Sagi Koren of SpikySnail Games - Interview

When The Splatters first came out, I was fortunate enough to get to play it right off of the bat. I enjoy a good puzzle game, and this physics-based title is one of the best I have played to date.

I was a big fan of The Splatters, scoring it an 8/10 in my review, which was released for the Xbox 360 at the time. I was excited to hear that SpikySnail Games was releasing Super Splatters for the PC via Steam, and had an opportunity to chat with Game Developer Sagi Koren about several topics.

Me: What are your priorities for the next year?
Sagi: We’re launching Super Splatters on Steam this week for Windows, Mac and Linux soon after - so I think this pretty much sets my priorities for the next year. We want as many people as possible to try out the game and have fun with all it has to offer. And we’ll take next year to see that this happens.

Me: I thought the ability to upload scores and videos was a nice way to show off and see some pretty amazing shots. Has the reception to this been generally positive and helped to build up a bit more of a sense of community in your mind than other similar games?
Sagi: You’re talking about Splatter TV, which is a really big part of the game. Splatter TV automatically uploads every top-score game of every level you’re playing. So what we actually created, is a huge YouTube-like place, where you can just watch a complete levels of all the players from around the world. And since the game is designed in a way that there so many ways to complete a level, Splatter TV is the perfect to learn new moves and tricks and then try them out for yourself. It’s also a place where you can just sit back and have your jaw-dropped while watching the best player in the world complete a level in ways you couldn’t even imagine. It’s really quite awesome.

As for the community, it’s really hard to tell. The XBOX platform has it’s own community but doesn’t have tools where you can connect with your community with ease through forums, FaceBook, etc - like on PC. It’s not as easy to recommend a game to a large group of people and even if you want to take a screenshot or record yourself play (and upload it to YouTube). You need to have the right tools and hardware to do that.

We’ve seen people pull amazing moves on Splatter TV and we’re sure that if they had the ability to share it - they would do so. We’re really hoping all of that will change for the best as soon as we launch on PC.

Me: So why Xbox Live originally, and not Steam or PlayStation Network? What appealed to you about working with Microsoft to start, and do you think Splatters will find its way onto PSN at some point in the future? What about on mobile platforms?
Sagi: When we first pitched the game to Microsoft, it was quite early in production and concept. They gracefully said no and we continued with the PC path. During that time we also sent the game out to 2-3 major competitions and were lucky enough to win and get the opportunity to present the game on the floor on each one. One of those were IGF which is part of the GDC conference. There, one of Microsoft Games producers came by to say hello. And when we got back home, there was an email from him asking if we want to pitch the game again. We got the green light from MS pretty fast after that and signed the contract soon after with MGS as our first party publishers.

To the question why XBOX first. For us, being 3 people out of Israel that were working from our homes (and still are, by the way) and this is our first game ever, it’s pretty hard to say no to that deal. It wasn’t about money at all (we funded the entire thing out of our pocket) it was more about thinking that if the first step we ever take will be on the XBOX platform, it could really help our following steps. And although the XBOX is a tough market for indies these days. I still think we made the right choice.

As for mobile platforms, our immediate step is to bring Super Splatters to Windows, Mac and Linux. After that we plan to do two thing simultaneously - try to find as much audience as we can for the game and start thinking about mobile platforms. As for PSN, it’s not on the top of the list but if the game is a hit on Steam, we might think about doing something for PSN as well. We never rule out anything.

Me: So to kick this question off - congratulations on the recent Steam release. That has to be exciting for you - but I am sure it brought some challenges as well. Did designing it for PC (and the typical mouse & keyboard interface) present any particular challenges - or maybe even give you some new advantages in how players can interact with the interface?
Sagi: Actually the game started as a keyboard and mouse thing (before we knew that we will release on XBOX first) - and it really works great with that. We were fortunate to have a game that works very well with Controller and Keyboard/Mouse at the same time. And we plan to have both on the Steam version.

As for other challenges - yes there are. First of all, regardless of the platform, Super Splatters is not your regular port and I wouldn’t exaggerate if I’d say that it was almost like designing a new game. It definitely felt like it - and in a good way. It took a year to make simply because we decided that there’s a chance here to take everything we didn’t have time to put in the previous game and also change all the stuff we knew that didn’t work - and shuffle everything together into something new. We’re very happy about the outcome. The game is much more accessible now, has a deeper progression and story and much more challenges than before.

Super Splatters is a challenging game to teach. You have all these awesome moves and moments throughout the game that really drives up your adrenaline levels. But on the same time, it take time to get there. This was our main struggle over the past year. After watching so many players on Splatter TV, we knew very well what wasn’t working in our training levels. We saw people missing a very basic move or doing it wrong and it has made their whole game worthless from that point. So we worked really really hard to build the game progression in a way that will guide the player through better training - but at the same time will keep him excited throughout the process.

A couple of months ago in PAX Boston, we put the game out for the first time. We saw something we haven’t seen before. Player after player took the controller and just played the game for about half an hour without asking us anything. Then they stopped when they saw that more people are waiting, turned to us, said ‘awesome’ and left. The situation proved to us that we did something right with all the changes and that all the hard work was worth it. It might not sound like a big deal - but it was for us. Especially with a game that requires a skill to have fun.

Me: What inspired you to make a physics based puzzle game in the first place? Was it another game, something you found lacking in other games or some other person or source that simply encouraged the idea along?
Sagi: Niv, who coded the entire game and engine, had previous experience with tissue and liquid simulation. He used to work in a medical simulation company and they do a lot of those there. Se we decided to start there.

We just sat down at his house night after night throwing out ideas. What we liked - we prototyped and tested. What we didn’t like, we threw away and moved on. The game slowly evolved that way. one piece after that other. And in the back of our minds, we were always looking for the fun factor. Something that will give keep you engaged and that will bring you joy when you finally complete it.

The game completely changed throughout the development process so many times it’s hard to keep count.

Me: I absolutely loved the colorful visuals and overall design of the goo-like Splatters. How did you decide on these blob like critters as the primary game component? Was this the art design from the beginning, or did you go through a lot of different iterations before you found something that felt right?
Sagi: This was a mutual process between Niv and me. He created the engine, and together we decided what’s working and what doesn’t work. He also iterated on those creatures and the liquid simulation tons of times throughout the process. It was always between stuff. A touch here and touch there. A lot of times I started playing yet another prototype version and found out that the skin got a little better. That the liquid got more realistic. It never stopped.

Overall art and design wasn’t like that in the beginning but we always knew that we wanted an environment that would look realistic but would fit the crazy world of the Splatters. So the basic layout was always in our minds, but the design kept on changing.

Me: People love the saying that hindsight is always 20/20. Now that The Splatters has been out for a while, is there anything you and the team wish you had done a bit differently right from the start? Whether it's a mode that might have been left out or a feature you later wish you had thought of?
Sagi: There are a lot of things we would have differently but we didn’t have the time nor the people to do it back then. And most importantly, we didn’t have the knowledge that we have now. Seeing so many people play the game and us shuffling it like we did, really brought us back to the beginning and made us take out our drawing boards and start over. We kept the core mechanics that was working great but definitely chose different ways to do other things now.

Me: Any lessons learned in general you would want to share with others who are trying to get a title of theirs released?
Sagi: I really don’t want to bum out people but it’s a very tough industry out there. I always tell people that it’s very much like the movie industry. There the big hits who have millions for production and marketing and from time to time you hear about an indie movie that made it big. But you never hear about thousands of others that go through the entire process each year but don’t make it.

So my advice is do it because you love it and because you want to mark a big V mark on your dream. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t make it big. Always be happy that you created something on your own. It’s a great feeling.

Me: And finally, what games are you playing at the moment yourself?
Sagi: I wish I had time. :)

I want to thank Sagi a great deal for his time, and wish the best of luck for SpikySnail going forward with Super Splatters. 

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