Electron Dance
6Dec/12Off

We Are Sportsfriends

Okay, I want to bring up Sportsfriends.

I'm not convinced I like the name. No, let's get that out of the way. Perhaps I could've got behind Sportsenemies or SportsPack or SportsSportsSports or SportsPixels or Get Your Sports Shit On, I don't know. Sportsfriends, meh.

It's not a product. No, let's get that out of the way. It is a product to be, a thing yet to be made. It will be Sportsfriends. Now it is just a Kickstarter.

I'm not a Kickstarter junkie. No, let's get that out of the way. I like cash in, product out. I can get kind of allergic when it comes to donating money to games causes. There are lots of Kickstarter contributors out there who see Kickstarter as an alternative preorder system. Guess what! I'm not one of them.

But I put money into Sportsfriends.  

WHY

Doug Wilson interviewed Petri Purho, Ramiro Corbetta and Martin Jonasson for Electron Dance in an article called Waking the Crowd posted last September. It was all about these cool exhibition games that haven't translated so well to folks' homes. I wrote a little bit about this in a recent essay called The Hokra Problem and here's the key line:

The PC is not traditionally viewed as a device that people congregate around.

I'd like that to change, even if just for us few old-timers who cling to a desktop, Michael Brough. Maybe Sportsfriends, containing Johann Sebastian Joust, Super Pole Riders, BaraBariBall and Hokra, can change that. And that's why I put money in, because I'd like this to become a real, commercial thing. Not Sportsfriends per se - but these kind of games. It is a proof of concept for a new commercial genre. (And also I want to play BaraBariBall with Gregg B again outside of the Eurogamer Expo.)

Look, here's a video about Sportsfriends! Yeah, yeah, Tim Schafer is in it. Will you watch it now?

WHY NOW

Kickstarters often don't get their funding until the last minute. I put this down to psychology. It's a mixture of pressure - you've no time left to think about it, it's now or never - and perhaps also waiting to see if your contribution is absolutely necessary. As I write this Sportsfriends has only broken through 50% of funding, so contributions are still very much needed.

There are three days left.

Look, here's a video interview with Doug Wilson in which he talks a lot about these type of sports games!

WHERE DO I GO

You can go to the Kickstarter page.

It wouldn't be Electron Dance if I didn't add this: please remember that donating to a Kickstarter is no guarantee of anything. The very reason Kickstarter works is because it is a donation model and not one where you get equity. These four guys may just run off to Hawaii together with the money. Or conspire to write the FPS QWOPDoom instead of finishing off all these other games as promised. IT COULD HAPPEN. I'm not here telling you to contribute, I'm just spreading the message for a Kickstarter I actually care about.

Also I promise not to bring up another Kickstarter for the next year. That's my Kickstarter pledge.

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Comments (31) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Where can I donate to your Kickstarter pledge Kickstarter? How much until the I get a photo of you solemnly swearing to not bring up Kickstarter until next year? How many graphics will the finished product have?

  2. I can’t promise anything, of course, but every comment is an extra step towards our KS goal!

  3. I think Kickstarter could stand to improve in areas, but also there’s room for competitors or alternatives to fill the needs Kickstarter does not. KS is a specific entity that serves a purpose that, as you say, is not really a typical transaction or investment. That’s not bad per se, but it can be misleading, which is as much due to the people starting projects as it is due to KS not regulating more. Thus far, despite that, people seem to enjoy the service/value KS provides. I like it, mostly.

    I think it’s important people criticize KS with an aim to make it continue to adapt to user wants/needs – same as any service. But I also hope people realize KS is not an online store, and won’t be. I think you’ve got the right idea as a cautious contributor who understands you’re not making a purchase or even an investment in the traditional sense (although who’s to say “traditional” investing is the only valuable kind). If we could have other takes on the KS model, perhaps with a more traditional retail mentality blended in, I think KS would have more room to breathe so to speak as the strange altruistic donation-with-benefits outfit that it is.

    Also: this bundle looks nifty.

  4. You know, I will support this, because It’s Important and everyone keeps telling me It’s Important.

    But where the games come in, I already know I have no space for them. I have no space for them in my living room. I have no space for them in my life – which is to say, there are not many times where I have enough people over and want this physical experience (we are typically, if we are gathered together, playing Dungeons and Dragons or maybe Rock Band, and the Rock Band perhaps once a year). I think if there are enough people like me, that’s why the project is struggling a bit. Most people do treat Kickstarter like a store where you buy things you want in your life. That of course isn’t really what it’s for. But in this case I’m spending money so other people who have the space can have this thing. It’s a harder commitment to make.

  5. I’ve been meaning to write something about this but it’s been slipping my mind ever since you told me about it and shit! there’s only 51 hours left and it’s a few tens of thousands off hitting the goal. It’s jumped massively in the last few days so here’s hoping.

    I’m totally with you HM, it’s not necessarily the package per se… no, actually it is, it’s absolutely about the package. I want it, and I want more of these kinds of exciting local multiplayer games in my life — in our lives — even if I struggle to gather the people to play them. When the stars align and I have the numbers though these sorts of games are magical and show so very clearly why the whole ‘games are anti-social’ thing is a load of bollocks.

    Barabariball was tremendous at the EG Expo, Pole Riders I’ve no doubt will be stupidly good fun (Foddy has a knack for making games where you spend 99% of your effort fighting the controls. In a good way of course. GIRP is amazing), Hokra l know very little about but judging by the reactions it gets I’m betting it’s brilliant, and JSJ, to paraphrase Shafer, is probably the best thing you can do with a Move controller. Well, apparently it is. I’d love to play it.

  6. With 8 hours to go, Sportsfriends just blasted through the $150K barrier.

  7. BOOM. That’s incredible!

    So HM, when you coming up to mine to play with the alphas? I got pizza and tea. And Peroni.

  8. Okay, time to respond with longer sentences.

    @Jordan: I have a complex view of Kickstarter which is largely negative and I will write up this twisted anti-fantasy of mine sometime in the Spring. I don’t want to get into it too much right now. It’s a whole different conversation – people can throw rotten tomatoes at me when I get the cynical stall out for real.

    I’m also more aware that, being a blog of some note, that I need to be careful about telling people what to do with their money. Some ethical issues come to the fore especially as Doug Wilson is a big supporter of this site. Money is not going either way between Doug and myself, but we effectively trade in a currency of traffic and visibility. A Kickstarter is even worse because it’s a donation and not technically in exchange for a product.

    @Amanda: Interesting. I thought you’d be more persuaded to support it as you were a fan of exhibition games such as Jesus vs Dinosaurs. Some of these games have “controller issues” but not all do; I am genuinely hoping this kickstarts a PC local multiplayer revolution. Not for free, but for profit. A multi-platform release including consoles (currently more “suited” for this style of play) is probably the only way to pull this off financially though.

    In addition to the problem you cited, Amanda, I think another issue was hype.

    No one has played these games outside of journalists, developers and a relatively small pocket of enthusiasts – and to some outsiders it might have looked like one enormous circle jerk. No one wants to read exclusively about special snowflake bloggers telling everybody there’s this great game that you can’t play; it teeters from preview into Wish You Were Here With The VIPs. If you’re fed up hearing about these “hyped” games that no one can play, this Kickstarter was the last thing you would’ve invested in. That reaction was probably was part of the motivation for Quintin Smith’s original diatribe against expo-only games (now taken down).

    RPS was wrote they were surprised the KS didn’t do that well, but that was probably a measure of how well these games are known more on the inside rather than the outside. There were some interesting RPS comments on Kickstarter Katchup last weekend.

    The coverage these games received were probably their greatest strength yet paradoxically a weakness. No hard data here, just thinking aloud.

    @Gregg: I am actually not a big fan of Foddy’s work! That’s not to say I think it sucks, I just haven’t become addicted to anything he has developed. I played QWOP for a few minutes and treated it like one of Pippin Barr’s games. I played GIRP for about half an hour but never went back to it after completing it the once. But I believe in the Sportsfriends format. I would love to play Hokra with you but we need four people! (Also Hokra hurts my hands.)

    Tea and peroni you say? Heavens. I must purchase my ticket now.

  9. That’s true: I do love Jesus Vs. Dinosaurs!
    And this is weird, because, to be honest, I guess I didn’t think about the similarities here, which is to say – I can play Jesus Vs. Dinosaurs sitting down.

    I think the hype factor you’re talking about is definitely there as well, though. Though obviously the KS is an attempt to get the games into homes rather than just in expos.

    I’m glad they met their goal!

  10. …also, forgot to add, I realize not all the games require Move/a dancepad/etc. But that is not immediately clear by making J.S. Joust the headliner.

  11. I didn’t realise money could be pulled from a Kickstarter before the deadline. Well, the Sportsfriends KS is weirdly haemorrhaging money. It was over 160K earlier today – it is now merely $250 above target with less than half an hour to go.

    exp. Magazine tweeted an hour ago: “Wondered how much Sportsfriends reaching its goal was a small dedicated group upping pledges, that it just dropped $5k is illuminating.”

    This is kind of crazy.

  12. Holy crap, this has been like a nailbiter till the end. I actually upped my pledge once, now I’m thinking, huh, good thing I guess.

  13. There appears to have been a flurry of frightened pledges and is closer to $2000 over the mark right now. I’ll be glad when this is over. Less than 10 minutes left.

  14. Time up! $152,436.

  15. Hey Joel (and everyone),

    Just checking in to say hello. So, I want to thank you for this humbling coverage – but yeah, is that awkward? Like you ask, what are the ethics of this situation? I mean, when journalists/critics are friendly with devs. I don’t know the answer. There are certainly some advantages of working in a more humanized professional world – where you might actually be friendly with your “colleagues” – but I see the perils.

    In this case, Joel, since you’re less of a “professional” journalist (i.e. not writing reviews that get logged on Metacritic or whatever), it feels somewhat less weird? Like, it seems to me your luxury is that you get to cover whatever you find interesting. Maybe that changes your obligations? Or maybe not?

    Maybe the art world offers a better model here? How does that social world manage these issues?

    Um, sorry for the awkward musings. Hey, you started it!

    As you can imagine, I was frustrated with Alec’s RPS article. Or at least, I disagree with its framing. Sportsfriends would never have gotten this far if we hadn’t all “toured” our games around for a while. Joel is exactly right that our greatest strength was our greatest weakness, but we felt like if we could just “break through” all of it to some kind of more legitimate commercial release, we could start changing the culture and changing attitudes, beyond even just our four games. We’ll see, I suppose!

    I guess we still need to do a better job explaining to the public why releasing “event games” is so difficult. Still, I wish people didn’t rush to those kinds of “circle jerk” judgments. Human nature, I suppose.

    Anyway I’ll lurk here in case anyone wants to continue the discussion. I’d stay well clear of most comment sections, but Electron Dance is less intimidating (sadly, I never have the time to post here much).

    – Doug –

  16. Also, yeah, the last few hours of that Kickstarter were mad. Sigh. At least we made it!

  17. Hello Doug.

    I have probably around 500 followers across all realms (it’s difficult to be exact) so ethics is something I think about more and more. I try to think about the site as if it was a professional operation (within reason), hence the “post on Tuesday or it’s hari-kiri” attitude, but it also means I take ethics issues seriously. Just because someone writes a blog for free does not automatically earn them a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s definitely easier being a footloose unpaid writer but it’s not entirely safe.

    Supporting a game I like is fine, but Kickstarter is a completely different thing. One of my rules as codified on the About page is to avoid previews – I cross this line if I think the transgression has merit – but KS is nothing but previews. Previews asking for cash upfront. I wonder if pre-orders hadn’t already existed whether Kickstarter would have worked, considering that is the common interpretation of Kickstarter game projects right now. I find the model quite icky.

    Regarding the Sportsfriends Kickstarter, I was surprised at some of the confusion, evident via the RPS comments: some were thinking all of the games had special controller requirements – see even Amanda’s comment above; or that the PC release of all four games was actually bootable Linux on a thumbstick. I guess accessibility was something that should have been addressed right at the top.

    But honestly, if Neal Stephenson can raise $500,000 for CLANG then you would have thought…

    So far Electron Dance hasn’t had any raging flame wars in the comments section. We’ll get one of them flying insult threads here at some point but, for now, we just sit around sipping tea and chatting quietly.

    Congratulations on making the target!

  18. You played GIRP for half an hour and completed it? Grrr. I think the one time I completed it it took me something like twenty-five minutes on its own.

    But yeah, it’s got a pretty sadistic game design in a way that has discouraged me from replay. I find (once I figured out that you should usually be holding one key at a time) that it consists of a very long initial sequence that’s pretty low-risk if done carefully but easy to get bogged down in and where a lapse of attention will kill you, one bit near the end that isn’t so so hard but will kill you if you don’t exercise a lot of patience, and then one really difficult part at the very end that kills you if you miss. Meaning that, in order to practice the hard bit that kills you, you have to do fifteen-twenty minutes of grind. Meaning that I’m not actually getting any better at this, because who needs it?

    (Compare Bit.Trip.Runner, where it seems like the hardest part is often near the very beginning of the level, because that’s the part you’ll be practicing the most. Or it’s just like the part was at the beginning of the last level. Though I’ve still often found myself frustrated at the part that kills me a minute in, which I don’t get much practice on because I can only make it there a quarter of the time anyway.)

    That’s why I’d like a procedurally generated GIRP, so the initial segment would be different each time. What you do isn’t exactly identical, since the physics is wild enough that you can’t repeat the same sequence of maneuvers exactly, but it’s not varied enough. (A negative example for why permadeath often goes with procedural generation.) The instant restart is also cruel; it’s needed in games like Bit.Trip Runner and VVVVVV where you die often and need to waste as little time as possible doing so so you can retry the challenge you’re on, but in this game where you die once every few minutes, have to start over, and need a rest (or to quit the game) when you do, a confirmation dialogue for starting again would work well.

    But I’d still call myself a Foddy fan, because I figure that trolling the audience is the point. That bird is the single most loathsome character in games.

  19. Thanks for reminding me matt, I forgot to pull him up on that: you completed GIRP in half an hour? I have mocked you in that past HM, but no more.

    And yes, that bird. To hell with that bird. Playing GIRP oddly reminded me of the climbing in Shadow of the Colossus because you kind of grip the controller for dear life. In GIRP the mechanic is taken further because you’ve got be quite specific how you grip the controller. And like climbing, it takes it out on you. I had to stop after an hour because my fingers were screaming: ‘No more, please!’.

    Still, half an hour. O_o

  20. Okay, cards on the table. I don’t remember how long I played GIRP for but it was a single session and certainly didn’t feel like it was for very long. I assumed it was something like half an hour. The bird stole the present so I suppose you can say I didn’t really “finish” it although getting to the top was fine for me. Maybe that makes you happier?

    (I’m probably going to find out later that I never completed it and I built a false memory from a YouTube video.)

    I’m quite happy to treat GIRP as trolling the audience, which I believe is something Foddy has said himself, but GIRP is more than that, its a sort of micro-sport. There are plenty of GIRP enthusiasts that love to beat the game and do better; it is one of Doug Wilson’s top games. In the Cat’s V video he said his fave male videogame character was the climber from the GIRP (and there’s also the expo-only Mega-GIRP which is part of a US-only higher tier Sportfriends package). That’s why I say I’m not “a fan” because I don’t feel I share that enthusiasm but I applaud the game for making key presses feel like actual climbing.

    (I’ve not played Bit.Trip Runner.)

  21. So Bit.Trip Runner, and apologies if you know this already: It’s a rhythm game dressed as a platformer. Your character moves forward without your help and you have to jump/slide/kick/a couple other things, Canabalt-style, getting sent back to the beginning of the level if you mess up. But unlike Canabalt, the patterns in the level are set and require you to move in time with the music. The levels are also short, about forty-five seconds to a minute and a half, although you’ll be trying them a bunch of times.

    To illustrate what I meant, here’s the most recent level I’ve completed, aptly named “The Gauntlet”. That part at the beginning where you have to jump over/slide under the red and blue cubes? It’s hard. And then I kept wiping out at a couple different points a minute in, which was a little frustrating. In the next level there’s a gauntlet like that in the middle, but by now I’m kind of OK at getting through it.

  22. re: GIRP –

    It wouldn’t feel like mountain climbing (or rather, absurdist mountain climbing) if you could just practice the hard parts when you wanted. You have to feel *exhausted* as you get near the top. And your fingers do! That’s the genius of the game, I feel. Like Spelunky, I think I actually appreciate games that give you those moments where you lose ~20 minutes if you mess up. Makes it feel more dramatic!

    … and you can definitely feel Bennett laughing at you ;)

  23. But in Spelunky and nethack and stuff, you don’t have to go repeat the exact same things every time you mess up. That’s why I think permadeath and procedural generation really have to go together most of the time. Certainly just being able to do the last bit of GIRP over and over till you get it right would spoil the experience, but having to do the beginning over and over again until you get the last bit right — well, it doesn’t exactly spoil the experience, but I want a different experience, at least after a bit.

    What GIRP reminds me of most here is World of Goo, given that the Time Bugs usually didn’t work for me — if your structure collapses you’re back to the beginning of the level, sometimes you have a lot of repetition to get to the tricky bit, but the wobble physics ensure that your experience won’t be exactly the same the next time. But World of Goo gives you more different ways to begin than GIRP, and also your failure is much more likely to be determined by some way you screwed up at the beginning. Also sometimes when playing World of Goo I got pretty frustrated and wondered why I wasn’t playing with a nice set of blocks instead.

    –Actually hold on, while I’ve got you on the line; what the hell combination of keys do you press to drop down when you’re hanging on a ledge in Spelunky? I have never been able to make it through the tutorial without taking damage. (There may be a bug in the Mac port.)

  24. I mean, of course everything I’ve said is part of the way Bennett is laughing at me. I admire that.

    (Though I’ve thought — if you really want to troll your audience, just have the hoops get farther and farther apart until you just can’t go any farther. Leave the player stranded in the middle of the cliff. Certainly when I started the game I didn’t think I had any reason to think it had a top, though I also wasn’t sure whether it was procedurally generated.)

  25. @matt I would say that making a game secretly impossible is generally not so inventive or humorous a twist. It’s a joke, but like a joke told badly – too obvious. I think it *is* key that you *can* beat games like GIRP and QWOP. That way, you’re striving to *something* – that keeps you glued to your seat longer. If “abusive game” design is all about the sense of rivalry between you and the designer, then it should be an actual rivalry. To some extent, you want the player to blame themselves – themselves *and* the designer – when things go wrong.

    That may also suggest why the mountain *isn’t* procedural. When I realize it wasn’t changing each play session, I figured that there was probably a finite end.

    Also, having an explicitly authored mountain makes the creator – Bennett Foddy – more apparent. I think procedural games often shift the focus away from the designer towards the system itself. Even Spelunky, as much as I like to blame Derek Yu, I often complain that I got a poor level draw.

  26. Hmm, when I was a bit younger and “having friends over” was an every day thing we congregated around nothing but the PC; it was the ultimate local multi-player system. Whether it was swapping in and out for a chance at Grand Theft Auto and Carmageddon, or taking turns in the chair to have a Worms free for all. On occasion there would be makeshift computer desks and laptops scattered about my tiny room in our ritual that was Warcraft 2 LAN parties.

    It’s always been an excellent platform of shared play. You just have to do some shuffling.

  27. Yes, my idea isn’t as clever as I thought. (I do have an idea for a game that involves trying to go through a door that you simply can’t unlock, inspired by Kafkamesto, which I understand to be winnable in its way. But the idea would be that the other stuff that happens is interesting.)

    Somehow the finite end in GIRP differs from that in QWOP for me (of course I’ve never seen it in QWOP). In QWOP the 25 yard mark is no different from the 0 yd mark — the things that change depend on your losing control of the physics. So the hurdle is a delightful bit of trollery, and it’s kind of funny that you get to stop at the end, not to mention that if you’ve made it 100 yds you can probably go as long as you want. Since GIRP’s mountain isn’t uniform, there would be more of an achievement in seeing how far you could go, I think.

    But it’s something of a matter of taste. I just have this feeling (sometimes also in Bit.Trip Runner) that I’m playing a piece of music with a difficult trill ten minutes in, and my music teacher won’t let me try the trill unless I play the first ten minutes of the piece flawlessly first, so how is it my fault that I’m not learning how to play the trill?

  28. You know what you need matt? Dark Souls. Or Demon’s Souls. You will practice the trill, only when you get to the trill! Until then, you will play the same bits over and over again!

  29. If I had a console, or a computer that ran Windows, and I spent money on games outside bundles (actually the Dark Souls price looks more reasonable than I expected), and if I actually had the time to spend on this stuff, I would be all over Dark Souls.

    Actually, I’m more and more convinced that I’m just wrong. The parts I’m complaining about are probably integral to the aesthetic of GIRP. I guess I can make it procedurally generated if I ever decide to do that text-adventure port of it.

  30. I just wanted to add that I have nothing to add, but I’ve been following the comments with interest. Thanks all!

    (I’m not sure if I need BIT.TRIP.RUNNER in my life right now.)