Sometimes You Interview - Indie Porting, Vita Support & The Future - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 20 January 2019 / 1,677 Views
Despite the Vita entering the final phase of its life heading into 2017, there were a handful of indie porting studios who showed up and began porting their whole catalog over to the handheld. One major company that did this was Ratalaika Games, but another that is arguably less well-known (but just as prolific) is Sometimes You. This company has released over 14 titles between the middle of 2017 through to the current day, starting with its own game Energy Cycle.
Sometimes You's newest release is Planet RIX-13 and there are a few more projects teased for the rest of 2019, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask the staff there about the company's mantra and its future fans involving Sony's handheld. What I didn't expect to find in response was a dedicated solo developer with a clear love of the Vita and a lot of personal drive to help other indies bring their games to additional platforms.
First off, tell me a little bit about yourselves! Who makes up Sometimes You and what do you all do?
Hi! Locally 'Sometimes You' is mostly a one-man company for the moment :)
My name is Evgeniy, I'm living in Moscow and I'm in charge of all of the porting/publishing here. My girlfriend Alina helps with some art (she drew the original 'Sometimes You' logo by the way), and a lot of other developers and artists from different parts of the world help with various tasks. For example, my friend Andrew from USA often helps me with English descriptions for our games. He's a native speaker so he knows how to transform my «Engrish» text into «English»! At the same time he's also a developer (part of Ethrea Dreams team) and he's in charge of the awesome Farnham Fables retro-series. So from one side there's lot of different people involved in our projects, but from other side 'Sometimes You' has no office and it's just one guy with two laptops on his desk.
What is the company’s history? When was it founded and what was your first project?
That's a very long story, but here's a super-short version. I worked as a game journalist and wrote various game related articles in 2002. For some time I was also involved in video editing, music, and photography. In 2011 we got the idea to make a small game and that's how our first project - Retention - was born.
That was a one-of-a-kind photo album game. I wrote the game code on Visual Basic, Alina took and edited some photos that we shot, we added music that was composed together with my friend Muddasheep, and that was it! The whole game is just about 10 minutes long, but it took a couple of months to finish it. The game was released on Desura, which went bankrupt shortly after, and as far as I remember we didn't receive any royalties from it. After that I started to work with Steam – first with my own games, then as a publisher for other small developers. In recent years Sometimes You mostly moved to the console market and that's where we are now.
How did you get into the business of porting other studios' games to consoles?
When I started to port my first game to consoles (it was originally Energy Cycle for Xbox One), least of all I wanted to do it myself. At a minimum, porting costs a lot of money, which I didn’t have at that time. I tried to find a partner with console porting experience who would be interested in porting and publishing my game for a percentage of the sales, but I couldn't find anyone suitable. Therefore, I had to learn the whole process and port the game by myself. Now, I help other developers who are in the same situation as me a few years ago :)
How do your partnerships with independent developers to port their titles usually happen? Do you approach them or do they come to you?
It's 50/50 – in half of the cases developers contact me, in the other half I see a game with potential and write to the developer. It's saddening that some of the developers in question don't believe in themselves and even when I contact them with a porting/publishing proposal their response is typically that they don't think their game is good enough for consoles. It's a pity that some decent games aren't available to console players simply because of this. If we come to an agreement with developer, we sign a contract and start work. Porting is a long process, so in the best case scenario I can prepare everything for a console release within 3-4 months, but sometimes it can take almost a year for a one game!
How did you first get into contact with Sony? Was it an easy process to get hold of a Vita Dev kit?
I think the first step was made when I registered on Sony's site for developers - https://partners.playstation.net
That's a good entry point for every developer who wants to make games for PlayStation on their own. I can't say that it was hard to get development hardware, but it's definitely a lengthy process.
How is the submission process for Sony compared to Nintendo? Do you find one more onerous than the other?
I can't speak a lot about that because of NDAs, but every company (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) has advantages and disadvantages for indie developers. You need to understand how that works and get used to it, but after that everything is fine.
In general, how is Vita to develop for? Do you run into regular difficulties in porting games across?
Well Vita is old portable hardware. Portable hardware is always not so powerful and in this case it's also almost 8 years old. I would say that Vita’s hardware is good enough to run Unity powered 2D games at 30-60 FPS after optimization, but for 3D games porting is much harder.
I noticed that some of your games, such as Mooseman and SkyTime, have trophies for Vita but didn’t actually release. Is this due to technical difficulties in getting the titles running on the platform? Were they planned at one time?
You're right – these games were planned for a Vita release first, but got cancelled in the end. Both of them work on Vita, but the framerate is too low for release and it's obvious that it will take too many man-hours to make a good port of them. By the way, SkyTime was originally planned as a Vita exclusive title but in the end it wasn't released on the Vita at all...
Do you attempt to port every title you sign to the Vita or are you able to tell from the outset if it’s able to run?
For some 3D titles it's obvious that a Vita port will be impossible, but as for 2D ones – yes, I try to run all of them on Vita.
What genre do you have most fun working with?
I can’t say that I have any favorite genres over others, but I’m often very surprised how developers implement some ideas in their own code. When you play the game and it just works you often don’t even think how this or that thing was realized, but 'under the hood' there are often very interesting solutions employed and I have a lot of fun studying them during the porting process.
Do you have a favourite game (past or future) that you’ve worked on/are working on?
I think NORTH porting was one of the most challenging and interesting experiences. The original development team had no time at all to spend on a console version, there was no controller support in the PC version, and controller support was never planned at the development stage. The visual style and music combination in that game still impresses me even after playing it more than ten times. Hopefully we'll see more games from the Outlands team one day!
Do future Sometimes You projects still have a chance of landing on Vita? Any unannounced ones that you can give us some hints on?
Yes, of course! At least one or two games should be released in the Spring-Summer season. As long as Sony accept new games for release on the Vita store then we'll try to make them!
Are you continuing to work on original content like Energy Cycle alongside your porting work?
I'm trying to, but there just aren't enough hours in the day. I working very slowly as a game developer; Energy Cycle Edge took me about a year and Energy Invasion even more time to make, even though neither of them are big games at all. I have a couple of interesting prototypes, but no idea when they'll evolve into some kind of game.
Have you considered looking into physical releases of your games?
I'm trying to make it happen one day, but it's too hard to do by myself, so I'm speaking with different partners who have made physical releases in the past. Hopefully at the some point we'll come to an agreement about it!
Finally, two questions I’m asking everyone. Firstly, what are some of your favourite games that you’ve played on Vita?
I think my favorite Vita title is The Binding of Isaac by Edmund McMillen. I played it a lot on Steam and after a break I played it a lot again on Vita. It's really addictive! The first AAA titles for Vita like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Killzone: Mercenary were really great too, but sadly I still haven't gotten around to finishing them!
And secondly, which of the Vita models is your favourite (LCD or OLED)?
I've got four different Vitas at home (even five with PS Vita TV) – three of them are FAT and only one is SLIM. The FAT ones have a better screen for sure, but I think I prefer the SLIM one for its weight and how comfortable it is in the hands.
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