Start-Up Spotlight: GLPeas

Start-Up Spotlight: GLPeas
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

February 3rd 2011 at 3:00PM

Innovation is at the heart of this after hours development outfit

The media and entertainment industries are notorious for their unsociable working hours. So the very fact that some people find the time to do ‘extra work’ is astonishing.

Run by a small collective of Midlands developers in their spare time, GLPeas is just that.

This independent game project has allowed these developers to express their innovative ideas that are deemed too risky in the commercial world, with impressive results.

Develop got in touch with them to learn more.

How did you start your company?
GLPeas was formed in 2009. GLPeas primarily exists as an opportunity for us to explore gameplay concepts and ideas which we think would be cool, but would be hard to realise on a full-scale commercial basis. We all have experience of working in the industry, and GLPeas means we can try things that we wouldn’t be able to in our day jobs. As you will know, today’s game projects have to meet a strict set of criteria with regards to marketability and potential sales before they get the green light. When we’re working on our own stuff, our main criteria is not commercial success but whether or not the game will be fun, or do something new and original. Therefore we get to ‘green light’ our own projects without any external influence, hence our traffic light-themed logo.

How many people work at your company?
There are a couple of core people and a couple of others who help out from time to time. None of us are full time. We do this primarily in evenings and weekends, to fit around or day jobs and family commitments.

What’s your company culture like?
I guess it could be best summed up as a ‘Why not?’ type attitude. Take BlindGiRl for example - the conventional rules of game design tend to dictate that the player should never be put in a situation where they are disorientated or unsure of their surroundings. Our answer to that would be ‘Why not?’ and by asking these sort of questions you can begin to evolve some interesting game mechanics. We document all ideas and discount them only if they are impractical because of the resources or time we have available to us.

When starting GLPeas we decided on a mission statement for the company. These would be three key statements that we would apply to any idea we came up with. If it passed these criteria, then it’d be up for further discussion. The mission statement is:

Fun(ction) before form: Avoid realism, 3D, animation, and other resource intensive processes that add little to gameplay but everything to development time.

Innovate, don’t imitate: There is little point producing an inferior copy of a product that already exists, and there are plenty of people doing that already.

No guns: We don’t want a part of this market, which is already saturated.

To sum it up, you’ve got to know the rules to break the rules. We are familiar with key design principles or methodologies, and they are proven to work. But we’re more interested in trying out new things, perhaps making the player work a bit harder for their rewards, to see what new directions it takes things in.

Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
There’s quite a few... but how about the fact that every GLPeas game made so far has been commemorated in cake form (results are on the GLPeas Facebook page).

We also heard not long after the release of BlindGiRl that someone who had bought the game and thoroughly enjoyed it ended up playing what they called ‘BlindGiRl Live’ - due to an illness in the family he had to spend a lot of time waiting in a hospital with his young daughter, and to kill the boring hours they pretended the fire extinguishers in the empty corridors were beasties that they needed to escape from. That sort of feedback is great to hear and makes our efforts more than worthwhile.

What could you, and/or your team members, not do without on a daily basis?
The number one would have to be a pen and paper. Sometimes you’re hit with an idea or a concept and you have to note it down or it’ll be gone for good. Occasionally, just the act of putting it in writing shows you that it’s not going to work. But at times when you’re stuck for an idea, you never know what you might find by trawling back through those old pages of notes.

Why did you decide to enter the casual gaming market?
As we mentioned earlier, working in the mainstream games industry is great but there are necessary limitations put on creativity. When you’re dealing with projects involving dozens of people and years of development time, there’s a hell of a lot of money at stake, and therefore the people investing that money want to be as sure as possible that they’re going to see a return. That’s why the shelves are filled with sequels and licensed games rather than original concepts. GLPeas releases us from those limitations and just allows us to make what we want. If we think that a certain gameplay mechanic would be fun to try out, then that’s what we do. For each of the concepts we develop into a fully fledged game, there are many more than never made it past the design document or prototype stage. We’re prepared to break a few design rules and try new things, and some people might not like that approach, but we would hope that once those initial preconceptions are overcome they will find a more rewarding game experience at the end.

We’d like to think that it’s made us better developers, as well. Working on such a small project means that you get an appreciation of all aspects of the design and production process - you’re no longer just focussed purely on programming or HUD graphics, but instead you have to turn your hands to all sorts of different tasks from design document writing, to community relations and marketing. It’s allowed us to gain more empathy with those people we work with on a day to day basis, as we now have a better understanding of their jobs and the problems they face. We think everyone at a big developer would benefit from working on a one or two person project every now and again.

What games/tools/services have you made since forming, and how have they been received?
Our first game was Carcophony and it released in October 2009. It was quite an ambitious project for us, and featured complexities like online leaderboards and multiplayer modes. We feel that we pulled it off though, and the result is a game which is dead easy to get into but has some surprising depth the more you play it. The reviews were pretty much excellent from the gameplay point of view, but there were some criticisms for the price, which was 400 MSP. We initially set that price based on the amount of time and work put into the game, but it soon became clear that it was too high, with a lot of reviews praising the game but criticising the price. We therefore dropped it as soon as we were able to, and it’s now 240MSP. Carcophony was a big learning curve for us - we proved that we could take a ‘standard’ project through from start to finish, get it released and get some good feedback. This meant that we could take a few more risks in the next title.

Our second game, BlindGiRl, was released in March 2010. For this project, we wanted to create a game that put the emphasis on exploration and discovery, and made use of a cool wave propagation mechanic that we’d prototyped in a different idea. We also wanted to break a few rules this time around, to see whether a player’s natural curiosity would help them through a game with no tutorial mode, no hints, and pared-back visuals. That’s how BlindGiRl came about - a game where you uncover your environment bit by bit as the sound waves you make as you walk bounce off nearby walls.

The result is a game that starts off by telling you very little, but allows the player to discover what lurks in the darkness as they explore more. Again we got some great reviews for the game, with a lot of positive comments about the innovative and original gameplay mechanics. We’ve never had anyone complain that they didn’t ‘get’ what to do, which has kind of proved that the experiment worked. Unexpectedly, we’ve also had some feedback that the game is really scary, which was not something we deliberately set out to create, but is an interesting by-product of the restrictive conditions the game places on the player. It’s that sort of feedback that is exciting to us and exactly why we make these sort of games.

What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
At the moment, we’re at the ideas stage for a number of new possibilities. Various things have occurred in our private and work lives over the last few months which has meant that we’ve not be able to devote as much time to GLPeas as perhaps we’d like. We’ll be making some announcements about our next projects soon.

What are your aspirations for the company?
We’re certainly not in this to be rich or famous. For us, we just want to be able to try out ideas and then see what the public think of them. If they love them, then that’s great, and hugely rewarding for us. If they hate them, then, that’s also fine, we can learn from those comments and build on the experience. We just want to make ourselves better designers and developers through being able to experiment in a relatively unrestricted way, and if we’re able to open a few minds as to the huge array of gameplay possibilities that remain untapped, then that’s great.

Who do you admire in the games industry and/or beyond?
One of the key guiding influences for us is Jesse Schell and his awesome book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. In it, he encourages you to examine all of your game design ideas from various perspectives and ask key questions about your concepts. This approach has been useful to us and has allowed us to refine and strengthen our concepts as we’ve been working on them. From a game point of view, our key inspirations are modern classics such as Portal and Braid.

Find the GLPeas at www.glpeas.co.uk.

Want to be featured in our Start-Up Spotlight? Contact Aaron.Lee@intentmedia.co.uk with details of your company to be considered for inclusion.