Those familiar with our coverage of Play NYC likely remember the multiplayer action title Swimsanity! The debut project by indie developer Decoy Games, Swimsanity! has enjoyed great success on the indie circuit over the past few years as word of mouth spread. Now, after the beta of the game released on Dec. 20, 2019, Swimsanity! inches closer to its full release.
It also marks the end of the near 10-year journey for Decoy Games co-founders, brothers Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah, and their longtime collaborator and visual artist Chris Venne. From the early beginnings of designing a world and characters in the classroom to finally realizing the dream of making their own game, the self-taught developers are now close to achieving their dream. We have spoken with Decoy Games before on Swimsanity!, but it was time to check in on them once more as the game reaches another milestone.
“So back then I was kind of limited in my skills, but as I was learning I always knew where I wanted the game to go,” Khalil said in an exclusive interview with TechRaptor. “As me and my brother’s skills developed, we got closer and closer to the product that you see today.”
The first pass of the game, titled Swimsanity: The Adventures of Mooba Jiver the Scooba Diver, was a simple single-player flash game Khalil created while he was a student at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Khalil describes it as a “silly hyper-casual game” where players would descend to the bottom of the ocean to pick up gold to bring back to Mooba’s boat, avoiding sea creatures so they can score points. Based on the Nintendo Game & Watch game called Octopus, this early version of Swimsanity! was a simple flash game, but the perfect introduction to game development for Decoy Games.
Game & Watch was not the only influential title either to Khalil. “We're big N64 and SNES gamers. Games like Bomberman were a big influence too. Bomberman had a multiplayer experience that was a ‘pick-up-and-play’ versus but had a lot of different abilities and powerups that you can use along the way.”
Another major influence would be the N64 classic Perfect Dark, one of the prominent multiplayer games of the era, something Khalil speaks about with reverence.
“When that game came out back in the day, they had a lot of different multiplayer game modes in there that you can play," he said. "It was kind of unique for that time, it was a play-however-you-want-to kind of thing. We wanted to bring that same experience to gamers with Swimsanity!”
Perfect Dark was a rarity for consoles when it was released in 2000. The game, following in the predecessors of Rare’s N64 classic GoldenEye 007, perfected split-screen multiplayer a year before it exploded in popularity with Halo on the Xbox and PC. The groundwork laid by games like Perfect Dark not only influenced titles like Swimsanity!, they also gave the foundation to the modern day esport scene, something Decoy Games is hoping to be involved in as well.
Diving into esports with SwimSanity!
Much of that push can be seen by their presence at expos and conventions, such as Play NYC, which held large-scale tournaments for attendees. The currently released beta also contributes to their push for esports.
“We’re really excited by this test beta before release because we actually re-did all of our net code to be like fighting games," Ahmed said. “This allows for much sharper interactions and a lot less lag.”
The net code upgrade is just the tip of the iceberg for their esport plans.
“We wanted to make sure that online experience was smooth," Ahmed said. “When people look at indie games, especially something that makes that jump to online, I think there is this lower bar for maybe how well it would perform, but we wanted to still make sure that bar was high [for us], even compared it to a AAA titles online experience.”
All this hard work comes at the cost of time for Decoy Games, partially due to their meticulousness when it comes to game development.
“We're sub-time developers,” said Khalil, “so a lot of it was going through iterations where we would literally make the game to the end, stop and then be like, ‘Alright, what do we like and what do we don’t like, and let’s start over again now that we are equipped to do things with our experience and skills.’ Swimsanity! is the result of that, with this build being made for three years or so part-time.”
The issues of time management have led to tough choices on behalf of Decoy Games.
"We really had to cut back a lot, to be honest,” Ahmed said. “Really there is a treasure [trove] of ideas and game modes that we want to add to the game, but we had to make sure we had a focused size first.”
“Every game mode that we lost is like a small dagger (laughs), it hurt a bit,” Khalil admits. “There have definitely been some pretty cool co-operative and versus game modes that we cut out. Game modes, weapons, unleashes, and power ups that we ended up throwing out. Honestly, if we added all our ideas into the game at launch, it would probably be twice to three times the size it is right now.”
Decoy Games is not planning on ceasing their support for Swimsanity! once the game officially releases. There are already plans in place for free updates and DLC, all of which utilize cut ideas during the game’s development. Decoy Games is also going to be careful as to how they implement the DLC into the game, hoping to not split up the online community behind paywalls, with DLC needed to participate in online matchups.
The result for Swimsanity! is ultimately the purest passion project you can get from indie developers.
“It is still surreal,” admits Khalil. “We [try] to stay level headed and focus on the end goal, but the state of the game right now is pretty surreal and seeing people enjoying playing the game, getting in lines to play the game, talking about the game online… it makes us really excited to finally get the game out there for people who can play it.”
Both brothers, however, are still focused on the task at hand. “Even though we're about to release, I’m still in the mindset of, ‘What’s next,’” stated Ahmed. For Decoy Games, what’s next includes support for Swimsanity!, the esports focus, and brand new game ideas down the line, which the brothers did not want to disclose as this time.
The journey to Swimsanity! is almost over, but for Decoy Games, their journey as successful indie developers has just begun.