Curve Studios Interview: Porting Games & Sony

Curve Studios (developer) and Curve Digital (publisher) have been making a name for themselves over the past couple of years with some amazing PlayStation titles.

Analog Addiction was given a chance to ask Rob Clarke, PR Manger at Curve, some questions about making ports of games, being an independent studio, and working with Sony.

AA: Your studio recently announced it will be bringing The Swapper to PlayStation consoles. Did developer Facepalm seek your team to port the game to PlayStation consoles? Or was this a title your team was interested in working with?

Clarke: Obviously both of these need to be true for our relationship to work and develop a game. However, as for who contacted who first, we reached out to Olli (Harjola, developer) because The Swapper was not only an amazing game, but a perfect fit for PlayStation.

Olli was interested in PlayStation, but didn’t want to stop focusing on his new projects to work on a port, so that’s where we’ve come in, and that’s pretty typical of how our relationships with the developers work.

AA: Curve Studios has made a name for itself through porting some great indie PC experiences to PlayStation devices. What goes into the process of porting an existing game, which is not your own, to a new console.

Clarke: It’s different for every game because it’s based on things like the original language and the complexity of the game itself. Some take longer than others, but all of them do need work – some people assume Unity games can just be quickly ported to PlayStation, and Unity are getting there, but it’s not quite that straightforward – yet.

We also have to consider how a PlayStation might run a game – with The Swapper, people might not see it as a ‘next gen’ game because it looks 2D, but actually there’s a lot going on graphically and it was written with gaming PCs in mind, so trying to put that onto the Vita, which is roughly as powerful as an iPhone 4S in terms of pure tech specs, can be a challenge.

When you finish with the code, there’s a ton more work to do. There’s a lot of QA (Quality Assurance) involved in releasing on a console, and a lot of things that you have to think about and plan for from a production perspective. It’s not as simple as just pushing a few buttons on Steam. We do the QA and localisation here at Curve rather than outsourcing it all because we think the end result is a more polished game.

AA: Curve Studios moves from project to project quite quickly. Would you ever consider creating sequels to your games, or does the team tend to prefer moving towards new material?

Clarke: We have a team that works on ports, and a team that works on original titles, so while we manage to release lots of games a year, we do still get the time to work on larger projects for longer periods of times. We’re working on a new game now in fact; we’re just not ready to say much about it yet!

AA: With Stealth Inc. coming to PlayStation 4, which of your other games would you love to see make the transition to Sony’s new platform?

Clarke: It’s boring, but it’s actually more of a business thing when we’re looking to bring the PS3 stuff over to PS4. If a game is going to be trickier to port and cost more, we’ve got to consider if it’s worth the time for our programmers who could be focusing on our new 2014 releases. Having said that, we’re going to see how well Stealth [Inc.] is received and go from there – it’s something we’d love to do be able to do.

AA: With a combination of original experiences and ports, you have a lot of experience working with Sony. So, what’s it like working with them (Sony)? 

Clarke: We do entire presentations on that question but the short answer is: It’s excellent, but it’s also a lot of work. Sony has made publishing games on consoles much easier. There are some amazing people working there that really care about games, especially indie games. Of course, there are still some really frustrating elements, like having to do nearly everything twice if you want to launch a game in Europe and America at the same time or having your game fail submission at the last moment because of an obscure hardware problem.

AA: What are your thoughts on the next generation of consoles, preferably Sony’s PlayStation 4 since you probably have more experience with it?

Clarke: Ultimately I think most of the differences in the hardware aren’t really all that important, despite the focus on resolution and frame rates. As always, it’s the games that really matter; not what you play them on, so we’re far more interested in what Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo do to make it as easy as possible to put games on their system. Occasionally there’s a game that might not work on one system that would work on another, for example, some Vita games are really made for that mobile, handheld style of gaming. Mostly though, it’s just a case of getting the support we need from the platform holders.

AA: Your games seem to be on most Sony products, why is it important for you to have your titles available on all Sony products?

Clarke: With the PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita thing, it’s basically the case of the more platforms, the more choice, and the more people we can reach with our games. Sony’s cross-buy feature adds to that choice and gives PlayStation gamers a level of flexibility in how you play that no other system has.

AA: Over the past few months Curve Studios has been making announcement after announcement. How do you handle multiple projects at once, is the team big enough to do so?

Clarke: We’ve had most of these games bouncing around our offices since November, so it’s been great to get them all out! It’s actually not a big team on each game. A game like The Swapper might have two or three developers working on it full time, but as it’s a new version, not a new game, we don’t need to spend a lot of money on art or music. A great deal of the time spent in development of a new game is prototyping and balancing gameplay, which we don’t need to worry about with our console editions. We also have an excellent production and QA team who have a lot of experience in those sorts of balancing acts!

AA: Having worked on so many great titles, no doubt the team has some favourites that stand out above the others?

Clarke: There’s always a special place in our heart for our own games like Stealth Bastard of course, but we’ve also had the opportunity to work with some amazing developers. My personal favourite game to work with so far has been Proteus because Ed (Key, developer) is a great guy to work with and Proteus was a really unique game especially for something on console, but everyone on the team has a different answer to that I think.

AA: Is there any particular reason why we haven’t seen any Curve games on Xbox or Nintendo platforms? Is there a deal between you guys and Sony, or is it something else?

Clarke: We released a game on the Wii and the 3DS only a couple of years ago, and we’ve released games on both iOS and PC this year. Of course, we’ve done a lot more Sony stuff recently so I think it’s fair that people look at us as a Sony studio right now, and maybe would be shocked if we did other games.

As I’ve touched on a little, there’s no one simple answer to that. We already had a relationship with Sony, having made PSP and PS2 games, but the big thing was really they decided that indie was something they wanted to focus on, and then changed the way they operate around that. Microsoft and Nintendo are doing that now as well, but it’s not an easy thing to change overnight.