As one of the more gung-ho action action games coming to Sony’s Vita platform, the announcement of Broforce instantly piqued my interest as it seemed to play according to the same tropes as run and gun shooters of yesteryear. And with its unequivocal macho brashness presented in glorious pixel art detail, Free Lives’ first commercial title certainly harks back to a more simpler time when men were depicted as 2D action heroes who were out to win the war on terror. Indeed, with the title taking its cues from action movies of yesteryear, it wasn’t at all surprising to discover that Lionsgate contacted the development team to produce the officially sanctioned ‘Expendables 3’ movie tie-in in the form of the free Expendabros download. To hear about this and more, I spoke to Ruan Rothman of Free Lives at Gamescom, and got to ask his as to what was it that made the development team announce Broforce for Vita (along with a whole host of other platforms). Enjoy the interview…
How long has Broforce been in development for?
The game was originally conceived in April 2012 Ludum Dare game. We’ve been working on it full time since September of that year.
It’s a game that’s inspired by the run-and-gun shooters that were prominent in the 90s, games like Contra and Metal Slug. What made you decide to make a game that was in the vein of those classic arcade run-and-gun shooters?
Obviously classics like Contra and Metal Slug were a big influence, but modern games like Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box, other terrain destruction games, Spelunky and games like that were perhaps even a greater influence than those [classics]. It’s a game that has the retro looks and themes of the movies, because the same age as when those movies came out, those games were popular. It just makes sense to present the game in something from a similar time period.
Speaking of movies, a film that came out recently was ‘Expendables 3’. You decided to release a free DLC pack… can you call it that?
It’s not a DLC pack, it’s a completely standalone free game.
You decided to release Expendabros, I believe?
Which is available until the end of this year?
Is that a licensed product?
It’s fully licensed. They actually contacted us, so we got an email from Lionsgate. As you can imagine receiving an email from a movie studio was a bit scary for us, but they said they weren’t going to sue us, and instead suggested we have a Skype call. We had a Skype call, and they gave the idea of… considering that our products were so close, why don’t we do a tie-in? And making it completely free and non-commercial, but still licensed allowed us to kind of put our spin on it and have a lot of fun with the product. We were able to make something true to Broforce.
How much creative control did Lionsgate have in the development of Expendabros?
They pretty much let us do what we wanted to, which was pretty surprising and pretty cool. I mean, we said Mel Gibson is a robot, and then we like smashed his face and his head explodes in the game, so they pretty much let us do exactly what we wanted to. Everything had to be approved, but I don’t think they denied anything that we sent them.
Given that Expendabros is so close in terms of it’s play mechanics to Broforce, even though there are tweaks here and there to ensure that it’s a completely different product in it’s own right. Do you think Expendabros coming out before Broforce, and given the fact that it’s also free, may somehow hamper the commercial viability of Broforce?
We see it as a demo for Broforce. We’re confident in our game. We feel the more people play Broforce, the more people are going to eventually buy it. Having that many people play the game for free I think is just going to do our game good, really.
And eventually they’re going to have to buy it anyway because they’ve become addicted to Expendabros…
After the end of this year, will users still be able to play Expendabros if they had already downloaded it?
I believe so. I think if you download it, you can still play it. I’m not 100% sure what the story is, but because it’s licensed, it expires.
There isn’t any code in the game itself which means that once people have downloaded it that there’s a termination date?
No, there’s nothing like that.
Okay, so basically I need to download it?
You’ll probably be able to play it. I assume you would.
You mentioned games like Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box as well as Spelunky. Both of those games are comparatively more cleaner looking than Broforce. I’m not saying that Broforce looks ugly or anything like that, its [just] more “blocky” and tends to have a more 8-bit aesthetic attributed towards it. What was the decision for going down that road?
Well, the game is an evolution of 8-bit mechanics, and while we’re using pixel art it’s also an evolution of 8-bit pixel art. So using a wider color scheme, and adding more detail kind of came naturally to us. We also don’t restrict movement to pixels. Things rotate freely and we have trees that bend and shift that don’t conform to pixel space at all. If you can put that in without compromising how the game looks and it’s better off for it, then why not?
Most indie developers are tending to go for this pixel art look. Why do you think pixel art is coming back in such a strong fashion?
Well, it is a budget thing. Pixel art allows you to have a familiar look, you don’t have to go out there and produce a lot of content on a reasonable budget. It’s something that people like and can relate to. I think people aren’t doing pixel art because it looks retro, they’re doing it because it just works and it’s achievable with a small art team to make a whole game.
Some people would disagree with that though. They’d say that pixel art, to do it well, requires significantly more resources than say doing something that requires polygons…
I don’t know. I mean, to do one 3D character it needs to be modeled, rigged, animated… I don’t think you can say that. If you use a 2D plane character there are ways to do it cheaper, but I think it doesn’t look as good as pixel art on a similar budget.
What other games has your development studio been involved in prior to Broforce and Expendabros?
Broforce is our first commercial game. We’ve done a couple of Jam games. There was Ouya Create Jam where we made a game called Strange Happenings On Murder Island. We’ve done a few other prototypes and so on, but this is our first commercial product. We also have another prototype called Death Smashers which is a first person shooter that we like a lot that we might pursue once we finish with Broforce.
You mentioned the fact that you did your first game using the Ouya Game Jam. Are you releasing Broforce on Ouya?
Not likely. Despite looking simple, Broforce is actually a pretty resource intensive game due to the multitude of interactions that everything has with everything. It might be possible to get it to run in Ouya but it would be a very tough job I think.
So it has nothing to do with the commercial viability of releasing the game on the Ouya, rather it’s more to do with technical inadequacies?
Well, I mean it’s a cost benefit. If it were commercially viable to release on Ouya but at greater porting cost then we would have considered it, but right now the Ouya doesn’t look like a viable platform unfortunately.
What platforms is Broforce coming out on?
PC, Mac, we will have a Linux version as well. PlayStation 4 and PS Vita.
Given the Vita’s significantly less ratio of appeal in the West in comparison to the 3DS, why have you decided to release the game on the Vita as opposed to the 3DS, and at the same time do you have any plans for releasing Broforce on the Wii U?
Well, for the first question: Sony approached us, and offered to help us with the porting which offset costs for porting.
Is that for the Vita?
Yeah. And Broforce will work well on a device like that, and because Sony approached us and helped us to port to their platform that encouraged us. Nintendo hasn’t, so it’s not that we’ve planned not to release on Wii U, but we’re not currently planning as the game isn’t finished yet.
Even though Sony approached you to port the game to the Vita, how hard and how resource intensive was it for you to go about taking those steps?
Devolver, our publisher, handles most of our negotiations for us. For us on the development side it’s not really much at all. They did a demo port of Broforce onto PS4, so there was a little bit of back and forth with the porting team assisting them with some things, but really Devolver handled all our negotiations for us so we can just focus on making the game.
When is Broforce out?
It’s due out early to middle next year, but… when it’s done, really. (Laughter)
That’s all I wanted to ask… Thank you.