Communicating with developers in a professional capacity can occassionally be a buttoned up affair, but Manchester-based indie outfit Cherry Pop Games prefers to forget the formalities. Following the successful launch of Pool Nation on the PlayStation 3, the company is currently polishing up an enhanced PlayStation 4 port dubbed Pool Nation FX. The title – which is due out in time for the console’s launch – will bring its brand of shiny balls to the next generation machine, in addition to a LittleBigPlanet-esque Box of Tricks mode. We caught up with the kooky Gemma Jessop to talk billiards, share buttons, and brilliant parody trailers.
Push Square: Pool Nation released on the PlayStation Network earlier this year. Are you happy with its performance so far? How have you found the introduction into the PlayStation ecosystem?
Gemma Jessop: PlayStation ecosystem? Glad we're not an endangered species! No seriously, the reception on PSN was fantastic – Pool Nation launched to rave reviews, and we really appreciate all of the support that we've had. Our launch timing wasn't fantastic, to be honest – it was right around the time of The Last of Us – but people keep downloading it, so we can’t complain.
PS: What’s the philosophy behind Pool Nation FX? Why have you decided to make the game, and why is it a good fit for the PS4?
GJ: Pool Nation is not just a pool game. That sounds daft I know, but we make pool sexy – or at least I hope that we do. We want to make Pool Nation FX even better, even more fun, and even more addictive, with new modes and special effects; it’ll be a good, trusted, pick-up-and-play experience for pool enthusiasts. The [original version] is the highest rated pool game on any console, which is great, and traditional pool games do really well at the launch of new hardware – stick with me, I’m getting to the point – so, we knew that we had to be part of the launch. It’s a great opportunity for an indie developer, and we can’t wait for the ride to start.
PS: Is there anything technically that the new hardware will allow you to do that you couldn’t on, say, the PS3? How are you improving the visuals and physics?
GJ: The gameplay in Pool Nation is pivotal; our physics engine is created specifically to make the balls react as if they would in real life, and it’s a pretty cool bit of kit. For the PS4 we’re looking at the levels of AI difficulty, flashing ball effects, new trick shot abilities – and, of course, we’re going social with the share button. Pool is a game made for sharing – it’s a social game, after all – and I think that that will really come into its own on the PS4. However, I can’t tell you too much.
PS: Tell us about the Box of Tricks mode. Judging by the trailer it looks like a combination of billiards and LittleBigPlanet, is that accurate?
GJ: Pool Nation’s LittleBigPlanet – I like it! You know what, the Box of Tricks started out with just the balls on the table; moving the balls around into a variety of shapes to create trick shots was pretty fun. But then we decided to add some speed in the form of Speed and Spin strips, so that we could flick the balls around the table at high speed like in pinball, and then – well, that was it, the Box of Tricks was born.
We’ve created an array of already exciting objects, but we want the rest to come from the PS4 community – we want gamers to get involved and decide how our Box of Tricks develops. Going forward, we want balls to come off one table and onto another. We’ve got loads of crazy stuff up our sleeves to keep the game feeling fresh.
PS: As you mentioned, the whole mode seems like a perfect fit for the PS4’s share button. Is that something that you’ve had in mind during development? Are you excited about the prospect of trick shots going viral courtesy of the console’s new social features?
GJ: Excited isn't the word – I’m wetting my pants to see what people will create. You know, you’ve hit the nail on the head with the question, because the share button was always on our mind. It’s a great feature, and like you say, this game was made for it. We really want this to be a community pool game. The above mentioned Box of Tricks isn’t just about trick shots – it’s a physics sandpit of pool-tastic creativity. This will go viral. Well, I hope.
PS: Are you planning to take advantage of any of the PS4’s other unique features – the light bar and touchpad, for example?
GJ: Yes, the touch pad is being used because it’s a natural way to line up and take shots when you think about it. As for the light bar – as you know, this doesn’t have to be used in conjunction with the camera. So, we use this feature as a measure of how well you’re doing in Endurance mode – it’s a measure of health, if you will. We’ve also looked at other uses, but I can’t go into those just yet.
PS: What about the PlayStation Move? Sony’s said that the peripheral will work on the PS4, but is that something that you’re planning to support?
GJ: We did implement Move for Pool Nation on the PS3, but we took it out again because it was just easier and more natural to use a controller. Some games benefit from Move implementation and some don’t. We don’t think that pool is one – so, er, that’s a no.
PS: How are you finding production on the PS4 thus far? Is it really as easy to work with as Sony keeps saying?
GJ: So far, so good. Sony’s hype is on the money.
PS: The PS4 launch is shaping up to be one of the biggest platform releases in history. How does it feel knowing that you’re going to be a part of it?
GJ: It’s amazing! We are very excited – very busy, too – but still very excited. It’s a big thing to be a part of the first PlayStation console launch in seven years, and we’ll be at the forefront of it. I can’t wait. In fact, excited doesn't do it justice.
Still, we need to come up with another teaser video before launch...
GJ: Yes, it was great. I just wanted to create a video that would make people notice it, and therefore get a buzz about Pool Nation before launch. You and I both know that it can be hard getting noticed when you’re the little guy, but we are not afraid to think outside of the box.
Some of the comments that we got back were brilliant. We had hundreds of people deliberating whether our video was actually giving away the official PS4 launch date, with a strategically placed November – and funnily enough, the launch date is November. It’s a shame that it’s not the 8th, however, as we had a few conspiracy theories over the 8-ball in the video actually hinting at the exact date. Unfortunately, we at Cherry Pop Games are not spies, and nor were we privy to that sort of information – or were we?
PS: Gemma, it’s been a blast – thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us.
GJ: My pleasure.
You can check out Pool Nation FX’s aforementioned parody trailer above. Are you planning to pick up the pool simulation alongside your console? Let us know in the comments section below.