Interview: Straight Talking with Curve Studios
Posted by Sammy Barker
The team that's got its finger in a lot of pies
Ever since bursting onto the PlayStation Network podium with its volatile platformer Explodemon in 2011, talented London-based outfit Curve Studios has been taking a break from Sony’s systems. The developer – which cut its teeth creating Buzz! spin-offs for the PlayStation Portable – filled the time by dipping its toes into the Fluidity franchise on the Nintendo Wii and 3DS. In April, though, the firm made its long-awaited PSN comeback, with the cross-buy port of quadrilateral tearjerker Thomas Was Alone. It’s since been tasked with bringing survival horror smash Lone Survivor and its own Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark to both the PlayStation 3 and Vita. As such, we caught up with the team’s big cheese Jason Perkins to talk indie development, secret projects, and the PlayStation 4.
Push Square: It’s been over two years since Explodemon launched on the PSN. You’ve recently made your PlayStation comeback with the PS3 and Vita ports of Thomas Was Alone. What took you so long to return to the bosom of the PlayStation Nation?
Jason Perkins: Curve has been very busy since we launched Explodemon on the PSN back in 2011. We partnered with Nintendo to bring our original intellectual property Fluidity to the Nintendo Wii and 3DS, and continued with our publishing activities, releasing Stealth Bastard Deluxe on the PC last November.
Currently we have 200,000 players enjoying the game and over 1,000 user-generated levels keeping the game fresh, and we’re bringing an enhanced version, Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark, over to the PS3 and Vita very soon.
PS: You’ve been recruited by both Mike Bithell and Jasper Byrne to port Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor to the PS3 and Vita. Can you talk a little bit about how these projects came about?
JP: Towards the end of summer last year, our former account manager and now head of strategic content [at SCEE] Shahid Ahmed gave us a call and said that he would love to see Stealth Bastard on the Vita, which we were really excited about. During an initial meeting at Sony’s London headquarters, Shahid commented that he would like to see a number of other indie games make it onto the Vita, but was conscious that many of these great games were developed by individuals, who perhaps didn’t have the time or people needed to port the game over, whereas a studio like Curve could.
PS: What made you want to work with other people’s games? In particular, what convinced you that Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor were worth your attention?
JP: On the way home from the meeting, I was listening to [video game radio show] One Life Left. The special guest that evening was Mike Bithell promoting his game Thomas Was Alone. The game sounded really interesting and perfect for the Vita. I downloaded the game the next day and followed up with our design director Jonathan ‘Bidds’ Biddle. Bidds got in contact with Mike and a number of other indies that he knew including Jasper Byrne, the creator of the awesome Lone Survivor, and a plan began to take shape.
Commercially these partnerships make a lot of sense. From a publishing perspective we’re bringing proven, successful games to the PS3 and Vita, and from the developer’s perspective, it brings in new revenue for minimal effort, funding them to continue work on new projects.
PS: How hard has it been converting the titles to the PS3 and Vita? What roadblocks have you faced during production? How have you maintained the ‘feel’ of the original releases?
JP: It’s not always easy because we’re dealing with a lot of different formats. There is no one single technology that has been used to develop these games, so our team has had to port from GameMaker, Unity, Mono, and a number of other middleware solutions.
While it can be a lot of work, it’s also very rewarding to bring the games to a brand new audience. We work very closely with the original developers during production so that we can ensure that the tone and the style of the games feel the same, but we always try to bring something new to every title as well, whether that’s extra content or a new way to control or interact with the game.
PS: Outside of your own Stealth Inc, are you working on converting any other indie titles to the PS3 and Vita at the moment? Can you drop any hints?
JP: We’ve already announced Lone Survivor, but we do have more on the way that we haven’t revealed yet. The only hint that I can give right now is that our next PS3 and Vita game is something very different to what we’ve previously been working on.
PS: You’re working as both a developer and a publisher at the moment. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re balancing the roles? Have you grown as a studio since Explodemon released?
JP: Before Explodemon, we had already been working with porting other titles for Sony, so we’ve always had a lot of experience in that area. Something we knew less about when we launched Explodemon was digital distribution, working with retailers, marketing, PR, and just the day to day amount of work involved with launching a game yourself without any support from a larger organisation.
We learned a lot from that release, and we’ve now built a publishing team with several new hires over the last few months, allowing us to really focus on marketing and distribution without taking any resources away from our development work.
PS: For those that don’t know, can you talk a little bit about what Stealth Inc is about? Why should PS3 and Vita owners be excited?
JP: Stealth Inc is a platform game with, as you might have guessed, loads of stealth elements. We’ve always been big fans of stealth games, but as a genre, the biggest problem is that once you’ve been discovered, you have to spend a lot of time getting back into position and retreading old ground.
Stealth Inc is all about taking that thrill of hiding in the shadows, and amplifying the speed and intensity of the experience. If you get seen, you die, and instantly respawn at a nearby checkpoint to try again, so there’s no running away or waiting to return to the ‘fun’ part of the game. It’s also incredibly challenging, and we’ve worked really hard to make sure that the game is difficult, but still great fun to play even after dying twenty times in a row.
PS: There’s been a lot of talk lately about Sony’s accommodating treatment of indie developers. What’s do you think has been the driving force behind that change?
JP: I think both Microsoft and Sony have been taken aback by just how much demand there is for independent games. At the start of this generation, Minecraft didn’t exist, nobody had heard of Kickstarter, and self-publishing was still very much in its infancy. Microsoft took a lot of early victories in picking up indie titles with Xbox Live Arcade, but Xbox Live Indie Games never really lived up to its potential.
Sony on the other hand didn’t really involve indies until much later in this generation, but has been able to learn from the mistakes made by Microsoft. There’s been a notable willingness to market and advertise indies alongside bigger titles, and real steps to make the submission process much easier for smaller studios. While indies may not make or break a console in the same way that larger exclusives can, a wider appeal is better, and there’s just so much variety in indie games.
PS: Is there anything in particular that’s got you as a studio excited for the PS4?
JP: I think just about everything about the system has us excited right now! From a development perspective, having more RAM will be a great thing, even for smaller games. We’re also very interested to see how some of the social features turn out, especially how the PS4 can make streaming and sharing content easier.
As a fan, I’m looking forward to the amount of smaller independent titles Sony has already signed up. There are a lot of really cool larger titles, but I think that most of them are sequels of games from this generation. The indie games on the other hand are trying out some really new and exciting things, and the more of those we can get on a console, the better.
PS: Have you got anything in the pipeline for the next generation platform yet? If not, do you expect that you will have soon?
JP: We’re currently exploring the features and possibilities of the next generation systems and the types of games that we could make for them, but we haven’t announced any projects yet.
PS: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us.
JP: No problem, thank you.
Stealth Inc and Lone Survivor are due out later this year on the PS3 and Vita. Thomas Was Alone is available now. We offered our last Rolo to Curve Studios in return for more information on its secret projects, but it didn’t take the bait.