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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Fleck

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game site 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 Seppo Helava, co-founder of Self Aware Games about the developer's new social gaming project, Fleck.

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

The thing we're working on right now is Fleck. You can check it out right now at The simple description? WoW + Facebook + The Sims + Google Maps = Fleck. It's an MMO where you can do all sorts of things, from creating an amazing garden to slaying the zombie hordes -- but it's all done on a map of the real world. But it's not just a map -- it's your neighborhood. Your favorite restaurants, pulled from Yelp. Your local weather. When you fight zombies, you fight them on streets you're familiar with.

In Fleck, you interact with people. Real people in real time. You can work together to create a garden by your house. You can complete scavenger hunts or quests together. Play with friends -- in your neighborhood. There's something incredibly more satisfying about hanging out in a familiar place than in yet another orc-filled fantasy or bald space marine-filled sci-fi realm.

How did you or your company get started?

Colin (Self Aware's other co-founder) and I were college housemates, back at MIT. After we graduated, we both moved out here - I got into the game industry, and he went off and founded a couple companies doing really innovative things. In our spare time a while back, we made a game for a GBA Homebrew contest with some other friends. It was an awesome experience, but not something I'd have thought we'd ever be able to do as anything but a hobby.

With the new wave of smartphones, though, we realized that you could go back to developing games with really small teams, but more than that, the kinds of games you could make could be even more interesting than what you can build on console. The biggest thing? This wave of hardware lets you play games with your friends any time, anywhere. That is such a revolution that I think it spells the end of dedicated portable game hardware for anyone over the age of 12.

What are you proudest of about your game?

We pushed Fleck live without a lot of content. We wanted to make sure the technology worked, and to start getting feedback from real people, but honestly, we expected people would check it out, hang around for an hour or two, leave us some valuable feedback, and then get bored & take off. It's just that Fleck wasn't done, but we knew we needed to get some real people using it.

What blows my mind is that five months later, hundreds of the players that signed up early on are still here. They loved the social aspect of Fleck, and it's kept them coming back day after day. That's one of the coolest things about developing a live platform like this - we don't have to wait two years to develop a game, ship it, and then get feedback to find out what we did right, and what we did wrong.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?
We get to make the kinds of things we want to make. There are no directives from marketing to hit a particular rating, there are no "holes" in the plan that need to be filled by a particular "product." We don't make product. We make things we love, and we hope our players will love.

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


Here's the thing - if you'd asked me a year ago, I wouldn't have even thought something like Fleck was possible. The evolution of access to data, and the explosion of social gaming has completely upended what is possible in as little as just the last year. So is it what we've always wanted to play? No - because we literally couldn't conceive of it as recently as a year ago.

Is it what we've always wanted to play? No - it's a lot better.

How long did it take you to create?

Fleck's been in development for about nine months. It's been in a semi-public beta for the last four months, and it's been live on the official site since November 4th. The cool thing is that the bulk of that time was building out the infrastructure. The thing that's really been interesting is that we made a decision to push the game live really early, and then continue developing it as fast as possible while it was live, with real players. So it's a continuing process. Nine months into the process, and we've barely scratched the tip of the iceberg. I hope ten years from now, we're still working on it.

Here's the thing - if you'd asked me a year ago, I wouldn't have even thought something like Fleck was possible.- Seppo Helava

That said, Fleck is available on the web now! Mobile versions of Fleck, which will really blow out the location-aware aspect of things, will be available on a variety of platforms around March of 2011. The cool thing is that if you start playing on the web, your account will be able to be linked up to your mobile device, and you'll keep playing with the same data.

What's next?

Mobile versions of Fleck are currently in development, and we're cranking away on continuing to add things to the experience. Development on Fleck ... there's no limit to it. There's no point where we'll ever sit back and say, "Yep, that's it. Done." We could spend the next decade working on nothing but this, and we'd still only have scratched the surface of what's possible. So much of what we do is based on the feedback we're getting from players. So come on -- jump in. We're building the whole world from the ground up. Help us make something revolutionary.

Want to check out Fleck for yourself? You can find it right here! 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." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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