Tag Archives: Prospect Games

Interview: Andrew Bennison from Prospect games

I got a chance to speak with Andrew Bennison from Prospect games, the lead designer behind unbox, about his experience as an indie developer he was a very interesting person to speak to with some insights into working in the world of indie games and what to expect from Unbox a newbies adventure

Hi Andrew, thanks for talking with This is Xbox so, Unbox. You have been working on it for some time and now has just released on Xbox?

So we launched just ‘Unbox’ last September on steam, it went well enough to keep us in business so we have brought a slightly optimised and enriched version called ‘Unbox Newbie’s Adventure’ to Xbox One, released July 26th. We also have a Switch version coming later this year.

You guys have been working on this since 2014, right?

We came up with the initial concept at a Game Jam, a Christmas Game Jam, hosted by Epic Games in December of 2014, the theme was what’s in the box so you can see and draw a line between there and where we are now and then we jumped into full development around the 4th-5th of January 2015. So, it’s taken about a year and a half to make the game and then about half a year more to get it working on all the various platforms.

You have been working on it for two years, in Manchester as an indie developer, Prospect Games, what do you see as being the next step for you now Unbox is out?

Really we gotta assess based on how well the console launch goes, we kind of have a price tag attached to each of the ‘plans’ of how we move forward, you know? If we do alright we can do one thing, if we do amazing we can do another. It’s really down to how well the launch goes and later on this year with the Switch. Are we going to make a sequel to Unbox? Are we going to make a completely different game or do both of those things at the same time? It’s really all down to performance at launch.

Would you say then that as an Indie developer that’s one of the biggest challenges between you and the big ‘AAA’ developers who can plan their pipeline, where as for you it is tied up with each game that you produce and the revenue it makes?

Yeah, I think that no matter what scale your company is at you have that same issue of how much is in reserves, how much is available in resources, do you have enough internally for other projects. Ideally you’d have projects running alongside each other so that you are able to do two, three product launches a year. That would be excellent. On the flip side of that there is a lot more pressure and responsibility attached to that and just because you are a bigger company able to do more but with the extra pressure added. However we are a small developer and if the launch doesn’t go well that could be us out of business, although if it goes exceptionally well then it opens up prospects for us that we aren’t currently even thinking about at this point.

Obviously it’s very different being an indie developer to someone who might develop for a bigger game company, you mentioned before about attending Game Jam, but what made you go indie instead of applying to be part of a bigger company?

Well, as a teenager I wanted to be a film director and on a media studies course we had a big project about making a film. Well I didn’t have any equipment and the equipment there was crap, oh and this was the time when Machinima wasn’t really a channel, it was a way to describe films made in games, so I said ‘can I make a film in Halo 2?’ And they said ‘ok, that’s weird but go for it if you want, give it a shot’ and in the process of making that piece of content I got more of an insight into games and I thought I’m playing a lot of games, but this made me really think about the design of them and how they pull all sorts of themes together.

So I went onto a university course, where I studied games design and met the two guys who helped me start Prospect, which effectively started as a modding group with Left 4 Dead mods, then we tried mobile development in the evenings and some ad hock work and after a while we had saved up the cash and we hadn’t had any success in getting into the ‘AAA’ market plus I’m awful at being told what to do so we thought, ‘Well we did this great at uni let’s see if we can make it into something sustainable, and here we are.

If I was sat at home and I wanted to get into developing as an indie developer, from your experience what do you think is the best route for someone coming out of uni wanting to do it for themselves?

That’s a tough one, the market is so much more brutal now than when we started up. I’d start by saying don’t go to uni first! The last thing you want to do is saddle yourself with debt and none of the courses are as good as actually getting down to doing some work and dedicating yourself entirely to it and as much as academia might try, being forced to do essays and course work and other things that just don’t exist in the real world. I mean, when I look at someone’s CV, I don’t care if they have a BSc or a PHD, I look to see if they have worked on products or stuff that’s been released etc.

I would advise if you are going to go down the indie route, do you want to make games for fun? Or do you want something more sustainable? Like make it your career. Because you can be an indie developer in your bedroom in the evenings after a 9-5 job and that way you can focus on being critically well received without the necessity of it being commercially well received to put food on the table.

It’s a really tough market with almost nobody making money on PC and then with the console halfway through their lifetime they already are very competitive markets, the Switch is still lacking in content but that will change after a few hundred titles have come out on it. I would say, it’s a really tough time to become an indie developer at the moment.

Very interesting to hear your point of view, direct from someone who has been working in it for the last two years, and what you have been working on is Unbox, out now, I’m going to sit down and have a play with it now, any tips? Any secrets you want to give me before I start?

Er, well don’t skip the tutorial it really sets you up with the mechanics to get through the game, make sure you use the D-pad in-game, which will point you towards critical characters and missions. If you get stuck, hit the back button and it will bring up your progress to give you an idea of where you are, something people seem to miss but it’s very useful in getting you through the game.

Thanks Andrew, great to speak with you and your experiences as an indie developer,

Unbox; Newbies Adventure is out now for Xbox One, check out our review of the game.

Unbox Preview & Interview

I left my fortress of solitude (one bedroom flat) and ventured into the light and real world today. It was grey and drizzly and about as real as London gets, sweaty commuter tubes (that’s the underground train or ‘subway’ for anyone across the pond) and blank faces of people who are about as animated as an NPC from GTA 3. I’m making this journey because I have been invited up to town for a hands on with Unbox, the upcoming title from Prospect Games, and a chat with the lead developer Andrew Bennison.

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Unbox is a charming and fun little physics platformer (physics fun as described by Prospect games. In which you control a box. (that’s right, a box. trust me. its way more fun than it initially sounds) You’re a sentient box from GPS, the global post service, which has self delivering boxes. Except they’re all a bit dumb and so you are the first ‘smart’ sentient box being tested for delivery capabilites. Then off you tootle, rolling and bouncing off on your travels as the first of a new bread. Its an open world explorer with a story line through it. You get different things to deliver to different places and it has puzzles, challenges and collectables along the way. I didn’t get to do any of the story line really, (Andrew talked me through some of it as we played) but what I did do was immensely fun. Who knew? But bouncing a box around on a desert island making deliveries whilst occasionally shooting fireworks at other boxes is a lot of fun.

We sat down to play and I have to say I quite liked the game from the beginning, it reminded me of old classics like Kula world and Crash Bandicoot with very bright and colourful graphics. Its quite a simple game in premise and control, but has its challenges and was fun to play. Andrew talks of big boss fights to come at the end of each of the worlds through the story mode. As I go through the tutorial he guides me up over a hill that looks over the first game world, I was pleasantly surprised, the view from the top looked over a sprawling collection of islands all of which where part of the open world. Its the first world of four, set in an island paradise. He keeps a few details to his chest about the later worlds, only saying that the 2nd world is high up on the mountain tops. All in all its pretty good fun.

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We sat for around an hour, tinkering with the tutorials, bouncing around the beautiful island paradise with calypso music in the background. There are customisations for your box, hats and designs to add your own touch. As we played we talked over the game, where its been and where its going. Below is a breakdown of our conversation, put into order. My excitement in playing the game left me a bit all over the place with my questions, but we got the bases covered. When we finished he showed me a video of the multi-player to come (I was secretly hoping to play some of the multi-player, but I guess some things are better left to a touch of mystery) it looks like a great party game, one you can play with 4 people sat on a sofa, cursing each other out as you race and battle in game modes not too dissimilar from the likes of Mario Kart. Its clear the sort of game they are looking to emulate, in my opinion they have done a good job especially considering its still in its Alpha stages. I, for one, am excited to see the final result. Whilst hesitant to get nailed down to a release date or release quarter, the publicist seemed positive for a 2016 release.

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TIX – ‘Hi Andrew, thanks for meeting with Thisisxbox and giving us some hands on with your game Unbox. can you tell me about it and what we’re going to play today?’

Andrew – ‘Sure, Unbox is about the ultimate postal service, self delivering cardboard boxes, its a comedy physics game with a big single player component. A sort of ‘Mario’ style system. You’re jumping through worlds, beating enemies defeating bosses and then on the flip side, a local multi-player which is a sort of a throwback to nineties game-play, split screen where your battling each other and racing each other. We’re going to be focusing on the former today More of the single player worlds.’

Tix – ‘Sounds great, I noticed you made a point of saying local multi-player. With a major push towards on-line multi-player in most games was that a conscious decision?

Andrew – Yes, for several reasons really. The primary reason for us going into development was the fact that this is, kinda of, a love letter to all the games we played in the nineties. We wanted to make a local multi-player game because we noticed those experiences are slipping away. If you look on forums and read on line about the responses to certain games removing local multi-player it was negative. that’s where people are being pushed too. That’s where the mega money is. That leaves a space for us, we can’t do massive online multi-player. We can do local multi-player.

So, then we started to get the game out to more events we realised kids and familys became the core market. We’ve made this game originally for 25-35’s, because it reminds us of what we played when we were kids, but we realised kids today don’t know these kinds of games. There aren’t so many local multi-player games like this and they loved it. The parents loved it, playing together for fun. There’s no online leader boards. no connectivity with the outside world. When you play it, it’s just you and you’re friends. We just don’t think online is important for this game.

TIX – OK. The single player story, how long are we talking in terms of length?

Andrew – in terms of straight gameplay, 5-8 for the core storyline. but if you want to find the hours of extra content, thats something we leave the players up to. The idea is all the worlds are quite outlandish places where deliveries are difficult, testing the new box to see if it is up to the task. Whilst doing this you will come up against the ‘bad guys’ (styled like little greasers from the 50’s, but still animated boxes themselves) they have a big boss leader who you will fight in ‘boss fights’ each time you fight him he changes in his style. For example in the first world, it’s just him as a giant enemy, but in the second he has his own helicopter that he fly’s about in. There are loads of challenges, puzzles and collectables to go after and we are trying to hide stuff all over the place, I would love it if in twenty years, someone jumped up said ‘hey, I’ve found this thing hidden over here’

TIX – (laughs) you’ll do well to keep something hidden for twenty years. Sounds great fun. From what I’ve played so far it looks brilliant, what’s the game built on?

Andrew – The Unreal engine, which is a bit different in itself. Most people associate the unreal engine with twitch style shooters, online mulitplayer play and maybe more drab and dreary environments suited to those games. the first thing we did was turn up all the contrasts and colours making it as vibrant and colourful as possible. It’s been fun to use and we where all experienced with the engine anyway so it made sense to us.

TIX – on the development, have you seen many ups and downs with the production?

Andrew – I think, probably, the biggest down was that original single player, that we worked on for quite a while and it just didnt really captivate or engage we had to very rapidly change, In fact I basically had a eureka moment, in about June where it was like, wait! this game could be like a Mario world system and when we made that switch the whole team was asking ‘Andrew, do you really want to make that kind of switch this late in the game?’ I said yes, because its going to pay off. After two months of very very focused work we ended up at the bright colorful version we see now, instead of the drab grey box we started off with. So from a design standpoint that was a low point cause we didn’t know if it was going to work But we ended up being validated in our decision through the events we got to go to and show off the new design and changes. At minecon the story was getting 30 seconds of look in, at EGX people where playing it for an hour. so we got that ‘Yes, ok that was right’.

TIX – In today’s gaming industry we see a lot of DLC and micro-transactions, what’s the model your using for this when its released?

Andrew – Oh, very traditional, you buy the game, you get the content. simple as that. we had some discussions over maybe doing some accessory packs, as you’ve seen there are customisations for your box. But we have no grand plans. If people like it and are asking for multi-player maps over anything else, then we can build some. but we haven’t got anything worked on now that won’t be in the game at release its not a big overarching plan of development. if anything it’ll be reactive. if people want more hats will give them hats. (hats are on of the custom options for you box. I had a crown)

TIX – so I think I’ve run out of time now, but as one last question. If GPS was a real life postal service what would its tag lag line be.

Andrew – The best postal service in the world . . . .Mostly.

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So, that was my time with Unbox and chat with Andrew. He is keen and knowledgeable over his game and very passionate about it. That’s all very clear when he is talking about it, we discussed a lot more but I am limited by space so have left you with the core of the conversation. I genuinely liked his charming little game, I’ll be looking forward to more information on it and a potential release date, look out for Prospect Games and Unbox you can check out the game at the website http://www.unboxgame.com/  I’m back off to my dark dingy room to remould my ass grove on the chair, I’ve been out of it for at least three hours now and I’m getting too accustomed to actual reality.

Till the next time. Happy Gaming Everyone