"We are about to reveal a new game!" No Time To Explain dev/burgeoning indie publisher Alex Nichiporchik told me over Skype. Almost reflexively, I braced myself for an excited slurry spew about some crazy new platformer or a zany comedy adventure or an emotional tale that would rock me to my very core. "It's basically a fusion of Just Cause 2 and Battlefield 3," he proceeded to tell me. "...Oh," I replied, briefly mistaking a flock of birds fluttering by outside for a car tethered to a plane with a wildman surfing atop it, as I often do. "Go on." And so he did. Go below to find out about JetGetters' plane-jacking antics, its accompanying Kickstarter (because of course), how TinyBuild hopes to make dogfights more interesting, shifting levels, purposefully limited player counts, and why TinyBuild's not on board with free-to-play.
RPS: Let’s go from the top. Can you give me a quick rundown of what JetGetters is, exactly?
Nichiporchik: So, it’s a multiplayer shooter where players fly high in the sky and hijack each other’s vehicles mid-air. That’s the short of it. Basically, we want to make a game where you jump out of jets and that’s the core mechanic, right? So you jump out of a jet, you skydive and you hijack another person’s jet.
We came up with this idea over a year ago and we’ve just been designing and prototyping since then. But right now it finally shaped up to where we kind of want it to be. It’s just that we spent over a month on making different trailers, and renders, and you know, sharing some prototype footage, trying to communicate the fun of it. Because when you look at it, you don’t really instantly understand what’s going on.
I want to talk to you about a couple of things that we’re doing with our Kickstarter, which I don’t think other people have done with a Kickstarter? So, you know, it’s a Kickstarter for a game, pretty standard, you have your pitch, your rewards, your trailer, all of that stuff. But, since we have a bunch of games that we signed - you know, you saw Fearless Fantasy, you saw Spoiler Alert.
RPS: Okay, so the perspective of JetGetter's trailer, is the game fully played from that type of perspective?
Nichiporchik: Right, so this is not how the camera works in the game itself. This is like a cinematic version. The camera will be fixed behind you.
RPS: How did this come about? At what point did you decide to go from stuff like No Time To Explain and Speedrunners to a miniature triple-A multiplayer thing?
Nichiporchik: Well, initially, the Kickstarter pitch started like Just Cause 2 meets Battlefield 3, because basically the way the game started was that it was Christmas 2012, we spent a bunch of time on implementing No Time to Explain with Steam, because we had an agreement before, and it was really really stressful.
So what we did was, we were taking some time off, you know, a couple of hours per day, and Tom was playing Just Cause 2, I was playing Battlefield 3. And there was just a spontaneous .gif exchange on Skype, where I was sharing .gifs of Battlefield 3 and people jumping out of jets, and Tom was doing the same for Just Cause 2. And that basically where we got the idea.
For a while I was trying to pitch, like, “let’s do a zombie game!” But eventually we ended up on the idea that, hey, let’s just make a game where you have to jump out of jets. And that’s basically how it went, and so far it’s shaped up alright, I guess? But that’s like where it came from. So Just Cause 2 meets Battlefield 3.
RPS: I noticed that your Kickstarter doesn't include stretch goals. Why not?
Nichiporchik: So far we have a minimum amount of $50,000, and we’re not doing stretch goals. Simply because, well, we already have a Kickstarter, and if you plan it out way too much and promise all of these different features, you are going to end up in a situation where you don’t manage to do this, don’t manage to do that, timelines shift, you have to cut features, and then everyone is disappointed.
So here in this pitch we’re basically saying we're gonna keep it open. Game design is iterative so features that will work, we’ll keep them in. Features that don’t, we will leave them out. Otherwise, we don’t want to end up in a situation where we can’t deliver something. So this is a basic idea right now, but since we’re going to do a lot of beta testing, you never know what will turn out more fun. Because on paper it might sound great, and then your prototype just turns out horrible, or vice versa.
RPS: Obviously JetGetters is inspired by Just Cause 2. But there’s also the Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod, which is its own type of insanity. I mean, it’s completely over the top and crazy. There are sky whales now. Are you trying to be significantly different from that? More streamlined?
Nichiporchik: I think we are, because Just Cause is still a lot of action on the ground, and it does have a lot that happens in the air but it’s not as focused, you know, it’s pretty random. I spent some time in the multiplayer mod when it was released, and it felt fun, but it also felt very unfocused. I think that was my main issue with it. And so far, for example, my favorite Battlefield game is Battlefield: Bad Company 2, where they had the limited player count, but since the maps were designed so well, it felt a lot of fun and really really focused. I think that’s the main difference from Just Cause 2.
RPS: OK, so what does a JetGetters match look like? Give me a rundown of what I'd do in a typical match. Aside from stealing a plane and exploding, I mean.
Nichiporchik: OK, here's a breakdown: 1) Spawn in a jet. 2) See a team mate skydiving through the air. 3) Have him latch onto you. 4) He is riding your jet, protecting you from behind. 5) He cripples a jet behind him, taking down his shield, lassos onto it and hijacks it. 6) You are now together [but in separate planes] going at the objective, which can be a "golden jet" similar to a flag in CTF. 7) You are playing a class that fires rockets. 8) You fire a rocket and since it flies so much faster than everything else, you instantly get to the "golden jet" location and hijack it. 9) Maneuver around back to your base and score a point.
RPS: Well yeah, that’s another sort of interesting thing that’s been coming up a lot lately. First of all, what do you think the max player count in JetGetters is going to be?
Nichiporchik: We haven’t really decided upon that yet. I will say around 20, because 10x10 matches are not hectic enough to be frustrating.
RPS: A lot of people would look at that and say, “Okay, that’s kind of a mid-size multiplayer game.” But recently there is the issue where, when Titanfall announced their player count and it was 6v6 and people were really up in arms over that. Bigger doesn't always equal better, though.
Nichiporchik: That’s one of the reasons why I got into Battlefield: Bad Company 2, because I was really curious how they were going to scale down, I think it was 18 players maximum in game? But it felt so much bigger, so much more fun. So I think after Titanfall's been out for a bit, people will realize that it’s actually not as bad to have these like, little minions running around and it usually is because the game is so much fun. I loved every single moment of it. It's a little annoying when it's like, "Hey, this was a bot, that was a bot, and I haven’t killed anyone in this match." But then you’re having so much fun it doesn’t really matter. I mean, you really notice the titans when they’re walking around.
RPS: You have this description of how the levels will function on the Kickstarter. It says, “Any user can jump into a deathmatch game and fly around shooting down as many of the other team as possible. For players with a better understanding of how to play, though, there would also be scripted levels available with more engaging rule-sets and twists.” What do you mean by that?
Nichiporchik: I guess the biggest influence here is Killzone 2 and 3, where they did fluid game modes. And I really want to expand on that, by, for example, providing a level where you have one base that’s moving towards another base, like a big airship, and then one team has to defend this base from the attackers. So one team can actually get their base closer to the other one so that they just destroy each other. So it’s basically attack and defense thing.
Or, we’re thinking about something like, all of a sudden, there’s an evil enemy that appears, and both teams have to decide if they are to fight each other or to fight an evil enemy, which can be an NPC. You know, similar to how, in The Last of Us, they didn’t include zombies in multiplayer, but I really wanted them to. So imagine if in The Last of Us, you are playing a match and then all of a sudden zombies come in. What do you do? That’s where we really wanted to go with scripted levels.
You have some sort of little scenario going on, so maybe similar to Titanfall, where the rules can just change completely, and you have something that is going on and that you can’t really stop. So for example, if you look at the trailer, you see that it’s all very open. The major challenge is that design right now, is how do we confine people in a single space. We were thinking of different things like, for example, tornados that also start forming, and you have to fly around them. Or stormclouds that confine people in a single space.
RPS: You mentioned that that level looks fairly open. How large and how open are your levels actually going to be, though?
Nichiporchik: That really depends. We haven’t probed that with too many people yet, because we haven’t played a lot of multiplayer matchup, but so far the most fun has been levels that take place inside. They’re not as spectacular to look at. Right now our favorite level is actually in the cave.
RPS: How much level variety are you going to have? Because it seems sort of like if you’ve got planes and you need some room to maneuver, you’d be kind of limited in what you could do. But you could also have like, really crazy backdrops and stuff. How outlandish are you getting versus, you know, playing it kind of straight?
Nichiporchik: Well, we have decided pretty early on that there’s not going to be much ground, so it’s basically happening in a flooded world in a distant time. So it is going to be mostly above water, and whatever we can come up with. So for example, you saw in the little teaser trailer that you can fly under rocks and use that as cover, but then if someone’s following you, they might crash into the rocks. In one of the concept art images we have a little volcano that erupts and stuff like that.
So basically, you know, we would want to say that we’re going to make it a really huge and open battlefield, but it presents a series of problems in terms of game design. Because, for example, if you make it way too big, what happens is that you see a dot on screen, or you have some UI that indicates there’s an enemy or a friendly, so you see a dot, dot, dot. But then if you’re moving too fast, you just woosh past each other. And then you just start chasing each other in like, weird little loops.
And that’s the same problem that Battlefield had with jet fights, right, was dogfights. So we’re trying to find a solution for that. And again, I really hope that the community will help us there with a lot of testing.
RPS: Are you going to do Steam Early Access or anything like that?
Nichiporchik: Probably. I’m not sure how Steam Early Access is going to shape up by the end of the year, because we would release probably around Christmas, you know, hopefully. If Steam Early Access makes sense by that point, if people are not burned out on it by, you know, a lot of games that are in Early Access but then don’t come out or something like that, we might do it. I mean, either way we want to do a prolonged testing period for this game. It involves community a lot. Probably similar to how we did No Time to Explain, where we just had the users test pretty much everything in the closed forum group.
RPS: What sort of business model is this going to be? Is it going to be pay once upfront, or are you going with free-to-play?
Nichiporchik: So, initially I was pitching it to a bunch of investors as free-to-play, because, you know, the buzzword is there. But the more and more I think about it, it probably makes sense to release as a paid game, and then see where does the community go. So for example, if people want to create their own jets in the Steam Workshop and then resell them, then sure. If there is enough demand for that, we might just drop the price and make money off people reselling their own custom jets. But initially, we’re aiming at a premium release, and then we’ll just see how it goes, and iterate.
RPS: It’s kind of interesting because I’ve been noticing a little bit more of that recently. For a while everyone was doing free to play, now there’s sort of been a little bit of a pushback, especially when people are pitching to the Kickstarter crowd.
Nichiporchik: Mmhmm. I think people got burned out on free-to-play. I wrote an angry article about it on Gamasutra, on how two years ago I was working at a big games company and what we saw in that company. That everyone was saying, “Free-to-play! Oh, let’s design free-to-play!”
And some inside information from EA came out where, that was when they bought PopCap, as they were restructuring all of their studios to be around free-to-play. Right, so, that’s where Dungeon Keeper came from. So, free-to-play is the goal, Clash of Clans is doing great, let’s go ahead and design games around free-to-play. So I think the novelty of it just wore off really quickly, and when core gamers got, like, a slap in the face was, it’s a free game, here’s a payment wall, you gotta pay to proceed. That caused a really big outburst.
RPS: I think the direction free-to-play went in - especially on mobile, but also in other areas - in some cases became a scheme to trick people into spending money. Or if not trick them, then give them a proposition that seems really wonderful until a prompt pops up, Jack-in-the-box-style, and punches them in the wallet.
Nichiporchik: Or spam all of your friends.
RPS: Yeah, exactly.
Nichiporchik: Yeah, it’s not a good feeling. Valve talked about that a lot at Steam Dev Days. They were talking about how they just want to make people feel good. You know, versus trying to burn through them and get as much money out of them as possible.
RPS: That’s kind of the other issue there too: if you burn through your player base, then you don’t really have anything left. You don’t have anything lasting.
Nichiporchik: Mm-hm. Exactly, and that’s what happened with Zynga.
Check back soon for the second part of our discussion, in which we digress even further from the subject of JetGetters and go careening into unannounced games, triple-A development's layoff culture and forced migration to the Indie Side, publishing, and piracy. Reading it will be more fun than a fatal plane theft accident (probably).
For now, though, you can read more about JetGetters over at its Kickstarter page.