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Straight from the Source: James Barnard (Springloaded Software)

We sat down with James Barnard to discuss Springloaded Software’s two new games for the Switch. Springloaded Software are making a variety of games for the Switch, and we got exclusive details on how they will play!

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This is part of our BitSumit coverage! We still have a lot more interviews coming, so please subscribe to us on Twitter. You can see our previous interviews by checking out the BitSummit Category on this site!

*Special thanks to Ollie Jameson from Minus World for his help with transcribing this interview!

Can you please briefly introduce yourself?
I’m James and I run Springloaded Software! We’re a games studio from Singapore and we’re most known for our mobile games. We make games like ‘Tiny Dice Dungeon’ and ‘The Last Vikings!’ that have been downloaded by many millions of people. Right now we’re focusing on making a huge pile of Switch games.

So what led you to the Switch?
My whole career, I’ve constantly been making games for Nintendo platforms. For my first job I made about thirty games on Game Boy Advance and DS, stuff like that. I’ve always been with Nintendo games my whole life, and obviously I’m a super fan. I guess what drove me to really want to work on it, it’s hard to say it was a business decision and not just a fanboy decision, so I get them merged and messed up in my mind, I don’t really know what I’m doing, you know.


Can you talk about the games you worked on in the past?
I was the lead designer at Lucasarts, so I worked on [Star Wars: The Force Unleashed] and the [Star Wars: The Clone Wars] games on DS. Before that, I worked on things like ‘The Sims’ and extreme sports games by EA, so loads of games.

So you have a very deep personal history with Nintendo?
With making games for them, but not with them themselves (laughs). Nintendo and me… I’m not close with Nintendo, just their products.


Have you found it easy to develop games for the Switch?
No, it’s really hard! No, [actually] it’s really easy, it’s been super simple. We’ve got one bug at the moment where when I undock the Switch, the screen resolution gets all screwed up, but we just didn’t test that, so I think we’ve got to do something special there. In general, it’s been super easy.

Is there a particular feature of the Switch that appeals to you?
The one thing that I do really like, even though it’s really stupid I guess, is the HD rumble. I haven’t really had enough time to sit down and code something specifically for it, but it’s one of the last features waiting to go into our games and I just think it’s really fun. It’s a new thing to play with, as a developer.


So ‘Hyper Feather Ball’ and ‘Görsd’ will have HD rumble?
Obviously, yeah. What I want with ‘Görsd’ is to be able to really feel the different kinds of events through the rumble, and ‘Hyper Feather Ball’, you know when you hit a tennis ball, and you hit it in the ‘sweet spot’ and it feels really nice? I want it so that when you do a perfect, for it to have that ‘pop’ feel in your hand. As you tilt in handheld mode, I want you to feel the footsteps of the characters moving from your left hand to your right hand, so it’s like you’re holding them. That would be really cool, right?


That would be really cool.
The game is about you moving from one side of the screen to the other, so it would be nice to have that as a feature.

Can you briefly describe ‘Hyper Feather Ball’?
It’s a science-fiction sports games from the far future in an imaginary universe, where you are seventeen years old, and that means you’re too old to become a hyper ball professional! But you try anyway, so this is a story…all the hyper ball professionals are eight years old or five years old when they start. So you go on this big adventure, you leave your parents noodle shop behind and out you go! The main mechanics [involve] lots of different mini-games based on a central imaginary sport. It was really inspired by ‘Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball’, because I really, really love that game. It was actually… maybe it’s a bit… No, I’m not going to say it’s too inspired, but maybe, you know. I just loved that game and after I played it, I thought “I wanna make something like that!”, because it’s so fun. Just to take a simple mechanic or gameplay idea and do loads of stuff with it, and really focus on something simple and pure. So obviously the game is just about jumping up in the air and hitting a thing with the top of your head, but you do it in lots of different ways – you do it with tilt, you do it with touch screen, you do it with buttons and the joystick and you just do it without even moving, so it’s just about getting perfect timing and stuff like that.


So you’re not going to be like ‘Rusty’ and have to purchase the different modes?
(Laughs) No, we’re not! As well as a single-player story – and unlike ‘Rusty’ – it has a four-player mode where there are co-op objectives and you play together to get medals. There’s also battle mode where four people fight against each other.

You mentioned there’s co-op missions as well?
Yeah, co-op missions. There’s a bunch of stuff you can do and the objectives change depending on the number of players you have. There are fifty unlockable characters which, I’ll be honest, don’t do anything different, they just look cool, but if you do certain things in multiplayer you’ll get little secret characters. There are little secret things we’re putting in just to make it feel special.


Do you have any online functionality planned?
Hmm… I’m not going to say anything about that at this time! (Laughs)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but for, uhh… Is it pronounced “Gorst” [Görsd]?
Yeah, that’ll do. There’s no real pronunciation, I don’t know how to pronounce it! If you want to pronounce it “Gorst”, that’s how I pronounce it, but this German guy I know, he’s like “Gurst”. I’m just like “if that’s what it is to you, then that’s fine”. He probably knows, it’s probably “Gurst”, but to me, it’s “Gorst”.


Did you settle on a Japanese katakana yet?
Yeah, but it’s not “ghost”. You know how there’s a word for “ghost”, right? We decided not to go for that. But I saw somewhere in an article that someone was calling it “ghost” and I was like “no, that’s wrong!”. But yeah, we do have.


So you have a Japanese published lined up?
Nope, we’re self-publishing, so we’re going to get our own CERO rating and then release it.


I think you said that ‘Görsd’ was a mixture of ‘Splatoon’, ‘PAC-MAN’ and a shooting game in the prototype video, is that correct?
Yeah, that’s it. I guess my description has become even more focused on other people’s games! Now we just say it’s ‘Bomberman’, ‘PAC-MAN’ and ‘Splatoon’ merged into one! But people seem to like it. Here [at BitSummit] there’s constantly been people playing it and you get people going “woooah!” and pulling really ridiculous faces whilst playing.

I think it’s great that you’re developing really strong local multiplayer games for the Switch, because it’s just a natural fit for the console.
For me, how often do I have four people in my house to play Switch games? Not that often, so it’s important to me that they have a strong single-player component as well. Obviously, in our office it’s really fun making these kinds of games, because you get to play them and scream at each other and throw things across the office at each other!


Have you announced any release date plans?
I know that we want to do ‘Super Feather Ball’ pretty soon, and something happened at this event that means we’re going to try and push ‘Görsd’ out really soon as well.


That’s great.
So ‘Görsd’, multiplayer-wise, is pretty much done. We’ve got twenty maps and six or seven game modes. All of the maps have different features, so one of them has a big monster that lives underneath it that shakes the map and makes all the colours change, stuff like that. Single-player is the thing we haven’t really talked about or shown, but that’s still eating a lot of my time. Depending on how that goes will depend on the release date.


Do you have an ETA for ‘Hyper Feather Ball’?
I’m hoping to actually submit it to Nintendo in around two weeks. After that, it’ll probably be a month before it’s released, but I don’t know so I don’t want to commit and say “yeah, it’ll come out in six weeks”, because who knows what will happen – it might fail, we might suddenly decide to add something. With our studio, we’re just making lots and lots of games. We’re currently making five games that are running on the Switch, but whether they all come out or what will happen with them all, I don’t know, we just randomly make stuff that we’re excited about every day. As long as we’re making progress and finishing games, we feel pretty happy, but it makes it hard for us to say “this is coming out on this date”.


How many people actually work for Springloaded Software?
Currently, we’re made up of twelve people, which is a combination of full-time staff and interns.


How did you guys all meet each other?
After I left Lucasarts, I became a teacher at DigiPen, which is like a university for video game development. I was doing one class a week and a couple of the students were really cool. After they left and graduated, I gave them jobs. So basically the company is me as the really, really old man, and then we have all these fresh graduates – well, some of them aren’t fresh any more, one of them has been with me for four years.

…and you’re based in Singapore?
Yeah, it’s a really nice place to live. I went there because of Lucasarts, but it’s got great weather and everything is nearby. If a conference comes to town, it’s such a small place that everyone can get together. It feels like a very good hub, as a place to be.


Where can people follow the development of both of these games?
We have a blog on WordPress, I sometimes make videos on YouTube where we talk about stuff, which is probably where you saw the prototype video, which nobody was ever supposed to see obviously (laughs). I assumed nobody was going to watch it, but because the game got announced because of BitSummit, so many people found that video and it started getting shared. It’s actually a pitch video that I sent to Nintendo to say “hey, I’ve got this game and I want to make it!”.

I thought the prototype video, for me, was more informative than the other trailer about what the game was and how it was made….I really got a sense for the development from that prototype video.
I think it does show the mechanics off pretty well, yeah. With the teaser I just wanted people to realize that the characters are really creepy and it’s really weird.

The characters are really cute! (Laughs)
(Laughs) The ones you play as are really cute, but the god deity characters are creepy as hell! We put a lot of effort into making them really creepy.


Yeah, I was a little unsettled by the trailer. (Laughs)
Me too, particularly as [it uses] my voice!

Oh, that’s your voice!
Yeah, I recorded loads of dialogue for the characters so that they all have speech, but I’ve been listening to it and I’m just like “I can’t do it!’. I don’t know if it’s going to go in the game, I think it’s just going to be text. It’s just weird, it’ll be 2AM in the morning in my office and I’ll just start saying random things that come into my mind in a weird voice, and I’m laughing the whole time because it’s so ridiculous, what I’m saying. I listen back to it when I’m editing the sound and it makes me laugh a lot because it’s so ridiculous, but I think it might become tiresome if you constantly hear me saying these same weird things. I also did all the voices as well (laughs), so it’s really stupid!


Maybe you could do a community contest – “get your voice in this game, send me the weirdest voice!”
(Laughs) The weirdest thing you can say, yeah! But they say really unsettling, creepy things in the game, they try and make the player feel weird, so you win and it’s asking you about your friends, saying “your friends don’t like you”, trying to make you feel weird.


To mess with the player’s head?
Yeah. That’s the goal, I just want players to feel slightly uneasy when they’re playing the game.


What does being ‘indie’ mean to you?
Well to me, it’s just freedom, that’s all it is. After spending years making games at big corporations, where those game are obviously made very specifically for being sellable and fitting into markets, doing that kind of thing, it’s just so liberating to not have to give a shit about that kind of thing and just make whatever you want. I think what’s cool about that is that there will be people who will play it, because people always want unique things. It’s never going to be mass-market unless you’re really lucky – there’s never going to be a million people playing one of my Switch games. But at the same time, they’ll really appeal to a certain bunch of people, because they’re so unique. Well, in theory, they’re unique, I hope they’re unique!

Yeah, and you can release them as a digital title and get them into people’s hands.
Yeah. The digital thing is great. Obviously, the physical thing is really amazing as well, the resurgence of almost indie record label-style stuff where people are manufacturing small runs of games. I love that as well. I feel like the industry has been very dominated by major players for a long time, so it’s really nice that we’ve got this ‘underground’ scene of interesting stuff going down. It’s like arthouse cinema or something like that. I’m not saying my games are like arthouse cinema, my games are just weird!