We released the game on PSN a week ago. The experience is all a bit new and we’re feeling our way through this as we travel. We are really grateful for the feedback so far. Now is probably a good time to sift through some of the topics to date.
While we’ve had a number of work experience interns with us along the way, we are essentially a three man development team. Trying to build The Surfer has been a monumental task. Again, we’d like to take this opportunity thank the people who have come into our studio and worked with us on odd tasks over the years on the PS3. This also includes family and friends who have helped out in various ways over the journey. When you look at our credit list it actually seems like we’re a really large studio and we’re a bit surprised by the volume of credits there. But, in saying that it probably stands to reason that the number of names and thanks we needed to pass on was always going to be large if you consider that we’re talking about a development beginning in 2005 till now. That’s a long time.
In some respects, a Kickstarter campaign might have been easier if we’d taken that leap, but game development (and design) can be so very risky and to us, that just didn’t feel right. And when trying to develop an in-depth surfing game, there sure is plenty of design failure to overcome. Plenty.
Last year we posted a blog regarding why we took the approach we did with our graphics. We’re often asked ”why the retro look?” or “why didn’t you make the game a more realistic sim like Skate? Simple answer is: budget. It costs a bomb to create high-end AAA graphics for consoles and the truth is we’d love to build a sim and go for that hyper realistic look. It’s feels odd because we actually started out as a simulation developer. Our first prototype was a simulation and our game engine is at heart, is a physics based 3D simulation.
But, as a small studio we had to make a decision early on and the simple proposition for us was this: Question: do we try and compete with the Activision’s, EA, or Ubi’s of the world? Answer: Nope. Question: do we try and build a game that is solid visually but with a focus on physics and gameplay? Answer: Well okay, yes
But in the end the reality was that we didn’t really have a choice. A tiny studio like Bungarra simply couldn’t compete with high-end multi-million dollar graphics tech with the likes of EA and without the money, we knew we shouldn’t try. Choose your battles. So we needed to try a different approach. Our goal was to create a graphic set that would still look good and respect our audience, but with a focus on trying to make our notoriously difficult genre – surfing – both compelling and fun. Suffice to say this is a balancing act. Coming up with an attractive art direction, hard-core physics, in-depth gameplay as well as an effective User Interface, is no easy task. There are plenty of really pretty games already out there with not much going on under the hood when it comes to gameplay. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the psychology of limitation really did apply to us at the outset of this project and it still does today. That is, you make the best of what you have and sometimes as a result, circumstance simply forces you to become more creative. We had to define what we internally considered to be a rich visual look that could hold sway with a market awash with super high res and realistic graphics. The bottom line is that our art style had to be both nice-looking and meaningful to the surfing community. Our community. However, in saying that, creating even a mildly stylized world like ours is tricky, almost trickier than creating a fully realistic world with all of those real world resources at hand. Each of the characters, environments, props and UI need concepts that are based largely on realism, but with a tiny smidge of ‘toon’ thrown into the mix to give us the effect we were after. We didn’t want to go as far the quite full-on toon look as seen in Shaun White’s Wii version, nor did we think we could achieve a look that Skate achieved on PS3 given our budget constraints – aesthetically at least, we need to land somewhere in between; a bright and clean looking game with a bit of character, minus the real-world gritty realism. We loved those old PS2 games in Kelly Slater Pro Surfer, Transworld and Sunny Garcia and it’s reasonable to consider PS2 retro now, so the idea was if we could create a cleaner, more up to date 720p version with a bit of a look of its own, then why not? With a little luck, we’ll be able to evolve our visual art style again over time.
PS3 vs PS4
Another question we get often is why the PS3 as opposed to PS4? This is largely about principle, money, risk & timing. When we started out on The Surfer, we started on the PS3. We advertised that we would be releasing on the PS3 and so we were committed. The basic principle is that you do what you say you’ll do. The other issue is that once we began and we finally (after a long R&D process) had developed the PUMP system when we finally looked up from our work the PS4 had been released. By that time we were so far into development on the PS3 that it would cost us a fortune to port the code and art across to the PS4 and importantly, then have to spend another fortune on attempting to meet the graphical expectations people (quite rightly) have of that machine. It’s a powerful machine that takes a concerted development effort to compete graphically with the titans of the industry. In a perfect world, if we had the money and resources we would have tried to develop both the PS3 and the PS4 at the same time. That said, having spent most of our development time on gameplay (if) we are in a position to make a little money back on our initial release, then we’d feel more comfortable reviewing PS4 and focusing more on graphics. In practical terms, whether this is a remaster or perhaps a complete re-build we’re unsure at this point. We can do a PS4 version, we really want to do it (along with Xbox and Switch) – but we just can’t get carried away at this point and we simply have to see how things play out first.