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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Plain Sight

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game blog has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Robin Lacey, the managing director of Beatnik Games, about his company's brand new ninja robot multiplayer action game Plain Sight.

How did Beatnik Games get started?

Two years ago Damien (an old school friend) and myself got very drunk after work. After many beers we decided that life was far too short to be rotting behind a desk. Everyone knew a recession was coming, so we figured we might as well be poor doing something we loved rather than mundane crap. That was video games.

For a few months we rushed around finding investment and building a team to join us on our hair-brained venture. In January 2008 we moved into our office and got started. Over the last couple of years our team has grown to eight people, all about the same age, all winging it in the same way.

Gallery: Plain Sight | 6 Photos

Why did you want to make games?

As a child I used to make games with Shoot Em Up Construction Kit (Amiga), Klik and Play (PC) and all that jazz. Games have been a massive part of my life, especially when growing up, but I never thought I'd end up doing it as a job. I just happened to fall into the industry after a bunch of other random jobs. Now I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

I think what really excites me is the position the games industry is currently in. I like to think of it as the equivalent of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I think as a medium, games are just getting started. There are still so many boundaries and ideas that can be pushed and explored. Although we make much smaller games, the independent development scene is where the majority of these ideas are formed. Exciting times!

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

The very thought of working for someone else makes me incredibly depressed.

"When you make a game, in your eyes it's never perfect. You can get close, but you'll never quite make it."

In the office we have no real hierarchy, so no one is really "working" for someone else. I think this kind of independence is essential when you're creating something like a game. We're all the same age and everyone has a job to do - we just have to be good at it!

What's your game called, and what's it about?

Our first game is called Plain Sight.

It's a multiplayer arcade game with gravity-defying suicidal robots.

We wanted to make a game that rewarded the player for death, rather than punish them for it. The basic premise behind Plain Sight is that you have to destroy your opponents to steal their energy. The more energy you have the bigger and better you are. However you only get to convert you energy to round-winning points if you blow yourself up.

So, a bit like the Weakest Link but with suicide bombing.

That's just the basic "deathmatch mode," we're shipping with 5 other gameplay modes, power-ups, robot upgrades loads of maps - all for a minuscule $9.99.

Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?

I know the correct answer to this is "yes, my game is the game I've been dreaming of all my life" ... but that's not true.

This is for two reasons. Firstly, I believe that game design should be an evolving group orientated process. Plain Sight is an amalgamation of all our ideas and I think that's what makes it great.

Honestly, I think if I'd forced everyone to make the game I wanted to make, it'd be rubbish. I'm only 27, hardly qualified to be a master guru of game design. That's why people in young studios need to bounce off each other - bad design decisions are removed through discussion (often of the volatile variety).

Secondly, when you make a game, in your eyes it's never perfect. You can get close, but you'll never quite make it. Therefore the status of "the game you always wanted to play" is continually a feature or bug fix away.

How long did it take you to create?

We did three months of initial design work -- just throwing ideas around really. Once we hit upon the Plain Sight concept and visual style it took us about 18 months ... perhaps longer.

Development of Plain Sight hasn't been a linear process. We were commissioned by UK broadcaster Channel 4 about 6 months ago to make a game for them. We're about five months away from finishing that. This caused Plain Sight to be delayed a bit.

What are you proudest of in your game?

I'm incredibly proud that we stuck so doggedly to the original visual style gameplay concept. I found a prototype video from early 2008, when you watch it you can see that it's still quite obviously Plain Sight.

From a technical perspective, what we've managed to achieve with XNA is quite outstanding. That's all pretty much down to our programmer Lawrence, who's been with us since day one.

What's next?

After Plain Sight we're going to be juggling between providing content updates, working on Channel 4 and developing the console versions of the game. Currently we're looking to get the game out on PS3 and WiiWare in about 12 months.

Early adopters of the PC version needn't worry - they're going to get regular content and (when the console version is launched) a super-cheap upgrade. I can't say much about what we've got planned, but it'll certainly be worth it.

Plain Sight is available now for PC on Beatnik Games' official site. If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Can't get enough indie? Check out the Pitch archives.

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