PAX East, one of the largest video game conventions on the East Coast happened in Boston last weekend. Large video game companies spend thousands to debut their latest and greatest at this convention, but there’s also space for more independent video game companies to showcase their talent. On Sunday I got the chance to sit down with the staff of one such company, Fire Hose Games. We talked about 20xx and Catlateral Damage, which are their latest games.
Fire Hose Games is a small Cambridge based company that started in 2007, and does not follow the typical video game company model. Instead of putting all the team’s effort into one large project that consumes most of their funding, they invest in multiple indie projects via their indie incubator program. In this program they help indie games grow and develop. Games that started typically as a hobby or a side-project are able to become full-fledged games.
I first sat down with Nico Corrao, the Studio Lead, to talk about Fire Hose Games, 20xx. and Catlateral Damage. He said he is thrilled to be a part of Fire Hose Games, because “I get to focus on things I really want to do.” And what he really wants to do are games such as Catlateral Damage and 20xx, which Fire Hose currently is working on with their indie incubator program. Both of these games were on display as playable demos at PAX.
Corrao then introduced me to Chris King, the very enthusiastic programmer, designer, and creator of 20xx, the co-operative game that draws inspiration from Mega Man X. The game has been in early access on Steam since November 2014, but in a few months they hope to release version 1.0.
With the ability to easily deliver new builds of a game to consumers, Steam’s early access allows for players to fund a game’s development, in exchange for each iteration of the game along its development. A lot of independent games at PAX are shown in their early access stages.
Early Access is incredibly important for indie developers, who can’t compete with AAA developers – the big gaming companies. Companies such as Bioware and Ubisoft have thousands of people working on individual aspects of the game, while indie developers have their main team and probably friends to test out and sometimes beneficially break the game. For perhaps the first time ever, instead of the developers creating the game they think players will want, the players can coordinate with the creator to receive the game they really want.
“My biggest motivator? Oh, it’s totally crushing guilt – wait, hear me out,” King starts to explain with a laugh. “An indie team is kind of different than your average developers. It’s forcing yourself to get out and do the work because of the games, because your whole team is counting on you. The main thing that is different is how hard you’re pushing yourself for this. There are so many people relying on you.”
I asked King what it was like to see some stranger, whether it’s on the internet through the early access program or here at PAX interacting with what he’s put so much heart into.
“It’s a great thing. If something makes sense to me, but people continue to follow it differently, or they don’t understand the level’s progression, it’s clear that I have to change something.”
King has been actively involved in the 20xx community that he’s been cultivating over the years. Every other Wednesday, Batterystaple Games releases a new, detailed patch that puts 20xx on the way towards a final 1.0 release. He highlights the importance of communicating with the fans, making sure they’re involved or at least aware every step of the way.
There has been a constant crowd waiting to try their hand at the game throughout our entire conversation. 20xx is incredibly energetic. The game provides an upbeat co-operative experience, with two people at a time playing together to sort through the demo stages.
“Even if I could pay someone to do the job for me,” King said, about being the ‘community manager,’ “I wouldn’t.”
The most obvious take-away from my meeting with King is how much he genuinely cares about the game – and that’s something that continued to occur with anyone involved with Fire Hose Games. Everyone is incredibly passionate and proud of what they do.
Next, I met with Chris Chung who made the video game Catlateral Damage. It’s a first-person video game currently out on PS4 and PC where the whole point of the game is being a cat and destroying everything. There’s a lot of chaotic fun to be had.
Catlateral Damage was on PC already, and just recently for PS4, but two weeks before PAX, Corrao of Firehose had this wild idea. “Let’s get it ready for VR for PAX. Can you do it?”
Chung got it done.
“Honestly? It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.” Chung said.
The game was ready for demo, but all of the booth space at PAX was taken. Going to PAX is a huge investment in booth space let alone manpower, anything special you might want to have your game stand out. Despite several calls to try to find a small nook somewhere to set up, all that last minute work seemed fruitless. Luckily, CybertronPC was looking for Boston indie developers who had a VR product, and they had last minute space at their booth. Everything worked out perfectly.
Catlateral started out as the product of a game jam. A game jam, similar to a musical “jam session,” is when developers get together and hastily put together a game under certain constraints such as time, style, and theme.
“It’s a really cool thing, knowing that there’s all these people who want to play a game that I just made for myself,” Chung said. The game, however, quickly got attention on the internet and it kind of blew up. Of course, because who doesn’t want to play a virtual reality game as a cat, knocking stuff over?
Chung had always grown up with cats, so it’s no surprise that he developed a game about them. At one point his family had five cats living at home with them.
“This game, actually, is sort of based on my cat Nippy. He’s the brattiest cat we’ve ever had, and is the main inspiration.” Nippy lived to be 17 years old, and was a staple part of Chung’s childhood. He passed away shortly after development on Catlateral Damage started. “That cat was unstoppable. One time he knocked a pizza box off the counter and was dragging the whole pizza off the floor.”
With 20xx just a few months short of release, and Catlateral Damage having just released for PS4, Fire Hose Games has done a lot to step towards encouraging development for small independent games that may not normally see the life of day. Corrao pushed the team to do their best.
Aside from the growth of Fire Hose Games, Corrao’s biggest hope is to get the indie community more involved in Boston again. It used to be more thriving but with other recent video game companies leaving Boston, growth has declined.
“It takes everything and everyone to push that indie community. It takes the industry, it takes journalists, the creatives, developers, it takes people with media expertise– that’s why they call it the industry.“ Corrao has hope.
It’s a good feeling to meet with someone so incredibly passionate about what they do. The games themselves are great, but the people behind them are even better.
You can purchase 20xx in it’s early access stage for $11.99 and catlateral damage for $9.99 in the steam store today. I have a feeling that 20xx and Catlateral Damage are just the start for Fire Hose Games, and I hope we’ll be seeing more from them soon.