Have you heard people rave about the graphics-less multiplayer game Johann Sebastian Joust but never been able to play it? Have you noticed that it is played with PlayStation Move controllers and wondered why in the world Sony hasn't greenlit it for an official PlayStation 3 release?
J.S. Joust is a clever 21st century game of.... jousting. And it will be released officially on the PS3 (and PC, Mac and Linux) along with three other games, if people chip in $US150,000 to a brand new Kickstarter. This is a gaming Kictstarter to care about it, folks. The project, a compilation of four local multiplayer games, is called Sportsfriends. Think of it as a crazier, artsier Wii Sports .
The other three games are Hokra (sort of like soccer), Super Pole Riders (kind of like competitive pole-vaulting), BaraBari Ball (vaguely like volleyball). The Kickstarter video embedded above explains all of this.
But you might have some questions. I sure did. Thankfully, J.S. Joust creator was willing to answer all three of them.
Kotaku: These are critically acclaimed games, but you're saying publishers turned you guys down? What were you told was the problem with your stuff?
Wilson: Of the four of us, I've probably spent the most time shopping my game (Johann Sebastian Joust) around to various partners and publishers. After I won the Innovation Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards — beating heavy-hitters like LA Noire and Portal 2! — I thought I'd have a decent chance of getting proper funding to polish J.S. Joust and release it commercially. As it turns out, the game is just a little too untraditional. The game doesn't even need a screen, and there's not even a compelling way to give it a single-player mode! After some months, it became clear to me that I'd have to self-publish the game. That's where Kickstarter comes in. I know the fans are clamoring for a commercial release, and the game has shown so well at public events like IndieCade and PAX. So, I'm hoping to leverage that grassroots support and crowd-fund the game over the finish line, so to speak.
For a long time now, Ramiro [Corbetta, creator of Hokra,] and I have been talking about the general challenge of commercializing local multiplayer. The question is, how do you take a minimalistic four-player multiplayer-only game like Hokra and sell it? That kind of game is an outlier, at least in today's console market. Inspired by other compendiums like Summer Games or Wii Sports, we decided that it would make sense to take a number of like-minded multiplayer indie games and package them together. That way, the final product would have enough "meat" to it to become an attractive purchase. Or at least that's the hope!
Kotaku: These are all multiplayer games, but — correct me if I'm wrong — are all local multiplayer games and don't have online play. Why the fondness for local multiplayer and what do you think it has over online multiplayer or solo play?
Wilson: Yup, local multiplayer only. For us that's a very deliberate decision.
The four of us designed our games with local multiplayer specifically in mind. For example, Hokra and BaraBariBall were both commissioned for NYU's No Quarter exhibition. I know Ramiro thought a lot about spectatorship when he was designing Hokra. Those considerations influenced our design processes significantly. I just think it's a mistake to think that local multiplayer and online multiplayer will work the same way. Each domain calls for a different approach.
I don't have anything against online play, but I think those kinds of games have, in the last decade, overshadowed old-school local multiplayer. Think back to those games you played at the arcade, or on the playground, or in your friend's living room. The four of us believe that those types of gaming experiences are super important. Sportsfriends is our way of shouting out to the gaming world — "hey, local multiplayer is a very valuable thing, don't forget about it!" There's just something special about playing games in the same room as your friends, or competing in front of a cheering crowd.
Also, it's difficult to imagine how you'd play J.S. Joust online! Probably the closest thing is Pippin Barr's browser-based satire, Ludwig Von Beatdown.
Kotaku: Why don't your games include any guns? Isn't that kind of weird?
Actually, we keep joking about a sequel called GUNFRIENDS. Should we make that happen? [Note from Stephen: Yes, I would play a game with that title.]
I personally don't have anything against acutely violent games, but I do think they bring with them a certain "stigma." Like, I think some non-gamers see gun combat and dismiss the game — "oh, it's just another video game — not for me." Sports, however, are a central part of mainstream culture all over the world. Many of us grew up playing sports at school, and millions and millions of us watch professional sports. So, from a design standpoint, using conventions from sports is one way to reach people who might not otherwise be so interested in video games. The four Sportsfriends games are influenced by sports like martial arts, soccer, hockey, polo, volleyball. The hope is that drawing from those precedents will help make the games more accessible and more spectator-friendly.
All that said, I will admit that Pole Riders can get a little violent. Bennett [Foddy, the game's creator] tells us that in the new version, you'll be able to impale your opponent on your pole, then wave their lifeless body around as a kind of club. I'm excited.
SPORTSFRIENDS featuring Johann Sebastian Joust [Kickstarter]