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The OlliOlli story: “Sony told us we weren’t asking them for enough money”

Monday, 3rd February 2014 07:49 GMT By John Robertson

John Robertson discovers how Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami influenced a new spin on the neglected skateboarding genre.

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“We do have some references to Tony Hawk’s and Skate in there, but the bigger influences have been the likes of Hotline Miami and Super Meat Boy”

“OlliOlli breathes new life into a neglected genre,” wrote VG247′s Matt Martin on the indie skateboarding game currently sending dual-shockwaves of accomplishment and frustration throughout the PS Vita-owning community.

He’s right. Not only has developer Roll7 demonstrated that new takes on old genres do work, but it has highlighted just how much room for expression and creativity there is to be mined from the simple of idea of plonking a dude on a bit of wood with wheels. The likes of Skate and Tony Hawk’s may have died out, resulting in the neglect of a genre, but looking at those franchises it seems that the skateboarding idea was dilapidated. Creativity was lacking, which is the very reason for their trip to purgatory.

It has a taken a tiny indie team of first-time console developers to highlight that fact. Given the negative connotations surrounding skating games, thanks in large part to the failings of the aforementioned duo, it seemed like an awfully big risk for such a small team to concentrate its efforts on a game like OlliOlli. A skating game. A Vita-exclusive skating game.

We sat down with Roll7 director Tom Hegarty to discuss the origins of the game, the process of indie development with Sony and the reasons behind Vita exclusivity.

“The three of us that founded the company have all been into skateboarding at various stages in our life,” Hegarty reflects when probed about OlliOlli’s concept. “I’m probably the one least into it, mainly because I’m terrible at it, but our creative director John Ribbins is an excellent skater – when he was about 13 he was actually sponsored by a skate brand.

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“At that age he started thinking about how it would be cool to have a 2D, pixelated, side-scrolling skating game. That was about as far as the idea went at that point.

“About 15 years later, we [at Roll7] were making prototypes and one day John came in and showed us this skating game he was working on. He got it running on all of our phones and it really was so addictive, even in a bare bones state.”

That bare bones state took the form of a endlessly-running skating game that utilised touch-screen controls, flicking the left of the screen to do a trick and tapping the right to land – basic principles, minus the touch screen, that remain core to OlliOlli today. It was a skeleton design that worked.

“Although it sounds big-headed to say it about your own game, it was the game that I would always play on my phone,” explains Marsden. “It was also the game the rest of the team played, so we thought we should do something with it.

“When we started touting it about we bumped into James Marsden [director of Velocity Ultra dev FuturLab] and showed the game to him during a completely random meeting. I think he was wearing skater shoes and a skater hat when I saw him, so looked approachable for this kind of game.”

It was that meeting with Marsden, and his connection with Sony following the success of Velocity Ultra on Vita, that opened Roll7′s first door to Vita development. With an email heading that read, in Hegarty’s words “something like, ‘Sony vs. Roll7: Fight!’” the OlliOlli team were introduced to Shahid Ahmad, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s head of strategic content management and the person most readily associated with the Vita’s dedication to indie development.

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