This chapter, focussing on the year of 2014, is a very special one because it marks the first year of Team17’s new era as an indie publishing games label – returning to our roots, going all the way back to the Amiga years of helping other developers bring their games to life. With the combination of internally developed projects and games label titles, we released seven titles in 2014, making it our most prolific year in two decades!
Read on to hear about internal Team17 games like Worms Battlegrounds and FLockers, as well as some of our earliest indie partnerships such as The Escapists, Light and Overruled!
With the new generation of games consoles arriving in late 2013, it made sense to bring Worms to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as quickly as possible. So while we planned the next big Worms game, which was still a couple of years away at the time, the decision was made to relaunch the PC-only Worms Clan Wars as Worms Battlegrounds.
Though largely the same content as Clan Wars, Worms Battlegrounds did feature a few little extras to take advantage of the new console hardware. For example, the PS4’s DualShock controller would emit different coloured light depending on the status of the player’s worm and worm voices could even be heard from the controller’s in-built speaker! Over on Xbox One, Microsoft’s Xbox Smartglass app could be used as a “second screen” experience, as was a brief trend at the time. Check out this fan video to see how this worked.
Battlegrounds did eventually get some exclusive content too. In December 2014, the Xbox One version was given away to Xbox Live Gold members, and so a DLC pack called Alien Invasion was created to coincide. Featuring 35 new single player missions, 10 new deathmatch mission and plenty of extra weapons and customisation options, its biggest new feature was Bodycount mode, in which worms fought off unending waves of enemies in a high score contest.
Having been lucky enough to work on the Lemmings series back in 2006-07, we returned to the formula once again in 2014. This time with a Lemming inspired puzzler set in the Worms universe, and with plenty of new ideas added!
“Flockers began as a bit of a daydream with design director Kev Carthew,” says lead designer John Eggett. “Did these animals that worms used as weapons want out? Did the worms keep them hostage in some Worms Weapon Factory? Were the sheep being fed explosives and then packed up in crates ready to drop on a worms landscape? What if you could aid them? The sheep already mindlessly walked around when released in a game of Worms, what if you could help shepherd them to safety?”
With that, the basic concept was set in place. Guide the hapless sheep to safety by guiding them out of the deathtrap filled Worms Weapon Factory. But in what other ways did the team look to evolve on other puzzles games in the genre? “I wanted a more dynamic game world,” says Eggett. “Flockers uses a full physics simulation to provide the player with a range of interesting puzzles, traps and contraptions. From a wide array of objects such as buzzsaws, chains, motors and pulleys, the level designers could let their imaginations roam free. And they did.”
The physics-based design remains one of the features of Flockers that Eggett is most proud of. “The world around you has to be interacted with too. Be it filling a bucket with sheep to weigh it down or using a catapult to fling the woolly tyke up in the air to switch that razor contraption off. I’m also fond of some of the contraptions we built, the amount of variety and possibilities meant we could keep each level fresh with new puzzle opportunities. The walking spider complete with worm pilot was one of my favourites.”
Five years on from release, Eggett is “Chuffed… That some sheep were saved from a muttonous explosion!”
Year: 2014 | Developer: Just A Pixel | Publisher: Team17 | Format: Linux, Mac, PC
Buy on: Steam
The very first game to be signed to the Team17 indie games label, Light ushered in a new era in which we could raw upon our years of development expertise (not to mention publishing in the Amiga years) to help small indie dev teams complete their projects, get them released and still retain the rights to their own ideas! The first team to benefit was Just A Pixel – a studio that gets almost as small as it’s possible to get with just two people, Roberta Saliani and Danny Goodayle from Brighton.
Just A Pixel’s ability to take basic visuals and craft engaging sci-fi worlds around them made their first game, Light, a perfect game to kick off the Team17 Games Label. Visually unique and with a fun gameplay concept – using hacking and stealth to uncover a mystery narrative – Light eventually launched to mixed reviews. It wasn’t for everyone, but some loved it. God Is A Geek called it a “joy to play” in their 8/10 review, while Hardcore Gamer also praised it, describing the game “as if it is taking place inside the map radar of Metal Gear Solid.”
And where are Just A Pixel now? After Light they put their expertise for minimalist sci-fi stealth games to good use, programming the UI for Mike Bithell’s Volume!
One of the earliest games to be signed to the Team17 Games Label, the second in fact, is also one of our most popular and a superb example of just how different the T17 approach to publishing can be. The vision of one man with no professional games industry experience, The Escapists was picked up shortly after a low profile Kickstarter campaign and inducted into our “incubation program”, pairing the creator up with a team of experienced in-house developers to help bring the vision to life.
“I’ve been making games since I was a child, starting with paper and board games and onto messing around with coding on my ZX Spectrum,” says Chris Davis, who was working as a roofer when he came up with the idea for The Escapists. “There was a Spectrum game I used to love called Back to Skool. In it you play a pupil who has to attend all your classes in a school day and avoiding getting into trouble. Of course, you could also truant and get into fights. It was one the first examples I’d seen of a sandbox game. I wanted to do something in a similar style, and that lead me onto the idea of The Escapists…”
Davis created the original demo for The Escapists using a little-known game development software called Clickteam Fusion that he had largely been playing around with as a hobbyist and took to Kickstarter to raise the modest sum of £3,000 to help finish the game. If you want a look at this early version of the game then the original Kickstarter page is still available to view here.
“I was approached by Team17 after they saw The Escapists on Kickstarter. They were fans from the start!” says David. “They invited me up to their office to show the current build and not long after offered to publish and provide any help I’d need with the game, which I gladly accepted. The game was in early stages then, but I worked alongside Team17 designer Grant Towell to document how the final game would be. As it took shape, they were providing music, extra assets, feedback, QA, and a lot of promotion. They started work on console ports, builds of the game were regularly shown at trade shows, and it even appeared on-stage at Xbox’s Gamescom conference.”
One of Davis’s fondest memories from development is when he and Grant Towell were finally able to play through a complete escape, proving the game’s design concept in the process. “After the slow build up, things got extremely tense when it came to the night of the escape attempt. Design-wise I think we both realised at that point we’d achieved what we’d set out to do with the project.”
Another first for a Team17 game, The Escapists was also our first title to be released in Early Access, allowing players to experience the game mid-development and even voice their feedback along the way. “Early Access isn’t for all games, but I’d say it worked well for The Escapists,” says Davis. “It was great having continual feedback from players as the game was taking shape. I began to discover that the main audience for the game wasn’t the nostalgia seeking older crowd I expected, but hordes of younger gamers.”
Indeed, despite the Amiga-esque retro visuals, which were used to keep development relatively simple according to Davis, The Escapists was a huge hit with the new generation of gamers. You may not have seen many reviews in mainstream magazines or even on websites at the time, but it was hugely popular with fledgling YouTubers like Jacksepticeye, Markiplier and InTheLittleWood. The sandbox nature of The Escapists meant that no two video playthroughs would ever play the same, and viewers loved watching their favourite internet personalities use their wits to escape each prison. It was a great match, and The Escapists quickly built up a passionate community of players as a result.
Five years later, Davis is no longer a roofer. The Escapists – which Team17 fully acquired the rights to in 2016 – has been enough of a success to secure his future. Yet Davis is no rockstar developer and remains charmingly modest about his success. “I’m proud of the fact I was able to create a somewhat original experience,” he says. “Sure, there’s been prison games before, but I don’t think there are any that approach it as open and detailed as The Escapists did.”
While some Team17 indies join the Games Label with their first steps into game development, others like Dlala Studios have actually been in the industry for some time and take the bold step of leaving a safe and secure day job to pursue their dream. That’s exactly what Dlala did when they quit a placement at Microsoft to create Overruled!
“When we turned down the extension on our contract at Microsoft, I think a lot of people thought we were going to go under very quickly and this was one of the first steps to us showing ourselves that we could really do this,” recalls Dlala CEO AJ Grand-Scrutton.
Dlala Studios had originally considered creating a platform game inspired by Micro Machines, until they realised that game already existed in the form of DoubleDutch Games’ excellent SpeedRunners, but the project later morphed into Overruled!, a multiplayer brawler in which the players can change the rules on the fly! “We’d been playing a lot of the card game Fluxx on our lunch breaks at Microsoft and were really fond of how the game was different every time and always changing,” remembers Grand-Scrutton. “One night I started working on a prototype, which was a single-screen platformer where the objective kept changing. It switched between Capture the Flag, King of the Hill and a Deathmatch mode. It was ugly and badly coded but it got the rough idea of the game over to the rest of the guys.”
Overruled! eventually became the third game on our indie label, of course, but the great relationship between Team17 and Dlala Studios had been gestating for longer than you might imagine. “In the very early days of Dlala I did my first ever talk at a conference. I made two ongoing friends from that day. One of those was Craig Duncan (Studio Head, Rare) and the other was Debbie! Little did I know that they would turn out to be two of the most important people in Dlala’s story. Debbie introduced me to her wonderful team, including (Production Director) Kelvin Aston. When we first started making Overruled! Kel took the time to play the early, early prototypes and gave us feedback, purely as a friend. We told them that we were taking Overruled! to EGX Rezzed after 12 weeks and they were very supportive, but I think in the back of their minds they didn’t think we would have had much done to show by that point. At some point at EGX Rezzed they came over to see how we were doing, they played the game and they were impressed by how far we had come in 12 weeks and the conversation about having them come on board as publisher started from there.”
“My all-time favourite memory from development comes from the first week. Once we were all on the same page on the Monday our wonderful tech team, Ben Waring (now Technical Director at Dlala) and Chris Rickett (Senior Programmer) bashed out a 4 player prototype in 4.5 days. That Friday night all the guys all came down to my mum’s house and we played the game for hours. Every time someone had an idea one of us would rush out to the garage, hack it in quickly and do a new build. We barely slept and just had so much fun playing and making the game. It is not just one of my favourite memories from development of Overruled! or even Dlala. It’s one of my favourite memories full stop.”
Like many other Team17 graduates, Dlala Studios have gone on to great things. What are Grand-Scrutton and chums working on now? After assisting their other close friend Craig Duncan on Rare’s Sea of Thieves, they’ve been handed the reins to a classic Rare IP and are busy making a brand new Battletoads game! We can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark
This quirky puzzle platformer came to Team17 via Northern Irish developer, Italic Pig, led by Kevin Beimers who had previously worked with Telltale Games on the adult comedy adventure game, Hector: Badge Of Carnage.
A self-proclaimed lover of all things physics, Beimers named his platform game after the famous theory that we really can’t be bothered going into here! If you’re super interested then here’s a Wikipedia article for you. In gameplay terms, the theme made for a clever puzzle-platformer in which physics-based powers could be used and combined to overcome mind bending obstacles.
In another Telltale connection, Italic Pig also recruited voice actor AJ Locasico, who had previously put in an incredible performance as Marty McFly in Back To The Future: The Game. Check out an interview with AJ below, to see his approach to voicing every single character in Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark…
Year: 2014 | Developer: Rocket Rainbow | Publisher: Team17 | Format: iOS
While Team17 had made a few mobile games before with the Worms series, up until Hay Ewe we hadn’t yet published one by an external developer. What better studio to start with, then, but a team formed of ex-PopCap Games talent responsible for various mobile masterpieces such as Peggle, Bejeweled and Plants Vs Zombies!
Our second 2014 release to be centred on sheep, Hay Ewe featured Matilda the Sheep trying to herd her lambs in 60 touch-controlled puzzle stages. “The game spawned from a previous game jam that Christian Schinkoethe and I had worked on with other colleagues from PopCap,” recalls designer JP Vaughan. “After the studio in Dublin closed we tried to develop a different game but just weren’t feeling it. Chris and I were speaking and asked ourselves what was the last game that we really enjoyed working on and we both remembered that game jam project. Things developed from there and the rest is history.”
As well as the puzzle stages, Hay Ewe also contained a level editor, which Vaughan remains rather proud of. “It was a challenging technical aspect and Chris did an amazing job putting it together. We wanted something that was easy to use on mobile or tablet, dragging and dropping items on screen and being able to play at the push of a button. I think we nailed it and even today it’s still enjoyable to use”
“Hay Ewe was a great experience for all of us,” concludes Vaughan. “When we started we had only ever worked for larger companies on their projects and had little experience outside of our domains, but running our own indie studio and building a game meant we learned a lot about areas we otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. We had a lot of fun working on the game, as well as challenges, but overall it was a great experience.”
That’s all for 2014! We hope you enjoyed it. In the next instalment, we’ll be looking at a whopping eight 2015 releases including Beyond Eyes, The Escapists: The Walking Dead and Sheltered.