to do things and ruin your creative vision. Sony, they were the furthest thing in the world from that. They were extremely supportive, they were willing to let us do whatever we wanted, and they actually were actually like, “OK, well how can we help you in your crazy quest to make this game?” So for all of those reasons, working with them has been great. Microsoft and Nintendo, and I guess the PC markets would be interesting for us also, but this game, really the best home for is on the PS3. So that’s why we’re doing it there.
Is there any contractual obligation keeping it on the PS3?
Yeah it’s going to be an exclusive. So sorry to all of the 360 and Wii owning people out there. This game will not be on there any time soon.
I know for the testing process you’ve been having people come into the studio for this ‘open beta’, why did you choose this method over a digital distribution model?
Normally speaking, “open beta” is when you sit at your computer and download the beta. But the thing is that it’s a PS3 open beta, so we can’t easily give people downloadable stuff. So instead our open beta was, if you lived in the greater Boston area and you wanted to come and play the game, all you have to do is email us and say “I want to come test,” and that’s it. We hook you up, you come in, you test. You can sit on our couches, play our game, eat our snacks and drink our soda and you can just play the game. And, you know, we don’t get to quite as many people as a public open beta would on the PC, but this is what we can do and it works really well for us.
Do you have a release date at this point?
No. You don’t actually know, especially on a game like our that’s kind of a smaller game. You don’t really know the release date until the very end. Like, we’ll probably know the release date five minutes before it drops. But it’s coming out soon, we know that, but we don’t know exactly when.
So when you submit it, is there an approval process, where Sony has to look at it and test it, or is it more about you still having to fine-tune it?
So there is an approval process like that, where they basically they take you game and make sure it doesn’t break anything. That it doesn’t break their system and it doesn’t do anything illegal. But that’s a simplified way of looking at it because that implies that, out of the blue, we give it to them and they’re like “What the hell is this?” We’ve actually been talking to them for months now. They know it’s coming, they’ve already seen it. We give them versions of it all the time, so they actually know almost everything about the game already. So, when we give them the final version, it’s really just, “OK, here’s out final version. Do a very quick perfunctory testing and here’s a gold star, we knew it was gonna pass anyway.” Any show-stopping problem should be identified long before you actually give them the final copy.
Are there any major changes you decided to make to the game based on your ‘open beta’ testing process?
Oh my God, yeah. So many. There’s so many changes. This isn’t terribly interesting, but it’s a good example. We move the tutorial. We have a tutorial level in the game that teaches you how to play. There’s a world map in our game, and it used to be that the tutorial was the first thing you saw on the world map. And we found that users were occasionally missing it because they wouldn’t go to the world map, they’d go straight to battle mode and then they’d start doing that. So after seeing that in testing, that people weren’t finding the tutorial always, like maybe half of them were missing it, we ended up taking the tutorial out of the world map and we moved it right to the main menu. So when you come into the game, the first thing you see is kind of a ‘how to play’ section which kind of teaches you how to play, before you even get to the world map or even get to battle mode. And that fixed that problem. So that’s not a terribly interesting thing, but it changed the dynamic of how our map looked in out game and how things were set up. And that’s just one example of a million things that we changed based on testing. Which is why people should come in and test for us. Because if they come in and play it, they’re actively helping make the game better.
I think it’s really cool having people come in and test in the studio as opposed to what a lot of these large game companies, like Bungie with Halo for example do. Where you’re in the game environment and they don’t really talk to you… They use this cold machine to measure all of your statistics to find performance problems, so I like your personal way of doing things.
Well, saying a cold machine, I actually don’t think that’s fair. I agree with some of what you said, but sometimes a cold machine is better and here’s why: If I’m sitting in a room with you and you’re playing my game, you’re going to like it more than you would otherwise because you’re sitting in here with me. Sweet, oh isn’t that fun! But if you’re just sitting with a machine, you have no incentive to like the game anymore. It’s amazing how psychology works that you’re going to like the game much more if the maker of the game is sitting there with you than if you had a machine sitting there. So actually, even though it sounds terrible, Bungie‘s getting more honest feedback that way, because no one’s sugar coating anything. It’s just a machine. Who cares if you piss it off? Versus, you’ll never tell me that you hate the game because you like me and you’ll feel bad about that. So in their defense, that actually makes sense. That being said though, indie studios are still way better and you’re totally right.
Will it support online multiplayer?
Couch play is what we’re going for. This game is a four-player game where you go and play with your friends. Online multi-player works really well for some games, right? If you’re playing a first person shooter, you have the whole screen, that’s great. But some games are much better played in the same room. You ever play Mario Kart?
Mario Kart is a game that playing online sucks. It’s just terrible. And playing in the same room with people is the best thing ever. And out game is very similar. We’re really trying to encourage people playing in the same room. Going online and playing our game you lose so much. There’s all this yelling, there’s all this laughing, all this fun stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise. So the party game feel, the couch play, that’s what we’re really going for with this.
If there was a significant clamoring from you fans to add online capability, would that be a feature you’d consider adding?
I have no idea. If people really start making noise and complaining about it, we’ll see. I mean, we don’t want to make people angry, but personally, I doubt that’s going to happen.
I definitely get a very Smash Brothers vibe from this.
Exactly. This is a game that people are really going to want to play in the same room. If it really comes down to an issues, we’ll worry about it then.
I heard you were auctioning the names of some of the characters off. Is that already over?
It is finished unfortunately, although if you have a reader that’s rich and want to make a donation… We auctioned off the naming rights for two of our characters, and all of the proceeds, 100%, went to Child’s Play, which is a charity that goes to benefit sick children. It actually gets sick children in hospitals video games. If you’re a kid, and you’re in a hospital, it pretty much sucks and it’s not fun at all. So video games and other things like that are a great way to help take your mind off of stuff. The charity also does other stuff, like helping with treatment, things like that, so it’s not just games. But we auctioned two of the names for that and actually raised around $2000.00 for the charity with that, and that was really great. So if you have a reader out there, we actually have two more characters that we haven’t named yet. So if someone want to make a donation for naming rights to Child’s Play, we will certainly allow it. But the auctions that we had are over.
That’s still really cool that you got to do that thought.
Definitely. Like I said, If you want to mention that, If some ready feels like ponying up some serious dough, they can call us up and we’ll work something out.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be some philanthropist in Boston who would do that.
Yup. But they’re going to have to donate to Child’s Play.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
There’s so much stuff. I think the multi-player stuff is the most interesting thing in our game. Well, one of the most interesting things in our game. There’s so many games that come out nowadays that you’re just playing by yourself and it’s a single player game, or games that allow you to play multi-player in some ways, but not all ways. I think out game is really nice, it has a full-fledged, multi-player coop campaign. Up to four people can sit down and play the campaign together and play against the computer and against these giant bosses and it’s all really fun. And if you don’t like coop, you can all go play in battle mode against each other, where you have four people fighting against each other and it’s really frantic. Rock Band does that really well. I love those kinds of games and I don’t think there’s nearly enough of them. So that’s something that we’re really trying to focus on. The other thing is, there’s so many games that come out and feel really derivative. And it’s not bad.. Like playing another first-person shoot. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s still really fun, but at the same time I like games that are new and different. Remember how awesome Guitar Hero was when that first came out? That’s the kind of thing we’re really interested in, and that’s what we’ve been doing with this game. It’s a weird building and fighting game that people have never seen before, it’s super colorful, it’s really fun and easy to pick up and play. I think that that’s the really interesting stuff we’re trying to give to people, as opposed to just another racing game with nineteen million cars. I love Gran Turismo 5, but it’s exactly what I expect it to be and nothing more. We’re hoping we can surprise people with this and show them something different and fun.
For more information about Fire Hose Games and their upcoming title Slam Bolt Scrappers, head over to FireHoseGames.com.