PlayStation Universe recently hooked up with Grip Games CEO Jakub Mikyska to find out more about the Prague-based studio and its games, as well as to chat about the current state of the indie game scene and what the PS4 means to him.
PSU: Please tell our readers about Grip Games, how and why you formed and which games and platforms you’ve been working on...
We are an indie studio located in Prague with a headcount fluctuating somewhere between 5 and 15, depending on which part of a development cycle we are in. We have been around for almost four years and we have released many games that most of you have probably never played. We started with PlayStation Minis and released games like 5-in-1 Arcade Hits, One Epic Game and The Impossible Game. We also have some iOS and Android games.
Last year we released Foosball 2012, which was our first PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita game and just a few days ago, our newest game Atomic Ninjas was unleash onto the PlayStation Network.
The studio was formed by me and my colleague Jan Cabuk. We have worked on mobile games for many years and we wanted to get into the console games development and see where that takes us. I think we succeeded.
PSU: How tough is it to be an indie developer in this current economic climate and what challenges does the studio face without a major publisher behind it?
It’s tough, no doubt about that. One advantage that indies have over more established development houses is that we can be very cost effective. After several years of activity, our biggest problem actually isn’t financing the next project, but promoting it. We live in a world where you have to shout louder than everybody else to get noticed and even though there are some really nice opportunities for indies to get visibility, “I had no idea this game existed, now it’s on my radar” kind of comment is still the most frequent we get after releasing news about upcoming games. That’s where big publisher’s absence is really felt.
PSU: The trailer for your latest game, Atomic Ninjas, shows some similarities to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Was it inspired by Sony’s multiplayer brawler?
No, we kind of developed Atomic Ninjas in isolation from everything else. We made a game that we would enjoy and only after starting to show it to other people we realized that there are some similarities to PASBR and also Smash Bros. If there was a game that we looked at, while we were searching for inspiration, it was Awesomenauts.
PSU: Atomic Ninjas has a variety of quirky characters. Can you tell us about those characters and what skills they bring to the fight?
We went through a lot of ideas before we settled on ninjas. At the beginning, we were toying with the idea of using only boxes instead of characters (and then Thomas was Alone was released…), those evolved into secret agents, even space gladiators, but once the ninjas idea came, it was all clear. There are seven different ninjas. They don’t have special character-dependent skills, with the exception of initial equipment, but instead they differ with their look and personality. We wanted the players to pick their favorite ninja and play as that ninja simply because they like their design and taunts.
PSU: What can we expect from the multiplayer component?
Fun, laughter, and good times. We have made Atomic Ninjas to be entertaining, more than anything else. Playing with other people is always more fun and we wanted to take it to the next level and make a game that embraces all the positive aspects of competitiveness and created a game where you having just as much fun when you are losing, as when you are winning.
PSU: We’ve seen the closure of many big studios over the past five years yet indie studios are on the rise. Do you think the current indie revolution will last?
I think it will. We have reached this critical mass in the audience now. A lot of people are interested in independent games and are buying them and the platform holders understand that. As long as we are able to put our games into major retail channels, indies will be around. AAA is becoming more and more risk-averse and that’s where indies come in and introduce new ideas, even invent new genres.
PSU: There are very few incredibly successful indies and we’ve seen many companies come and go in a turbulent decade for the industry. What do you need to do to ensure Grip Games is still making games in 10 years’ time? Would it be wrong to say that the goal of an independent studio is to be bought out by a bigger company?
I think that every indie developer starts with a certain idea of what they want to achieve. Somebody wants to make games and, if possible, make a decent living out of that. Somebody else is looking to show their talent to find a smart publisher who will take them under their wings, while keeping their development freedom. Some achieve their goals and some don’t and call it quits.
To remain successful and relevant, we need to stay interesting. We need to come with interesting and entertaining games, while keeping our feet on the ground and realize the realities of the industry. Daydreaming is probably the biggest indie-killer.
PSU: PSU has always championed smaller studios and reviewed their games, but we noticed there are very few reviews of Atomic Ninjas online yet it was released over a week ago. Why do you think that is and do you find it disheartening that more sites don't review indie titles?
As I already mentioned, getting attention of press, and through them the players, is incredibly difficult. It is about establishing relationships with every single journalist out there, every blogger, and every active forum member. You can’t just send out a press release and sit back & relax. It’s a constant struggle.
As for the reviews, they started appearing quite a lot in the past few days. I guess it is like a chain reaction. But that brings another set of problems. When reviewing an AAA game, the journalists never dare to do a sloppy job. But with an indie game struggling for its place under the sun, that’s not always the case. We have seen more than enough of reviews where the reviewer obviously didn’t even play the game for more than a few minutes, didn’t spend the time exploring, or simply didn’t care to understand it. So, the reviews are all over the place, from as low as 3/10 to high 8’s and 9’s.
PSU: The relationship between indie game creators and console makers has been strained in the past, but Sony looks to be addressing that with its indie-friendly attitude for PS3, PS4 Vita and PlayStation Mobile. What do you feel about the current PlayStation environment? Is PS4 the best choice for indie studios?
Releasing on PlayStation is still very rigid and bureaucratic process, when compared to AppStore. But Sony has come a long way since the minis days. Every environment comes with its own set of problems. I think that PC is still the best environment for indies, with a lot of players looking for something new. Mobile is a slaughterhouse and consoles are more about doing business than creating games, which is not a comfortable position for a lot of indies.
PSU: Having worked with PlayStation Vita, what are your thoughts on its future and why do you think it hasn’t really taken off in the Western world?
I will tell you a secret. Vita is doing fine. At least for us. The sales split between PS3 and PS Vita was around 50/50 with Foosball 2012 and we expect to sell much more copies of Atomic Ninjas on Vita than PS3. There are only a few millions of Vitas out there, but every single Vita owner is a games enthusiast who loves games and loves to spend money. It is probably not enough for AAA publishers, that’s why we don’t see that many major games for Vita out there. It all comes back to Sony and what they plan to do. I think that the announced VitaTV is a step in the right direction.
PSU: With Xbox One and PlayStation 4 soon going head-to-head in what’s been dubbed “the next-gen console war,” who do you think will come out on top?
The players and the industry. I don’t think that PS4 or XB1 will manage to significantly outperform the other system, but the changes that come with those two machines, from Sony’s and Microsoft’s attitude to indies, to an influx of “fresh air” after being stuck in this generation forever, is going to strengthen the industry and that is a good thing.
PSU: Are you looking forward to the next-generation and how does a new console launch change the mindset and roadmap of the studio? Have you had a chance to work with the PS4 yet? If so, what are your initial impressions?
We are not the kind of studio that pushes the hardware to its limit. We are one of those “artsy” guys. So, our mindset remains more or less the same, just like our roadmap. We are looking forward to the next-generation as a catalyst for further grow. Nothing more and nothing less. I can already reveal that our next game with also be PS4-bound (and probably XB1-bound as well). PS4 is an impressive machine and it is right to look forward to it. On a hardware and development software level, it is light years ahead of anything else we have seen in the console industry.
PSU: What's next for Grip Games?
Reveal of our next game is actually right around the corner. Atomic Ninjas might appear on a few more platforms. We also hope we will be able to return to Atomic Ninjas with a sequel and some single-player content.
For more about Grip Games, check out the official website.