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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

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At this point, with only a basic demo, a decision on which platform to develop for hadn’t even been made.

“The decision came [to go with Vita] from both sides, really,” Hegarty explains. “Sony at the time were looking for Vita content and because we had a mobile demo it felt like a natural way to go.”

What was certain much earlier was that, for OlliOlli to work, Roll7 had to move away from the mobile space they had explored with 2012′s iOS game Gets to the Exit.

“You get a complete range of gamers playing games on mobile phones, but they tend to be more ‘casual’ – and I certainly don’t mean that in a derogatory sense,” Hegarty continues.

“We definitely made the right decision by going with the Vita. The game is really all about the idea of ‘flow’, and that flow is built by the combo system and the different tricks available to you. Those tricks and combos only became possible with the Vita’s analogue stick, and the triggers allowed us to add spins which massively expanded the range of tricks.

“Obviously, you’re not physically on a real board, but we feel that the analogue stick does provide some sort of similarity to real skateboarding.”

While the Vita’s design and input options have facilitated and expanded the core mechanics in a way that a smartphone could never hope to match, the process of getting the game onto the device in the first place was not one anyone at Roll7 knew much about.

Hegarty is quick to point out his own ignorance in this area, as well as applaud Sony’s role in providing a helping hand: “This really was a step in the dark for us, our first console title. Sony were really good to us during the pitching progress and, having run my own businesses for something like 10 years now, I’ve always been wary of pitching to clients.

“If we had thought about how Skate and Tony Hawk’s are faring now we might have thought differently about making a skateboarding game, so I’m glad we remained ignorant”

“After our first pitch to Sony they told us that we weren’t asking them for enough money… they said they liked what we pitched, but it wasn’t going to work with the amount of money we asked for. That’s not usually how it works, you usually get asked to do even more than you’ve pitched and then get hammered down on the price [laughs].”

Not only did Sony like the OlliOlli concept, but they had no interest in taking ownership of the game away from Roll7 – an approach that Hegarty believes has a lot to do with why indie studios are so willing to work with the platform holder.

“We always wanted to retain the rights to the game, but we didn’t have to argue that point with Sony. I think that’s how they’ve lured so many smaller studios to their platforms, and I think part of the idea behind what [Shahid Ahmad] has been running is to help developers like us to make that step to console development, because it is daunting and there are so many unknowns.”

One of the those unknowns was how to time the launch itself, the final confirmation of which coming about as much through personal failure as forward planning.

“Originally we were due to release on 20 November 2012, but we failed the QA process. We did not anticipate how tough that QA process would be at all and it eventually took us four attempts to pass,” Hegarty admits.

“The game was actually approved in mid-December and Sony said that they had a slot open just before Christmas… we decided, though, to not go through the launch then because January looked quieter on the release front.

“I think the delay, through our own fault at the QA stage, has actually worked out well – not least because the original 20 November date we had was the same day that the Tearaway coverage embargo was lifted. We would have gotten no coverage.

“I would definitely recommend that other small studios release their game in January, that seems to get you a lot more publicity.”

With average review scores that single out OlliOlli as one of the year’s best games so far, generating positive publicity – rather than merely publicity – has not been a problem. Guilty by skateboarding-
game association has most certainly not been a problem for this title. Hegarty, however, explains that the skateboarding game climate didn’t even figure in the game’s design: “I think because we came at this game from a background of building different prototypes, and this is the one that worked, the general idea and status of skateboarding games didn’t really come into our thinking.

“Also, because Sony were interested in our idea that gave us the confidence to think ‘well, we must have something going for us here.’”

In fact, Hegarty sees OlliOlli as more similar to a number of other, non-skateboarding, games. “OlliOlli is skating inspired, and 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, games that have that – and I know they’re overused phrases – ‘hard as nails’ and ‘just one more go’ appeal.

“I imagine if we had thought about how Skate and Tony Hawk’s are faring now we might have thought differently about making a skateboarding game, so I’m glad we remained ignorant to that.”

Having now gone through the entire pitch, design and launch process with OlliOlli on Vita, Hegarty believes that the core team at Roll7 is better placed to create their next game – a title that he “can’t talk really about now… but our next project is going to be for PlayStation.”

Although, that might not be a PS4 game. If you thought the life of a PlayStation-family game developer is all about building, and having access to, the newest games, think again…

“We only managed to get our hands on a PS4 a couple of weeks ago,” Hegarty laughs. “Stupidly, we didn’t pre-order it.”

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