Interview / Beatnik Games’ Robin Lacey

Making games is a tricky business, regardless of the size of the studio. UK-based indies Beatnik Games know this all too well. They’ve had a rough couple of years creating Plain Sight, their multiplayer robot-ninja-em-up. It’s a title with a fascinating premise, in which you gain points and power by destroying your enemies, but only bank those points when you destroy yourself and return to your original state.

With such intriguing set-up it would have been terrible if the game had never seen the light of day. Thankfully, after a couple of setbacks Plain Sight is back on track, better than ever and gearing up for release. We dragged producer Robin Lacey away from his booth at the Eurogamer Expo to talk development hell, accessibility and shitting rainbows.

That VideoGame Blog (TVGB): You showed the game at the Eurogamer Expo last year. Tell us a little about the game’s journey since then.

Robin Lacey (RL): Well last year was pretty much an Alpha build, it was just the basic gameplay concept. What we were trying to judge whether people thought the idea fun and if they found it visually interesting – it was basically a prototype. The response was fantastic and we were like, ‘This is great!’ So we went and spent about 3 months or so just working away on it and we thought, ‘Great we’re in Beta stage.’

So around Christmas last year we launched our open beta, which we thought would be fine – we thought maybe 10 people would download it and we’d get a bit of forum feedback. But 50,000 people downloaded it and everything burst into flames and went horribly wrong.

We realized that the game mechanics were broken and it was an absolute nightmare. So over the last 12 months what we’ve done is take the feedback and all of the harsh lessons we learned and tried to make the most refined game we possible can. It’s certainly been interesting.

TVGB: What have you changed?

RL: We’ve done a lot of work under the hood. We’ve spent a long time redoing all the networking stuff, all of that was done from scratch. Pretty much everything had to be rewritten.

There’s a new control scheme too. Before it was really spammy, people just clicked like crazy and were darting around all over the place attacking. We’ve got that now as one of the power-ups, which is fun for 10 seconds and makes you feel good, but as an entire game it didn’t work. It didn’t require any skill.

So what we really had to do was go back to the drawing board and think about how we could make a game that required skill, but at the same time was a console-friendly, enjoyable experience. That was been incredibly hard to do. About three months ago, we were all playing it – we were all fine with it, we were great – and we showed it to some people and they were like ‘My God, this is the hardest game in the universe. It’s properly hardcore.’ And there was no help for you, it was just really bleak and minimalistic. It was just way too difficult.

So we had made a game that was just way too easy, then made a game that was just next to impossible to play. So now we’re trying to go for that middle ground.

TVGB: How pleased are you with where the game is at now?

RL: We’ve come a hell of a long way since last December. Sometimes its hard to see it because it’s so hard to stand back and look at the game in its entirety. It’s the standard developer issue: when you start the game, all you see is a list of things that aught to be done.

That’s why events like the Eurogamer Expo are awesome, you get to see people playing the game, not hunting for bugs or issues. After spending a few days with the people who are going to buy and play the game, I feel both relieved and encouraged. People seemed to really enjoy it!

Anyway, I’m incredibly happy with what the team has achieved with Plain Sight. Of course there’s more we want to add, but I think that’s the sign of the potential of the game.

TVGB: So you’ve been plugging away for 2 years now. How does a little indie studio survive for that period of time with no money coming in?

RL: Tolerant investors [Laughs]. Also, we’re now we’re working for Channel 4 too (Channel 4, a British TV station, have commissioned indie developers to make educational games for them -Ed). It has bought us breathing space so we don’t have to push the game out of the door. It’s not a survival thing anymore. At the end of a day it is a product, and we want to get it right. And that takes time.

TVGB: A lot of indie games, despite their relatively perilous existence, seem to take more risks than mainstream titles. Why do you think that is?

RL: I think it’s office banter. I think in large companies people have ideas and you’ve gotta put them through think tanks and fucking marketing departments and things like that. And someone comes back to you and they say, ‘Oh and this demographic thinks everything should be pink.’ And that just kills it.

What I think makes fun, is when you are sitting in the office coming up with ideas and laughing like, ‘This would be fucking hilarious! Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just, like, shit rainbows!’ And everyone is like, ‘Yes, that would be great!’ And we do it and why the hell not.

I think that’s why indie games do have that inventiveness, simply because I think people feel like they are always on borrowed time and you might never get the chance to put something that crazy into a videogame. I think that makes for great IPs and a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which is what we hope to offer with Plain Sight.

TVGB: Excellent. So when will the game be out and what platforms should we expect it on?

RL: The PC version is coming out January or February time. We really want to get the console versions – we’re doing PlayStation Network and WiiWare – out next December. Once we’ve done that we’ll update the PC client so everybody has the same thing.

TVGB: Robin, thanks for taking the time to speak to us.

RL: Cheers.

Keep an eye out later in the week for TVGB’s Plain Sight Hands-On.