Sportsfriends is a collection of four indie games that all share a focus on local multiplayer and a capacity to draw crowds of spectators. Producer Doug Wilson, who also created J.S. Joust, told Joystiq he thinks of the downloadable collection as "a 21st-century reincarnation of Summer Games." Accordingly, it'll be released in "Summer/Fall 2013."
The collection will be funded both by Sony's Pub Fund and through a Kickstarter, which will also act as a pre-order platform. Now let's make friends with the four new sports:
Johann Sebastian Joust
Created by Douglas Wilson and his studio Die Gute Fabrik, Johann Sebastian Joust is a game in which players, each wielding a PlayStation Move, move slowly in time with music, attempting to jostle other players' controllers. It's a hit at festivals, but has only been released to the public as part of the Kickstarter for the Venus Patrol website.
Ramiro Corbetta's Hokra requires four players and, preferably, an audience. In the minimalist sport, players compete to move a dot to their corner of the screen before their opponents do. You can see its potential for crowd-pleasing fun in our IndieCade video.
Super Pole Riders
Super Pole Riders is an update of the browser game Pole Riders by the diabolical Bennett Foddy. Pole Riders is a sort of polo match between two pole vaulters, attempting to kick a ball on a high wire by vaulting up to it. In true Foddy fashion, the controls are both fascinating and frustrating.
BaraBariBall by Noah Sasso is a sort of two- or four-player pixelated Super Smash Bros. sport. Players chase each other around large arenas, attempting to dunk a ball into the water on the opposing players' side without falling in.
The collection "focuses on bringing together people to the same physical space to enjoy local multiplayer that's not just local multiplayer, but something that's accessible, easy to pick up, and importantly for us, really good for spectators," Wilson told Joystiq. "Making games that are almost as fun to watch as they are to play is the core spirit of Sportsfriends."
Making games that are almost as fun to watch as they are to play is the core spirit of Sportsfriends.- Douglas Wilson
All four games will see updates for the compilation. J.S. Joust will see "a ton of adjustable settings," allowing players to set controller sensitivity and vary game types. "Small stuff: for example, right now when you play, always one person wins," Wilson noted. "Which means you can do this suicide jump at the end if you know you're going to get the other guy out before you. And that's actually the way I prefer to play the game, but you can also imagine where you have to still survive a second or two, otherwise everyone loses. And there's lots of really small changes like that that can radically alter the house rules of the game." For the first time, Joust will also have on-screen elements, consisting of "silly characters," but nothing required for gameplay. BaraBariBall will get "a lot of polish and some new levels, and possibly some new characters." Pole Riders will be the most dramatic revamp, according to Wilson, earning it the "Super" modifier. "[Foddy] is going to add a 2 vs. 2 mode, totally new graphics and levels, a little bit more stable physics."
Upon learning of this project, my first reaction was "how was Joust not already on PS3?" It's been the most compelling use of the Move controller since its creation. Adam Boyes, PlayStation VP of Publisher Relations, revealed that they've actually been talking to Wilson for a long time. "I think he's probably had a hundred meetings with us to find some way to work together," Boyes said. "Unfortunately, things take time, and figuring out what the right balance is, how we're going to work together on this ... Doug's been fantastic, and he's established a lot of great friendships here at PlayStation, and again, we read the articles that are like 'Why isn't Sony working on this,' and, well, we've been talking to him. Now we finally have the ability to come and work with him on this project."
I think he's probably had a hundred meetings with us to find some way to work together.- Adam Boyes, PlayStation
Sony will work with Die Gute Fabrik to market the game and fund it through the Pub Fund initiative. But DGF is actually self-publishing, and for the initial development costs it's launched a Kickstarter drive. The fund drive is primarily motivated by the need to hire additional programmers, Wilson explained. "The four of us can kind of hack our way into prototyping four games, but none of us are expert programmers, so that's what we're looking at to get the game out to all these different platforms." Sportsfriends will come to PlayStation 3 first, then to PC, Mac, and Linux.
Kickstarter rewards start at $15 for the actual game – a basic pre-order. For $30, you get access to alpha versions immediately. At higher levels, you can get extra unreleased games and t-shirts. $500 gets you a full Joust "kit" with seven Move controllers. $1,000 gets you an installation of Mega-GIRP, the dance pad-enhanced version of Foddy's brilliant climbing game GIRP. At $10,000, you (being indie-loving rich guy Notch) can choose either to run a live 18-player Joust game in the location of your choice with one of the developers, or to receive a kit for the Foddy/Wilson collaboration Get on Top, a game controlled by players on two full-size trampolines.
Wilson believes that, more than the rewards, the Kickstarter will be incentivized by the years of interest and goodwill the games have built. "We've all been showing these games at festivals for a year or more, trying to build that ground-level support," Wilson said, quickly adding that the events were mostly for fun rather than marketing. "I think for us, it's almost been the inverse of what typical console game marketing is like. Because for us, because the games are so untraditional and a little weird, and a little retro – the idea that you would only do local multiplayer – we'd have to go from the reverse."